Two Questions You Need To Ask

By Michael R. Pinto, IPLI Leadership Team & Cohort 8 Mentor, Principal at James Cole Elementary School

I have told my staff and others that reopening schools during this pandemic is the hardest thing we have ever done. There are so many variables and so many moving pieces to the puzzle where success is measured in sending fewer students home with symptoms today than we did yesterday. We have totally reimagined school in terms of how we set up classrooms, how we move about the building, and how we eat lunch. We are masked, social-distanced, and carry the responsibility of the safety of our students and our fellow staff members in our hearts each day.

About two weeks into this school year, in one of our morning professional development meetings, I did something that may have been the most powerful exercise I have done as an administrator in my two decades on the job. I passed out two Post-it Notes to each staff member and asked them to write each of these phrases on the top of a Note:

I wish someone knew…..

I need…

I then asked the staff to complete these sentences in silence and then to place the Post-it notes on the whiteboard before leaving the meeting. I collected all the Post-its and brought them back to my office. Later that morning, I sat down and compiled a list of responses. Some include:

I Wish Someone Knew….

  • How hard it is to not interact with the kids.
  • How hard this is emotionally and physically.
  • I appreciate people staying positive even though this stinks.
  • How frustrating and stressful it is for all of us.
  • How frustrated and isolated I feel.
  • School is not the same. Putting in so many more hours.
  • I am only one person.
  • That not hugging kids is breaking me. It is all about connection.

I need…..

  • A new heart each time a child comes up to me for a hug and then stops because he realizes he can’t give me one.  
  • To just feel like I’m doing okay, and we will be okay.
  • To  be able to get my kids close to me/get better classroom management without distractions like the lanyard.
  • More time.  
  • To be asked like this – what do you need? How do you feel?  

The responses were then shared with the staff. This was an important step. Two things happened because of this exercise. One, many of the staff members shed the burden that they had been carrying. The simple exercise of writing down their feelings and needs helped cleanse a bit of the anxiety and stress. It gave the staff a much-needed voice. Second, the exercise was powerful in the sharing of the responses because people realized they were not alone in this journey or in their feelings and emotions.

The operating school during a pandemic are the cards we have been dealt. It is difficult, and it is different. Everyone in society is affected. Like always, educators have and will continue to rise to the occasion. But what I found with these two simple questions was that there is tremendous power in offering a voice. There is also tremendous power in realizing you are not alone.  I wish someone knew, and I need – Two questions as a school administrator you need to ask.