Being Dean of Students during the Pandemic
This blog series is aimed at helping educators in a time of uncertainty and challenge.
A Dean of Students is often one of the most integral reasons behind a successful school day. Deans are incredibly visible – they circulate the hallways, they mentor young minds, and they guide teachers to better outcomes – all the while ensuring a calm and safe learning environment. A Dean of Students is the epitome of presence. The coronavirus pandemic has upended the core of a Dean’s role. Deans no longer have a building to go to and they no longer have a physical space to support. So what can a Dean contribute when physical presence is no longer an option? Turns out, a lot.
In a time of social distancing, families need regular outreach now more than ever to feel connected to their school community. One way Deans can use their time is to check in to remind to students and their families they have the support of the school community. A quick text message goes a long way. Deans who text message 5-7 families every weekday can reach over 100 families a month. A longer phone call and follow up with families needing extra support speaks volumes. Efforts like this will foster strong relationships once schools reopen and students return to classrooms.
Support Virtual Attendance
Distance learning is a massive undertaking for both school staff as well as for students and their families. Schools are working hard to codify best practices when it comes to distance learning, however one thing remains clear: for students to continue learning in this time of uncertainty, they must be present. A Dean can take responsibility for that. Deans can reach out to students and families to share logistics for distance learning, communicate the importance of attendance, troubleshoot technology challenges, and see what supports they need from teachers, advisors, or counselors. Deans can also solicit feedback, identify trends of common obstacles families are facing, and communicate these to key stakeholders at their school to ensure right-size supports.
Real Time Teacher Coaching
Even though schools aren’t operating in physical classrooms, this doesn’t mean there won’t be classroom management challenges in a virtual space. Managing students in a virtual classroom presents a unique challenge and affects many teachers, regardless of teaching experience. Virtual learning offers Deans an opportunity to coach teachers in real time. During a typical school day, distractions often keep Deans away from classrooms. With many of those distractions eliminated, Deans have the time to observe and coach teachers with real-time feedback. Even online, their support can focus on coaching teachers in giving precise directions, narrating positive behaviors of students, implementing incentives and consequences, and most importantly, building relationships. The online learning environment is a valuable opportunity for both teachers and Deans to work together in new ways, and support students who are mostly new to distance learning.
As communities hunker down, the realities of our work becomes even more clear. Folks are confronting different trauma, including homelessness, anxiety, domestic abuse, and loss of loved ones. Deans must work harder than ever to make virtual school feel like a safe and welcoming place for students and adults alike. Deans can share and encourage creative ideas like personal house tours and pet introductions, virtual cooking classes, new incentive systems, and other adjustments will help keep school a welcoming and joyful place for every student.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot but it hasn’t changed the vital role Deans of Students play in their school communities. Deans who currently aren’t physically roaming their buildings like before can still be present in many other ways and the work of fostering relationships with students, teachers, and families must continue. This work will continue to make a huge difference now and pay dividends when we all return safely to our school buildings.
Are you a Dean of Students? Please share how you’re supporting your students and teachers in the distance learning space.
By Chris Cantu, Associate, CT3