Thank Your School Leader for Their Hard Work This Year

You know the old saying, “It’s lonely at the top.”

We all know the larger your constituent audience…

  • the more demands are put on you,
  • the harder it is to please diverse viewpoints and expectations and
  • the greater the understanding that you are there to make sure the needs of others are being met, not your own.

And gratitude is sometimes forgotten in the mix. Parents understand this. Many of our mouths would fall open if our children came forward with a heartfelt thank you just for doing our routine day-to-day jobs. No stressors there—just being a teacher/parent/mental health counselor, juggling family budgets and finding our role in addressing racial inequities. All that and the never-ending political news cycle that is raising everyone’s blood pressure. Some of us are secretly struggling but we carry on because we must.

It is that knowledge that makes me have great sympathy for our education professionals:

  • Superintendents have their bosses (school boards) to keep happy. They face withering scrutiny from their communities who suddenly appreciate public education as not just a learning environment for our children, but a critical piece to the well-being of staff, students and families—and a child-care solution necessary for the economic engines to keep moving. Any move they make will be criticized because no one agrees on the right course of action.
  • Principals are not armed with the resources to open or manage their schools. Those who open schools are spending enormous energy playing “COVID police,” monitoring social distancing and cleanliness practices to keep everyone safe. Those who lead hybrid environments are managing a large, human-scale game of chess. Those who lead distance learning are making sure the tools, methods and outcomes that fit an in-person model morph into meeting the needs at hand.
  • Teachers face their own health and professional development needs while trying to balance keeping a whole school community safe and learning. And if like me, you can hear remote learning outside your office, you know teachers are using new tools and methods to engage students and create lesson plans that meet this new world.

Our education professionals are surrounded by us, the parents (and sometimes critics). While there is always room for improvement—and as advocates, we want our voices to be heard—occasionally, we should stop for a moment to express our gratitude towards our education professionals who may need encouragement to keep doing their best. That’s why I encourage you to thank a school leader and show how much you appreciate their hard work. Because as we head into another wave of the epidemic, it is not going to get easy anytime soon.

Let’s start by telling teachers we have their backs. Some of my NextDoor app neighbors are all-too ready to disparage teachers for their unwillingness to rush back into the classrooms and risk their health, the health of their students or their family members. 

Caught in a political divide that misunderstands their intense commitment to our students, the teacher shortage will only be exacerbated by those who decry our teachers as selfish, while paying them an average starting salary that requires 59% of teachers to supplement their income. Meanwhile, each day remote teachers are doing their best with varying levels of student engagement, often while distracted students keep their cameras off. And they know that parents are listening in and commenting on their classroom delivery. (Guilty as charged.)

This is causing 28% of teachers in a recent National Education Association (NEA) poll to report that the COVID-19 pandemic has made them more likely to retire early or leave the profession. Those departures from an already-concerning teacher shortage hit all levels of teachers but grow understandably with the age of the teachers:

  • 20% with less than 10 years of experience
  • 40% with 21 to 30 years’ experience and
  • 55% percent of those with more than 30 years.

While some pillory American Federation of Teachers and NEA as the problem, they are doing all they can to serve, protect and empower a vital but shrinking workforce. While we don’t agree on everything, we should be grateful for their partnership in creating the most sustainable education environment while advancing the profession.

Principals, as the great senior managers of our schools, we support you as well. It was disheartening to learn in a recent National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) survey that:

  • Almost a fourth of our principals have thoughts of leaving sparked for the first time by their working conditions during the pandemic,
  • Nearly a fifth have sped up their plans to leave in one to two years, and
  • Five out of 100 principals plan to leave as soon as possible.

In response to this survey, my friend and colleague NASSP Executive Director and CEO Joann Bartoletti, challenges us with these thoughts, “These new findings on principals’ departure plans should frighten the entire education community. Our schools are already strained by principal turnover, and the school conditions policymakers have created will only intensify that turnover. Couple that reality with a shallowed pool of future principals caused by teacher layoffs and attrition, and we have a full-blown crisis in finding talented educators to lead our schools. We must make it a priority to attend to the needs of current principals and continue efforts to deepen the bench of leadership talent.”

Lastly, superintendents have the unenviable task of finding the way forward with multiple emergent demands—technology, epidemiology, building safety, human resource evolution, the pressure to support a halted economy, transportation and space-sharing concerns, broken links to community supports, conflicted parent groups. We salute your fortitude and your ability to gather expertise to solve the greatest problems ever experienced by a superintendent. But the stress is showing even if we take a positive spin on the events. 

Dan Domenech, longtime superintendent and executive directorat the American Association of School Administrators describes the challenges this way, “Throughout these uncertain times, the intensity has risen to seemingly unconscionable levels. Daily concerns include the health and safety of students and staff, addressing educational inequities, social and emotional learning, collaboration and teamwork among staff, connectivity for all students in the community, and the growing concern about the consequences of change. What’s more, budgets are imploding knowing that the average school district needs to tack on an additional $1.8 million in expenses to resume in-person learning.”

Nevertheless, Domenech has hope. “Perhaps the most striking outcome of the COVID environment is a universal commitment on the part of our school system leaders to use this crisis as a catalyst to transform public education. That’s easier said than done. Even under the best of circumstances, the job of the superintendent is a 24/7, 365-days a year occupation. Despite these challenges, this is the beginning of an extraordinary change in American education. I am confident that our superintendents will stand tall and rise to the occasion as they continue to build a sense of hope in communities large and small so our young learners can succeed in college, career and life.”

As a consumer of public education, I am never ready to silence my voice. The obligation of parents to actively partner with our educational professionals has never been needed more. But there is no discrepancy in being thankful for what we already have while we pursue all that is needed. Being appreciative does not let people off the hook—instead, we know that it causes others to do their best work.

So, this Thanksgiving break, let’s put down the criticisms and recognize the humanity in our leaders that just might need some encouragement. One teacher put it this way: “We’re all human beings. We have to respect and take care of each other.”

You may say, “I already feel grateful.” Good. But did you express it to those who need to hear it? As the late inspirational writer William Arthur Ward exhorted us, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

National PTA invites you to find a way to say thanks. To make that happen, we have created some simple tools to help express your gratitude. You can use our social media graphics to show your appreciation and encourage others to say thanks as well.

So, to all the superintendents, principals, teachers and other school leaders…Thanks for caring about my child. Thanks for taking on the burdens of our community. Thanks for feeding the hungry kids and families. Thanks for bridging the digital divide where you can. Thanks for your sleepless nights. Thanks for putting yourself and those you love at risk. Thanks for taking on a hard job. Thank you.

Thank a school leader today by using National PTA’s ready-to-use toolkit filled with sample social media posts and images: https://www.pta.org/home/About-National-Parent-Teacher-Association/Donate/Giving-Tuesday#thanks


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director at National PTA.

Managing Your Child’s (and Your Own) Hidden Emotions During COVID-19

Mom talking to emotional teenage daughter

As a primary caregiver for a child, have you had COVID-19 moments when your anxiety got to an uncomfortable level? Have you feared for a child who you knew was not best served by the lack of variety, social freedom and the structure of school, sports or work?

I have.

Whether during a sleepless night or a quiet moment in my easy chair, I have found it is all too easy to let the reptilian brain imagine unhappy scenarios for my family that I cannot fix.

You see, I, like many of you, am the fixer. A staff member gave me a Brian Andreas poster that says, “He carried a ladder almost everywhere he went and after awhile people left all the high places to him.”

When you are a problem-solver, it can become a high expectation for yourself that the buck always stops here. With me. Eventually.

Of course, I don’t stay there. But as parents, we struggle even if we don’t let it show.

My best way out of my own emotional work is to study and understand what is happening so I have a plan. Intuitively, I may know what to do, but listening to professionals can be a great reassurance.

So, what are they saying?

Here is how to take care of our kids. (I am putting this first even though I know, like the metaphorical flight attendant, I should be telling you to put your mask on first. We will get to that.)

Child Trends tells us we have three primary Rs to undertake with our kids. Reassurance, Routines and Regulation. Our kids can read us better than we can read ourselves. They need reassurances that we believe ourselves.

As parents we need to be guardians of the truth repelling false narratives. They need to understand in our words, in age-appropriate context, what is happening in the world and that adults are doing all they can to manage it.

Next, they need routines. Predictability is a great reducer of anxiety and the structure can reduce depression. Through routines the family can bond together against an external challenge. We are in this together.

The whole family needs regulation. No binging on coffee or cokes. No counting on sugar rushes to improve mood if that was your thing. Good sleep schedules. Moderation in TV, devices and togetherness. Watch your introverts and don’t force them together too much and your extraverts that they are not dying for more connection.

Is there a parent who doesn’t feel guilty that device usage is spiking? It is a concern for normal times and sure, now too. But the best day my teenagers had was when they and a group of friends overdosed on Fortnight on two computers. The laughter and screams were something I could not create for them. The access to devices and a shared platform created the kind of connection only peers can provide. Monitor for safety but recognize that devices can create emotional lifelines.

How will you know if your child is OK? The National Association for School Psychologist recommends watching for significant behavioral changes. That might look like clinging in preschoolers to agitation and sleep disruption in teenagers. I ask my kids every morning, “How did you sleep?” They probably see it as a greeting, but it is a real check-in.

During the crisis, not all  children in our homes may need professional mental health support, but every child needs what Child Trends calls a “sensitive and responsive caregiver.” The deeper the wounds your child may carry, the more skilled they are at catching a “poser” versus someone who authentically cares and is there for them. Having that presence creates an anchor that tethers each child to an emotional shore.

Erika’s Lighthouse recommends three simple communications everyone can say. I notice. I care. How can I help? I notice you seem down today. I am sorry. Is there anything I can do to help? And then they give this advice that everyone would benefit from: Be quiet and listen. Yes, validate their feelings. But don’t problem solve immediately. And for sure, don’t try to tell them they should not feel that way. It might hurt that you cannot solve their problem. It might feel like they made choices that you want to criticize. If you continue down that road they will not want to communicate. None of us would.

Remember that like all of us adults, individualized responses are key. None of our children will respond to the same methods of care.

Let’s return to the idea of our children needing to feel tethered to a caring adult. That only works if you are a source of strength for them.

How do we manage our often-hidden emotions?

A longtime life coach used to say it this way. “Observe your emotions like a leaf floating on a river. But don’t make an altar to your feelings.” I love that advice, because stuffing our feelings never works, acknowledging them does. But building a case in our minds to justify our feelings to ourselves and others is self-defeating.

Our feelings come from lots of places but often from the way we think.

It is difficult to manage your information diet without a plan. Dr. Earl Turner reminds us that anxiety is a fear of the unknown. He says we can reduce anxiety by being informed and knowledgeable, but that overdosing on our COVID-19 consumption can elevate our anxiety. Know when to stop. My husband in the middle of the news stood up and said, “I am going for a walk.” Good self-regulation.

If we don’t want to be suffering internally, there are two time-worn tricks that are hard as hell, acceptance and staying in the moment. Suffering germinates from our insistence that things should and must be different. Acceptance of what we cannot control is the antidote to bargaining with reality. We need to use every trick in the book to stay in the present. The future brings anxiety and the past only offers regrets and nostalgia.

Today, use all your senses to experience the physical world as it is this moment. Harness your mind to deal with today’s challenges for which we all are provided enough grace. The universe seems to dish out grace only as we actually need it—not for future imagined possibilities.

Breathe. Walk. Play with your animals. Serve others. Journal. Pray. Patiently take one day at a time.

No one said it would be easy, but as a 70’s era gospel singer Evie sang, “Don’t run from reality. You have to face every day like it is.”

Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director at National PTA and the proud dad of two adopted teenagers, Kira and Gonzalo.

Grief, Courage, Shame, Pride and Responsibility

GRIEF. My heart is heavy with GRIEF and anger over the all-too-common school shootings that cause families to experience unbearable loss and tear our communities apart. The recent shooting in our own PTSA school in Parkland, Fla. brought it close to home once again. Seventeen families lost their most precious loved ones on Valentine’s Day. As Florida PTA President Cindy Gerhardt wrote so well, “The heaviness of this horrific act has suffocated us with grief, sadness, hopelessness and hurt.”

COURAGE. We ask it of our children as they leave for school each day and participate in active shooter drills. We ask it of our educators who carry out these exercises and work to make schools as safe as they can. When they watch the news, they must wonder how many students and teachers would have died if it happened at their school. Yet they show up every day. And would stand heroically between a shooter and their students and would help and protect their peers.

SHAME. I am ashamed of all of us adults who have been unable to find solutions that will keep our children safe. I am ashamed that we can too easily turn off the news, retreat from the discord over solutions and absolve ourselves from action because no one solution solves every problem. I am ashamed that the complexity of the issue causes us to be frozen in place.

PRIDE. We feel it in the articulate voices of our high school, middle school and even elementary students who remind us of what we ask of them every day when they leave for school. They are taking action and pushing for solutions and change. This is another wave of reckoning.

RESPONSIBILITY. As parents, the burden is on us to find our own clear and urgent voice to add to the student voices we so value. We must speak up and work together to solve the school shootings and other violence in our communities to keep our children safe.

National PTA celebrates a long history of advocacy for the safety of our nation’s children and youth. National PTA believes school safety is a critical priority and that every attempt must be made to reduce violence, especially incidents involving the use of firearms. Parents, educators, community members, and policymakers must prioritize this issue to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.

National PTA has advocated for the prevention of gun violence for more than 20 years, embracing more than a dozen policies that would make a difference. These include mandatory background checks, a federal ban on the sale and possession of military-assault weapons, federal investment to study the causes and effects of gun violence and prevention programming to create a culture of safety at our schools.

In light of the recent shootings, other solutions will need to be considered. No single solution will solve it all.

But let’s get started.

Back to COURAGE. When will Congress find courage to do anything, that will increase the chance that my child or your child, will come home alive from school?

Nathan Monell is the Executive Director of National PTA. 

Engaging Parents in 21st Century Classrooms

education, elementary school, learning, technology and people concept - close up of school kids with tablet pc computers having fun and playing on break in classroom

This blog was originally published on P21’s Blogazine.
Let’s face it—classrooms are very different today than when most of us were in school. Smart boards have replaced chalkboards and projectors. Computers, tablets and smartphones are increasingly being used instead of paper, pencils and books.
Technology and the internet have created countless new opportunities for education. Children like yours and mine can now read about virtually any subject from anywhere and connect with people and places around the world. Teachers are harnessing the power of the technology to bring curriculum alive and personalize instruction to meet the unique needs of every child. Digital learning is essential for the development of skills students need to thrive.
Technology also provides important opportunities for us as families to be more involved in our children’s education as well as for families, teachers and school staff to engage in regular and meaningful communication about student learning.
As the new year gets into full swing, it is important that we as parents are aware of the technology our school uses and how we in turn can use these tools to support our children’s success in the classroom.
Here’s how schools can help:
BE TRANSPARENT
Share with parents the online systems, portals or apps your school is using. Make sure they know how to access these tools and use them to track their child’s progress and ensure they are receiving the right supports.
UTILIZE TECHNOLOGY TO COMMUNICATE IN REAL TIME
Technology provides a variety of ways for families, educators and schools to share information with one another and keep in touch. Technology allows families to access information quickly, easily and when it is most convenient for them. It is important that multiple mediums, platforms and dissemination tools are used for real-time dialogue and parent-school communication.
ENGAGE PARENTS THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA
Many parents are active on social media. And through social media, relevant information can be communicated in a timely fashion. Use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to deliver news and important updates, share pictures and encourage parent engagement.
VALUE AND SEEK PARENT INPUT
It’s important that families have a seat at the table and the opportunity to provide input when decisions are made that impact their children and schools. When families are included in all stages of technology decision-making and implementation, they better understand the benefits for their children and are invested in the outcome.
EVALUATE AND ELIMINATE BARRIERS TO ENGAGEMENT
While technology provides great opportunities for family involvement and parent-school communication, it can be a barrier to engagement. For example, a preponderance of portals and apps require parents to register and save passwords again and again frustrating the parent until they shut down. Equally frustrating, some systems are not mobile-friendly. These factors can be a hindrance for parents when it comes to using these tools. It is imperative to evaluate and eliminate such barriers to increase access to and use of technology among families.

Technology is a powerful tool for teaching, learning, connecting and communicating. It is critical that parents are empowered with opportunities to be engaged as well as with the tools and information to support their children in the classroom and beyond.


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and a proud father of two public school students. National PTA is dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement.

 National PTA is a proud supporter of the Future Ready Schools initiative, which is aimed at maximizing digital learning opportunities so all students can achieve their full potential. Schools that are Future Ready understand that parents play an instrumental role in the learning environment, and as such, need to be highly engaged and recognized as a vital part of the school community. National PTA echoes the recommendations and characteristics of parent engagement in Future Ready Schools.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

New School Year. New Smart Phone. New Ground Rules.

shutterstock_217072951

Co-authored by Hilary Schneider, President of LifeLock, Inc.

The start of a new school year comes with new people to meet, new material to learn, new rules to follow and for some kids, new responsibilities like taking care of their first phone or device and diving into a whole new social world online.

Today, kids are getting phones at seemingly younger and younger ages. A new survey commissioned by LifeLock revealed that 30 percent of 9-year-olds have a phone.

Just as we want to ensure children start the new year strong and stay on track to success, we want the same for their participation in the online world. As expectations and goals are set for children for the school year, it is important to also set rules for their use of digital devices and teach them how to be good digital citizens.

In our day jobs at National PTA and LifeLock, we talk a lot about finding a balance between the opportunity to build friendships, learn and have fun using technology and the need to stay safe and develop healthy lifestyles — online and off. But it’s one thing to talk about digital safety and another thing entirely to live it. As parents, we get it. And as business leaders, we think we can help.

National PTA and LifeLock have launched a new, free digital tool called The Smart Talk to help families set ground rules around technology. Our goal is to bring families together to have productive conversations about online behavior, using the latest thinking from best-in-class experts.

The Smart Talk provides an interactive experience that guides kids and parents through a series of questions and conversations about topics such as safety and privacy, screen time, social media, reputation and respect. After agreeing on healthy limits together, a personalized, official family agreement can be stored on the computer or printed and posted at home. We call it “fridge-worthy.”

The survey commissioned by LifeLock also showed that while 79 percent of today’s families have technology agreements with their children, only 6 percent of those are written. The Smart Talk can not only help families formalize rules, but also identify check-in points down the road to update those rules.

It’s a chance to start and build good digital habits, like not bringing the phone to the dinner table or turning off the computer well before bedtime. And for those kids who might get a phone this year, it’s a chance to learn and grow together with their parents.

For more on managing your child’s use of technology or to develop a family technology agreement, visit TheSmartTalk.org and “like” #TheSmartTalk on Facebook.


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and a proud father of two public school students. Hilary Schneider is president of LifeLock, Inc. and was previously an executive vice president at Yahoo!. National PTA and LifeLock have collaborated to raise awareness and increase understanding of smart and effective practices families can use to foster good digital habits among kids and teens.

Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline

shutterstock_1281505

This week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered a speech on the need to invest in education instead of prisons to ensure that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential. National PTA has a long history of advocating for policies to prevent children and youth from entering the juvenile justice system and to protect those currently in the system. If we provide the right investment and resources for our nation’s children, their families and schools—rather than jails—we will see better outcomes for our communities, society and the nation’s economy overall. We must stem this tide of the school-to-prison pipeline by making sure adults and schools are using disciplinary policies and practices that keep students in schools and out of the justice system. We must promote programs that encourage the use of evidence-based disciplinary practices, such as positive behavioral interventions, over zero-tolerance policies and out-of-school suspension practices. Further, we must promote effective family-focused, community-based solutions for our most troubled youth. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes plain economic sense. Let’s make a promise to trade the unsound prison investment for better schools and better communities for our children.

Take our teachers, for example. As research shows, access to high-quality teachers and educational opportunities leads to greater lifetime earnings and better health outcomes. According to the Department of Education, states and localities spend a total of $72 billion annually on correctional facilities while only $27 billion on teachers that work in high-poverty schools. Imagine the impact if we chose a different path and instead invested in a child’s future by ensuring they had a high-quality teacher.

Since 2010, cuts to education funding have approached an embarrassing and shameful $4 billion. There appears to be a severe misalignment of funding priorities when K-12 enrollment at public schools increases annually, but federal discretionary funding for education programs continues to decrease. Earlier this week was the close of fiscal year 2015 and the federal government barely beat the deadline to fund the government for 2016. Unfortunately, we find that the current congressional debate is not on how much we should invest in education, but how much to cut education.

We urgently call on our policy leaders to strategically invest to break the school-to-prison pipeline and ensure that each and every child reaches their potential. Secretary Duncan’s call for a shift in funding from prisons to our children’s education is exactly the realignment that our education system needs to provide students with the opportunity to succeed in school and beyond.


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA

Keeping Families Together

This blog post was featured in the Huffington Post. Read the original post here.

shutterstock_140108563One of National PTA’s founding principles is to advocate for children and families who are most vulnerable. In the heated debate about immigration, we raise our voice for the estimated 4 million K-12 students in the United States who have at least one parent with the potential of being deported. (Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends)

If these parents and family members are suddenly uprooted from their children’s lives and deported, it will have a significant negative impact on their children’s education and opportunities. Their children will face not only the emotional loss of their primary support, but also the benefits of having families engaged in their education and other aspects of their lives, which result in a greater likelihood of graduating from high school, attending college and being employed.

It is not hard to put ourselves into the shoes of these families and to imagine the horrors that are being talked about so cavalierly. I know if I were to be snatched away by authorities, the trajectory of my 10 and 12 year-old would be forever changed. And if they lived under that threat every day, the emotional stress would adversely impact every aspect of their lives, including their potential for academic success. Yet, this is a reality for millions of children every day.

The threat to families is not just in the evolving rhetoric. In 2013, the federal government deported more than 72,000 mothers and fathers of children who are U.S. citizens, resulting in thousands of shattered families.

Actress Diane Guerrero of “Orange Is the New Black” was one such child and she wrote about how that deportation impacted her life. At 14, she came home from school to find that both of her parents had been deported. With few options, she was fortunate enough to be taken in by friends. However, her parents missed many of her academic and personal accomplishments during her childhood and were not there to provide valuable support. While Guerrero has succeeded despite this distressing experience, many children are less fortunate.

Deportation of parents can lead to greater expense as some children may need to enter the under-resourced foster care system. The trauma may cause some children to understandably lash out with negative behavior in school or possibly end up in the juvenile justice system without the support of their parents. These types of cruel deportations led one New Mexico judge to state, “For 10 years now, I’ve been presiding over a process that destroys families every day and several times each day.”

If students are more likely to do better in school and life when they have involved families, and the documented benefits of our nation’s immigrants far exceed the costs of their presence and participation, then policymakers should provide solutions that benefit our nation’s diverse and talented youth and their families, not harm them.

At National PTA, our motto is “Every Child, One Voice.” When you know our families as I do, you know that many of their children are on their way to be doctors, teachers, social workers, entrepreneurs and other valued members of our society. We raise our voice for the children of immigrants–let’s give them the best opportunity to succeed by keeping their families together and providing them with the best education possible. Their future and our nation’s future depend on it.


 

Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and a proud father of two public school students.

We at National PTA believe that all children residing in the United States, regardless of their citizenship status, have the right of access to a quality public education, adequate food and shelter and basic health care services. Our association strongly considers that a critical part of a quality public education is to provide the same opportunities to all families to be involved in their child’s education, despite their differences.