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March 1, 2022
Vol. 79
No. 6

ASCD Community in Action / Finding Community Amidst Change

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Leadership
Finding Community Amidst Change
In September 2020, about 20 principals and assistant principals from across the United States—and even one in Oman—joined together on a Zoom call after a long day of meetings, observations, phone calls, securing technology for hybrid learning, mediation between parents and teachers, and possibly squeezing in a few bites of food. The call was convened by ASCD, and it had one main objective: to assess where school leaders were in the conversation about educator well-being. Was their own well-being something they had even considered during a period of massive flux and stress in schools? Was it a priority, along with the well-being of teachers and students?
This was just a few weeks into the new school year, the first since educators had packed up their things in March for what they thought would be a few weeks of remote work. In the intervening months, some of these leaders had lost staff members and parents of students to COVID-19. Some were grappling with how to address the protests and unrest after the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. The atmosphere in their school communities was heavy, and their greatest priority was starting the school year off better than the year before had ended.
During that Zoom call, the leaders went around one by one and shared how difficult things had been. They were brave enough to talk about how the isolation of being a school administrator had begun to wear on their bodies and minds. They shared that before this meeting, they couldn't even remember the last time someone had asked them how they were doing. They said they wanted to be better about attending to their own well-being but didn't know where to begin. At the end of the call, the school leaders were asked if they wanted to continue the conversation. Unanimously, they said yes.
These leaders gathered virtually every other Wednesday through October of that year. Using the results from a short survey about their needs, ASCD staff members supported them in tackling barriers to school leader well-being.
The first issue addressed was time. To support the conversation, we reviewed an article from the June 2020 issue of Educational Leadership in which district superintendent PJ Caposey proposed a new approach to time management:
First, you have to embrace the fact that there is no such thing as time management. We all have the same 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 52 weeks in a year to get things done. Time is fixed. Time is not malleable. Time is not manageable. But you are. So, you have to think of it not as time management, but as self-management. As humans, we control our behavior and choices when it comes to work completion, prioritization, and efficiency. This has nothing to do with attempting to control the uncontrollable construct that is time.
In response, the school leaders shared ideas about how they could better manage themselves and what areas of their school lives could become more efficient to create time for self-care. The group agreed that email was one major time-suck and could be better managed by dedicating time to responding to emails rather than trying to answer each one as it arrived in the inbox.

Self-Care, With Support

During the next meeting, the leaders engaged in a deep-breathing grounding activity designed to remind them that to take care of others, they first have to take care of themselves. They were also asked to try out a variety of self-care exercises before the next meeting, including a seven-day self-care challenge that addressed the areas of health, love, competence, and gratitude. At the meeting that followed, they shared their experiences in creating more intentional time for themselves and creating some work boundaries. What's more, they committed to holding one another accountable by scheduling their own check-ins with one another outside of the group calls.
For the final meeting, the school leaders were asked to use the ASCD Action Planner, a tool that helps educators move a problem of practice to a theory of action, to find solutions for addressing one barrier to prioritizing their well-being. Some went back to the email issue and developed a clear action plan, while others decided to address their lack of time management by focusing more on self-management. In January 2021, the group gathered once again to check in on each other's progress and share ideas—and to renew their commitment to self-care and their support of each other.
These leaders' deep engagement in this project confirmed for ASCD that school leaders need a stronger sense of professional community and that working in community can help them share stories and strategies and adapt to the challenges they're facing. Accordingly, this small discussion became a starting point for the ASCD Professional Learning Community, which launched last summer. As in that first call with the school leaders, the Professional Learning Community is growing into a space where educators can move from isolation to collaboration and community—where they can guide their own learning and receive support and feedback from peers. It's a place where they can be bold in making sure they are addressing their own needs.
To learn more, go to www.ascd.org/communities and find the affinity group that's right for you.

Jéri Ogden is an educator, writer, and facilitator with a passion for and emphasis on equitable practices and cultural competence. Ogden has taught at both public and charter schools in D.C. and in Houston, Tx., as well as an international school in United Arab Emirates and has taught PreK, Kindergarten, and 3rd grade English Language Arts and Social Studies. She has served as a Smithsonian Science in PreK Educator and a Flamboyan Family Engagement Fellow. She holds a bachelor's degree in communication and culture from Howard University and a master's in education from American University in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Educational Leadership and Policy.

With more than 10 years of progressive teacher leadership, Ogden serves as the Director of the ASCD Professional Learning Community at ASCD. She is also a member of the adjunct staff at Trinity Washington University where her courses focus on restorative practices, relationship building in school systems, and empathy. In addition, she is the founder of PURPLE, a consulting firm that provides purposeful, uplifting, and restorative professional learning to organizations and communities.

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