Q&A: How One Principal Is Supporting Her Teachers and Students With At Home-Learning

Learn more about Alex Dowdy.
Alex Dowdy
Senior Program Manager, Education
George W. Bush Institute

Monique Booth is the principal at Salem Church Elementary in Chesterfield, Virginia. In her role, she supports 618 students and 43 teachers as they have transitioned to distance learning due to COVID-19.

Monique Booth is the principal at Salem Church Elementary in Chesterfield, Virginia. In her role, she supports 618 students and 43 teachers as they have transitioned to distance learning due to COVID-19.  She is part of the Chesterfield County Public Schools team participating in George W. Bush Institute’s school leadership research project. 

As the principal, how are you creating a sense of normalcy for teachers and students? 

Leading amidst a national pandemic has been a challenge and also an opportunity for growth. It has allowed me to find new and innovative ways to connect with my teachers, staff, students, and parents. 

Creating a sense of normalcy has been a priority for my leadership to support and care for my teachers, students, and their families. However, I must admit that it has not been easy, as there is nothing normal about this experience. 

I have made myself more accessible to families by providing my cell phone number so that they can call me if they need anything. I also conduct updates and offer opportunities for families to connect with me through Facebook Live and Google meet hangouts. I hold weekly virtual faculty meetings, sometimes it is just to see everyone and maintain our family-oriented connection, and other times it is to share important updates and information. 

Our wellness integrator holds virtual workouts through Zoom three times a week for faculty. It’s a great way to maintain our health and wellness, and we get to see one another and engage in exercise. We continue to conduct PTA meetings through Zoom. 

We also led a social distancing staff parade through our school community. It was one last opportunity to say goodbye to our students and families and “see you soon.” It was an exciting and sad experience. 

 How are teachers continuing to go above and beyond to keep students engaged and learning? 

All my teachers and support staff are going above and beyond to create a sense of normalcy for our students. Teachers have made themselves more readily available and accessible for their students and parents. We have established designated work hours so parents can reach out to teachers, and we have also communicated that our teachers are available to parents beyond those designated hours. During those hours, some teachers lead morning meetings with their classes. 

One of my third grade teachers is a native Spanish speaker. She has been instrumental in supporting our Spanish speaking population as we strive to meet the learning needs of our English learners. She calls parents for other teachers and administrators to communicate important information and to check on students. 

The school counselor leads Mindful Mondays, Timeout Tuesdays with yoga and breathing techniques to support our students and staff mental health through our school’s Facebook page. She also leads Thankful Thursdays and Friendly Fridays in which she reads books or talks to students about being thankful and how to be a good friend. Since she did this during our weekly morning announcements during the school year, it has helped continue a sense of routine. 

Our  art teacher is providing bi-weekly art lessons through our school’s Facebook page  During her videos, she engages students in various art projects with items they may have access to in their homes. 

The literacy intervention team continues to offer small group/1:1 reading intervention services to students via Google Meet. 

What advice do you have for other principals? 

  • Consistent and timely communication
  • Maximize the use of technology to engage others
  • Be creative – there is no one right way to do this
  • Create a sense of normalcy for students and families by continuing activities that typically happen during the school year 

What feedback have parents shared with you regarding at-home learning and efforts made to continue educating your students? 

Parents have been very appreciative of our efforts. Teachers are calling parents, meeting virtually with them, communicating through Class Dojo, and emailing in an effort to ensure all students are able to engage and have access to continued learning. 

Some parents have expressed that they are overwhelmed with homeschooling and working, which is understandable. Many of our teachers are parents too, and we are all in this together.