We recently caught up with Washington D.C. based principal, Gerald Smith. You might recall Smith as one of our favorite school administrators to follow on social media. During our latest chat, he told us about the biggest challenges his school has faced since the start of the pandemic and the good that he has seen come out of it all.
What has been your biggest challenge since the pandemic started? One of the biggest challenges my school community has faced during the pandemic [is] the long overdue equity issue [at] many institutions who serve children of color, specifically black and brown students, as we worked as a united community to provide curated lessons of engagement. With many scholars with limited access to technology and those that are within homes that have varying complexities, the pandemic removed scholars from one of the only safe and consistent spaces they know. Over the course of the pandemic, my school community has had to work very hard to build strong relationships with new and old families rooted in faith, love, and trust in order to navigate today’s world.
What’s your favorite social media platform and why? Instagram has been one of my favorite social media platforms to date; with the ability to add snapshots of your world and now reels, Instagram provides space for one’s story to be told in powerful visual aesthetics. Many of our scholars use Instagram in tandem with TikTok, and we love the culture and community we get to extend via a social platform. Using Instagram has also allowed for us as a school community to build new and valuable partnerships with organizations and other schools. Don’t get me wrong, Twitter is a new obsession, but Insta will always have my digital mind!
What is the bulk of your time spent on during a typical school day or week? How would you reallocate your time, if you could? During a typical day of school or even a week, as a leader I can easily be pulled in multiple directions. One trap that I easily fall into is sitting behind my office desk. I try my best to avoid this because emails and the land of digital communication can encompass the rest of my day; I make a conscious effort to focus my attention and time on being present for my community; especially with my scholars and educators, I love cofacilitating lessons with educators, a good game of kickball with the middle schoolers, and receiving some of the biggest hugs during story time from my primary scholars.
How are you supporting teachers in this new world? I’ve found myself more frequently in deep reflection when it comes to supporting teachers; I always remind myself that I am an educator first, and this allows me to lead with compassion and empathy for the struggle many of my educators are navigating due to the pandemic. I enjoy meeting with them one on one to develop lessons for the virtual space, observing their classes to give intentional and quality feedback, and working with them to find time to take care of themselves. Often in the month we get together virtually just to play a good game or to laugh; I have many comedians on my staff. My favorite way to support educators is through the act of giving, whether it’s a candy bar, or a cup of joe, and nothing beats surprising your team with a delicious Chick-Fil-A sandwich every now and again. It’s all about reminding them that they are doing an impossibly great job; they make every day legendary.
What’s been the biggest silver lining to come out of the past year? I often worry about the things that students and teachers might lose because of the pandemic, but then my overly optimistic side reminds me of all the things they’ve gained. My community has become so resilient and filled with grit; students are engaged and educators inspired; even parents are on board with the things we’ve promoted in our community.
Taking a step back and a moment to look, I’m reminded of my favorite poem, The Sun and Her Flowers, by Rupi Kaur:
“this is the recipe of life
said my mother
as she held me in her arms as i wept
think of those flowers you plant
in the garden each year
they will teach you
that people too
in order to bloom”
The pandemic has given us an opportunity to slow down and reflect and purge ourselves of things we no longer need; in some ways we’ve wilted, but the silver lining is that one day, after falling, the seedling of our new being will root, and once the complexities of the world around us have dispersed, we’ll rise and our bloom will be impeccable.