• Leading from Afar: Strategies for Establishing Presence Even at a Distance (Part One)

    Posted by Kylie Hand, Online Learning Coordinator and Molly Schwemler, CCIU Communications on 3/1/2021 1:00:00 PM

    Leading From Afar











    [Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes]

    Throughout the pandemic, school principals have defined the term resilience. They have consistently restructured school schedules; remained positive; checked in with teachers, administrators and families; coordinated complex transportation needs; performed contact tracing; engaged with students in person and virtually and, on some remote learning days led from buildings with empty classrooms.

    Pandemic aside, establishing presence and principal leadership within a building of hundreds of students can be challenging. As school leaders, teachers and staff continue to work tirelessly to ensure that COVID-19 risks are mitigated and policies are followed, it has become even more challenging to be present. For many principals, some or perhaps all of their students are not even within physical proximity to greet upon arrival at school, connect with during dismissal or see in the hallway. Although online learning is important for keeping the community safe and continuing education at this time, many students engaged in at-home learning may be experiencing social and emotional disconnection from their school community.

    In Baruti “Principal Kafele’s” 2018 book, Is My School a Better School Because I Lead It?, he writes:

    "When I served as a principal, I was always very much aware of what my presence meant to my students. There was nothing accidental about it; my presence was very much by design...

    ...Your leadership presence conveys a message to students whether you want it to or not; the question is whether you are in control of that message. You must get a firm handle on what your presence should mean to your students and convey that with every word you speak and action you take.”

    Since presence is crucial for building relationships with students and instilling school connection, community and culture, we are sharing 10 effective strategies that school principals can use to establish presence even at a distance. Here are our first 5:

    1. Share Daily or Weekly Schoolwide Video Announcements
      • Create a schoolwide “classroom” in your learning management system and record announcements in advance. Schedule announcements to send to all students in your schoolwide classroom or be posted in the same location at a consistent time. Consider virtually co-hosting the announcements with some students.
      • If you don’t have the option to create a schoolwide class, ask teachers to post a link to your announcements (such as a Flipgrid page) in a prominent spot in their virtual classrooms.
      • Host the announcements from multiple locations within the school or even while you’re “on the move” to remind students of the place and people waiting for them to return. Consider adopting a #1minwalktowork like Dr. Joseph Sanfelippo!

    2. Post Engaging Questions for Your Students
      • Encourage students to interact with you or each other on discussion boards and give them different response options such as posting via video, audio or text.
      • Post polls that allow students to vote or answer fun questions. These can be huge hits when they involve the principal doing something “silly” or obscure like this example: Prairie Point Elementary surprise students by dressing up.

    3. Pop into Synchronous Classes to Walk Your “Virtual” Hallways!
      • Speak to your teachers about potentially popping into a class, co-teaching or being present as a special guest in the classroom on culminating project work sessions or presentation days.
      • When you do join a class, say “hi” to students in the chat upon joining and acknowledge strong questions, comments and effort.

    4. Drop into Asynchronous Classes, Too
      • Let your teachers know that you would like to randomly participate in discussion boards and potentially leave feedback on some students’ work or questions as a surprise to students.
      • Look at what students have been learning and send an announcement to the class complimenting their efforts and creative thinking.

    5. Host Virtual Lunches, Clubs and Meetings to Connect with Your Students
      • This could be done in small or large groups. You could even host a special guest like North Putnam High School did in their Lunch with the Principal.

    Stay tuned for even more ideas for effectively leading from afar coming your way soon! Give any or all of these ideas a try and let us know how they worked for you in the comments secton. We also invite you to share any of your ideas and strategies for building relationships and instilling connection at a distance.

    If you would like to connect with fellow Chester County principals, consider joining a cohort of the Principal Study Council for collaborative study and discourse! The Principal Study Council may already be well underway for this year, but you can learn more or email your interest in a future cohort to council leadership by visiting our information page.  

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  • Real Protection in a Virtual World: Five Key Cybersecurity Solutions for School Districts

    Posted by Jim Lukens, CCIU Systems Administrator and Molly Schwemler, CCIU Communications on 2/8/2021 3:00:00 PM

    [Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes]

    The past year was comprised of countless, previously unimaginable shifts in everything from the way we go about our daily lives to the typical ways we connect and learn. While students, families and education professionals throughout Pennsylvania have participated in virtual learning to some degree, it is fair to say that no one could have predicted that we would all be teaching, learning and connecting completely online for almost a year. Seemingly overnight, educators needed to rethink instruction methods, administrators had to devise solutions to keep the community safe and district technology professionals were tasked with connecting all of the dots, or rather wires, so that all students and educators would have an accessible virtual world of knowledge on their screens each week. 

    While virtual methods of connection and engagement have enabled learning to continue and remain vital as we all continue to navigate the pandemic, the safety and security of critical school district data, files and records and district systems are also a top priority for all technology professionals in education. Neglecting these crucial areas can leave sensitive district and student information open and vulnerable to cyber threats, including malicious software attacks, intentional overloading of servers and platforms, accidental deletion of critical records and more.

    As we work diligently to maintain virtual, hybrid and in-person learning systems and data, here are our top five tips for ensuring the security of all vital district and school data this year.  

    Regularly scheduled backups of heterogeneous platforms and physical servers over a secure infrastructure are critical for avoiding data loss in the event of an attack, server failure or deletion. To save on bandwidth following an initial full backup, try the fast backup approach in which only changed data is backed up after a full backup. Programs like Rubrik use this technique, also called an "incremental forever" backup model, to ensure maximum data and system security.

    Regular and fast backups are critical, but so are multiple backup copies! Consider backing up data to an offsite location and replicating to a remote location so that it is securely accessible in two places. The extra piece of mind offered by multiple backup copies cannot be underestimated.

    You’ve scheduled your backups and made multiple copies in secure locations, that must be enough to ensure your information is safe, right? Take your safety a step further by securing your backups. That data that you stored in an offsite and remote location should also be encrypted and protected. Creating encrypted and protected backups enhance the safety of your data as it is now immutable (unable to be changed) once in storage.

    Develop customized actions and monitoring to help protect against Ransomware attempts. Consistent monitoring, as well as the attention of technical professionals, can detect and report potential signs of a Ransomware attack like unusual file changes (files added, deleted, changed, encrypted). Certain systems can also be designed to learn normal file activity over time so that typical activity is distinguished from unusual file activity.

    In the unfortunate event of an attack, be prepared for the recovery process. If the previous strategies have been implemented, it will be much easier and faster for your team to recover compromised files, either to their original location or to a completely new location.

    Although cyber-attacks can appear to impact our systems when we least expect it, practicing and incorporating these strategies and tips into our usual security process can help us to not only react more effectively when our cybersecurity is threatened but also to prevent issues before they occur.

     Do you want to learn more about securing your district’s information and technology? Are you and your organization located in or around Chester County, PA? The CCIU offers reliable, cutting-edge services and continuous support capable of handling your needs! To speak to our Director of External Technology Services, Bryan Ruzenski, at the CCIU about our technology solutions and how you might benefit from our services, email or call: 484-237-5026. If you are specifically concerned about any of the cybersecurity threats or lack of existing districtwide solutions to the issues detailed in this article you might also benefit from discussing our Rubrik solution.

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