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

Posted by Kylie Hand, Online Learning Coordinator and Molly Schwemler, CCIU Communications on 3/15/2021 8:00:00 AM

Leading From Afar (Part 2)












[Estimated Read Time: 3 Minutes]

As the pandemic, and most recently, the winter weather, continue to throw twists and turns regarding returning to in-person learning, principals’ commitment to steady leadership and flexibility have been paramount for providing a sense of consistency and hope in their schools. Despite the potential of additional in-person opportunities on the horizon for students, many students will continue to engage in hybrid or virtual schooling. In our first post for school leaders on leading from afar, we established the need for principals’ instructional leadership presence among students and gave some strategies for virtual visibility.

Whether your students are mostly virtual or beginning to return to in-person instruction, it is important to continue evaluating your current strategies for connecting with students and communicating their sense of belonging within the school culture while they are at home. While we know that school principals have a vital impact on student achievement, now principals truly can be two places at once - in students' at-home learning environment and in school buildings. Consider these additional strategies for leading from afar below and let us know what has worked well for you!

  1. Plan a Virtual Talent Show to Celebrate Student (OR Teacher) Talent
  2. Facilitate a Schoolwide Service Project
    • Getting students to feel part of something bigger than themselves while helping others can go a long way for connection right now. Collaborate with your student council or parent teacher organization to develop smaller teams and find worthwhile projects.

  3. Virtually Shadow a Student for a Day or a Week
    • Get insight into the online learning experience and bond with students who may need extra encouragement by participating in class with them. Take a look at Stanford school’s Shadow a Student Toolkit for guidance.

  4. Bring School Community to Students Wherever They Are! 
    • Although this doesn’t count as an entirely “online learning” strategy, having local, personalized presence within a community or neighborhood goes a long way in helping to increase student attendance and engagement. You don’t have to organize a car parade like some schools did in the spring 2020, but consider the positive impact of delivering simple recognitions, such as certificates or yard signs, incentive prizes, school materials and books. For an example, check out what Avon Grove School District did.
    • If you and your staff are making deliveries, consider including a meaningful momento: a framed 4x6 picture with a word of encouragement, a new book or a special bag with school “swag.” You can see what the Reading School District did in August of 2020.
    • You could also plan an outdoor neighborhood pop-up bus with giveaway information, school materials, on-the-ground tech support, books and fun! 
    • Don’t forget about sending surprises in the mail to students, too!

  5. Leverage Data to Help Determine Your Reach
    • Whether informal conversations or formal analytics, revisit data to see if you can better discern which strategies are reaching students. Are you having consistent participation? Are students watching your schoolwide announcements? Are you asking students for feedback? You’ll discover what strategies are working and which ones you may not want to continue.

Give these ideas, or those from our previous post, a try and let us know how they worked for you in the comments. We also invite you to continue sharing any of your ideas and strategies for building relationships and instilling connection at a distance – we come up with our best solutions together!

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.