When the Principal Gets COVID-19

A MiddleWeb Blog

When You Are Positive

I have COVID-19. By the time I got the call from the county health department, I was very sick and reasonably certain that the results of the test I had taken a few days back would be positive. Still, when the gal confirmed I was shocked and said, “Are you positive I’m positive? Could this be a mistake?”

It wasn’t a mistake.

Making the call to my boss, the superintendent, was hard. Our school was still face-to-face. We had been open since August, and all of us were hopeful we would be able to stay that way. But as the principal of the school, I am very active. I am everywhere and work with everyone. That makes me something of a superspreader, I’m afraid. So me being positive is a positive disaster.

We Were So Careful

Part of the reason we were able to stay open so long is because we were so careful. Masks. Social distancing. Cohorting of students. Constant cleaning. Handwashing and sanitizing. The works. Those things helped. I truly believe that. But, COVID-19 is a slick salesman and finds a way to angle in through the door using any crack. Lately, when I talk to the community about how and why we were (are) so careful, I use the “Swiss Cheese Model” to explain it.
But in a pandemic in the state of Wisconsin, right now, being careful is just not enough. Soon after I tested positive, the decision was made to shut down my school for two weeks. I think it was a wise decision. Again, I am in contact with everyone. I am one of those principals who is almost never in the office. I’m a wild whirling dervish of teaching and learning. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you I am everywhere in any given day.

Even though most of my contacts are at a distance, are for a limited time, and I always wear a mask, if I have COVID, others likely do too. It would be foolish to think otherwise.

We Were Prepared

My staff is amazing and we were prepared. We had plans in place for going remote and had worked with students on them. None of us like distance learning – on average, we’re an older staff, and all of us agree that face-to-face is better, but we were ready anyway.

I was gone the last day of face-to-face school with kiddos and was largely too sick to be of much use from home either. But, again, we were ready. The email one teacher sent to the rest says it all:

All I can say is that if a staff has to rally, it’s us who do it best! Truly blessed to work with the best people on the planet! Rita, I know you weren’t here to see it, but you’d be so proud of what your staff accomplished in a matter of hours today while still carrying on with Halloween festivities. Stay healthy and safe everyone!!! 

The Feels

Guilt. Responsibility. Worthlessness. Oh, I have the feels. It’s a pretty rotten place to be as a leader. I can’t be there for my team. I can’t be there for my families. I can’t be there for my students.

Make no mistake: I am an intellectual and I realize that these emotions are not only transient, but to a large extent based on erroneous assumptions. One of the goals I have for myself is to learn to let go of my ego and not allow it to rule me any more than I would my id. As I’ve said many times, there is no room for ego in teaching and learning.

Educators get sick. I am sick. But my staff, my families, and my students will all be fine without me. To think otherwise is egotistical and diminishing to those I serve, and I am trying really hard to keep that in my heart and mind.

Staying Positive

Today is a rough day. I have about 10 minutes of energy at a time, and what passes for “energy” is little more than the stamina to think about and type this post. I am a glass half-full gal. Heck, I’m just glad I have a glass. In an effort to continue to be grateful, I am focused on the following.

1. Looking for the benefits. When I reached out to a friend to ask her to join my self-pity party, she reminded me that one good thing about having COVID-19 is that it’s really unlikely I’ll get it again. That is true and hearing it sort of flipped a switch for me. Yeah, I’m sick. Yeah, it’s not pleasant but there are good things!

For example, my teenagers are quarantined with me, and waking to the sound of them laughing together (even if it is while they shoot each other with nerf guns) makes being home with COVID-19 a good thing. My kids are sworn mortal enemies. But right now they are laughing like when they were four or five years old. This new round of isolated living is bringing us all together.

I am also grateful that I now have true empathy for others who’ve contracted the virus. I can speak to the experience with and for others. That’s a gift.

2. Laying low and minding my own health and wellness. It’s hard for me to not work. Truly, I love my job and education is my vocation, my profession, and my hobby. But right now, I am trying not to work (writing this post notwithstanding). I sent an email to my staff asking for a few days of radio silence. My only focus is staying healthy enough to take care of my own children. Short walks, sitting outside in the fresh air, and washing a few dishes was a big day for me. I am okay with that and won’t push it.

3. Letting go of negativity and refusing to engage when others won’t. I live in a conservative town, and though folks have been extremely kind to me I know that there are a few who would like to play politics with my situation. There have been a couple of emails and Facebook posts with snarky comments. But I simply refuse to let negative thoughts add to my COVID-19 woes. How? Look below.

4. Never forgetting my core values. Each day for more than twenty years, I’ve started with a few mantras. I say the Serenity Prayer first and then voice the following:

• Start with love. End with Love.
• Take the high road and assume folks mean well.
• Visualize your best-self and walk toward that vision.

When I find myself becoming angry or frustrated by negativity from others be it ambient or directed right at me, I go through the mantras again. It doesn’t always work, but it does most of the time.

This Too Shall Pass

Several times while writing this piece I’ve asked myself why I am writing it at all. How does this post add to the value of The Heart of the School blog? The answer is, I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t. But I am an educator and I have COVID-19, and for whatever reason, it feels worth it to post these thoughts and feelings.

Above, I shared what a member of my teaching team wrote, “Rita, I know you weren’t here to see it, but you’d be so proud of what your staff accomplished.”

I am so proud.

Not only of my staff, but of all of us.

Educators, we are on the front lines here. Thank you for all you are doing to keep kids learning and keep them feeling seen, heard, and loved. This pandemic will pass. The dizziness whiplash of social media voices declaring us heroes or enemies will rattle on. Ignore it.

What won’t pass is the impact each of you has made in the lives of the community members you serve. Never forget that.

Rita Platt

Rita Platt (@ritaplatt) is a National Board Certified Teacher and a self-proclaimed #edudork with master’s degrees in reading, library, and leadership. Her experience includes teaching learners in remote Alaskan villages, inner cities, and rural communities. She currently is a school principal, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute and writes for We Teach We Learn. Rita's first book,Working Hard, Working Happy: Cultivating a Culture of Effort and Joy in the Classroom (Routledge/MiddleWeb), was published in July 2019.

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