A Lesson in Leadership from the Covid Years

A MiddleWeb Blog

In July 2019, I wrote a blog post for MiddleWeb that was a reflection of my first year as an Assistant Principal.

Although that first year was a little rough, I was full of optimism for the coming year at a new school and was looking forward to using the lessons I had learned the year before to make me a better administrator and leader.

Of course, none of us can predict the future, and while my second year started out great, like educators across the country, COVID caused everything in my life to be turned upside down and inside out.

Like most of you, we shut down in March of 2020. At first I felt lost, not really knowing what my role was supposed to be in this new, all virtual learning world. But we all quickly adapted and overcame many of the obstacles before us, and before long I found a way to support my teachers and students from afar.

We returned to school in the fall of 2020, but with so many restrictions that we weren’t sure if any teaching and learning was really happening. Add to that the constant changes to school schedules due to proximity issues, the lack of substitute teachers for classrooms where teachers had to quarantine, and the excessive number of absent students, and it is a wonder that any of us were able to maintain our sanity in 2020-21 or that any of our students learned even a little.

But we did, and they did. And while the pandemic didn’t vanish, it did begin to dissipate a little in our area. Mask mandates lifted, and we began to get out and about – interacting with one another a little more each day. We all thought we were getting back to normal.

No such luck!

With the surge of a new variant of COVID, 2021-2022 began with mask mandates back in place for our school district and the phones ringing off the hooks with angry parents. Within the span of the few short summer months of 2021, we went from being the heroes that came back to work in 2020-2021, to the villains who were demanding that students once again wear masks at the start of school.

Although the Fall 2021 mask mandate and other restrictions were soon lifted, the constant changes during both the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years made it feel like we simply survived instead of thrived.

With that being said, I look back at that post from 2019 and realize that it was my belief in building and maintaining relationships that helped me help our teachers get through a very tough time and vice versa. It was the relationships that I had built with teachers that allowed us to cry on each other’s shoulders when things got too rough and to buckle down and work together when things were a bit better.

Both my principal and I took the idea of leading from the front very seriously, never asking our teachers to do anything that we weren’t willing to do ourselves.

When classrooms needed to be cleaned because our janitors were out with COVID, we picked up brooms, mops, and rags and got to work. When we couldn’t find a substitute for a classroom, we rolled up our sleeves and got in the classrooms to help.

We, like many others out there in schools across America, looked at what needed to be done and got it done. And our poor tired teachers appreciated us for it.

Building community

The past 2 ½ years have been unpredictable, chaotic at times, and tough, but they have also helped solidify my belief in the importance of taking the time to build and maintain relationships. In addition, these years have reshaped my ideas on leadership. As I reflected on what I have learned over the years for this post, I realized something – I didn’t always lead from the front during these 2 ½ years.

Sometimes I led from the side, holding teachers up while they held me up in turn. Sometimes I led from the back, allowing others to take charge because they were better equipped to do so. And of course, sometimes I led from the front, moving obstacles out of the way so that the path was clearer for those behind me.

Looking ahead

Real leadership is leaders recognizing that they serve the people that they lead.
– Pete Hoekstra

Leadership means something different for everyone, and each person’s trials and tribulations will shape that meaning. My sincere hope is that the trials of the pandemic years have helped to shape me into a much better leader who recognizes that the people I lead are also the people I serve!

Here’s to a great, and somewhat more normal, 2022-2023 school year!

Feature image: Shutterstock

DeAnna Miller

DeAnna Miller (@DMiller0502) has been a middle school English teacher, instructional coach, and assistant principal during her 15-year career in education. She began her fifth year as an AP in the fall of 2022 and currently helps lead a K-6 public school in Enterprise, Alabama. DeAnna is an Army veteran married to a retired First Sergeant. They have three daughters, a son, and a new grandchild. She’s also a runner, avid reader and writer, and an “extreme Disney fanatic.”

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