This is my third try at writing a “From the Archives” for the August Leadlines. Each time I read our local paper, there would be an article that shifted my thoughts and focus. The most recent was one that shared the decision of the Lansing Public schools to go completely virtual and to cancel all athletics and extracururricular activities for the fall. I checked and my archives in the basement were bare when it came to finding anything that directly addresses the current situation. I did however reflect on how we had to adapt to previous crises in previous years. It has been said that studying history gives us perspective.
I thought back to Columbine in April, 1999 and Sandy Hook in December 2012. Schools changed after both of those events. With Columbine we lost our perception of schools being a safe place. The need to address mental health issue among our students became an important item for discussion in schools. The planning of large gatherings like prom now included concerns never discussed before. We survived and the kids adapted. Sandy Hook in December, 2012 changed our world again when 26 people, including 20 elementary students were gunned down. School doors were locked, access was to buildings was regulated, ID badges became the norm and security personnel became key part of a building team . We adapted and survived.
September 11, 2001. Our schools and our world changed on that Tuesday morning nineteen years ago after airplanes were deliberately crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and passengers intervened to prevent UA Flight 93 from crashing into the US Capitol in Washington . I sponsored many student trips with the Domestic Student Exchange Program prior to 9/11. Group curbside check-in with a skycap was standard practice. Luggage for twenty-five students would be stacked in a cart and wheeled into the terminal. I would be holding all of the tickets while students and parents headed off to the gate. I would pass out the boarding passes just before departure and off we would go with no security checkpoints, body scans and x-rayed carryons. Arriving students from our partner school would be greeted with welcome signs at the gate. After 9/11 air travel became much less enjoyable. The potential of a school being the next target raised concerns across the country, but we adapted and survived.
The current Covid-19 crisis has brought us a set of issues and concerns that were not on our radar a year ago or at 2020 States in Grand Rapids. How we respond to these challenges will play a a very large part in how we define and remember education in this decade. Legislatures, governors and school boards will be making decisions that will affect our students, their parents and teachers. My grandson will be off to college in a week after a senior year without a baseball season, prom or commencement ceremony. He adapted and survived. His graduation party was this past week and several of his teachers and coaches stopped by to offer their congratulation and well wishes. They reminded me of something I shared with new teachers when I was a building principal. I asked the new teachers “what do you think students will notice about you as their teacher?” The answer I shared with them was a simple one – Everything! This holds true for activities advisors as well. Your student notice (and remember) everything about you – how you treat students, how you support and encourage them, how you give them both praise and criticism, how you help them grow as leaders, and how you deal with your own challenges.
As we move through the current challenge of Covid-19, remember your students will be noticing how you are dealing with the issues. Key decisions will no doubt be made by the “higher ups”, but students need to know we can adapt and survive. School will not be same as it was last year. Traditional events may not take place or will need to be greatly modified. Planning processes may need to be adapted. In the midst of all this, new opportunities may arise. Administrators may need to lean on your group now more than ever as an outlet for student voice. There may be new opportunities for student involvement as schedule conflicts reduce. This may be a good time to redefine the role your group and other activity programs play in the culture of your school. I truly believe the “why’s” of activity programs will remain pretty much the same. What will change more are the “what’s” your group does to accomplish its “why’s”. If you can adapt, you can survive.
Please remember you are not alone as you face these challenges. The MASC/MAHS provides opportunities for advisors to share with other advisors in Michigan. Nationally, NAWD (the National Association of Workshop Directors) is an organization of activity advisors from across the the nation.
On their website ( www.nawd.com ) under the “What We Do” you can find print resources, handouts from workshops at conferences, leadership class materials and information on Zoom sharing meetings on a variety of topics. The next Zoom sharing meeting is scheduled for September 18th at 7:30. It’s focus will be “School Spirit, Culture and Climate in the New Reality”. The meeting is open to all who are interested. I will post the meeting link on the MASC/MAHS website.
NAWD has also sponsored an annual conference for activity advisors for the past 47 years. This year’s National Conference on Student Activities was scheduled to be held in Boston on December 4-6. The NAWD Board has made the decision to switch the conference to a virtual format. This was a difficult decision for the Board to make, but it will allow more activity advisor to participate as there will be no travel or hotel expenses and the conference fee has been dropped for $320 to $65 with a school group discount available. Additional information will be posted on the NAWD website. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding NAWD and its programs.
I hope to see you all face-to-face in the near future. Stay well.