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Leading with Care and Empathy in the New School Year

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    Efrat Kussell

As summer winds down and the frenzy of school begins, I always turn to the core values of EL Education—the design principles—to ground me. This year, more than any before, the principle of Empathy and Caring has underscored my preparation as a leader and educator. 

With those principles in mind, Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School is focused on building a learning community defined by equity, joy, and respect between and amongst students, staff and families.

Over the summer when the halls are quiet and the days feel longer, it’s easy to get lost in budgetary planning or creating the perfect schedule for the coming year. It’s even easier to get caught up in student data and in curricular planning. Had you asked me five years ago what is most important when planning for a strong start to a fresh year, I would have, without a doubt, pointed to assessment and data and the action planning that will inform curricular decisions and pedagogy. Had you asked me three years ago what is most important, I would have said aligning teachers around establishing effective and joyful routines and procedures.

Both of those are still true. Planning and assessing are critical and we owe it to all students to know them well academically if we are going to lead them to high levels of growth and achievement across a school year. Having a self-managed classroom with effective and joyful routines is essential to making school a place where students enjoy learning. What’s most important, beyond the numbers and the systems, is establishing a sense of community and trust across a faculty and student body.

The theory of action that we are committing to is centered on a key message of CP34—Cultivating a Positive Professional Culture. If school leaders build trust that allows educators to “take risks, show vulnerability, and explore new practices,” then student achievement will increase. Dramatically. We believe that when staff feel trust, empathy and care emanating from within their professional community, the transfer of their investment and care to students is natural. It creates an environment where all students are recognized and honored for their unique strengths. The results we expect to see this year at Launch are the highest levels of growth in student achievement across all three dimensions

Key actions we are taking to lead with empathy and care are:

  • Redoubling our dedication to crew structures—student crews will meet four times a week and crews will be led by a wide range of faculty, myself and other administrative leaders.; Staff crew will meet bi-weekly.
  • Introducing and implementing new Habits of Heart and Mind for our community that were selected by representatives from all constituencies (families, alumni, students, teachers, and administrative leaders). We commit to living these habits with our students and one another.
  • Increased listening time through regular 1:1 meetings between administrative leaders and faculty, regular staff surveys, and a commitment to implement feedback at all levels of the organization. 

As you get ready for your best year yet, what design principle is guiding you?

About the author 

Efrat Kussell is the Head of School at Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School. She has been a teacher and leader in Central Brooklyn for more than ten years.