Successful Re-opening Starts with Communication

Hunter Elementary School was one of the first district schools to re-open its building.  Heather Mull-Miller (2020 Neubauer Fellow) recognized that a successful re-opening depended on open and honest communication.  She took this approach because she knew that “a mystery is always worse than the reality.  As Brene Brown says, ‘Clear is kind.’”

Mull Miller closely read the district’s 54-page re-opening document, pulled out every single item that applied to her school, and began to build a Hunter-specific re-open plan. Transparency guided all of her decisions. Every stakeholder in the Hunter community received thoughtful and timely communication. “No wondering!” is one of Mull Miller’s mantras.

The Hunter team gathered feedback and listened to staff and families alike to build the Hunter plan. Teachers spent a lot of time in small informal gatherings, which allowed them to process new information and hear directly from their leader and each other.  “Often the person closest to the challenge or barrier is the one best suited to find the solution. Beyond certain non-negotiables, the people walking the walk should have a big voice in what is happening.” These intimate gatherings enabled the team to do exactly that.

Mull Miller allowed teachers to have as much autonomy and control as possible.  Viewing teachers as leaders of their own classrooms, she ensured that families received communications via their most direct contact with the school – teachers. Once decisions were made, teachers were empowered to share information via Google Classroom and Class Dojo. The majority of Hunter families speak Spanish at home, and Dojo allowed for instant translation, making it a small but mighty tool that kept information flowing between the school and community.

Today, the Hunter team uses trackers to track many types of data and support ongoing communication across the team. These trackers provide the power of knowing who is and is not attending, who is actively engaged, where students scored on various assessments, and specific information captured during small group instruction. This easy access to information allows the team to track growth across learning objectives and make informed decisions. They use this timely information to build plans to drive instructional improvements.

Mull Miller is incredibly proud of her team. She views their collaboration to support re-opening as a bright spot.  Hunter’s team accomplished a staggering amount, all while consistently supporting each other with small gestures of kindness, a willingness to listen, and a commitment to work together. “COVID brought my team together in a way that is remarkable.”

At the end of the day, Hunter’s successful re-opening was grounded in clear, consistent communication. Once their building doors re-opened, they were greeted by eager students. As Mull Muller noted, “Our kids are ready to go!”