I took a quick tour through my writing for the year 2021 and found the following common threads:
Posts about hiring bookend the year, a reflection of the delayed arrival of this concern. Independent schools didn't experience the teacher attrition they were worried would happen in the 2021 - 2022 school year, but that all feels different going into the hiring season this winter. As COVID variants cycle through and vaccination rates plateau, classroom teachers are feeling more vulnerable than ever, physically and emotionally, and if the number and difficulty of administrator searches this fall are a harbinger, a busy, protracted hiring cycle could be the biggest challenge independent schools will face in the new year.
As arduous as it feels in retrospect, 2021 was filled with successes for independent schools. We retained faculty, as noted above, as well as students, including the "safe harboring" students who left their previous schools out of frustration with their pandemic responses. Nationwide, independent school enrollments were up. In my research on school leadership, I found that most schools had not only found operational equilibrium by January of 2021 but also felt that the board/head relationship and the quality of governance had been strengthened by the work they'd done together. We were pleased to see school leaders turning their attention to strategic planning beginning in the new year and making other deliberate efforts to emerge from the forest of operational planning that had preoccupied them for most of the previous year.
Within the first months of school this fall, teachers were experiencing what a year's worth of relative isolation and dread had done to children. Learning loss was the least of it with the youngest children, many of whom presented as developmentally behind. Lacking physical and emotional stamina, struggling with pragmatic language, fine and gross motor skills, kids have needed additional help forming the building blocks of autonomy, critical competencies without which most academic learning will be impossible. To support exhausted teachers, heads hired additional classroom support staff, and augmented kids' access to counselors, and occupational and speech therapists. Heads also dramatically limited schoolwide initiatives that drew from teachers' time outside the classroom, perhaps the most important retention effort they could make.
Our extraordinary times have helped schools define some edges that might have seemed limitless or sublimate-able previously. Remote learning, we know now, has very limited value for elementary age children. Our mission statements and values call us to see through equivocation, expose sophistry. One important aspect of our independence means that we don't have to tolerate conspiracy theorists, history whitewashers, amateur epidemiologists, and we have seen schools this year remove members of their communities who are unwilling to live up to their missions.