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Taking time to pause sparks the capacity to take purposeful action.  It offers leaders time to replenish their tanks and build community; to know what they believe so they can inspire change. In 2020, we paused to reaffirm our core beliefs and created space for our partners to do the same.

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March 2020 will forever be remembered by educators as the time when schools closed their doors. For teachers in historically under resourced systems, especially those more geographically isolated from their neighbors, school closures exacerbated inequities related to access and engagement already at play. Teachers’ anxiety and sense of helplessness was further compounded in systems where teachers had no voice in shaping the response to COVID-19.

Fortunately for our partners in Burke, Emanuel and Jefferson Counties, the launch of a network called Teachers Transforming Teaching Together (4T) before the pandemic gave teachers two things that the rest of their peers around the world so desperately craved in March: (1) authentic connection to other educators trying to solve the same problems they were and (2) a real voice in shaping engagement strategies to meet the needs of students and families who were now more disconnected than ever before.

4T is a network that brings rural systems together and amplifies the voice of teachers as leaders of innovation. We could have never foreseen the immense need for a network such as this before COVID, but were privileged to facilitate connections between these three systems that resulted in more collaboration and trust in one another to problem solve.

“I thought the pandemic response would be a sprint but it has become a marathon. At some point, I hit an anxiety wall. Thankfully, that was right at the time I decided to join Connected Community. The participants and facilitators are pushing my thinking as I retrain my brain and perspective for the road ahead.” -Erin Anderson, Paulding County, Middle School Teacher

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Students learn something from every adult at school. Head Custodians, Nutrition Managers, and Bus Route Supervisors shape the student experience through every interaction they have. Too often, we think of the “leaders” of climate and culture as the teachers and principals in a building.  But classified employees are critical influencers of culture too.  We partnered with Forsyth County to help them expand their leadership development support to include those on the frontlines of shaping the student experience. 

“I thought the pandemic response would be a sprint but it has become a marathon. At some point, I hit an anxiety wall. Thankfully, that was right at the time I decided to join Connected Community. The participants and facilitators are pushing my thinking as I retrain my brain and perspective for the road ahead.” -Erin Anderson, Paulding County, Middle School Teacher

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A leader’s social-emotional skills are particularly critical to help teams navigate change, and FY20 called on every school and district leader to do just that. COVID-19, coupled with national calls to address systemic inequities in government, school and society, created a monumental leadership challenge for all those in a position to decide how schools will serve their communities.

In FY19, we advocated for the importance of SEL. In FY20, we turned advocacy into action, working with leaders to know themselves better so they could more successfully lead their teams.