Tales from the Pandemic: Lessons learned as an administrator during COVID-19

Yolanda Harman, NBCTSeptember 2, 2021

Starting the School Year. As a school-based administrator entering my 3rd year in a building, I have experienced very little “normal.” I thought this year would be different.  Er, rather, I hoped. Here we are on the Friday before teachers return.  COVID-19 numbers are surging.  Mask wars are on full-scale. Staff members are stressed already. My question is – How do I take care of everyone and still take care of ME?

COVID ponderings. On March 13, 2020, the sudden, unexpected halt to education (& sort of the world in many ways) came at us like a freight train in a tunnel. I honestly did not know what to think and initially was simply numb. I don’t do well with sudden change or unexpected crises. I know. “And you are an administrator in a high school?” you ask. I will be honest – I am still learning.  

March 13, 2020 to present day. Many twists and turns, sudden stops and starts, and variations of what school looks like bring us to today and the start to another strange school year. Maybe it won’t be all year but already the seas look choppy. I feel the walls moving in and my stress level increasing. But I am in a small, rural school. How bad can things be?  Really?

What is my role in COVID-19 Part II?  Or is this III? Much like the movie Groundhog Day – which I love – I feel like I am reliving the same moments over and over. You would think I would have the hang of this by now, that I would know what to do and how to do it, that I would help lead our building. I will say I am in a better place than I have been since March 13, 2020. I have an idea of what needs to be done and I am ready to face that challenge with a realistic positivity.   

As an administrator, what can I do for my staff and students? There are so many actions we can take but what are the most important ones? In no particular order, some lessons I have learned in the past two years include the following:

  • LISTEN – Take time to be present and truly hear what others are saying. Ask questions to better understand. Put yourself in their shoes.
  • BE COMPASSIONATE – Having compassion for others does not mean that you still don’t hold them to high standards but it sometimes means increasing your empathy and being understanding and tender.
  • HELP LESSEN THE LOAD – If you are able, look for ways to make the path clearer for those around you or following you. How can you do something to ease the work or pain of others?
  • LIFT OTHERS UP – Go out of your way to be what I call a “bucket filler” so that people feel better, not worse when they are in your presence or when you part ways. I highly recommend an older but excellent book, “How Full is Your Bucket?”
  • DO WHAT YOU CAN – Recognize your limitations, strengths, and talents. Do what you can within your means. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help or to invite them to join in your efforts.
  • TAKE CARE OF YOU – THIS. I cannot emphasize this enough. Throughout the pandemic, and at other difficult times, my reliance on healthy habits of mind, body, and soul have allowed me to find solace and comfort in my own life. This always allows me to be a better person for those around me.
  • BE A PROBLEM SOLVER, NOT A PROBLEM MAKER – I much too often want to identify what is wrong, what needs changed, how it needs to be and then fail to offer viable solutions or even any solution. My advice is that for every problem you define, try to think of possible solutions that you can bring to the table. Ask others for different solutions. Think outside the box. 

Take a risk. Show those you lead that you are always willing to try and willing to learn. Don’t be afraid to fail. That is when the true learning happens.

Yolanda Harman, NBCT

Yolanda Michelle Harman presently serves as Assistant Principal of Northern Garrett High School for the Garrett County Public School system. She taught at NHS and served as science chairperson from 1990 - 2013. She was also the Supervisor of College and Career Readiness for GCPS (2013 - 2017) and Supervisor of Science and Mathematics for WCPS (2017-2019). This is her 32nd year in the state of Maryland educational system, her 30th year @ NHS and her 3rd as Assistant Principal. Dr. Harman earned her B.S. in biology from Gannon University and her teaching certification from Frostburg State University where she also obtained her M.Ed. in Administrative and Supervision and a Doctor of Education as a member of the 1st Inaugural Cohort of the program. In 2000, Dr. Harman achieved National Board for Professional Teaching Certification which she successfully renewed in 2010. She is in the renewal cycle again with a December 11, 2021 determination of achievement of this credential. Dr. Harman was a former MD Biology Teacher of the Year (2001), Garrett County Teacher of the Year (2005), MD Teacher of the Year finalist (2005), Christa McAuliffe Fellow (2002), and USA Today Teacher of the Year (2001). She has served as an AP Biology reader and table leader since 2000 (-present), MD and AP Assessment Question Writer (various), Toshiba Exploravision Judge (1990 - present, and has reviewed/edited Modern Biology textbook for Holt, Rinehart and Winston (in the 2000s)In 2013-2015, Dr. Harman served on the Governor's Task Force for Senate Bill 740. She currently serves as the Past President for the Maryland Science Supervisors Association, a Board Member for Western MD AHEC, and a MASSP Board Member.