Welcome back, and we hope you enjoyed our first Educator Spotlight on Tuesday about Sarah Cowan and her journey with blended learning! Today we are back with another spotlight, only today we will be featuring Robb Virgin, principal of Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota.
We are so thankful that Mr. Virgin took time out of his day to share with us his experiences with the transition to remote learning, what he’s taking away from the experience, and advice that he wishes he could share with all teachers.
When asked about what March of 2020 was like for him as leader of the high school, Mr. Virgin discussed the sheer amount of rapid decisions that he and other leaders of the district had to make in a very limited amount of time. These decisions touched on almost every area of the organization, from making HR decisions and ensuring that employees were cared for and kept safe, to completely reconfiguring everything from a curricular standpoint, to changing operations such as busing and lunch options, to determining what to do with after school activities—the list goes on and on. Not to mention the fact that almost everyone involved was experiencing some type of loss at the time, whether it was the loss of senior year experiences, loss of job stability and normalcy, loss of health, and more. Simply put, it was an incredibly overwhelming time for everyone in almost every possible way.
Robb went on to elaborate on how one of the most challenging recurring aspects of the whole journey is keeping up morale, both between students and teachers. For teachers specifically, many of them are working nearly around the clock to continually improve their newly developed lesson plans, while also coping with the difficulties of losing the in-person connection that many of them value so deeply.
That being said, Mr. Virgin also explained some of the ways that he has been able to be a leader in maintaining hope and morale throughout the process. He said that some of the keys to keeping a strong community is to still find ways to keep in contact and to remind people that what they are feeling is shared by others. Another way of keeping positive is by being humble and allowing yourself to learn from others and admit what you don’t understand—this also strengthens your connection with others during this time. Finally, remembering to celebrate every small win and overall focusing on the good has been a crucial element to maintaining morale.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this journey for him has been the way he has watched people become vulnerable and learn alongside each other while admitting that they don’t know how to do a lot of the things they are suddenly required to implement. If he could give any advice to educators who are struggling during the pandemic and with the sudden change to completely remote learning, he would advise everyone to keep their priorities in mind (don’t forget to prioritize your family and health) and to remember what the big picture is. In this case, the big picture is Eden Prairie Schools’ vision to prepare kids for the future—-the goal is not necessarily to teach them the exact same content in the exact same way as last year and the year before. Instead, it’s important to give yourself grace and do the best that you can right now.
Some of the key qualities that exemplify a good leader are those of empathy, adaptability, and leading with a good heart and trusting that others are doing the same. After speaking with a few students about Mr. Virgin’s leadership tactics, it is evident that he certainly exhibits all of these traits. He has compassion for students and teachers and understands that everyone’s situation is different, and he is able to shrug off rigid thinking that might hold him and others back from adapting to the situation.
To end our time, we asked Robb what he would say if he could encourage all teachers who are working tirelessly to adapt at this time. He responded that he wished he could help educators understand that they are making a difference in the lives of their students, even when they can’t see any results, or when it doesn’t feel like it. The people who are currently working as teachers are the right people for the job and are doing the right work, and all that’s left now to do is to keep persevering, learning, and growing.