During the summer, several principals from across the nation joined me for a Re-Opening Mastermind to collaborate, explore, brainstorm and support one another during the difficult days of planning for a new school year.
As I was wrapping up the final content for my newest book, I shared an advance copy of my new book, Pause. Breathe. Flourish.: Living Your Best Life as an Educator. Sonia Lopez-Morales was a Mastermind member kind enough to write an endorsement for the book. This week, Sonia joined me to reflect on ways she is applying those lessons to her own school leadership. We also explore the unique ways her school is serving the children and families of a diverse community with many immigrant families:
Meet Sonia Lopez-Morales
Sonia Lopez-Morales is Assistant Principal at Charles Graebner Elementary in San Antonio Independent School District. Her bachelor’s degree is in music education. She earned her master’s degree at Texas A&M International University. She and her husband of 32 years live in San Antonio and are the proud parents of three adult children. Sonia began serving as an administrator in 2008. The last three years, she has been serving urban, inner city school students. Charles Graebner Elementary serves 660 PK-5 students with over 95% economically disadvantaged. It is a dual-language school in the southwest part of the city.
WDP: Welcome to Principal Matters! You were a part of the Principal Matters Reopening Mastermind and read the early edition of my book. I remember when you began school, you shared with me the important lesson from your first week. What was that lesson?
Sonia Lopez-Morales: Yes, the most important thing we can do is build relationships with students. Nothing is more than important than making connections with students. Students want someone who will be authentic with them and know where they are coming from. We are still living it and do not have history yet to tell us all we have done right and wrong in this new blended model. But in all of it, relationships must be there.
WDP: You are in a part of the country that saw soaring numbers of positive Covid cases near the start of school. What has the start of school looked like for your community?
Sonia Lopez-Morales: We began August 16 in distance learning. September 8, we began opening schools with 10% of our student body across the entire district. By September 21 we added another 10% of our students. We are cautiously doing well and providing simultaneous in-person and virtual instruction. Our metrics are looking better across the city as we’ve taken this cautious approach.
WDP: So many leaders I’m talking to are managing weariness. How do you even find time to recharge your batteries?
Sonia Lopez-Morales: If you are not disciplined with your time, this time will force you. But you must still be pausing for your family and person connections. It means adjusting your time for personal reflection and exercise. It may mean cutting your 30-minute routine to 15 minutes. I have a running checklist in my head and on my phone on a daily basis.
WDP: You serve in a border community. Several weeks ago, I interviewed Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj is an Associate Professor in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who contributed to a report, Supports for Students in Immigrant Families. What has been your experience and what strategies are you using to reach every student in your dual-language community?
Sonia Lopez-Morales: We are using flex schedules. In the communities we are serving, many of them must have their children in schools. But this means we have been willing to bring them in at various times that work for their family schedules. We also are committed to communication, and this means in the languages of those families. Allow parents to provide authentic feedback. You cannot just rely on surveys. It means talking family to family to find out what they need. And more than anything, expect high rigor. They deserve this kind of excellence because this is their future, not ours.
WDP: You are bringing students back in percentages. What is your goal for returning to campus. And what do your flex schedules look like?
Sonia Lopez-Morales: At the end of September, we are at 28% capacity with students on campus. Our goal by December is 50%. There is no way this works without teamwork. We also have co-teach models. If we have a small group, we team teachers together so that one can be teaching our in-person students while the other is planning and helping reach our virtual students. For our youngest students, we have some students coming half-days with some in the mornings and some in the afternoon. Teachers assigned to these groups may be re-teaching content to each group. Our specials classes have been serving the entire population but are also doing this synchronously and asynchronously.
WDP: If leaders want to reach out to you, how can they contact you?
Sonia Lopez-Morales: They can find me through my school email address: SLOPEZ-MORALES1@saisd.net. I also want to give credit to my Principal, Noemi Saldivar, and the many other leaders who have provided strong leadership and influence for me and those we serve.
WDP: Any final words you’d like to leave with listeners?
Sonia Lopez-Morales: I appreciate that your book is a balance of personal lessons and relevant sources for pedagogy. Whether you are serving a border community or another community, we are really more alike than not. This is hard work, but we’re going to get through it. We’re writing history so don’t forget it!
Sonia also shared this generous endorsement of the new book:
“In Will Parker’s book, Pause. Breathe. Flourish. Living Your Best Life as an Educator, I found myself reconnecting to the power of self-reflection and most importantly how it can effectively influence my perspective in school leadership. Whether you are a new or experienced educator, you will find connections in leadership experiences through his career and personal narratives in the guiding steps and questions found in the book’s section ‘Now It’s Your Turn’. I will add this book to my career ‘playlist’ because when home, life and careers get messy, and they do, applying analogies with a new growth perspective, will help to identify my “WHY” once again. I will also utilize the self-reflection questions in a professional learning network (PLC) book study, as it draws from relevant education research that can be applied right away in teaching/learning practices. Thank you, Will, for putting into words what is relatable and true during these extraordinary world events that have impacted education and will forever transform it and all of us as well.”
Now It’s Your Turn
As you are serving in new and innovative ways during a pandemic, what steps are you taking to connect and build relationships with students and families? How are you taking time (even just a few minutes) to reconnect with your own self-care and priorities? Thanks again for doing what matters!