Wendy Hanson 0:24
It's so good to have you all with us today. We try to bring some wisdom about what's happening out in the world. And I'm very excited today to be with Paul Bailey. So let me tell you a little bit about him. He's currently the middle school director at the Columbia grammar and Preparatory School in Upper Manhattan. Paul has worked in independent schools for the past 20 years in upstate New York, Columbia, South Carolina, the Pittsburgh suburbs, Englewood, New Jersey, and now in Manhattan. In his tenure, he served as an English teacher, Barstow.
The lacrosse coach and multiple administrative roles, yet he has been a principal for the past 12 years. During the quarantine, Paul's been waking up early to run the Hudson River, put on a jacket and tie to deliver the morning announcements and house training his 12 week old puppy and managing his three kids in an online learning process. Whoo. Welcome, Paul. Thank you for being with us today.
Paul Baly 1:24
Great. Thanks so much for having me.
Wendy Hanson 1:26
Oh, well, we've worked with you at BetterManager. And we know a little bit you had such a great story of leadership. So I knew this would be wonderful for our audience to hear. So tell us a little bit first, give us some context about Columbia grammar and Preparatory School.
Paul Baly 1:43
Great. Well, we are a 1300 students school that spans from four years old through 12th grade. We're in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and we encompass three city blocks. The school was founded in 1760 before and it was the prepared grammar grammar Preparatory School for what was then King's College and now is Columbia University. About 100 years later we broke apart from from Columbia University and became our own entity. It was, ironically was called grammar. Now we think of grammar is grammar school or elementary school. It's actually called grammar school because they studied Greek and Latin roots as the means of preparing for a rigorous college experience at King's College. And again, we as we head into the quarantine, one of the things we're able to say is we've made it through the Revolutionary War The the Civil War, the two world wars, the Great Depression and 911 and we know that we're going to weather this one as well.
Wendy Hanson 2:52
Yes, what a rich history oh my goodness, I had no idea and the the beginnings of grammar how we got that name. In a grammar school? Well, I love your optimism, we are going to make it through this one too. And it's only through connecting and learning from each other and working together that we make that happen. Wow. So we've heard from managers that we coach and they're in all different types of companies about the challenges of having their kids at home and balancing work and homeschooling from what you've heard, what's the most challenging aspects for parents?
Paul Baly 3:29
It's exactly that. And as we head into this process, one of the things that we said was we have to prioritize, you know, what is the most important part of distance learning and
we said, the most important part is that our students are engaged, excited, and that they're learning and, and that they're prepared for the next grade. You know, we said, No, we can't structure a day for students and for parents, because so many of the tools that we use are related to physical presence and the relationships that we have with
Students that are so so reliant on the ability to fluidly connect and communicate with people. And whereas now we're having for a quick five minute conversation that you would usually stop by somebody classroom or catch a student in the hallway, we're having to set up a Google meet. We use Google meat as opposed to zoom. And and so what we're finding with parents is they're really looking for the structure of the day to to commence and middle schoolers are, are not known to be self driven and self motivated. They need that those external motivations to really be successful. And so we're finding that we're trying to structure as much as possible for students and trying to take the onus off parents but at the same time as parents are, are managing two and three kids and trying to, you know, continue with their work life. It's become a real job. Only 10. So what we've tried to do is connect as much as possible with with parents, we're having many webinars we're sending out instead of, instead of sending written correspondence, we're trying to do as much video correspondence because we feel that that personal connection that are so, so critical to schooling is missing. And so the more that we can use the tools that are disposable to us disposal to enhance that, the more that they appreciate it, I think the more that they feel connected to their own children's learning experience and to the school itself.
Wendy Hanson 5:33
Yeah. I always try to think in situations like this. What's the benefit? Like what's the side benefit that we may not feel now, but you must be hearing some things from parents because I know I hear things from from parents about some benefits. What are you hearing?
Paul Baly 5:51
Absolutely. I mean, I think there was a great article written in the times on Sunday and the weekend review in the times. They talked about in this is where we're middle schoolers and parents finally come together. Middle school that that time between 11 and 14 is, is a time of tremendous growth. In fact, they've just identified that it other than zero to three, it's the time where your brain develops the most throughout most throughout your life. And one of the ways in which middle schoolers develop is through that sense of identity and autonomy. And so here's a time where, whereas they might have taken the extra two or three hours in the day to, you know, stare into a screen or get caught up in the video games, we're finding that students are, are exploring some of their interests that, that that were always there, but maybe they didn't feel like they had the time because the days were so structured for them. We had, we had a student write an unbelievably powerful poem, and go down to the Hudson River and videotape herself. reading it and sharing it with the school. We're finding these art projects that are really expansive and really thoughtful and, and we're hearing that families are connecting over over monopoly and card games and puzzles and, and students are reading a lot more sometimes. And we always encourage personal reading. And students are taking the time they're saying, you know what, I've I've spent three hours playing video games and you know, that's enough my brains fried. And I'm gonna go, go try a trick basketball shot and sit in the in the, in the in the driveway doing that for two or three hours. So, some of these personal interests that they may have been curtailed or obscured by by just the rigors of 21st century life are allowed to be explored a little bit more.
Wendy Hanson 7:45
Oh, I love those examples. That's so beautiful. And we need to, we need to hold on to these after we get through this pandemic like the pieces that we need to hold in the relationships. That's lovely and and now As put on your educators hat, the perspective of what's been the issues that you've had having to deal with distance learning, like getting that up and going, what's that been like from a leadership position?
Paul Baly 8:13
what's fascinating is the timeline. We heard about this pandemic in mid January, we, you know, we've had other other pandemics and SARS and Ebola, and when that didn't reach North America, this one at the time didn't seem any different. And around early mid February, we started to see, hey, you know, this, this probably is going to come our way and we should prepare and, and still it seemed, it seemed very abstract. None of us had ever been in a quarantine situation. We were lucky enough to have a lower school director who had been in China during the SARS epidemic and had been marked. And she understood what this might look like. But still, I think we were thinking, yeah, maybe we'll have two weeks off, you know, maybe maybe we'll have three weeks off. And then as the as you know, that time in mid March approached, we really did have our ducks in a row, we had explored all the tools we had defined what distance learning would look like, we identified these terms synchronous and asynchronous, which, you know, in the past synchronous You know, it was kind of something needed to your watch or, but but now it really was, you know, how much real time should students be spending with with their teachers and how much should they be given some assignments and give it their own time. And, and once we kind of wrapped our head around the fact that this is most likely gonna be, you know, throughout the rest of the year and the quarantine wasn't just going to be not coming to school, it was actually going to be not not leaving your house or particularly for children. That evolution really came quickly. And so, you know, trying to ensure that we were meeting curricular goals and also engaging our community that was really a priority. So the big challenge was how much synchronous time should we be spending with students? You know, what, what's best from an educational standpoint? What are the benefits from the synchronous learning, in other words, the video recording, there were definitely some benefits, you know, were there. So there have been some unbelievable debates that students have had because that this format really lends itself to one speaker at a time students have been able to have some great classroom discussion. But there are some drawbacks. He was very difficult to put students into small groups, it's very difficult to assign independent work. So we've had to really balance that that you know, what makes sense from a standpoint of expectations of the way in which students are using their time and what makes the most sense from from giving getting the most most Educational bang for your buck. And sometimes I was like, but the expectations and you know, we're there was a big gap. And so we had to really do a lot of education to our families and with our families and with our students, in terms of why are we Why are we structuring the day the way that we did, the way that we are? And how should they be using their time away from from and synchronous learning so that their students are enriched to the, to the best extent of their ability. And then we also beyond that had different resources we have many times we have parents, where we have two frontline workers who are out 1314 hours a day and the students are in a house with a sitter or nanny or something like that. And other students who are you know, in other parts of the country and they're sequestered and they're both both parents who are able to help and attend and help structure the day so so being as available as possible
Wendy Hanson 11:54
me have models of families that work with
Unknown Speaker 11:58
you know, absolutely Wow.
Wendy Hanson 12:00
And, and it struck me also, Paul, when you talked about this age, you know, fifth grade and up, it's the time that you build your autonomy and who you are and, and then to be kept inside. It has to be a double challenge there because we, what are what are they going to learn from this? What are they going to take from this and I love the stories of people being more creative and connecting, but this autonomous time has to be really, really challenging for the parents and kids.
Paul Baly 12:30
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And again, that was, you know, kind of managing expectations and trying to be as available as possible to families. And yet, when we had the sense that a student didn't show up for class, you know, or, you know, two periods in a row, you know, that was an immediate reach out, you know, what's going on in this house? Is this a student who slept in and no big deal or is it the student is really struggling with something deeper. We want it to be as communicative and proactive and as much Have a resources we could be the families to try to help get through this time.
Wendy Hanson 13:05
So you must do so much work with your teachers who are doing so much of the reaching out and how what have you noticed about your own leadership during this time? And, and how you've had to even step that up even more? Because of where we are?
Paul Baly 13:20
Yeah, I mean, it's been a time where collaboration has just been so important. We have two or three different groups that we're trying to connect with. And we've done a couple of things. So So one, you know, I believe in presence, I think presence is really important in the physical environment and and and you know, how does how does presence replicate itself in the virtual environment. And so that's meant, you know, stopping by classes literally popping popping our heads, system director, who has been really incredible about get trying to didn't know almost every single class every day just to make an appearance and see what's going on
Wendy Hanson 13:57
getting into every single class means Jumping on a Google meet,
Paul Baly 14:03
find that finding that web address and just popping in and seeing what's going on. And it's also been really important to ask questions and and, and we sent out a lot of surveys from, to all constituencies. So we have our teachers, our students and our families, our three, our families, our parents are three main constituents. And we have wanted to ask and see how it's going and see where are the gaps in the parents that we want more class time this kid said, We want less class time the teacher said the class time the class time is just right. And so not only have we wanted to ask those questions, but we wanted to respond to those questions. There are some some outliers in the data that we find we want to reach out to those outliers and, and get a sense of what their experience has been. And then beyond that, you know, when we do have issues and being very intentional about finding whose voices need to be a part of of crafting the solution to this to this to this issue that's going on whether it's how should we replicate what we call moving update, which is kind of a mini graduation ceremony in which voices should be a part of that? What are the kids have to say? What are the parents want? What are the what are the what are the teachers think are most practical? You know how to be looked at great grades is a big, we don't think that we can really accurately assess students in this environment. And so we've gone to a pass fail model. But again, who should be a part of that a bad that answer and we asked our curricular leaders to do that. So just attempting intentional where whereas you could get a sense of the the tone of the building by kind of walking around and having, you know, kind of sidebar conversations you can't and so you have to be intentional about bringing people together to collaborate on solutions. And then finally, you know, you know, I think just a lot of very intentional message, some messaging is at 50,000 feet. They're kind of very philosophical messaging, I write a Friday newsletter that I send out every Friday I always have and I've transferred that to the distance ed, and environment. And again the topics and then you know that the daily video recording is so important that people actually saw us in their living room and now environment, you're reaching out to them how important just that that symbolically went a long way with him.
Wendy Hanson 16:26
Yeah. And, and your teachers in order to keep them connected to the action there. There are so many I love you have different ways that you need to connect with those three different constituencies. And the fact it's very much like any other business, when we always talk about you know, lead by roaming around. That's what you do in school very, very well. And it's really important. And we talked about this a lot in coaching that you can feel the energy when you go into a business. I know when I've walked into companies like well, they're not that friendly. round here, you can feel it. It's not even. And that's what you do in school. So how do we replicate this in the distance environment is so important and, and that we don't take things for granted. Right? You said, if we don't hear something, we reach out, you know, we don't it may have slept in, but there could be something else with any of us when we don't hear from somebody. Now, we get a little nervous. You know, we have to, we have to really work on connection.
Paul Baly 17:26
Though it's funny, I mean, we have a Tuesday faculty meeting and we have, we have somewhere around 70 faculty members, we have some part time people and we share some people with other divisions. And and we needed to shift that faculty meeting to be a smaller meeting to focus on some some goals in terms of preparing for next year. But we we made a point of still holding back the larger group for the first 10 minutes of that meeting, just so people can see each other. And it's so important that our faculty have the opportunity to kind of spread good Well to each other, see each other's faces on the screen, give thumbs up and write silly messages in the chat, you know that there is this need for connection. And even if it's just 10 minutes on a Tuesday, and even though even though there's not a big purpose, and you know, a lot of that information could have been disseminated via email, and it was important for people to connect. And and we just sent out this morning amazon gift cards to all of our teachers for Teacher Appreciation, and with a little note said, Hey, we'd love to be able to, to send something more directly. We'd love to be able to be together. But in absence of that, we just want to show how much we appreciate you. So those little things go such a long way.
Wendy Hanson 18:41
Oh, they do. Right. And I think now, we need to do them more than ever. And the more that we can reach out and do that touching, and I'm just so struck by the educational environment in the school is not so different than what people are facing in business as managers. It's it's the leadership and showing up and appreciating people and that constituency is really important. What What have you learned about yourself as a leader? Like what has shown up for you that you've that you've noticed? That's been a little different?
Paul Baly 19:18
Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, for me, yeah, I think thinking about the power of, of messaging has been so important. You know, I think that I have been so much more intentional about what I've said, and what the medium for that message has been. And what I've left out to and you know, I've worked much more closely with my communications department than I've ever had in my in my life, because now every message has to be much more cultivated through another hat. Again, I'll use that example that you know, so 80% of the communication that you're doing in the physical environment is there kind of from the hip, you know, and you know what you want to say to people and you walk around and you say, now we've had to cultivate these messages much more clear. So I think that's been really important. And I think that's something that we all will carry forward, you know, what we say and how we say it matters. And the other thing that has been surprising to me is, and maybe this is, you know, not quite the answer to your question is just the demands have been greater. I think the day has been much longer it starts earlier and ends later. It's much more taxing. And, and, and yet, I feel an urge a greater urgency during this time than I have in the past, you know, in the past year, that there might have been something that I didn't see somebody to A little catch them tomorrow. Now, I don't want to let that time go through there are more emails coming in. And I think I want to get that message to that person as quickly as possible. Yeah.
Wendy Hanson 21:14
Always have the ability to be able to read body language. And I think that's what you're saying, like knowing your what the medium is the message? Isn't that the book? Yeah. The tried and true that we need to think of how we deliver things. And I love that you said, it's so important to as much to know what I should leave out, you know, is what what do we need to say that's going to add value to a situation? What could be misinterpreted in situations and what do I really want this day to be? Like? How what kind of experience do we want? I think I'm, I'm beginning my days much more consciously with that, you know, begin with the end in mind, what do I want to achieve today? How do I want to connect with people and I'm sure for you, there's this disconnect. A nation of the academics and we need to make sure that we're doing that. But there's the other piece the the character development, especially at this age, and what are you most proud of that you're seeing now showing up?
Paul Baly 22:13
Well, you know, I think what I'm most proud of is my faculty. I mean, they have just been amazing. You know, we started with I got our curricular coordinators in early March, you know, having having a much more intentional conversation about this. And, you know, we've really trusted each other, you know, and and they've felt heard, and we've asked questions, our leaders have asked questions and, and, you know, beyond that, I think jumped in with with two feet. I mean, it. You know, when this was in the abstract, I think there was a sense that hey, yeah, we'll say we'll send out some assignments on Monday and we'll get them back in on Friday. And, and you know, what we're seeing his teachers who are who are saying, No, I want to connect with these kids, you know, that this child didn't see anything. Same as engaged in class, I'm going to reach out to them. Class, teachers are teaching from nine to 12. And then in the afternoon, they're spending a ton of time in office hours meeting with students, one on one meeting with small groups. And they've adapted their practice to be really effective. And that's taken a tremendous amount of time and effort and ingenuity and fast style thinking. And yet some of these people are people who have been expert at teaching in the classroom for 20 and 30, and 40. We even have a teacher who's been at our school for 56 years. And he emailed me the other day. He's a Latin teacher, who said, I'm having as much fun teaching now as ever. And so the fact that they brought the same gusto and excitement and an innovation to this platform, and continue to do it day in, day out, now we're in I think, weeks, week six because we did out of spring break in there, of doing this and just continuing to move forward. It It's just been, it's just been such a testament of the type of people they are and, and you kind of go back to the kind of Jim Collins mantra of you know, you're being rigorous about people and really, really making sure you have the right people on the bus, right? Wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seat. And I think this has proven that that we, we have a pretty, pretty, pretty effective bus moving forward and willing to take on any any new challenges that come our way. Yeah,
Wendy Hanson 24:30
that's it is true. They are working harder than they ever have. And I'm sure they normally would be working hard, but now they see, you know, it's it's relentless. And you also leaders, now we're in this stage that you can't tell them when it's gonna stop. You know, the best thing to do is the authenticity, the authenticity of being like, I don't know, you know, we're not sure. And let's keep developing this and it's actually going to be such a gift. When people get Go back into school. Come here, it will feel much easier. Yes, I get to go hug my kids and I get to go talk to people and you get to roam the hallways and seal what's happening. We'll have a new appreciation. So when you when you think about that, what are some of the processes and practices that you think might change forever because of this experience in your school?
Paul Baly 25:25
Yeah, one thing that people I think in the beginning were speculating, I think to your point, this is validated how important that is in person experience is when it comes to schooling, and just the importance of relationships are just so critical, particularly middle school students are developing that autonomy and identity. Now, one thing that's come up quite a bit and it seems like a small thing, but but maybe it won't be used is just the way that we use time during the day. And the ability to start by saying, you know, I've heard from a lot of parents, my children are so much fresher just with an hour extra in the morning, you know, starting at 9am, maybe maybe better often starting at eight. And you know, we've heard the data. And then the research suggests this for many, many years. And as schools, I think we've been holding true to tradition when it comes to an earlier start time. But that may be something that we explore. I think that we will be able to do a lot of parent interaction online. I think we've seen that there are some effective uses I talked about, we had a big debate the loyalists versus the colonialists and sixth grade history class. And they did it online. And we invited parents to come in and you said you saw your big grid when we call the kind of the Brady Bunch screen. And there were, you know, there were there were half half and half of those boxes were parents and half the boxes were students. And it was extremely organized with a script. And so we were able to invite our parents into the learning experience, where we usually have to schedule this two months out and have it at 630 on a Tuesday night and parents have to leave work early and take the subway uptown, common. And yeah, pretty fluidly. I think we can have learning experiences that we share out with families. And I think we can also have some of these whether they involve families or not, we can do we've talked about flipped instruction for many years, you know, where, you know, some of what we would traditionally do during the class is assigned for homework and then you know, and so you might assign a video lecture to watch two students at home and then you come in and students are able to apply that learning to to more of a workshop model in the class. I think we're gonna see a lot more of that flexibility occur where teacher may have an eight o'clock eight o'clock zoom, me for homework for 20 minutes where students have a discussion with the teacher, and then the next day students can can go in and write about that in class and have the teacher tutoring them along the way. So I think that we'll see, we'll see a shift in the ability to use video instruction as as an additional tool. But I do not think that for the foreseeable future, that video instruction will replace in school, learning the way the way that some might have predicted or hoped even at the beginning of this, and in fact, this is validated in school instruction more than anything.
Wendy Hanson 28:34
Yeah. And I love that you point to some of the things the ideas that we get stuck on, like when schools should start our tradition that gets hard to break. But now we have an opportunity to stand back we call it get on the get on the balcony and get off the dance floor and say what really is good and what you know we can do this because now we've proven that there are different ways to look at it up. So I want to take advantage, have you as a great educator now and for any of our parents out there that are focused all these managers who are balancing life? What are like two or three things that you would say, remember these things, because this will hold you Well, during this period as you work with your kids at home, what would those be?
Paul Baly 29:20
Well, you know, the first is, is that learning is not linear. And I think that's something we've had to really reassure our parents, you know, just just because they're not going to get the exact same instruction as they had. learning takes place in so many different forms in so many different ways. And and sometimes those students, you know, crawl longer than, than, than others and then all of a sudden, they're sprinting faster than than the students. And I think that that's become very clear during this that that your rest assured your child has been going to school for 678 912 years, and you're taking two or three months off or even at this extends to the fall, you know, will not have a significant negative impact on on their overall market. And you know, they're going to be, you know, embrace the opportunity for some divergent learning to take place to use it as a great opportunity to help seed and explore your child's passions, you know, if your child, you know, as always wanted the guitar to play the guitar and you never you never thought they were serious about it. Well, you know, maybe now's the time to purchase of the guitar and get him a couple of online lessons or, you know, whatever, whatever your child's form of the guitar is me take an interest use this extra time to take an interest in your your child's interests and passions and, and third, you know, I think, you know, this has helped us and we're in a very competitive school environment, and I think this has helped us realize that You know, there's, there's potentially, you know, other joys that come from school than just kind of that next step, you know, whether it's like next grade and next next AP class and that next day, you know, college admissions and all those things and that in the sense of community, the importance of relationships, the importance of curiosity, as I think really come up strongly throughout this, this process and try to try to embrace that as much as possible.
Wendy Hanson 31:32
Yes, good advice for parents. I I think I talked to somebody else this morning, too. It's It's the second time I've had this thought today of this is our Zen moment, right? We need to be here now. We need to be just in this place. Pay attention and let let it roll itself out. But I think your students and parents are very lucky Paul because they're they're getting so much attention and advice and and thank goodness for your good teachers. And you're good leadership. So thank you for sharing this with us today and what it's like to be a leader in this kind of environment and, and lots of good hints for for parents. So,
Paul Baly 32:10
Thanks so much for having me. I've really enjoyed the conversation.
Wendy Hanson 32:13
Yeah, it's great. Well, everybody take good care be well be safe, and we'll see you the next round. Bye bye.