Finishing Strong: School leaders share what that looks like right now

By Kaci Coats, The Collaborative for Exceptional Education

We are coming to the end of the school year and we are experiencing things we never have before:

At the end of last year, Jack Holmes, the principal that I had the pleasure of shadowing, made a statement that has stuck with me,“The habits you end the year with are the habits you begin the year with.” He shared that it was important for kids to walk back into the school building and have positive behaviors and work habits triggered because he and his team had worked hard to instill this into them at the end of the previous year. I absolutely love this thinking, but now I am wondering, how do you “finish strong” right now? What does that even mean in our current situation?  

So I reached back out to him and a few other amazing school leaders to ask the question: 

What does “finishing strong” look like in light of our current circumstances? 

Prioritize student engagement

“My best answer to your question would be that we want scholars and families itching to come back in the fall. My strategy is to not micromanage the little things (e.g. monitoring every website a student goes to) because I think it'll result in total disengagement.” 

— Jack Holmes, STRIVE Prep - SMART

Collaborative Recommendations:  Use these last few days to prioritize relationships with kids, give them activities and relationships that they will miss over the summer and look forward to coming back to.

  • Use parades to either drive through students’ neighborhoods or set up teachers (socially distanced) at the school where families can drive by and wave to them.
  • Offer virtual lunch bunches, video game hangouts, arts and crafts time, anything to get kids interacting with school staff or their peers. 
  • Create summer goody bags for students and families that include mental health resources, ability level books/magazines, activities, example summer schedules, and supplies that they can use to keep busy over the summer.
  • Have students use FlipGrid to send in videos of why they love their school and use them to send over the summer to remind them about how great their school is. 

Engage & give voice to parents & community members

“My focus is always on co-creation with families. Now more than ever, family voice and decision making power is paramount as we design a new normal this Fall. Finishing strong at Empower looks like strengthening the bonds and trust it takes to unleash true co-creation with our families.” 

— Wisdom Amouzou, Empower High School

Collaborative Recommendations:  Families are scared of the unknown too, and the more you can engage them in the planning process, the more they will feel like they have some control and involvement in planning for the unknown.

  • Schedule virtual parent meetings and use polls to collect information from parents throughout the meetings that will help you plan with their needs in mind.
  • Use google forms to collect information about their basic needs, tech needs and challenges, the amount of support they have been providing students, and their work situation to help you plan for the fall.
  • Send e-newsletters and video updates in email and social media over the summer to update parents about the planning process. 

Refine practices & try new things

“We want to increase all of our stakeholders' proficiency levels with technology and remote learning. The only real way I think to do that is to test platforms, create new things, and get as many days under our belts as possible.” 

— Jack Holmes, STRIVE Prep - SMART

Collaborative Recommendations: Encouraging teachers to use this time to refine their practice while trying new things helps teachers wrap their heads around and adapt to the “new normal” while they prepare for next year. The more confident they are in their practice as they leave for the summer, the less anxiety they will experience as they consider coming back next year.

  • Celebrate and showcase teachers who are trying new things and have them share out with their teams what they have found to be successful.
  • Create videos of the “Tip of the Day” that shares a tech or planning practice that will help them be more efficient in their daily instructional prep.

Transparently communicate with your staff

“It’s important for us to consider how we bring humanity back into the equation. Of course, creating opportunities for connection, but also begin being transparent in your communication with your staff.  Be honest…sugar coating is not helpful to people. Instead, rip the bandaid off but do it humanely by calling individuals rather than sending an email blast. Share with them that we are working on a plan, and while we don’t know what the full plan is, we are going to work through this and their safety is our utmost priority.” 

— Tomi Amos, Northeast Denver Innovation Zone

Collaborative Recommendations:  Teachers need this now more than ever! They need information to minimize anxiety, but leaders can easily create more anxiety if they share this information in poor taste.  

  • Make sure your staff feel confident in your leadership and that while they are gone over the summer, decisions will be made in their best interest.
  • Create space for teachers who want to be involved in planning, to get involved.  
  • Ask your teachers’ preference for how they would like to receive updates over the summer.

Collect information & start planning for the future

“We'll begin scenario planning with teachers around 3 options: in-person, fully remote, and hybrid distance/in-person learning models. What we did to get through this semester was reactionary (naturally). Now that we have time, we'll be specifically identifying ways to use this moment in time to lean deeper into our mission and vision. The goal here is not to be reactionary but to activate our imaginative excellence and co-create transformative learning environments with teachers, students, and families. Pilots like the Hustle Collective will be getting launched to the full school as a summer enrichment program. I'm excited to see what else our community comes up with as we have the space to really design and create.” 

— Wisdom Amouzou, Empower High School

Collaborative Recommendations:  This is a great time to start planning for the fall! 

  • You can collect information about students, teachers, families, and the community that will help you plan. 
  • Collect and organize data that demonstrates how we excelled and where we struggled as students and teachers during this online time.  
  • Implement pilot programs to see how students and staff respond.
  • Create your Planning Team with team members who are creative and out of the box thinkers.


The Collaborative believes that planning now is of utmost importance. To support this, I’ve included some resources below on Re-Entry Planning, but I’m also excited to launch our Road to Re-Entry: Leader Planning Series which is a free event that will support leaders as they plan for the fall. Do not do this work alone! You will need to surround yourself with thought-partners to help you think and plan for the many unknowns...let us be your thought-partner right now!


Kaci Coats,
Executive Director, Collaborative for Exceptional Education




Some of you may be thinking that you don’t know where to start, well we are here to help! Please register for these today to save your place:

  • The Road to Re-Entry: School Leader Planning Workshop Series Through this series, leadership teams will conduct a thorough assessment of the needs of their students and the strengths of their teams and structures to design a school wide approach to re-entry. Through expert guidance, planning will address both the mental health and academic needs of your students with contingencies for the future unknowns. Participants will be given examples and tools and opportunities to collaborate while being walked through the planning process.
  • The Road to Re-Entry #1: Assessing Our School’s Strengths and Needs - Wednesday 5/13/2020 1:30-3:00 PM MDT In this session, leadership teams will receive an overview of the re-entry planning process and then utilize guidance and tools to assess their school’s strengths and needs so that plans are customized. Register Here
  • The Road to Re-Entry #2: Taking Stock & Refocusing Strengths, Structures, & Resources - 6/3/2020 1:30-3:00 PM MDT In this session, leadership teams will take inventory of existing school strengths, structures, and resources and work to refine or repurpose them to meet new needs.Register Here
  • The Road to Re-Entry #3: Putting It All Together, Part 1 - Wednesday 6/10/2020 9:00-11:00 AM MDT In this session, leadership teams will develop their plan for re-entry as well as contingency plans to address the range of needs in their schools while preparing for the unknown situations our schools will be in when the year begins. Register Here
  • The Road to Re-Entry #4: Putting It All Together, Part 2 - Thursday 6/11/2020 9:00-11:00 AM MDT In this final session, leadership teams will continue to develop their plan for re-entry and consider what changes to policies need to be made to prevent parent/student/staff conflicts and also to proactively prepare for the shifts that may take place throughout the year. Register Here

In partnership with CDE, we are excited to be presenting a Topic Based Webinar:

  • From Survival to Quality: Refining Your Online Model to Increase Student Access to High-Quality Education - Tuesday 5/12/2020 11:00 AM-12:30 PM MDT This training will highlight key components that schools are addressing as they work to increase the quality of their programming while implementing distance learning. During this training, you will also hear from school representatives who will share how they are using this time to refine their distance learning plans. Register Here



The Collaborative has consultants ready and willing to work with your team as they refine your whole school approach to re-entry as well as refine your approach to serving your diverse learners in online, blended, and in-person models. Contact us today!


Through team development, surveying strengths and needs, and collaborative planning, your leadership team will develop a re-entry plan that is customized to your school’s strengths and needs and can receive ongoing coaching to ensure strong implementation and refinement of the plan. Contact us today!


Through online observations, review of materials, and thought-partnership on how to address IEP goals and services, we can help you as you begin to refine your approach to providing high quality online programming for your students. 


Check out our offerings for the school year 2020-2021 and contact us if you would like more information about our packages.


Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need a thought partner! We will also be hosting opportunities to receive support and to collaborate with other special educators and related service providers weekly. Contact us to get added to the calendar invite and to get the Zoom links to these meetings!

  • Special Education Teacher Support Group Weekly on Mondays 1:00-2:00 PM MDT 
  • Collaborative Planning for Online Services: Mental Health Providers  Weekly on Tuesdays 2:00-3:00 PM MDT 
  • Collaborative Planning for Online Services: Leading Schools Through COVID-19 Every other week on Mondays 3:30-4:30 PM MDT 


Links to recent state guidance:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *