Get help and open your school up to the world

By Jim Clark, principal at Windom Dual Immersion School and president-elect of the Minneapolis Division

Immersion schools across the country have enjoyed extra help from interns across the world. Some are called Amities (named for the most popular visa processing company), and others are just called Teaching Assistants (TAs). What most schools don’t realize is that this assistance does not have to be limited to language schools. In fact, any school can host TAs and enjoy the extra help they bring to classrooms, as well as give students the possibility of learning about the countries the TAs come from.

With a TA, you will essentially get another adult in a classroom that has completed her/his education studies or is close to finishing. Our TAs lead guided reading and math groups, work individually with students, help during lunch, and sometimes even teach whole group lessons. In addition, they are expected to share information about their culture and home country with our students. 

The number of TAs per school varies Most may have just one or two, while others have one TA per classroom. My school has 10 and we schedule them in different classrooms so that all teachers can have at least one extra adult during language arts and math.

So, what does a school need to do to host a TA? First of all, you will need to get your Parent Association involved, because you will need to find families from your school community that will be willing to host the TAs in their home. Secondly, you will need about $5,000 per TA;$1500-$2000 to process the J-1 visa and the rest as a monthly stipend that can be between $250-$350 per month. Finally, you will need to find a J-1 visa processing company. 

As stated above, Amity is the most popular company in the United States. It is probably the easiest company to choose if you are starting out since they will do everything for you. They will find the TA, lead them through the process, give the school step-by-step instructions on what needs to happen, and follow up with the school and the TA during the year. We started out with Amity and then transitioned to CICD (Center for International Career Development). They are cheaper but you have to find your own TAs. This is quite easy once you have had your first TAs since they can help you get into contact with future candidates. In addition, CICD is a smaller company so they are able to give schools more personalized attention. 

If you are interested in getting more information you can follow these links to the J-1 processing companies:

Also, feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.

Jim Clark

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Apollo 13 This Thing!

By Jeff Radel, principal at Glen Lake Elementary and MESPA president-elect of the West Suburban Division

As of this writing, our district closed our doors 59 days ago in response to COVID-19. We’ve all heard … it happened so fast. I remember standing in front of our teachers at a staff meeting on March 12, telling them that we need to prepare for the possibility of “remote learning” due to COVID-19. I’ll never forget the look on their faces. A mix of surprise, fear, curiosity, and shock. We weren’t yet sure if and when it would actually happen. Personally, I thought it was a month away, maybe two weeks at the earliest…it happened four days later!

“We’re Apollo 13’ing this thing!” I never thought that Apollo 13 would become a verb, but it did during a conversation I had with another principal as we were talking about the ongoing work of distance learning. His analogy was to the engineers on the ground in the control room, trying to find a solution to repair the space ship while in mid-flight to our current adjustments during distance learning. Prior to the launch, there were countless hours put in for planning and preparation that helped build “the ship” of distance learning. Individuals across the system were going 100 mph, creating parameter documents, aligning communication, learning new apps and platforms to deliver instruction, and so much more. I was thinking to myself that this pace wasn’t sustainable. I feared that we were going to burn out, before the ship was even built. But the work continued and we were able to get to the launch of distance learning. 

Now that we are in flight, there are ongoing adjustments, tweaks, collaboration, and fixes that occur. When innovating, it is suggested to FAIL FAST. In Hopkins, we decided to get family feedback very early in the process, after the first complete week of distance learning. In my opinion, there was risk in going out for feedback this early, as I didn’t know how our teachers, after pouring their hearts and souls into this shift in reality, would respond if our families provided negative or critical feedback. As expected, the feedback was mixed, and our teachers rose to the occasion, yet again. They displayed vulnerability, open-minds, and creative problem-solving to pivot mid-flight. We know that the answers are within us. We can’t look up the answer in a book or in “the google.” We will continue to do the best we can to constantly meet the needs of our students and families. 

Our safe landing will come, and we will have a lot to be proud of, to celebrate, and to appreciate. I also believe we will eventually begin a new flight on a new path yet again next school year. We aren’t sure what the Fall will bring, but we most likely know it won’t be “normal.” Whatever it looks like, I know that we have the professionals with the skills and mindset to continue to deliver high quality learning experiences for our students. Let’s keep Apollo 13’ing this thing!

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It’s All About Support Right Now

By Kurt Becker, principal at Cuyuna Range Elementary and president-elect of Northern Division

About the most ludacris question we could ask anybody in education these days is “What’s new”? EVERYTHING is new, that’s what. In just eight short days, educators across Minnesota did something that had never been done before with little to no training in how to do it. They totally changed the way we teach and learn. Necessity is the mother of all invention, and our teachers and support staff have invented something pretty amazing. 

We, as administrators, have had to lead the way for this to happen. It has been challenging, and the challenges will likely continue. We know there is still much work to be done. But how amazing has it been to have a front row seat for this historical accomplishment! As we continue to educate students who aren’t in our buildings, we need to consider the question that has been posed many times: what can we, as administrators, do to support our teachers through this? 

One answer that pops up often is that we need to continue to lead. It is up to us to help our teachers get better each and every day of distance learning. This is difficult, because we have no experience with this ourselves, but we need to continue to send the message that “we got this” as we provide our teachers with opportunities to succeed everyday. 

Another answer to this question is that we, as principals, need to keep our expectations realistic. Distance learning is not a good deal for our teachers or our kids, but it is reality. We need to keep our heads in this reality and not push our staff members to do things they aren’t ready to do. This is an emotional time, and many of our teachers are holding on by a thread right now. Let’s not push them over the edge with our lofty expectations.

What else can we be doing to support teachers? How about just being there for them. Let’s check in with each and every one of them often just to see how they’re doing. When we ask them if there is anything they need, we need to mean it. They need a lot from us right now. They need direction, encouragement, validation that what they are doing is making a difference for kids, and someone to lean on when it appears that things are unraveling. Not only are they strapped with the stresses of distance learning, but many are also afraid for themselves and their loved ones at this uncertain time. Let’s be their rock. 

I could go on and on about the countless ways that we can support teachers. But I want to pose another question. What can we do to support each other through this? In front of our staff and community members, we have to show that we are strong and unwavered as we navigate these uncharted waters. That’s what leaders do. But, are you a little uncertain, a little worried, a little afraid? It’s okay to answer yes to any or all of those questions. You’re not alone. However, if there is one thing that I have learned in my seven years as a member of MESPA, it’s that none of us is ever really alone. For many of us, we are islands in our school and in our district, but we truly are surrounded by the best possible resources to get us through any crisis; each other. 

One thought that’s helped me over the past few weeks is that many of our teachers have been forced to learn how to use new tools and strategies. Many of those teachers will continue to use those tools and strategies when things get back to normal, making them even more effective. Our kids will benefit from that, and that thought has kept me going through this.

Hang in there, gang. It won’t always be easy and it won’t always be fun, but we have each other. We got this.


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