Pandemic Principal

A visitor walking into our school during early summer may see stacked furniture outside classrooms, blank bulletin boards, and a variety of maintenance workers. Administrative assistants could be opening packages and delivering them to the proper classrooms. Peeking into a classroom, one might see a group of educators, jokingly named Calendar Creators. Any teacher is welcome to attend this meeting, but only certain ones show up. Armed with calendars, pencils, and sometimes chocolate, they gather around a long conference table, ready to provide reasoning and set dates for the many school events. 

At the Summer 2020 Planning Session, dates were set with a different twist. The question “Will we even have it?” seemed to repeat itself for each event. Despite the uncertainty of the looming school year, the Calendar Creators completed another session (with a few more chocolates digested). “I guess we’ll just wait and see how the year progresses,” commented a teacher as the meeting ended. 

As the school year evolved, the Calendar Creators found themselves with a different job description: how to plan an event in a COVID world. The group could have been retitled “The Imaginers.” Every single event on that established calendar needed to be redesigned using three lenses: Christian, community, and COVID. 

So many events were redesigned, but Grandparents’ Day will be forever etched in my memory. My father, a resident in a memory care facility, propelled me forward in the planning process. He often mentioned how much he missed seeing young people. I assumed this must be true for the students’ grandparents as well. Planning started with the office. “How can we make this happen?” I asked our office manager. “The Veterans Day parade worked. Let’s make a Grandparents’ Day parade happen!”

Veteran’s Day, another re-imagined event, worked well. Veterans drove through the back parking lot where students were holding flags on the sidelines. The middle school band played patriotic songs, bringing tears to the veterans’ eyes. A special fife and drum group led the parade procession. 

Determined and feeling persistent, the office manager and I started planning in January. We kept the planning largely to ourselves because the pandemic stretched teachers and simplicity was key. But is anything simple when planning for Grandparents’ Day? “We need to give them something,” the office manager decided. She began creating seed packets with a note enclosed. It was difficult to determine an exact number, so we settled with one hundred, with the idea of giving one per vehicle. As the day drew closer, communicating to parents through the school newsletter, social media, and handwritten letters from students became a focus. “I hope the grandparents come!” we often remarked to each other.

The event seemed simple: follow the same route as the Veterans’ Day parade with the middle school band and bell choir playing music. The director of advancement reminded me that signs for students’ placement would be helpful. “Do you think we should contact the local police to inform them of possible overflow? What if there is a back-up on Union Street?” I resisted, remembering the messy correspondence with the city traffic department regarding the Veterans’ Day parade. “It will be fine,” I encouraged, with no reasoning behind that statement and optimism as my guide.

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Michelle Tuinstra, author, accepted God’s calling to lead as a “pandemic principal” at Lafayette Christian during the 2020–21 school year. This school year, she hopes to find time to write her book, Pandemic Principal: Exhibiting Ridiculous Amounts of Grace in a COVID World. She can be reached at