Leading your school during a pandemic
Monday, August 10, 2020
When they write the history books a generation from now, 2020 may get its own chapter. We are not quite two-thirds of the way through this year and it is already proving to be one that has thrown us, as school leaders, more curveballs than we can count.
While some may choose to only focus on the negative, I’d like to think that our experiences have given us clarity in our mission and our purpose as educators and as learning communities. As corny as this may sound, I’d firmly believe this entire experience has brought about a new level of 20/20 vision for our future work as school leaders in 2020.
The clock is running out (or has run out) on summer vacation. The time we all have had as school leaders to try to make some course corrections, or in some cases, a complete one 180-degree turn, on what schools need to look like during a pandemic has run out, too.
Now more than ever, schools need resilient, visionary leaders who are willing to do whatever it takes to keep student learning at the center, even with all of the uncertainty and challenges that the pandemic has presented schools. From my vantage point as a school administrator with a couple decades of experience reimagining schools, here are some thoughts for school leaders on how they can become more effective during a pandemic.
In this 2017 MultiBriefs Exclusive, I wrote about effective communication strategies for school leaders. Many of the tips that I offered are still relevant today.
School leaders should keep in mind that individuals have different preferences when it comes to how often they receive information, and what information they receive. Consider communication plans that allow for flexibility and multiple modalities to accommodate these individual needs.
Practice Patience and Empathy
In this recent Psychology Today article, Belinda Bauman offers these practical tips for leaders on this topic. Bauman recommends leaders start by checking in with themselves, making sure their own needs are being met.
Next, they should step outside of their comfort zone and latch on to people they wouldn’t normally get close to who have differing opinions. Third, leaders should work backwards in order to practice empathy. Bauman states, “Working backward from the effects of an emotion to the emotion itself can help us reconstruct a better, more streamlined way to understand, and help, another person.”
This Forbes article is an oldie but a goodie on the topic of how to better listen as a leader. Author Glenn Llopis offers these suggestions: Show that you care, engage yourself and practice empathy, don’t judge others, be mindful, and don’t interrupt.
Llopis writes, “Stay focused on what your employees are saying. Stay in the moment and be respectful of others. Listen and become a more compassionate leader. Employees respect those leaders that listen, because they know how difficult listening can be.”
Cultivate a Culture of Collaboration
In their 2016 book "Learning By Doing," Solution Tree experts DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, and Mattos talk in depth about the power of collaborative teaming in a school. They describe this model, which they refer to as a Professional Learning Community, as one which promotes “an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve.” Now more than ever, as critical decisions need to be made, school leaders must find ways to cultivate a true culture of collaboration amongst the educators in the school.
Be Willing to Think Differently
This is, perhaps, my most important piece of advice to school leaders. As we embark on a new school year, we are facing, arguably, the highest level of unknowns in our career to date. The one constant we can and should plan for is the fact that whether it is remote or in person, students will have educational needs and it is our job, as educators, to meet them in an equitable fashion.
How we do that is up to us, but as far as I am concerned, the time is ripe for innovation and new ways of thinking on this. In this MultiBriefs Exclusive, I talked about how many across the country have been moving to flexible, personalized, competency-based systems.
In the time of the pandemic, the desire for such systems has only increased. This model could be one way a school could look different in an effort to meet all of the needs of students, pandemic or no pandemic.
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