To say that we are in unpredictable times is an understatement. Things change frequently for schools and for society. This revolves around the safety related to COVID and then school leaders must also consider many other typical impacts (ex. budget, staffing etc..) upon the schools. This also includes the ongoing needed conversation about equity and implicit bias in our school systems, how to support students and staff through the trauma of COVID and the teaching and learning that must take place for the entire year (remote or face to face). To make things more challenging, each family has their own personal viewpoint on how things in schools should be handled. Each family’s perspective is their perspective – it’s not wrong – but leaders must understand that for everything they share there will be pushback. We must get comfortable with dissent but stay focused on what matters most. This leads us to the topic of this blog – “what does remain the same for schools in unpredictable times”.
When I reflect upon these areas that will remain essential for schools, this simply means areas that I see that will remain essential if school is in remote learning, a hybrid model or face to face teaching and learning within the school. This perspective comes from reflecting about what has remained the foundation for school leaders as they navigate the many obstacles from previous years and what is needed moving forward in our unpredictable future. For me, understanding what will remain the same helps to provide a focus on the core beliefs and values that we will operate from as we adjust to things that are outside of our control. The items that do remain the same include:
- Schools are a primary source of supporting children. This includes in:
- Providing the basic needs for kids including food, clothes and other necessities needed for survival.
- Providing the SEL support to work through the trauma of COVID
- Providing the academic support to personalize the academic instruction each child needs.
- Providing the equity so each learner has the opportunity to maximize their school experience.
School leaders must recognize how they support “Maslow’s needs before Blooms” may be different from school to school or within the year, but it must be the central focus of the work of schools and its leaders.
- Support staff so they can focus on supporting students. This support for staff must include:
- Leaders ensure that staff feel safe with COVID implications and work to support the many individual needs of staff.
- Communication that is consistent, predictable for staff and clear to the purpose (more on communication later).
- Help develop staff as leaders by empowering them to lead and guide the work.
- Help staff feel valued and build them up for their ongoing efforts. This is most effective when leaders are authentic and find ways to make the feedback specific, public and many times most effective through stories or reaching their emotions.
- Connect with families. Working with families is always important but now it is even more critical during challenging times. This can be done through:
- Timely Communication
- Provide methods for two way communication where there is dialogue and foundation for questions and answers. Leaders must be open to feedback and be prepared to act upon it when they ask for it.
- Keep focus of safety at the forefront of our work and yet keep moving forward with the purpose of your schools’ work.
- Communication must be adapted to meet the needs of all stakeholders. This means the info you share with students, staff and families. It can be adapted to each group, but overall it should be:
- Consistent and authentic
- Connect back to the work of the school
- Provide platforms for feedback
- Learning is the purpose of the work. Every year, schools have school plans or goals and this year that will be the case too. Schools must adapt these learning goals to meet the needs of the students. With our current societal impact, the learning for students should include:
- Understanding of personal hygiene and safety protocols with COVID
- Work on Equity and building inclusive school environments
- Learning not grading should be the focus of the academic work. This simply means we must help teachers focus on feedback, not grades. Help teachers find ways to personalize learning for individuals that need support. We must continue to provide voice and choice for students as a way to demonstrate learning. Finally, we must focus on the process not the outcome of learning.
- Student Leadership as a way to empower students. As we think about creating positive change in schools, if we can find ways to engage students, know their passions and then empower them to help lead the work of the school, then we are basically cultivating and developing leaders. This is most significant and should be a focus for every school for every student. It will look different for each level and every school, but leaders can start the work by:
- Finding ways to listen to students and get their feedback
- Act upon their feedback
- Help students to tell your school’s story by taking leadership roles
This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. As a result, as a leader I must adapt and understand what I must do differently to be the most effective leader for our school community. As I reflected upon what I must do differently, I also recognized that there are things that will remain the same from previous years. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your prior experiences as you planned for the coming school year. When you can self-analyze your past and what you learned from those experiences, it allows you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org