The 2020-21 school year has started for some educators and will start soon for others. Make no doubt about it, the 20-21 school year is one that we will all remember. But HOW we remember it and for what reasons may be much different based upon every educator and the school community they work with. From my perspective, the variable that is different in any school and the one that will determine how schools navigate through this year are the PEOPLE.
The foundation of a great school are the people; the key is how do leaders galvanize staff to come together to create amazing experiences during this school year. Together educators can accomplish anything. While there may be things we cannot predict that will happen this year, we do know that our collective resolve, resilience and focus on supporting each other is what matters most. It will be important to focus on what we can control which is our mindset, attitudes, actions and behaviors.
How can leaders create these conditions? From my perspective there are 3 areas to focus on for the right work which will lead to a high quality culture that can overcome any obstacle to provide great experiences for kids. These are
- Safety and well being
- Share vulnerability
Safety and well being
There are many individuals who have concerns or anxiety about their work in the upcoming school year. This does not have to do with their passion for helping kids but rather getting to the point where they feel like their health is the top priority of school leaders and they are cared for. Until that happens, unfortunately very few people could perform at a high level where they could solely focus on supporting others. Leaders must place safety and well being for staff and students at the top of priority list every year. If staff feel like they are cared for then they will be valued and have a sense of belonging. This year that means leaders being transparent with staff about what decisions ultimately need to be made, giving staff a voice and feedback in the reopening plans and then listening to them along the way so adjustments can be implemented as needed. It is probably true that some of the plans for any school will fail or have to be adjusted. What won’t fail are people who share a common vested interest.
Leaders can connect with their staff by being honest, authentic and displaying vulnerability. “It is okay not to be okay”. That phrase is one that symbolizes how I feel but I recognize that our district has its people at the top of its needs so I recognize that I must focus on ensuring I know what I and everyone must do to be safe by our district standards. Sharing with staff that I will need them to help me and likewise, that I need to be there to help them, places a high value on collective efficacy. Leaders must admit that they don’t have all the answers, but “the smartest person in the room is the room”. In other words, leaders that involve others in their decision making process empowers everyone to be rowing the boat in the same direction. When leaders share this type of message with staff, it helps everyone to know that we will not only get through this but actually develop a stronger sense of culture as a result.
The first 4-6 weeks of this year should solely focus on safe return to school for staff/students and connecting with each other to create strong relationships. This will lay the foundation for the rest of the year. Leaders may want to remind staff of the school goals at different points in the year and the work that revolves around it, but if people don’t feel connected and safe the amount of growth will be limited. Leaders must place a consistent and high value on helping others feel supported, cared for and value their contributions to their school. This involves feedback mechanisms and strategies to support individual needs. If this is achieved by leaders then any school goal can be met as staff and students feel connected and a shared purpose.
The best way to improve a school is to improve its people. Typically I would say this is done by quality PD, empowering staff and hiring the best people who enhance your culture when there is an opening. This is still true. However, for this year leaders must focus first on safety and well being, be vulnerable as a leader and help everyone find their purpose as an individual and as a school community. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. 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