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COVID-19 is driving education transformation for K-12 schools in countless ways. A superintendent’s reflection on the F.A.C.T.S. learned with optimism for the future.

Since March, life has changed for most of America. K-12 education just two months ago looked completely different, and, in many ways, transformed overnight. With our school buildings shuttered, learning continued thanks to finding flexibility in what is often considered a rigid system. Thanks to a hundred-year pandemic, COVID-19, constructs bent, and the teaching and learning process changed forever … we hope. 

F.A.C.T.S About Education Transformation

Students, teachers, staff, parents, guardians, and educational leaders were all dealt with rapid change — without warning and without time for planning. What we learned together, though, is staying focused on best meeting the needs of our students can have a lasting impact on education. Our communities have gained a newfound appreciation for educators as critical employees with the nation’s security and recovery. Metrics of student success are expanding, whether formally or informally, to consider the overall well-being of a student — not a test score. For these gains, we have also seen the underlying, crippling, and expanding digital divide that prevents many students from remote learning.

As school leaders consider the lasting impacts of COVID-19 on our school communities, there are several key lessons to keep in mind — F.A.C.T.S. 

F = Faith 

Typically, faith and hope are synonymous. In a time of crisis, educational leaders must communicate hope. The school community needs to hear in clear terms educational leaders sharing a message of faith and hope — reassuring that we will get through this. As COVID-19 was spreading across the nation and changing the American way of life, educational leaders could have focused on the pandemic, or we could have focused on serving our students, staff, and communities. As leaders, we had to give our communities hope. 

A = Aspiration

Tomorrow is often overlooked during a crisis. The present moment — the pain, the fear, the loss — usually consumes our attention. The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging many of the foundations of education that have stood for the past fifty years. But it has also created an opportunity to change. Think about this. Education transformation typically takes at least three to five years. During COVID-19, education was transformed in many cases in three to five days.

We had to rally teachers, staff members, and student support staff by inspiring them to be great, to change, to be innovative. Students’ lives depended on our ability to adapt quickly and deliver critical services, not just learning exercises, but meals, mental health, and medical assistance. 

C = Compassion 

Sometimes it is not necessarily what is being communicated, but how something is communicated. Followers need to see leaders who are compassionate. With COVID-19, our country is facing an invisible enemy that will inevitably lead to many souls perishing. Our communities need us and our educational organizations to be compassionate to their diverse needs. 

This includes having compassion for the realities at home for our students. Recently we learned that domestic abuse has sharply increased nationally — which only adds to unhealthy living conditions for many of our families. Though we are educators, right now, our communities need empathic educational leaders, who recognize need, pain, and suffering, and who are willing to go the extra mile to help, listen, care for, and serve. 

T = Transparency

Highly effective leaders, lead the way with clarity through a crisis, through the ups and down, and with a commitment to unedited transparency. To lead, you must earn the trust and respect of the organization. During COVID-19, with information coming from many different sources, leaders have to be transparent and effective communicators. A pandemic is a communication emergency, not just a medical emergency. 

S = Service

Change is hard. Throughout, grace is transcending. Serving others by showing kindness and patience allows us to find the light at the end of the tunnel. Though many believe grace shows a sign of weakness or vulnerability, grace helps everyone get through the most challenging times and shows leadership strength. Leaders must put service to others first as they create a new path forward.

Leading Through Education Transformation

Just like the small business on the street corner, or the Fortune 500 company, education is facing daily change. Education transformation rarely happens on a smooth path, with mistakes, setbacks, and failures as par for the course. Throughout, the ability to communicate faith, aspiration, compassion, transparency, and service will help make change more rewarding, somewhat less painful, and ultimately, transformative. 

Check back in a couple of weeks for practical tips to help restore a new normal that better meets the needs of our students, teachers, leaders, and community and prepare for an uncertain future in this time of education transformation.

Brian Creasman

Dr. Brian Creasman’s Twitter profile says he has the best job in Kentucky! As superintendent of Fleming County Schools since 2014, he has the privilege of leading, learning and collaborating with students, staff, and the best community each day. Over his career, he has been fortunate to serve as a teacher, assistant principal, middle school principal, high school principal, and assistant superintendent. Recognized as a National Certified Superintendent by AASA, Brian's areas of interest include school and district transformation, teacher leadership, student voice, and empowering others to do BIG things for students. Brian is the 2020 Kentucky Superintendent of the Year and a nationally recognized author — having co-authored The Leader Within: Understanding and Empowering Teacher Leaders, Growing Leaders Within: A Process toward Teacher Leadership, Can Every School Succeed? Bending Constructs to Transform an American Icon, and ConnectED Leaders: Network and Amplify your Superintendency.