A new year is a time to reflect on past learnings. Last year proved to be a time defined by the challenges of COVID-19. A school leader reflects on the importance of instilling hope.
The past ten months have shown education has phenomenal leaders who have had to change to help meet the needs of students, teachers, staff, and the community as a result of COVID-19. As we hope the distribution of vaccines is bringing us closer to the end of this crisis, there are vital lessons to keep in mind for the next crisis or pandemic. Instilling hope in a time of crisis for all who are members of our K-12 school community is the overarching lesson I have learned and will carry forward.
How to be a B.E.A.C.O.N of Hope for Others in a Crisis
Leading remotely, while at the same time being inundated with large amounts of changing information, is overwhelming to the most veteran and effective educational leader. Now is not the time to retreat to an office and try to lead through email. Educational leaders must be at the table to make decisions. More importantly, we need to be visible in schools, in-person, and virtually. Consider school-wide/district-wide zoom meetings with faculty and staff, for students, and also parents, guardians, and the community. Not being present, e.g., not having a presence, only conveys a message to stakeholders that the school/district is not prepared to handle all of the various situations and scenarios stemming from COVID-19.
Yes, exercise. During a crisis, we must make time to focus on our well-being. Leaders too often put the health of others ahead of their health. As I mentioned in a previous post, finding at least 20 minutes a day to read, walk, jog, journal, listen to music will go a long way in rejuvenating your mind and body. At the very minimum, find time to go for a walk. When you have many decisions to make, undoubtedly more now, thanks to COVID-19, go for a walk to clear your brain. There is nothing more transformative to the mind, body, and soul than walking for exercise.
People need hope, no matter how good or bad the situation is. During a crisis, students, teachers, parents, the community need aspirational educational leaders who can communicate the light at the end of the tunnel. Stakeholders need to hear that the school/district has a plan and that the leader is hopeful of a better tomorrow. Within this, leaders must be overly transparent with conditions, circumstances, and information in real-time. Even during a crisis, though strategies may change, the school/district’s long-term goals should not change.
As educational leaders, we must be willing to model compassion and understanding. We must realize that many of our students, teachers, staff, and parents/guardians are afraid, hurting, and nervous. We have to go out of our way during a crisis to listen and let people know that we, too, are experiencing similar feelings. Showing compassion and empathy does not weaken leadership but strengthens it in ways that are unfamiliar to too many, unfortunately. Working with teachers, staff, parents, and guardians with legitimate concerns will pay enormous dividends for the long-term.
Open to New Ideas
While most school districts have written pandemic plans, as required in most states, honestly, most leaders had to dust them off back in the spring. COVID-19 has reinforced the understanding that educational leaders must be open to new ways of leading. In March, most schools moved online, with school leaders, teachers, and staff working remotely. Even now, almost ten months after the start of the pandemic, we are still navigating a myriad of complexities. More than ever, we must be open to new ideas, not just for the short-term but also the long-term. If the strategies help students, teachers, or staff, they should become a feature of your school district’s educational program. Be willing to empower others to be leaders to build a repository of new ideas. Leaders are always nearby; find them and allow them to lead.
Never Give Up
The commitment to doing whatever it takes to help students and keep students, teachers, and staff safe should be communicated and understood by all. Though education seems to have an unlimited number of constructs that prevent serving students during a global health pandemic, educational leaders must lead the school/district forward. The easy thing would be to give up and settle for doing the bare minimum — out of compliance. Honestly, students, teachers, parents/guardians, and the community need educational leaders who are transformative, who are not afraid to challenge the status quo, and willing to tackle the crisis head-on.