What strategies for education transformation are you prioritizing? A superintendent offers some practical tips that can help schools adapt to a new normal.
Through COVID-19, we have an opportunity to bend constructs to create lasting change in education. This change will better serve students, close achievement and health gaps, improve the delivery of professional learning, improve equity, and, yes, improve educational leadership. The COVID-19 impact on education is weighty and multifaceted but can be transformative when adopted with a “Yes We Can” strategy.
Let’s begin to think about what a new normal is in terms of education and how we are going to transform education based on what we have learned. As I shared in a recent post, we need to focus on the F-A-C-T-S about education transformation.
Here are some practical strategies for education transformation that can help us adapt to a new normal.
F = Faith
The school community needs to be assured that there is light at the end of the tunnel. No matter the substance of the communications, whether in writing or at the end of the Weekly Video Segments where I interview students, I always end with “Our Journey Continues…”. Thoughtful communications impart a sense of hope that this too shall pass, and faith that we will all get through this together.
If discussions start focusing on negatives, obstacles, the what-ifs, or the word “impossible” enters the conversation, turn it around to focus on the positive lessons and opportunities that this situation has provided to students, teachers, staff, parents, and the community. For example, as an educational leader for the past 15 years, I have not been able to spend time at home as much as I would like. Given the current requirement to stay home, I am enjoying far more time with Valerie, my wife of 17 years, and our daughter, Georgia, who is six years old. I have discovered this moment in time is life’s way of saying slow down and focus on what is most important. Honestly, it has been a silver lining.
A = Aspiration
During a crisis, leaders must encourage people to aspire to be great and to stretch outside of their comfort zone. Winston Churchill’s quote, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts,” sums up the message I have found essential to convey to the school community. Through COVID-19, we are learning new ways to reach students by emphasizing continuous daily improvement on the personal and organizational levels.
Just do right
In many cases, aspirational leadership comes down to integrity. As leaders during a crisis, we must continue to model integrity — even during a raging storm. Maya Angelou, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, says, “See you don’t have to think about doing the right thing. If you’re for the right thing, then you do it without thinking.” No matter what, we must find a way to meet the academic and life needs of our students and our community and the well-being of our staff. No matter the circumstance.
C = Compassion
Teachers, staff, and school leaders must be available to understand the needs, goals, and aspirations of students. Their focus needs to go beyond academics and address students’ social and emotional well-being. To be compassionate is to be present and to understand each person’s situation. During COVID-19, our district administrators met virtually with principals at least once a week, to see how they were doing and what they needed. Why? The Trickle-Down Theory. If we show compassion to principals, then they will be more apt to do the same for teachers and staff, who in turn, will do the same for students.
Show them you care
At the onset of COVID-19, we focused on staff who may have underlying health conditions. We worked closely with each one to let them know that we were there to help. For some, we recommended that they not come into school buildings or public places during this time. We didn’t just communicate compassion; we had to exhibit compassion based on individual vulnerabilities. Each week in the Weekly Leadership Connection, we reiterated health guidelines released by local, state, and national health agencies. Early on, we communicated that the district’s success was going to be defined by our ability to ensure that every student, teacher, and staff member made it through this pandemic with their health — first and foremost. When facing a pandemic, remaining attuned and alert is key to conveying compassion
T = Transparency
Share a roadmap
COVID-19 has presented us with new challenges. No roadmap existed for schools to deal with this magnitude of a school closure. Establishing regular transparent communication became our priority. Throughout the pandemic, we have issued multiple press releases and daily remote learning updates; we have also offered virtual parent nights to help keep stakeholders informed. As leaders, we either can cause panic, or we can lead. There is a fine line between both. Maintaining transparency is key to leading and not creating fear.
Identify and meet evolving needs
The district required that weekly professional learning communities (PLCs) continued at all schools, virtually, to disseminate information throughout the district. We used PLCs and committee meetings to help push out information to faculty and staff, but also to keep track of employee well-being and student engagement. We monitored student engagement of our 2,200 students each week through PLCs. We utilized school nurses, social workers, counselors, and school/district administrators to connect with students whom we could not locate.
S = Service
Think about others
We quickly communicated to the community that we would provide meals to our students. Our food and nutrition staff stepped up to the plate before we even asked for volunteers. Not only did we serve meals, but we also notified the local government agencies that our schools, buses, and staff were willing to help in the broader community plan should they be needed. Students didn’t need to come by the school to pick up a meal or lessons; we delivered what they needed to them.
Focus on what’s important
Our district’s vision and mission “To be a District of Distinction” has not changed since 2015 and included strategies for education transformation. The pandemic did not change our focus. To be distinctive during this time and able to work together to help others, we also needed to focus on our well-being. Students, teachers, and staff were encouraged to take regular breaks and focus on their mental and physical health. Nurturing others over the long-haul requires an appreciation for the vital role each of us plays in making an impact on the greater good for all.