June 8, 2020
Lessons Learned in 10 Weeks, Part 1
Each EmpowerED 3.2.1 features a brief summary of my musings about and learning from multiple disciplines as they apply to leadership in education.
3 Big Ideas
We sure have learned a lot in these weeks since mid-March when school as we know it stopped. Having lived through several leadership-testing crises in my tenure as a school leader, this one tests all of the lessons I learned on 9/11 as a principal three miles from the Pentagon, sheltering with the DC Sniper, dealing with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and Wilma in South Florida, accepting refugees after earthquakes in Haiti are a few. These 3 Big Ideas are clearer to me in this new COVID time and I think can guide us out into a new and better educational future.
- Resilience is a Way of Being. Humans are wired for social connection and have at our core resilience. These COVID months have clearly demonstrated this and shown the depths we will go to connect, innovate, and persevere. The news is full of these feel good and heart wrenching stories of perseverance and resilience. I’ve come to appreciate our resilience as a global population and as leaders in every field. I read a wonderful set of three articles by Deloitte. In this installment of Deloitte Insight, the authors define resilient leaders; they write that resilient leaders in COVID crisis times are defined by who they are and what they do across three critical time frames: Respond, Recover, and Thrive. Being resilient is not a destination; it is a way of being. A resilient organization is one that is transformed in attitude, beliefs, agility, and structures, not one that returns to where they left off before the crisis. So, where does this leave us as educators? We will not return to teaching and learning where we left off—too much has happened to change that. As a group, we educators made a pivot to online learning in days. We connected with our students and their families to provide materials, information, support and food. Just as new businesses are emerging from COVID (telemedicine, home delivery for everything, schooling will emerge differently. Speaking of Psychology: The Role of Resilience in the Face of COVID-19 is a podcast with child development specialist Dr. Ann Masten that offers a needed perspective on the role of resilience today. Let us as educators use our resilience and innovation to determine our path forward.
- Be Forward Looking and Leading. Your followers expect and need you to be thinking about the future. Great leadership requires even greater followership. You must plan now for later by considering several changes:
- Changes in how society sees education- I believe that this is a time when educators can reframe their work. Families have been more involved with education than ever in the past. Let’s leverage this involvement into a true partnership. “CASEL CARES: SEL Resources During COVID-19” and Forbes’ “Parent Involvement Has Always Mattered. Will the Covid-19 Pandemic Finally Make this the New Normal in K-12 Education?” offer compelling ideas.
- Changes in our roles and rules- I believe a needed change in our roles and rules can be learned from how we are assessing learning in these times. The topic of grading equity Joe Feldman’s thinking on grading for equity is reflected in Harvard Ed. Magazine’s “Grade Expectations: Why We Need to Rethink Grading in Our Schools” and Just ASK’s “Achieving Equity in Grading” is long overdue in my opinion. Let’s use this time as a springboard to insist, invest and implement more equitable grading practices.
- Changes in how we lead. Leaders have always inspired teams, but this is different—more urgent. Leaders need to inspire teams to navigate the uncertainties (safety, jobs, life, homes, food) basic Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and to do this successfully, trust is a necessity. I’ve written on and taught about the topic of relational trust before and rely on Byrk and Schneider’s Ed Leadership article “ Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for School Reform” and am now reaffirming that strong relationships need trust with these two elements:
- Trust is a tangible exchange of value that grows through repeated affirming experiences.
- Trust is actionable and includes physical, emotional, financial, and digital dimensions. Resilient leaders consider these questions:
- Which dimensions matter most to our students, families, and teachers as we Respond and Recover to the closures, and what will matter to them as we shift into Thrive?
- Are we communicating our intentions clearly and transparently to our students, families, and teachers—even when we don’t have the answers?
- Can we competently deliver on what we are promising? Kouzes and Posner coined DWYSYWD and Kouzes explains it in “Top 10 Leadership Lessons” as a critical leadership value, where “doing” beats “saying” two to one.
- How are we monitoring and measuring our progress in addressing the needs of our students, families, and teachers?
- Mind the Gaps. There were students, families and teachers you were worried about before shutdown in mid-March, right? To be totally honest, you’ve probably been worried about them for some time. Like most of us, we thought we’d have time to position our interventions of support, then we closed our doors. In these months, we’ve been justifiably focused in the here and now (getting food out, materials in place, graduating seniors, and so much more). I believe it is time to reflect on what worked and didn’t because we’ll likely need it again and reframe to moving forward…from Responding to Recovery. Mike Mattos in a recent Solution Tree webinar “Mind the Gaps Session 1” discussed what could be and needs to be done now! Minding these gaps is urgent. Mike suggests that you prepare the master schedule (elementary, middle, and high school) for all students to have access to grade level essential curriculum. Build into the schedule flexible time for some students where identified gaps can be filled. Plan for 2-5 times a week for 30 minutes. Finally, those few (or even many now) who are lacking foundational skills need daily time allocated to these skills. Keep in mind that the interventions occur in addition to quality essential grade level curriculum not instead of it.
“Teachers are the new essential workers.”
– Jesse Mazur, Principal George Washington Middle School,
Alexandria City Public Schools, Virginia
“The historic challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while
building the future”
– Henry Kissinger
How have you moved from responding to recovering
and what are your plans for thriving in the fall and beyond?
About the Author: Marcia Baldanza is also the author of Professional Practices, a Just ASK Senior Consultant. and adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.
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