Being a school leader or an instructional leader during this pandemic is challenging. There are so many expectations being heaped upon you—addressing the academic and emotional needs of your teachers and students, getting students set up with meals and devices and internet access, providing a clear vision and having all the answers while also determining what to share and when to share it, all while maintaining hope and calm. Phew!
How do you do it all?
You don’t, at least not perfectly. You do the best you can. Give yourself some grace, and recognize perfection in an emergency is not possible. You know this! You’re likely telling teachers this same thing. Make sure you’re in a place where you have what you need to lead effectively. Check out my post, “How to Be Well When Teaching from Home,” which also applies to leaders!
Establish a Through-line
I say this a lot to leaders because it is critically important: have a clear vision. Sure, we are throwing band-aids on problems left and right, and we need to do that. However, as leaders, we also want to keep in mind where we’re going. What are the things that we can continue to do and build on after we’re out of this emergency situation?
I recommend choosing one area of focus that serves as your through-line. By through-line, I mean it’s at the forefront of your efforts now, and it will remain a focus post-pandemic. This continued area of focus is the thread that connects what you do during COVID-19 and what you do after.
For example, your through-line may be student engagement through student voice. What tools or strategies are you using now to amplify student voice and increase student engagement? How might these tools and strategies continue to be used when we’re back in physical classrooms? For specific ideas around this through-line, check out the “Opportunity” series of posts I’ve shared over the past few weeks.
For other ideas on what your through-line could be, consult your school’s mission and vision statement. What piece could you focus on? To get more specific, look to your teacher evaluation tool. For example if you use the Danielson rubric, perhaps one of the 6 clusters (or a subtopic within a cluster) could serve as your through-line.
Why establish one through-line?
It offers a strong why for teachers (and students) who need one. If everything is centered around this one area of focus that the community knows will be useful later on, there’s more buy in to focus on it now. Focus can also reduce overwhelm in teachers. In virtual classrooms, you may be encouraging teachers to focus on a few key things at a time (e.g., concepts, tools, activity types) so that students are not overwhelmed. This is true for leaders working with teachers too.
It’s also good leadership practice. Research on Massachusetts turnaround schools found the schools who did not succeed in turning their schools around lacked prioritization of a couple key areas. Instead, they tried to focus on too many things at once (DESE). Ideally, these one or two goals should be data-informed, high-leverage, and co-created with stakeholders or a representative stakeholder team, so if you have time to look at the data and consult with teachers, students, and families about what to focus on, that’s going to increase buy-in! Manderschild & Kusy (2005) write about vision, citing Kouzes and Posner’s finding that a clear vision leads to “higher levels of [employee] motivation, commitment, loyalty, esprit de corps, and clarity about the organization’s values, pride, and productivity,” (p. 67).
If you’ve found your through-line, share it with others! What work are you doing now that you’ll be able to build onto this fall?
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.