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4 Timely Tips for School Leaders

“School superintendents may have the hardest government jobs in America.”
– Ronald Heifetz, M.D. in Phi Delta Kappan, March 2006
– Dan Domenech, AASA, October 2020

What we wouldn’t give to go back to a simpler time. Who would have imagined the superintendency could get harder than even a year ago?

Reinventing and reimagining every procedure and operation in your district is exhausting. Yet, as a leader, your energy sets the tone for everyone else. And you are called to find “best practices” for our “new normal.” Except this is not normal, and there are no best practices for this century’s pandemic. But hey, You’ve got this!

You Are Not Alone

Yeah, it’s lonely at the top, but every CEO in America is struggling with similar leadership challenges right now. How do we keep safe our employees and those we serve? How do we communicate hope and optimism? What is our vision for a post-pandemic recovery?

Researchers tell us we are experiencing a quarantine state of mind—and isolation is not healthy for humans. It warps our sense of time and future. As leaders, we have to find ways to maintain human connections, promote employee well-being and envision a collective future.

Set short-term goals – literally short-term may mean a few days. Focus on dimensions of leadership that are most important to you. Delegate the rest. Visioning. Social Connection. Networking. Personal well-being. Service to others.

Find a personal confidant. Leaders need someone to talk to, to challenge your thinking and assumptions;  to help you think out loud.

Relationships and fun matter.

We typically start a school year and run on adrenaline through fall break, homecoming, and the end of the first term. Traditions and celebrations provide the energy we need to make it through the fall.

Even though large events are taboo, fun isn’t canceled. Games, challenge activities, spirit weeks, reading challenges, and recognition activities are still possible—with a little creativity. Tap the people who positively influence change within your organization. Ask them what’s working and not working. How can we create joy?

Focus on recognizing colleagues, cultivating relationships and finding opportunities for fun. Learning is a social enterprise. Relationships are more important than ever in boosting employee morale.

Communicate frequently. Lead with empathy.

Harvard researcher Amy Edmondson reminds us that during a crisis (or sustained crisis as the case may be), we have to speak from the heart and articulate our values. You likely articulated three principles or values for your back to school plan. Are you repeating them often? Are you sharing stories of staff and students who are living those values? COVID communications are typically operational and transactional. Are you hitting an emotional note? Are we sharing stories about kids and learning?

Focus your communication on the hearts and minds of your team and your kids. In education, we hire highly-effective people who connect with kids. Focus on lifting them up. Share stories of those who are overcoming the challenges and bringing can-do energy to challenges. Stories connect humanity and build relationships. Share them often.

Be intentional about refilling your tank.

The Washington Post recently started a daily newsletter titled, “What Day Is It?” It’s a nod to the way the pandemic has blurred all sense of time.

Let’s face it. Shifting from Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting with no break is not healthy. When meetings were in-person, at least we got up to change rooms or drive to a different school. If we look at stress as an ongoing phenomenon, then we have to build stress abatement strategies into our routines. Leadership is an energy game. What refuels your tank? Schedule refueling into your week.

Make conscious decisions about routines. Set boundaries. Model healthy behaviors for your teams: exercise, eat healthily, sleep, breath, reflect and practice gratitude. Give yourself grace. Taking care of yourself is the first step in taking care of others.

Published on: October 28, 2020