Leading in the Time of COVID
With many schools returning to campus-learning while others remain online, it is truly a remarkably new era in education. I’m sure that we could debate the evils of the choices that lay before us, but we’ve probably seen enough of that on social media in the last month to last us a lifetime.
What I’d really like to discuss today is leadership. Whether your team consists of students, faculty and staff, or even an educational community, you are now leading in a time of crisis. You are exploring territory where the unknowns far outweigh the knowns, and you may be desperate for ways to bring normalcy to your team.
Over the past few months, I’ve heard a variety of leaders give advice on managing teams, while I too marched into new territory with my own faculty. Here are a few tips that you might find helpful:
It is relatively easy (and necessary) to add extra duties and responsibilities to teachers’ already very, very full plates. Before including anything new, question the purpose and the necessity. Be sure to not only carefully regard how and why duties are assigned, but also take time to discuss your decisions with faculty. Make your priorities and goals transparent, and spend time getting buy-in; I promise it is worth it.
Focus on relationships.
Everyone needs to feel connected to their peers, to their community, and to “the work.” Allow your faculty time and space for collaboration and passion projects. Avoid overbooking every minute of your team members’ days and place a priority on fostering teamwork.
Keep calm and carry on.
As absurd as it sounds, it is one of your tasks to bring as much normalcy as you can to your school environment. Make the effort to be flexible and patient (especially with yourself). When an important issue arises, pause if you are able, and wait to act. Avoid jumping to quick decisions so that you can move forward to another emergency.
Build a support team.
Each person in your school needs to feel supported, and that includes you. Find others who hold similar positions to yours and engage with them in “the work.” Share ideas; talk through problems. Encourage your team to do the same.
Understand your limits.
You can only control what you can control. Determine what is in your circle of influence and dedicate your time and energy to those objectives. It’s important to remember that you cannot solve the larger crisis. Focus on the goals that are within your power to achieve.
Your community needs to hear both the good news and the bad. Share the struggles, bring your team into your camp. You are in it together! It’s inevitable that you will make mistakes; so, embrace those missteps and communicate the plan to move forward with your team. It may feel as if you are saving your team from stress and protecting them, but, typically, withholding information only seems deceptive. Let them help.
Open the lines of communication.
Now, more than ever, it is important that you are visible in your community. Your team members want and need to be heard, and as a leader, it is imperative that they feel that they can speak to you and that you will listen. Allow time and a vehicle for feedback-- this can include open discourse or even anonymous surveys. The trick is to never stop listening. And once you’ve heard what your team has to say, give the care and resources needed. Remember: you can never over-communicate during a time of crisis.
I know it’s difficult to avoid this one right now, especially given the circumstances. So little seems to be in our control at the moment, and instinct dictates that we should cling tightly to those things that we perceive as within our control. Give your faculty space, and give them trust. Don’t take over tasks that your team can accomplish successfully on their own.
Celebrate the work.
Find time every week to recognize the incredible work that your team is doing. People need to feel valued. My mother always told me, “People just want to feel appreciated, and they will work harder if they do.” Now is the time to demonstrate how much you respect the work your team is doing for your school. Give them a shout-out at meetings, share it in your weekly newsletter, or write a note. Celebrate the work!
Lead with care and compassion first.
Your community, your faculty, and your students are not your enemies, approach them (and decisions that will impact them) with compassion. Be respectful of the struggles that your team is facing each day, and respect their personal time. Promote self-care and model it. If your faculty do not need to be in a meeting or on campus, then excuse them. If you can say it in an email, don’t require an in-person meeting. If a teacher is finished teaching students at noon, send them home to complete the rest of their work from their couch.
Perhaps the most effective tip of all-- treat others as you would like to be treated. No one likes to be micromanaged, to feel unappreciated, to be ignored or not trusted. We all crave strong relationships and clarity in our work. If we approach everyone the way we ourselves would like to be approached, then surely we can’t go wrong.