5 Questions School Leaders Have – Answered

Communication, Leadership / /

What are the questions school leaders have? Last week, Possip hosted a webinar for school leaders on “Leading in Times of Challenge”. Possip’s CEO, Shani Dowell, discussed how leaders should take time to listen, set short-term goals, and plan with core values, communication, and change in mind. Leadership during COVID-19 is unique.

We received the following questions from school leaders who attended the session and want to make sure to provide guidance on these topics.

1. What do I prioritize?

There is so much going on in the life of a leader as it is.  Now, thinking about leadership during COVID-18,  it’s even more overwhelming to think about the endless list of things you could be prioritizing. The main priorities need to be taking care of yourself and asking questions to determine your next priorities are. These two things will be key steps in successfully leading during this time of crisis.

You’ve got to put on your “oxygen mask” first. You won’t be able to lead a team successfully or keep others emotionally constant if you’re not taking care of your own needs. The emotions and demeanor you give off to people you are leading create something called “emotional contagion.” As a leader, all eyes are on you. People pick up on your emotions, beliefs, and energy. They truly become “contagious” to those you are leading. In order to keep everyone calm and healthy during this time, prioritize what you need first, then figure out what your community needs.

When determining what your community needs, don’t try to guess. Ask questions. Get qualitative and quantitative data from those you are leading. Once you have that, it’s easier to lay all the needs on the table and prioritize the things that are most important and most needed.

2. How do I provide the same quality of interaction and support virtually?

The world of education is an extremely social and collaborative environment. Face to face interactions and in-person communication dominate when building connections with others. Support is offered through short hallway check-ins or chats in the teachers’ lounge. Leadership during COVID-19 means moving to a virtual leadership presence, more routine and intentional communication and support systems.

When communicating with your staff, make sure you are repeating information in multiple ways, providing clear communication every day in the same mode, closing the feedback loop if anything needs to be addressed,  and not being worried about “over-communicating” during this time. There were many times as a principal that I sent out information to my staff once in my weekly staff notes thinking everyone would read it, but there was a lot of confusion still. I started to go by the rule of “Did they see it in writing? Did I tell them directly? And did I remind them at least one time in some way?” If I did all three of those things, my staff was clear on the communication.

In addition, if any logistical or operational changes need to be made that affect your staff, make sure to proactively communicate those changes multiple times and in great detail before they are made. Small changes that are unanticipated can lead to distrust, confusion, and anxiety. Try to proactively anticipate any questions or concerns your staff will have and immediately communicate responses to those things.

3. How do I gather input and feedback during this time?

Feedback and input are crucial when leading in times of crisis. What you need may be completely different from what your community needs, and guessing or assuming are never good actions to take when leading.  Knowing what the people you are leading specifically need and are asking for helps you be confident as leaders in the steps you are taking.

A few ways to gather feedback include routine surveys, one-on-one phone calls with prepared questions to solicit feedback, virtual discussion boards with questions posted, or two-way communication technology like Possip.

Mavis Sanders and Adia Harvey (2000) found that two-way communication is important to building dialogue, respect, receptivity, and openness with parents.  Possip believes strongly in using two-way communication. Possip’s weekly ability to give a pulse check survey on all of the feedback and questions is a powerful two-way communication method. During this time, Possip is opening up surveys for staff, individual teacher classrooms, and entire school parent communities. Our questions have changed to meet the needs of this time of crisis. The questions we now ask are:

    • Did we meet your child’s (or your) needs this week? Yes, mostly, no.
    • If yes or mostly, then → “What praise, questions or ideas do you have?”
    • If no, then → “What can be done to improve your experience?”

4. What is the best way to create structure in my day?

The life of a school leader is usually planned minute-to-minute, and that doesn’t include campus emergencies that they get pulled into that add even more craziness into the day’s schedule. Changing the day-to-day work schedule to being remote is a very different experience.

When working from home, there are less of the daily operational and relational tasks principals do. So what should the day look like right now? Here are some things to think about when creating a good structure for the day:

  • Use a schedule or agenda- Use a daily calendar to keep track of all your tasks (personal and professional) and try hard to stick to it.
  • Take scheduled breaks – Get away from your desk, get some fresh air, and incorporate self-care.
  • Pick an end time for the day– Work-life balance is tough when working where you live. Be serious about a start and end time for the day, or else you could be working 24/7. Set an alarm and have an accountability partner to help create those boundaries.
  • Make manageable goals– Put the most important things in your schedule for the day, but don’t overload yourself. You may not be able to get as much done if you have any caregiver responsibilities added onto your plate. Just be flexible and do what you can! Prioritize and make sure to make goals around getting the most important things done for the day in your schedule.

5. How do I address the needs of students who need accommodations?

This question has been a hot topic for schools and districts across the country. Leadership during COVID-19 requires considering the needs of every student.  That’s not easy, but it is important.  Guidance will probably be set by your Special Education Department. If this has not been given, check out TNTP’s resource on supporting students with diverse learning needs.

https://tntp.org/assets/documents/At-Home_Support_for_Students_with_Diverse_Learning_Needs-TNTP.pdf

In addition, Possip is partnering with the Diverse Learners Cooperative (https://diverselearnerscoop.com/) to host a webinar on “How to Create Support Plans for Students Diverse Needs” at 11am CST on Friday, April 10th. Check out the RSVP soon here: https://possip.com/press-media-blog/possip-events-and-webinars/

If you’re interested in learning more about leadership topics or Possip’s technology, email amanda@possip.com!  Want to see what other districts or schools are doing?  Check it out here: https://possip.com/leading-during-coronavirus-what-cincinnati-public-schools-got-right/