Chances are, no matter where you are, you will be spending the next few months thinking about restarting something. Whether it is ramping up a classroom, a school, or a district or re-engaging some element of your life that has been on pause over the last few months, this will be our lives for the near future.
Regardless of what you will be restarting, the time is now.
Our education profession is notoriously slow to change. And, it is hard to imagine shifting that institution as quickly as we all did when our closures began, let alone shifting again to move the education needle to a face-to-face or blended modality. And yet, that is where we all are this summer.
In light of the work involved with getting our education party restarted, I’ve come to realize that four key leadership moves will allow us to shift direction, and help others do so as well. I explore them here, and I want to note that there are many other steps we can take to restart, re-engage and return.
One leadership move that has become even more clear to me in terms of importance is the need for true and deep listening. In a virtual world, attention can be difficult for us all (goodness knows I suffer from task switching during Zoom calls, and fighting the urge to view an email notification when it pops up while I’m in a meeting). We need to strengthen our listening skills to really listen closely. Removing distractions, asking clarifying questions, leaning in, and putting our heart and soul into understanding are all ingredients to be a close listener. Times of crisis and uncertainty calls for someone to be a listener, to help bear the weight of the stories that others have to tell. Leaders, now more than ever, need to be that listener.
Answers are Only Part of It
In our profession, “I don’t know” can be seen as a reflection of ability, skills, and strengths (or lack thereof). These three words can be seen as a deficiency.
And yet, how could we ever hope to have all the answers right now? What’s most important is honesty. Answers are only valuable if we can commit to them. Beyond that, it is more valuable to admit our lack of knowing and welcome the opportunity to search and solve with others. Answers are ever only just part of the equation, and our lack of comfort with not “knowing it all” needs to be replaced by welcoming the uncertain and building understanding.
Releasing Control, Welcoming Flexibility
One of the challenges we face is the feeling that we are no longer in control of our situation. How “in control” we need to be depends on each of our own internal requirements; that said, we all strive for, and thrive in, situations where we have a controlling stake. What makes our current situation different is that we can’t control what we don’t yet fully understand. And, since none of us have experienced anything like this before, we can’t hope to understand what is happening. Therefore, we have to welcome flexibility and release our grip on control. We can help ourselves, and others, make this move by changing our frame to focus on what we can control, as small as that locus may be. For instance, we can control how we engage in working with others. We can control how we treat those we love. We can control the mindset we employ to turn challenge into opportunity. Yet we can’t control everything. Leaders who recognize this are better prepared to lead during this challenging time.
Do No Harm
Our ultimate goal is for our learners, regardless of their age and background, to leave our care in a better state then when they entered it. Our decisions — as we reopen schools and our lives — should reflect this. They should demonstrate that our first priority is the people we serve. A colleague, Duncan Wilson, put it best back in March when he stated that everything we do must result in us doing no harm. This idea has stayed with me, and hopefully will stay with us all as we move forward towards a new normal.
Leadership is complicated. Making any big change in education is plenty complicated too. We don’t know all the answers to get our educational party restarted, but I do know that if we adopt these four frames as we move forward, we can rest assured that we’ll be making better decisions than we would have otherwise.
Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, Professional Development That Sticks, and Forces of Influence, are available from ASCD. Connect with Fred on his website or on Twitter.
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