In this unprecedented time of COVID-19, school leaders are being called upon to perform the heroic task of reinventing the way they provide education- while they are providing it. We are all readjusting to a new normal of distance and online learning. How this will change the way we run our schools in the future remains to be seen. However, in their role as visionaries and protectors of school missions, Boards need to be working NOW to plan for the future. Board members are likely in the middle of supporting Heads in making significant decisions regarding your school’s response to COVID-19 including the types and timing of communication with your constituents, school closures and planned opening, distance and online learning, etc. In addition, school leaders are evaluating the current and future financial impact of this pandemic. Nonetheless, Boards should quickly move away from responding to current issues and turn their attention to planning for the future.
How Boards react and respond now will have a tremendous impact on both how their school weathers this current COVID-19 storm and also how they will emerge following the storm. Here are four recommendations for conversations Boards can be holding now:
We are all in uncharted territory. And our leaders are being asked to step up in remarkable ways. Boards, in particular, have a responsibility to react and respond professionally, proactively, and carefully.
Heads of Schools and Board Chairs have had to make dramatic changes in the way they operate over the past week. No one predicted that we would be shutting our school buildings for weeks (or months) in order to address the global pandemic we are facing with Covid-19. School leaders have had to make major decisions that have impacted entire communities in an incredibly short period of time. I am aware of many of my colleagues who have handled this task with grace, decisiveness, compassion, and clarity. I am not surprised.
I am also aware that making these types of decisions is taxing on leaders. There is intense scrutiny, and a tendency for constituents to be armchair quarterbacks. School leaders are also dealing with their own personal stresses- on top of having to manage their school communities. They are parents of children who are home and perhaps learning online for the first time; they have parents who are in the high-risk elderly group; they have to worry about stocking up on supplies, and may be personally scared.
Heads and Board Chairs- in order to be the most effective leaders for your schools (and for your families) you must ensure that you are caring for yourselves. This will look a little differently for each of you, yet will have some similarities.
1. Gather your supports so that you don't feel like you are in this alone. Rely on them heavily.
2. Practice mindfulness- focus on one thing at a time and identify what you are clear about at each step.
3. Prioritize- when you can't do everything, do what is most important.
4. Abandon perfectionism- you are doing the best that you can. We all are.
5. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually. Get outside, exercise, talk with friends, practice your faith.
6. Make time for gratitude. Even in this time of uncertainty, stress, and fear, there is so much to be thankful for.
I am grateful right now that we live in a time and place where technology can support significant social distancing. My child is continuing to learn from her teachers. My husband can work from home. And I can reach out to all of you and offer my support. I am here for you. If you want to talk- about your job, your stress, or anything else, I am available.
Please make time to pay attention to yourself. And keep up the great work- we are all counting on you.
Writes about small school leadership and governance