A year, almost to the day, after we’d all gathered around a Google Meet hearing the news that the Coronavirus had finally hit home. A year after we’d heard that we’d be doing something we’d never done before. A year after we’d shut our doors and shifted to who knew what for who knew how long. A year after, what had we learned about leadership?
My fellow principals and I sat pondering this question at our recent district leadership meeting after our superintendent, Dr. Henry Webb, asked us what lessons, while leading our schools through a year of this global pandemic, had we been reminded of.
“When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters — one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” John F. Kennedy
Throughout the obstacles and dangers, what opportunities has this crisis presented us as school leaders? Because the possibilities are present if we only take the time and perspective to see them.
Not only was the sequence of reflections that followed rich with experience, growth, purpose, and perseverance, but it came from leaders who I am proud to know and lead alongside. I hope their wisdom resonates with you as it is still with me.
Dan shared that, as a first-year principal, this crisis has helped him accelerate relationships and get to know the people at his school in a way that a regular school year wouldn’t have. After all, as Dan reflected, times of crisis reveal a great deal about us. We can’t hide behind the typical complacency that routine offers. Truly challenging times, when so much is at stake, have a unique way of showing what people are made of.
Having made it through this past year, Tony reflected on how we, as a team of principals, have become closer. We’ve leaned into collaboration, sharing questions, ideas and plans like we never had before. Whether it’s a phone call answered, a schedule shared, a funny gif to inject some laughter into our group text message, we are at the ready to do whatever we can to help one another. And despite a history of competition, to know that we have a safe and trusted group of colleagues who we can depend on has been a true advantage.
Reflecting back on this past year, it’s impossible to miss the countless shifts made and hurdles overcome by all. Christi shared how incredible it has been to witness how teachers have adjusted instruction to meet students’ needs. When the circumstances changed in an instant and as they continued to change week by week, educators answered the call time and time again. During this time of great need, teachers have risen to the occasion. Recognizing what has been accomplished and the innovative growth that has occurred both collectively and individually is fascinating.
Any school leader whose journey has included the move from the assistant principal’s to the principal’s seat knows all too well the many changes that come along with the transition. Carolyn shared that one of her biggest reflections is how important it is for the leader to set the positive tone. While relationships may change over time, they remain at the core of the work we do and if we are going to lead our team through these unpredictable circumstances in an effective way, we must be the steady constant they can depend on. That takes intentionality about the tone we set each and every day to ensure our team keeps the hope alive.
The art of effective communication is not only important to leadership, it IS leadership. Communication and leadership are so tightly interwoven one cannot exist without the other. As Tina reflected on what this last year had reminder her as a leader, she shared the need for increased communication when times get tough. Having communicated more with her team this past year than ever before, she described the evidence that communication is the real work of leadership.
News flash! Leaders don’t have all the answers. As Nate reflected on the past year, he shared how essential it is for us, as leaders, to model and build a culture that nurtures the willingness to listen. Gaining insight from others’ perspectives, seeking first to understand, and realizing that we need that learning in order to make the best decisions all help to create that environment which is especially important during uncertain times. Great leaders make room for listening especially in stressful situations.
As I sat listening to my friends and colleagues, I was hit with how courageous they and all other school leaders are. This year has asked us to dig deeper than we ever thought we could, sacrificing so many things that are instinctively human. Whether it is setting the positive tone when maybe we ourselves feel a bit shaky, taking the time to truly listen and empathize when we are under impossible constraints, or navigating our team through uncharted waters when we have no way of predicting the outcome, great leadership requires courage. Calling on our unwavering purpose, fueling a relentless hope, leaders never give up.
A year after.
A year after, there are some really profound insights and leadership lessons. Having the courage to stop, reflect, and use these lessons to create a better future is the true gift we can give as leaders.
Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.Margaret Wheatley
What leadership lessons have been affirmed for you this past year? Together we are brilliant, so I’d love to connect! Share this post by tweeting and tagging me (@me1odystacy) or feel free to start a conversation by commenting below.