Friday / June 14

Leading Schools in Uncertain Times

Recently my husband has experienced a difficult medical situation. At the onset the doctor told us that he would be cured, but the journey to get  there would require painful treatments and months of not feeling so great. I have been referring to the experience as “the beautiful awful”. The awful part was evident, watching someone you love so dearly suffer is scary and tough. However, we also encountered an outpouring of love and support from our many family and friends. Throughout the long journey people were put in our path when we needed them most to hold us up through their prayers, meals, and simple gestures of phone calls and cards.  

During that first visit with the doctor when he outlined the treatment plan he told us this would be hard, but he would be disappointed in us if we didn’t use this experience to help us take stock and figure out what was most important in our lives. And that it did, and the word beautiful doesn’t give it justice. 

So now here we are experiencing a worldwide “beautiful awful” moment. As leaders we have to seek and create beauty in all of this while simultaneously not letting the awful parts wear us or those in our care out. The notion that beauty is found in simplicity needs to be our guiding mantra. Our core purpose is to help our students read, write, problem-solve and think. So let go of the stringent mandates about packets and zoom sessions. Think about how we get back to our core purpose. Pose questions, ask students to conduct investigations, and solve problems. Less is more, less is more, less is more. 

The other beauty in this moment is that it gives us time to contemplate what makes sense and what doesn’t. Leading a school is like dealing with a tsunami every day. Stuff comes at you constantly and can cause leaders to operate in reaction mode. Use this time at home away from students, teachers, and parents to do some rich reflection. Think about how to declutter your school from surface level distractions, organizing it so it can keep what matters most (student learning) front and center.  

As school leaders we aren’t used to silence or isolation, our doors are wide open everyday and our daily interactions are in the triple digits. Use the silence to help you listen. Listen to what is happening online with your students and teachers. And listen to yourself. The only way to survive the awful, in my experience, is to be silent and less frenetic. That seems counterproductive to those of us who have been in the school business for awhile, but I am certain it is the only way you will be able to come out of this experience with any grace. It was only when I stopped and truly listened  that I could give my husband and myself what I needed during our toughest days.  

Let’s heed the wise doctor’s advice and use this time to figure out what matters most in our leadership practices. We will all be healthier for it.  

Written by

Ann Mausbach is the author of School Leadership through the Seasons: A Guide to Staying Focused and Getting Results All Year (Routledge Eye on Education, 2016), Align the Design: A Blueprint for School Improvement (ASCD, 2008), and Leading Student-Centered Coaching (Corwin 2018). These books provide practical guidance to school leaders interested in creating lasting reform in their schools. Ann has served as a central office leader in a variety of roles including Coordinator of Staff Development, Director of Curriculum, Director of Elementary Education and an Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. She holds a PhD from the University of Kansas. She currently works as an Assistant Professor for Educational Leadership at Creighton University in Omaha, NE.

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