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Thursday / December 1

From Crisis to Opportunity – A Guide for School Leaders

It’s Possible 

Les Brown has a whole host of potential issues stacked against him – poverty, special needs, adoption, yet, he served in the Ohio legislature and emerged as one of the greatest motivational speakers to ever grace a stage. 

Les’s story is about learning how to turn adversity into advantage, crisis into potential, and setbacks into motivation. Think about that for a moment, if we could harness those three opportunities when we encounter them – adversity, crisis, and setbacks – we could make serious progress in education. There is no doubt that some schools and districts are achieving greatness, so how do we extend that success for every child? 

We turn to the popular lesson that Les Brown espoused throughout his career: It’s Possible. That’s the message and belief that we need to embrace in education. Life is filled with challenges, hardships, and difficulties; great school leaders harness a resiliency combined with an unwavering belief that it’s possible, that anything is possible.  

    • It’s possible that all students can learn to read on grade level. 
    • It’s possible to attract top talent to this profession.
    • It’s possible to build a culture where staff and students thrive. 
    • It’s possible for the community and school to work together in harmony. 
    • It’s possible to renovate grading practices. 
    • It’s possible for educators to receive appropriate pay. 
    • It’s possible for students to feel safe – emotionally and physically – in every classroom. 
    • It’s possible for every American child to graduate with a high school diploma.  

You get the idea. If the tragedy of the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that this lesson from Les Brown is the truth. Covid19 created a crisis that quickly required educators to shift their thinking about how and where students would be educated. We had to change what we were doing, and fast. There were no alternatives.  

Teachers shifted to instruct students remotely, administrators worked to provide students with access to devices and the internet, nutritional services provided curbside meals, school parking lots turned into vaccination events, classrooms were systematically transformed to meet safety protocols, grading and assessment practices were adapted, instructional methods were modified, and more. The crisis created opportunity, and, in many cases, things improved. Some of the troubles that we were grappling with for years – like internet access at home – were permanently solved in a matter of days.  

A New Mentality 

Trust us, we never want to go back to the height of the pandemic, and by no means was everything perfect. Yet, what was accomplished was nothing less than incredible. Now that we know what we are capable of doing as educators, it’s time to tackle some of our other long standing issues, using the same determination that we had during the crisis. This begins with three fundamental steps:  

  1. Identify and define the new mind shift that we used when the crisis hit.
  2. Enumerate the issues in education that are perennial problems. 
  3. Formulate a plan (R.E.P.S.)

One: A Crisis Mindset 

The first step is to define and implement what we call a crisis mindset. We developed this definition to accompany a new mentality for solving problems and adopting systemic solutions: An unfiltered 360° view and approach to solving problems with urgency that abandons conventional wisdom and accepted restraints until a meaningful solution is found, implemented, and sustainable.  

 Two: Perennial Problems 

Perennial problems are issues that consistently limit the success for students, schools, and their communities. They demand a continuous effort to manage and often never go away. These issues require the school system to have structures and supports in place to effectively make changes. Ultimately, these problems require a different and new shift in thinking to successfully attack the problems at their core.  

Take a few minutes to identify one or two perennial issues that are negatively affecting student success in your school. Which problems will impact you and your students the most this school year?  

THREE: The Plan (R.E.P.S) 

Now that you have identified a perennial problem, we encourage you to use our R.E.P.S. model for thinking about the problem in a new and structured way. Throughout our book, 7 Mindshifts for School Leaders: Finding New Ways to Think About Old Problems, we use models like this one to help guide teams as they shift their thinking and unpack problems.  

Now that we know what we are capable of doing as educators, it’s time to tackle some of our other long- standing issues, using the same determination that we had during the crisis. 

R.E.P.S.

 

Reflect on the work already being done in a particular area of concern. This should be a brain dump of the work that has already taken place to solve the issue, even if it didn’t work well.  

Evaluate what is and what is not working. There are degrees of success; it’s never a zero-sum game. If something has worked or shown average success, identify it and work to discover why it worked. There are often good solutions within current efforts that need tweaking.  

Plan on making adjustments. This can range from involving more people in the discussion to seeking outside expertise to de-implement a current practice and replacing it with another. 

Solidify next steps. Please know that we are not saying solidify the plan. Finding quick solutions is in-and-of-itself a mistake in education and problem solving in general. It’s a continuous effort to make necessary changes that lead to improvement. This is why R.E.P.S. can help to make sure the team gets to this final step in determining which actions to take after your problem is unpacked.  

Conclusion 

It’s time for an It’s Possible mentality. We’re convinced that the spirit among educators who soared during the pandemic can be harnessed for the challenges we face today. With an unwavering belief in ourselves as educators, coupled with effective models such as R.E.P.S., schools can make progress toward climbing those perilous mountains. A crisis mindset accepts the challenges before us and strives to reach the heights that we desire to achieve every year for our students.   

Written by

Joseph Jones, Ed.D. is the Superintendent of the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District in Delaware. He presents nationally on topics of school leadership and is the co-founder of the leadership development institute, TheSchoolHouse302. Along with T.J. Vari, he co-authored Candid and Compassionate Feedback: Transforming Everyday Practice in Schools. And, with Salome Thomas-EL and T.J. Vari, he co-authored Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every SchoolBuilding a Winning Team: The Power of a Magnetic Reputation and the Need to Recruit Top Talent in Every School, and Retention for a Change: Motivate, Inspire, and Energize Your School Culture. 

 

Connie Hamilton, Ed.S. served the field of education for 25+ as a teacher, instructional coach, principal and central office administrator. Her best selling book, Hacking Questions: 11 Answers That Create a Culture of Inquiry in Your Classroom was published in 2019. Along with Starr Sackstein, she co-authored Hacking Homework: 10 Strategies that Inspire Learning Outside the Classroom and also wrote Strained and Drained: Tools for Overworked Teachers with co-author, Dorothy VanderJagt.

 

T.J. Vari, Ed.Dis the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools and District Operations in the Appoquinimink School District in Delaware. He is a national presenter on topics of school leadership and the co-founder of TheSchoolHouse302, a leadership development institute. Along with Joseph Jones, he co-authored Candid and Compassionate Feedback: Transforming Everyday Practice in Schools. And, with Salome Thomas-EL and Joseph Jones, he co-authored Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every SchoolBuilding a Winning Team: The Power of a Magnetic Reputation and the Need to Recruit Top Talent in Every School, and Retention for a Change: Motivate, Inspire, and Energize Your School Culture.

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