(This is the last article in a two-part series. You can see part one here.)
The new question of the week is:
What are the main lessons school administrators have learned from the pandemic, and how will this crisis inform your work going forward?
In the first part, school administrators Mike Janatovich, Ryan Huels, Elvis Epps and Amber Teamann share their answers.
Today, Mark Estrada and Dennis Griffin Jr. wrap up the series.
“Leadership by principle”
Mark Estrada is the superintendent of the Lockhart Independent School District in Lockhart, Texas. Estrada has experience as a college social studies teacher, high school principal, and elementary principal. He is the 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader and a doctoral candidate in the Co-operative Superintendence Program (CSP) at the University of Texas-Austin:
Leadership matters. Much has been learned about leading schools during this pandemic. While the traits of effective leadership may not have changed, as I reflect on the past 16 months, there are certainly specific leadership principles that have become increasingly important in engaging staff and the community to collectively meet the ever-changing challenges we face together.
As we begin a new school year, it is important for school leaders to reflect on our roles and responsibilities in dealing with the ‘urgent and now’, but it is equally important to plan and create simultaneously and strategically. a future that makes our schools resilient. At the heart of this burden of creating a prosperous school future lies in addressing the teaching conditions that are pulling teachers away from the profession at an unsustainable rate. As school leaders, we need to stop and think about the reasons why so many teachers are leaving the profession altogether.
While there may be issues beyond our immediate control, what teachers want most is largely in our control. I have learned that teachers and staff understand the complexity of decision making and know that there are no solutions that everyone will agree with. According to a recent article by EdWeekAsked about the likelihood that they will drop out of teaching in the next two years, 54% of teachers responded that they were ‘somewhat’ or ‘very likely’ to do so. This is compared to only 34% of teachers who said they would have answered this question with “somewhat” or “very likely” if they had been asked the question in the fall of 2019 (before the start of the pandemic) . Further, the article states, “Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the report is that while many teachers feel underappreciated and exhausted, there are concrete steps administrators can take to increase their teachers’ skills. chances to stay, but it all starts with listening. ”
Listening is free. The way we spend our time and allocate our resources shows others what we value, so investing time to fully listen to our teachers is paramount in running our schools.
Leading during a pandemic also reminded me that while school is for academics only, it is much more than that for children. Schools are the places that provide food for so many people. Schools are places where children receive the social and emotional support they need to learn. Schools are places where children learn about who they are as people and participate in activities they enjoy. Schools are often the only places where children have the opportunity to become artists, athletes, musicians and the skilled workforce of our communities. We must do all we can to protect the learning and services that help our children thrive.
Finally, leading in times of crisis requires principled leadership, founded on values that guide decisions. At Lockhart, these values were developed by listening to our staff as they reveal what it means to be a leader to them, identifying key values. They are “stuck on excellence”, having a “LockHeart for People” and an “Unlocking Potential” of ourselves and others. When leaders clearly define and articulate their values, we can feel more confident in aligning our decisions with those values, honoring the priorities and expectations of those we serve.
Bring people together
Dennis Griffin Jr. is the principal of Brown Deer Elementary School in Wisconsin. He has seven years of experience as a college educator and is entering his sixth year as an administrator. He is currently pursuing his doctoral studies in Educational Leadership at Cardinal Stritch University:
When I think of the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the world, our nation, and challenged the ideology of our learning institutions, I have received several validations regarding my values and beliefs.
First and foremost, we must recognize that there are a number of inequities that have and will continue to marginalize our youth unless we are prepared to challenge our current systems. This marginalization creates a vicious circle that many do not have the opportunity to escape from childhood to their adulthood. This cycle was present before the pandemic. As we worry about a coined term “learning loss,” what will be the impact of “lost learning” on the inequalities that have deepened during the pandemic?
At the same time, I have also witnessed the culmination of shared values and beliefs that have allowed children to have fair opportunities to learn in certain arenas that would otherwise have marginalized them even more. Yes, that forced us to pivot on a dime. Yes, it required us to engage in different ways of educating. Yes, it required us to assess how we have and would allocate resources. If we had the opportunity to put technology in the hands of our students in the midst of the pandemic to address the inequalities we feared would lead to lost learning, does that mean we already had the resources to level the playing field before the pandemic? The question really is, were the efforts of our culminating changes worth the opportunities that the future would offer our students?
In all transparency, as the pedagogical manager of my school, I made a huge mistake during the pandemic. I sacrificed bringing people together.
The greatest asset of any school or culture is the ability to bring people together to learn from each other. When we come together, our values are fully on display and we leave pieces of ourselves to each other. Humans aren’t meant to operate in isolation, and the pandemic has led to the propensity to operate that way. In order to give more time to planning and to take things off the educators’ plates, I decided not to bring our teams together to allow them to have more individual time to plan. There were so many new learnings going on, and I was concerned about our ability to navigate new learnings and remember as educators we were also worried and in pain during the pandemic.
I tell my team that we are a family oriented organization and that they are part of my family. To live this value, I need to be aware of the social and emotional well-being of the people I work with. The way you assess and assess the social and emotional well-being of the people you care for requires you to “BE WITH YOUR PEOPLE”.
The biggest lesson to be learned during the pandemic is / was that we have to find a way to bring people together. Bringing people together allows us to solve problems around our common values. Most importantly, bringing people together ensures that we are not alone, as we are not designed to operate in solitude.
Thanks to Mark and Dennis for contributing their thoughts today!
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