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To Be Unclear is to be Unkind: A Note To School Leaders

This is a note to all decision makers in education.

In times of crisis, it is alright to be uncertain, but it is never alright to be unclear. To be unclear is to be unkind. 

Over the past 30 days, schools across the country have been forced to take their education plans virtually and serve all students the best that they can with very little, if any, preparation. 

Parents are scrambling to balance being full time employees, home makers and now home school teachers. Doing their best to keep up with the work. Identifying and filling in the learning gaps they now see in their children. Blaming teachers for not “making it easy” for them to follow the daily lesson and questioning what is my child learning at that school? 

Teachers are creating new ways to educate and engage students remotely, collect and grade work, take attendance, and do what they can to create some sense of a routine. Many have very little information on how to do all of these because they are waiting for their principal to give them clear direction. They spend more time worrying whether they are doing a good job then focusing on serving their students the best they know how. Many of them are having to get their own children engaged in their school work. Adding more stress and feeling frustrated.  

Here in North Carolina, The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) has hosted weekly information calls and blast out resources and updating districts through their FAQ spreadsheet and Padlet.  The principals are asking them questions about finances, human resources, teacher observation, licensure, how to pay non essential staff. NCDPI is providing autonomy to the leaders where they can and sharing that they are waiting for the Legislation on other items. The principals leave the calls frustrated as well because they are just not getting the answers they need from the State to make a decision. 

This past Thursday, on our weekly Charter School Leadership Community call, two members of the Representatives (Craig Horn and Ashton Clemmons) were guests and had the opportunity to hear the concerns from charter leaders across the State. The most common answer, there is so much uncertainty and we are just not sure but keep up the good work. 

Each level of leadership is avoiding communicating with clarity. They tell themselves that they are being supportive; when actually all they are doing is being unkind and unfair to their stakeholders who rely on them for direction.  

Principals, one quick solution to gain clarity, is to just make a decision. 

Make a decision based on your personal and organization's values, mission and responsibility

  • As a principal, you can build flexible learning options to support the schedule of working and overwhelmed families. 
  • As a principal, you can make sure that your directions and expectations for student participation are crystal clear to your families and teachers.
    • Do not "bog them down" 
  • As a principal, you can make sure that each of your teachers fully understand, commit to and can execute the daily expectations for student attendance and learning.  
    • Do not set them up for failure
  • As a principal, you can make sure each teacher has a daily outlet for support and mentoring. 
  • As a principal, you can make sure that the communication channels are clear if a staff member is having an issue, needs time off, has the right equipment or is struggling to keep up. 
  • As a principal, you can begin creating a budget based on the best and worst case scenarios for next year. 
  • As a principal, you have written policies and procedures to address most situations. Let's face it, most policies are written after the emergency occurs so trust what has brought you to this point. 
  • As a principal, you can communicate to your families (current and future) your current reality and plans for the future. 

By focusing on what you can control, and measuring the results of your decisions, you will gain clarity on what adjustments need to be made. 

Not getting clear about expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering, is unkind. 

As a principal, you can decide to create contingency plans based on the best and worst case scenarios so your teams can begin planning. *Thank you Dr. Bryan Setser for this Framework:

  • Option 1: The quarantine is lifted and we go back May 18 business as usual. 
  • Option 2: We go back May 18 and there are two education plan options (in class virtual).
  • Option 3: We stay virtual through the last day of school and open brick and mortar in 2020-2021 on schedule (school calendar 1,025 hours or more). 
  • Option 4: We prepare to open 2020-2021 in a remote learning environment with or without an extended calendar. 

In any of these scenarios you are going to need to gather your team/inner circle to map out the best and worst case scenario. Identify what is truly holding you back from making a decision (fears and worries)?

Identify what might be the factors that lead to this loss and create a chronological timeline of anticipated events answering the question: How might we avoid those from happening or slow it down? 

At the time of this blog five states across the country have already decided they will not go back to school this year. I have pulled their requirements together for you to begin strategically mapping out the next six months. Download our Nine Point Priority Checklist to assist your thinking and planning with your team. 

Thinking and planning through these options is where our team can help you the most. Click here to schedule a session. 

I will leave you with this thought (thanks for hanging in).

When I was a doctoral student one of my professors, Dr. Rick Holiday, Assistant Superintendent of New Hanover County Schools said, 

“No bomb has ever gone off in a school. However, do you want to be the first principal who did not heed the warning?”

 So let me put this scenario to you. 

We go back to school at the end of May for two to three weeks of whatever the “first/last days of school” will look like and a Coronavirus outbreak occurs. 

Many of our students, especially our African American and Hispanic students, visit regularly or live in multi-generational homes (with their grandparents). The MOST susceptible population to the Coronavirus.

They (students/grandparents/relatives) become sick or worse. 

Does that decision to come back to school for two to three weeks still align with your values, mission and responsibility? 

At the end of this pandemic it will not be the good intentions people will remember. It is the results. So what are the results, based on your decisions, that you want to be remembered by?

Your friend,

Tom

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