Insights for Principals in a post-COVID-19 World

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, many lessons have been learned in the education sector over the past three months, including the following:

  • challenges should be met head on and swiftly
  • we are all hungry for information that can be relied on
  • complexity makes it hard to be agile
  • a strong sense of community can be developed without the need for people to be in close proximity
  • colleagues with diverse talents and capabilities are critical for filling our own skill and knowledge gaps
  • collaboration is essential for survival.

The response of educators to this crisis can be reactive i.e. watch things happen or proactive i.e. make things happen.  To expect things to return to what they were and to simply wait and see is to neglect a key leadership responsibility at this time. Roger Moses, formerly Headmaster of Wellington College, and I have developed a series of 50 topical insights to assist Principals, leadership teams and Board members to prepare for what some commentators are calling the ‘next normal.’

These insights are grouped under the following headings :

  • Lead confidently
  • Think optimistically
  • Search out new opportunities
  • Seek to be more agile
  • Cut costs strategically
  • Improve long-term financial stability

Lead confidently

1.  Provide direction, certainty and reassurance.  Leaders are made in a crisis. In uncertain times, a positive outlook, an optimistic approach and a focus beyond the short term are the most critical attributes of a leader.

2.  Avoid ‘business as usual thinking’.  Watch out for complacency, the latent desire to restore the past or the tendency to simply adapt what other schools are doing. This is an ideal time not just to see opportunities but to seize opportunities whether they are in curriculum delivery, restructuring, evolving partnerships or any other aspect of school life.

3.  Be clear about what you want to achieve beyond the immediate crisis .  Despite the changed economic and social conditionsknow what future success must look like for your school.  Become even more goal-oriented. And do not shy away from ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goals’!  What you most often think about has more chance of coming to fruition. Regularly remind yourself of those goals.

4.  Communicate your objectives and strategy clearly and openly.  Articulate for the Board, staff, students and parents exactly where the school needs to head.  Simplify the message.  Prevent the leadership team from pulling in different directions and wasting energy.

5.  Create a ‘coalition of the willing’.  Bring together a group of like-minded colleagues best equipped to help get you through uncertain times.  These people should be highly respected, cohesive and as a group have the power and the preparedness to change systems and procedures where necessary.

6.  Seek ‘wise counsel’.  Talk to those you respect and trust (perhaps someone on your Board or from among your colleagues and acquaintances) who have experienced economic instability in 1987, 1993 or 2001 or 2008.  Listen to their insights.  Use them as sounding boards.

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