Unprecedented Times: 3 Suggestions for School Leaders

Devin Vodicka

This post was originally published at https://learnercenteredleadership.blogspot.com/ on March 14, 2020.

Hard to believe but it was almost three years ago that I transitioned from Superintendent to my current role.  As an administrator, I have dealt with fires, power outages, earthquakes, excessive heatwaves, a school shooting, and a host of challenges.  With that said, never in my life have I seen a situation such as the one we are experiencing today.  At the time of this writing, at least 46,000 schools have announced closures due to Coronavirus with an estimated 21 million students affected across the United States.  I believe that these numbers will grow in the coming hours and days.  Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released yesterday suggested that school closures of at least eight weeks “might be the most effective way to control the Coronavirus.”

These are unprecedented times.

As would be expected, the focus right now is on the health and safety of all and particularly for our children.  Our educational community is also thinking creatively about ways to extend learning opportunities during closures.  Schools are community centers that also provide food, counseling, health services, before- and after-school care, and other benefits to communities.  The disruption from these extended closures is hard to fathom.

School leaders are navigating uncertainty, ensuring that all stakeholders are updated, and developing emerging plans as the context shifts.  I remember that when we had a school shooting I didn’t sleep for several days, running on adrenaline as long as I could so that I could be supportive of others during an intensely difficult time.  Within days I had developed two ear infections and it took me weeks to recover physically from the exhaustion.  When I reflect on that experience, I don’t know that I could have approached the situation any other way.  This situation is going to be different.  It is likely to go on for a much, much longer period of time.

Given this context and based on my experience, my succinct advice for school leaders is to follow these three suggestions:

  1. Form a core crisis team that includes a diverse set of talents and have this team meet every day for the foreseeable future to develop and implement a daily plan.  This is not the time for heroic individualism.  It will take all of us to work through these challenges and the only way to do it will be in collaboration with one another.
  2. Overcommunicate with all constituencies.  Attention is scarce in the current climate and we can’t presume that any one channel or any one communique will be seen, read, or understood. When you start getting feedback that people are saturated with information you can level off in the messaging.  Also, and importantly, set up and use multiple options to get input from all and then review the feedback with the core crisis team to adapt to emerging needs.  
  3. Take care of yourself.  This will be a marathon, not a sprint.  In order for you to be at your best and in service to others, leverage the benefits of the team that you have and set boundaries so that you can reasonably sustain yourself, take care of your family, and make good decisions over time.   Give yourself permission to take breaks.  Hydrate.  Go outside.  Move.  Breathe.  

I am so grateful for the courageous leadership that I am seeing from educational leaders across the nation.  Thanks to all who serve our children, our communities, and our society.  I appreciate and applaud your efforts during this difficult time.  

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