What is happening? Bringing the team back for the new school year

Devin Vodicka

What is happening? Margaret Wheatley states that all leadership is dependent on our context and that the context is dependent on our relationships.  What is the state of our relationships and what is our context? 

Many of us have been thinking deeply about these questions during the Coronavirus pandemic and as a result of the increasing awareness of systemic racism and pervasive inequalities in our nation.  Over the past few months, the conditions have shifted in dramatic ways several times already, revealing the strong need to stay grounded and connected in a context of rapid change.  The following template is intended to help provide some structure for school leaders in a world that seems to be increasingly unstable.  

Throughout my career,, usually when we come back to school around this time of the year our leadership teams and staff meetings have a celebratory feeling.  Reconnecting with friends and colleagues is festive and we tend to feel positive about the new year.  This year, after continued shelter-in-place orders in many parts of the country and plans that are now trending in the direction of a fully-remote schooling experience, there has never been such a strong need to come together and to create a shared context for the challenges and opportunities on the horizon.  

What we experience individually and collectively is a combination of our own lens and also the undeniable realities of the world around us (for more information on this model, please check out integral theory).  In addition, what is happening internally and externally is ever-changing.  While the global arc tends to move in the direction of greater understanding and awareness, the process goes forwards and backwards, influenced not only by imposing our views on the world, but by our own views being changed by both individual and shared experiences.  

Given this context, it is helpful to ask questions of ourselves and of one another.  What are we noticing?  Where is our attention now?  Where have we been, where are we now, and where are we going? Sunanna Chand, an innovative leader who has been instrumental in the development of the Remake Learning movement in Pittsburgh, shared that she had been developing a model by thinking about before, during, and after the Coronavirus.  Building on her idea, I’ve created a Temporal Framework Template that may be helpful.  

To create common ground for the new year, I recommend that individuals and teams complete the Temporal Framework Template.  Shared context is necessary to promote meaningful conversations and engagement.   Depending on the size of your team, I would likely do this as a “write-pair-share” exercise to provide for individual processing, collaborative sharing, and group understanding.  

Temporal Framework Template

BeforeWhat we “knew”NowWhat we “know”Future PredictionsWhat we think will be “known” 
Schools / School Systems
Teaching and Learning

School Leadership

In addition to the benefits of shared understanding through this exercise, I have found that completing this exercise has generated insights that have helped me to better understand emerging developments.  For example, when I first completed this template in April it seemed clear that competitive forces and family choice were likely to increase and that there would be a strong need for school leaders to effectively market their programs by providing visibility into the learning process.  In the absence of standardized tests, this also seemed an opportunity to elevate authentic assessment evidence, including multimedia portfolios and other forms of learning exhibitions.  

Completion of this exercise is likely to reveal profound challenges as well.  At a minimum, acknowledging these as a group and recognizing that we are all in this together may be helpful.  At a time when we must be physically apart, we’ve never had a stronger need to realize that we are part of a shared community.  

Please check out Learner-Centered Leadership and follow #LCLeadership

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