The coronavirus pandemic took the education world by surprise. Administrators had to pivot quickly and lead their teachers through a time of distress and change. Though I hesitate to use what’s now become a cliche, “unprecedented” is the only word that can describe this time of forced remote learning. The education landscape has been changed forever, and hopefully the face of leadership will be, too.
In my role as a technology coach partnered with a large school district outside Atlanta, I’ve seen my own school leadership rise to the challenge and experience what it means to be lifelong learners.
Through the lens of those same leadership models, here are five lessons I hope every administrator can take through the next school year and beyond.
1. Coaches play an important role
Many schools have at least one coach, whether a technology specialist or someone on the instructional side. It’s important that administrators remember those coaches and pull them into important discussions when they’re face to face at school. The coach’s value starts long before the playing field changes to virtual. When coaches have a chance to partner with administrators and teachers on a regular basis, the jump to technology-heavy remote learning isn’t so daunting.
From virtual spirit weeks to online awards and drive-by student celebrations, the opportunities are everywhere for creative leaders. Let’s keep those ideas going even when we are back at school together.
2. Give teachers the power to narrow the field to a few robust tech tools
It’s important for an administrator to make their mark and take a school where it’s never been before. However, sometimes the newest, shiniest tool isn’t the way to do that. In my experience, it’s good practice to let teachers have a narrow playing field of tools. Let’s keep coaches involved with professional learning communities as they co-plan and help decide which tools best fit the desired learning experiences. When teachers are more confident, their students will get better learning experiences, and the tool fades to the background in favor of the pedagogy.
3. Office hours, not constant access, will keep everybody sane and still supported
As you’re trying to lead from your home via email and videoconferencing, it’s hard to keep a proper work-life balance. After all, you’re the decision-maker, and your teachers may feel the need to reach out more than ever. In my own scheduling to support educators, I’ve used appointment slots on my calendar. Teachers still have access to me, but they have to claim a slot that works for me—not the other way around. That same practice will surely have multiplied benefits for any administrator and the teachers they lead.
4. A blend of synchronous and asynchronous connection is best
We are now over a month into remote learning in the district I support. At first, there was a great thrust to make sure that teachers were connecting “live” with students as much as possible. However, that unintentionally forces students to have access to a device at a certain time. We’ve learned to shift the focus from live learning to asynchronous. Teachers can still provide points of connection with their favorite tools, but students can watch recorded sessions when their parent’s phone or other device is available, for instance. As an administrator, it’s important to keep this flexibility in mind.
5. An administrator has the power to create opportunities for building connections and morale
Some of the greatest leaders I’ve worked with were masters at dealing with parents, analyzing data and handling many other managerial tasks. But what they were really great at was engaging their team members. I’ve seen a tremendous opportunity during remote learning for principals to reengage their teachers and ensure that teachers are seen and feel special. From virtual spirit weeks to online awards and drive-by student celebrations, the opportunities are everywhere for creative leaders. Let’s keep those ideas going even when we are back at school together.
Suzy Lolley is an education technology specialist for the Kennesaw State University iTeach Department in Georgia, and a featured speaker for FETC®. She is in her 17th year in Georgia public education, and has served as both a middle and high school English teacher and as an instructional technology specialist for K-12 teachers.
DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.