FETC: Future Ready leader says schools have 3 important stories to share

Featured speaker Brianna Hodges will offer insight on coaching and leadership at the January conference.

What have the past two years taught school leaders and instructional and technology coaches about their schools? Do they have the strategic vision to make changes that matter? Are they providing equitable experiences? And most importantly, are they empathetic to stakeholders and those they serve?

Those questions are at the heart of many of the talks that Brianna Hodges, strategy and leadership consultant for Future Ready Schools, gives across the country. In January at the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, she will share insight on some of her top strategies for effective coaching and leadership that can help deliver those answers and drive a new way forward for school districts.

“Everyone is trying to reinvent themselves or recalibrate,” says Hodges, a self-described education consultant, strategic storyteller and insatiable learner. “Our circumstances are not the same that they were before. There’s no way that you can easily dismiss what happened in the last 18 months. So it’s trying to put that focus on creating equitable and inclusive circumstances.”

Hodges will have six sessions at FETC in the Coach track, which offers the latest on training methods around instructional technologies, personalized learning materials and pedagogy. One of the featured speakers, she will kick of the event on Tuesday with a two-hour Coaching Summit on how personalized interactive learning can boost authenticity, remote learning outcomes, mentorship and professional learning.

At the core of many of her talks will be equity and inclusion, two topics at the center of the educational mission.

“The biggest element that we as leaders have to figure out is, No. 1, what does our community need from us right now and how we figure out how to do that?” Hodges says. “If we’re after equity and inclusivity so that every child has the opportunity to succeed in their way, the only way that we can get to equity is through empathy. And the only way that we can get to empathy is through stories. We have to seek out the stories. We have to come to terms with what that person has experienced. If you’re looking at it from a student perspective, what challenges are they facing personally, academically, behaviorally, emotionally, and psychologically before we can start to address and create some solutions.”

Hodges has two sessions that address this topic head on during FETC week: “Equity Begins With Empathy” (Wednesday) and “Coaching Through Uncertainty: Sustain Support With Empathy” (Friday). She says leaders who honor the challenges people are facing and lend that sympathetic ear especially in times of crisis, will continue to shine.

“If you immediately present a solution without getting to understand the problem, you dishonor the people that are involved,” she says. “Say, ‘I don’t have all of the answers, but I want to know what your challenges are. Let me know how I can help and then I’ll figure out what I can do to help.’ The people who were continually comforting others and saying, ‘I see you, I hear you and I want to help you with the things that you need help with,’ those were the people that were super successful.”

Three strategies that work

Reacting to the COVID crisis has been a make-or-break moment for many school leaders – with learning loss, technology issues and educator shortages. Hodges says she is proud of how well the nation’s schools pivoted and reacted and embraced technology.

“It was truly one of the first times that we’ve had remote circumstances, the stay-at-home sheltering of employees. Everybody had to scramble and come up with their own way to address that,” she says. “You can’t just throw darts at the dartboard. You have to be really methodical and thinking through your strategies. Even in a “universal” circumstance, it’s very personal as to how we respond.

“In education, we’ve been talking a lot about every child and trying to help every child succeed. But this has really been the first time where we’ve gotten to explore what that really looked like, to see the possibilities really for what they are. I think it’s important to honor the efforts that have been done in the last 18 months. There’s a lot of work that has gone into keeping things afloat. We don’t want to just chuck it all and start over from scratch.”

Hodges says there are three stories that leaders can share to overcome uncertainty during seemingly insurmountable moments.

  • The first is the identity story. “This is critical for leaders to remind people they are worthy and we’re going to stay by them. It provides that caring heart. No matter what changes, who we are at our heart is the same and in our community. Our stakeholders (school board, parents, students, staff), need to know we have their best interests at heart.”
  • The second is innovation.”We’re not content to just sit aside and watch everything fall apart. We’re going to do things in a new innovative way. What can assessment really look like?”
  • The third is iteration. “We don’t want to just scrap everything [referring to the pandemic]. Find opportunities to showcase what went right but address concerns. We recognize that we can do a better job if ….”

She says those who can forge a plan that focuses on these variables—successes, failures and strategies that fall in between—can help provide clarity when leading.

“Listen to what works. Whatever it is that you’re doing—your vacation plan, your strategic plan, moving forward in the fall—take a moment after something has happened and audit it,” Hodges says. “Ask these three questions: What is worth keeping? What was terrible. What are we going to tweak? What are the things that were so close, they have real possibilities, we just need to tweak it just ever so slightly. Do it for yourself, but also provide questions to your staff. Listen to what they’re saying to you so that you can do better. In each one of those questions, why did it work really well, or why it didn’t work? What will happen if we make this change?”

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