FETC preview: How leaders thrive during COVID crisis

'We can't just replicate what we did face-to-face and hope it works online'
By: | October 28, 2020
Gunter ISD Superintendent Jill Siler will discuss safety and rigorous instruction in her keynote speech at the Future of Education Technology Conference® 2021 in January.Gunter ISD Superintendent Jill Siler will discuss safety and rigorous instruction in her keynote speech at the Future of Education Technology Conference® 2021 in January.
Jill Siler, FETC 2021 speaker and Gunter ISD superintendent

Jill Siler, FETC 2021 speaker and Gunter ISD superintendent

Superintendent Jill Siler wrote her book on leadership in challenging times before the COVID outbreak.

But she released Thrive Through the Five last month as school leaders were reopening schools and re-envisioning instruction for the hybrid learning environment necessitated by the continuing pandemic.

“We’ve had to rethink and redo everything—whether it’s looking at how we do libraries or tech distribution to how we teach online to how we do things like band and choir,” says Siler, the chief at Gunter ISD in Texas and a keynote speaker at the 2021 Future of Education Technology Conference®, which takes place Jan. 26-29.

“There’s going to be that fear of failure and it will be about how we push back to learn what we need to learn from these times,” she says.


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Among the biggest challenges of the COVID era is balancing the sometimes competing interests of keeping everyone safe while also providing rigorous instruction and extracurricular activities that support social-emotional wellness, Siler says.

“We’re taking steps to put kids back in activities and offer opportunities to compete and perform,” she says. “There is a risk factor in that.”

FETC session description:

Thrive Through the Five—Transforming Leadership Challenges into Positive Opportunities

Jan. 28, 2021, 11 am to noon

Over this past year, a global pandemic has brought about some of the most challenging work in education – whether in leading through shifting and complex information or in teaching in a multitude of ever-changing learning environments. To be successful in today’s stressful climate of education budget shortfalls, ever-evolving academic standards, and widespread cultural transformation, education professionals need to find the confidence to become the leaders they hope to be.

While the work we do as teachers and leaders is incredible, it is not without cost. Dr. Jill Siler, superintendent and author of Thrive Through the Five: Practical Truths to Powerfully Lead through Challenging Times will share her own honest experiences and expertise to provide practical strategies and relevant insights into how all school leaders can thrive in difficult seasons.

Gunter ISD recently held a choir concert where masks were required and seats were placed six feet apart.

Professional development

Teachers are educating three groups of students this year: those who are in-person and online, as well as kids who are quarantining because of a COVID exposure.

This requires supporting teachers with professional development and tools to teach online and in-person at the same time, Siler says.

“We can’t just replicate what we did face-to-face and hope it works online,” she says. “It’s two different skill sets.”

In Gunter ISD, the sudden shift to remote instruction in the spring motivated district educators to hone their online teaching skills in anticipation of the 2020-21 school year.

Siler now plans to ask her school board to shift to a 4 1/2-day week to give teachers a half-day for lesson planning and collaboration to further build their skills.


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“One thing our teachers need more than anything is time,” says Siler.

Leaders need to make an extra effort this year to check in with teachers regularly to gather feedback and see how staff members are coping with the challenges of the COVID-era. Administrators can also provide mentorship and emphasize self-care.

“When we’re not in touch with the needs of people who are actually making it happen day in, day out,” she says, “we can get away from the things that are most important.”