4 strategies for leading from a distance

How to connect with and motivate your team—and students—effectively during school closures
By: | April 13, 2020
(Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash)(Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash)
Jacie Maslyk is the assistant superintendent of Hopewell Area School District in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. She is a featured speaker at FETC.

Jacie Maslyk is the assistant superintendent of Hopewell Area School District in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. She is a featured speaker at FETC.

Thinking back to when I was working toward my administrative degree, I remember feeling worried about all the responsibilities that I would take on. I wanted to make sure that I knew how to handle budgeting, design curriculum, and understand facilities and operations. I spent a lot of time reading up on special education laws and ensuring that I could navigate the teacher evaluation system.   

The courses I took and the studying that I did prepared me for a role in leadership. I read the research and analyzed educational studies. I participated in simulations and listened to lectures from experts. I did all of these things as I built my professional knowledge and my capacity to lead. 


Read: 154 free K-12 resources during coronavirus pandemic


When I finally took on the role of a school leader, I quickly put those skills into action. I was confident that I could lead within a school. 

But all the studying and reading and the practicing and learning would not prepare me to lead now in such a time of uncertainty. None of us could have been prepared for school closures and the resulting changes from COVID-19. But we can continue to lead our schools and make a difference for students during these unprecedented times. 

Here are four ways we can effectively lead from a distance.

1. Foster relationships

In our “normal” face-to-face world, effective leadership is based on relationships. Conversations fuel our collaborative work and move our schools forward. Relationships remain a critical part of our role as school and district leaders. Since we now practice social distancing, we need to be even more mindful about fostering relationships from afar.


Read: 5 steps to building stronger schools after COVID-19


2. Stay connected

Don’t just connect through Zoom meetings. Make an effort to connect with your team in other ways, too. Effective leaders find creative methods for continuing their leadership outside of school walls. A quick text or phone call lets others know you care. Send a postcard or a personalized note. Post videos to motivate and inspire your team.

Maintaining connections and ongoing communication is important. Connection may be needed most now by many members of your team.  

3. Plan for (and promote) the positive

Think creatively about the ways to promote the positive during these challenging times. Host a virtual school spirit week. Recognize “students of the month” through social media. Start a school hashtag (if you don’t have one already). Chalk the sidewalk of a teacher who is going the extra mile to accommodate families. Honor the Class of 2020 with yard signs or other celebratory decorations for seniors.

Promoting the positive reminds the school community that we are focused on students and supporting their well-being. 

Promoting the positive reminds the school community that we are focused on students and supporting their well-being. 

4. Look for (and act on) new opportunities

Maintaining your school or district mission is what will continue to drive you and your school forward. Use your connections and plan for positivity as a way to keep focused on the future. The school community will be looking to you, as an education role model, to provide a sense of consistency and calm during a time of change.


Read: 5 simple ways to support teachers now


Look ahead to the new opportunities that may come along in the coming months, and have the foresight to take advantage of them for your students, teachers and community.

Though we may not be face to face to end the school year, we can continue to lead our schools. By fostering relationships, staying connected, planning for the positive and focusing on the future, we can maintain our voice during this time of transition.


Jacie Maslyk is the assistant superintendent of Hopewell Area School District in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. She is a featured speaker at FETC®.


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