Educational Leadership: Six Tips for Leading during COVID-19

#SOESupportsYou in a time of need

A mom helps her daughter with homework at the laptop.
We are pivoting to new ways of teaching and learning, and the collective involvement of stakeholders leads to broader consensus of how to do that in pioneering ways. (Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels)

The following tips were developed in partnership between the VCU School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and their Educational Leadership Advisory Board, comprised of P-12 leaders who provide practitioner guidance and counsel in promoting excellence in leadership preparation. The Advisory Board recently took time from their own work in responding to COVID-19 to share what is working for them as they lead K-12 schools.

1. Lead with compassion.

While we've led through crises and prepared for a wide variety of changes, the scale and scope of the challenges COVID-19 has presented for education is beyond anything most leaders have ever experienced. It has required nearly instantaneous change and innovation and solutions often unveil a slew of other problems to solve. And all these changes are happening when most of us are living with new and often competing demands. As we learn our way through this time of uncertainty, compassion keeps us connected. Our families may not remember what kind of work was assigned to their child and teachers may not remember all the resources they were provided, but they will remember how supported and cared for they felt.

2. Slow down.

Things continue to happen fast and we’re all stressed. Practicing patience and slowing things down a bit both projects confidence and keeps everyone from feeling overwhelmed. Patience builds resilience, which we’ll need as we navigate a path toward an end goal that isn’t yet clear.

3. Collaborate.

We are pivoting to new ways of teaching and learning, and the collective involvement of stakeholders leads to broader consensus of how to do that in pioneering ways. Capitalizing on our human resources by harnessing the know-how, experiences and innovative ideas of each other makes it easier to respond in the rapid fashion this crisis has demanded of us.

4. Communicate. (And communicate well.)

Taking time to build diverse teams of stakeholders also helps us communicate better. Partnering allows us to contemplate how others will be affected, which leads to messaging that is relevant and more easily understood. Making better decisions on the front end means there’s less of a need for revisiting or later needing to change a decision. This will go a long way in making sure we’re effective in how and what we communicate both internally and externally.

5. Grow to maintain community.

This is a time we can build on all the previous outreach we’ve established with families and the larger community, as well as our internal school community. We may not know just when things will begin to feel routine again, but we know getting there will be a collective journey. Show gratitude for things that have sprung organically from a place of care – school staff who caravan through neighborhoods to say hello to students they haven’t seen in weeks, community volunteers who offer to distribute meals to families, and the initiative of teachers who surface as leaders willing to forge new paths.

6. Plan for the long view with equity in mind.

We all know planning for a post-COVID-19 landscape comes with new challenges like what the school “day” will look like, how to honor the experiences of our students and their families, and how equitably to address educational gaps created by school closures. As we move out of rapid response mode, we might see this crisis has created a bit of wind at our backs for making changes – both those we more clearly see the need for now and those we’ve been advocating for. When social justice is used as a touchstone for planning, care for all students cascades throughout the system.

Special thanks to the faculty in the Department of Educational Leadership and to our Educational Leadership Advisory Board members, who are listed below:

Shawn Abel
Midlothian High School
Ed.D. ‘19

Christie Barford
Sr. HR Specialist, Learning Development & Organization Effectiveness
Richmond Public Schools

Deia Champ
L. Douglas Wilder Middle School
Ed.D. ’18

Larry Frazier
Director of Special Education and Student Services
West Point Public Schools
Ed.D. ‘22

John Hendron
Director of Innovation & Strategy
Goochland County Public Schools
Ed.D. ‘14

Bryan Hicks
Assistant Principal
Midlothian Middle School
Ed.D. '20

Kenya Jackson
Director of Human Resources
Hanover County Public Schools

Matt McAllister
Assistant Principal
Prince George High School
PMC Admin. & Supervision ‘19

Melissa Rickey
Binford Middle School
M.Ed. ‘13
B.F.A. Art Education ‘05

Jason Sears
Director of Human Resources
Petersburg City Public Schools
Ed.D. '11

Elizabeth Stefanko
Director of Elementary School leadership
Chesterfield County Public Schools
Ed.D. ‘14

Heather Storrie
Special Education Lead Teacher and Instructional Coach
Powhatan County Schools
Ed.D. '20

Shawnya Tolliver
Highland Springs Elementary School
M.Ed. ’97
Ed.D. ‘14