This time of the year brings back a flood of memories of so many “first days” of school for me. As an educator, the excitement and nervousness of the new year was symbolized by the new freshly sharpened pencils, clean, crisp notebooks and the wonder of who would be in my class. In fact, I can still remember my first day of school as a teacher in 1980. I remember what I wore that day and the moment that I met my class for the first time at Riverview Junior High. Last week, I walked in to a store with a smaller than usual display of school supplies. The aisle looked sad rather than enticing and quickly reminded me that the start of 2020-2021 is different. Yes, school is starting however, for many, feelings of anxiety and fear have replaced the excitement and wonder that this time of the year traditionally brings.
One principal recently told me that she is frustrated by the many posts and reminders to “be prepared”. In fact, she asked me, “How do you prepare for something that we have never faced before and never had the experience to overcome?” In our conversation, however, it was clear to me that she had spent the past several weeks doing all she could to be just that- as prepared as possible for whatever this fall brings. What I mostly love about her direction is her focus on her students. In every decision that she is making, she is putting the care and attention of her students first. And, as long as she keeps this at the forefront of all of her actions, she will be ok this year.
As a leadership coach, I have to pay attention when leaders lose their focus. It is easy to have great plans and intentions as school begins, but distractors can quickly creep in and take time and attention off the real work. Minimizing priorities so what you determine to be essential has always been important to leaders and I believe, more than ever, this year has to be about only the essentials. Consider making time for yourself to reflect with these questions- What is absolutely essential to spend my time doing? What is absolutely the most important learning for our students this year? What can I do to ensure my staff, students and parents understand our “why” and see it in how I make decisions and communicate? What are the essential needs of the adults who I work with and how do I support these needs? How can I lead from a place of confidence and support rather than fear and anxiety?
Through the weeks of COVID -19 challenges, educators adjusted quickly to virtual platforms and now as school has started or will start for you, more changes are needed. In some places, school and district leaders are being told what the current reality will be and in other places, these very difficult and important decisions are left to them. And, we know that that even more adjustments might need to be made in the coming weeks. Over the summer months, conversations with school and district leaders have reminded me of the value of relationships and humility in our work. Putting people first, having empathy and creating every opportunity to share leadership with others goes a very long way in building respect as a leader. Couple this with a focus on the student and this year will not seem quite so daunting.
I have always found that creating time and space to reflect and focus on my own leadership skills helped me be energized and ready for the next challenge. This year is a “whatever it takes year” and it is ok to lean on others for support. Take a breath and recharge when you can and know that an intentional focus will help you in so many ways. It is ok to be distracted…just recognize when you are and do what you can to return to what you know to be essential. This will help you lead with confidence and a sense of purpose- something I know to make a huge difference in how I lead.
Over the past three weeks, I have had the great fun of being part of a book study focused on leading with intention. Tuesday, August 25 is our last session and it is all about communicating and building relationships. School and district leaders, give yourself the gift of 45 minutes of professional and personal development and join us (complimentary) by registering at https://solutiontree.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_V6GAnQv7STeMR0MyA9GD5A.
Thanks for reading, leading, teaching. I appreciate you.