School management in times of crisis

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As I watch education leaders across the country grapple with the challenges of school closures, my mind returns to Louisiana. I lived in Louisiana during Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav. These events were limited to smaller geographic areas and affected fewer people, yet similarities abound between them and the current situation. Students, families, and educators, now confined to home, struggle with confusion, helplessness, anger, and countless other emotions. It is a time of great uncertainty and stress.

And yet, we know from history, we will rise again. New Orleans and Baton Rouge rebounded from the storms. The United States, its education system and those it serves will heal and improve as it emerges from the closures. However, for this to happen, school leaders must create a plan to navigate the present and plan for the future.

Manage the present

A deluge of resources – lesson plans, videos, kits, worksheets – flood parent and teacher inboxes and social media feeds. It’s overwhelming and much of it is presented in an unaligned and unworkable way. Here’s how you can reduce the noise and support meaningful progress for your constituents during this difficult time.

Create an achievable teaching and learning plan. Think strategically about your school communities. Sort the resources and find a way to make them consumable and impactful for those they serve. Avoid sending websites or work files to students and families without making sure they are part of a larger teaching and learning strategy. Translate everything out there and make it into something that can really support student learning, academically and socio-emotionally.

Provide support to teachers, staff and parents. The objective of school leaders cannot only be oriented towards the pupils. You must also serve the adults in your school communities. These people are the direct channel to the students. Crisis management plans should include ways to provide emotional and professional support to your group of adults.

Perform routine checks. Communication will be the key to the success of your school community during the closure. Regularly educate stakeholders, individually and in groups, using video conferencing tools. Emphasize the plan, see what they need, and find out what you can do to support them.

Keep an eye on operations. Make sure your facilities are well maintained during closings. Also start planning for the tax impact. Take advantage of new and existing grants. Work with an experienced grant writer to address any new challenges your school may face as the closures end.

Think and grow. Use this time to reflect on the issues that affected your school before it closed, and start making plans to improve your campus community when school resumes. Get the support of a leadership coach and a thinking partner with whom you can think and discuss.

Prepare for the reopening

Returning to campus will be a different experience. Everyone will be in a new normal. Here’s how you can help ease this transition.

To restart. When school resumes, treat it like the start of a new school year, resetting cultural and academic expectations

Welcome. Students displaced by the crisis will enroll in your school; have a plan to make sure this transition is smooth and as positive as possible for them and their families

Face reality. School closures and the resulting crises create trauma for students, families and educators; create plans to address and a way to provide support when everyone returns to school

Set priorities and goals. Returning to school will bring feelings of hope and promise; use this time to establish priorities and goals for your school community

The coronavirus has crippled our world, our country and our education system with fear and uncertainty. Our role as school leaders is to guide our teams and our students through the wreckage to flat ground. We can do it. We are resilient, we are motivated and we will be better on the other side.

Mark Comanducci is founder and CEO of The Education Group 305, a school support organization that supervises school leaders and management teams. Email him at [email protected]

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