In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, listen as Steve explores how people have worked together to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:14 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve : 00:42 Working together. In a podcast from future ready, superintendent, Matt Miller, from the Lakota local school district in Ohio, stressed how the collaborative spirit of staff and community was critical to the problem solving efforts that went into action. as COVID-19 quarantine closed school buildings. I’ve put the link to that podcast in the lead-in to this podcast. In many districts, administrators, teachers, bus drivers, kitchen staff, and volunteers work together to strategize and then deliver meals to students. Some teachers rode with bus drivers, delivering computers to students’ homes. Simultaneously, many teachers were diving into brand new teaching roles online. As one teacher put it, after 25 years of teaching, I’m now a first year teacher again. I’ve heard many reports from administrators and instructional coaches regarding the way that professional learning communities that were effective and strong prior to the quarantine used their strength as a community to solve new teaching and learning problems.
Steve : 02:18 But interestingly, PLCs that previously had not functioned team-like, began to open up to each other, being vulnerable and working together in ways that they hadn’t prior to the quarantine. I believe it’s vital that we capture the valuable practices of teaming that were implemented during the quarantine and examine how we can utilize that understanding to maximize student success as we move back into some form of blended or students fully engaged in school in classrooms. Judy Smith, a crisis manager states, “There is always an opportunity with crisis. Just as it forces an individual to look inside oneself, it focuses an organization to re-examine policies and practices.” I’ve been a fan of Margaret Wheatley’s writing. She focuses on organizational development. In a book titled, “A Simpler Way,” she described three critical areas for building successful organizations. One, the flow of information throughout the team. Two, rich and diverse relationships among team members and with the broader community and three, a common vision that unites the team.
Steve : 04:10 When these three items are in place, a synergy emerges. It leads to creativity and new ideas about how to proceed, emerge. As teams experiment with those new ideas, the experiments create new information, often introduce us to new relationships, perhaps cause us to strengthen or expand our vision. This all leads to continuous improvement. Let’s look at each of those three items in a little more detail. A common vision that unites the team. When meals and technology had to be distributed to students on a very tight turnaround timeline, a common goal was easily established and thus pull teams together. I’ve heard people describe those teams as no job title, no egos being present. So everyone chipped in and did whatever had to be done at the time. As a new school year approaches, it’s critical for school teams to form clear consensus around the driving common mission and vision.
Steve : 05:38 If schools are working virtually or in a blended format, what are the goals that move us toward providing the best possible learning results in those conditions? Have the experiences of 2020, a worldwide pandemic, social injustices, a new focus, increased focus on equity, have they caused a new look at a school’s mission, vision and goals? What exists in our current mission that’s been reinforced? Are there additions that we need to make? How will leadership express our commitment to the vision? The second item, the flow of information throughout the team or organization. I described this flow of information as having a goal for everyone to know everything and that goal can’t be achieved, but it’s what we’re constantly working to make happen. Interestingly, many educators have shared with me that their Zoom meetings have led to increased communication flow. Some leadership teams that met once each week or 10 days were now meeting daily on zoom and we’re often more focused.
Steve : 07:10 People were speaking one at a time and often sharing more information than they usually shared when they were meeting face to face. I know some schools placed individual phone calls to parents and to students. Schools and teachers sought more feedback from parents and students during this time and frequently responded back to inform people about how their input led to decisions and implementation plans. Some teachers reported that during this time, their administrators visited the teacher’s instruction more frequently online than it had happened back within the school building. And that teachers received more feedback on their instruction during this time from administrators. And every person that mentioned that to me, valued it and appreciated it. Where was information flow strong during your school buildings being closed and how might you retain those strengths as the school doors opened back up? One school shared with me that during this time, they held Zoom parent – teacher, student conferences and that the payoffs of those conferences, the amount of communication, the three way communication parent, student and teacher surpassed what frequently occurred when they held those conferences face to face. That school has already planned that it will be a continued future activity to hold those parent teacher conferences in a distant format.
Steve : 09:18 When you think about it, rather than a teacher, having all the conferences jammed into one day, parents having to decide which parent might take off time in order to be able to attend the conference. There’s now a more relaxed timeframe. It can be spread out and purposely planned at times to increase participation. Critical, a component in increasing parent involvement as a member of the teaching learning team. The third item from Wheatley was a rich and diverse relationship among team members and with the broader community. My key approach to relationship building is focused on increased knowing, K. N. O. W. I. N. G., knowing each other better. How do we create opportunities for staff to know each other? Too often, our team building activities can be too focused on doing when talking and listening are the keys to increased knowing. Wheatley states that the greater, the strength and diversity of relationships, the easier it is for an organization to deal with change thrust upon it from the outside.
Steve : 10:55 That sure sounds like a school to me. Change thrust upon it from the outside. The crisis of COVID-19 forced us to build some new relationships. Teachers worked with parents in new ways. Opening a school, this coming year, perhaps with social distancing and some form of blended instructional delivery, may require many of us to work in new ways with new people. Some teachers may need to start the year building relationships with students and parents online, an issue that most did not have to deal with this previous year. Some new staff members will need to meet and work with their colleagues online before they have an opportunity to meet them face to face. How might your leadership team stress the importance and provide support for the building of relationships across your school and school communities? Here’s some questions that you might use to begin the reflection and planning with your leadership teams, as well as with staff.
Steve : 12:24 How did the COVID-19 crisis bring about a strengthening of teamwork among staff and community? How might we establish those practices as natural, ongoing elements of our school culture? How might classrooms become centers of teamwork for teachers and students? How can parents in the community become ongoing team members for maximizing student success? The bottom line – how can we act more crisis like in non crisis times my best wishes as you build the teams that will serve your learners.
Steve [Outro]: 13:26 Thanks again for listening, you can subscribe to Steve Barkley, ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.