Purposeful School Leader Actions During Times of Uncertainty

Purposeful School Leader Actions

I have been dropping notes to school leaders on LinkedIn as I have viewed announcements of their new leadership positions. My comments are geared to encourage them that while purposeful educational leaders are always important to student success, today especially, teachers, parents, and students are seeking support and direction from school leaders at every level.

I drop notes frequently to school leader clients and colleagues with whom I’ve worked across the years to check in on their current school status. When I wrote to Ben Weinberg, the Headmaster at the American School of Madrid, he responded with insights that led me to this blog.

I wrote to Ben: “I can only imagine the work of bringing a new team together at a time when it’s difficult to have anything that isn’t being “re-planned” from day to day or even within the same day. Just give a yell at any point where you think I might be of support. I am busy learning along with everyone else.”

Ben responded: “Thanks Steve. I thought about that walking home the other day, how it is all new and we can’t assume anything from system, to procedure, to structure, to practice, we have to go back to purpose and begin again to define the what and how. It is sometimes exhilarating, frequently exhausting, and makes us live the qualities of inquiry and collaboration.”

The same day that I was pondering Ben’s words with a colleague, I found this article, In Times Of Uncertainty, These Are The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Leaders  posted on Forbes by Anita Sands, a leadership consultant with Propel Performance Group. Sands suggested these key habits:

  1. Balance Realism and Optimism
  2. Communicate Often and Authentically
  3. Focus on Purpose and Culture
  4. Nourish Yourself
  5. Evaluate Competitive Positioning
  6. Get and Stay Curious
  7. Pause and Celebrate Success

It’s all new!

Ben’s words communicate realism: it is all new and we can’t assume anything from system, to procedure, to structure, to practice. Those words also communicate authenticity. There is a transparency in sharing with people that there are things that we do not know and a belief (optimism) that we will work through them when they happen. Sands indicates people are assured when communication contains empathy, meaning making, and direction. One school district is starting the year with face-to-face classes on Monday thru Thursday and virtual learning occurring on Friday. When I asked about the decision, I was informed that they wanted teachers and students to continue building their virtual teaching and learning skills incase another wave of the pandemic required quarantining. While I am certain that there are people who disagree with that decision, the message is realistic and authentic.

Why, what and how.

Sands: “…when times are turbulent, and employees are second-guessing what they’re doing… they need to be reminded of the company’s “why”: Why do we exist? Why would anyone want to work here? Why should they care?

Ben: “…we have to go back to purpose and begin again to define the what and how.”

I wrote in an earlier blog that teams should be built around the “Why” as presented by Simon Sinek, and then empowered to create the “what and how”. Those teams need the right environment to be effective. Sinek suggests, “If you get the environment right, every one of us has the capability to do remarkable things… when people feel safe and protected the natural reaction is to trust and cooperate.”

School leaders purposefully work to create that environment where trust and collaboration will support their staffs in creating the best possible results for learners. As teachers we want to create a similar environment with students and parents. Keep the “why” out in front and support the designs of “what and how.”

Inquiry and Humility

Ben mentioned the need for inquiry and collaboration. Sands identified the need for curiosity and humility: “The ability to know what to do when you don’t know what to do is only possible through curiosity, the prerequisite to which is humility; effective leaders have both.” She cites recent research indicating that curiosity enables a range of cognitive, emotional, and social capabilities that are vital to individuals, particularly during times of duress. My recent on the role of intellectual humility reinforces leaders’ need to be open and seeking understanding that leads to new decisions.


As Ben mentioned this can all be exhilarating and exhausting. I identify those as being common to a quality learning experience. Learning is hard work and hard work can feel good. It can be like the feeling of satisfaction following a physical workout. To reenergize we need to frequently pause, reflect, modify, and celebrate. Leaders need to purposefully plan to make the time for these opportunities. Sands presents this well: “During ongoing times of challenge, it’s essential for leaders to refortify and reinforce people’s self-efficacy by highlighting all of the obstacles they’ve overcome, the successes they achieved and the capabilities they’ve displayed.”

Be sure to do the same for yourself.

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2 Responses to “ Purposeful School Leader Actions ”

  1. Melanie O. Martinez Says:

    Wow! Spot on, Steve! Love to see Ben quoted here as well. Wise words from two insightful leaders that I admire very much. We have been preparing for months (which sometimes feels more like years)-but the last week has really shone a light on the strengths of our team- both individually and collectively. Inquiry and collaboration has been at the center, as well as grace and patience for ourselves and one another. Thanks for this motivating and timely message. We return back virtually tomorrow with students. There will be lots more opportunities for “productive struggle” for all of us- but #WeGotThis
    PS- Hi Ben! 🙂


    Special focus on SCHOOL LEADERSHIP

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