Becoming a School Leader During COVID-19


Understand your context

A typical planned entry emphasizes talking with key players early on, like supervisors, board members, and colleagues to get insight and feedback on the current context. But what is often missing is intentional effort to understand the community’s history — its history of oppression, opportunity, and leadership for racial and social justice — and the connection to present-day challenges and opportunities.

In this current time, it seems especially important to locate the leaders and connectors, the formal and informal leaders that are trusted sources of information and influence. If you can, consider creating a “virtual” kitchen cabinet, an informal group of thought partners, and check in with them for advice and guidance along the way. Their insights about past and present challenges are critical.

Ask yourself: What do you know about the organization and the community in which it is situated? What is the historical context? What are the present-day challenges and the connection between the two? Who can you talk to early on to gain this insight?

Understand yourself

Just as important is understanding yourself. Again, a typical planned entry emphasizes introducing yourself, your why, and your core values. But absent an examination of your multiple identities, including your racial identity — what brings you strength and perhaps hesitation, how you think you may be perceived, and what biases you may hold — you will enter into your role and your early interactions with blind spots. The conversations you’ll have during entry are inherently difficult, and no matter your racial identity or other identity markers, you may be emotionally triggered. You need to understand why, so that you can find your center, stay present for the people you lead, and remain compassionate to the people you serve. This “mindful listening” exercise, from Shane Safir’s The Listening Leader, may be especially important now.

Ask yourself: Who are you? How does your lived and professional experience inform your leadership? How does your race and other identities inform how you view this role and your relationship to the community it serves?

Be transparent and build trust

Critical to leadership entry is transparency and relational trust building. The creation of an intentional entry plan helps with transparency, for sure — people should know what you are doing and why — but focusing on activities that build trust is key, especially as trust is understandably low in communities where the institution has done them wrong. It is critical to seek out multiple perspectives, to “see” people, to show competence early on by getting after some quick wins, and to follow through on your plan. Use social media, for example, for regular reporting of your actions and insights, and be open to the feedback you hear.

Ask yourself: What can people expect of you? How will you model your core values? How will you follow through? How will you share your moves and your learning every step of the way?





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