What Communities Need from Leaders

By Meredith Monk Ford
Executive Director 

I love to devour data.  At a time when free learning via webinars is coming at us from every angle, I’m like a kid in a candy store. Just this past week, I listened to back-to-back webinars with leadership statistics and frameworks that I found to be particularly relevant to Folio’s member school leaders as the end of school approaches.

In one of the webinars called “Returning to Campus,” I was reminded of the astounding number of considerations that have to be taken into account as you plan for next year – from enhancing cleaning procedures to balancing COVID positive students’ and employees’ privacy with providing a safe work and learning environment for the community.

Beyond the tactical decisions and plans that have to be made, and with so many unknowns for next year, it’s hard to know what to tell teachers, families, and students about plans for the fall. Faculty’s anxiety is especially heightened at the end of the school year; like their students, they are missing out on the end of year rituals that transition to summer.  And this summer, they will be asked to go above-and-beyond as they prepare for the “new normal” in the Fall.

So what is a school leader to do?  That’s where data can help.

The second webinar last week was from the Arbinger Institute, in which the speaker referenced a recent Gallup study (https://www.gallup.com/workplace/297497/covid-employees-need-leaders-right.aspx) which reviewed “global citizens’ worries, fears and confidence during nearly every major crisis of the past eight decades” in order to understand what people want and expect from leaders in such turbulent times.

The study notes that “in times of crisis, there are two directions human nature can take us: fear, helplessness and victimization — or self-actualization and engagement.”  Rationally, we all know where fear and dwelling on the “unfair” takes us – we can get stuck in negativity and paralysis, unknowingly making a bad situation worse. On the other hand, when we can see a clear path forward, there is a documented “rally effect,” according to the Gallup research, where people are willing to engage.

The Gallup meta-analytics  identified four universal needs that communities have of leaders in times of crisis: trust, compassion, stability, and hope.

  • Hope: Good or bad, right or wrong, there is always a future. As leaders, if we can communicate a creative and optimistic vision for the future, we have a much better (and easier!) chance of rallying teachers behind the plans and culture that will lead to our ultimate goal: a meaningful learning experience for students. We can end this school year with this sense of hope by celebrating all that the community accomplished, both before and during the transition to remote learning.

  • Stability:  Clarity and consistency can provide a sense of calm in an otherwise-unsure time. Our communities crave the comfort of security; school leaders can provide that with a clear and actionable plan and with honest, reassuring messages.  It’s tempting to react to every parent/teacher/student complaint or request.  Instead, how can we listen, empathize, and remain strategic in our intentional responses as opposed to reactionary.

  • Trust: Leaders earn trust by being honest and transparent, by providing information all while maintaining an authenticity – which might include showing some vulnerability or acknowledge gaps in their understanding. We should not be wary of admitting what’s hard and what’s unresolved as long as we demonstrate a commitment to learning and our mission.

  • Compassion: Teachers are more than classroom instructors, coaches, and advisors. Especially now, we should pay attention to what they are experiencing – as human beings. End-of-year conversations with each of them are hugely important; it demonstrates your care for them and your interest in their experience.  If you can listen to learn how to make their work lives better in the coming year, it will model the compassion you hope they will show themselves as well as their students. Invite faculty to articulate their emotions and rather than trying to fix things in the moment, listen with a curious heart and a beginner’s mind.

The data from the Folio member survey from last month aligns with these values. Schools that were diligent and creative in their problem solving and intentional in communicating expectations with their community reported strong faculty morale and teachers who had a willingness to adapt and learn.  Those schools provided clear teaching guidelines and guardrails for faculty, while also staying responsive to their employees’ humanity and life challenges.

At Folio, we know that your priority for next year is ensuring high quality instruction, whether in-person or remotely or via some complex hybrid of the two. Right now, the Folio team is putting the finishing touches on some year-end platform features as well as compiling the results of our recent member survey. (Look for more details in your inbox soon!) Those survey insights, coupled with FolioCollaborative’s platform tools, will support you as you navigate the coming months and beyond. We will be here for you – to share your exciting ideas for the future, the space to reflect, the comfort of an understanding community, and the tools and resources to move forward with consistency and intent.

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