Have you ever been on a car journey and arrived at a destination with no notion of how you got there? Leadership in lockdown seems to be a little bit like that. But now as we are four weeks in, it is time to stop and take stock of the journey so far.
You have been the driver in your school. You need to celebrate the successes and learn from the difficulties. Every leader in every setting will have a different set of successes and difficulties, so my aim is not to list what these may be. Instead, I wanted to share a few ideas that have been at the forefront of my mind personally – and you may also want to consider them too, no matter what has gone well and what hasn’t.
As you look back on lockdown to date, you have to be honest with yourself about the high points and the low points – starting with two lists: successes and difficulties.
Here’s how to build these lists in a way that will help you move forward, by looking back.
Get your lists going by reflecting yourself. Write down all the actions or processes that received a positive response, or made you internally smile and say well done to yourself. Maybe this was a well worded email or a conversation with a member of staff that put them at ease.
With difficulties, write down the times you were overly stressed or anxious or, when a decision you made received a negative reaction (or even no reaction at all).
Ask a friend
This can be a senior leader, friend, or partner. Even though they may not know all the decisions you have made, they can help you reflect on your mood at certain points. When you appear stressed or anxious, this is usually a sign that things aren’t going to plan.
See if together you can pinpoint when these were. Conversely, when you were more relaxed is probably a sign you were in control. Pinpoint these too. Add these circumstances to your lists.
Ask your staff
This is sometimes difficult for leaders to do, but if you want an honest picture (and you want to grow as a leader) you have to ask them what has gone well and what has been difficult over the last few weeks. This could be in the form of a quick survey on Survey Monkey or a personal phone call to see what people have struggled with. Get this feedback on your lists too.
Now you have your lists, you need to crystallise the thoughts on the page. You also need to take action with the insights you’ve gathered (no matter how painful they might be). But let’s start with the positives…
Celebrate the Successes
Key successes need to be shared with all stakeholders. Although you are the driver in this journey, these successes are a result of everyone’s efforts. So even if some positives are about you personally, communicate them in more general terms.
Right now, it’s not about you. Send an email to the staff explaining what has gone well and thanking them for adopting processes, coming into work and providing this much needed service. If there are successes that can be attributed to key staff, personally ring them to thank them. You could also consider including your successes in your communication to parents. Explaining to the wider community what is going well will instil confidence that school is positively managing this difficult situation.
Learn from the difficulties
For a lot of people this is the hard bit. You have to own the things that didn’t go well, and some of them may be about you personally. But again, they need communicating. You have asked your stakeholders for their opinion on these matters, now you need to outline what you are going to do about it.
Send an email or a document to your staff outlining the difficulties during the last three weeks. Names don’t need to be mentioned and blame apportioned… but you do have to be honest, so make it more general if you can.
The next and most important part is for you to outline what measures you / the school will take to make sure these difficulties aren’t replicated in the coming weeks.
What will you do differently and how will you support people through the difficulties they have faced? Getting this right may involve an SLT meeting where you discuss a way forward, but it is imperative that you outline clear and decisive actions for improvement. This will reassure your team and quell their anxieties about difficult times repeating themselves.
It might feel a bit early to look back when we are ‘only’ four weeks into lockdown, but now is exactly the time to be establishing what’s working, and what’s not. A bit like a child in the back seat of this journey, the nation collectively asks: “are we nearly there yet?”
I just wish that we could answer that question, the reality is nobody knows. But what I do know is that we must show that we are in control and moving forwards – it’s time to continue down the road leading our teams positively and confidently.