Wed | Jun 16, 2021

Pauleen Reid | Recovering stronger – a school leader’s perspective

Published:Sunday | May 9, 2021 | 12:11 AM

Students in masks attend class at Steer Town Primary and Junior High last year November on the first day of a two-week pilot. Coronavirus restrictions triggered a shutdown of in-person classes in March 2020.
Students in masks attend class at Steer Town Primary and Junior High last year November on the first day of a two-week pilot. Coronavirus restrictions triggered a shutdown of in-person classes in March 2020.
 Pauleen Reid
Pauleen Reid
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There is an urgent need for us to explore school leadership and the traits that must be exhibited in any bid to effectively navigate challenges and adversity. At this time, the matter of school leadership has to be on our radar, since the challenges are threatening to become overwhelming. However, I dare to suggest that ironically, this presents the prime climate in which outstanding leadership will thrive. The COVID-19 pandemic is quite novel and, therefore, leaders must now seek to obliterate, innovate and activate.

The repeated pronouncement of a postponement of a return to the face-to-face modality of teaching and learning continues to signal a very frightening reality. We need to show how strong we are in the face of novel and unexpected circumstances. Yes, we will become concerned but not daunted; we must have the resolve that we are going to find a way. At this level, so many persons are looking to school leaders to chart the course forward and to be able to lead the charge into a new paradigm.

It is against this background that I now prescribe four leadership vaccines that will inoculate against any threat of a failed education system.

VACCINE ONE – RISK MANAGEMENT

We have to focus on our own setting and proceed, based on what is in our best interest. Not operating based on recommendations from self-acclaimed consultants, technocrats and decorated practitioners. This is a new frontier for everyone, including the regulators. Given the varying geographical location of our schools, diverse socio-economic realities and landscape within which educators operate, school leaders must first determine the comorbidities of their school setting and then unearth effective and novel ways of addressing the leadership challenges which emerge.

If ever there was a time when schools are faced with increased risks, it is now. Clearly, risk management was never an area that received great attention. This is the time for ongoing monitoring, evaluating and determining new courses of action. Leaders have to throw away the box and ‘think’, accepting that our raison d’etre is to successfully educate the nation’s children.

VACCINE TWO – EMBRACING CHANGE

Remember that we do not have the knowledge or the tools to deal with this COVID-19 era; it is one of the most challenging times that we will ever face. There is no playbook to guide us. There is no template to pull on. There is no precedent to dictate the way forward. We must not allow our fears and frustration to deter us from developing that resilience to confront and conquer this challenge. Oh, so you might be thinking that you have never been technologically inclined and now you have to embrace a blended approach to lesson delivery. We must be honest and candid, shunning the urge to be pretentious and realising that there are gaps and even inadequacies to be addressed, and to make every effort to do so.

You were always comfortable getting by with surfing the World Wide Web, and did not even stop to realise that Google is the name of one of the many search engines, and therefore is a noun and not a verb. So you were proud of yourself because you could ‘Google’, but now there is the rude awakening that you have to lead your staff into the online modality to deliver lessons. Wow! What a scare. But don’t be frightened. We must learn to adapt to changes of the age and be able to survive. You should not rely solely on the regulators to show you the pathway. Get a coach because it is unlikely that we will ever revert to face-to-face interaction exclusively. Get an information technology coach because you will need training to conquer the new frontier, or be left woefully behind. Remember, great educators are made through perpetual learning and expanding comfort zones.

VACCINE THREE – RESILIENCE

As we navigate our way in these uncharted waters, we have to avoid embracing a melancholy state of mind, one fraught with frustration, despondency and even disillusionment. This is the natural consequence of not exhibiting resilience at this time when Internet access is limited; some staff members want to have the latitude to renege on their responsibilities; there is the need for adherence to the protocols outlined by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and we continue to operate with limited resources.

Be reminded that educators are always under scrutiny, and this is the prime opportunity to shine to silence the critics. So get up and move with confidence, muster up energy and enthusiasm. Educators, ‘find your mojo’. The resilient educator has to acknowledge that even in the midst of a pandemic, there is a firm hand on the pulse of school operations; a coming together, uniting everyone around the common purpose with intense forward planning to meet the emerging changes. We must accept that paradoxically, fear oppresses strength, and gives weakness strength. Resilience is now required, there is no room for lethargy. Initiatives flow from central office, but we must not withhold support and we must exercise our resilience by creating and unearthing innovations that will enable us to meet the needs of our students. We need to be collaborating with other leaders to achieve an acceptable state of readiness for ongoing overall success. True resilience speaks to assessing vision and strategy, and then onboarding to ensure post-COVID-19 success.

VACCINE FOUR – SEEDS OF RECOVERY

The pandemic has seeds of its own recovery. Admittedly, the challenges are diverse and numerous, but they present opportunities for recovery. The following examples signal the reality that the recovery process will force persons to unearth and exhibit outstanding leadership acumen and prowess:

• Class size – There is now the need for creative timetabling strategies and group rotation gymnastics to guard against overcrowded settings.

• Technology has to be central to strategic planning, since technology now has to be the fulcrum of any lesson-delivery methodology.

• School leaders must recalibrate the structure of job descriptions to be responsive to the new roles and responsibilities which have emerged.

• A prime opportunity has been created for schools to advance community outreach, engagement and impact, by training parents who are technologically challenged to be able to assist their children.

• The engagement of stakeholders in a think tank for the revision or crafting of a business continuity plan to guard against unpreparedness for a pandemic or any major disruption to the business of education.

One crucial seed of recovery is for school leaders to be outstanding professionals, enhancing personal brand and image; and becoming known for being adept at school leadership, irrespective of the emerging circumstances.

There is now the need to heed the counsel of Abigail Adams to her son, John Quincy Adams (president of the United States):

“These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life or the repose of a pacific station that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties.”

- Pauleen Reid is principal of Knockalva Polytechnic College. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com