As schools and communities navigate the uncertainties accompanying extended school closures, principals and their leadership teams must tap into their intimate knowledge of their staff and faculty, families, and the assets and needs of the communities they serve. To understand how to deploy resource effectively, leaders need to communicate information to the district and to the school’s community.
“Communicating regularly, calmly, and clearly is what matters most. Parents appreciate knowing what is going on, even if the news is not good, and community organizations and news media can help get the word out to families who may not be plugged in,” says HGSE senior lecturer Jennifer Cheatham, director of the Public Education Leadership Project (PELP) and a former superintendent in Madison, Wisconsin. To help school leaders support the communities they serve, Cheatham suggests a few areas of focus for principals during this initial phase of crisis response.
Nothing is more important than communication, and in multiple forms. The principal should provide reliable information during a time that can feel overwhelming and chaotic. Principals might:
- Post on social media a quick daily update to families.
- Send a weekly email “round up” at the end of each week that summarizes what has happened and previews what might be coming next.
- Provide a clear and concise list of family friendly information on their websites in multiple languages.
The principal can also be a conduit for insight and input that will serve the whole school district. This information can help them respond to specific families and students in a timely way that addresses their unique circumstances. Principals might:
- Assign key staff members to monitor social media and/or a suggestions box on their website.
- Check in regularly with local community organizations who serve families and children who are most vulnerable.
Discuss and connect
Finally, the principal can work on building community, especially among staff and faculty who need to support one another. Principals might:
- Provide a regular space for staff to talk about what is happening, how they are coping with the crisis, and to share concerns, ideas and possible solutions is critical.
Assessing what's working
Because many school leaders find themselves in uncharted territory, Cheatham recommends every school and district crisis team do regular “after action” reviews to consider what is working and what isn’t so that they can adjust along the way.
It’s especially important for leaders to consider the ways in which this crisis has exposed already existing and persistent inequities, like lack of access to technology and healthy food. Creating short- and longer-term plans to address equity gaps will be beneficial now and when this immediate crisis passes.
“We should be noting the inequities that are surfacing so that we can advocate, together, for what the nation’s children need most. There is always opportunity in a crisis, and given the magnitude of this one, my hope is that we will use it to lift up these wrongs and do what we can as a nation to make them right,” Cheatham says.