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From SAIS President Debra Wilson - March 2020

Tuesday, March 10, 2020  
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Hello Friends!

As many of you likely know, I do not handle anticipation well.

If a book gets too intense, I will read the last page. It is not beyond me to read the whole last chapter, then go back to wherever I was. As a resident of the South Carolina low country, almost every year I get to enjoy the slow-motion phenomenon of hurricane tracking. The upside of hurricane tracking is that you know a hurricane is coming. The downside is that you know for a very long time that it is coming, yet you don’t know where it will land, how bad it will be, or how much to prepare. Everyone manages the stress caused by watching seemingly impending doom in different ways. I straighten, ask my husband the same questions multiple times, and cook enough food –- usually soups, gumbos, or stews and desserts -– for a medium-sized army.

The time spent over the last few weeks preparing for the coronavirus in the United States has felt a lot like hurricane preparation.

I suspect we are all starting to feel the fatigue of preparing to take care. And, that really is what we are doing. Bracing our communities for a pandemic is really about taking care of each other. This virus has a morphing mortality rate (for those mathematicians and people looking for more optimistic stats, see this piece or this one). It has recently been reported by the WHO as high as 3.4 percent, and as high as 14.8 percent for older members of our community. Schools are ecosystems that are about people, and there are vulnerable people among those who volunteer as grandparents in our classrooms, appear in our carpools, serve on our boards, are alumni of our institutions, or are our staff members and school leaders.

While we are taking the steps needed to protect our communities, I urge you to take time to also consider the overall wellness of you and your staff. Yes, wellness can be over-hyped, but particularly in times of stress, taking the time to center and focus can both create a better end-result and improve the trust and work between colleagues. Bearing this in mind, the following resources might help:

  • Understanding the psychological effects triggered by epidemics. We have had enough epidemics in recent years that scientists are beginning to understand the effects they have on people. This article, which outlines such effects, can help school leaders get a better handle on the behavior they see in themselves and colleagues.
  • How do you help people move to healthier patterns? It helps to know how neuroscience drives fears and behaviors, and this is particularly true in times of stress when peoples’ reactions can seem completely out of character or context. Last week when we were in Philadelphia, Keith Evans from Westminster reminded me of the SCARF framework for managing change. (There are  different uses of this framework, including in the classroom.) I like this one because it is within the construct of VUCA environments, that is, environments or situations that are volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. It is also helpful to look at your own actions and reactions in the context of this tool because leaders are not immune from these responses. Transparency is a big piece of this puzzle for the entire community.
  • How is your community structured for expressing stress? This is important for all educators. Everyone needs a place to turn while they are being strong for the next level. This article explains and offers a visualization of “Ring Theory.” In this structure, kids are at the center, parents and teachers are taking care of the kids, and administrators are taking care of teachers. Heads of school are trying to support the entire ecosystem. In Ring Theory, the further out in the circle you go, the more others may be sending their needs on to you. It may help to work with your team to visualize this structure or a similar one and call out where support flows in and frustration flows out. This can keep lines of communication flowing in the proper direction.
  • Make the time to take care of yourself and encourage others to do the same. Don’t skip this bullet. As a school leader, you need to make sure that you have a place where you can release some of the pressure on you. You cannot hold together the ecosystem on pure adrenalin. Do not lose track of your basics, including your support system outside of school, exercise, getting outside, or whatever else helps you center. Further, now is the time to be open and truly engage your team. Leaders open to admitting vulnerability to this time of uncertainty can build a better long-term team and support system.

Maybe because the SAIS team managed to take some time away this weekend after wrestling with the information and planning related to this virus, we are starting to look at how this crisis allows us to challenge ourselves to look at our traditional systems differently. I think this also applies to schools. As I look at the resources being offered (such as the free courses from Global Online Academy and One Schoolhouse), I have been thinking more about the long game in strategic change in the midst of this crisis for schools. What skill development, growth, and changes can you make now, in the midst of this crisis, that would otherwise take you a decade or more at your school? Online learning, while challenging, provides the opportunity to take on the difficult question of time. Online learning does not mean that your teachers are online with your students for those same class blocks. What options does this mode create that you can bring back to face-to-face instruction? If you cannot do project management in-person, how can tools like Monday.com and Asana change your work style? Look for these silver linings as you continue to work with your community.

There are many resources on the SAIS website and other sites that will help you prepare your school to manage the coronavirus. Some newer resources are listed below. Some schools will close for a period of time; most will likely need to manage at least some absences of students and staff, and disruptions will occur to local, national, and global economies. We are learning institutions, however, and places of empathy. This is an opportunity for us to learn how to prepare for events that wreak havoc on our traditional business model and delivery of services and exercise our empathy with each other while we ride this roller coaster together.

As always, if there is anything SAIS can do to help or support you and your school, we are here to help.

Sincerely,

Debra Wilson
SAIS President

 

Recent and Relevant Resources on Preparing for Coronavirus

I know the number of resources out there is overwhelming. Here are a few recent pieces that are worth a look. At www.sais.org/coronavirus we continue to compile a more comprehensive list of resources.

Please keep an eye out for emails regarding SAIS members only webinars.


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