Before COVID-19, education leaders prided ourselves in being goal oriented professionals, doing everything in our power to support student success. Working in schools, districts, CMOs, state departments of education and in supporting organizations, we took pride in our commitment to do whatever it takes, knocking through barriers, and always maintaining high expectations for ourselves and others.
But now, that day is over. Or at least on pause. We are balancing full days of meetings with full days of homeschooling our own children, we are nursing ourselves or our families back to health, we are facing fear, frustration, and grief. Our lives have changed and so too must our expectations for ourselves and for others.
Talking with talent leaders across the country, We’re discovering that many simply need to hear, “You can stop doing that. It will be ok.” It’s time to re-prioritize and focus on the purpose of your work, not stay wed to the original plan or program. Schools can be our model. Teachers and principals are learning a whole new way to educate students. They are no longer teaching the same lesson plan, but they are working toward the same standards, ensuring that students are able to learn and grow. District and network leaders need to do the same.
For example, we were recently asked by talent leaders in both a big urban district and in a big charter network about how to continue their robust evaluation systems. While we firmly believe in systems of teacher development, evaluation, recognition and pathways (and have spent most of my career focused on them), now is the time to pause and reassess. It’s the time to ask yourself what the ultimate purpose of your work is and if your system is doing that now. It’s time to simplify and focus on achieving that original purpose, not to MacGyver a complicated and time consuming process. When we talked with leaders about their multiple measure evaluation systems we were direct – your student achievement measures based on interim data aren’t going to be accurate and won’t help teachers get better, so don’t do that. Your families don’t have time to give feedback on teachers, so don’t do that. Your teachers aren’t teaching in ways that align to the observation rubric and had to learn this new method in a day, so don’t do that. Instead, coach and support the adults to do the best they can in a tough situation so they can be their best for kids.
The purpose is always to support people to get better and stay longer.
Is your system doing that now?
As a talent leader, we recommend focusing your time and energy into five priorities:
- Communicate clearly and transparently – State what you know and what you don’t yet know. Be clear about the values that are driving decisions and what is being prioritized right now. Be real about your own fears and your own optimism. And find ways to connect. You can share a video, hold office hours or reach out one on one. In doing so, always focus on the employee’s needs as a person.
- Listen to and support your school leaders – School leaders are struggling through this time, navigating their own emotions and disappointments, and those of their teachers, students and families. Be responsive to their needs and make them your priority. When you need their input, make it as easy as possible for them. Give them a clear proposal and let them react.
- Retain your staff – Have “stay conversations” so people know they are valued and appreciated. Ask them directly through conversations or surveys what their plans are for the fall. Consider how to retain salaries through limited budgets and how to incentivize people through non-monetary compensation.
- Recruit and hire new candidates – Hiring will need to move online, but keep the process moving. Think about how to get hiring managers comfortable granting offers remotely and how to get candidates comfortable to accept offers. Identify how to bring your schools’ unique culture to candidates. For more, check out TNTP’s Virtual Hiring Guide and Fast Company’s article on unconscious bias.
- Recognize and celebrate people – Consider cancelling performance based rewards based on results from 2019-2020 and re-use these funds to recognize teachers now (or returning teachers in the fall). Identify ways to say thank you for the hard work and creativity people are bringing to the work. For example, a personal thank you message, a take-out restaurant gift certificate or a retention bonus at the start of next school year are all effective in letting people know they are appreciated.
As our fearless talent leaders, we want to say thank you for taking care of the adults so they can take care of the children. And, yes, you can stop doing that.