Leadership in Times of Change

The 5 R’s of The New Normal

EdTech Trends 2020: the future is now | Acer for Education

We’re breaking new ground next week as we return to school with our Grade 7s and Grade 12s phasing in. Change is hard and, for parents and teachers alike, it is stressful.

We shall indeed be doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our learners and staff in the days and weeks ahead, and I am fortunate to belong to a group of schools led by an executive with people-management skills. Navigating through the storms that threaten us as we re-open our schools is going to require strong leadership.

I’d like to share some insight from a leadership forum I attended this week:

As you know, in past years we used to speak about the 3 Rs of education:

  • Reading
  • wRiting
  • aRithmetic (I know -the R’s have never worked for me either.)

This has of course changed with 21st Century Education which focuses on the 6Cs (Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Critical thinking, Character, Citizenship).

Here are the 5 Rs of this new stage in our post-COVID-Lockdown schools. (The list is purloined, but the interpretations are mine, I should stress.)

1. Resolve

We are having to take many decisions and many are hard ones in the shifting sands of the pandemic landscape. Information is a swirl of changing facts and our Standard Operating Procedures can never be a fixed, lifeless document. We are learning to live with constant, rapid change and must be adaptable and flexible, like palm trees in a cyclone.

But we must make decisions. We cannot stand around dithering. Not even Nero’s supposedly musical fiddling helped to save Rome from fire (if you believe that legend.) We must be resolute in our desire to forge ahead now and serve our school communities So we must be both strong and decisive, and supple in how we navigate the way ahead.

2. Resilience

We must stay the distance. My school will still be here to tell the tale when COVID-19 is as distant a memory as smallpox, but we have to take careful steps to adjust how we do things in order to make it through this time.  As Michael Bolton tells us in the lyrics from his song in the cartoon, Hercules: ‘[We] can go the distance!’

3. Return (Renewed with Remote)

We are like heroes returning to the winter of school like bears disturbed from hibernation. Education will never be the same again. If it’s more of the same, we shall have learned nothing over this time. And that will be to our shame. We have been forced deeper into the technological era and developed remote learning and teaching skills no training programme could have achieved, because necessity is the mother of invention.  Not only have we developed new expertise, which we shall continue to develop with the new hybrid model of teaching, we must continue to expand our technological capabilities. With the first new visualizers being installed in classes from next week, enabling us to better project our live streaming to children at home, as well as actively teaching those in front of us, we are heading into new territory.

That there will be teething problems with this, I have no doubt, but I am certain too that we shall overcome these challenges also. So, I hope our community bears with us in the days to come as we settle into an entirely new way of doing things, yet again.

This is the new normal.

4. Re-imagine (Re-invent, Re-interpret)

Our growth and development will not stop with these advances, we must continue to re-imagine our school. We have some exciting things planned around languages for 2021, and our burgeoning film school also has new horizons to explore. All of these will be developed around the new reality that COVID-19 has created globally.

We plan to push into the next normal.

5. Reform

As we experiment and develop education in the years to come, it is all rather pointless if we do not reform the community (and indeed the world) we live in. We must not merely re-make education; we must make it better. We must change the world, no matter how lofty an ideal that seems.

What has not changed in my school’s mission is to constantly remind young people that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.’

Margaret Mead

Send me.

Change Management in The Age of Corona

How accelerating change affects leaders and 5 things that are helping me.

The only constant in life is change"-Heraclitus - Executive Drug ...

I don’t know about you, my gentle readers, but I have sent so many emails in the last few days that open with, ‘I am so sorry to change this meeting time/start date/start time/rule [select relevant option]’ so that I have begun to think I should sign my name, ‘Angie Motshekga’!.

We all know that modern life requires us to be flexible and learn to cope with change, but I think it’s the rate of change that has increased so much since we have entered the Age of Corona (forget Aquarius, this one needs its own title). We need change management techniques on speed, literally and figuratively.

The Effects of the Rapid Rise in the Rate of Change:

1. We need to be more flexible

The acceleration of changing information requires us to be instantly adaptable, with the dexterity of a taxi driver changing lanes. I had occasion to thank a staff member today, our imminently organized high school secretary, who had just been told one thing by her manager, only to have me alter the plan as new decisions were made. Her gracious shrug of ‘No problem,’ was so gratefully received because I didn’t have to placate, console or explain anything. (I would have hugged her if I could.)

Not everyone is that resilient.

Adapt or die may sound pithy when contemplating Darwinian theory, but when faced with the possibility that choices we make may well have life or death consequences, taking time to pause and choose wisely, then adjust your approach when new announcements change our underlying assumptions, takes a new kind of rolling-with-the-punches kind of thinking, which can be exhausting especially for those with a need for tidy, stable structures.

2. Clear, Accurate Information is difficult to Communicate

COVID-19 statistics are changing almost as fast as the numbers on an Eskom electricity meter in winter, and so does the information available, which makes it frustrating when trying to communicate effectively with our parent-clients who are crying out for clarity about so many things, not least of which are dates for the phased re-opening of schools. 

Knowledge is power, so when it keeps changing, so does our confidence in being on top of things. No one likes feeling stupid, and if we are caught napping with ‘I don’t know’ it doesn’t feel good. I have started tacking on ‘at this point,’ ‘according to current information, ’and ‘as far as we know’ to my statements, for plausible deniability.

Unfortunately, scientists are a bit like expert witnesses – you can always get one to back up your opinion. And everyone who has a viewpoint has a scientist to back up their view. We are bombarded with these twin talking heads, each crying fake news at the other and we as educators need to sail a path of sense through it all.

How I have managed to cope with the speed of change

1. Simplicity

I try to distil the myriad of articles, videos and documents into the essential snippets. However, anyone who has ever sat through one of my meetings knows that précis is not my strong point, but the ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ technique would be a good one to follow, if I could.

2. Team

I have been blessed in the course of my headships always to have good management teams, with whom to grapple with decisions. There is so much benefit to be derived from collected wisdom, and fortunately what we call the 5 Cs: CCCCC (CCC (School’s name) Command Council – we could have named it the 6 Cs: CCC Covid Command Council, but that would have been a bit much) has been tremendously insightful in unpacking the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP – my new, least favourite acronym) and all the new protocols to be observed when we re-open our schools.

My leadership team has worked tirelessly to transition our school from being a conventional educational institution, to a remote learning school, and… coming to a theatre near you… a hybrid, combining physical lessons and the remote offering for those who can’t or don’t want to send their children back.

Note to all leaders: if your team is strong, you always look good.

3. Empathy

It’s easy to become overwhelmed or irritated with the content overload and perpetually altering circumstances, not to mention having to absorb the anger and anxiety of everyone else like SpongeBob superheroes.

That is when the ability to appreciate another person’s viewpoint enables you to maintain a certain amount of humility and gentleness in your responses, all the better to diffuse antagonistic situations. People are stressed. It helps to visualize what that feels like.

4. Creativity

If ever we needed this 21st century skill, it is now, in this crisis. The trick is ensuring we have fun even in the dark days. The entrepreneur, Sam Cawthorn believes that

Crisis moments create opportunity. Problems and crises ignite our greatest creativity and thought leadership as it forces us to focus on things outside the norm.’

As a school we have seized on some things we’ve wanted to do for a while, and the change has allowed us to do them.

5. Wisdom

Billy Joel thought that honesty was hard to find; wisdom is even harder and when everyone is looking at you for the oracle moments and quotable quotes, it can be a bit daunting. See #2 above. Thank goodness for teams.

When all else fails in a crisis, my mother’s favourite prayer (and also funnily enough the prayer of addicts) is what keeps me going:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

I am not in any danger of being addicted to change, but I certainly need the serenity of the Mona Lisa (although I sometimes think she was a schoolteacher thinking ‘%^&*& I don’t know what to do with these new-fangled methods – I’ll just smile and perhaps they’ll think I’m on top of it all’) and the guts of a Man United fan at Anfield. (FYI I’d never be a Man U fan.)

Mona Lisa with mask covid19 - wallpaper 1080p | Wallpaperize

But perhaps the Good Lord will grant me the wisdom I so badly need.  If not, see #2 above, repeat…