If I had a nickel for every time someone said, "We don't know" in the past couple of weeks, I'd be rich.
All kidding aside, this is a time full of unknowns in life, and education is no exception. School leaders and parents are all trying to make decisions with minimal information (and/or information chat seems to change every day).
If there's one lesson I can pinpoint in all of this, it is that a little bit of listening and personal conversation can go a long way.
In the past several weeks, I have received numerous emails, texts, and phone calls from the teachers I help lead in my district. Many of them want to know if we can talk. And my answer is always yes.
I have been struck by how many of these conversations have ended with something like, "Thanks, I feel better now after talking to you." The truth is, I don't really have more answers or give people a whole lot of new information, it's just that we take the time to connect on a human level. We can talk through their individual situation, given the information that we both have at hand, and think about what it means. These conversations may take up some of my time, but the investment in people, in my team, is well worth it. I firmly believe that people will feel more comfortable, less anxious, and be better employees, teachers, and humans when they know that they are in a caring environment!
Contrast this with other situations I've seen, where the directive has been, "The leader is overwhelmed right now, so unless it's urgent, don't reach out." I get it -- this is an overwhelming time, and sometimes we need to focus on other things. But do you notice how that puts up a wall? It communicates that other "stuff" is more important than the person who is looking for help. And even if it is said with the best of intentions, it creates a less comfortable and more anxious working environment.
Even worse than that is when nothing at all is said. When people feel like they are just shouting into the void and not getting any answers. That can feel like, "You issue/question/situation isn't even important enough for me to acknowledge." Does that keep your team engaged and headed in the right direction?
I'm not perfect, nor do I have time to say "yes" right away every time. In fact, one of my recent emails sounded something like this: "I would love to connect, but I need to focus on preparing for teachers to come back next week. Could we try to schedule something after that?" Keeping the door open while politely protecting my time & top priorities for this week was my goal. And I received a very understanding response!
Connection matters. The more uncertain the future, the more people just want to know someone is out there who cares. Be human first, and a worker second. And 99% of the time, it will actually help your work turn out better, because your team is engaged, empowered, and spending more of their time focusing on what needs to be done rather than wondering what the leader is thinking!
Go forth and lead through relationships!