The problem with crisis planning is that the details you need to know to plan effectively aren’t usually revealed to you until the crisis is already in full swing.
This meeting between theory and practice is often at the origin of the abandonment or the rewriting of existing plans.
After all, who had plans in place that could have helped with the events of the past 18 months?
But through all of this upheaval, schools have adapted again and again. So what lessons can we learn from that to help us the next time a crisis – whatever it is – strikes.
Communication: little and often
In times of crisis, language matters. Even when everything else is out of your control, one thing you still have power over is what you say.
For example, the pandemic naturally created panic. To counter this, we started with a very clear message to our staff, parents and students: it was about managing change, not crisis.
We recognized our anxiety, but expressed confidence that we could meet this challenge and reassured people that we already had many tools at our disposal. There is a tendency in a crisis for the mind to erase everything it already knows. However, we knew we had the collective power to deal with whatever came our way and it was important to say so.
Throughout a crisis, it is also important to keep the lines of communication open.
After explaining our strategic response to the pandemic to all of our stakeholders, we made sure to maintain regular communications. This happened even when we had nothing new to say, as we knew parents and staff appreciated regular updates. via our internal channels and our weekly newsletter all the same.
Put people first
We identified early in the crisis that a gadget or smart gadget was not going to decide whether we sank or swam when it came to dealing with the fallout from the pandemic. We reaffirmed that our people were our greatest asset, even though we were proficient in new technologies.
So we knew we had to prioritize training, to make sure people felt confident to adapt to the new ways of working related to distance learning.
For some it was a steep learning curve, but we were careful not to make it intimidating. In order to ensure that morale was not shaken, we made the work environment at home for teachers comfortable, a practical step that made a difference in the working day of our staff.
We have appointed a Digital Champion, as a resource person for anyone struggling with IT, to turn to at any time of the day. We also found the training videos to be really powerful. It’s so easy, especially at such an anxious time, for people to forget the basics, so these videos covered the issues most likely to arise and were a great troubleshooting tool.
Want flexibility? Then give flexibility
Third, we called for flexibility as the situation evolved. This is often the biggest challenge for a management team, as it can be demoralizing and exhausting when things don’t go as planned.
A good example is our reopening schedule for September, which was based on the principle of more staff moving around the school and fewer students, to protect the bubbles. It soon became apparent that the staff were exhausted by moving themselves and relocating their resources several times a day; we re-evaluated and given the hygienic standards we had managed to maintain, by mid-October we were confident we could ask students to move classrooms again for different lessons.
It was a tough decision to tear apart a timeline that had been painstakingly put together, upsetting everything once again, but it was the right thing to do and we called for our support in explaining why the original decision was made. and why we had to change course.
Think and learn
In terms of lessons learned, we’ve seen the focus on leadership training pay off, but we’ve also realized that training is just one aspect. Fostering leadership as a state of mind is how you start to see it demonstrated on all levels.
In terms of how we manage future changes, we’re looking at how we can leverage even more of our outward-facing platforms. We want to take full advantage of technology and streamline our processes where we can, for example by not always requiring face-to-face meetings with parents.
The language we use is as important in this context as it has been throughout the pandemic; we make the conscious decision not to speak of “catching up” but of “consolidation” and “skills development”.
Change can be overwhelming and we felt it as deeply as the next school, but it is also, ultimately, an opportunity to improve.
We are determined that whatever we do now will not only help us navigate these troubled waters, but also steer the ship for many years to come.
Daniel Rushworth is Deputy Principal of Chipping Campden School