Challenges, Leaders, Schools (I)

Nov. 6, 2020

Andrew Watson

[This article was originally published by Andrew Watson on LinkedIn on 10/06/2020]


What a year in school leadership, particularly for those in new positions.

It’s the same everywhere. It isn’t just your school, your leadership. With passions running high about the COVID response, social justice, and political division, not to mention a steady state of anxiety about climate change/fires/disasters, social unrest, wealth disparity, and the economy, school leadership has never been more difficult. Oh, and then there was the PPP debate . . .

When those you serve can’t personally connect with those who lead in the highest places, their anxiety sends them towards leaders in the neighborhood. That’s you. When their anxiety combines with loss (of loved ones, of jobs, of a sense of control), some abandon all reasonable norms of discourse.

This all comes together in a perfect storm around the dilemma of opening schools, with the added fact that most school leaders haven’t had a break of any sort since last December. It is no wonder then, in a conversation with a regional director of an independent school association recently, I heard that most of the heads in the association are pretty miserable. I’ve seen the same thing myself among my colleagues around the country. I felt it myself in my final, surreal, months at Albuquerque Academy where I served as Head of School for nineteen years.

Do you, and your board, recognize that this situation is universal? Do you understand, together, that decisions must be made with inadequate information, with little control over the external situation, and with vocal opposition coming from all sides? Have you noticed that each time you communicate, constituents are pouring over everything you convey checking to see if you “get it” from their point of view?

We can’t control the cause of these angry attacks any more than we can predict the course of COVID. And the authorities aren’t much help either, caught in their own dilemmas of decision-making and communication.

It’s a mess.

Reflecting on all of this, a few thoughts/predictions come to mind. I’ll share them the next time I write.

One last thought here, though: the leaders I know in NAIS schools are wise and courageous. Everyone got to work when the crisis hit, giving their best for their school communities. Creative solutions appeared, flexible pivots occurred, and children continued to learn.

Things are far from ideal and still uncertain, but I have complete trust that our schools are providing extraordinary opportunities for students. Eventually, school communities will look back and feel pride in the fact that their leaders and missions got them through these extraordinary times.

Hang in there, friends and colleagues! An alternate, and true, view is that while this is the biggest challenge you’ve faced, it also presents an incredible opportunity for you to grow in your leadership and keep your school community intact. The leadership “muscles” you are developing will strengthen you and the schools you lead throughout your career.


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[This article was originally published by Andrew Watson on LinkedIn on 10/06/2020]