Effective leaders are learners. And that’s never been more true than right now. With all of the change, the challenges, and the problems that leaders are confronting in this chaotic moment, those who aren’t learning are not serving their organizations, and they’re not doing much for their professional longevity either.
While many of the challenges that have confronted school leaders this past year are shared by those in other institutions, many are also unique. Trying to maintain the health and safety of children is not something on the minds of Fortune 500 CEOs. And providing meals and WiFi to underserved kids, or creating social distancing protocols for teachers and students, or reconfiguring schedules to accommodate quarantines and lockdowns are not currently on any principal or headmaster job description that I know of. Maybe they will be now.
No question, the skill sets required of school leaders are changing. And many leaders no doubt upskilled in a variety of ways over the past 14 months in the service of real-world problem-solving and inquiry (which is, by the way, the best way to learn anything, right?). But the scope of what leaders need to be able to do today aside from managing the day-to-day running of a school is daunting.
So, let me offer up an overview of some key post-pandemic attributes that educational leaders will need to master and model in the coming months if they want to be the best they can be at shepherding their school communities in the future.
Health Coach: We are all under stress right now, and it seems unlikely that will abate any time soon. Leaders need to not only find ways to help their constituents replenish their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, they need to be able to do that themselves and share their practice.
Fearless Explorer: As the future seems more and more uncertain, leaders must have the courage and curiosity to meet it head-on. That means asking more and better questions rather than providing answers, and modeling learning through deep inquiry.
Truth Sherpa: In a world filled with misinformation, conspiracy theories, and increasingly angry interactions online and off, leaders must be literate in their use and understanding of technology, as well as their ability to engage and convince others of what is and what is not fact.
New Story Scribe: It’s no longer a question of if the story of schools and education is changing. It’s now a matter of when and how. The ability to frame new narratives of learning that are more relevant, equitable, and just for all children is now a prerequisite for leadership.
Digital DJ: As many school leaders (and others) learned this past year, new technologies can provide powerful methods of communicating and connecting. Being fluent in the creation of information in text, audio, video, and other emerging media is a key skill to building capacity and energy behind change.
Power Ranger: Conceptions of power are shifting throughout the world, and that’s especially true in schools. As more and more conversations turn to student agency and “empowering” learners, school leaders must be adept at identifying and recasting power relationships that stand in the way of greater student autonomy and freedom.
Strategic Designer: Strategic “planning” is increasingly a thing of the past as it becomes harder and harder to predict what our needs will be five months from now much less five years from now. A leader’s ability to design a path forward suggests a greater understanding of current contexts as well as an ability to “read the signs” that may signal what the future portends.
All of these skills are complex and have a layer of newness to them. And, they require some serious learning. Which, of course, is what effective leaders do.