Approaches Running Throughout This Book

We began the journey of writing this book in late March 2020 as systems and their schools closed their doors and moved to virtual spaces. Writing about the unknown and the decisions made by leaders was a challenge as shifts evolved frequently and quickly. We spent our time interacting with system and school leaders across several states, watching and reading about what was occurring in schools and their communities, and observing the social disruptions across the country. From these experiences, we gained insights about how systems and their schools faced turbulence, disruption, and adaptation.

The approaches running throughout this book are situated in practice. Each of the chapters will:

  • • examine a critical area of schooling by focusing on their function pre-COVID-19—insight will then be offered regarding how these areas had to change to fit the present realities in which schools and systems found themselves;
  • • present Narratives that address the changes in practice and thinking from system leaders, school leaders, and/or leaders from national organizations—these Narratives capture lessons learned that can guide systems in educating children in the face of turbulence, disruption, and adaptation, whether it's due to pandemic or another disruptive force;
  • • articulate and amplify the new thinking needed to lead systems, their schools, and communities for new tomorrows.

Through examining and amplifying change and the complexities of decision-making, the chapters open opportunities to guide systems, schools, and their communities in the introspection and rethinking that support short- and long-term planning for whatever the "new normal" brings to bare.

Objectives of the Book

The primary objective of this book was to examine as much as we know about the disruptions that schools, systems, and their communities experienced by the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and other disruptions will evolve as systems work through what is best for their students and communities. Although the writing of the book stopped in mid-November, we gained many insights about the efforts of school districts and schools to ensure students had the opportunity to continue with learning. Social media, newspaper articles, and blogs remind us of the challenges leaders faced, and the many victories along with their failures along the way.

The second objective was to illustrate decision-making and the complexities that system and school leaders, parents, and communities experienced as they journeyed through spring 2020 to fall 2020. There was no playbook to guide leaders, systems, and their communities in making decisions. There was no professional experience for school personnel to draw from as they faced system turbulence. The magnitude of decisions that had to be made could not be neatly teased from decision-making theories learned in educational leadership preparation programs, professional learning seminars, or well-meaning self-help books.

Yet, school systems responded within days to continue educating children.

The third objective was to understand how leaders balanced new information on COVID-19, emerging public opinion, an intense political environment, and student and staff safety with effective instructional practices. Critical decisions regarding whether to open face-to-face in fall 2020 needed to be made around the health and emotional wellness of the students and teachers, the steep learning curves for teachers to change instructional practices, and the ever-present press.

The fourth objective was to underscore the dynamics of school and organizational leadership through insights by educational leaders from across the country. These perspectives provided insights about the challenges of leading through the COVID-19 pandemic amplified by local, state, and federal politics, geographical locations, school size, levels of COVID-19 cases, school funding deficits, and equity gaps.

Book Features

In A Leadership Cuide to Navigating the Unknown in Education: New Narratives Amid COVID-19, each chapter includes approximately three Narratives written by a slate of thought leaders in the K-12 space as well as national organizations. By reviewing the Narratives, the reader will see that the professionals are representative of urban, rural, and suburban school systems across the United States.

The Narratives provide concrete examples of the concepts, ideas, and strategies discussed in the chapters. The contributors offer their insights from the practices that they enacted during COVID-19, the lessons they learned while leading during a pandemic, and how the focus on what they learned will influence the future of their systems. Through these Narratives we see what systems and leaders did to "make education work," and how systems project their thinking to actions to better educational opportunities for students.

At the conclusion of each chapter, key takeaways are offered and attention is drawn to the major ideas offered in the section entitled, Leading for Tomorrow. These takeaways as well as the questions embedded in each chapter serve as starting points to further the conversations about what is possible as systems and schools move forward.

What's Inside the Chapters?

The content of A Leadership Cuide to Navigating the Unknown in Education: New Narratives Amid COVID-19 spans eight chapters. The chapter annotations serve to acquaint the reader with the contents of each.

Chapter 1: Framing Unprecedented Disruptions

In "Framing Unprecedented Disruptions," the emerging influences on public education from COVID-19 are outlined with a chronology to help understand and engage educators in navigating the emerging influences and the context influencing decision-making with the understanding of new educational trajectories. Key messages from parents, students, teachers, and national thought leaders help leaders to understand the full impact of schools and the decisions made during this pandemic.

  • • Introduction
  • • A New Journey Begins
  • • Narrative: Together, We Can Do This
  • • The Context of Disruption
  • • Narrative: When You Least Expect It...
  • • The Influence of Social Media
  • • New Trajectories
  • • Leading for Tomorrow
  • • References

Chapter 2: Teachers and Leaders Care First for Their Students

In "Teachers and Leaders Care First for Their Students," the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the traditional structure of schools, the new role of parents, and the impact on the unique social, emotional, and learning needs of students are explored. Schools needed to pivot quickly in seeking new ways to meet the growing social and emotional impact on students when schools closed, the challenges as parents became teachers, and equity and access arose in the evolving virtual learning environment.

  • • Introduction
  • • The Absence of Traditional School Structures
  • • Narrative: You Are Not Alone
  • • Parents Assume Different Roles
  • • Narrative: Supporting Parents and Caregivers During Uncertain and Disruptive Times
  • • Meeting the Unique Needs of Children
  • • Narrative: Learning to Work with Tools from a New Toolbox: Student Supports During COVID-19
  • • Leading for Tomorrow
  • • References

Chapter 3: Short-term Response,. Long-term Implications

In "Short-term Response, Long-term Implications," quick responses were required to respond to the needs of students while creating a level of continuity amid program modifications and the implementation of new delivery models. School leaders and teachers evaluated current systems with a lens of safety as they developed and implemented a new teaching and learning environment that was fast becoming the new normal.

  • • Introduction
  • • Responding to Students' Basic Needs
  • • Narrative: Agility and Adaptability: Two Keys to Future Success
  • • Creating New Systems
  • • Narrative: The COVID-19 Impact on School Design
  • • The New Normal
  • • Narrative: Disruption Accelerates Transformation and Strengthens Community
  • • Leading for Tomorrow
  • • References

Chapter 4: Teaching as We Knew It

In "Teaching as We Knew It," the sudden shift to a fully virtual environment disrupted almost every traditional convention known to schools from instructional delivery models and class schedules to how teachers and students remained connected. Rethinking the framework in schools defined by contracts, influenced by high-stakes testing, and founded on face-to-face interactions required new and different conversations leading to new definitions and approaches.

  • • Introduction
  • • Traditional Conventions
  • • Narrative: 72 Hours: The Year with No Good-Byes
  • • Teaching, Learning, and the Schoolhouse
  • • Narrative: Adapting Instruction in the “New Normal"
  • • Human Connections
  • • Narrative: Relationships Can Thrive During a Crisis
  • • Leading for Tomorrow
  • • References

Chapter 5: Supporting Social and Emotional Needs

In "Supporting Social and Emotional Needs," the concerns about the wellbeing of students and their social development became a primary focus equally as important as academic loss and gains as schools made decisions to reopen, remain in a virtual environment, or a hybrid combination of both. As schools reevaluated the events of the spring and the needs moving forward, supporting the gaps in students' social learning and growth while supporting the well-being of teachers required a new level of intensity and intentionality.

  • • Introduction
  • • Student Growth and Social Development
  • • Narrative: Supporting Student Social Emotional Wellness During a Time of Isolation
  • • Social Dynamics of Schools
  • • Narrative: Lessons Learned While Navigating the Unknown
  • • New Thinking Moving Forward
  • • Narrative: We Really Did Own It
  • • Leading for Tomorrow
  • • References

Chapter 6: The Roles of Schools and

Their Communities

In "The Roles of Schools andTheir Communities," the COVID-19 challenges permeated well beyond the schoolhouse boundaries and into communities causing disruption to multiple systems requiring a need to forge new working relationships and collective decision-making. Schools, community agencies, and government entities needed to work in tandem. They needed to come together as decisions were made and communicated to ensure targeted interventions met the mental wellness needs of students.

  • • Introduction
  • • Community Relationships
  • • Narrative: Leveraging Local Leadership During a Clobal Crisis
  • • Schools and Healthy Children
  • • Narrative: Communities Respond in Uncharted Territory
  • • Student Well-being in a Virtual Environment
  • • Narrative: Leading for Wellness When All is Not Well: Lessons from COVID-19
  • • Leading for Tomorrow
  • • References

Chapter 7: Leading Through the Unknown

In "Leading Through the Unknown," leaders were positioned to make decisions about complex problems resulting from a changing COVID-19 pandemic. Decisions were often hotly intertwined in politics spanning local and national levels. Finding a way through the divided thinking about school safety and emerging academic models, lack of resources, and the potential of permanently changing education as known historically created "no win" situations for school leaders across the country.

  • • Introduction
  • • Pivoting Decisions Rapidly
  • • Narrative: System Priorities Keep You Focused During Crisis Leadership
  • • Leveraging Resources
  • • Narrative: COVID-19—Thank Goodness for Strong Finance Officers!
  • • Shifting Traditional Systems
  • • Narrative: Back to the Future?
  • • Leading for Tomorrow
  • • References

Chapter 8: Education in America Will Change

In "Education in America Will Change," the totality of what schools have endured and the multiple responses to a changing pandemic environment are summarized using the Narratives from among the strongest educational leaders across the country. These responses to COVID-19 do not define a return to business as usual but rather point to an ongoing journey that will test the ability for systems to change and adapt.

  • • Introduction
  • • The Journey Continues
  • • Teachers, Parents, and Leaders Care
  • • From System Rigidity to System Flexibility
  • • Moving Forward is a Choice
  • • Unspoken Responsibilities
  • • Power of Community
  • • A New Normal
  • • Gateway to a Brighter Future
  • • Narrative: Education During the Pandemic—Lessons and Opportunities
  • • The Next Chapter in the Journey
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