The COVID-19 pandemic forced district leaders to make big decisions quickly on how to keep students learning. How do we work together and determine the best solutions for parents, students, educators, and communities moving forward? How do we innovate and remain hopeful—even when navigating the unknown?
Dr. Quintin Shepherd, superintendent at Victoria Independent School District in Victoria, Texas, says that radical transparency, compassionate leadership, and embracing failure are the keys to moving forward. Below are his top seven strategies for serving a school community during the pandemic.
- Adaptive iteration and resilience: Having a plan in place for emergencies is one thing. However, maintaining constant communication with teachers, students, and parents—and re-writing the plan as needed—is more effective than sticking to a rigid guideline that isn’t applicable to new situations. A plan that is formed without input from students, parents, and teachers is not going to be representative of the community.
- Compassionate leadership: To Quintin, this means sharing one’s own suffering while practicing compassion for others. For example, “I'm suffering with you in that I don't know what we should do for the pandemic response plan. I honestly don't know because it's an unknowable problem,” Quintin said. “We want our leaders to be vulnerable, but it's really, really hard to be vulnerable if you are not leading with compassion.”
- Radical transparency: Quintin believes school leaders can do more to prioritize transparency. Share documents on the website. Post task force videos. Be open to phone calls from parents. When you start with a foundation of compassionate leadership, radical transparency becomes intertwined in everything you do.
- Embracing failure: It's good to try many different things, even if some of them are going to fail. But a “culture of blame” when things go wrong can be stifling. “When failure isn’t reported, leadership isn’t hearing the truth about what is happening in their system,” Quintin warned. To truly see innovation, he believes schools need to embrace failure and get rid of blame.
- Complicated and complex decisions: When working with the school community on complex issues such as changing school boundaries, crowdsourcing can lead to productive conversations that result in solutions. Quintin uses the discussion management platform ThoughtExchange to gather input and feedback from his district and, even more importantly, to ensure all voices are heard.
- Processes and innovation: Make sure you have the time, materials, people, and processes in place across the entire district to allow you to innovate. Bring in new users with new ideas who will introduce new content, but keep them focused on your priorities. Otherwise you could overwhelm your capacity and break down your processes.
- Selling hope: Education is about improvement. “We genuinely believe we are selling hope because it's connected to a belief in what's possible—and a belief in what's possible creates indomitable optimism.”
For more information these 7 strategies—and other inspirational insights—listen to Quintin’s interview on the Opportunity Thrives podcast.