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Many of my friends and colleagues in Africa, Asia, Europe, the UK and the USA are getting ready for the start of the 2020-2021 school year, while those of us in Victoria, Australia are experiencing school closures and a new round of remote and online learning due to our Second Wave of the coronavirus pandemic. ARGHH!

I also know that many school leaders around the world are creating a new round of safety guidelines in preparation in case they too are hit with a Second or even Third Wave of Covid-19. It is such a challenging time for us all globally, but also a time when it is so important to understand our purpose, our WHY.

Everything we do must evolve around how we nurture and grow learning, that we always consider our students’ safety and wellbeing, and that we focus on how we are preparing our young people to be responsible, compassionate and resilient global citizens for a future full of challenges and disruptions.

So whilst there is always excitement at the start of the new school year, it is also a time of uncertainty and worry around the world. In this situation there are clearly mistakes we must avoid.

As a Principal and Head of School with 20 years experience I have led my teams through good times and challenging times. Two military coups, city curfews, a massive drop in enrolments due to the GFC, and not one, but two floods where I found myself in muddy water up to my chest in the school quad! Over the years I have learnt what works and what doesn’t!


1. Everyone’s excited! It’s great to get back together with your team whether face-to-face, virtual or a hybrid model and talk about holidays, adventures and the disasters. Don’t make the mistake of focusing on the negative, complaining or blaming. Take 100% responsibility for changing your school to meet the needs of your learners in a Covid-19 world and beyond. Build a culture that is vision and mission aligned, inspire your team to see the opportunities and empower positive, can-do people to achieve those opportunities and possibilities.

2. Don’t tell yourself that your teachers are experiencing change fatigue. Uncertainty and disruption provide amazing opportunities to learn, grow and innovate and yes this can be frustrating and exhausting. One of the most effective contemporary leadership behaviours is to be supportive. So support your teachers to grow and thrive. Offer incentives, resources, up-skilling and time to your teachers to support the changes you are implementing. And, always celebrate the progress you have all made regularly. When your teachers are thriving your students will thrive.

3. Don’t give your time away too freely. In challenging times it is paramount to guard your productivity and energy levels. Reconsider the Open Door Policy! This was a great idea in the 20th Century, but it really doesn’t work today. Giving away your time willy-nilly to others means you are not in control of your time and you are not focusing on the school’s most important priorities. Instead make yourself available to your school community but do it strategically. Block out the times in your day and weekly calendar to focus on your crisis management strategies and your agile strategic plan goals. NEVER cancel these times unless it is a real emergency. Schedule alternative times during the week for people to make appointments to see you if they feel the need. Also consider empowering others to solve their problems or come to you with a ‘suggested solution’ to discuss. Encouraging ‘power to’ rather than ‘power over’ is an awesome leadership skill. Remember, the school community depends on you being a strategist who is always focused on innovating the school so your teachers and students thrive.

4. Don’t make the mistake of meeting for the sake of regular scheduled meetings. This is a fantastic time to completely review how you arrange meetings at your school using a hybrid model of face-to-face and virtual. All meetings must have a strategic purpose or be designed to develop professional learning outcomes, and most importantly in our Covid-19 world there must be meetings to check in on your team’s wellbeing. Develop virtual huddles for a weekly check-in to share tips or advice, to have a forum to share what’s on your teachers’ hearts and mind and always finish with a purpose based story of why you all do what you do. These types of meetings help your team connect and to appreciate that we have each other’s back. So be creative, review what worked really well in your first wave of Covid-19 and use the three strategies above to redesign your meetings. Your teachers will thrive.

5. Don’t focus on what is urgent. I know this is really tempting when you are managing a crisis in your school. But you must focus on what is the most important task, action, strategy to complete each day and each week. So ask yourself and your leadership team “What is the most intelligent thing we must do right now?” and then plan the actions to make it happen. Of course, surrounding yourself with people who think differently to you and who are proactive is an absolute. Once your immediate crisis has an intelligent planned response then you can adjust your time frames and ultimately get back to focus on your strategic plan. But please know that there are many school leaders around the world who continue to meet regularly with their critical incident team to focus on the most important and the most intelligent actions to take in their school during the pandemic.

6. DO NOT worry about what you didn’t get done each day. Always focus on what you did get done and celebrate that. Only focus on six tasks each day and prioritise a BIG 3. Before going to sleep think of the 3 things you did get done and make a quick note of the 6 things you will focus on tomorrow. You will sleep much better if you do. Remember, if you did not achieve a high priority task reschedule it for the very next day, or the soonest available time, and make sure you get it done.

Want more strategies and tips on how to be an awesome contemporary leader? Why not attend my next Masterclass Webinar: Leadership for the New Normal.

Click here for more information.

What participants say:

“I thoroughly enjoyed the whole Masterclass. It was fun, creatively presented and interactive. Maxine has so much knowledge, how she condensed it into 4 webinars I will never know. The workshops were invigorating and helped me personally to realize that I need to believe in myself more and that I am doing a great job in my school. There were lots of tips on books to read, Ted Talks to listen to and you tube videos to watch. A wonderful experience!”

Grainne Dubler, Managing Director, Haut-Lac International Bilingual School

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