The start of the new school year … it’s here, and it sure is showing us how important it is to remain flexible and open-minded as we continue to manage the impact of COVID-19 on our world. Many school systems – from K-12 through colleges and universities – announced a few weeks back that they would be opening for in-person learning in some capacity this fall. A short while later, many came forward with announcements to change those plans, shifting to fully virtual models. Then, last Thursday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and the State Superintendent of Schools, Karen Salmon, called a press conference, encouraging county leaders to rethink their plans and strive to open sooner rather than later.
Opinions are all over the board. Some are happy to be erring on the side of caution and safety at all costs. Others are irate, rallying for schools to open now and pushing for kids to have the opportunity to interact face-to-face with their teachers and peers as the top priority. Many are simply confused; a result of too many mixed messages coming from too many different people, all at one time.
I believe the processes schools are going through and the reactions people are having to them warrant some pause and reflection – whether you are a parent with a school-aged child or not. Why? In some cases, the magnitude of logistical challenges the school system is navigating mirrors what many of us are facing in both our personal and professional lives, in today’s COVID-19-centric world. As we tackle challenges that must be overcome, what we think will happen, what we want to see happen, and what will actually happen, are three very different things. In the end, opinions will vary greatly. Not everyone will be happy. Most decisions will come with pros and cons. And, even once a decision is made, the potential for change will continue and be constant, for the foreseeable future.
As leaders, just like parents whose kids are about to embark on a different kind of school year with many unknowns still in the mix, our job right now is to calm the storm the best we can. We must remain flexible, open-minded, and adaptable. Today’s plan of action, whether we like it or not, may change by tomorrow. Most importantly, we must be transparent. We must communicate often and clearly. We must lay out Plan A, as well as Plan B and perhaps even Plan C. We must consider the best timing for delivery of any and all messages. And, we must account for how our people (just like the kids) will respond to them. What will resonate positively? What may be upsetting or concerning? What questions will rise to the surface, and how can we be proactive in answering them?
We’ve all heard the phrase “the only constant is change.” Bottom line – now is the time to accept it and embrace it, in a way like never before. The decision-making processes we are seeing play out in our school system offer perspectives we can all learn from.