5 Steps for School Leaders to Turn Challenges into Opportunities for Growth

Stephen G. Peters, Ed.D.
School IQ
Thought Leader

The circumstances surrounding school districts and schools in every area of our country are unique to the districts and schools themselves, but they are all affected and impacted by change. So, being proactive vs. reactive in managing change through vision and action is always better than being reactive when facing or cycling through a crisis.

Here are five steps educational leaders can take to position themselves and their districts to turn present and future challenges into opportunities for growth:

1.       Ensure that everyone understands why change is needed. In addition, what is expected of them (roles they will play) and how the change will affect them. In times of confusion, the best action leaders can take is to provide clarity. What steps can you take to ensure communication about change is being developed and delivered effectively?  Never assume others are aware of why change is necessary or that they are prepared for change. Communicating directly with team members and staff and conducting random surveys across your district will help facilitate transparency.

2.      Modeling change in a positive way demonstrates the flexibility and willingness to adapt to change as a leader. Others look to leaders to demonstrate the behaviors that support change. It is not unusual for team members or staff to express some discomfort or resistance. Change can be challenging for everyone, no matter how we prepare for it. Developing goals (short and long-term) and maintaining a clear focus will help facilitate the transformation you are seeking. Leaders should develop a comfortable mind-set of admitting that you don’t know everything. It’s ok to say, “I don’t know,” but will get back with you. This will help build trust and respect. Strategically and intentionally involving others in decisions is another way to build relational trust and help sustain long-term efforts.

3.     It is easy to get overwhelmed with the many moving parts of change. Help support others by prioritizing the needs of your district or school. Develop timelines and roadmaps that include the milestones of what you’d like to accomplish. Meaningful and relevant PD (professional development) plays a critical role in helping turn challenges into opportunities. Acknowledging that some confusion and ambiguity about a new reality may exist opens the door to identifying changes that need to be made and why. Providing staff with new processes, procedures, and systems that will help them navigate and adapt to change will ensure the balance they need.

4.      Capturing the imagination of others, including students and detailing the path of change is critical. School districts and schools have been working in beyond stressful conditions over the past two years. Now, the opportunity to reimagine education and its deliverables is at our fingertips. Understanding the past, allowing it to inform the present, and imagine the future will propel leaders to develop new systems that must be align with the realities they now face. These systems must empower every one and everyone to be their best and do their best on behalf of every student every day. The impact of a highly effective leader should never be underestimated as it is one of the first identifiable assets of a highly effective school or district.

5.      You know you are making positive changes when there is evidence staff understand the need for change and are well-trained in the roles associated with change. The heavy lifting in our districts and schools is done by everyone. Taking the time to celebrate small victories along the way will lead you to larger victories. The road ahead is paved with opportunities waiting for all educators to travel.

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