Tending the Flocks – 3 Keys for School Leaders To Care for Their People
By Stephanie Landis
Proverbs 27: 23
“Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.”
It has been said many times in the past few months that we are living in unprecedented times. Some of us are the busiest we have ever been, and it can feel like we are learning to fly the plane while it is in the air. As the opening verse of Proverbs 27 states, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” That statement has never rung truer. Things are changing moment by moment in our world and each channel has a different take on the events of the day. While nothing around us seems steady, we can hold fast to the truth that our God is certain, He is on the throne, and none of this surprises Him.
As we prepare for the new school year, we are wondering where to even begin and whether all of the efforts we are putting into our plans will ever come to fruition. It is a time where we can easily get caught up in the minutiae of figuring out transportation issues, where to serve lunches, and how to socially distance students in our classrooms. However, we cannot lose sight of the critical importance of community. It is vital now more than ever that we make connections and give careful attention to those in our care. Proverbs 27 also tells us in verse 17 that, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Regardless of our role in our school community, we are called to support, challenge, and encourage one another. How can we best do this in these days of social isolation?
Summer is typically more of a “down-time” in our schools in terms of face-to-face interaction. Let’s take this summer to be purposeful about connecting with others. Provide frequent updates to staff and students, even if it is just sharing a few specific planning details that are relatively certain. This can help people feel as if they have an anchor they can hold onto when the future seems so uncertain. At the same time, do not provide false hope on items that are not likely to come to pass, as this can increase the sense of anxiety that some are experiencing. When possible, make connections personal and individual, letting those around you know that you care and sincerely want them to feel connected. If you sense that more support is needed, point them to appropriate resources.
Seek ways to lift spirits. If you are working in a public school, there are ways you can model your faith, even if you are not able to outwardly speak of the hope that is within you. Include positive quotes in your newsletters to students and parents, share a link to an uplifting song with your colleagues, or create a game that everyone can participate in from a distance. Recently our school community made engaging connections through creating a weekly school spirit video to share on social media, scheduling drive-by farewell parades for staff who are moving on, having a virtual staff singing competition complete with disguises, holding an online adventure race for all stakeholders, and creating a pandemic playlist of staff members’ favorite uplifting songs. Use this time as an opportunity to think outside the box and find new ways to engage!
As a result of the sudden closure of school buildings across the globe, students, families, and staff had to adapt quickly. In many cases, this meant adjusting curriculum, learning new online resources, and reprioritizing the most critical learning for our students. The differences between teachers’ and families’ comfort levels when it came to technology became increasingly apparent as everyone acclimated to the “new normal.” However, we also saw this as a time when everyone worked harder and smarter than ever and stepped up to do what was best for kids, even while not in the midst of the best circumstances. As we strive to know the condition of our flock and give careful attention to our herds, we should also seek to support the professional learning of our teachers in order to prepare them for our next steps. Model tools and resources so that staff have the opportunity to try them from the student perspective first. Finally, take the time to collaborate, even if it is through videoconferencing. Reach out to a colleague to share ideas for the fall, link resources, and speak encouragement to one another. Together and with God’s guidance and direction, we can support our herd as we move forward into the new year.
Stephanie Landis is currently a middle school principal in Pennsylvania and has been an educator since 1992. In 2016, she completed the Learning Forward Academy experience and benefited from the rich learning opportunities and collaboration she experienced with her international colleagues. She has been a contributor to Welcome to Writing Workshop and recently completed a reading specialist cohort for administrators. When not at school, she can be found enjoying time with her family and engaging in service opportunities. Connect with Stephanie on Twitter @sllandis95