Strong Leadership – Online or Offline – Builds Strong Relationships

(Anne Cass) April 2020

Leaders during this pandemic must up their game. The prevalence of online meetings and instruction requires school administrators to examine their beliefs and practices; what must change? What can stay the same?

Although I have retired from work, I have not retired from thinking or learning. I spent most of my career as an Upper School Head, a public high school Principal, or a public elementary school Assistant Principal. What is at the heart of effective and intentional leadership matters; whether times are normal or unprecedented, the principles hold.

As teachers launch online teaching, administrators have an online classroom of their own: faculty and staff. At Heart of Character we are all about the ABC’s of self-determination theory – and in the face of online learning, they become even more key to success. Relationships can still be built online; we must pay deeper attention to body language and words – especially if the infrastructure delays the transmission!

Autonomy means I have freedom within a well-defined structure: Hold a faculty meeting regularly – with a simple agenda: How are you doing? What do you need? Remind staff of “our ”obligation to top quality education, while at the same time letting them know that we’re all still trying to figure out how that happens best under these circumstances.

Belonging allows me to feel like a full member of this community just as I am: Encourage faculty to communicate with each other, and facilitate that communication.
• Check in with individuals on a rotating basis – I am here, I value you, you matter to the success of this endeavor.
• Begin each faculty meeting with a short and relevant ice-breaker: What worked well today? What made you laugh today? What challenge did you master recently?

Competence ensures I can meet the challenges posed in this classroom and succeed:
• Ensure that all faculty have adequate IT support.
• Provide an easy way for faculty to communicate their struggles, share expertise (competence) with one another, and ask questions.
• Work with faculty to create essential questions or guiding strategies – together.

Some additional offline reminders that apply as well to online communication:
• Leaders who speak in terms of we rather than I as much as possible, and back up the “we” with actions, are more likely to build support and strong relationships.

• Norms matter – create them together, and then hold each other to them. Some of my favorites: assume positive intent, share the air, value time, have a plan/purpose, use “and” in place of “but” whenever possible. Well-used norms create shared beliefs and deepen relationships.

• Clarity of purpose matters: Is this large-group discussion leading to a decision or response? Is this decision yours, mine, or ours? Or is this a clarification and not a discussion at all? This clarity builds a stronger team and avoids frustrating and time-wasting diffusion of purpose.

• How we listen matters: Are we in our heads, creating our responses? [ I’m so busy right now: Me, too. I’m totally overwhelmed]. Or are we truly listening to support the other? [I’m so busy right now: Why? What’s on your plate?] If we cannot slow down sufficiently to listen well, we weaken trust.

• To delegate is to empower: Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or incompetence; it respects your belief in the competence of the person you ask for help.

• It’s all about relationships.

Categories: self-determination