As we embark on the journey of another school year, this fall, being a school leader feels different. Although each year starts with a bit of ambiguity as we welcome new educators and put new processes and protocols in place, most of the time, we kick off the school year with confidence, with gusto, with assured footsteps and genuine poise. We are ready. We are prepared. We are sincerely content to be back in the saddle and off to the races once more.
Across social media and through humbling dialogues among current school leaders, however, this mental fortitude is presently lacking. Instead of coming back refreshed and renewed from a summer of rest and weeks of strategic, intentional planning, administrators are exhausted, overwhelmed, inundated with too much information and yet not enough guidance from above. This year, being a school leader feels different, and the sad thing is, there are people who could change that for us today if they only dared. We are riding bareback through an arid desert and we can´t seem to find a stream from which to drink.
I wonder, if our leaders at the local, state and national level realize something that David Burkus, author, realized at the beginning of this COVID-19 pandemic. "While confidence and certainty are what most followers think they want in a crisis, what they really want is a competent leader who can minimize damage and steer them safely through the storm," (The Power of 'I Don't Know', 2020). Although we are chasing certainty, as any normal human does during a time of change, we aren't expecting anyone to have all the answers right now. As stated above, we are just anxious horse wranglers trying to hold on until we can find a direction to go. I don't need to follow a leader who has certainty. I don't need someone making the wrong choices for us with confidence and unwarranted aplomb. But what I am seeking is someone who is humble enough to do the research when they don't have the answers, and to use their new learning to help make a decision that steers us in a direction that will keep our students and greater communities safe throughout this storm.
Instead, our leaders have put the decision-making in the hands of local school authorities, and while we appreciate the respectful head nod, you have also made decisions that make it virtually impossible to do the next right thing. While we have the authority to make decisions to keep our children safe by not opening schools for in-person learning on August 17th, we still have to risk the safety and well-being of our staff when your force us to open our doors to students whose families need to work or who have educational concerns. Don't worry. There will be metrics to support us, you say. But those metrics won't be available until after our school year starts. Instead of instilling us with confidence, you have given us too much information without any true leadership. This results in unnecessary meetings, the reconstruction of reopening plans, and too many sleepless nights. You are exhausting the very people you are entrusting to make the decisions that you are not willing to make. And that might be your confident leadership. But I am not asking for your confidence. I am asking for your competent leadership at this time.
And if you can't offer it, then please, step aside and allow someone else to step up who can. I don't expect you to do it all. I don't expect you to do it all well. Distributed leadership is a model you might choose to follow at any time. I beg you, humble yourself. The world is watching.
Until you dare, I will tell my staff, "I don't know," and meekly state, "It is my hope that our leadership will do the right thing." Until you dare, I will process. I will write. I will seek solutions alongside my peers and I will continue to communicate with those whose feelings matter most. Until you dare humble yourself, we will continue being competent leaders, We will continue to do the research. We will continue to do the work. We will continue to make the decisions that you are too weak to make.
A Tired, Frustrated, yet Competent Administrator