The challenges and uncertainty we face this fall can feel overwhelming. These are circumstances that can sap energy, undermine confidence, and pile on harmful stress. Without a focused, difference-making strategy, we need to be ready to deal with growing frustration, confusion, and even burnout.
Fortunately, this does not have to be an unavoidable prophesy for the coming weeks and months. We have available to us a powerful set of motivation and momentum building triggers we can engage to counter the challenges and uncertainty we are facing. When employed authentically and strategically, we can tap maximum energy and build unmatched commitment within the organization we lead.
First, we must define, share, and embrace a clear purpose with which everyone can identify and find worthy of their commitment. For example, it may be that our purpose is to ensure that despite everything that is happening around and to us, “We will work together to provide students with rich, engaging, authentic learning experiences that build back learning lost in the spring.” In this context, the purpose can be a rallying point for everyone. “The pandemic will not defeat us or disadvantage our students!” Finding a common enemy and joining an effort larger than ourselves can be a powerful motivator.
Second, we need to explore, discover, and commit to what needs to be done. For example, we might identify strategies to accelerate learning by focusing in key areas for some students. For others, we may need to build bridges and fill gaps to help them get back on track. Still others may need care and support to overcome trauma and setbacks that are getting in the way of their learning progress. Importantly, we need to be clear about what we want to accomplish and what success will look like.
Third, with a clear, compelling purpose in place and a common understanding of what we intend to do to accomplish the purpose, we can give staff members reasonable autonomy to do what needs to be done. Herein lies the magic. When educators understand why they are working toward a common purpose or goal and grasp what needs to be done to accomplish it, flexibility in how to design learning experiences, engage students, and stimulate progress can unleash boundless energy and creativity. We empower teachers to bring their best selves and a full commitment to making a difference for students.
Fourth, we must create connections, bridges, and bonds across the organization so that everyone feels a sense of belonging. When people work together, learn together, and even play together, magic happens. Conversely, when people feel isolated and abandoned, little momentum and progress is likely to be sustained. We need to find ways for people to reflect, share, imagine, and create together. Here we need to focus on process and progress, not just the outcomes to which we are committed. We, too, need to play a central role in this process. People across the organization need to see and feel our enthusiasm, commitment, and focus as the year unfolds. Frequent check-ins, focused encouragement, and shared learning are essential leadership behaviors to activate this trigger.
When employed strategically, the magic of these four triggers is that we create a clear “why” for our work together, consensus on “what” needs to be done, and invite creativity, flexibility, and responsiveness in “how” the work will be done. When supported by a sense of respect and belonging, the combination is virtually unstoppable regardless of the challenges we face.