Decision #1: How will you position yourself?
There are three decisions you must make in order to build an image of trust and confidence for you and your schools. It is vital that you make these decisions now. They will become the rock-solid pillars you need to lead during this time of uncertainty.
The first decision you must make is to choose how you are going to position your school or district in the community. This means deciding that you will purposely build the image of your school or district instead of just “letting things take their own course.” How you position yourself and your school is vital. For instance, during this crisis you can position you, your school, or your district as one who will do everything possible to ensure the safety and continuous learning of your students and staff, or choose to lie low and bend in one direction and then the other depending on who is applying the pressure.
One thing is certain: A superintendent, principal, or teacher who isn’t positioned to build trust will never acquire the freedom necessary to give the best possible education for students. Often, because we haven’t decided how we wish to position ourselves, we send mixed messages to those we lead. One day our decisions appear student-centered, the next day they appear teacher-centered, or administrator-centered. When this is the case, those we lead are confused—consciously or subconsciously—and can’t support our actions because they can’t follow them.
The most professional position we can choose to take is to create and maintain a student-centered philosophy. As long as every decision has the welfare of students as its foundation, we’re on defensible ground—even when we err. A close look will reveal that its only when we are not student-centered that we don’t have a valid defense.
Once we are positioned appropriately, we need to consider our second most important decision: making a promise.
Decision #2: Make your students, staff, parents, and community a promise. Emphasize delivery make sure they know you are delivering.
The second most important thing we can do to establish an image of trust and confidence is to make our publics a promise—and then deliver. The most desirable promise we can make is that we will give each and every child a great education—even despite current circumstances. It’s the best promise we can make to gain and keep a position of trust, respect, influence, and leadership. But without a plan for continuous communication of our promise to our communities, we must realize that people will never know we are making any promises, much less keeping any.
There is a management law called the Law of Positive Reinforcement. This law relates: In the absence of positive reinforcement from appointed leaders, negative human attitudes and behaviors are most likely to emerge from the group being led. In a nutshell, this means that not only do we have to make our students and our communities positive promises, but we have to repeat those promises over and over again in a variety of ways to prevent the negative from emerging and dominating.
The question now is: “What can you promise in a time of fear and uncertainty?” The truth is, there are many promises you can make. You can promise that you will do everything in your power to keep students and staff safe. You can promise that you will support teachers to deliver creative and rigorous lessons whether in-person or online. And you can promise that as soon as you have information that is useful to your various publics you will deliver factually.
The central issue is this: You have the opportunity every day to take some of the worry, concern, and fear out of people’s lives and to create the positive focus we want and need to function effectively—just by making promises you intend to keep. We should never make promises we can’t fulfill. However, there are promises we can make for those things we are already doing or know we are going to do. Remember, teachers, educators, and leaders who position themselves and their organizations as worry relievers and helpers are always considered valuable and enjoy the best reputations.
Decision #3: Build your image on positive ideas.
Unless we build our image on positive ideas for helping students and teachers find success, what we are saying about the merits of our school or district is unlikely to match reality. It takes positive and enthusiastic ideas to make people notice what we are doing for children—and to cause them to develop good feelings about us as well as take the action we want them to take to support us.
The fact is this: Many of the positive ideas we need are already in place. We’re doing fantastic things with and for children. But if these methods, techniques, and successes are not common knowledge to your publics, they have little value in building an atmosphere of trust, confidence, and support.