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As we move into the physical school reality (well some States at least, and some grades at least), the onus of steering the path ahead lies with the leadership team. These are indeed extraordinary times, and as PN2 (pioneers of the new normal), everyone will go down in history as being the ‘first’. Not sure many would have liked to trade the sanctity of their old world routine with this kind of turmoil but unfortunately, as they say, the show must go on.
In conversation with several leaders both within the industry and from other disciplines, it was heartening to note that most are embracing the changes with patience and relying heavily on research “like never before,” as one experienced leader pointed out. “It has literally gotten me out of my comfort zone of doing things year after year, as I move from what I now consider a ‘static’ role to a dynamic one and I value this exposure as it has brought me closer to my team than ever before,” another leader confided. 
With every conversation, “ever before” is almost repeated several times, and with that acceptance, I believe lies the strength that we all need. 
As we work with leadership teams across the country to help them strategise their plans in a world of multiple choices, I thought of sharing a few ideas that may aid your school in navigating the road ahead seamlessly:

1.  Capacity & Capability Building 
A dynamic IT framework that unites all different systems currently used, collates all information as a central point, accessible remotely and investment in hardware that is fast and efficient (we are talking 11th generation machines now). This does come at a cost but the upgrade needs to be initiated now if you have not already done so. This is one area that is non negotiable, and those who are unfamiliar with technology must work closely with the IT department and Management to get the right budget and system in place. Ed tech companies have amazing products – question is do you need all of this now? Pace yourself, prioticise what is really important and what works for your school not what is attractive in the market. Your SWOT of your tech status needs your understanding and intervention and do ensure that your monthly meetings now have a large part dedicated to reviewing systems and processes. Do not take this lightly, as this is the real difference between schools that have managed online education with precision and those that have struggled. The world of tomorrow will be tech driven, so factor this in. Resistance to this power will cost you in the long run so do not be short sighted about investments. It is not only important to have the capacity but your capability as a school will also depend on how each teacher is utilising this. Train your teachers because they are still learning and many are unfamiliar with different features. Accept self learning cannot happen for many, and ensure they receive the necessary support to upgrade their skills.

2. Conscious Delegation & Empowerment 
As a leader, identifying the right talent to lead divisional work will be a key. It will be important to base appointments based on skills and competencies and not simply tenure in the organisation. One of the classical errors documented by those who have retired is that they waited too long to delegate believing they could do the job “much better”. Unless a strong bench strength is created it will be very difficult for you to deliver on quality expectations as it must be about team work and trusting the right individual to do the job. Nothing personal, but this delegation is about who will do the work most efficiently and seamlessly and this organisational structure must be looked at again in case you have not thought of it. Once you have identified the right talent, allow them to do their job and refrain from micro management. Your reminders to the individual means your selection was inappropriate and instead of making your job easier they are adding to your workload. Create enough confidence in them to make decisions, and at times some errors are great learning tools. Always have their backs but give them “space” to grow as you have. There is no better teacher, quite frankly than experience! Clarity of expectations, delivery is all that is needed. Let them showcase their talent too.
 
3. Careful Reviews & Feedback Cycle 
Another non negotiable is the feedback cycle from parents through regular climate surveys, from teachers by asking them their suggestions and what could have been done better and students about their expectations. A 360 like this creates harmony per grade and at times some well thought of strategies must be replaced in case they are not working and this you will only know if you are in a position to receive genuine, authentic and timely feedback. Treat each month as a “mini” year and ensure that course corrections are introduced instead of waiting for PTMs etc. Frequency, and speed of execution will be two important aspects. Every and any feedback must be received objectively and investigated prior to action plans and knee jerk reactions will not come in handy as you work your way ahead. It must be a careful examination of facts that determines the course correction. One of the most neglected areas, this is no longer an appraisal formality but an attempt to help deliver on the quality that you promised. Create a culture of being open to feedback and train your team not to get defensive if praises are not showered on them. Feedback is a way of addressing something that may snowball into something that cannot be unturned, and the attitude of the team will depend on that of the leader. A sensitive area, your staff meetings must speak about why this is important and the importance of a 360 view point not only what you have deduced internally but also involving an important stake-holder, the parent body. I often say, there is no perfect school, teacher, parent or child and therefore we are all in the same boat of learning, and feedback makes us more complete.
This cycle is also complete when you are able to share timely feedback with parents about your expectations and what is not working, students and teachers as well. The loop will only be closed if it is circled bac! Once again, waiting for the customary PTMs or assessments is the traditional approach, what would really work is if this can happen more frequently and need based.

4. Considerate & Open Minded Leadership 
The years ahead are tech dominated but with that comes the human aspect which is what I call considerate leadership. It has been a year of loss all around, and there has not been a single family untouched in some way or the other, so remain open minded when creating school policies, be mindful of circumstances and do invest heavily in team building activities across administrative and academic teams, and infact for your parent community. The mental health and well being of your stake-holders is the foundation on which anything you plan will succeed so build confidence. Customise strategies and differentiate when necessary. It is a time for personalised relationship management and bringing everyone on your team together as one unit and enabling them to support each other (parents are part of this team as much as your faculty). Think shorter staff meetings, awards for teachers, offsites if possible, game nights during a month etc – there are plenty of things you can do but this is the time to build that bond with each and everyone and these different activities help understand stakeholders in a manner that is beyond being a parent or a teacher. It earns you loyalty and trust, and this is precious in today’s world. Quite frankly in any situation. 

5. Community Building through Communication 
Research has time and time emphasized that leaders who communicate with precision, clarity and confidence enjoy great support from those around them. I often guide leaders to think about ‘effective communication’ – perhaps limit their staff meetings to a specific agenda or use group chat to enhance productivity, what can be said in a voice note need not become a long email, use whats app chats for quick feedback internally, use the tech feature with the ERP installed to send notifications and reminders, and save face to face time for the more macro and pressing matters. Use different mediums to communicate and always with a purpose so that the recipient is not bombarded with too much information and the important aspects get lost. However, it is critical that all stake-holders in school are aligned to vision and know what happening. Now thanks to technology, there are so many creative ways to get this information across. Try podcasts, apps and use social media to share the joy of what you have created. It is about connections leaders, and about putting yourself out there as a leader who is willing to make efforts to bridge the gaps that are created because of lack of knowledge of the facts and in doing so, you will create a strong school community. Encourage newsletters within the teacher groups as an internal banter, parent groups as well – allow them a chance to express their ideas and for students – let it be their voice. Through all this you are also leading the communication strategy, and allowing for them to be heard in their own way and style as well.

6. Confidence in taking calculative risks 
I have been a strong advocator of taking some risks for the effectiveness of delivery when it comes to your students in your school. While you follow all board protocols, it is time to mull about moving some things to another quarter and it is also time, as leaders you start sharing feedback of some unreasonable expectations shared by the boards. The feedback must be based on facts and evidence of why it is not working. As a leader, your school is unique with your parent body and profile of teachers, and often in trying to keep up, you lose the core. I have watched some bold leaders take some bold decisions because of their foresight and their strong understanding of their own dynamics and standing up for these changes which in the long run served them well when ultimately it became a “board” decision. Build in contingencies now, and also work with buffers. 

7. Collaborative Partnerships
Our tomorrow is clearly and emphatically one of partnerships and associations. It is about collective wisdom and sharing resources. Always believed as a sector we did very little to extend what we do in our schools with each other for the fear of losing our parents and students. And in that we also lost out on learning about what someone else does better. Think tactical ways of connecting and engaging with schools perhaps outside the country or the city or State, bring value of what they do to your world and allow them to learn from you. This impacts the quality that you promised and it is definitely an upward graph. Remember the golden principle, if you created it in the first place, you will always further its graph, and you will always be remembered as a thought leader.
 
8. Creativity with decisions 
As leader, understanding industry trends both nationally and internationally are going to be very important, and bringing in years of experience not to mention discussions with fellow leaders. There are associations and departments to be liaised with, and important that you maintain a direct connect with them to understand facts from myths.
This will power you with the creativity you require when organising timely events, interventions and also strategic changes from virtual to physical and if required a blended format. Must develop foresight and also invest in your own professional development as leader to enhance the creativity. The speed in making these decisions will also ensure that things move more dynamically and more is accomplished and often this aspect gets lost when considering other factors. Speed is important, and when you think about it, highly appreciated by all.

Future-focused leaders will need to let go of some of the traditions, and embrace new and modern practices, step outside the shadows of BC (Before Corona) times and embrace what emerged as strengths on account of these hardships. The flexible and open minded approach, acting as an agent of change with confidence and building confidence are clearly comforting for parents who seek admission in your school. These years that I can legacy years will create opportunities for so many, and it ultimately boils down to the mindset. Will it be one of growth?
For more ideas, or to personalise a session for your leadership teams, kindly write to us at info@acesportsedu.com

Author

Fatema Agarkar

Founder, Agarkar Centre of Excellence Veteran of 3 educational start-ups – is now a Founder of Agarkar Centre of Excellence, Fatema’s passion for teaching-learning and children defines the different roles she has crafted – as an edupreneur, educator and mentor.

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