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Making Your Next Pivot? Decide Deliberately and Communicate Effectively

By: Kelly Freiheit on September 23rd, 2020

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Making Your Next Pivot? Decide Deliberately and Communicate Effectively

Innovative Leadership  |  District Leadership  |  School Leadership

Typically in times of uncertainty, organizations tend to shift their focus to getting results fast, maintaining order, and ensuring safety. These actions make sense to avoid the complexity that’s being thrown their way, however, it prevents organizations from using the time to lean in and learn from the experience. In June 2020, a team at Education Elements outlined how they were seeing their team and district partners increase agility and heighten their ability to prioritize a culture of learning even while navigating the unknown.

At Education Elements we have realized working alongside our district partners over the last 7 months that we are living in historical times and with every challenge these times bring, there is also opportunity. Our district partners have a chance to shape the memories of our students in powerful, meaningful ways, despite all that is currently outside of our control. We understand the risk that comes with every decision our leaders make but have witnessed a glimpse of the reward when done right. 

The district leaders who learn with the intention to lead and teach others, learn more deeply. The specific type of learning that most leaders aren’t even aware of or take the time to prioritize is – learning transfer. Learning transfer is taking what you learn in one context and applying it to another. Developing the habit of transferring learning to others is a key indicator of whether or not a district will be able to decide deliberately and communicate effectively from all levels of their organization.

What does this mean for our day-to-day life? When we’re jumping from one meeting to another, we shouldn’t just take one approach. Let’s seek to learn how districts have fluidly moved throughout the conditions over the last 7 months with practical moves you can implement with your teams to increase your decision-making processes and communicate more effectively to bring out the best in people and their communities while designing school systems that are adaptable.

Build Brand Champions Within Your Organization

While measuring communication from an external perspective can generally be the priority for the Chief of Staff or Communications and Public Relationships to the Superintendent, it’s important for them to measure the success of internal communication. Your district employees are the most dedicated brand champions. There will be a whole lot of buzz that can positively influence your community’s perception of your district’s brand if done right.

The leaders at Klein ISD outside of Houston, Texas captured the hearts and minds of leaders and staff within their district from the start by kicking off the school year with a virtual #KleinFamilyKickoff. The LIVE Facebook post was infectious in highlighting the work from the past few months and preparing the leaders and staff for an ever-evolving start to a new school year. This well-received virtual kickoff was a strategic decision on continuing to stay true to their DNA as a community inside and out while embodying the vision of the district. 

Make Your Decision-Making Processes Clear

The most effective teams during these times have been able to balance how much importance they put on the different pieces of information and data being presented to them. A few strategies that have allowed teams to not become distracted by these pieces of information is by having clear “rules” on how the decision will be made. For instance, they’re using protocols like “objection/no objection” to process decisions as a team. One leader in Tennessee shared, “Throughout it all, our decisions and communications have been to hold tightly to WHO we are while maintaining an attitude of flexibility about WHAT we do and HOW we do it. When we reflect back, we keep coming back to the question, “What do we want students, families, staff, and the community to be able to say was true for them during this season?”

Education Elements has witnessed teams tirelessly overcome decision fatigue by implementing these responsive practices in their decision making and communication. When the decision-making process is clear it mitigates all teammates from becoming overconfident or overwhelmed. These protocols allow teams to problem solve in different ways, considering opposite interpretations or solutions than the team’s initial disposition. As new information presents itself, leaders no longer have to worry about their teams feeling overwhelmed but instead they are able to use that energy on encouraging people to challenge norms and invite contributions to solving the problem.

Building in self-reflection can prompt different viewpoints prior to the decision-making process. These are a few questions collected from conversations with district leaders that have had a promising impact:

  • If we had no constraints, what would we do differently?
  • If we were to argue against this, how would we do it?
  • What if we’re wrong?

Reflect on Patterns

Leveraging the moments in your next meeting to reflect on patterns can increase your team’s chances of making a better decision next time. The long-term gains outweigh the short-term consequence of taking up time in the moment. If your team tends to be impulsive when it comes to decision making, the practice of reflection communicates to the importance of finding patterns. These patterns are another source of information and data when making a decision in the next round. We’ve seen teams host retrospective meetings or level-setting conversations to demonstrate authenticity to their current situation.


Sample of a Retrospective Meeting


Sample of a Protocol for Level Setting as a Team (adapted from Consultancy Protocol)


When our students and families look back on the historic summer and fall of 2020, let these be the snapshots of your team's commitment to decide deliberately and communicate effectively be the foundation. 


Join the upcoming Virtual Leadership Institute, "Responsive Strategic Planning in Uncertain Times" from November 5-6

About Kelly Freiheit

Kelly is on the Design and Implementation Team. Kelly is a former science blended learning teacher from Charlotte, NC. She began to recognize the parallels between her life as a struggling reader in elementary school and her work on education’s front lines. Kelly knew she loved collaboration, camaraderie, and the pursuit of a common goal, but hadn’t drawn the connection between those passions and the career she now counts among them. Outside of work you can find Kelly relaxing on a yoga mat or spending time with family and friends.

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