Re-energizing Yourself and Your Team for the Work Ahead
We have been reading, discussing, and reflecting quite a bit on the topic of leadership recently, and one of the products of this deep dive is a video series all about what leaders have learned this year. In his interview, Dr. Patrick Ward from Mayfield City Schools in Ohio mused on the fact that school leaders are trained to manage acute crises, but for the past year they have been managing a chronic crisis, with several acute crises emerging as the chronic crisis continued. We’ve been thinking about the phrase “chronic crisis” and drawing from some inspiring resources to consider the best way to rally your community through it. With the end of the school year in sight, now is the time to re-energize your teams so you can finish strong. To do that, you need to address three interrelated dimensions: Emotions, Mindsets, and Behaviors.
As we close out a difficult year we need to take into consideration the emotional journey and the emotional state of our staff. Even as you enter this busy time of the year, preparing for closing out the school year and the beginning of summer school, taking time to do this will boost morale and continue to build your school/district culture.
One place to start -- examining the social emotional needs of the staff -- is by completing a journey map. An educator journey map is simply a visual representation of each step an educator takes during a period of time. For example, we can think about the journey of an educator from spring break to the end of the school year. Here is an example of what that might look like.
Once you have considered the journey, take time to think about what peak moments you can add to help support educators emotional needs during the journey. In the book, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, authors Dan and Chip Heath discuss how most people don’t remember an entire experience but instead the peak moments.
Create peak moments by understanding what they are composed of through the acronym EPIC.
Elevation: lift us above the everyday
Pride: being recognized; moments of achievement .
Insight: rewire our understanding of ourselves or our world.
Connection: deepen our ties to other people
Revisit your journey map. What peak moments can you add to uplift educators to help them forget about the day-to-day or those bored/frustrated times?
Here are a few ideas that we would do to create peak moments.
- Gamify Test Training: Turn the training task into a game. Bring more joy to an often boring task. You can do this by adding “easter eggs” (i.e. hidden image such as a school logo) into the presentations and educators need to find them and they can earn points!
- Leveling Up Theme Week: During the testing week, energy can be low. Level up by having a theme week. Each day can focus on something different, but add a surprise the teachers dont know about until the day of. Example: Monday might be favorite sports day and all teachers wear their favorite sports team gear. Level it up by surprising them with a “tailgate” experience by providing lunch for them made by the administrators!
- Share Gratitude: Hand write a note at the end of the year to each teacher that is personalized to them. Add in touches such as positive things you saw them do this year or growth they made and/or what you are looking forward to next year. What a powerful moment that would be instead of just a “Bye, see you next year!” as they hand in their keys.
The unpredictability of this year has really challenged the planners among us, and those who have found great security and satisfaction in their routines and wisdom based on experience have spent the year feeling destabilized and anxious. Understanding this, and working to support the shift to a resilient mindset is key to making the most of the time left in the school year. Leaders can support resilience on their teams as they navigate challenging times by prioritizing relationships, offering transparency, and supporting voice and choice whenever possible.
Prioritizing relationships supports resilience because social support and connection can actually buffer a stress response. During times of stress, it’s important to find ways to connect and support each other. Some ideas for ways to prioritize relationships with your team:
- Schedule one-on-one chats with members of your team. Even if it is only for 10 minutes, carve out time to ask about things they are excited about, things they are struggling with, and ideas for how you can best support.
- Checking In at the start of group meetings. Using the first few minutes of each meeting to answer a check in question does a lot for the productivity of a team, in addition to providing a sense of connection with colleagues. This check-in question generator offers a range of questions to match the tone you are seeking.
- Hosting Group Chats to allow people to connect. Scheduled a weekly conversation addressing a common question and allow the conversation to flow from there.
Transparency fosters trust and creates a sense of value and belonging for staff. Practices that support transparency include:
- Communicating regularly. Clear, direct, and frequent communication will help put anxious staff at ease. Stressed brains fill in missing information and what the staff hears may be different from what is said. Regular updates are important.
- Explaining “the why” behind decisions, policies, or practices. Even if the policy or practice is met with resistance, staff will feel less worried and stressed if they understand why decisions were made or policies enacted.
- Conveying strength and sensitivity. During a time of crisis, staff look for strength and leadership in the organization. This creates trust. That said, it’s also important to convey compassion and sensitivity. Staff need to feel they are cared for, and when they do, this builds trust too.
Restoring a sense of control can also help. The feeling that one is a victim of circumstances is traumatic, so providing opportunities for self-determination and agency can help to restore a sense of resiliency. Whenever possible, solicit input from your team, and allow them to decide things within their locus of control. Find opportunities to your team to contribute.
The behaviors that you model and that your teams adopt hold the key to the culture you create. Behavior is where the rubber meets the road -- you can say you care about your team’s emotions, and you can pay lip service to supporting resilience, but culture is created by what you DO.
To get through to the end of an unpredictable year, you may need to find new solutions and innovating under pressure requires that everyone on your team feels like it is safe to take risks, float new ideas, and experiment with new solutions.
So what do you DO to create a culture in which people are comfortable innovating under duress? Once you have addressed the emotions and resilience of your team, you will be well equipped to address these practices:
- Name the problem and invite ideas to address it. This is a productive application of transparency. When you name the problem and invite people to help solve it, you are building trust and implicitly stating that you respect the intelligence and skills of those on your team.
- Hold time for networked learning: devote meeting time to learning from each other. Encourage discussion of ideas proposed, embracing the belief, “The smartest person in the room is the room.”
- Hold retrospectives: as new ideas are tried, make a practice of reflecting on the success and failures of different ideas, and different points of implementation. This practice will make it clear that the lessons learned by taking risks are valued, and encourage iteration and improvement.
Want to go deeper into ways to Re-energizing Yourself and Your Team for the Work Ahead join us for our webinar on April 26th at 3:00 EST. We would also love to hear from you how you are re-energizing yourself and your team for the work ahead, tweet to us @CampionMegan, @edu_thompson and @edelements.