The following blog was published in the May 24th Catholic School Matters newsletter.

To be a learning organization, we have to reflect and consolidate our learnings. We are, after all, schools. “4 Ways to Create a Learning Culture” can help you consider the importance. The HBR article on identifying and cultivating lifelong learners seems exceptionally relevant.

In the past year, we have all been challenged by unexpected quandaries and a disturbing level of collective anxiety. So what did we learn?

I challenge you to take some time to articulate what you have learned as a leader and what our schools have learned. Don’t wait for others to define this–what were your learnings? And then you need to proclaim that new reality.  We can’t simply welcome the return of near-normality and close that chapter. We need to describe what we’ve learned.

Here’s mine:

  1. Video conferencing has a role in our schools. We can now bring in more guest speakers because they can Zoom. And our tolerance for video conferencing (and technical capacity) has increased. Imagine our world two years ago when someone recommended a Zoom presentation.  The response would have been lukewarm at best and the attendance would have been spotty. Now we can bring more people together more often. For example, I’m going to invite our school pastors together for a short Zoom meeting. The impact of that meeting will be greater now as opposed to inviting them to a centralized meeting.
  2. Culture beats strategy.  Was anyone prepared with the best strategies for dealing with pandemic? Remote learning? Cleaning protocols? Of course not.  Even the most highly developed strategies were wanting. A culture which emphasized collaborative problem-solving and a mindset of problem-solving served us best. How can that shape our work going forward?
  3. Agency matters. We found students who flourished with the freedom to work independently. We found schools who thrived with the freedom to develop their best local strategies. How can we build agency into our classrooms and schools? We saw creativity and innovation that needs to be continued. Take a look at this article about creativity where Bill Watterson says, “It’s surprising how hard we’ll work when the work is for ourselves.”
  4. Centralized decision-making doesn’t work for complex problems. There were no successful one-size-fits-all solutions for districts and school systems. Never is that more clear than the current NY state regulations that children remain masked in school, inside or outside. Perhaps that makes sense in some densely-populated schools with small playgrounds. But it can’t make sense for our schools with large fields knowing that outdoor transmission is rare.
  5. Trust matters. Never have school leaders felt more disconnected from the learning process.  And perhaps teachers, too. But when we trust teachers to be the professionals they aspire to be, great things happen.  And when we trust school leaders to solve their problems in their communities, great things happen. Consider this article from Farnam Street about the Pygmalion Effect. Sometimes the reality which we believe in becomes our reality.
  6. Connecting with other school leaders lifts all boats. I sense that school leaders have relied on each other more frequently than in the past. Let’s hope that continues and school leaders can reach out for help and companionship on the sometimes difficult journey of leadership.

How can we bake these lessons into our practice going forward? As we move toward the return of normality, how can we use these lessons to form our work? It starts with reflecting on how different the past year has been and articulating our lessons learned.