Let’s acknowledge that this isn’t the start of school we expected or wanted for Fall 2021. Last spring, with optimism and anticipation, we at One Schoolhouse began focusing on the horizon using “Next Normal” language in our webinars, professional development courses, and blog posts. Instead, here academic leaders are, back in Covid-driven logistical considerations and conversations. How can leaders best navigate making academic decisions while tensions and emotions are running high and it’s increasingly clear that “post-pandemic” is still a futuristic phrase?
The start of school always has a certain duality to it as academic leaders rapidly switch attention between short-term trouble-shooting and progress towards long-term strategic goals. This year, leaders are solving typical (and some atypical) problems at a rapid-fire pace that Brad, our Head of School, likes to call Whack-A-Mole. At the same time, leaders are working to make sure that this school year starts with essential curricular adaptations (necessitated by two disrupted school years) in place.
One strategy for addressing the question of “what’s next?” is to rely on a framework. One of my favorites is the Eisenhower Square, immortalized by Stephen R. Covey, and since shared in countless other publications. There are many models and variations of this around. A quick search will reveal countless versions, some designed with educators in mind. (You can even buy a planner set up to mimic the matrix!) The basics are a four-quadrant matrix with two axis, Important/Not Important, and Urgent/Not Urgent:
In this matrix, the urgent and important (Quadrant I) must be addressed first, within a deadline that is likely to be externally imposed. These are items to resolve decisively and as swiftly as is feasible.
The second step is to understand that Quadrant III items, the urgent but not important, are still important to someone in the organization (or perhaps a regulatory entity) even if they are not important to the overall organization or to you. (If they aren’t important to anyone, they would be in Quadrant IV). Therefore, academic leaders should delegate Quadrant III items to the right person, with a timeline, direction, and agency.
When these urgent matters are satisfactorily addressed or assigned, the academic leader can return to Quadrant II, which is the mission-driven academic program work essential to a strong and functioning school.
The key to using the Eisenhower matrix effectively is never to lose sight of Quadrant II: Not Urgent but Important. If neglected too long, these items become a crisis or a quagmire, they can cause entire programs to fail. Commit to returning to this quadrant and ensure that colleagues are on the same page about what belongs here.
Oh...and Quadrant IV? There’s a round basket for filing those right next to your desk.
Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:7_habits_decision-making_matrix.png
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)