July is the beach-and-boardwalk time of the summer for Academic Leaders -- a chance to plan, reflect, and take a break. But, hiding in that boardwalk, past the fried food and ice cream counters, deep in the arcade, lies an old game that portends what’s about to hit Academic Leaders when August hits: Whack-a-Mole. You remember the game: a mole appears and you hit it in the head with a hammer… then two moles pop up… then they come at you quicker and quicker until there is no way any human can hit all the moles as they appear. That’s August in independent schools. The good news: you can handle it.
Why am I certain that you can handle this year’s Whack-a-Mole season? Because you just went through pandemics that sharpened your skills at fast-problem solving. Way back in March 2020, we offered some tips for schools to make fast-paced decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those guidelines apply this month as well.
Be calm and pause. Take a second (or a minute or an hour) to pause before you make a decision to center the decision making on the mission and values of the school, and on the interests of students. And, for goodness sake, do not make a decision when tensions or emotions are running high.
Be straightforward and clear. The beginning of the school-year brings anxiety and uncertainty across your campus: Who is my teacher? Will I make the soccer team? Is my classroom ready? In times of uncertainty and heightened anxiety, people want straightforward answers. (Personally, I try to channel my inner Brene Brown: Clear is Kind). Clarity includes a shared understanding of who is responsible for making a given type of decision. Consider sitting down with the team of Academic Leaders at your school soon to make your internal team has clarity, and then consider publishing a quick handout to students and families so that they are getting to the person who can be most helpful in handling their problem or challenge.
Create simple solutions. When you have to make decisions quickly, you do not have the time to create complex solutions and you very often are working with incomplete information. You may even consider acknowledging that the solution you are creating in August would be different than if the problem appeared in June or November. If you try to create complex solutions, you’ll likely create more problems for yourself.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)