By: Karine Veldhoen

As educational leaders we are facing incredible tumult and uncertainty as we prepare for the fall amidst a pandemic. Like never before we face the challenge of delivering education in nimble and new ways. Even as I am writing this article, our province has not yet released guidelines for the fall, yet I feel prepared to take a deep breath and lead our school into this next season—we are change-ready!

How can we transform this pandemic into a positive provocation? How can we hold both the risk analysis for the safety of children and community, while also tending to innovating on the design of learning experiences? How can we hold the students’ social-emotional needs in creative and meaningful ways amidst the disruption?

Learn Forward™ defines change-readiness as a strong desire to reconceptualize learning by bravely asking powerful questions, embracing a communal growth mindset, and inviting parents, students, and teachers to collaborate in unfolding the extraordinary potential that lives within every child. It is focusing on what matters most.

Here are four actionable queries to support the development of your change-ready school.

How is your school ‘rooted’?

Interestingly enough, change-readiness begins by being rooted in a vibrant school culture and steadied in a set of aspirational values shaping your community.

Each year our model Learn Forward™ school, Willowstone Academy, in British Columbia, Canada, designs an annual theme to help keep us rooted. This theme captures our developmental journey as a community and inspires us along the way. This year, our theme is “Reimagining,” and we are excited about how it is already in play during our summer months of preparation.

Our theme becomes part of our fall kick-off, our school-wide communications, our departments, and our work with students. As a school leader, I enjoy going back to the theme in team communications and using our design work to enhance our creative messaging. Your theme will help ‘root’ your school community in what matters most.

How will you strategically promote equity?

Our society is groaning under the weight of injustice. We’ve paid lip service to inclusion, diversity, equity, and access for too long. While we can’t transform systemic racism in a school year or address gaps in diversity in 10 months, we must act proactively today.

In my mind, promoting equity is bringing our creative energies to iterate with relentless optimism on how to engage students, all students, in authentic learning, regardless of where ‘school’ is happening. We can’t settle. We must go after the students in the cracks like a shepherd after a lost sheep. The parable fits. This takes a team willing to iterate, be responsive, change, and adapt, even once the plans are in place. Teachers are brilliant at this work. How can we empower them?

In one of the three meetings we had as a school faculty this spring, we spent considerable time assessing students who were getting ‘lost’ and brainstorming new ways of pursuing each of them in an eLearning environment. We can’t settle for less than championing each student’s extraordinary potential. That’s designing for equity.

This year, we will strategically raise voices of diversity in our community. We will begin by listening to students, pursuing those in the margins, elevating the voices of students of colour, and ensuring our community is true to its values on equity.

How will you care for your team?

From the vantage point of a school leader, it is clear that professional educators often live under the haunting weightiness of the work. We face children struggling with learning, changing family structures, disabilities, trauma, poverty, and a sea of challenges found in every classroom, including a system that often beats down on them like a mallet on a drum’s skin.

And now, COVID.

It will be important to consider how we will intentionally and creatively invest in our team of teachers for the next school year.

An idea: Six years ago, we implemented an all-new process of inviting teachers to engage intentionally in a backwards-design, self-care planning process. The process begins with the humble questions, “What does thriving look like?” And, “What do you want to feel like in June?”

Each year teachers complete the “Self-Care for Teachers” proposal due in the first six weeks of school. The spirit of the proposal is to encourage reflection and to define intentions around thriving. More recently, we added the additional step of reflection at the end of the year.

How will you invest in your own personal and professional growth?

My colleague, Kelly Camak, reminds me that all professional learning is personal.

Rest, exercise, and intentional research and collaborations are at the top of my list currently. Investing in myself, my health and wellness, and my professional network is what is getting me through this season.

I am a part of the Better Leaders, Better Schools (BLBS) mastermind community for educational leaders. I benefit from connecting with this group of innovators each week. They particularly anchor me amidst a sea of uncertainty as we coach each other towards solutions and develop our leadership acumen. It is like going to coffee after work each week with some of the best educational leaders from around the world. Who wouldn’t benefit?

Continuing to lean into professional learning communities like Getting Smart, the BLBS Mastermind, or your local school leadership cohort is an investment worth making, even during this hectic pace of crisis management.

While it is easy to get caught up in the urgency of addressing our international pandemic, leadership continues to be pulling out of the fray and focusing on addressing what matters most.

How are you answering these queries?

For the sake of the children,

Karine Veldhoen

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Karine Veldhoen is the founder of Learn Forward and a creative force in education. She’s also the Chief Learning Officer at Willowstone Academy, the CEO/Founder of Niteo Africa, and a former Education Consultant for Fresh Grade. Follow her on Twitter at @Mrs_KV.

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We know that educators and leaders have spent the last couple of months scrambling to meet the immediate needs of learners in their community. Thank you to each and every one of you for everything you’ve done to make the best out of this challenging situation. Now that the end of the school year is here, we’re shifting our Getting Through series from stories and advice to support remote learning or long term closures, to getting ready for the complex work of reopening schools this fall.
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