Reflections on Mindsets and Responses for Pandemic Leadership

In the past few weeks, I’ve been learning more about, and reflecting on the topic of pandemic leadership. What are some mindsets and strategies that might help us navigate the challenges of this crisis? And I wanted to share just a few key reflections and learnings so far.

1. Pandemic leadership across the board.

It’s become very clear to me that we must value and expect leadership from everyone, not just from the top. Every teacher will likely take on a larger degree of autonomy and shared responsibility in navigating the challenges of teaching this year. It’s okay and necessary to rely on one another to share the burden of the incredible amount of problem-solving and innovation that must be done.

“Distributed leadership has become the default leadership (Harris, 2020).”

“Leadership is not a title but an action, a behaviour, a practice, a doing and a way of being, and the current scenario has provided a crucible for teacher agency, agility, resilience and innovation…Teacher leadership…is happening now as teachers work to find teaching and learning solutions for their students within the parameters of their particular national, local, school and classroom contexts. (Netolicky, 2020).”

2. Dump perfection, hold onto flexibility and forgiveness.

“The current disruption to education has schools and education systems considering the humanity of education, rather than its measurable outcomes…In a crisis such as the one in which we are currently existing, perfection is the enemy of progress (Netolicky, 2020).”

I’m a classic case of “paralysis through analysis.” I feel this intense need to perfect every detail of every lesson/activity/project/etc. weeks and months in advance. My tendency is to also expect that same level of quality from others. I don’t think the right approach is to completely forego the high standards we teachers set for ourselves and our students. But, I think we’ve shifted to approaching everyday with flexibility and forgiveness in mind…I won’t be able to plan that far in advance, it’s okay for things to just be “good,” and I need to be kind to myself, my colleagues, and my students when work/focus/etc. doesn’t meet pre-COVID expectations. @kobrien‘s post about getting rid of shoulds really nails it too.

3. Wellness isn’t just a fad.

My fear is that as schools enter into a “groove,” focus will shift back towards teacher/student performance. I think we need to ensure that wellness stays at the forefront for our schools and communities, even once the pandemic is over. Only when I take care of myself can I take care of others.

4. Write a user manual for yourself.

Since opportunities to meet in person are so limited, write a handbook on yourself to help others understand how to best work with you. Add fun facts that help people get to know you. I got this idea from my husband–his company regularly uses this strategy to build trust and authenticity within their remote teams. As an example, here is the Steph Letham Guidebook (she is an amazing math teacher at my school and gave me permission to share this with you all).

5. “Subversion” might be necessary for innovation.

For whatever reason, you might be faced with roadblocks to innovating in ways that are necessary for pandemic teaching. In Cult of Pedagogy’s interview with Melinda Anderson, Anderson states that subversion can be as small an act as finding a resource that really resonates with your students. Her interview touches on how she uses subversion to bring more inclusivity and equity to her classrooms, but also rings very true for our reality right now.

6. Short and frequent check ins.

The more I level with friends, family and colleagues, the more I realize that every. single. one. of us. is struggling somehow. Speaking of time, it’s also at a serious premium right now. But, checking in with colleagues doesn’t have to take long and can make a huge difference. Short, frequent communications with friends, family and colleagues really help me feel like there is continuity to my relationships. When that closeness is retained even through the pandemic, I’ve been able to rely on those relationships to help steer me through my rough days.

That’s all for now! I would love to hear what mindsets or strategies you have found to be or think would be effective right now!


EDIT: I wrote this post before attending yesterday’s webinar with Grant Lichtman. Wow. I walked away with so many more lessons and insights on effective leadership through crisis. If you haven’t already, this is a must watch.

Frances Frei’s Three Pillars of Leadership

Bitmoji Image

I’ll start by saying I’m now a fangirl of Frances Frei (it only took a couple podcasts/interviews). She is a Harvard Business School professor with an incredible amount of grit and ambition. She is unapologetically authentic (though she admits to sometimes struggling with this) and serves as a wonderful example of strong female leadership today.


In her TED interview, Frei outlines three pillars necessary for a healthy work culture–trust, love and belonging.

  1. Trust, Frei states, relies on a triangle of authenticity, logic and empathy. We have to have faith that we are interacting with the authentic selves of our leadership, that they have a rigorous and sound logic, and that they deeply care about our success. sourceIn this Harvard Business Review article, Paul J. Zak summarizes his research on the effects of high trust in the workplace:
  2. Love is conveyed in the setting of high expectations simultaneously experienced with the deep devotion of our leaders to our success. As Frei put it, it’s not “tough love,” but rather “tough and love.”
  3. Belonging is achieved when we set conditions for more people and more varied people to achieve and thrive. The goal is not to take anything away from what already exists, but to broaden it. Frei also notes that the phrase “diversity and inclusion” should in fact be “inclusion and diversity.” Inclusion, she feels, begets diversity and not the other way around. At first, I thought she might be unnecessarily splitting hairs and thought this might not always be true of schools since, as a teacher, you don’t usually choose who is in your classroom (but I’m definitely not the expert here!).As we think about DEI in our classrooms, I pose this question to you: Do you agree with Frei’s viewpoint that inclusion must come first? Why or why not? Would love to hear your answers in the comments below.

I’m really looking forward to delving deeper in her book (co-written with Anne Morriss)
Unleashed,The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You 

My last thought on these learnings is this: The challenge right now is how to build up and maintain these pillars remotely. Following posts will contain some reflections on this.