How to lead in a crisis

By Brian Soika

December 10, 2021

Panelists from the 'How Education Leaders Can Break Through Troubled Times' webinar

Panelists from USC Rossier’s “How Education Leaders Can Break Through Troubled Times” webinar

Education leaders face historic challenges. As the pandemic drags on, schools race to contain the damage. Meanwhile, mask and vaccine mandates combined with issues of racial equity have mobilized a relatively small but disruptive opposition to leadership.

In the online event “How Education Leaders Can ‘Break Through’ Troubled Times,” K–12 superintendents and educational experts gathered to offer guidance for practitioners and policymakers facing these challenges. (For more information about the webinar including a list of panelists, and to watch the event in full, visit the A New Vision for Schools page on our website.)

Here are some significant takeaways from the event’s panelists:

Maintain civility

  • When possible, have civilized dialogue (preferably in person) with opponents of school policies
  • Establish protocols for how the school board and superintendent should respond to disruption
  • The loudest critics typically do not represent the community as a whole. Direct policy towards the quiet majority.

“Twitter is not real.” –Janice Jackson, CEO, HOPE Chicago, on the need to prioritize the needs of kids over online critics.

Be strategic about addressing learning loss

  • Use supplemental supports to address individual student needs, including nonprofits and community organizations
  • Acknowledge the problems with comparing test scores before and during the pandemic; and mind the historic disparities in achievement between students
  • Achievement should be measured by what is grade-level appropriate

Prioritize social-emotional health

  • Tap federal stimulus funds to hire more counselors or build counselor pipeline
  • Create a data system to identify students with indicators (homelessness, foster care, etc.), as well as those who haven’t received traditional assessment
  • Invest in early childhood education

“I [want] to get every kid who’s four-years-old into an early learning program that their family are amenable to” –Robert Nelson, BS ’91 EdD ’18, Superintendent, Fresno Unified School District, on using federal stimulus funds

Lead with a mission to serve all students

  • Ensure students have reliable WiFi access at home
  • Increase communication with families
  • Address learning and behavior disruptions exacerbated by the pandemic