Leading our schools after the lockdown

By David Newby (Copyright 2020)

Few of us are thinking about what it will be like when we are allowed to resume our normal activities. The truth is that it is more than likely that resuming normal activities will take some time and that we will have an easing of restrictions over time rather than a sudden lifting of all restrictions. There are some realities that we are going to be facing and we have to start thinking about these now if we are to provide the kind of leadership that our communities need.

The world economy will be struggling to get back on an even keel and smaller economies like ours may take decades to recover. Government will have diverted money from virtually every sector in order to battle Covid19. This includes education. Before the shutdown, funding had already been diverted from education to assist with the crisis at Eskom. In a few months’ time we will begin to understand our new economic reality and it will not be pretty. There will be considerably less available to fund vital sectors such as education. Infrastructure funding will need to be diverted to just cover basic costs such as salaries. This means that the funding we had hoped would be allocated for improvements to our schools or to build new schools will not be available. Funding that used to be available for projects like matric camps may not be available. Some schools that depended on school fees or fundraising or donations to supplement their budgets may well find that these sources of income have dried up. These new realities are going to force us to change the way we do things and only schools with adaptive leaders will be able to maintain or lift their standards of performance.

Over the years I have worked with organisations that have had to cope with severe cutbacks. Some of them have floundered and some have even closed. Others have adapted and found new ways of doing things. Often they have realized that one of the reasons for their stuckness has been an abundance of resources – they had the money to paper over the cracks. When the money was no longer there, they had to go back to their core business and make sure that the fundamentals were sound. It is possible that this will begin to happen in our schools especially where they are led by adaptive leaders. Here are a few questions to get adaptive leaders thinking about how to lead their schools in a time of scarce resources:

  • What resources do we already have? How can we use these optimally? Where is their wastage in our systems and practices? 
  • How do we free up the time we do have for teaching and learning? Given that there are limited resources and limited energy, what activities do we need to stop doing in our school because they are not contributing to teaching and learning?
  • What resources could we share with our neighbouring schools and what resources would we like them to share with us (these could be subject teachers, physical resources, expertise etc.)? How do I initiate this kind of collaboration?
  • What resources could we share with our community? What resources exist in the community that could assist us with teaching and learning in our school? How do I initiate this kind of collaboration?
  • In times of scarcity, the only resource we have to offer is ourselves. How can we develop our skills as an educator cohort? How do we look after each other to ensure that we remain motivated? How do we incentivize our staff when we don’t have resources? How do I resource myself so that I don’t burn out?

This is the time when effective leaders stand out. Instead of being paralysed by fear or overwhelming the system with frantic activity, they are a non-anxious presence – providing inspiration and encouragement to their teams and guiding them to focus on the things that are most important.