Amplifying Solutions – Tips for New Administrators


Each episode of Amplifying Solutions focuses on questions and challenges from practitioners, primarily current graduate students earning their degrees to become the next generation of principals, school business leaders, and superintendents, as well as those students who are earning their doctoral degrees. In response to these questions, experts are brought together to discuss solutions and strategies. The complete video conversation is included below.

In this episode of Amplifying Solutions, Dr. Susan Homes from the Illinois Principals’ Association and Dr. Courtney Orzel from the Illinois Association of School Administrators discuss tips to help new school leaders, as well as veteran administrators, be successful. While the context is specifically geared toward the COVID-19 pandemic, as is discussed in the video, these tips are relevant and applicable at any time.

The same keys to success

While the COVID-19 Pandemic presents unique challenges that have placed tremendous stress on school systems and all of the individuals in them, from students and families to teachers and staff to school administrators, Dr. Homes and Dr. Orzel point out that the keys to being successful during the Pandemic are the same keys to being successful at any time. These include:

  • Build relationships first – Be certain to know people as individuals, to understand and appreciate the community (or in many cases, the various communities that make up a school or district), learn the politics and dynamics of decision-making, and establish trust, respect, and fairness.
  • Be genuine – People, including students, see through ego and falsehoods. Identify your core values and stick to them. (One tip is to ask your immediate family what they think your core values are, and you can check their answers against your own. Their answers are likely to reveal patterns in your daily actions.)
  • Personalize the work – Students and staff members alike will learn more and do better when work has been personalized according to their needs and interests. Ask students and staff members directly about their needs and interests, and then follow-through to make adjustments based on what they have told you.
Taking care of yourself

It has become a common refrain to tell leaders to take care of themselves and to remind leaders that they cannot be successful for others if they are not staying well. At the same time, for many school administrators knowing that this is true is one thing while putting it into practice on a consistent, ongoing basis is much more difficult. Some tips include:

  • Take advantage of professional resources focused on wellness – For example, IASA has launched its Mindfulness Matters series for its members.
  • Find your group – Connect with colleagues who face the same challenges and pressures and be there to support one another. Text each other to simply see how others are doing. Call a colleague to check-in on the way to or from work. Make these routine parts of your day.
  • Hold each other accountable for being well – Take a few minutes and eat your lunch. Drink water throughout the day. Exercise and know that the time you are spending doing so will help you be more productive and more positive (and more likely to stay well physically, too). Along with the colleagues in the aforementioned group, remind one another to take these steps each day. Ask each other if you did. If not, help brainstorm how to do so tomorrow.
Get important things done – and done well

With the busy competing demands that school leaders face, prioritizing is always important, and during the Pandemic, it is more important than ever. Schools and districts must continually ask themselves, “What are our most important goals and needs for students?” Then, when faced with new or additional requests, it is critical to ask, “Will this new task still allow me to focus on successfully accomplishing the priorities that we set?”

To help ensure that you follow through with the priorities, some of the suggestions in the video include the following:

  • Use your calendar – Block out the time in your calendar to complete the tasks that are your priorities. If being in classrooms (in-person or remote/online) is an important part of your plan to improve student learning, time to be in classrooms must be blocked out in your calendar and maintained as a priority.
  • Work with your colleagues – Most schools and districts are full of dedicated, smart people. As a school or district leader, you do not have to know or do everything. Share work with your colleagues wherever and whenever it is appropriate with their jobs. At the same time, you have to balance this by also protecting their time as the leader to ensure that they can maintain their focus on completing the tasks that align with the organization’s priorities for students.
  • Follow-through – The work does not get done if you do not follow-through and complete it. This also includes being sure to close communication loops, so teachers and staff, families, and students know that the work is complete.
Looking to the future

In thinking about the long-term lessons from COVID-19 and the changes that schools can and should implement, Dr. Homes and Dr. Orzel identified the following key points:

  • Identify what is most important and focus on those priorities
  • Doing less will result in doing more
  • Focus on equity and ensuring that real opportunities are available for all students and for each student
  • Emphasize personalization to make learning meaningful and to ensure that everyone feels connected and part of their school community
  • Identify the strengths of the school or district, and then work hard to do those things even better
  • Focus on supporting teachers–They have the biggest impact on student learning
  • Trust that educators can do great work regardless of where they are in their career journey – from their first year to their last year
  • Emphasize the importance of adaptability for all educators
November 2020

Amplifying Solutions – Creativity in staffing with COVID-19

Each episode of Amplifying Solutions focuses on questions and challenges from practitioners, primarily current graduate students earning their degrees to become the next generation of principals, school business leaders, and superintendents, as well as those students who are earning their doctoral degrees. In response to these questions, experts are brought together to discuss solutions and strategies. The complete video conversation is included below.

In this episode of Amplifying Solutions, Monica Schroeder from North Shore School District 112 and Matt Zediker from Rockford Public School District 205 discuss their organization’s approaches to staffing during the very dynamic COVID-19 Pandemic. When schools initially moved to remote learning in March 2020, staffing plans for the 2020-2021 school year were nearly complete. Over the next five months leading up to the start of this school year, school districts continued to face changing guidelines and a wide range of expectations, opinions, and pressures from various stakeholder groups.

Each school district offered teachers the opportunity to apply to serve as remote learning teachers.

Planning for Multiple Schedules

Like districts throughout Illinois, both NSSD112 and RPS205 had to plan for students who would be learning remotely and for students who would be learning in-person at times as part of a hybrid model.

Both districts were going to require a significant number of teachers that would be assigned to remote teaching positions as a result of surveys of families during the summer of 2020, and this resulted in the need to move staff members into positions different from those in which they had originally been assigned.

From these initial experiences, the following keys to successfully navigating this COVID-19 environment emerged:

  • Listening – Having relationships already in place prior to the crisis provides a strong foundation for success. Then, it is critical for leaders to intentionally build time in their schedules to be in schools listening to staff members concerns and challenges and questions.
  • Empathy – School leaders must put themselves in the shoes of others from staff members to students to parents. When a leader can deeply understand the challenges (and feelings) that others face, they are able to craft solutions that better address a wider range of issues, and they are better able to communicate those solutions to stakeholders.
  • Collaboration – Collaboration among and with union leaders, board members, and administrators on a consistent and ongoing basis is critical to creating solutions that will meet the needs of each school district as well as successfully implementing those solutions.
  • Articulate why – While specific people may not always like certain decisions, if they understand the rationale behind the decision, how it benefits students, and why it is a fair decision and/or a good use of limited resources, they will typically accept, and even support, the decision.
  • Know the law – The pandemic has brought with it unique scenarios related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Additionally, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act resulted in additional, important legal parameters for school leaders to know. As is mentioned in the discussion, school law firms have provided a significant amount of ongoing, free professional development to support school leaders since the start of the pandemic.

In thinking about the long-term take-aways for the future of education, the following items were identified as being important areas of emphasis in a post-COVID-19 world of learning:

  • Emphasize learning and de-emphasize seat time; Focus on supporting all students with achieving outcomes
  • Continue focusing on the importance of social and emotional learning
  • Be flexible
  • Be creative
  • Continue to foster an “all-hands on-deck” culture, including having families be integrated into our learning processes
  • Remind teachers and staff that they won’t be able to be everything to everyone and support them in being the best that they can be right now.
November 2020

Launching Amplifying Solutions

The Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology, and Foundations (LEPF) in the Northern Illinois University College of Education has joined forces with the Illinois P-20 Network to launch a series of videos, web-based events, and blog posts on important topics that have been identified by current teachers and administrators who are also graduate students in and alumni of LEPF programs.

The videos, events and blog posts that result from this partnership will be available publicly, and educators are encouraged to share this content throughout their professional networks.

Initial episodes are being recorded at this time, and content will begin being posted this week both in the Newsfeed of the P-20 Network website and on the P-20 Network YouTube Channel.

November 2020