Schools around the globe instituting remote learning for at least the upcoming semester presents enormous challenges for us all. The pain may be most acutely felt by parents with young children or special learning needs. Yet organizations also need to adjust to working parents’ new reality, and fellow employees as well. Even if we don’t have children or ours are older or self-directed learners, it will take a village. The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow, who will run our governments and staff our hospitals and produce our products. Children are our sacred trust, and it’s all our duty and privilege to serve them now.
Start with the Heart
Focusing on the negatives of this situation can be so tempting, yet we can also remember that anyone reading this newsletter no doubt has access to better education than 99% of people who ever lived could ever hope for. It can also be so tempting to “just get it done,” checking the box for each school assignment. Consider taking the opportunity to start each learning period with talking about how you’re all feeling and what your hopes are for the time together, and then at the end for sharing what you’re all grateful for and praising what was accomplished, big or small. Reinforce a love of learning, and a love for each other.
Equip the Hands
In chaotic times, we need both agility and stability. Kids especially crave structure. To the extent possible, sit down together and create a plan for the day, the week, the semester. People own what they help create, kids blossom when treated as responsible contributors, and everyone will be more on board with the process, even if it’s not ideal. And of course the plan will need to be adjusted, perhaps daily, and this is where patience and flexibility comes in to play, which ultimately can serve as a foundation to build an openness to experimentation and agility for a lifetime.
Lift-up the Head
Proactively frame the reality of the situation for your family – paint the picture of each of your “hero’s journey” as you embark upon your learning journey together. Not inane spin but inspiring story. One meaningful exercise is to create a vision board for your family. Invite everyone to print out images that depict how the family operates during remote learning, or perhaps an image of how you’ll all emerge afterwards. Then talk about the images and why they were selected. Put the images on a board displayed where you study together – your true north. It may be surprising what you learn about each other, and how you can creatively invent a positive possibility for the future, and a more tolerable reality for today.
Now onto other “key stakeholders” significantly impacted, who will play a fundamental role in how we arise from this crisis as a society, and who have the awesome responsibility to empower the next generation, and therefore generations to come:
Now is the time to focus on effectiveness, not efficiency. Rebalancing priorities and scaling back on the non-essential is mission-critical. Connect before content – do “heart checks” with people at the start of meetings, remembering we’re human beings not human doings. Crisis reveals character, and people will remember how we lead now. Take the opportunity to build relationships that will yield the dividends of appreciation, goodwill and loyalty.
For fellow employees
I believe the two most important competencies to lead through change are empathy and courage. For working parents it can take a lot of courage to negotiate boundaries between work and personal life at this time. For their fellow employees, while we may empathize with their plight, we can also experience extreme equity issues when tasked with taking on additional workload to compensate. It’s an opportunity for us all to be honest with our own feelings and to build muscle in facilitating courageous conversations on our teams, which will build a foundation of transparency, trust, and psychological safety, all so crucial to collaborating through all the inevitable challenges to come.
If you’re in a position to do so, reach-out to help-out! For the bulk of human history the majority lived close to their extended family. Now many have no relatives nearby and are single parent households. What a great opportunity to play even a small part for an hour a week educating a future scientist or teacher or rock star right next door! We all know it’s better to give than to receive, and given how hilarious kids can be, and how apt to be playful even when adults think things are so bleak, we may find ourselves joyfully rejuvenated after a stint “substitute teaching” for a neighbor who has to take a Zoom call in silence or just needs a break.
Of course, those at the helms of organizations are revising policies and adopting new procedures to cope with employees who are now both full-time employees as well as full-time teachers, and the best will take a humanistic approach intentionally incorporating Heart, Hands, and Head. Best practices at the organizational level will be the subject of future articles. For now, since this crisis cuts to the core of our common humanity, I wanted to focus on the individual, human level.
What are you seeing that’s working for you and yours to lead through this “change” to remote learning? By your family, friends, colleagues and organizations? Please do email me back and share, and I’ll capture and communicate with our learning community. It takes a village.