5 Strategies for Leading Through a Crisis

A crisis has been defined as a “low probability, high consequence event that threatens the most fundamental goals of an organization.” It could be a natural disaster, act of violence, criminal act, an epidemic, or even a pandemic. Crises have happened throughout time, some on a small scale, affecting just one school or company; others on a large scale, affecting entire states, countries, or even the world. Leading during a crisis presents a unique set of obstacles and can prove challenging for even the best leaders. Below are some strategies that have served others well when leading their organizations through one or more crises.  


Leaders always need to communicate well, but during a crisis communication becomes even more critical. Members of an organization rely on clear and open information from their leaders—they want to understand what is going on, how it’s being handled, and what they might reasonably expect. The same is true of community members. When dealing with the COVID-19 crisis in her district, Samantha Fuhrey, Superintendent of Newton County Schools, GA, said, “…because this is such a huge issue for communities, you have to be even more judicious about the things you say, how you say them, and the level of transparency you provide to your community.”  

“…because this is such a huge issue for communities, you have to be even more judicious about the things you say, how you say them, and the level of transparency you provide to your community.”

Samantha Fuhrey, Superintendent, Newton County Schools, GA

When a crisis forces schools to close for a period of time, It’s important to give some additional focus to connect with students. Some students receive the majority of their support and structure from school—losing that can be a significant struggle. “We know some of our students, the only structure they have is at school and the safest place they have is school,” said A. Katrise Perera, Superintendent of Gresham-Barlow School District, OR. Specifically reaching out by phone to individual students to check in with them can be a key to helping them stay on track and feel supported.  

Self-Care and Wellness

“You cannot serve from an empty vessel,” is oft-quoted wisdom from Eleanor Brown. It holds true in a time of crisis just as much as any other time. It can be even more difficult for leaders to take time for themselves when others are struggling, but it’s critical. Planning time to maintain physical, mental, and emotional health can cultivate strength and energy to continue leading through the entirety of a crisis and after it’s resolved.  

Deliberate Calm

Leaders can set the mood for their organization through choosing to remain calm during a crisis. Nobody wants to see insincere positivity, but a sense of calm is appreciated and helps everyone to feel like they can manage their way through things. Fuhrey received feedback during the COVID-19 crisis from one of her staff, “It helps us so much, in the moment of crisis when we all feel like the world is falling apart, we hear your voice and you are so calm.”  

A strategy that can help with this is following the 80-20 rule—instead of spending 80 percent of their time and energy dwelling on the problem, leaders can choose to focus 80 percent on the solution and 20 percent on the problem. “When you turn it around, you’ll likely find you’re less stressed and more productive,” advises Lolly Daskal, national bestselling author of The Leadership Gap

Growth Mindset

Times of crisis present a perfect opportunity to practice a growth mindset. Leaders should avoid worrying about doing things perfectly. They can focus instead on taking what comes and working through it, always reviewing what’s been done and how well it worked. Jason Glass, Superintendent of Jefferson County Schools, CO spoke of their experience during the COVID-19 crisis, “We are in this cycle of implement, reflect, adapt, and repeat…”  

“We are in this cycle of implement, reflect, adapt, and repeat…”

Jason Glass, Superintedent, Jefferson County Schools, CO

It can be easy for leaders to feel like they need to be at the center of everything and try to manage all facets of the situation, but different members of an organization have different areas of expertise. Sharing the load with others can ease stress and help things run smoothly. Hugo Bague, an executive at Rio Tinto during the Ebola crisis in 2015–16, experienced the value of seeking input from local teams who possessed a clearer view of the situation in their area. Giving local leaders autonomy helped them make the best decision in each circumstance.  

Nobody wants to lead through a crisis, but being ready to tackle the challenges that come with one is important for any leader. Staying focused on strategies that help an organization continue working together as a team, moving forward, and adapting as needed can help everyone work through tough circumstances in the best possible way.  

Do you have any additional strategies or tips that have helped you in a crisis? 

Growth Mindset—What is it and how is it beneficial?

Teacher giving feedback to students

Growth Mindset—What is it and how is it beneficial?

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset—are these familiar terms? The concepts and their effects on learning have been an object of discussion for many inside and outside the education community. A growth mindset has been shown to increase learning and success for students, so it’s important to understand what it is, the benefits, and how individuals can develop it.

What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset consists of believing that intelligence, skills, and abilities can be developed through work, practice, and consistent effort. People with a growth mindset welcome feedback and constructive criticism as a way to see where they can improve and grow. They value the learning process and welcome opportunities for increased development.

By contrast, individuals with a fixed mindset feel that everyone is born with certain traits and skills—people are either good or bad at things. Constructive criticism feels like a personal attack. Failures feel permanent because failing at something demonstrates a lack of ability. Living with a fixed mindset requires proving worth and value over and over again.

There are things that can be mistaken for a growth mindset. A growth mindset is not just applauding effort; progress needs to be made. It’s also not the same as being open-minded or flexible, and it’s not all-or-nothing where someone is either all growth mindset or all fixed mindset. Everyone experiences each at different times and in different areas of their lives.

What are the benefits of a growth mindset?

Developing a growth mindset opens opportunities for people to:

  • —Learn and achieve more
  • Rebound faster from setbacks, failures, and disappointments
  • —Avoid wasting energy worrying about approval from others
  • —Increase collaboration, innovation, and creative risk-taking
  • —Sustain personal motivation
  • —View difficult tasks as opportunities to expand abilities
  • —Perceive challenges as an exciting chance to grow

How to develop a growth mindset?

Since it is so beneficial to have a growth mindset, how is one developed? Here are some strategies we found:

  1. —Focus on the process that leads to learning, like hard work and trying different strategies
  2. —View challenges as opportunities instead of obstacles
  3. Prioritize learning over seeking approval
  4. —Reward and praise what people do and how hard they work, instead of individual traits
  5. —Practice receiving feedback as an opportunity to improve, not as a personal attack
  6. Reflect on learning every day
  7. —Always be working toward some kind of growth and learning goal
  8. —Give yourself time—learning and growth don’t happen overnight
  9. —Support others (and yourself) in developing any skill of interest
  10. —Celebrate the success of others and use it as motivation to work hard and succeed!

Developing a growth mindset is helpful for anyone, at any stage of life. Research shows that it helps people be more successful. What have you done to develop a growth mindset in yourself or others?

5 Tips for Maintaining Focus in a Busy World

Focus and Mindfulness through deep breathing

5 Tips for Maintaining Focus in a Busy World

With so many differences between us, there is one commonality everyone shares—busy lives. There are numerous demands on our time and energy, countless activities and events we can be a part of. This can make it difficult to stay focused on the things we really want to accomplish. When our schedules become too full and leave us feeling like there’s too much on our plate, what can we do? We reviewed some ideas and compiled five tips that can help.

Establish Priorities and Values

An important first step in managing your focus is to determine what’s most important and what you value. Then align your values with your time. Determine your “why” and keep it in the forefront of your mind to stay on track.

Plan Ahead

Start every day making intentional choices and plan how to spend your time. One source recommended choosing the top three tasks to accomplish each day and remaining focused on those most important tasks. Once you’ve decided what you’d like to do and how you want your day to look, move forward with that vision in mind.

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself if it’s because you’re on the edge of doing something awesome or is life showing you that something needs to be cut out?”

Shawn Blanc
Limit Distractions

Take inventory on what takes up space in your life, whether physical or mental, and decide what can be cleared out. Organizing your physical space and clearing out clutter is a great place to start. To tackle the mental space, limit notifications on cell phones, computers, and other devices; set boundaries for social media participation; and avoid getting caught in the trap of constantly checking email. Set aside a time for these and other tasks and commit to it.

Say No

This one can be particularly difficult, especially for people in a helping profession. There will always be invitations extended for additional work responsibilities, service opportunities, and social engagements. When they arise, remember the priorities and values you’ve already identified, and take some time to consider before responding. If the new invitation doesn’t fit within that framework, politely decline.

“You can’t serve from an empty vessel.”

Eleanor Brownn
Mind Your Health

Maintaining your health is critical. We need to be able to functional physically, mentally, and emotionally. You can help yourself physically by taking time to exercise, being careful to eat foods that leave you feeling your best, and leaving time for enough sleep. Your mental health can be supported by practicing mindfulness and meditation or even something as simple as taking a mental break when things get particularly taxing. In all of these areas, it’s important to support emotional health by celebrating progress made every day—don’t beat yourself up when you’re not perfect!

As busy as our lives are, it’s possible to maintain our focus with a little planning and care. What have you found effective in staying focused in a busy world?

6 Key Education Leadership Traits

education leader with positive leadership qualities

6 Key Education Leadership Traits

Who sets the tone in an education environment? Who or what determines the climate of a school? A recent post on Twitter from #teachergoals caught our attention: “If admin isn’t excited, teachers aren’t excited. If teachers aren’t excited, kids aren’t excited. #leadershipmatters” A 2013 Gallup report entitled School Leadership Linked to Engagement and Student Achievement reported, “Leadership is second only to classroom instruction among school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school.” Education leadership plays a critical role in a school’s environment.

What qualities do leaders in education need to set a positive tone and create the best experience for students and teachers? We did some searching and found six key traits to focus on for positive, effective leaders:

  1. 1. Communicate
  2. 2. Be Positive
  3. 3. Encourage Feedback and Collaboration
  4. 4. Trust, Empower, and Believe in Others
  5. 5. Solve Problems and Make Decisions
  6. 6. Create and Innovate

Leaders need to be excellent communicators. They need to effectively communicate one-on-one, with individual departments, and with their entire staff. They understand the value of listening to and really hearing those they serve. These leaders have an open-door policy and welcome the input of others. Leaders also need to communicate their vision so everyone understands its value and can be motivated to work toward the same goals.

Be Positive

A leader’s attitude affects everyone in their organization. If teachers and staff feel like their administrator loves coming to work, they will likely to feel the same. Positive leaders take time to build authentic relationships and show others they care. They set a positive tone by being kind and patient, building up those they work with and helping them see the growth they can achieve. Even when things aren’t going as planned, a positive leader doesn’t vent by talking negatively about others.

Encourage feedback and Collaboration

Feedback is a two-way street, and effective leaders understand that. They take time to identify the strengths of those they work with and areas where they can grow. They also welcome feedback and appreciate hearing which things they’re doing well and where change might be needed. Great leaders work with their team, defining goals and plans to strengthen the students and teachers they work with. They understand the value in coaching and mentorship, both for themselves and for the teachers in their school.

Trust, Empower, and Believe in Others

People perform better when a leader trusts them to do their job and believes they can succeed. Education leaders understand this and demonstrate trust at their schools. They give constructive feedback without micro-managing. A great leader understands the individual strengths and weaknesses of those they work with. Together they can build on strengths and provide personal development to strengthen weaknesses.

Solve Problems and Make Decisions

School administrators are faced every day with decisions and problems that they can’t anticipate or plan for. They have to be ready to think outside the box and act quickly to solve unique problems. Leaders can face tough decisions—they have to be strong enough to make hard decisions and move forward with confidence.

Create and Innovate

Strong leaders know that decisions don’t always have a clear answer and often the solutions they seek are non-traditional. Knowing when to stick with “the way it’s always been done” and changing things to fit new circumstances is critical. Educational leaders are often looking for new and better ways to do things. They embrace different cultural perspectives and are open to the ideas of others. Not only are they creative and innovative, but they empower students and teachers to do the same.

Strong and effective education leaders are critical to the success of today’s schools. Their ability to uplift and inspire those they work with, along with their ability to be creative and effective in their decision making and collaboration, will affect the atmosphere of their school and the attitude of all they work with. 

Check out these other sources with great information:

A Superintendent’s Reading List 2018

Audio Enhancement's Superintendent's reading list

A Superintendent’s Reading List 2018

Summer has arrived! The hundreds (maybe even thousands) of students in your district are gathering their books to complete their summer reading requirements and prepare for the next school year. Although summer is not as relaxing a time for superintendents as it is for students, you can take advantage of the slower season to catch up on summer reading. Continue reading “A Superintendent’s Reading List 2018”