The National Alliance hosted a webinar with DreamBox Learning featuring education leaders to discuss how a crisis can be a catalyst for education innovation. The panelists included Jessie Woolley-Wilson, President & CEO of DreamBox Learning, Kevin Hall, President & CEO, Charter School Growth Fund, Dr. Jason Bransford, CEO, Gem Innovation Schools, and Kinnari Patel-Smyth, Executive Director, KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every facet of our lives, including where we work and learn. Over the past seven months, schools went from a traditional in-person experience to remote and hybrid learning. Facing deep uncertainty, schools and supporting organizations had to create responsive plans to help students, educators, and the communities they serve.

In this webinar, we learned how the pandemic affected schools, philanthropy, and education technology, lessons learned, and the opportunities to reimagine education. Here are three key takeaways from the webinar, which could help any leader design a plan for the pandemic's long-term effects and forge a path towards innovation and equity. 

  1. Lead with Care 

In moments of ambiguity and intense pressure, leaders must lead with care, honesty, and transparency. Creating an environment for your organization's values to come to life is essential. The organizational culture that you create helps ensure trust between leaders and staff. Teams managed by leaders who take time to understand their needs and listen and respond to concerns are more likely to adapt to change. 

At the Charter School Growth fund, Kevin and his team adopted a holistic view of leadership that allowed them to remain responsive to the school leaders' changing needs and provide much-needed funding to needs brought on by the pandemic. Kinnari and her team at KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools introduced "equity pause," a breathing practice that allows staff to call out injustice between a majority and a minority and or a feeling that they've observed a microaggression. Responsive moments like this, and the ability to embrace vulnerability, create space for your values as an organization to comes to life.

  1. Communication is Key 

Sharing information about what you know and being honest if you don't have the answers is always a good leadership practice, but now more than ever, it is a necessity. When people are feeling anxious and stressed, it is especially important to share information clearly and honestly. Kinnari points out, it is okay not to have the answers but share what you know, and don't be afraid to make decisions, especially if it will create calm amid chaos for your staff. 

For Jason and his team at Gem Innovation Schools, it meant ramping up communications to families and staff to fill the void with accurate information about why specific actions or policies were being adopted and connecting those decisions to the organization's values.

  1. Radically Reimagine the Future

The coronavirus pandemic has magnified many inequities in the education system. And it may be hard to imagine right now because we are trying to survive, but five years from now, what positive outcomes did the pandemic generate that made you and your organization more successful? 

Jason, Kinnari, and Kevin shared their thoughts on a post-pandemic outlook for their organizations: 

  • Students with a high degree of ownership of their learning. 
  • Dexterity for schools to flow between different learning models seamlessly.
  • Strong focus on community and togetherness.
  • Reimagine what school should be, especially for black and brown students. 

What is your post-pandemic outlook for your organization? What happened during the pandemic that made your work more successful five years from now? 

Sindy Pierre-Noel is the senior manager of programs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.