• Peggy Downs

How to Plan Through School Closures

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

Guest Author

Mark Comanducci

The 305 Education Group

Our guest contributor this week is Mark Comanducci. Mark lived in Louisiana during two catastrophic events, hurricanes Katrina and Gustav, which shut down the educational system for extended periods of time. In the midst of those disasters, Mark continued to serve students, families, and educators. Mark has offered to share his insights as a leadership coach working with school leaders on the front line just like you.

School Leaders
We need school leaders to cut through the noise and lead those that their school communities serve.

School Leadership in Times of Crisis

Hurricanes and Pandemics

As I watch, listen to, and support educational and school leaders across the country grapple with the uncertainty and challenges that come from the necessary, yet unprecedented, school closures across the US, my mind goes back to Louisiana. I lived in Louisiana during hurricanes Katrina and Gustav. Though those events were contained to smaller geographic areas and thus impacted far fewer people, the similarities abound.

Those events and our current coronavirus reality have brought confusion, uncertainly, stress, helplessness, anger, and countless other emotions to students, families, and educators. New Orleans and Baton Rouge rebounded after catastrophic events that shuttered their educational systems and schools for prolonged periods of time. The US as a whole, its educational system, and those it serves will heal and be better as we emerge from these coronavirus-related closures. However, for that to happen, we need school leaders to cut through the noise and lead those that their school communities serve.

Too Many "Whats"

As I reflect on my time in Louisiana during those events and as I think about the principals, school leaders, leadership teams, and Boards I’m helping navigate this new reality, there is one constant theme: The most effective leaders in times of crisis do not only provide a “what,” but more importantly a “how.” It is analogous to a chef, who takes a bounty of raw ingredients, and makes them familiar, yet exciting to diners, who want to eat more and more.

There is no current shortage of resources (“whats”) being provided to school leaders, schools, teachers, and parents as they face the reality of schools not reopening this year. The lesson plans, videos, kits, worksheets, etc. being offered on Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. are great. However, the sheer volume of them and their constant appearance in feeds and inboxes is adding to educators’ and parents’ stress and feelings of being overwhelmed and helpless. There are too many “whats” out there, often presented in an unaligned and non-actionable way, which results in little meaningful progress for students, families, and educators.

Leaders Create "Hows"

During a crisis, students, families, and teachers need school leaders to cut through the noise. This is where true leaders can have the biggest impact. Leaders need to think strategically about their school communities, grapple with and sort through the “whats” and find a way to make them consumable, actionable, and impactful for those they serve (i.e. the “how”). A great chef would never serve a plate of unseasoned, raw vegetables and meat; school leaders should not be sending links to websites or work packets to students and families without incorporating that work into a larger, thought-out, and well-planned teaching and learning strategy.

In times like these, leaders need to translate everything that is out there (which is being offered by many, fast and furiously, with the best intentions) and make it something that can truly impact student learning –academically and social-emotionally– for their students.


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The Leader's Lens

It is important to note that school leaders need to push themselves to ensure they are serving not only their students, but also the adults (teachers, staff, and parents) in their school communities. In times of crisis, adults need just as much support, help, and guidance as children. School leaders’ lens cannot only be student-facing; their direct work is with and through adults, not students. Their leadership and crisis management plan have to include a way to impact and serve adults, or they will not be able to ensure students are best served in the short or long-terms.

The coronavirus has paralyzed our world, country, and educational system with fear and uncertainty. Though the scope and scale of this dwarfs what happened in Louisiana during two of the deadliest and most destructive hurricanes in history, the end result will be the same. We are resilient, we are driven, and we will be better on the other side of this.

A School Leader's Plan During an Extended School Closure

  • Cut through the noise – create an actionable and consumable teaching and learning plan

  • Lead through adults – provide emotional and professional support for teachers, staff, and parents

  • Communicate – check in with stakeholders regularly, individually and in groups (remotely, using technology), and emphasize the “how”

  • Reflect – use this time to think about the issues that were impacting your school before the closure and begin developing plans to improve your school community when school resumes

  • Oversee – ensure facilities are well maintained during closures

  • Plan for fiscal impact – leverage new and existing grants and an experienced grant writer to address the new challenges facing your school as a result of the crisis and school closure

  • Grow – enlist the support of a leadership coach, thought partner, or just someone to brainstorm with and talk/vent to

A School Leader's Plan When School Reopens

  • Relaunch – when school resumes treat it like the beginning of a new school year, resetting cultural and academic expectations

  • Welcome – students displaced because of the crisis will enroll in your school; have a plan to ensure this transition is smooth and as positive as possible for them and their families

  • Address the reality – school closures and the crises they stem from create trauma for students, families, and educators; create plans to address and a way to provide supports when everyone returns to school

  • Set priorities and goals – school restarting will bring feelings of hope and promise; use this time to establish the priorities and goals for your school community

  • Grow – enlist the support of a leadership coach, thought partner, or just someone to brainstorm with and talk/vent to

Every school is unique and faces its own set of challenges. You don’t have to do this alone. If you are a school leader or board member, and you’d like to talk to someone or you need help, Mark Comanducci is available.

Mark Comanducci is the Founder and CEO of The 305 Education Group (www.305edgroup.com), a school-support organization that coaches school leaders and leadership teams. For information about receiving leadership coaching, support, and development please email Mark at mark@305edgroup.com


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