PMP201: Rebooting for the Summer with Jen Schwanke

On March 17, 2020, many schools across the U.S. began responding to the global pandemic of COVID-19 with school closures.

Most school leaders were scrambling to figure out how to keep school communities safe while adjusting to a new norm.

Jen Schwanke, Principal of Indian Run Elementary in Dublin, Ohio, was no exception. While her school community swung into action, she put everything else on hold as teachers, students and families transitioned to remote learning.

Ironically, this was also the release date of Jen’s newest book, The Principal Re-Boot: 8 Ways to Revitalize Your School Leadership.

Recently, Jen and I recorded a podcast episode dedicated to lessons learned during school closures as well as how principals can apply the lessons from her new book to this current crisis.

Jen’s New Book

In this is episode, we cover several topics, including:

  • Content helpful for re-booting a principals’ career
  • What the pandemic did it for us, to some extent
  • Shaking principals out of a rut
  • Ideas on rebranding, revamping instructional leadership, re-envisioning teacher potential, reframing data, revisiting operations, relaxing, rediscovering and reviving ourselves
  • Connecting common experiences
  • Relying on others’ experiences
  • Realizing we can’t do this alone!

Handling Crisis

Next, Jen shares some great reflections on how principals are not new to crisis. School leaders have been forced to manage many of the following:

  • Social injustice/racism
  • COVID-19
  • Natural disasters
  • School shootings
  • Illnesses/deaths of staff/students
  • Addictions
  • Student anxiety
  • Facility Issues
  • Inequities in school funding
  • Teacher misconduct
  • Changes in student discipline
  • Sexual assault
  • Bullying
  • Budget cuts
  • GRIT development
  • Trauma-Informed Strategies

Remember the lessons you’ve learned from these many situations as you look forward to what is next…

Cycles of Reflection

Jen shares how a cycle of reflection can be helpful in three ways:

  1. React: In every crisis, we first respond with both appropriate policy and emotion to ensure student safety and well-being.
  2. Recover: Afterwards, we debrief and identify areas that need attention, people who need comforting, and practices that may need improvement.
  3. Rebuild: Importantly, we must always move forward in growth and with new perspective, hopefully wiser and better able to serve students and school communities.

This cycle of learning for leadership is essential if we are going to take care of ourselves and those we serve in whatever happens next. Recovering also means not going back to the way it was. We must allow what we experience to make us stronger.

Leading with Equity

Finally, Jen and I share personal reflections as school leaders are responding to new calls for eradicating racism and equity. We talk about the importance of loving those who are hurting most in our school communities.

Lets’ Wrap This Up

As you think about the common lessons you’ve learned in the past several months, allow yourself time to reflect on ways you plan to rebuild. What ways can you help your teachers and students through what lies ahead as you have helped them through other difficult times? You will not do it perfectly, but by keeping their best interest in mind, you can do so with the same commitment that has guided you through other difficult times.

Now It’s Your Turn

What is one lesson you have learned through the past few months that can make you stronger moving forward? How can you help your teachers and students discover their own strengths through adversity?

Think someone else would benefit from this episode?
William D. Parker
William D. Parker