PMP230: Managing Decision-Fatigue with Jen Schwanke

What do you do when every decision is a new one? How do you keep perspective amidst decision-fatigue?

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This week, Jen Schwanke, Principal of Indian Run Elementary in Dublin, Ohio, joins me for a conversation about leading through a pandemic.

Welcome back Jen!

Jen Schwanke is the author two books on education leadership. She provides keynote presentations and trainings for school leaders across the nation.

A frequent guest and co-host of Principal Matters: The School Leader’s Podcast, her books and resources are available at her website:

Questions & Answers with Jen Schwanke

Listen to the entire episode for great takeaways and stories. Here is a summary of this week’s conversation:

WDP: When you’ve done the work of school leadership for a while, you begin to enjoy planning ahead. What do principals do when they are always planning ahead?

Jen Schwanke: This is not forever. Pandemics don’t last forever. We’ve had the hope for a long time that “this is almost over.” But the bigger lesson is that we are still building relationships and staying connected to families. We are also learning about what really matters in student learning. Maybe this is a year teachers are freed from some content that needed to be removed. I think we will have new tools after this that we never dreamed of.

WDP: Even in my own family, my daughter who is a high school senior has been experiencing a virtual setting as an All-State band member. Is it ideal? No. But she’s still found joy and moments to learn that she wouldn’t have otherwise.

Jen Schwanke: Think about what your daughter is learning. She’s learning to be flexible. Students are not getting hung up as adults are on what is being lost. They are resilient. We have a lot to learn from them.

WDP: How are you helping your teachers during their own decision fatigue?

Jen Schwanke: In some ways, things are easier, especially for teachers who have less classroom management issues. What’s harder is packing in content in a new ways and shorter time periods. Or their planning has doubled with synchronous and asynchronous learning. My role has been to keep giving the grace and the benefit of the doubt. One of my veteran teachers told me she couldn’t do remote learning. Now she has become one of the best teachers I have seen on teaching remotely. The decision for her was how deep would she be able to go, and she made the leap. I’m seeing teachers stronger through this experience, not weaker.

WDP: Sometimes I think the dilemma we have is not recognizing all the new skills we have learned. Most of us did not know how to teach and communicate through virtual settings. Now we all have new skills.

Jen Schwanke: Yes, technology has made this do-able. The funny thing is that we didn’t hesitate to take risks as young educators. As older educators, we have to keep that same mindset. When we do, it feels like we’re young again.

WDP: What are doing to keep teachers encouraged?

Jen Schwanke: I don’t have it all figured out. But I have found that surface-level appreciations don’t get you as far in this new situation. One-on-one, look-me-in-the-eye, asking about personal and life updates – those kinds of questions give teachers permission to share their stories with you. This pandemic has allowed us to take time to share stories and know our people better.

WDP: How are you managing keeping up with what meaningful instruction is happening in your school?

Jen Schwanke: I know some states and districts have exempted schools from evaluations. I want to do evaluations in this new setting. I feel almost a drive to document the amazing things I’m seeing teachers doing well this year. This year they have had to make a 180 in their approaches to communicating with students and teachers. I want to use my observations and evaluations as way to celebrate that success. Are some teachers struggling? Yes. But we also have a lot to gain from this experience to carry into future learning.

WDP: What I love about that perspective is your decision to make the best of this experience. You also are making the decision to find the joy in this moment of difficulty.

Jen Schwanke: I’m seeing teachers do amazing things. I’m looking forward to reminding them about that when someday we’re back in school full-time. I chaff against the notion that we are facing a learning gap we cannot overcome. I think teachers and students are more resilient than that.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Yes, it is challenging to lead during a pandemic. But there are also positive moments you can be capitalizing on during this season of learning. 

Now It’s Your Turn

In what ways can you take advantage of this unique time to take note of the new ways of learning your teachers and students have embraced?

How can you use observations and evaluations as way to elevate those new lessons for future learning?

What is one way you can remind your teachers that they are still making a difference, no matter what setting they find themselves in this year? 

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker