Why these 5 Cs should guide all school leaders

One international school principal shares five guiding principles that can help fellow leaders in the current crisis

Sarah Ford

Coronavirus: The secret of great school leadership? The five Cs

I have long believed there are five essential "Cs" in 21st-century education – not just for school in the traditional sense but all aspects of education in the modern world.

This week I had cause to revisit these five words, and re-examine them in the context of educational leadership in 2020. What I found was that, rather than being out of date, they are more vital than ever.

While my reflections are taken from the perspective of an elementary leader in an international school, they are, I believe, relatable to any school sector, anywhere.

School leadership: Five guiding principles

1. Communication

Communication has always been key to good leadership. Usually it is an ongoing, two-way process as staff rely on open communication and dialogue to feel a part of decision-making at all levels.

The current situation makes this hard. The speed with which directives, guidelines and requirements must be acted on make school leaders feel like sergeant majors barking orders to faculty, only to have them change overnight and a new set be communicated just as fast. This can cause frustration and confusion.

But we must maintain our integrity and take on this role of message-bearer and accept that it requires a different communication strategy at present – and look to our community for trust and acceptance.

2. Compassion

It is imperative that school leaders show compassion for all they encounter.

From the family who are immune-compromised, to the student who was the first to test positive and feels the negative vibes from classmates, we must understand that these are not "ordinary" issues and may require more time, support and help than what was usually provided.

This extends beyond the medical situation, too. What about staff who are struggling to keep pace with the ever-changing technology requirements, or those stuck with erratic timetable changes due to quarantined classes?

And then there are the parents: looking after their children at home, unsure of their future employment, constantly adapting to new government rules and regulations. It is a lot to take on. A leader must be compassionate to it all.

3. Creativity

Never have school leaders needed to be as creative as they now.

We always were, of course, but now we must rethink how we approach learning, assessment, school culture and community events.

For some teachers, this moment is a gift – the opportunity to be inventive, to try new methodology, to encourage innovation, but for others it is another complex layer in the multi-faceted role that is simply labelled "educator".

Either way, finding our creativity skills, and unleashing those in in our students, in our teachers and in our community is a new skill for leaders the world over, and one that could become the most essential for the new wave of education that will surely come.

4. Collaboration

Keeping alive that sense of community and collaboration yet at the same time ensuring all regulations are followed – this is the daily consideration of school leaders now.

From professional development, and professional learning communities, to maintaining social distance and "bubbles", "pods", "teams" or whatever term is used for the subdivision of your school, how we do this is dependent on strong and trusted collaboration across the entire school.

And it must also be expanded and improved beyond school, too: in the local community, the country you are in and even across nations, as staff find ways to work together to enhance the learning experiences for our students.

If that wasn’t all, we also have to collaborate with health providers and the governments to combat the pandemic.

Students, staff, families, boards, owners – all need to work together with one another and the wider leaders to move beyond this worldwide state of uncertainty. 

5. Critical thinking

Critical thinking is an essential tool for our fast-paced, changing world, and for school leaders it is becoming a necessary skill in looking beyond the present reality to see what may happen next, and how we prepare for it.

Strategic planning and creative thinking are prerequisites for school leaders who want to offer the best short- and long-term services to their students.

No one could have imagined the current situation even 12 months ago, yet schools are the providers of the leaders of the future

Our job is to imagine the unimaginable, resolve the as-yet-unknown issues and prepare learners to be leaders of the future.

It’s a tough job but if we keep these five Cs as our guiding principles, we can deliver wonders.

Sarah Ford is the elementary principal at Danube International School, Vienna, working with students aged 3-11 in an IB World School

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