Category Archives: School Leadership

Operations and Decision-Making in a Crisis: A Q&A With Bellwether’s Gwen Baker

At Bellwether, we’re responding to the COVID-19 reality alongside our clients and partners — while helping them address the situation we all face. 

Many leaders are asking about how they can steer their organizations honestly and transparently during these turbulent times. What adjustments or adaptations to organizational operations are necessary? 

Quote from Bellwether Education Partners' Chief Operating Officer Gwen Baker: "A lot of people will think process is just bureaucracy — you’re trying to control something you can’t control. But putting systems in place, or relying on existing systems, will prevent you from wasting time when you don’t have any spare time."

As Bellwether’s Chief Operating Officer, Gwen Baker has been sending regular communications to our team about policy changes in light of COVID-19, but also encouraging us to have grace for ourselves and one another. I chatted with Gwen to learn more about being an organizational leader in this time of crisis.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

As Bellwether’s lead on operations, what things are currently on your mind regarding systems and decision-making?

The thing I really hold on to is the importance of process. A lot of people will think process is just bureaucracy — you’re trying to control something you can’t control. But putting systems in place, or relying on existing systems, will prevent you from wasting time when you don’t have any spare time. If you have a process that works, it allows you to put your brain power behind things that really need your attention. Continue reading

Media: “Why America’s Schools Should Stay Open This Summer” in The 74

Let’s cancel summer!

This bums me out as a summer lover, but it makes sense for a bunch of reasons, namely education, equity, economy, and politics. Read more in my piece over at The 74:

But the unavoidable fact is that school leaders have two choices. One is to essentially throw up our hands and say the novel coronavirus is just an act of God — what can you do? Let’s just muddle through. The other is to say that, yes, this is an unprecedented and remarkable situation in modern American education, but despite that, schools are going to live up to the warranties they make to students.

My hunch is no one wants to think about this now, but it will be a big issue in a month or so. Do you think our national adventure in home schooling should extend through the summer?

Education Leaders and COVID-19 Crisis Communications

“Crisis communications” may evoke images of Olivia Pope in a power suit, but they are an essential skill for any school, nonprofit, or education agency. A natural disaster, a flub at a public hearing, or an altercation in your school cafeteria can all be a “crisis” situation even during ordinary times. And, of course, there can be a pandemic.

Education leaders nationwide are being asked to adapt to a fast-evolving public health crisis while serving students and families. Add deep economic uncertainty and, as a leader, you’ve got a complicated communications challenge. 

graphic of a broken heart on a smart phone screen

On Tuesday my colleagues discussed the importance of being strategic even in times of crisis. Today we’ll dig into three best practices for communicating those priorities:

Know your audience

You probably, in fact, have several audiences you have to reach. If you’re a school leader, you may have teachers, families of students, the district or your authorizer, and potentially the general public, all of whom need up-to-date information. A nonprofit leader has employees, the communities served, donors, and perhaps clients or other stakeholders.

Start by listing what information each of your audiences needs to know. Think through what barriers they may be facing — these may be technical (such as intermittent access to the internet), functional (you may not share a language), or relational (you may have to deliver some bad news). 

With those in mind, craft a message, select a medium, and choose a messenger. For instance, as a school leader, you may decide to have teachers make phone calls when sharing updates on closures

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Please Help Us Congratulate Our Newest Partner

As Bellwether marks our ten-year anniversary, building a team of talented, respected, and dedicated education professionals is one of the many things we celebrate. Today I am privileged to announce the promotion of one of my colleagues, Tresha Francis Ward, to the partner team. I am excited to watch Tresha’s contributions to the field and to the Bellwether team continue in the role of partner.headshot of Tresha Francis Ward, partner at Bellwether Education Partners

I have been privileged to work closely with Tresha over the years on several client engagements and to join with her to build out our academic and program strategy service offering. Tresha came to us as an experienced school leader, instructional coach, and expert in principal development. She brings years of hands-on experience with schools of all types, including turnaround schools. When we sit down with school and district leaders, Tresha’s obvious empathy and expertise quickly establish authentic and collaborative relationships.

Internally at Bellwether, team members love to work with Tresha: she is a fantastic mentor and manager who has helped many of our team members grow. She is also co-leading one of our most critical internal priorities, our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work. Working alongside her, I have appreciated her tireless and thoughtful contributions to help Bellwether become a more inclusive (and fun!) work environment.

Please join me in congratulating Tresha! You can read more about her here. She also co-authored a piece yesterday with her colleagues on responding to coronavirus, which you can read here.

Reground, Prioritize, Plan, Connect: Bellwether’s Tool for Education Leaders During COVID-19

Over the last two weeks, education leaders across the country have had to make a flood of challenging and unfamiliar decisions: Should we close our school doors, and for how long? How do we quickly and radically change our operations and instruction to support kids and families, possibly indefinitely?

Education leaders typically make hundreds of decisions a day under extreme pressure, but the past weeks’ events could leave even the best decision-makers feeling overwhelmed. The uncertainty of how the next several months will unfold only makes it harder for leaders. One leader we spoke to shared: “There is a knee-jerk reaction to do everything right now.” Direct-service providers and nonprofits are similarly facing knotty challenges. We empathize deeply with leaders on the ground.

If you’re a school or nonprofit leader, strategic planning might be the last thing on your mind during this current crisis. Certainly, it has been an unimaginable few weeks for us, as we think through the real needs of students and families. However, moments like these are when it is, in fact, most important to take a moment to breathe, reground yourself in your mission and values, and make a simple, yet flexible plan. 

To cut through the noise and focus limited time, energy, and resources, we recommend the following four-step approach:

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