Someone shared a brilliant article with me this week. The article was titled, Has the COVID Pandemic Strengthened or Weakened Health Care Teams? A Field Guide to Healthy Workforce Best Practices (Thompson & Kusy, 2021).
The irony was not lost on me as I found myself in isolation for a second time. Although the article was about health teams, I found its key messages especially relevant to #education.
The authors interviewed over 400 health care leaders during the pandemic and gained insights about what caused some teams to pull together and others to fall apart. Effective leadership, argued the authors, was the critical difference.
In teams that fell apart during the pandemic, the leaders engaged in two unhelpful behaviours: they provided false promises and ignored disruptive behaviours. Teams lost trust in team leaders that promised certainty but couldn't provide it. Team cultures curdled when leaders were too accommodating of incivility and misdemeanours. Uncivil team cultures created a context for poor performance and demoralisation.
The good news is that some teams got better when the going got tough. The authors attributed this to five positive leader behaviours:
- Leaders were honest about what they knew
- Leaders were visible and got their hands dirty
- Leaders addressed disruptive behaviours
- Leaders focused on the present
- Leaders showed their teams they cared (Thompson & Kusy, 2021, p.139).
The authors mentioned that one of the most critical roles the team leader plays during a crisis was to connect the team to a bigger purpose. Dhingra (2020) called this a "purpose audit". A purpose audit helps the team remember the nobility of their purpose and the strength they provide each other.
I like the idea of a purpose audit. It is one of the things our Perth College Executive Team has been engaging in recently. To help us focus on this work, we have been discussing the government report, Looking into the Future: Report of the Review of Senior Secondary Pathways into Work, Further Education and Training (2020).
The Looking into the Future Report has excellent recommendations about how we can improve senior secondary schooling. It reminds us that school leaders need to "design" education systems "to prepare young people for their future rather than our past" and that "the interests of our students must be front and centre" of this design (p. 6). The report argues that educators need to "reconceive" how they best prepare students "for employability in a fast-changing labour market and for active citizenship in a democratic society" (p. 6).
The report calls for students to be seen as "young people, not numbers" (p.13). It sees ATAR "as just one important measure of success" but that we need to educate and assess "the diverse learnings that make the whole person" (p. 6). The report suggests that this can be achieved through the mastery of 12 essential skills:
- Literacy and Numeracy
- Digital Literacy
- Life Skills
- Interpersonal and communication skills
- Critical analysis and evaluation
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Resilience and self-care
- Planning organisational and accountability
- Workplace initiative
- Entrepreneurial skills and innovation
- Active citizenship
The report also indicates that we need to prioritise the status and assessment of these skills so that students leave school with other indicators of their capability, such as a learner profile that "captures the broader range of evidenced capabilities necessary for employment and active citizenship that they have acquired in senior secondary schooling" (p.20).
Sometimes I come across a parent, as I did last week, who told me that her decision to enrol her child at Perth College was because she likes to employ Perth College Old Girls. She found that Perth College graduates showed the most initiative and problem-solving skills of all her employees. They collaborated well with others, worked hard, and were effective communicators.
Naturally, I was chuffed by these observations. They reflected the deep commitment of our school, over decades, to develop holistic students. Our challenge today is to keep that tradition alive, preparing our students to flourish in the future.
As tough as COVID-19 has been for all of us in education, it has also helped show us that new ways of learning and teaching are possible. And that, with some encouragement and unity, we can continue to reshape our education systems to better meet the needs of our students.
Dhingra, N., Emmet, J., Samo, A., & Schaninger, B. (2020). Igniting individual purpose in times of crisis. McKinsey Quarterly, 1-11.
Shergold, P., Calma, T., Russo, S., Walton, P., Westacott, J., Zoellner, D., & O'Reilly, P. (2020). Looking to the Future-Report of reviewing senior secondary pathways into work, further education and training.
Thompson, R., & Kusy, M. (2021). Has the COVID pandemic strengthened or weakened health care teams? A field guide to healthy workforce best practices. Nursing Administration Quarterly, 45 (2), 135-141.