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  • Writer's pictureThomas Kadelbach

Is your school team everything in these VUCA times?

High functioning teams are crucial yet at times elusive in VUCA times, like COVID-19 and our urgent need to address Racial Injustice, because we can continually be in crisis mode. 4 initial steps will move our teams to effectively respond equitably in this unique moment in human history.

  1. Trust OUR team

  2. Spend time on things that matter

  3. Bring the team together more often rather than less

  4. Lead with a Lens of Systemic Oppression to consider the issue, context, and consequences

1. Trust our team - Easier said than done. Trust is when you know you can rely on one another. “Our” puts each member as responsible for the conversations and actions of the team. First, take time to build a group definition of trust. Ask, “What are examples from a team you’ve been on where they trusted one another?” And, “What are examples from a team you’ve been on where they did not trust one another?” Chart responses and keep them in the meeting space as reminders. (More on agreements another time.)

Second, start small (arriving on time to meetings, ask the team to help with something you’re working on) and build to bigger and bigger issues.

Vignette - “Do you trust your team?” my coach and mentor Ken Yale asked me in the spring of 2012 as we were just beginning our work together. I went for a walk to think it over. I was embarrassed to admit it. But, I didn’t trust them. This said more about me as a leader than them as a team. So, I then began deep inner work to trust myself and trust them.

Michael Fullan (p16 ¶9) captured it well, “If you don’t have trust, how do you get it? Let me provide an odd sounding answer from our leadership work. If you want to break the cycle of distrust you have to respect others ‘before they have earned the right to be respected’ ...and then do things that build competencias and trust over time.”

2. Spend time on things that matter - COVID-19 and Racial Injustice are crises AND we must address them within a frame of proactivity, long term goals, creativity, planning, and systemic oppression. You might need to change student’s schedules this coming year BUT start with linking it to your larger goals. First, ask the question, “If we were to successfully create student schedules responsive to COVID-19, what would be the best outcomes we could achieve for students, teachers/staff, families, and our district?”

Vignette - I’m a MS Principal in Mexico City. In Spring 2020, we created an All-In-One schedule to address if students were 100% distance learning, hybrid (50% learning physically at school and 50% learning virtually), and 100% at school. However, the more important aspect was tying it to our “MS All in One Learning Program” focused on student well-being and achieving our annual learning goals.

3. Bring the team together more often rather than less - In times of crisis, students, families, teachers/staff need spaces to express emotions, be heard by others, stay in the know, participate in how we’ll respond, and much more. As leaders, we facilitate and host so the team can emotionally share and take care of one another and come up with solutions together. One of the best articles on this EVER is “Leadership in an Age of Complexity: From Hero’s to Hosts” by Margaret Wheatley (everything she writes is amazing).

Vignette - In March 2020, when our school went 100% Distance Learning in less than a week, we moved Grade Level Meetings from monthly to weekly, Room Mother meetings from quarterly to weekly, and Parent meetings from quarterly to Monthly. This allowed our leaders to hear more quickly about hot spots, support the drastic change, course correct, and learn from the situation. As a result, 0 instructional days were lost, 98% of yearly learning goals were achieved and 92% of families were satisfied or highly satisfied with our design, implementation and results.

4. Lead with a Lens of Systemic Oppression - Our response or lack thereof to COVID-19 and Racial Injustice are within systems of oppression (National Equity Project - outstanding resource). As leaders, we must create spaces to analyze and check ourselves, our responses, our time, our outcomes, etc so we do not perpetuate injustice. This imperative commitment is not just now but each moment and at all times.

Vignette - In my second principalship, I’m embarrassed to say, we used the rules from my previous school. This perpetuated racial injustice when our African American 7th graders made up over 30% of suspensions and were only 3% of the population. We changed this using Restorative Practices among other strategies.

What is your next step for your team? (Leave your response in the comments section.)


Thomas J. Kadelbach was a charter school MS/HS principal in Oakland for 7 years and now works as a MS principal in Mexico City, so he can live with his Mexican husband.

These are my first Blogs, so feel free to leave suggestions on how it could have been better for you. Also, feel free to ask about other equity topics you’d like to engage with.

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