March 5, 2021

Good Afternoon Friends!

Spring is here! We all have places to go and things to do, so let’s jump in with both feet and see where this week in virus and education-related news has taken us.

Skimmers: Johnson and Johnson vaccine details here, COVID passports herethis 9 Questions piece from the Big Questions Institute is worth getting your head around (long, but read it), ISM also has this short overview breaking down how to think about financial aid, NBOA has this great window into steps taken to improve financial education and transparency with staff and board, This article on how a new generation of leader, this article might help you get over the hump of fear of failure and growing courage, some talent management lessons for leadership from COVID-times, Lisa Damour lays out a plan for helping teens when they get in the homework hole, and know that of the top 10 places that people are taking out new mortgages all but three are in our region (Memphis is number one)


To no one’s surprise, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine got emergency approval last week and 4 million doses are already in the pipeline to various states. It’s a different vaccine than the others, in more ways than the one-shot approach. You can read more about it here. Happily, the addition of this vaccine and it’s production by Merck should get the country to vaccinations for all adults by the end of May. Barring interventions by the variants out there, this may help the summer be a bit more open than last year. And, indeed, the world is bracing for the vaccinated to start traveling, and about it here are being more of a reality.

I have looked at a lot of maps over the last year, but the ones in this report relating to the impact of COVID on the mental health of children are by far among the most interesting. Southern states tend to do well on this front, and we absolutely held our own during the pandemic. And, that trend largely continued during the pandemic while other states took surprising turns. Do at least glance at this one. For those working with or otherwise managing folks with serious anxiety these days, this article caught my attention and provides some good insight into how our bodies churn anxiety after this much time under stress.

School Leadership

Three good ones for you in this section today.

  • If you don’t read anything else this weekend, I really think this 9 Questions piece from the Big Questions Institute is worth getting your head around. It will take stepping back and focusing, and they make you do the annoying email entry thing, but this one is worth it. Homa and Will are going to join us for the heads’ roundtable on March 24th for a conversation about it (I bet they give us some Cliff Notes). The have created a really great set of questions for thinking about the future of our schools for when you are ready to dig-in.
  • ISM also has this short overview breaking down how to think about financial aid, including board questions that can be so helpful in getting the board to engage in and really understand financial aid strategy.
  • NBOA has this great window into steps taken by Stevenson to get greater financial transparency and understanding among staff and trustees. Both the why and the how, it’s worth checking out. This year has made it very clear that our teams need more in-depth understanding of our finances and how decisions affect our bottom lines.

General Leadership

These were some good, punchy pieces from this week. Largely quick hits:

  • This article on how a new generation of leader has been emerging from those who are more traditional, long-term leaders, to those who are leading because they are focused on a particular problem really resonated with me. Some of the most effective new heads of school that I have met are heads because they were drawn to engaging around a specific issue they see in education. Among the most common themes I have heard? Heads moving from higher ed to address student wellness and skill challenges that cause students to struggle.
  • I love a good SWOT analysis. It’s been around forever and not given to the gimmicks of the flavor of the month. This article suggests we do it wrong (no one ever writes to tell us we are doing a great job). I do what they suggest with boards of trustees – start with the external challenges. I started doing it this way because boards are helpful with external threats because they often live them in their day to day, but I might revisit it generally now. Worth checking out. 
  • And this one just sounds so painful – in part because I have done it before and I know. However, I have had more than one school leader tell me this exercise is transformative. Write down everything you do for a week – 30 minute segments. Put it in categories. Identify where you are losing time to things that are really not strategic. I know one head who shared this with his board and reworked so much of how he approached his time. It’s painful. No one wants to do this, but it definitely helps you identify root issues in your time management and reminds you to stay out of the weeds more.
  • Speaking of painful – all perfectionists, raise your hand. Fear of failure is on the rise. If you find yourself in this boat in these high stakes times, this article might help you get over the hump. The trick is apparently not to overcome your fear, but to grow your courage. My favorite fear of failure story: A friend has two very different kids. They were in high school and desperately wanted a puppy. He told them that a puppy was in the mix if his son got an A in a class, and his daughter got a C. She just couldn’t do it. They got a puppy anyway.
  • We all love to “transform” and “innovate” – but what about renovate? This might be the shortcut to culture improvements and I kind of like the idea. Hold on to what is useable, maybe give it a new coat of paint, and dress it up a little.
  • We have learned a lot about our colleagues during this time, and those walls might not ever really go up again. Here are some talent management lessons for leadership from COVID-times.
  • And, finally, are you good at giving effective feedback? Yeah, most of us are not. In fact, we are rarely as clear as we think we are in anything we do. How do you give effective feedback, particularly when you are short on time? Short, clear, and to the point. A few other things, too, from this HBR piece.

Food for Thought

There are few pieces I read every week that get me thinking about our schools. Here are the ones from this week.

  • EdTech is creating overlays to Zoom for schools. Big time. When these folks put in this kind of funding and make these moves, there is a movement afoot. 
  • I have never wanted to work for a big consultancy type place. I see the McKinsey army on planes all the time. I have had friends work for PWC and other accounting / whatever-they-have-morphed-into-now-firms. However, these formerly navy-clad, suit and tie clubs have adopted flexibility into their cultures, including sweatshirts on the couch while zooming in, even before COVID. My thinking? What would our schools look like if we let go of some of those cultural dog-ears? Thought provoking piece, particularly if our students work for these companies, or future employees coming from them.
  • Paper mills have gone from being dorm room / frat house basement filing cabinets to online service sites that seem to churn out one answer after another. And, lately they have been getting deep, deep into the websites of higher ed. So deep as to embed their code into those same sites and lay mid-directing tracks. Big high schools can’t be far behind, and how much are our students aware of this machinery and the trouble it can cause before they get to college? (and the study)
  • And, I have scoffed at AI for a while. While I find it disconcerting on some level, how good can it get? In the C to low B range at the college and grad school level, apparently. This is a big step for AI as reasoning and writing are difficult for AI to comprehend. This is “highly irregular.”

Learning and Teaching

Let’s end with some quick hits on learning and teaching

  • For those teachers struggling with managing students online and in the classroom, the flip-flop-design, complete with template.
  • Virtual classroom jobs. If you have students online, do e-learning days, or just have some classes that are virtual, these are fun ideas for classroom jobs for the virtual space.
  • A great piece for teachers and parents, Lisa Damour lays out a plan for helping teens when they get in the homework hole.
  • How to create a sense of security for kids, and why it’s important.
  • And, finally, Six Kids Books Psychologists Recommend in 2021to add to the bookshelves.

So, let’s start to get on with some downtime this weekend. It might help to check your monthly happiness calendar for March, it might also help your anxiety levels to know that of the top 10 places that people are taking out new mortgages all but three are in our region (Memphis is number one), and the Visual Capitalist tells us that beer is still at least relatively cheap in the US (but college is definitely not).  

Have a great weekend everyone!