School & District Management Opinion

In School Leadership, Busy Is a Given. Chaos Is a Choice

How to be an effective leader with the time and resource constraints in education
By Kate Hazarian — June 18, 2024 3 min read
Two hands attempt to hold chaos.
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Navigating the landscape of education in the wake of pandemic disruptions presents profound challenges for educators at every level. The demands are high, and the pressure to meet lofty goals can often feel overwhelming.

Against this backdrop, comments from educators and leaders like “I’m exhausted” or “My school is nuts right now” become all too familiar. It’s easy for school leaders to succumb to the chaos, pointing fingers at external factors or wishing for more resources to alleviate the strain.

In school buildings and districts, chaos can become a default mode—a continuous stream of crises that drain our energy and leave us feeling depleted. However, it’s essential to recognize that perpetual chaos is not inevitable; it becomes a choice. We have the power to shift our mindset from resignation to empowerment and become the driver of where we focus our time, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

About This Series

In this biweekly column, principals and other authorities on school leadership—including researchers, education professors, district administrators, and assistant principals—offer timely and timeless advice for their peers.

The allure of chaos is real. Our brains are wired to seek certainty and control, and the adrenaline rush that comes from problem-solving can be addictive. When crises arise, we bond with our teams over shared adversity, but this bonding often comes at a cost—exhaustion and emotional fatigue.

The reality is that there will never be enough time, money, or resources to solve every problem in education. We operate within constraints, but therein lies the opportunity for transformation. Leaders must adopt an empowerment mindset, making strategic choices about how to use available resources to create positive learning environments.

Effective leadership requires clarity of purpose and intentional decisionmaking. Leaders must pursue high-leverage strategies that address root causes of systemic challenges. Improvement science and professional learning communities offer frameworks for collaborative problem-solving.

As an education leader with over 30 years’ experience and a certified professional coach, I know the way we talk about how our work influences our emotions and those of our colleagues. By reframing challenges and focusing on solutions, we can shift the narrative from chaos to empowerment. It starts with disciplined problem-solving and intentional relationship-building with teams.

How are you using your authority to lead necessary changes in your school, department, or district? Time management is critical. Leaders must guard their time and prioritize tasks that align with their goals. Saying no to distractions and trusting team members to take ownership of problem-solving fosters a sense of collective responsibility.

Acknowledging the inherent busyness of education, leaders must set clear criteria for evaluating new initiatives. The focus should be on quality over quantity—saying yes to what matters most and letting go of what does not serve our goals. Say “no” to time-consuming meetings, projects, or activities that yield little in return.

Moving forward requires self-awareness and a willingness to change. Leaders must cultivate a deep understanding of their teams’ needs and challenges, leveraging diverse perspectives to inform strategic decisions.

We are not victims; we are leaders. The path from chaos to focus begins with a shift in mindset. By embracing an empowered approach to leadership, educators can navigate complexity with intentionality and purpose. This transformative journey demands discipline, resilience, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

As leaders in education, we have the privilege and responsibility to drive meaningful change and create environments where every student can thrive. This is life-changing work. Let’s choose focus over chaos and empower ourselves and our teams to make a lasting impact on the youth we are privileged to serve.

A version of this article appeared in the July 17, 2024 edition of Education Week as In School Leadership, Busy Is a Given. Chaos Is a Choice


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
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