Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

My Four Priorities for Leading a District During the Pandemic

What ‘Maslow before Bloom’ looks like in practice
By Michael Lubelfeld — August 06, 2021 2 min read
Firefighters put out a burning building
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In February 2020, we were getting news reports of a mysterious virus from overseas. Little did we know that less than a month later, we would be shutting down full-day physical, in-person learning until April 2021.

On March 13, 2020, the governor of Illinois declared all public and private K-12 schools in the state be closed from March 17 through the end of the month; our district had already decided on March 12 to close through April 14.

This unprecedented action was just the first of many to turn our entire school and the world upside down.

About This Series

Over the past several weeks, we have been rolling out 17 lessons from experienced district leaders who spent the last year leading from home. Learn more and see the full collection of lessons.

In these early days of the pandemic, my administrative team and I clearly articulated the four priorities for our work during the crisis:

  1. Feed our families and children.
  2. Account for the extended safety, health, and welfare of our 4,500 students and staff.
  3. Communicate clearly.
  4. Coordinate remote learning.

Without consciously planning it, we’d adopted Maslow’s famous hierarchy as our guide.

These priorities guided our decisionmaking. First and foremost were nutrition and food security. In our district, one-quarter of the student body—roughly 1,000 young people—depend on us for their daily lunch and breakfast. We immediately worked with our food-services team to make sure we would feed these children with breakfasts and lunches available to grab-and-go. This schedule continued every day even through the summer. We also partnered with the local food bank and other local charitable groups. Our priorities were crystal clear: Food and survival needs came first.

Our focus on the general well-being of students—and staff—helped the wider community understand that we’re not just a system of schools, we are also one of the largest employers in the area. As such, it was important for us to remind our community that while our “front-facing” work is teaching and learning for our 4,000 students, we are also responsible for the well-being of 500 adults.

We learned many lessons during our area’s worst crisis period of March through August 2020. We learned that humanity is the first priority and far more important than any other. We learned that “Maslow before Bloom”—a call to put Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs before Bloom’s taxonomy of learning objectives—is always right and just. We learned that great leadership built on strong relationships and healthy communication will always get us through the toughest situations, even in the darkest of days. We learned that communication in clear, concise, short, straightforward bursts makes the greatest impact.

In the most unpredictable situations, it is wise to call upon others. We need to lead from a position of unity, not isolation. The day before our state’s governor shuttered our schools, my senior staff and I met with the union president, vice president, and regional union leader. We continued to meet each and every week to lead, plan, discuss, debate, and solve problems.

We were determined to get through this situation collaboratively. Safety, learning, and communication were our guiding principles as education leaders through every step of this journey.

Complete Collection

Superintendents discuss ideas at a roundtable.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images

Related Tags:

Coverage of leadership, summer learning, social and emotional learning, arts learning, and afterschool is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at www.wallacefoundation.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

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.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
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.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
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.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management 10 Ways to Tackle Education's Urgent Challenges
As the school year gets underway, we ask hard questions about education’s biggest challenges and offer some solutions.
2 min read
Conceptual Image of schools preparing for the pandemic
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Reported Essay Principals Need Social-Emotional Support, Too
By overlooking the well-being of their school leaders, districts could limit how much their schools can flourish.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management From Our Research Center Educator Stress, Anti-Racism, and Pandemic Response: How You're Feeling
A new nationally representative survey offers key takeaways from teachers, principals, and district leaders.
EdWeek Research Center
1 min read
2021 BI COVER no text DATA crop
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Download 8 Tips for Building a Digital Learning Plan That Conquers Chaos
Craft flexible strategies, encourage experimentation with new instructional models, and regularly solicit feedback.
1 min read
onsr edtech tips
Getty