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Has there ever been a time when students, staff, and parents have sought more from principals? 

These are extremely challenging times to be a school leader, and it can be difficult to remember these times won’t last forever.

It’s also important to remember that what we are talking about and modeling will set the bar for the conversations and mindsets of those who are counting on us to offer them a clear pathway to a brighter day.

In this post, I will share three concepts that will help you lead your school during times of chaos.

Carry Your Own Weather

Ultimately, you set the tone for school culture. Taking ownership of this, empowers your actions.

Pathways Provide Hope

Leadership always starts with emotions, and hope is among the most powerful emotion you can inspire.

Clarity to the Point of Redundancy

During change, lack of communication is the biggest complaint from teachers. Focus here, and provide clarity.

School Leadership in Times of Chaos by Aubrey Patterson with Principals Seminar 1

Setting the Emotional Tone As Principal

Have you ever noticed how some people seem to brighten and lift the enthusiasm of every room they enter?

They bring a healthy mix of smiles, empathy, and humor to complement their intellectual and collaborative efforts.

Certainly, this comes easier to some than others, but we all owe a measure of accountability to the room and can begin with three fingers pointing back. Whether we are leading a meeting or we are one of many participants, we have the ability to be a room brightener.

An examination of our personal forecast gives our team the ability to enjoy good weather, no matter the temperature outside. Effective golfers use swing thoughts to increase the likelihood of a preferred result. We should have a swing thought before entering a meeting; one of my swing thoughts involves asking about the weather front I am bringing to the meeting. 

“Am I a positive wake or a tsunami. Do I carry a warm front or a cold front?”

A simple look at our personal forecast might give our staff the mindset to enjoy some good weather, no matter the chaos and temperature outside. 

School Leadership in Times of Chaos by Aubrey Patterson with Principals Seminar 2

Creating Actionable Pathways for Your School

When times are tough, leaders compound the effectiveness of carrying their weather with clarity and actionable pathways.

Pathways give direction and hope.

Before we lead people on these pathways, we have to locate where they are and where they are coming from (take this free readiness for change assessment). 

If we don’t find our people, listen, and communicate clearly, we will find ourselves alone on our pathway.

“When you feel it’s lonely at the top, you’re a hiker, not a leader.” (John Maxwell)

When Leading During Chaos, Communicate More Than You Think Is Needed

When we are leading others in these very difficult and downright scary times, clarity, even to the point of redundancy, is our best opportunity to provide a pathway and help those we serve to better filter any noise that only adds to the confusion and a negative mindset.

Some worry about being redundant: "I said this before. They are going to get sick of me saying this."  

Clarity to the point of redundancy is part of every great teacher’s repertoire.

We all have mentors in our past that have etched certain impactful phrases into our brains and planned for clarity in tough times: A teacher with a morning routine that provides a purposeful and motivating start to the day, a basketball coach that says where to look first after grabbing a rebound in a crowd, or a parent who drills into a child to always look both ways before crossing the street.

Clarity is holding the hand when the world is moving too quickly and a misstep seems likely and scary. 

An Extra Gear and Join The Discussion

It’s commonly said that leaders don’t talk about problems - they reframe them as challenges and opportunities.

But when chaos seems to reign outside the walls of the school and decisions are made to change our daily reality, it’s very understandable that many school leaders would have difficulty maintaining such a positive mindset.

Effective leaders find that extra gear; they selflessly find a way to carry their own weather and provide positive pathways in good times and bad.

Your Turn: Join the discussion in the comments below. What did you take away from this article? How do you carry your own weather? How do you try to communicate to the point of redundancy?

Aubrey Patterson


I coach school and district leaders to create information peace of mind, so they can lead, teachers can teach, and students can learn.

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