On this blog, we turn to headteacher at Washwood Heath Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Birmingham Dr Valerie Daniel, to get an understanding of how we can best manage crises in early years:
I don’t know about you but I keep waiting for the credits to roll on this disaster movie called Covid-19! The really sad thing is that I am one of those people who will watch a movie to the bitter end just in case you get one of those post-credit scenes, you know, the last little bit that indicates a stinger, a cliff hanger or an added element of doom!
This movie that we currently live in is longer than expected and has had us sitting on the edges of our seat pretty much through all of it so far! And now I am petrified that there may be a post-credit scene where we will be greeted with more drama or an unsatisfying ending. There is a massive difference however between watching a movie with a pre-destined ending and being actively ensconced in this life where we have some control over the directions we choose to take to mitigate risk and to lead effectively in the time of Covid.
Crisis management expert, Erik Bernstein, informs us that crises can be divided into three categories:
The management of any of these situations by themselves must be onerous, so how do leaders manage a crisis that bears the hallmark of all of the above three categories? Covid-19 is proving to be complex and convoluted:
Anyone tasked with leadership in these times may see the role as daunting and there will be days that may well be described as excruciating especially in regard to the sustainability of businesses in the current climate. Although this blog is essentially about leadership rather than management, I thought I would do a whistle-stop tour on business sustainability. After all, if businesses fail then the capacity for leadership goes with it!
At this stage, most businesses are in a scramble to survive. The current market is chaotic and there is a need for some quick wins to weather the storm. If you don’t already have a Business Continuity Plan / Sustainability Plan, then it’s time to embrace this as part of your core business strategy. Examine the relationships in all the spheres that your business has a presence and get a clear understanding of the impact of the pandemic on these stakeholders. This will help in responding quickly and effectively and also help with the resilience of your business.
The good news for those of us who work in early years is that we are used to working in a state of constant flux and we survive against the odds and actually thrive because of three main leadership capacities:
Leaders with a deep awareness of current circumstances coupled with a sense of urgency. There is usually a need for decisive action from leaders and thankfully, we are used to being creative, adapting and improvising just to stay viable! Even with our sense of urgency, still take a bit of time to consult and discuss with staff and stakeholders because there is nothing worse than unstructured, reactive responses without agreed processes and misaligned resources. Purposeful and adaptive responses depend on leadership capacity to make sense of the emerging situation, direct resources appropriately and allow for flexibility in decision-making that reflects reality on the ground.
Leaders who understand that their professional purpose is profoundly important and that it contributes to the life of others (children, parents, staff, stakeholders) just as much as it affects the lives of others. This sense of duty needs to positively influence behaviours and re-energise efforts in collectively creating a sense of order and control in extreme events. A purely top-down approach may demoralise staff, create bottlenecks in a situation that requires fluidity and flexibility and also compromise how we harness external support effectively.
Leaders who possess the ability to embrace and work through multi-dimensional problems. Strategies include:
There are two last bits that are essential to leadership in a time of Covid:
Dr Valerie Daniel is currently headteacher at Washwood Heath Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Birmingham. She has over 30 years’ experience of teaching and is both chair trustee of the Birmingham Nursery Schools Collaboration Trust (BNSCT). She received her doctorate on ‘The Perceptions of a Leadership Crisis in the Early Years Sector’ and is a trained systems leader and leadership mentor for other head teachers and leaders in the early years sector.