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Maintaining Staff Morale During a Time of Crisis

Tips from the ACSA Member Assistance & Legal Support Team

On October 27, 2021, our team posted an article on the ACSA Resource Hub entitled “Dealing with Angry Parents or Community Members.” Several ACSA members responded by saying: “we’ve taken the steps you listed; however, we think that our voices aren’t being heard. Do you have any additional suggestions?” Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to address all of the issues that school districts are facing today. The global pandemic with which we are dealing is unlike anything that we have encountered in the past and is impacting all of us in different ways. As a result, there is no doubt that high stress and anxiety are being experienced at every level of leadership.

As Advocates who serve on the Member Assistance and Legal Support Team, what we have noticed, however, is that our most successful leaders demonstrate very similar qualities of leadership to help mitigate the crisis, maintain relatively high morale among staff, and continue to enjoy a reasonable sense of normalcy. The following leadership qualities, although certainly not intended to be all inclusive, are worthy of consideration as we all attempt to maintain staff morale during this difficult time.

  • Providing accurate information. Great leaders provide current, candid, and accurate information to inform others about the crisis. Ideally, this information is research based and is updated regularly from creditable sources to increase everyone’s awareness of current conditions and what to expect in the future. When new directions or protocols are changed (or new ones added) every team member is notified in a timely manner so as not to be caught off guard.
  • Acquiring critical resources. Leaders understand that some resources will be more critically needed than others, and they work diligently to help people have access to those resources as quickly as possible.
  • Providing support and encouragement. The best leaders realize that the individuals that they supervise not only need information and resources, but emotional support as well. As a leader, especially in a time of crisis, it is very important that you express appreciation for their efforts and demonstrate that you care about them as individuals.
  • Being accessible and approachable. Great leaders always seem to be available to answer questions and address concerns. By doing such, leaders establish trust and build relationships with those individuals that they supervise.
  • Keeping channels of communication open. The most effective leaders promote and model constant, open, and thorough two-way communication to keep information flowing and to continue to provide resources and support throughout the crisis. A significant aspect of this leadership quality in not “shooting the messenger” for providing input and asking legitimate questions. An effective leader understands that “shooting the messenger” causes team members to withdraw and stop communicating. When a leader is responding to multiple attacks from different stakeholders it sometimes is difficult to focus on the morale of her/his team. Dismissing the team members concerns or questions can be costly especially when the frontline team members may have the best information available for the leader to make the most informative decisions possible.
  • Adapting when necessary. Leadership in a time of crisis often calls for sudden changes in strategy in response to quickly changing or newly emerging conditions. Effective leaders are able to adapt when needed to make corrections in the face of new challenges.

As you advance in your career as a public school administrator, three qualities stand out as a blueprint for a successful journey, and they are as follows:

  • Your ability to establish trust and build relationships
  • Open two-way communication with those individuals that you supervise and
  • Maximizing your interpersonal skills to demonstrate that you are sensitive to the needs of others even when you’re dealing with multiple significant problems yourself and it feels as if your stakeholders have circled the wagons and are aiming at you.

As an example, as you move from a site level position to a district level job, the number of stakeholders with whom you interact typically rises dramatically. As a result, such skills as relationship building and communication become even more difficult to accomplish, and yet these skills often determine your success as a leader.

The ACSA Member Assistance & Legal Support Team, under the direction of ACSA Senior Director Margarita Cuizon-Armelino, is available to all members of ACSA. Team members John Almond, Sharon Dezutti, Joe Jones, Janet Morey, Gary Rutherford, Bill Tschida and Lloyd Wamhof assist almost 800 ACSA members each year. You can reach out to the team by completing our online request form at www.acsa.org/legalsupport or call 1-800-608-2272 and ask to speak to Joanne Godfrey, ACSA’s Partnership and Member Services Liaison.

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