Part 3 Beyond Coping: Leadership in Calm and Crisis

Updated: May 14, 2020


“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” Nelson Mandela


Visible Leadership is now more important than ever. Currently, Leaders have complicated new challenges with COVID-19 shuttering schools and damaging the health of our teaching staff, our students and their parents in every community. There are no easy answers to these issues; however, it is imperative that we continue to focus on putting FACES on the data (both hard and soft data) that we have about our students, their parents and our teachers. Leaders everywhere are stepping up and “taking the front line” to provide a calming influence in this time of challenge and tragedy by finding logical solutions to these emotional and structural upheavals.


We must not abandon what we do and how we lead in calmer times when chaos surrounds us. Everyone is a leader. This is an unprecedented time when true leaders step forward to lead, often from behind, to make the greatest difference to all: students, staff members, parents and the broader community. As my good friend and colleague Alma Harris (2020) recently wrote:

School leadership, of course, is not just confined to those in the leadership team. If leadership is influence, then teachers and teaching assistants exercise leadership every day. In times of crisis, leadership at all levels or distributed leadership, is needed to address the complexity of the challenges and to carry the burden of leading in uncertain times (Harris, 2013).


Against the current frenzied backdrop, it would be easy for leaders to reflexively plunge into the maelstrom of social-media misinformation, copy what others are doing, or seek big, one-off, bold gestures. It is also true that crises can produce great leaders and communicators, those whose words and actions comfort in the present, restore faith in the long term, and are remembered long after the crisis has been quelled (McKinsey, 2020). Thus, amid a myriad of things to read and guide us, like excellent sites from www.globalonlineacademy.org , I return to what we know works for leadership in every system and school setting.



In 2012, Fullan and I wrote Putting FACES on the Data and we noted three leadership characteristics that are needed to do the work os system and school improvement with a never-ending focus on learning: Knowledge-ability, Mobilize-ability and Sustain-ability. They are applicable now more than ever. Since that time, my colleagues and I (Sharratt & Fullan, 2012; Sharratt & Harild, 2015; Sharratt & Planche, 2016; Sharratt, 2019) have added to our original three abilities as we have reflected on what it takes as system and school leaders to lead in calm times and amid crises in Figure 9.2 from CLARITY, 2019, Chapter 9.













I unpack the six leadership abilities (Sharratt, 2019) as they apply to calm and crisis:

1. Knowledge-ability:

  • Prioritize responsiveness;

  • Check-in daily and keep up conversations;

  • Put FACES (of students and staff) on your data;

  • Continue to form conversations groups about learning – as it is still “the work”;

  • Walk alongside teachers and parents with support of a ‘Knowledgeable Other’;

  • Work with technology to continue your Networks and Learning Hubs, always focused on students’ learning as student well-being is an outcome of that focus.

2. Mobilize-ability:

  • Ensure equitable access to resources;

  • Set-up streamlined systems for “Accountable Talk with teachers, other leaders; parents and community;