In February, 1943, poorly trained and untested units of the American Army were roundly defeated by German and Italian forces in the Battle of Kasserine Pass in North Africa. Allied forces were pushed back more than 50 miles and suffered large casualties. It was a grim first entrance into the European war theater for the Americans. Those were dark days.
What happened immediately following? First, the Army learned from that disaster and within days and weeks made changes in leadership, preparation, strategies, and tactical operations. Second, General Eisenhower called together his leadership team and started planning the invasion of Sicily.
This is one of my favorite anecdotes for school leaders, and a reminder could not be more timely. You are living through a tough time, and many of you feel that you are not “winning” right now, and you are probably right.
A primary role of leaders is to make sure we don’t re-live our mistakes. Good leaders don’t blame the enemy or the conditions on the ground; they learn from their experiences in as close to real-time as possible, and they create conditions for their organizations to improve. Your current problems are not as bad as those faced by the men fighting the Nazis in North Africa in the freezing winter of 1943, so we can be optimistic that you can convert lessons in real time for the sake of your school communities.
And good leaders always plan to win the next battle before the current battle is won. Eisenhower did not know and could not predict how or when the battle for North Africa would be won, but he knew it would, and he knew he could not wait until then to plan the next steps. We don’t know how or when the Covid crisis will wane, and we don’t know exactly what our world will look like when it does. But we know for darn sure that it WILL wane; and that it won’t be the last such crisis we face. Without a vaccine at scale, there is every likelihood that the virus will return next fall or winter.
Sometime in the next month or so, even as we have not completely “won” the current crisis, school leaders need to make sure their leadership teams are capturing the big lessons we are learning and using those to re-frame long-term strategies for improving how students learn, and for how their schools will best serve those needs.