Educational Leadership in a Time of a Pandemic
By Ed Lovitt, Johnson County Community College
Note: This Q&A was conducted by email in June 2020.
Figure 1. Billington Library at JCCC in Spring 2020
Q: First, how are you holding up, some 5-6 months into the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 pandemic?
A: At JCCC we are working very long days to move all our courses online for Spring 2020 and the majority for Summer and Fall of 2020. We have shifted some of our employees from roles that have been needed for face-to-face into online and remote support. We are holding up, but we are eager to return to spending time with each other and our students back on campus.
Q: Would you please explain what your professional role is at Johnson County Community College (JCCC)?
A: I am the Director of Educational Technology and Distance Learning. This role is providing support for our Canvas LMS and instructional technology for both face-to-face and online instruction. I have a team of Senior Analysts that work with faculty on a variety of services.
Figure 2. Dr. Ed Lovitt in a Zoom from Home
Adapting during a Pandemic
Q: How has your work changed in light of the pandemic?
A: We moved all courses online for the Spring 2020 semester and will be supporting online and online hybrid using Zoom for the Summer and Fall of 2020. We are working very long hours 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during the week. Also responding to emails on weekends and holidays. We are using Zoom for our support which allows desktop sharing and live conversations.
Q: How do you work to support learners? Staff? Colleagues? Others?
A: We are providing live Zoom support for Staff and Faculty at JCCC. This has been very effective in working with faculty in real-time. Our faculty have asked for this Zoom support to continue into the Summer and Fall semester.
Q: How do supervision and guidance change in this time?
A: As a supervisor, my inbox is constantly being populated with requests. My job is to make sure we are responding to these requests. I am also trying to continue to work with other areas of the college in their requests for Zoom support and how we can continue to support all students online.
Figure 3. A Zoom Meeting about Access Services
Q: Where do you get trustworthy information to inform your decision-making, especially for such a fast-moving pandemic…and with so many unknowns (and even unknown unknowns)? How much learning can be done with the experiences of other countries?
A: I think my relationships I have made with C2C schools has been invaluable. The unknown is difficult but doing a number of Google and YouTube searches to see what is valuable and what we can share.
Q: How do you manage the high levels of uncertainty and risk, and the stress that often comes with that?
A: Many of our faculty did not sign up to teach online, and part of our job is to build confidence to move forward. We also have the challenge of having the appropriate technology (computers, webcams and internet access) available at home.
Q: How do you balance employee self-care with work productivity? Why?
A: I am encouraging all my team members to take care of their needs when working from home. Many have additional family members also at home. This includes young children, returning college students and spouses all working in the same space. I encourage my group to get away from their computer and get some exercise to take care of themselves.
Figure 4. An Online Advisory Meeting (on Zoom) (redacted)
Leadership under Duress
Q: What is “leadership” in a time of the COVID-19 pandemic and why?
A: To me leadership means sharing and keeping open communications. We do not have all the answers and being willing to listen to concerns and create plans to move forward.
Q: What do you expect to see when we as a country get to the other side of this? What about we as a people? Why? (At this time, some countries are talking about coming out of the shutdown in order to preserve a sense of normalcy and to ensure that economic damage is not more severe than needed to stop the spread of the viral pathogen.)
A: What is normal? I think we are going to see a new normal with some people taking more time to return to campuses. This is something that has impacted our entire planet, and we are all learning how to move forward together. From an educational perspective the impact this will have on teaching and learning may be revolutionary. Some will want to return to business as normal while others may want to explore how moving online has changed their way of teaching.
Q: How do educational bureaucracies adapt to a simultaneous state-level, country-level, and global-level emergency? What is it like working in such structures at such a time? What is positive about these changes? What is negative?
A: I feel we have been given an enormous amount of support from our college leadership. Special task forces have been created to address moving online and steps needed to move back to campus. I believe this has allowed many groups on campus to work closer together for solutions and provided opportunities to learn more about overall concerns. Teaching and learning online or at a distance is not for everyone. Some of our faculty and staff have decided to retire rather than make the change to move online. These are very talented individuals that unfortunately are feeling overwhelmed with what is needed to teach in a changed world.
Q: What are you seeing of the setting of policies and practices at your college?
A: Working from home or remotely is now part of an ongoing conversation. For years some administrators refused to consider the possibility of this option. Now we are seeing how this can be accomplished and how we need to review this change.
Figure 5. An Educational Technology Center (ETC) Staff Meeting (redacted)
Q: How well are the students adapting to the online learning format? What are some of their main challenges? What is JCCC doing to help mitigate some of these challenges?
A: The digital divide is still impacting our students. Many still do not have access to reliable technology (computers and internet). Some student have indicated they miss the human interaction with faculty and that Zoom is not enough. We have some students indicate they will be stepping away from college until they can return to face-to-face options.
Q: What are ways to support students as they graduate into four-year studies? Into jobs and careers?
A: We are exploring online career fairs and ways to meet with potential employers. Many student internships continued remotely without leaving home. Education is not the only occupation that is reviewing how we work moving forward. Many companies are now closing their office locations and encouraging employees to work from home on a permanent basis.
Q: Does working in a bureaucracy change in a time of state-level, country-level, and global-level emergency? If so, how so? What is positive about these changes? What is negative?
A: Not sure.
Q: Does goal-setting change in the near-term, mid-term, and long-term? How so? How does the sense of time change when budgets are even tighter and more straitened and there are tougher headwinds?
A: Yes we are re-prioritizing our goals moving forward. Items that were required to support face-to-face teaching and learning are being move back to make sure we can support remote teaching and learning. Budgeting for personal protection supplies is now more important than ever.
Q: What prepares a leader for such extreme “black swan” events? What skills are most critical in such times?
A: The ability to communicate is key. Be honest about what is happening and be open to multiple solutions and approaches. Thinking outside the box has been another key to moving forward so that we focus on the problems and come up solutions.
Q: How does a leader grow during such events?
A: For me it has been turning to your team and having them involved in the solutions. A good leader learns to share the work and identifies all the resources that are available.
Q: What does it mean when people say that people find out what they’re made of in such times?
A: Remaining calm and being willing to take additional time to help others work through difficult times has been a key to any crisis. The past few months have been very stressful but (about) learning to focus everyday on the small steps needed to move forward.
Q: People can be highly fearful at such times. What are ways to help people cope?
A: I think identifying what is important in life is important. I had my whole family at home with me during the past few months and learning how to communicate and work together was important. As an institution, we are working on ways to bring people back in stages, so we are able to reduce the fear that can be associated this pandemic.
Q: For your college, what are wins coming out on the other side of this? Optimally, what would happen? What does future planning look like? And then how would you position to help the institution get there?
A: One win might be the ability for many areas of the college to work together for student needs and success. We have been talking about disaster recovery plans for years and this event has allowed the college to test our planning processes. We will continue to update and revise our academic continuity processes and procedures.
Focusing on the Future
Figure 6. A Path at JCCC in Spring 2020
Q: What is your long-term outlook in this time of a pandemic?
A: We are a social people and this pandemic has tested the will of many people working at JCCC. We know that we can continue to provide educational opportunities online. So, faculty and students have indicated they are going to wait until we are able to return to campus. They need the social interaction to feel part of a community. We have made adjustments to the teaching and learning process during this move to online. For some this is a new way to learn that provides more freedom and flexibility while for others it has caused more isolation. Right now we are taking one day at a time and keeping the safety of our students and employees as a top priority.
Thanks for your responses, Ed!
About the Authors
Ed Lovitt has worked for over 30 years in education and has provided leadership in the selection and implementation of three major LMS reviews in the past 15 years. He has a B.S. in Management and B.A. in Education from the University of Nebraska-Kearney, M.S. in Vocational Education from Pittsburg State University and a Ph.D. in Computer Technology in Education from Nova Southeastern University. Ed has been recognized for his leadership with Colleague to Colleague, NCSPOD and KCREACHE along with his certifications as a Quality Matters- Master Reviewer, Facilitator Trainer.
His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer at Kansas State University. Her email is email@example.com.
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