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Educational leadership in the age of online learning

Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach with more than a decade of experience in education. We spoke with him about educational leadership in a virtual world.

5 min read


Educational leadership in the age of online learning

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As remote-work orders stretch into another month, new concerns about its long term-feasibility are being raised. Fatigue is one salient issue, but many are more concerned that continuous growth and development will stagnate in a world that lacks in-person contact.

The education industry in particular is among the most affected here in the United States, and questions about meaningful development are top of mind for teachers and educational leaders alike. How can remote learning practices be improved before students return to school? Is it still possible to improve practice as an educator while working from home?

Naphtali Hoff is president and executive coach at Impactful Coaching & Consulting, and a self-described performance accelerator. He is also a former associate principal and head of school in Chicago and Atlanta, respectively. We spoke with Naphtali about challenges and solutions to educational leadership in a virtual environment. This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.


Your School Leadership Mastermind initiative aims to help leaders grow, provide support and learn from one another through virtual meetings. What issues have come out of these conversations? What about this method of support makes it so effective?

The main challenges that keep rising to the surface relate to soft skills: difficult relationships and change management. Masterminds create safe spaces for professionals to talk, ask questions, learn and support one another, without having to worry about what those in their buildings may think. Sitting on the hot seat offers unique opportunities to be heard and have your most pressing challenges resolved.


How should educational leaders strike a balance between the technical and interpersonal aspects of the job? In your opinion, which demands more attention?

Interpersonal skills are, in my estimation, much more important than technical ones. This may run counter to what many school leaders think when they first start out. After all, they rise through the ranks largely because of their teaching skills. But once they move into leadership, they learn that it’s more about soft skills and EQ than one’s ability to dissect lesson plans or write up a visitation report.

My dissertation studied which behaviors most motivate teachers to perform their professional duties. I hypothesized that interpersonal skills would most motivate teachers. While my hypothesis was not conclusively supported by the data, there was enough in the quantitative as well as qualitative feedback to reinforce my thinking.


How can educators continue to grow and develop in a remote learning world? How can educational leaders facilitate growth?

It starts with mindset. Nothing is too difficult unless we accept the narrative that it is. Teachers with a growth mindset will find ways to push through, learn and become comfortable with their new normal. Principals can help by shining the light on those who have embraced a growth approach and are not making excuses.


Can you talk about a coaching client that proved particularly challenging for you? What can others learn from that experience?

The most challenging clients are the ones who don’t stay focused on the real work of coaching. They show up, appreciate the therapeutic elements of the conversation, but are unwilling to do the real growth work. Some of that falls on me in the onboarding process and I have learned to discuss this in advance with clients and, when necessary, call them out on it.


How can educational leaders foster strong relationships with their teams in a remote environment? How do these relationships motivate teachers?

Relationships are built on trust and care. If teachers feel valued and supported through the pandemic, relationships will deepen. Of course, principals need to be able to push their teachers to perform under all conditions, even when shifting to remote learning overnight. The more that teachers feel that their boss has their back, the more likely they are to step out of their comfort zone and help students achieve.


What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career or degree in educational leadership?

I would tell them about the many rewards of educational leadership while sobering them to the many challenges of the field. Completing a degree program in school leadership can be a source of tremendous personal satisfaction and, of course, a pathway to impacting countless lives.

But it also comes with many perils — personal and professional — and should only be seriously considered by those who do not shy away from challenge and are willing to shift their mindsets from “me” (what I can do) to “we” (how to grow my team and make them the focus).

I wrote my leadership book in part because of the challenges that I encountered as a new head of school and out of a desire to help others avoid some of the same mistakes I made while shortening their learning curve.

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Kanoe Namahoe, director of content for SmartBrief Education, contributed to this story.

Evan Lauterborn is Audience & Content Development Manager at SmartBrief. He focuses on subscriber growth, subscriber retention, content and managing the @SmartBrief Twitter account. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


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