Leaders Perception Magazine is currently running an interview series called – Leadership in Times of Crisis
Today, we had the opportunity to interview Christopher Jochum who is a Chair and Professor, Department of Teacher Educationat Fort Hays State University .
Join us for an interview with Christopher Jochum, Chair and Professor at Fort Hays State University, as he shares his experiences and strategies for effective crisis management in the field of education. Gain valuable insights into confronting reality, prioritizing communication, acknowledging the unknown, and learning from crises.
Interviewee Name: Christopher Jochum
Company: Fort Hays State University
Christopher Jochum’s favourite quote: I have MANT favorite quotes related to leadership but if you are looking for something specifically related to leading through crisis, I will include what I wrote in my book:
If a conflict builds and reveals your true character as a leader, a crisis will define it.
Thank you so much for joining us today! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your backstory?
Christopher Jochum : I started my career as a public school teacher, first teaching English as a Second Language and then high school Spanish. After completing my Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction I transitioned into higher education, teaching future foreign language and ESL teachers. For the past 7 years, I have led a large teacher preparation program at Fort Hays State University, where our program has over 1,000. In addition, my research has focused on effective leadership which resulted in a book titled “The Department Chair: A Practical Guide to Effective Leadership”.
Could you please share a specific crisis situation you’ve faced as a leader and walk us through the strategies you employed to navigate through it successfully? What were the key decisions and actions you took, and what were the outcomes or lessons learned from that experience?
Christopher Jochum : In March of 2020 when everything closed, including public schools, this was a major shift for our department. At my current institution, we have a national and even global presence in terms of having students (future teachers) in classrooms. Since hands-on experience is a critical component to training teachers, having all of our schools (and our own university) close overnight was a big shock. Since schools were still teaching students virtually, we had to immediately decide if and how we would be able to transition the “in person” experience into a virtual one. Without going into the details, I can say that we responded as well as we could have, given the circumstances and, by most accounts, made it through.
Some strategies that I employ as a leader when faced with crisis is the following (full disclosure this is also in my book but it’s my philosophy and template, not someone else’s). I think this will also answer how I responded and the end result
These are the guiding principles I follow when leading through crisis:
1. Confront and define reality for myself and others, which also means letting people know that every crisis eventually will end.
2. Put people first and communicate, communicate and then communicate again!
3. Acknowledge what you know and don’t know. In the earl stages of a crisis, doing this could occur daily or even hourly.
4. Turn the blacklight into a spotlight. As we get to the end of a crisis, make sure we recognize any cracks of fissures that were present in our organization that, without the crisis, we would not have seen and take steps to fix them and get better.
In my department, specifically during the COVID-related school shutdowns, we established the following guiding principles, upon which every decision was made:
1. Put students first (this meant our students and those we served, focused first on their health and safety and then education.
2. Acknowledge the unknown and be flexible.
3. Let’s get better—as I said before, the “blacklight into a spotlight” approach means that while we do not want any crisis, if it does happen, let’s make sure we come out of it better, having learned some lessons that will help us better serve our students in the future.
Overall, some key lessons were that we were well-positioned to move instruction online since our programs are already offered online. In addition, we learned that since we have students throughout the country, we already had the infrastructure to effectively communicate with multiple students and school districts at one time. What we learned was that there are ways of assessing learning that we would have otherwise not tried if not forced into by school closures.
From your observations, what common mistakes or pitfalls have you seen leaders fall into during a crisis?
Christopher Jochum : The first one is failure to communicate. The more intense the crisis, the more important it is to communicate early and often, and be 100% transparent in what you do and do not know. The other mistake is toxic positivity. It’s natural to want to try to calm people’s fears, which is important, but as leaders, we must avoid doing so through toxic positivity. For example, part of toxic positivity is assuming people should always have a positive mindset. This isn’t realistic. People will have many emotions in a crisis and, as leaders, we need to acknowledge those and let them process their feelings. Telling people to “just cheer up” or “it could always be worse” is really sending the message that, as their leader, my comfort is more important than theirs. Finally, another mistake is not learning lessons and getting better as a result of a crisis. Again, we do not want a crisis to happen and saying we got better as a result is not saying we are happy the negative effects happened. Rather, it’s a way of recognizing that we could not control this, we don’t want it to happen again, but since it did happen, lets see what it reinforced that we do well and what was revealed that we should either stop doing or reconsider.
Leaders Perception would like to thank Christopher Jochum and Fort Hays State University for the time dedicated to completing this interview and sharing their valuable insights with our readers!
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