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Leading with Compassion: Setting the Tone for 2021

It’s likely that when you hear the word contagious, especially after coming off of the year we just had, your first thought isn’t school culture. 

But for anyone who has been a part of an uplifting team, or conversely, a toxic one, you know that culture is truly contagious. And while culture can be influenced by any and every team member, there’s no doubt that educational leaders steer the boat.

As leaders, we contribute greatly to the tone. Our anxieties and attitudes are palpable. And while adopting a Pollyanna approach likely does more harm than good, anchoring yourself and your focus on the positive is a way to capture some control.

So what does this look like? How can school leaders lead with compassion and optimism while still inspiring excellence? Here are our top ideas…

Hold the Space

There’s a great practice those versed in psychology, counseling, or even yoga may know: holding space for others. To hold space for someone means to be physically, mentally, and emotionally present, to express empathy, and to refrain from judgment. In essence, acknowledging concerns and letting those expressing them hear that their concerns are valid. 

This practice of holding space may come naturally for some but may sound scary for others—is this type of venting a slippery slope? Shouldn’t we be focused on solutions instead of dwelling on the problem? Educational leaders are natural problem-solvers, but remind yourself too that not everything needs a solution. Sometimes a listening ear goes a long way. Hold space for those who come to you expressing unease, and reach out to those in your circle who hold space for you. 


There was a time when SMART goals were practically the only kind worth setting. But after a year like 2020 when we were forced to rethink everything, it’s worth reexamining how we set goals, too. Instead of adhering to the standard Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound, DUMB goals encourage the setter to identify targets that are Dream-driven, Uplifting, Method-friendly, and Behavior-driven goals. This method allows you and those you lead to be ambitious and ensure your targets are energizing and positive—qualities we aim to sprinkle around like confetti in the new year!

Check out this and other goal-setting strategies for further inspiration. (And because we’re in the world of education, you’ll appreciate the fact they all come complete with catchy acronyms).

Reflect and Celebrate

Within some educational/professional spheres, there seems to be a false notion that celebrating before an event is over (like the school year) will lead to apathy—that if we too early marvel at accomplishments, we’re inadvertently giving a pass on continued effort. But just as with a runner in the second half of a marathon, cheers and encouragement sustain persistence, not suppress it.  Normalize routine expressions of positivity amongst your faculty and staff. Celebrate periodically, not just after the fact as you’re moving on to the next challenge.

Looking Ahead

As the school year resumes and more challenges come your way, acknowledge the difficulties, but remember that by leading with optimism and compassion, you’re breeding resiliency, fostering motivation, and making your school one that others enjoy being a part of.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Written by Leslie Kiel
Professional Development Specialist
Five Star Technology Solutions