Leading in a Remote Setting

by Thomas C. Murray, Director of Innovation, Future Ready Schools, Washington, D.C., Bestselling author of Personal & Authentic: Designing Learning Experiences that Impact a Lifetime 

The global pandemic of 2020 has forced unprecedented change. Whether leading in remote, blended, or in-person spaces, the impact of school leaders has never been greater. Having been a principal in both in-person and virtual spaces, I’ll offer six tips for principals as they passionately lead through these times of adversity [Wisconsin specific resources are highlighted for each tip].

Tip #1 - Ensure Equity in Access

Remote learning didn’t create equity issues. It amplified disparities and inequities that have always existed. Remote learning is not feasible when those on the other side of the experience don’t have or can’t access the needed tools or resources. COVID-19 brought both equity in opportunity and equity in access into the spotlight; something that has been long overdue. Principals must help develop an action plan for those without connectivity at home, an issue that has long been referred to as the homework gap. Simply asking families if they have a device and access to the internet at home is not merely enough. Asking families if they have enough devices and bandwidth to support all the learners in the household simultaneously is a different level of needed connectivity. We have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure that children can access whatever it is we ask them to do outside of our school walls. Gazing at the gap does not support the learner. Finding ways to demolish the gap does. Make sure to consider EveryoneOn.org to help families look at low-cost options in your region. 

Wisconsin Resources: WI Access and Discount Programs  

Tip #2 - Ensure Equity in Opportunity

Although access and opportunity issues often go hand in hand, it’s imperative that principals, as the instructional leaders of their buildings, continuously evaluate which students are receiving which instructional experiences. While on-site, analyzing relevant data (enrollment in higher-level courses, discipline, etc.) compared to a school’s demographics can point to great experiences for some and poor experiences for others. If we’re not intentional about it, remote learning can increase these experience gaps. It’s why I believe we must shift the conversations from achievement gaps to opportunity gaps for those we serve.  

Wisconsin Resources: Data Leadership Webinar Series and Leading for Equity Academy (next cohort in 2021-22) 

Tip #3 - Lead with Empathy

It's imperative to remember that many of your students may have very different life experiences than you do. Things you take for granted may be things your students long for at home. Leading with an empathy lens is always vital as a principal, however, helping your teachers do the same in a remote setting is a key to success, especially when dealing with issues around attendance, grading, and homework.

Wisconsin Resources: Mental Health and Resilience Webinar Series

Tip #4 - Keep Privacy at the Forefront

With remote learning being a critical component to the majority of return-to-school plans this fall, it’s imperative that school districts have a detailed plan and provide the proper training to support educators to be successful (and safe) in this type of learning environment. Regardless of the details of each district’s plan, any such remote learning must be conducted in a manner that respects students’ personal information and complies with the many privacy and data security laws and regulations that impact how education technology should be utilized in the teaching and learning process, both while at school and while at home. Bottom line: If you're not sure, ask for help!  

Wisconsin Resources: Data Privacy 

Tip #5 - Lead with Heart

"Social distancing" could be the worst and most inaccurate phrase of this pandemic. Physical distancing is what’s needed, but we need to be more social and provide more opportunities for connections than ever before. Just like in a face-to-face classroom, social-emotional learning must remain at the core of remote learning. Teachers should work diligently to make time for students to connect informally with their peers, and principals should model these types of interactions with their staff. Every staff meeting is an opportunity for principals to model the type of instructional experiences we’re looking for our staff members to lead in their traditional and remote classrooms. 

Wisconsin Resources: Mental Health and Resilience Webinar Series 

Tip #6 - Take care of YOU!

Educators, especially principals, are those people that give and give and give, often until they have nothing left. Doing "whatever it takes for kids" does not mean that you run over yourself in the process. Taking care of you is not selfish, it's needed. Educators who begin working in a remote environment can easily find themselves working many more hours than a traditional school day. Emails, questions, and assignments are turned in during all hours of the day. Setting boundaries and maintaining balance are keys to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and as principals, it’s imperative that you model this understanding to your staff. 

Wisconsin Resources: Self-Care Webinar Series 

This year, our what and our how may have changed, but the why in our work hasn’t. The work of the principal is difficult. It’s emotional. It’s exhausting. But, the kids and communities that we serve are absolutely worth it. 

Together, we can do this. 

Tom Murray is a keynote speaker at our upcoming Middle and High School Principals Convention taking place February 10-12, 2021. More details and registration will be available soon. 

Read more at:

Elementary Edition - Secondary Edition - District Level Edition