In “normal” times when things are relatively predictable, strong leadership is desired. When unpredictable times appear, strong leadership is essential. Even the strongest organizational structures bring tremendous challenges that impact results. Our old way of doing business simply will not work.

This toolkit provides practical resources to help leaders and teams steer the ship through rough waters to achieve results that accelerate organizational excellence. It’s up to all leaders to focus their hearts and minds on building a learning place for student success, even if that looks different than any situation we’ve seen. In this toolkit, our goal is to provide resources that educational leaders can use to achieve excellence while navigating this difficult time.

When a crisis occurs, people live and work in fear. When we live in fear, our minds are saying things like this:

  • I’m worried about the physical threat to me and others.
  • I am searching to know more about something that is unknown.
  • I want to eliminate this threat but it’s out of my control.
  • I hope we get back to normal soon so that I don’t have to worry anymore.
  • Surely this will not last very long. Let’s just get through it.

In a time of crisis, we as educational leaders help people manage through this fear. We turn fear into opportunity. We remain empathetic to people while taking specific actions to instill confidence that we can produce high performing results in these unpredictable times. 

How do we do it?


  • Reduce ambiguity, build clarity and engage teams to study and derive solutions.
  • Know the measures that matter and we communicate small amounts of information often.
  • Make difficult decisions that advance the organization.
  • Ensure that students, families and employees are supported.
  • Reinforce the highest expectations for student success.

This toolkit provides resources to initiate conversations with your teams to shift from fears to opportunities. Think for a moment about the scientists trying to find a vaccine.

They are applying new and innovative ways unlike what we’ve seen before. The most extreme times call for leaders to excel while doing things they’ve never done before. When using this toolkit, we believe leaders and teams will discover new ways for students to learn and better ways to build relationships with students, families, and employees.

To start the process, we provide a self-reflection tool for people to use to gauge how they are feeling about shifting fears to opportunities. Use this tool with leadership teams to gauge where you are as a team.


The team member uses this tool to rate a series of fear and opportunity statements on a scale of 1-10.
Go to tool →

This toolkit includes two sections:

Section 1: Measures that Matter, Communication, After Action Reviews and Scenario Thinking
Section 2: Comprehensive K12 Reentry Plan

Before you work through the resources in the toolkit, designate or create a Reopening Leadership Team. This team serves as the guiding team for the plan development and reentry process. Use an existing team or designate a team of 5 to 7 people to serve in this capacity. This team will include executive leadership representation and possibly other high performing employees that others trust.

We hope you find value using this comprehensive resource for reflecting and planning to enter the new academic year during COVID 19 and any other unexpected and extended emergency situation.


Measures that Matter, Reflections and Scenario Thinking

Determine Measures that Matter and How We Know We are Successful

We’ve always reviewed measures. In these unpredictable times we want predictable results. Therefore, we start with determining the measures that matter and that define success. The decisions we make as we build our reentry plan are guided by the measures that matter that we will use to track our results. The measures that matter shift us from simply doing tactical activities to focusing on the right actions to produce the most significant results.

A step in the reentry process is for leaders to create reentry scorecards that include measures that matter for student success, well-being, safety, and service. We propose organizational leaders and teams use measures in shorter time spans that – show the progress we are making. This process allows us to continue with areas working well, to adjust those that are not working, and to stop performing actions that are impeding progress. This improvement process is foundational to organizational excellence. A follow-up toolkit will guide leaders on how to cascade the scorecard and improvement process to divisions, departments, and schools.

A first start for creating a reentry plan that positions us for excellence is to establish the measures that matter using an organizational scorecard. A sample scorecard to capture important measures as we enter next year is provided here and a template is provided in the toolkit (Tool 2).


Student Success
  • Student Achievement
  • Student Engagement
  • Student Persistence
  • Formative measures performed more often
  • Survey pulse checks performed more often
  • Persistence in courses such as assignments turned in, on time, etc.
  • Employee Engagement & Well-Being
  • Employee Retention
  • Student Engagement & Well-Being
  • Student Attendance
  • Families’ Engagement & Well-Being
  • Families’ Interactions
  • Short, monthly pulse checks
  • Daily attendance
  • Short monthly pulse checks
  • Daily attendance
  • Short monthly pulse checks
  • Rate of connections per requested interaction
  • Student Safety
  • Employee Safety
  • On Campus Customer Safety
  • Prevention metrics
  • Prevention metrics
  • Prevention metrics
  • Service Excellence
  • Efficiencies
  • Return on Investment
  • Internal and external pulse checks performed more often
  • Reduction of time, resources, etc. to produce quality outcomes
  • Dollars invested to greatest return on student success


Use this tool to track and communicate progress toward key measures aligned to each pillar for success.

Go to tool →

Create a Communication Approach to Send Shorter Messages More Often

Communication and trust during a crisis go hand in hand. Sometimes we unintentionally sacrifice trust when we assume that everyone knows the effect the disruption has had on the organization. We use short, focused key messages to share difficult news. Therefore, Tool 3, Communications Template, helps leaders and teams tell the story that is occurring as decisions are made. We share shorter messages more often. We want to share evidence that supports why decisions are made. We share what we are doing, how actions will occur and affect others, and what we expect people to do during each step.

As we build the reentry plan, we know we will face resistance. Some people will like what we decide to do, and others will not. Our job is to make the best decisions that align to the measures that matter leading to student success. Not everyone will like our decisions, but we can openly share the evidence and knowledge that guide us on why decisions are made. The way we communicate these decisions will influence the level of success we have when we reenter school.

When we make significant decisions, let’s rely on what the research tells us. For example, a group of researchers published the findings of a study they conducted focusing on the best CEOs. Their results are published in the Harvard Business Review. We summarize some important findings the researchers reported about characteristics of the best CEOs. The best executives: 

  • Don’t stand out for making the best decision all the time. They stand out for being decisive.
  • Map out the need for stakeholder input and the balance between input and desired results. They make the call and expect people to be on board.
  • Spend at least 1/2 their time on long-term results; scan wide data sources, triangulate to inform, expect setbacks and know how to manage through them.
  • Establish business management systems that include a cadence of meetings, dashboards of metrics, clear accountability, and multiple channels for monitoring performance and making rapid course corrections. Most importantly, they surround themselves with strong teams.

In this toolkit, we provide several resources to assist leaders and teams with developing an approach to communicate shorter messages more often. The first two are referenced in our toolkit, What the Best Leaders Do to Communicate with Employees During Critical Times. Review the toolkit to learn more about these tools. Also, as you are communicating you can determine what needs to be communicated daily and/or when those communications can be extended less frequently, to weekly notices and so on.

During a crisis, the key is shorter, focused and clear messages delivered more often. For example, a daily huddle is a short meeting meant to occur every day so that the entire team can be informed and aligned on the work that needs to be done. The purpose of the daily huddle is to increase team productivity, accountability, and optimism. The purpose is not to solve problems during the daily huddle. Problem-solving occurs in another format using appropriate problem-solving tools. The focus is on what’s occurring in the next 24 hours, how are we trending on key metrics, and where are we stuck.

As we create our reentry plans, a major factor for success depends on how well we communicate. This toolkit offers a Communication Template that provides questions to guide our thinking about why, what, how, who, and when for consistent messaging. This template guides leaders and teams throughout the reentry by engaging leaders in reflections, development, and deployment processes.


Use this tool to record necessary actions and create a timely message for the right people at the right time with key words to turn anxieties into opportunities.

Go to tool →

Engage in Reflective Discussions Using After-Action Reviews

As we transitioned organizations from normal work to align to conditions from COVID 19, we had little if any time to plan. We quickly shifted to alternative ways for students to learn and employees to support this learning environment. Prior to making decisions about how we re-enter the workforce and school, we can learn from our past actions. Therefore, we recommend that leaders and teams complete an After-Action Review.

We learn from continuous assessment of organizational performance, looking at successes, failures, and opportunities. This part of the improvement cycle builds clarity as we ask how we know we made meaningful progress to achieve measures that matter.

The After-Action Review brings teams together to discuss honestly actions that occurred to drive organizational change. This process helps us turn unconscious learning into knowledge we can use to improve. The conversations help us build trust among team members and to overcome fear of making mistakes.

Our goal is to bring together relevant groups of people to reflect on a set of simple questions. In this toolkit, we provide a tool that includes questions in 3 steps: Looking Back, Analyzing and Learning and Looking Forward.

After-action review process

In this three-part template, you will identify key actions taken in response to the crisis, reflect on the effectiveness of those actions, and then begin brainstorming possible scenarios.

Go to tool →

Review Possible Scenarios for Re-Entering Schools

Our goal in this toolkit is to create a Reentry Plan to align to our best assessment of how we will enter the school year. To begin, let’s apply scenario thinking which means making assumptions on what the future is going to be and how we need to change our current ways. Remember, our decisions are driven by the measures that matter to define how we know we are successful. When we engage in scenario thinking, we identify a specific set of uncertainties that come with COVID 19. We determine how the uncertainties might affect our learning and working environments.

We can predict how we will start school, yet there continue to be unknown factors. If you have a current starting place, complete numbers 3 and 4 first and build your plan from there. As time allows, we recommend you complete scenario thinking for other possibilities as well to be proactive for any future changes that could occur.

The Scenario Thinking Tool includes four areas for leaders and teams to discuss:

  1. driving forces for the changes – the big shifts that have occurred with COVID 19 and how it affects our organization
  2. critical uncertainties – determine the two to three most significant driving forces
  3. possible scenarios – pros, cons, implications
  4. discuss the pros, cons and implications for each scenario

High-level scenario thinking

Use this tool with your leadership team to create the three most-likely scenarios for reentry and discuss the pros, cons and implications of each.

Go to tool →

Section 1 Summary

This section of the toolkit started with a self-assessment to determine where we are with shifting fears to opportunities. We then created a scorecard to define measures that matter, reviewed a communication template we can use throughout the reentry planning process, completed an After-Action Review to reflect on our past decisions, and engaged in high level thinking about possible reentry scenarios. Let’s use this information to design a reentry plan.


Comprehensive K12 Reentry Plan Guide

Purpose of Overview of the Reentry Guide

The purpose of the guide is to engage teams in conversations to

  • Identify areas that need to be considered in planning a successful reopening
  • Provide questions to ask ourselves, our leaders, our experts in each specific area of consideration to reopen schools
  • Provide a framework for building a unique plan to reopen schools as safely as possible
  • Transfer the information from the conversations to a Reentry Plan.

The goal for the protocols, procedures and questions in this guide include the following.

  • This document is a conversation-starter for teams and was developed by examining a wide variety of plans for reopening schools from a variety of entities including state departments, K12 and higher education institutions, teachers unions, nonprofits, professional health organizations at all levels, European models and others
  • The intent is to help school districts and schools think widely about options for reopening schools before beginning the work.
  • Questions contained here are for the purpose of guiding thinking and pushing thinking outside the box.
  • Current and new procedures and protocols can be examined and built using the questions included in this Guide.

The following resources are included in this guide:

  • Specific questions on various topics to consider when making decisions
  • Tools
    • Template for work groups to use to provide responses to questions
    • Template for developing the plan—district and school/division/department
    • Template for 30/60/90 Day Stoplight for plan implementation

How to Use the Guide

  1. Review the Guide and note areas that make sense to be considered for your district.
  2. Divide the work of choosing specific questions to answer based on logical levels and work groups (can be by level, role, cross-functional groups and more than one group should answer each question selected). Here are some options for workgroups:
    • Superintendent and Board
    • Cabinet/Executive Leaders
    • Directors/Leaders of District Support Services
    • Principals/Assistant Principals/Teacher Leaders
  3. The Reopening Leadership Team will organize the findings of the workgroups, find commonalities, develop the reentry plan, and get feedback as needed from workgroups.
  4. Determine a timeline/process for using the template for answering the questions.
  5. Develop a plan with due dates for actions and for sharing findings.
  6. Use the plan to develop the phases of the reopening plan including
    • Timelines for completion of phases
    • Assessment of progress by workgroups during and after each phase
    • Opportunities for input from stakeholders during reentry.
  7. Use the Communication Template (Tool 3, pg 3) to determine how leaders will communicate messages aligned to the design and completion of the reentry plan.

Use the Reentry Questions Tool to Engage in Conversations to Gain Input

The Reopening Leadership Team provides the guidance for the step by step process for gaining input from workgroups using probing questions aligned to topics. Also, the Reopening Leadership Team selects or creates a scenario or multiple scenarios that best represent where the district will be at reentry time.


Establish work group leaders and work groups and assign these workgroups a topic outlined in Tool 6. The goal is to select high performing employees as leaders and team members. Select people who can see beyond their own interests and consider the broader organizational needs. Remember teams do not have to work on all topics. Choose the ones most pertinent to the district work and use the aligned questions with responses that will have impact on reentry for 2020-21.


Convene a kick-off meeting with the work group leaders (may decide to include all team members). At this meeting, review the measures that matter, the After-Action Review results, and scenario thinking information before beginning to respond to the questions by topic. (Refer to Section 1 of this toolkit). Also, provide direction to the group on the purpose of the groups and what needs to be accomplished.


Ask each group to begin considering the most important questions to answer for their assigned topic. Provide timelines and due dates for groups responding and reporting on the questions.


Assign workgroups to the topics in this tool, and ask them to respond to the provided set of questions for each topic.

Go to tool →

If helpful there is a template that each work group can use to complete their work. This template includes the topic and questions and the scenarios in one template. For some work groups, questions from multiple sections might apply to their specific area of planning. The work groups should feel free to use any of the questions in Tool 6 that are helpful to address a topic.


Use this template to transfer the topic, question, and answer for one or more scenarios. Feel free to modify the scenarios to meet your needs.

Go to tool →


As the work groups complete their work, the Reopening Leadership Team processes the findings of all groups, locates common themes, checks for completeness, notes potential barriers and begins organizing the reentry plan components to present to the work groups.

Use Input from the Work Group Process to Create
a Reentry Plan

The Reopening Leadership Team uses the input from the work groups to create a Reentry Plan. The final plan is shared with the workgroups. The leadership team also adds the actions needed in the Communication Plan (Tool 3) to communicate with important stakeholders, such as employees and parents. Some sample categories for a plan are provided in Tool 8. Use this to create your own plan or use an existing plan structure.


The reentry plan document should serve as a high-level overview. It is used as a reference point to answer questions that employees, students and families may have about the decisions made around how schools will be managed. Use this template as a guide to assist the team in creating the plan. Use the headings provided, or create ones that are most significant for your district.

Go to tool →

Apply a 30/60/90 Day District Stoplight to Track Progress on Executing the Plan

The last and a significant step is to create a 30/60/90 day stop light report format to track progress on how well teams are executing the plan. These actions will be high level district actions that will be used by divisions and departments to create specific and detailed action plans to guide department teams on the actionable work that needs to be accomplished in a specified time span. Spend the most time on the 30-day plan knowing that at the end of 30 days the leadership team will continue to revise the next 30, 60 and 90 days.

To begin, use the Reentry Plan to determine what the district will do for each area over 30/60/90 days. At scheduled meetings, (recommend at least every two weeks), score each action the appropriate color to demonstrate current progress:

  • Green means on track.
  • Yellow means progressing but not in the way anticipated.
  • Red means not progressing and behind.

As a leadership team, review the results to determine what’s working well, where adjustments need to be made and why, and how to make adjustments to get back on track.


Using your Reentry Plan and this template, map out 30-, 60-, and 90-day high-level actions. These actions will be used by divisions and departments to create detailed action plans to execute the district actions.

Go to tool →

Section 2 Summary

We hope that the resources in this toolkit provide leaders and teams with helpful tools for reentering schools. Please use this toolkit in ways that provide the best benefits for your team. Leadership teams can go through all the resources or select the resources that are most helpful. Feel free to modify any tool to meet your needs.

Our work is more important than ever as we face the challenges ahead. With great leadership, we can achieve results on the measures that matter most and that are focused on student success. High performing people in our organizations want to help students and families thrive in these challenging times. We are confident that working through the current challenges with resources like the ones in this toolkit will make our schools better places to work, and where our people are making a difference as they are engaged in the most worthwhile work possible, educating our children. Let’s take on this challenge to build better systems to support student success.


Janet Pilcher, Ph.D. | Studer Education, Executive Leader and Managing Director

Pat Greco, Ph.D. | Studer Education, Senior Director of Thought Leadership

Nannette Johnston, M.Ed. | Studer Education, Leader Coach

Gayle Juneau-Butler, Ed.D. | Studer Education, Leader Coach

Julie Kunselman, Ph.D. | Studer Education, Director of Research and Development, Leader Coach

Robin Largue, Ed.D. | Studer Education, Director of Operations, Leader Coach

Melissa Matarazzo, Ed.D. | Studer Education, Coach Team Lead, Leader Coach

Kathleen Oropallo, Ph.D. | Studer Education, Leader Coach

Karen “KK” Owen, Ed.D. | Studer Education, Leader Coach

JoAnn Sternke, Ph.D. | Studer Education, Senior Director, Leader Coach


Connect with us to explore how we can partner together to build a culture of excellence.


Leadership and Team Resources

Harvard Business Review, 2017

What Sets Successful CEOs Apart. Harvard Business Review. Elena Lytkina Botelho, Kim Rosenkoetter Powell , Stephen Kincaid and Dina Wang

Leadership Toolkit: What The Best Leaders Do to Communicate With Employees During Critical Times. Studer Education 2020

Accelerate Your Performance Podcast. Studer Education

COVID 19 Resources Reviewed

American Federation of Teachers–Plan for Reopening Schools

CDC Guidelines for Community Reopening in COVID 19 Pandemic

CDC Guidelines for Schools and Day Care

Missouri School Board Association Plan to Reopen Schools

United States Department of Education Resources

Interim Guidance for Administrators of US K-12 Schools and Child Care Programs. Center for Diseas Control (not accepted by COVID Task Force)

Opening Up America Again. The White House






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