Living Lead From Here:
How our signature citizen leadership framework has guided the institution through the COVID-19 crisis
By Karen Lewis Taylor | Back to Table of Contents
As reports of the spread of a new, highly infectious virus began to emerge in early 2020, institutions across the globe were pressed to consider how they might respond to myriad scenarios created by a worldwide public health threat unlike any seen in the last 100 years.
Ravenscroft faced the same concerns as other schools, colleges and universities across the region and nation in determining what practices were necessary to safeguard the health of employees, students and families and how best to prepare for the possibility of a suspension of on-campus teaching and learning.
The school’s success in navigating this crisis — in a deliberate and orderly manner that allowed instruction to continue without interruption — is ultimately a testament to the many members of the Ravenscroft community whose expertise and commitment turned those contingencies into action. That they found the means to do so in the school’s signature educational framework, Lead From Here, serves as a resounding endorsement of the vision the school’s leadership has been championing for nearly a decade.
“Our collective awareness around the world community, I think, contributed to our best ability to manage what was a completely unexpected, volatile, ambiguous, unprecedented moment in history,” Head of School Doreen Kelly said in June. “I’m honored, I’m grateful, that even through the challenges and the imperfections we were capable of finding our lighthouse in the storm: our mission and the Lead From Here framework.”
As we explore Ravenscroft’s response to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, we see the impact of the 21st-century leadership competencies that trustees and administrators, faculty and staff, and students and their families have explored and embraced since Lead From Here’s introduction in 2013: being strategic, resourceful and collaborative, adaptable and — perhaps most essential as we continue to teach, learn and live through this global crisis — resilient.
Parents helped document and share the work done at home by Lower School students such as PreK student Conway Beard.
In late January, as school leadership began monitoring news that the novel coronavirus was no longer restricted to the Chinese province of Wuhan, they crafted their response by leaning on a principle that has long guided Ravenscroft: risk management and emergency preparedness.
“Risk management is built into all of our decision processes. We can’t eliminate risk, but we can mitigate it,” then-Board Chair Kevin Anderson ’82 said. “This approach laid the groundwork for us to have conversations heading into the period of uncertainty around the outbreak.”
“Our pandemic plan” — created in 2007, revised in 2013 and adapted to the current crisis — “and the creation of a pandemic task force were very important to the institution’s response,” added Leonard Johnson, Associate Head of School for Business and Finance.
Following these protocols, school leadership, faculty and staff quickly began planning for multiple scenarios. Key personnel in curricular programming, student health, facilities management, business and finance, technology services and communications were tapped to lend their expertise. By Feb. 6, the institution had shared its first coronavirus-related communication with families: an email from Co-Director of Clinical Services Rebecca Nelson acknowledging the situation unfolding across the world and reminding families about healthy practices for preventing the spread of cold and flu.
Left: Betsy Barnett’s PreK class, including Charlie Dill and Josh Eisen, use virtual meetings to stay connected during the period of remote learning.
Right: First-grader Evan Strickland shows the picture he drew of his character in the grade-level musical “Wing It!,” a collaboration between art teacher Amelia Karpowitz and music teacher Katie O’Neill.
“During situations where there is fear, uncertainty or doubt, we lean on best practices for crisis management, and communications becomes an essential strategic element,” Director of Marketing and Communications Jennifer Davis explained. “We had not yet received many questions from parents, but we felt it was important to let families know that the school was monitoring the evolving circumstances.”
As the news grew more concerning — and moved closer to home, with community spread in the U.S. confirmed Feb. 25 and the first case in North Carolina announced March 3 — the ability of the response team to act quickly and decisively became essential.
“My first communication with Doreen about our contingency planning was on Feb. 25,” Anderson — who was in Japan and was monitoring news coverage close to the outbreak’s epicenter — remembered. “On March 4, in a singular act of leadership, Doreen announced that the school would hold a teacher workday March 9 to prepare for the possibility of a shift to remote teaching and learning. This decision put us ahead of many of our peer schools.”
With technology sure to be at the heart of the shift, the response team had reason to celebrate another strategic decision.
“Everything we had done with technology in the 10 years previously prepared us to make this quick transition,” Chief Information Officer Jason Ramsden said. “Around 2011, we introduced the Chromebook program” — which provided 1:1 technology for students in grades five and up, with students in grades six through 12 assigned Chromebooks for school and home use — “and started moving to the cloud, because we were hearing from students that they needed to be able to access their files from anywhere.”
Cloud-based platforms allowed students such as third-grader Charlie Creedon to share their work products from home and get feedback from their teachers.
While the impact of pandemic-mitigation efforts on the delivery of instruction was certainly in the forefront of the school’s planning, it was by no means the only area the response team was called to consider. In addressing concerns ranging from providing enhanced sanitation measures in campus buildings to the possible cancellation of field trips and international travel, members of the response team relied on their extensive leadership training — much of it done with the Center for Creative Leadership, co-creators of Lead From Here — to guide their work.
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Dec. 30, 2019:
Physicians at Wuhan Central Hospital in China are alerted about the emergence of a SARS-like illness.
Jan. 17, 2020: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control begins implementing public health entry screening at San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles airports.
Jan. 31: President Donald Trump declares the novel coronavirus outbreak a national public health emergency.
Feb. 6: Ravenscroft Co-Director of Clinical Services Rebecca Nelson announces the administration is monitoring the spread of novel coronavirus and shares best practices for staying healthy during cold and flu season.
Feb. 25: U.S. community spread is verified by the CDC. Ravenscroft Board Chair Kevin Anderson ’82 communicates with Head of School Doreen Kelly about pandemic preparedness for the school.
Feb. 26: Kelly provides an update on school preparedness measures and resources for families.
March 3: The first case of COVID-19 in North Carolina is confirmed.
March 4: School leadership cancels upcoming school travel and announces a March 9 teacher workday to plan for possible campus closure. Faculty, staff and students begin taking home essential supplies daily.
March 11: Kelly and Anderson announce the decision to transition to remote learning for a period of two weeks, beginning on March 16. The school unveils a new Virtual Learning website and surveys families on their access to technology and Internet services at home.
March 14: North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issues an executive order, effective March 16, that closes K-12 public schools and bans gatherings of more than 100 people.
March 25: North Carolina confirms the state’s first COVID-related death. Kelly announces that virtual learning will continue until the end of the school year.
March 26: The U.S. takes the lead in global infections, with more than 83,000 confirmed cases.
March 27: Cooper announces a statewide stay-at-home order, effective March 30 through April 29.
April 9: Associate Head of School for Academics and Student Life Colleen Ramsden solicits feedback from families on the new schedule; 97% of respondents provide positive reviews.
April 24: State leaders announce that K-12 public schools will remain closed through the end of the school year.
May 6: Plans for virtual end-of-year celebrations for each division are announced.
May 21: Ravenscroft students have their last day of school.
May 28-31: Kelly, Ramsden and Head of Upper School Aaron Sundstrom individually confer 107 diplomas to members of the Class of 2020, with extended family joining by Zoom.
June 5: Ravenscroft issues its Guide to Reopening for 2020-21.
- NC DHHS COVID-19
- North Carolina Government News Releases
- North Carolina Health News, COVID-19: What's happening in NC?
- USA Today News, Five months in: A timeline of how COVID-19 has unfolded in the US
But they didn’t do it alone. As the institution began preparing for the likelihood of significant changes to instructional delivery, the response team drew on additional Lead From Here competencies including resourcefulness and collaboration.
“We realized we needed to develop our expertise in remote instruction, so we looked to other resources — including independent schools in Washington state, where the first cases in the U.S. had been identified — to determine how to prepare,” Anderson said. “The question we asked was, What data exists to help us make these decisions?”
The team ultimately reviewed best practices from a variety of institutions, including peer schools across the country; schools in South Korea, which had experienced first cases at the same time the U.S. did; public universities, including the University of North Carolina System; and private universities such as Duke.
“We worked through all aspects of the situation,” Colleen Ramsden, Associate Head of School for Academics and Student Life, said. “That led to our developing the plan to hold a ‘snow day’ to work with teachers to prepare for the possibility of remote learning. At first we were thinking that might last for two weeks.”
Director of Educational Technology Sarah Wike began building a bank of resources for faculty to use in determining how best to translate lessons into the digital space. She and Jason Ramsden designed faculty and staff technology training for the workday, and Colleen Ramsden and division heads planned department and grade-level meetings to allow teachers to collaborate on curriculum and scheduling.
Sam Caplan ’26 plans the design for a Rube Goldberg machine at home as part of his work in the Middle School’s Think It! Design It! Make It! course.
“The snow day in March was paramount in our ability to make a smooth transition from in-person to online learning,” Middle School Math Department chair Erin Altshuler said. “It gave teachers the day to gain comfort with the digital platform, try it out and align as a department. It also allowed us to set clear expectations and, in most cases, try out a virtual lesson with students while we were still together in the building.”
Katie Barnwell, who chairs the Upper School World Languages Department, said she and her colleagues benefited from having time to work through subject-specific issues together. “A main concern was figuring out how to continue to facilitate interpersonal listening and speaking practice as well as collaboration through group and partner activities,” she said. “Our workday was essential for having time to brainstorm, discuss strategies and set up virtual ‘breakout rooms’ that our students could access, while also allowing teachers to monitor student progress and give feedback.”
The timing of the workday proved to be critical. Two days later, after careful assessment of conditions in the area, Kelly and Anderson announced the school’s decision to transition to remote learning effective March 16. By week’s end, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper had issued an executive order closing K-12 public schools and banning gatherings of more than 100 people.
In the same spirit of collaboration that helped prepare Ravenscroft to make and execute this decision, Kelly made sure the school’s planning and remote-learning resources were available to other schools facing similar circumstances.
“When you’re dealing with a pandemic health crisis, it’s not the time to be proprietary,” she said. “It was, ‘Here’s the communication strategy. Here’s where that plan is. Here’s what we’re learning.’ And we continue to do that today.”
School leaders weren’t the only ones thinking of how they might help others. Student-initiated service projects and a schoolwide campaign to thank first responders provided many Ravens with the opportunity to support the community even as they grappled with changes to their own lives.
Many Ravens continued to honor their commitment to service during the statewide shutdown, including Sophia Toback ’21, whose family made scores of face masks for vulnerable members of the community at a time when masks were in short supply.
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While the initial plan was rooted in the familiar — using established platforms such as Google Classroom and Veracross in a daily routine that mimicked the on-campus schedule — leaders knew flexibility was crucial.
“We put our stakes in the ground early on and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do. And, after that period of two weeks, we’re going to get feedback and see what we have to adapt based on what we learn,’” Kelly noted.
On March 25, as teachers were sharing videos, screenshots and stories about the innovative work they were doing online, Ravenscroft announced that virtual learning would continue through the end of the school year. Based on feedback from faculty, Colleen Ramsden and division heads introduced a new class schedule that allowed for greater flexibility and downtime for screen-fatigued students and their families.
“Our top priority was student and faculty health and wellness, not only physical but also emotional,” Ramsden said. “This was a challenging situation for parents, too, especially Lower School parents. They had to do a lot to facilitate work at home and keep their students on track. They let us know they were struggling. Our move to an asynchronous model was intended to provide more flexibility for families.”
Virtual meetings, such as this one for John Karny’s senior advisory, helped Upper School students keep in touch and stay on target with the semester’s work.
In that “new now” of remote learning, Wike’s list of educational technology resources for faculty, students and parents grew to include tools that facilitated interactive learning and a wider range of assessments. From fine arts performances and P.E. workouts to Advanced Placement courses and research projects, faculty and students adapted lessons and projects to suit the virtual realm.
“Lead From Here’s emphasis on having a growth mind-set was critical for both teachers and students,” Ramsden said. “We thought differently and found new ways of doing things.”
Second-grade team lead Jessalyn Crawford echoed that sentiment: “We could not be more proud of our students’ motivation and resilience throughout our virtual Time Machine project. Not only were they researching historical trailblazers, but they themselves were also trailblazers in transforming the experience in ways we had never imagined possible.”
School communications, including weekly updates from Head of School Doreen Kelly, kept families informed and connected despite the campus closure.
The crisis communications strategy evolved as well. Kelly began sending weekly updates — some via video — outlining institutional priorities and planning, and division heads communicated regularly with families on everything from course registration for 2020-21 to birthday wishes and read-alouds of their favorite stories. Knowing that Ravenscroft is about more than academic programming, communications staff also worked with stakeholders to share messages that reinforced the bonds of community.
“We wanted to continue engaging with our students and families even though we weren’t together on campus,” Digital Marketing Manager Mary Kornegay said. “We created a series of messages from faculty and staff, and Lower School teachers made a fun video to encourage students to keep reading. The #RavensTogetherAtHome performances were a huge hit.”
Left: Vivian Musante performs in the first grade’s virtual performance of “Wing It!”
Right: Fine arts students such as Ik Ekpunobi ’21 get in on the fun of the social media campaign #RavensTogetherAtHome, the brainchild of choral director Cameron Bolin.
Behind the scenes, leadership worked to keep Ravenscroft on solid financial footing as the nation’s economy floundered. The Board of Trustees’ Finance Committee started meeting biweekly to monitor the effects of the downturn on the school, and the Business Office made conservative management of the school’s budget a top priority.
“We did not know, at that point, when our students and teachers would return to campus and how much that might cost,” Johnson said. “That turned out to be a good plan, because preparing for a return to campus in the hybrid model has been resource-intensive.”
One upside to the closure of campus to nonessential personnel: staff from Buildings & Grounds were able to get an early start on their summer maintenance projects, freeing time in later months for adapting learning spaces to accommodate physical distancing when the buildings reopened to faculty and students.
Nurturing Community in the Digital Space
By Mary Kornegay, Digital Marketing Manager
As teachers and students transitioned to remote teaching and learning, staff in the communications office sprang into action to help Ravens of all ages stay connected and informed. In addition to email channels used to share information and updates, the team partnered with stakeholders to make the most of everything the virtual realm has to offer. Here are a few highlights.
RGN: Ravens’ Good News
A new section in the Weekly Calendar featured ideas for connecting with one another, fun news, inspirational thoughts and messages, and tips to support self-care during the period of virtual learning.
“We Miss You, Ravens!”
Communications staff worked with the divisions and departments to create videos acknowledging how much they missed having everyone on campus. The series started with division heads and their administrative assistants and then expanded to include members of the Athletics and Fine Arts departments.
Choir director Cameron Bolin came up with the idea of asking students, faculty and alumni for videos of themselves singing, playing an instrument or dancing. The submissions — from Ravens in PreK through Upper School and even talented alumni who graduated decades ago — showed that we could still share special moments together, creating not only works of art but a sense of community. Enjoy this mash-up of performances!
Teacher Appreciation Week
As teachers continued to knock it out of the park every week during remote learning, the Parents’ Association developed a whole new list of ways for families to show their gratitude during Teacher Appreciation Week, including posting notes on our virtual Teacher Appreciation Wall.
Celebrating the Class of 2020
In addition to a dedicated “Senior Success” webpage celebrating the accomplishments of the senior class, our social media channels shared heartwarming throwbacks from their PreK through senior year; and faculty, staff, students and parents sent in photos for a Class of 2020 Flickr album.
Enjoy more of Ravenscroft’s school-managed social media content on our Social Media Mash-Up page.
As the weeks wore on and students weathered the cancellation of spring sports, class trips and the prom, school leaders realized it was more important than ever to celebrate the final milestones of the school year. For Kelly, those moments called on the adults at Ravenscroft to model another Lead From Here competency: resilience.
“Yes, we experienced collective grief and loss,” she said. “The focus for us became what, given the cards we were dealt, we could do to create meaningful experiences through end-of-year transitions.”
Even as the task force was considering multiple scenarios for the start of the new school year, division leaders dove into plans for marking the last day of school and, with it, the closing ceremonies that represent important rites of passage for fifth-, eighth- and 12th-graders and retiring employees. The desire to get it right for the Class of 2020 was especially poignant.
“As leaders, we are called upon to be resilient, adaptable and accountable in the best of times. As this spring unfolded, those competencies mandated that we think outside the box,” Head of Upper School Aaron Sundstrom said. “We wanted to acknowledge how proud we were of our senior class for their many years of hard work and to give them and their families their moment in the spotlight.”
In the end, after seeking suggestions and feedback from members of the senior class, Sundstrom, Kelly and Colleen Ramsden held 107 individual diploma-conferring ceremonies for seniors and their parents, with extended family and friends joining via Livestream and Zoom. It was, like many other events this spring, a necessary compromise that ultimately gave back more than it took away.
“Our capacity to have both the Livestream and the Zoom, and observe on one call family members from four different countries able to celebrate their child — there were lots of tissues over those four days, and I consider it a privilege to be part of those family reunions and the expressions and the toasts and the other surprises,” Kelly said. “What has heartened me the most is that, despite grief, despite loss, despite all the challenges this situation has created, people keep showing up in belief of our mission, in belief of our community. Our faculty, staff and students, and our parents, too. That inspires me every day.”
School leaders are particularly grateful for the feedback and encouragement from families. Even as they helped with projects and monitored screen time at home, many parents took time to send notes of thanks to teachers and administrators, and they enthusiastically supported a giving campaign built around Teacher Appreciation Week.
“The ongoing generosity of our community has made the Ravenscroft experience possible even during these uncertain times,” Sarah Macey, Donor Engagement Officer, said. “Our sincerest gratitude goes out to our families for embracing distance learning and for enabling our students to succeed in tomorrow’s world, today!”
As the community settles into the new school year and the many challenges it brings, that determination to find growth in adversity continues to define Ravenscroft’s leadership. Over the summer, teachers took part in rigorous professional development around curriculum planning in a hybrid learning model — which facilitates both in-person and remote learning — and the use of Canvas, a new educational management system. The Technical Services team ramped up to provide the additional infrastructure to make that happen, and the Buildings & Grounds staff supported divisional task forces addressing traffic flow and physical distancing.
As teachers spent their summer on curriculum work and technology training for the year to come, Ravenscroft’s Buildings & Grounds staff put in long hours to prepare the campus for students’ return. “We worked with division heads and their task forces to address building needs around hand sanitation, traffic flow and physical distancing in classrooms, including making more than 250 plexiglass shields for shared work tables,” Director of Buildings & Grounds Chris Farrow said. “We even built stands for gallon-sized jugs of hand sanitizer.”
“It changed our summer completely, and not just for the leadership team,” Colleen Ramsden said of the demands to adapt to the longer-term ramifications of the pandemic. “But the work we saw from our faculty and staff was quite impressive.”
For school leaders, the institution’s work in response to COVID-19 — both in the early months of the outbreak and now, in the new school year — has reinforced their conviction that our citizen leadership framework must form the core of the work faculty and staff do to educate and mold students in the complex and interdependent world of the 21st century.
“I’m incredibly proud of Ravenscroft’s living out what it teaches in Lead From Here,” Anderson, who completed his three-year term as board chair in July, said. “This challenge provided an opportunity for the school to model everything it’s teaching to students and working to equip them with for the future.”
“I had hoped with all my being the institution would come to live Lead From Here more deeply,” Kelly added. “I never imagined that it could serve so well in a time such as this. So we don’t have to wait to know what the legacy of Lead From Here is. It’s able to support, challenge, inspire and direct us — and help us move forward.”
By Brooke McDaniel
As they worked to tackle the challenges of remote teaching and learning this spring, many faculty and staff shared words of positivity and encouragement with students and colleagues. Some found inspiration in traditional sayings, classical philosophers, historical figures, authors and even popular movies. Others adapted classroom traditions for the virtual realm.
Assistant Director of Admissions Jennifer Baccus said she’d frequently thought of Plato’s “Necessity is the mother of invention.” She added, “It is amazing what our entire faculty and staff have come up with because we have this tremendous responsibility to educate our students and keep our school running. We have to continue teaching and learning, so creativity and perseverance are our only options.”
Lower School teacher Danny Carlson leaned on Walt Disney’s mantra to “keep moving forward,” while art teacher Amelia Karpowitz and Winston librarian Jessica Ortolano both referred to Dory’s motto from “Finding Nemo”: “Just keep swimming!”
A clever adaptation of the welcome song to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” — “It’s a beautiful day in the virtual school!” — gave Meg Ellis’s kindergarten class something to look forward to every morning. Third-grade teacher Nicole Willis used a call-and-response technique, prompting her class with “It begins in beauty so it …” and having them chime in with “... ends in beauty!”
Director of Library Services Angela Finn said that her pre-pandemic mantra, “Relentless optimism!,” was more important to her than ever. Middle School teacher Mark McLean focused on opportunities for growth with a quote from author Carol Dweck, “Becoming is better than being.” Upper School teacher Lorre Gifford acknowledged the challenges of the time by reassuring her students, “We’re celebrating progress, not perfection!”
Upper School teacher Casandra Seed used a reference to the novel “Today Will Be Different” by Maria Semple — in which a character describes a calming breathing technique, “Smell the soup, cool the soup” — to help her students de-stress by breathing in through the nose and blowing out through the mouth.
Regardless of the origin of the inspirational, the Ravenscroft community shared the goal of adapting to the situation in all its uncertainty. That focus on being adaptable and resilient will certainly carry over into the new school year. As Head of School Doreen Kelly shared in this quote from business writers Jim Collins and Morten Hansen:
We are not imprisoned by our circumstances. We are not imprisoned by the luck we get or the inherent unfairness of life. We are not imprisoned by crushing setbacks, self-inflicted mistakes or our past success. We are not imprisoned by the times in which we live, by the number of hours in a day or even the number of hours we’re granted in our very short lives. In the end, we can only control only a tiny sliver of what happens to us. But even so, we are free to choose, free to become great by choice.