Leadership Lessons from Covid to AI

March 2020 will be forever etched in history as a time when educators had to reimagine and redefine what was known as school. As school leaders, we had to rapidly draw up plans for the foreseeable future in completely unknown and unexplored territory. All we knew for certain was that we had to do our best to provide an education to the students we were serving, stretching every resource we had. There was no choice but to adapt to an unfamiliar technology tool in order to succeed.

As we look at the next big technological challenge that lies ahead, generative AI, we are trying to apply much of what we learned during the pandemic to new technologies. Here are some of the key lessons we’ve employed.


Lead by example.

As leaders, we need to constantly model what we would like to see from our staff and students, and technology is no exception. We may feel intimidated, we may feel overwhelmed, we may feel defeated, but still have to overcome all of those challenges to lead by example. During the pandemic, we led by example by learning and leading alongside our staff and students.


In the case of generative AI, we have started using AI in practical aspects of our educational journey, whether designing for our in-service days, creating sample comments for conferences and report cards, or demonstrating the use in teaching and learning. When staff and students see us leading by example, we bridge the divide between administration and teaching staff, as well as prove that what we ask them to do we will be doing ourselves.


Take the plunge.

As educators, this can be a harsh reality to accept. We never know for certain how everything will turn out when we try something new, and must summon our courage, tap into all available resources, keep our students’ and staff’s best interest in mind and accept that we may fail or that we may not achieve the exact outcome we intended.

As we contemplate the role generative AI can play in our school, we must help our teachers recognize that exploring all that this technology offers is critical. We have heard educators express concerns that students will use generative AI to do their work for them. They are fearful that if they “allow the use of the tool,” it will encourage students to take shortcuts in their work.

As leaders, we need to help our teachers keep an open mind and develop creative ideas for using AI as a tool for learning, not a crutch or substitute for doing their own work. We also need to help teachers come to grips with the fact that AI is here to stay, like it or not, and students are using these tools and will continue to use these tools in ways that are out of our direct control. We have done our best to shift the dialogue from whether or not students will use these tools to how we would most like our students to use them.

When asked the “how” question, our teachers have suggested using generative AI to help students get started on their work. For example, students can ask AI to prepare an outline of an essay or write an opening paragraph for them. Teachers have designed lessons that help students both compose good questions and critically evaluate the product AI produces. Some of what they are trying now is different from how they originally imagined using the tool, but because they have kept an open mind, they are developing useful and interesting ideas. As leaders, we have helped provide space for exploration as well as encouragement to communicate successes and failures all along the way.


It helps to be in the same boat.

When we try something new, it is always a comfort to know we are not alone. We can support and learn from one another. We can become resources for each other and celebrate our collective progress together. Rather than competing, we are truly collaborating, and our progress as individuals benefits our whole community. This was true during the pandemic when the whole world, and certainly the educational community, had to adapt to all new circumstances. It’s true now as well.

We have encouraged our teachers to interact with their professional peers, read about how others are using AI and have open dialogues with their students. We are all in this together, and we can learn from each other. Many of our teachers spent the summer reading about applications for AI and have held both formal and informal discussion groups to share what they have learned. Many are also involved in online teacher groups and with peers from other schools.

We are continuously exploring ways to connect our teachers with other educators across the nation and beyond, and have ourselves connected with other educational leaders. With all of the emerging research and discussions, it is imperative that we keep learning what this tool can offer. At this stage, no one is truly an expert on educational uses of AI, and we all need to contribute to establishing banks of best practices.

As the famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore said:

          Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
          Where knowledge is free
          Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
          By narrow domestic walls
          Where words come out from the depth of truth
          Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
          Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
          Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit…


Transparent communication with all stakeholders is essential to success.

As we were upending all of the ways we labeled as school during the pandemic, it was clear to us that every stakeholder, including parents, staff, teachers, board members and students, needed to know what was happening, why we were doing what we were doing, and how we would adjust as new information became available.

The same is true with generative AI. There is so much information and misinformation about these tools that it is incumbent on us as leaders to keep our community informed about our practices and also engaged in helping create our strategies.

We have involved students from the start in conversations about appropriate and inappropriate use of generative AI and have also looked to them to help develop our practices. Rather than shut them out from our planning, we recognize that understanding these tools and applying them in sensible and effective ways will be important to their growth and development.

We started a small elective class last spring and charged the sixth through eighth graders in the class with exploring the uses and applications of AI. This “think tank” of students has helped inform classroom usage of AI tools. Similar to the staff involved in research and discussions, this group of students have served as our early adopters who are helping us generate policies and practices.

As we begin using these tools in the classroom, we also must explain our approaches and rationale to parents. It is important that they recognize that we are taking a thoughtful approach to applying these tools to learning. Our parents continue to be sensitive to our use and sometimes perceived overuse of technology in our classrooms, and we need to continue to earn and keep their trust by demonstrating thoughtful, balanced use of technology.

We want and need our school to leverage what we learned during the pandemic as we explore the biggest disruptive technology we have encountered ever, generative AI. We need to remind our colleagues that falling back into our old habits of resisting growth and change in technology will deprive our students of real opportunities to use these powerful tools to enhance their learning.

By modeling effective, meaningful uses of these tools in our work, we have started the process of integrating AI into our daily practices. We are introducing research, examples of best practices and practical applications, through open dialogue, workshops and summer reading assignments. We are designing courses for our students, encouraging teachers to incorporate AI in their planning, and educating our parent community, just as we did with online learning in March 2020.

We can and must empower our teachers and our students to embrace rather than fear or, worse, misuse these tools. Reflecting upon the lessons we learned about the infinite possibilities of growth and change, together we will march forward using generative AI to create mensches who will exert a positive impact in the world.

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AI and Tech
Fall 2023
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