Thriving and Surviving as a School During COVID-19 with Dr. Katie Wiens

In today's live session, I interviewed Dr. Katie Wiens, Executive Director of CESA and Brian Jensen, Executive Search Consultant at Vanderbloemen about strategies, tools, and practical ways for schools to survive and thrive during COVID-19.

Dr. Katie Wiens learned what quality education looked like from beginning her career as a Science Teacher then moving on to Higher Education. Brian Jensen also has a depth of experience from working directly with Christian schools and Non-profit sectors by helping them navigate their executive searches.

Addressing the Biggest Challenges for Christian Educators

Katie highlights the advantages of Independent Schools and how they are built to be nimble and flexible which has distinguished them from the pack. However, just like other schools, there are challenges and disadvantages from business practices to everyday student experiences. For example, every school has to think about their constituents and consider the fact that what their students need now is different than what they needed just a few weeks ago. 

Brian and Katie explained how this crisis has shown the importance of having disaster plans and contingency plans in place that cover the budget, enrollment, and tuition revenue. Our leaders are being challenged by taking on the pastoral role with our students and families. Katie and Brian also talked about the way they have seen schools consider the importance of the quality and care through communication.

Although there are many challenges for schools, Brian emphasized three opportunities that are available even in the midst of this hardship: 

  1.  Schools can capture their innovative spirit and translate that into their everyday practices

  2. Schools have the opportunity for personal connections with staff and students

  3. Leaders can provide academic support by developing virtual  resources and virtual academic coaching

 As Katie and Brian explained, it’s necessary for schools to be agile and flexible while also using wisdom. Our Christian leaders are built for moments like this because of their pastoral hearts. It's times like these that allow leaders to guide not only through the peaks, but also be the light through the darkest valleys. 

Surviving and Thriving as an Institutional Leader

Katie expressed how encouraged she is to see Christian school leaders take the long view of this challenging time. While we can’t serve our students in our normal fashion, we can take advantage of the unique opportunities we have to serve people through this challenging time. Three common Christian school focuses she has noticed are:

  1. Thinking about the needs of students, families, and staff

  2.  Meeting their community’s needs while providing unprecedented support and encouragement

  3.  Exploring ways to support students, families, and staff in their relationship with God through daily devotionals

“Thriving Institutional Leaders are creating a narrative by leading with one foot today and one foot in the future,” Katie explains. She believes if institutional leaders are going to thrive, they must think about their future, their mission, and how they’re going to fulfill it. Christian schools can galvanize their own story and capture their audience by showing how Christian education is different. 

Katie and Brian both shared practical ways to infuse mission, vision, and values as an Institutional Leader at a Christian school including: 

  • Review aspects of your mission and develop a plan to accomplish it. 

  • Set clear expectations for your school. 

  • Streamline communication from the school and home. 

  • Leverage social media through your Marketing and Advancement teams.

  • Empower staff who may not be capable of teaching virtually to tell the stories and make personal connections with your constituents.

  • Revisit projects that have been left on the to-do list.

  • Rely on your team and remember that no one has the exact answers during this time. 

  • Do things with excellence, care, and love as Christ ambassadors. 

  • Pray intentionally and diligently by implementing new prayer practices for your school and families.

  •  Identify what levers you can pull first and what levers you are never going to pull. 

  • Prioritize your budget to ensure the money will be well spent.

Proactive Communication Strategies for Schools Dealing with Anxiety from Families 

Katie mentioned the possibility for schools to implement a weekly three-question survey that checks on each family. When interacting with families, Katie explained the importance of being honest and expressing the truth of the Gospel. Keeping the rhythm of the school’s communication should have a sense of normalcy with the only change being the delivery. Maintaining communication patterns in a way that provides a sense of consistency will help remind families that this season is temporary, proving a sense of comfort.

Another way to serve families in this time is to provide a centralized location for families to ask questions and communicate in a way that is consistent with the school culture. This will allow families to know that the school is there for them and ready to help. Again, providing structure and clarity will help families feel encouraged that the school is prepared to respond with agility now, and return to normalcy when this season does end.

More information about Christian Education and CESA can be found at