Virtual Schools Have Unique Work Environments
by Mark Sivy
This post content was taken from my dissertation study and findings surrounding virtual school leadership. What I found was that interview responses concerning the work environment were generally similar from one leader to the next. Differences in the findings were usually due to the number and type of staff and their geographic proximity to one another.
External Work Processes
There were multiple discussions of the leaders interacting with individuals outside their virtual school for the purpose of assuring the school’s operation and success. The most frequent reference was dealing with the school districts that the virtual school served. The leaders often found themselves in role of working with school principals or district administrators to set the foundation for smooth interactions between the schools. Occasionally a virtual school leader was involved with negotiating special arrangements being made with a specific school district in terms of course content or instruction.
Beyond this, there was a mix of external involvement. Many of the leaders worked with online service vendors and course content providers to ensure cost-effective, dependable, and user-friendly services and systems for the school. The leaders also mentioned their participation in a variety of committees and professional groups where they worked on behalf of their virtual school on common topics and solutions to issues and challenges.
Internal Work Processes
The requirements for and purposes of these processes are similar to those within a traditional school, but how they are carried out can vary widely due to the virtual setting. Even though many processes have been touched upon throughout the other themes, the leaders did directly discuss others that are included in this section.
One ongoing responsibility for the leaders was to position the organization to be capable of dealing with problems, changes, and new trends. This involved establishing flexible strategic plans and adaptable school goals and objectives. The leaders commonly accomplished this through teamwork and other collaborative efforts within the school.
To facilitate internal school operations, the leaders used an assortment of online, face-to-face, and hybrid gatherings to bring the stakeholders or project teams together. Some of these were strictly planning meetings, certain ones served as progress checkpoints, and others were interactive work sessions. Unless an executive decision was needed, the leaders tended to let project managers, team leaders, and the teams organize themselves and lead the progress.
Internal Work Structure
Each school had their unique organizational pattern and hierarchy, distribution of work responsibilities, and employee work locations. This was often determined by funding, state-level directives, and the leader’s discretion. The first two created limitations, but the latter gave the leader latitude in making organizational decisions and assignments.
The individual styles, characteristics, and choices of the leaders are what gave the schools their personality and culture. The sense of trust and confidence that the leaders had to place upon their staff, mainly as a result of having so many working at-a-distance, enabled the organizational structures to remain functional and intact.
Reflection Point – “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” ~ Albert Einstein