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Caring in Crisis

Caring in Crisis
Stories to Inspire and Guide School Leaders

May 2021 | 120 pages | Corwin
Learn, reflect, and grow from 40 true stories of caring school leadership during times of crisis

Each crisis brings its own issues and unique traumas, and when they happen, most leaders handle the moment by leaning into triage and logistics. This book suggests focusing on morespecifically, on the people they serve. Are you up to the task? 
These 40 real stories, from a wide range of schools and settings during many types of crises, show how caring school leadership adopted caring people-first strategies. This book will help you and your teams be inspired to prepare for, perhaps prevent, respond to, and recover from your own school crises. Within these pages, you will find:

  • An introduction to what crisis and caring school leadership means
  •  Helpful lists to guide caring leadership practices
  • A review of current crisis management literature
  • Questions, reflection, and prompts to engage with story learnings

Prepare now to be the concerned, caring, and constant leader your school will need when crises come as well as making your leadership and school more caring when those same crises subside. 

List of Illustrations
About the Authors
Introduction: Crises and Caring School Leadership
Crisis Comes

The Meaning of Crisis

Crisis Leadership and the Through Line of Caring

Caring School Leadership in Times of Crisis

Guide for Engaging the Stories
Overview of Practices

Questions That Promote Understanding

Questions That Prompt Application

The Stories
1. Through the Eyes of Children

2. Speak Life

3. Giving Ourselves Permission to Be Human

4. Building a Family

5. Reflections on Healing Staff With Compassion

6. Caring for Kids by Taking Care of Teachers

7. Laura

8. Guarding Against Sexual Misconduct

9. One Sows, Another Reaps

10. A Million Times More

11. Commitment to Community Health

12. Da Bears!

13. My Zoom Isn’t Working!

14. Imagine the Possibilities

15. On Day 2, 9/11

16. Responding to the Crises

17. A Deadly Threat

18. Start Simple

19. Keeping Connected With the Kids

20. Prioritizing Our Students

21. A District Office Caring for Teachers

22. We Need to Talk About Sarah

23. Coping With Loss

24. Bring Your Dog to Work Days

25. “With Every Difficulty, There Is Relief”

26. Tone Deafness

27. Centering on Community

28. Biting

29. The Magnolia

30. No One Saw It Coming

31. No Hugs, No Bugs

32. Two Storms in One Week

33. And Then There Was Mold

34. I Am Here for You

35. Winning and Losing

36. Summer Meals

37. Sharing the Peace

38. The Tsunami

39. Leading Through the Storm

40. The Work of My Life

A Culture of Caring

Who Cares for the Caring School Leader?


Caring in Crisis: reminded me that in times of need we as educators come together to meet the needs of out students, families and the community at large. It emphasis that the role of the educator far exceeds just addressing the academic needs of students, but the social emotional as well. I was inspired by the thoughtful displays of unconditional care from school leaders.

Joylynn L Pruitt Adams
Superintendent, Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200

In The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni argues that effective leaders focus on the technical and human aspects of managing their organization. Here, Mark Smylie and Joseph Murphy emphasize the latter especially during a crisis. Rich with illustrations, stories, and practices of caring, this book remind us that school success comes not just from curriculum and instruction, but from relationships.

Jeff Ikler
Director, Quetico Coaching and Consultation

Caring in Crisis is a book for our time. An artful collection of insightful, provocative storytelling, this work illuminates the myriad challenges school leaders face and provides a much-needed sense that educators are deeply interconnected and interdependent. Smylie and Murphy inspire us to meet the challenges ahead and reveal that while crisis takes many forms, so too does caring.

Glenn Manning
Senior Project Manager at Harvard's Making Caring Common Project

Caring in Crisis makes a strong case for the importance of extending care to all who are impacted in a crisis and of fostering a caring school community who pull together during those difficult days. The stories in this book provide a compelling glimpse into the profound impact that a caring word, an act of kindness, or a decision that prioritizes the needs of students can have.

Megan Tschannen-Moran
Professor, College of William and Mary

Caring in Crisis is a masterful resource as it presents a research-based rationale, as well as strategic guidance, for caring in times of crisis and it engages the reader in authentic experiences shared by in-the-trenches educators. This unique combination of strategies, wisdom and heartrending stories provides opportunities for educational leaders to learn from the experiences of others in order to work together with staff to proactively mitigate crises with compassion and competence. 

Michelle Trujillo
Inspirational Speaker and Professional Learning Facilitator, Author, Start with the Heart: Igniting Hope in Schools through Social Emotional Learning

How do principals respond to a teen suicide? What could they do when faced with racism, discrimination, and even policy brutality? During COVID-19, what are some innovative ways to create a sense of community and well-being? Mark Smylie and Joseph Murphy’s Caring in Crisis provides insights into compassionate school leaders responding to situations none of us would ever want to face. Their compilation of narratives from school leaders gives us a glimpse into the agony and decisions that school leaders have had to make and the critical importance of their empathy for families and communities. Caring in Crisis, filled with examples of courage, of communication, and of community-building, gives us hope for the future, for our humanity. A must read for aspiring school leaders, you will learn about leadership in the midst of tears and heart break, about supporting families during mental health challenges, and about being a friend to your students and your community. It will open minds and hearts, providing role models for new leaders and promoting a crucial standard for “ethics of care” during some of the most difficult times.

Christine Mason, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Center for Educational Improvement, Chief Advisor, New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center, Lead Author, Compassionate School Practices (Corwin, 2021)

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