Using a Crisis to Win the Future

Crisis and Future

In February, 1943, poorly trained and untested units of the American Army were roundly defeated by German and Italian forces in the Battle of Kasserine Pass in North Africa. Allied forces were pushed back more than 50 miles and suffered large casualties. It was a grim first entrance into the European war theater for the Americans. Those were dark days.


What happened immediately following? First, the Army learned from that disaster and within days and weeks made changes in leadership, preparation, strategies, and tactical operations. Second, General Eisenhower called together his leadership team and started planning the invasion of Sicily.


This is one of my favorite anecdotes for school leaders, and a reminder could not be more timely. You are living through a tough time, and many of you feel that you are not “winning” right now, and you are probably right.


A primary role of leaders is to make sure we don’t re-live our mistakes. Good leaders don’t blame the enemy or the conditions on the ground; they learn from their experiences in as close to real-time as possible, and they create conditions for their organizations to improve. Your current problems are not as bad as those faced by the men fighting the Nazis in North Africa in the freezing winter of 1943, so we can be optimistic that you can convert lessons in real time for the sake of your school communities.


And good leaders always plan to win the next battle before the current battle is won. Eisenhower did not know and could not predict how or when the battle for North Africa would be won, but he knew it would, and he knew he could not wait until then to plan the next steps. We don’t know how or when the Covid crisis will wane, and we don’t know exactly what our world will look like when it does. But we know for darn sure that it WILL wane; and that it won’t be the last such crisis we face. Without a vaccine at scale, there is every likelihood that the virus will return next fall or winter.


Sometime in the next month or so, even as we have not completely “won” the current crisis, school leaders need to make sure their leadership teams are capturing the big lessons we are learning and using those to re-frame long-term strategies for improving how students learn, and for how their schools will best serve those needs.


About the Author

Grant Lichtman is an internationally recognized thought leader in the drive to transform K-12 education. He speaks, writes, and works with fellow educators to build capacity and comfort with innovation in response to a rapidly changing world. He works with school and community teams in both public and private schools, helping them to develop their imagination of schools of the future, and their places in that future. He is the author of two books, #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education, and The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School. His upcoming book, Moving the Rock: Seven Levers WE Can Press to Transform Education, explores the future of K-12 education in the next two decades and how we can dramatically transform education for all students despite the forces of inertia that have trapped schools in the past.

For fifteen years Grant was a senior administrator at one of the largest and oldest K 12 independent schools in California with responsibilities that included business, finance, operations, technology, development, campus construction, and global studies. Before working in education, he directed business ventures in the oil and gas industry in the former Soviet Union, South America, and the U.S. Gulf Coast. Grant graduated from Stanford University with a BS and MS in geology in 1980 and studied the deep ocean basins of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Bering Sea. He and his wife, Julie, live in Poway, California, just north of San Diego.

Since 2012, Grant has visited and worked with more than 125 schools and thousands of teachers, administrators, and students around the country. Grant told us that when he visits schools, it is as much to learn and share what they are doing as to impart his own guidance. “I like working with people more than I like just talking at them”, he said. He is a leader in a new style of organizational vision and strategy development for schools that is ongoing, inclusive, transparent, rooted in the principles of design thinking, and, Grant says, “a bit messy”.

When we talked to Grant about adding his voice to ours, he said that he left his one-school job in 2012 “because I saw both a growing realization that schools need to change and a gap in our abilities to make those changes. On the one hand, we have teams of educators who know how kids learn, but have little or no background in organizational change management. On the other hand, we have experts in organizational change management in the 21st century who
have never spent any time in schools. I have both of those strands in my DNA, and finally a lot of school teams realize the urgency in shifting away from the rigid, traditional, teacher-centric, industrial age model of learning.”

Grant puts his thinking, writing, and work with schools into a simple context. “Essentially, effective schools work on three levels”, Grant told us. “There is a 30,000-foot level of ‘what is our vision; who do we want to be; at what do we want to excel; what is our North Star?’ There is the 10,000-foot level of ‘how can we align the operating system of our school in direct support of that vision’ and the ‘Ground Floor’ level of ‘what are we going to do with our students every day’. My wheel house is in the upper levels of this simple matrix. Once I have helped school/community teams to find their true North Star of differentiated value, and to build those integrated systems in support, I am working myself as fast as I can out of the relationship and turning the work over to those who are experts in pedagogy, program, and learning.”

Grant has offered to share his thinking with us from time to time. You can see more of his work, including links to his books and articles at, and follow him on Twitter @GrantLichtman and LinkedIn.

Planning for success