Obviously, education is at the top of my mind since it is the profession both my wife and I are a part of, and my kids currently attend public schools in Texas. Both the lessons learned and tolls from the pandemic serve as reminders that we need to be thinking critically about what schools will need to focus on as they re-open in the near future. The bottom line is that re-entry planning has to begin now even though there are still many unknowns. Challenges that might seem insurmountable now have to be addressed. Many will remain well into the new school year, but detailed planning now can help to both mitigate and overcome many of them. New ones will most certainly pop up, so the focus should be on not developing the perfect plan, but instead the best one for your situation.
During the crisis, we have seen digital leadership strategies embraced and innovation take hold despite roadblocks. Successes with remote learning have to be built upon and integrated across the curriculum. In particular, we have seen some kids flourish in this environment. Going forward, a sound plan should be developed so that all learners have a positive educational experience that meets their needs. Below are some key areas to focus on when developing a re-entry plan for the upcoming school year.
Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)
There might not be a more critical area of focus than SEL. Many students have been traumatized over the past couple of months as a result of inadequate access to food, social isolation, parents being laid off, and in some cases, the lack of a caring adult in the home. Schools, as they have always done, will serve a vital role in getting these kids back on track. The challenge is that we do not fully understand the severity of the impact during the pandemic yet. Hence, it is crucial to start to develop critical supports now.
Addressing and Closing Learning Gaps
Many people are saying that the summer learning loss will pale in comparison to what educators will see when kids return to school. While many schools have valiantly continued with remote learning, some decided that it just wasn’t working. Those that implemented their plans with fidelity still could not fully ensure that all kids completed assigned work, let alone learned. Strategies to help all kids, no matter where they are, will need to be emphasized.
We have seen schools make considerable investments in technology during the pandemic. Such a blended pedagogy has become an integral component of remote learning plans. Schools can seize on the opportunities inherent with the purposeful use of technology aligned with high-agency strategies to create a more personalized experience.
COVID19 has unveiled the harsh reality of the inequities that plague learners in virtually every country. Where you live, in particular, has had a direct correlation to whether or not remote learning has been successful in many schools. The “haves” have tended to prosper while the “have nots” have suffered. We can ill-afford not to address this fact. Additionally, the digital divide is wider than many perceived. Access to devices and reliable WIFI needs to be emphasized.
Flexible and Innovative Schedules for Social Distancing
There is no guarantee that when schools re-open that social distancing guidelines will be relaxed. This will vary from state to state and country to country, but pre-planning for this now makes sense as remote learning will probably be needed in some form to begin the academic year. There might very well be limits on how many people can be in a classroom or building at one time, and rooms have to be reorganized to keep kids and adults six feet apart. The need for flexible and innovative schedules that address this, as well as remote blended learning for kids who are not in the building on certain days, will need to be prioritized.
It is difficult to sugarcoat this one. Many states and countries will be making deep cuts to education. It will take creativity during the planning process to re-allocate funds for routine cleaning, screening for COVID19, hygiene, devices, improvements to bandwidth, professional development, and needed programs, all while retaining current staff. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) just recently released guidelines for schools that can be found in this decision tree. Unfortunately, difficult decisions lie ahead, similar to the Great Recession from 2007 – 2009. Rest assured, schools will emerge stronger and better prepared to meet the needs of all learners.
For all the previous focus areas listed above to be addressed and implemented successfully, professional learning will be needed. How this is accomplished will vary depending on finances and internal resources. It is essential to identify and map out what specific supports will need to be outsourced and those that can be addressed internally with fidelity. At the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) we have a comprehensive plan to assist districts and schools with re-entry. You can view it HERE. Please reach out if you would like ao to discuss this further.
For any re-entry plan to succeed, relationships with stakeholders are critical and something I discuss in greater detail in both Digital Leadership and BrandED. Communicate excessively, but also consider eliciting feedback from parents and the greater community to develop the best possible course of action. Embracement by all is crucial to success.
I am sure there are other elements that will be considered. As you map out your plans, keep them generally focused on safety (student and staff) as well as learning. Together we are better and will get through this challenging time.
Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series.