The covid-19 pandemic has provided a challenging backdrop for schools across the country and around the world. In a recent event in Clubhouse educators and leaders from across the globe were able to convene, connect and collaborate to share their thoughts about how the past will influence the future of Education going forward particularly when it comes to the 2021-22 back-to-school season. Some amazing ideas and potential strategic plans for reopening schools were shared by those who serve at the classroom, school, and district level as well as those who provide consultant support. We are excited to share some critical insights, based on themes discussed that we believe will support you as you begin to plan the reopening of your schools across the globe this year. Take a read and see which themes stand out to you and which ones you could implement as you begin to plan your return to school.
1. Strategic Planning
Safety first: Schools must have safety measures in place so that students can continue to be in the building.
- Making sure air quality in buildings is of high quality by replacing HVAC systems and having free-standing air purifier systems around the school building.
- Having hand-washing stations around the building.
- Continue double bus routes to have fewer students on the bus and have a partnership with a health care provider to test all students in a day if a COVID-19 outbreak takes place.
- Emotional safety also needs more attention...we have had equity and inclusion training in recent years, though much more can be done...more on this below.
Importance of stakeholder involvement: “Transformation requires a rupture of the ordinary” (Fielding, 2004). Transformation requires the prioritization of all stakeholders’ voices. It requires a redefining of how youth and adults live, learn, and lead, together.
For transformation, leaders must reframe thoughts and pivot practices around transactional youth engagement, leadership, and youth-adult partnership ... in a way that acknowledges, values, and prioritizes youth as true stakeholders in their education as policymakers; and on a larger scale, equips and supports them as world changers outside of our safe walls.
- It is essential to bring whole school communities together. We have to include parents equally and all this starts with the teachers and staff. It is important to build relationships and rapport.
- Bring the school community together to review the results of data collected this past year to instigate discussion and build out an agreeable path forward. Look at data, parent surveys, what worked/didn’t...then problem solve.
- Provide opportunities for students to have a voice and to lead projects that affect their communities in a positive way.
Teaching and Learning: We are reminded how necessary it is to not be stagnant in the way we approach learning, educational resources, creative activities, innovative strategies, and diverse teaching methods. It’s up to us to now identify the areas that classrooms are lacking in, such as adequate SEL and proper cultural integration, and work together to create learning structures that embrace these pillars as norms that our students must encounter to experience a whole rounded growth.
- When we approach planning as a blank canvas, we open up possibilities within classroom learning that work more to create learning experiences that would benefit the next generation and for what the workforce will demand of them.
- In order for COVID to not become the new excuse for low expectations for black, brown, and students of poverty, educational leaders must be intentional with how we use time, attract and retain talent and provide targeted support to our school communities.
- Do your leaders, teams, and frontline staff currently have the skills and strategies to successfully partner in a transformative way?
- Does your organization currently have policies, processes, or systems in place to position and support youth, student leaders, and frontline staff as equal shareholders in the vision?
- In this next season of normalcy, youth student voice, leadership, and youth-adult partnership can no longer be an afterthought, a simple event, or a checklist of completed tasks.
- How are we going to look for out-of-the-box ways to inspire our young people?
- How can we transform the way we see young people as transformers within their own spaces and communities? Are we involving them in the policy as stakeholders?
2. Active Learning
- Targeted Support based on needs, includes emotional support, family engagement teams, amongst others.
- We have to take into consideration students who thrived because they were not in a disruptive, violent, or emotionally abusive learning environment….as well as those who will need the extra support.
- Consider how you will identify where the learning loss is so you can properly prepare to support students for their next semester.
- We have to look at the whole child as we approach the next school year and help our leaders understand so we can provide the appropriate support our students need.
3. Effective Technology Integration And Practices
It's not just about discovering new educational technology tools...it’s about having the insights to understand what they will be bringing to the table. When it comes to exposing our students to various forms of learning, giving them access to international education and collaboration, and creating opportunities for them should not be dependent on these resources, but rather on how to utilize them in creative ways to benefit their learning experiences and communities. In addition, having supportive pedagogy that accompanies our tech integration must be our first aim.
- Making Edtech accessible to educators and their communities and having them feel comfortable with integrating tech into the normal learning experiences of students is key.
- Effective tech integration and practices demand that we step outside of our comfort zones to uncover these experiences ourselves ahead of our students so we can be the go-to resources for them when they need guidance in carving out sustainable pathways.
- Virtual learning isn’t a new idea, but it hasn’t been embraced in all parts of the world... covid has changed that perspective, and many educators are beginning to seek out and build out pathways to integrate tech in the classroom in productive ways.
- Think differently in how to provide access to student devices and as well as connectivity.
- Be much more creative in the ways we integrate technology into the classroom space especially while working with students and teachers from diverse environmental backgrounds and allow students to embrace their creative skills/talents.
- How was tech used?
- How was it influential in the classroom?
- How can it continuously make a difference?
- What types of supports do we need to carry forward or enhance to support teachers, learners, families?
- What tools will you prioritize in the next school year?
- Do they align with the teaching and learning practices you are trying to promote?
- Do they account for the variability in comfort levels of your staff and allow for the flexibility and variety of teaching and learning practices in your classrooms?
- Do they prioritize deepening connections between teachers and students and between peers regardless of the instructional environment: face-to-face, remote, hybrid.
4. High-Quality Teacher Development
High-quality teacher development starts from the classroom. When we put teachers in the front row and include them in the planning process for their own PD, we are giving our students a chance to learn in spaces that are much more suited for their needs because the learning is not generalized.
- Let go of the control wheel and build a collaborative workspace that identifies the growing needs of the students in their communities, in society, and internationally and takes actionable steps to provide PD that will equip teachers to be prepared.
- Addressing teacher retention and teacher shortages - a lot of veteran educators are leaving the classroom...going to academies or into Edupreneurship.
- Get instructional coaches to help support/train educators as they get started.
- Collect stories from teachers' classroom instruction this past year so these stories can be used to encourage others and influence the next steps when it comes to changes being made to improve the classroom environment.
- Provide PD that deconstructs click behavior and puts student’s needs first and prioritizes student development in a healthy co-working environment.
- Continue and possibly increase the use of virtual training for teachers.
Collaborative Communities Of Learning:
It is important to have a healthy professional learning network. Having a mentor or peers that you can engage with that challenge you to be the best version of yourself is critical.
- Connecting with other educators who have had success building out effective learning structures in their classrooms throughout covid to help others brainstorm ideas.
- Focus on building connections between staff members...Making connections is one of the best ways to learn and share knowledge with each other.
- Teachers will have a heavy task responding to the Social Emotional Learning needs of students as well as the trauma that some students will be prone to as a result of returning to a different learning environment as opposed to what they experienced last year.
5. Social And Emotional Learning
Leaders must prioritize the social and emotional wellness of themselves and the educators who support them by building personal and organizational capacity in mindfulness, authenticity, courage, and strategic vulnerability.
Consider setting up a SEL department.
Staff PD sessions should further prioritize SEL. Now that we have solid evidence to support the benefits of SEL, scrutinizing our practice and curriculum expectations to meet the ensuing needs of the whole school community must occur moving forward. Mandatory instruction of these content areas should materialize, and the following should take place:
- Train all staff to be trauma-informed
- Have protocols in place for mental health issues that arise for students, teachers, and all support staff
- Invest in parent groups so they become stronger allies and share a common language with school caregivers
- Measure shifts and growth in SEL ongoing
- Address the unique needs of each school culture
- Share emerging brain science with staff, parents, and students so there is a clear understanding of underlying reasons for behavior, motivation, aversion to learning, etc.
- Implement new, innovative training to teach to the whole child.
Educators’ mental health is essential, including those in leadership and in supportive roles. Since mental health and wellness can easily be infused into daily practice, with clear data to support its efficacy in human performance and prosperity, an allocation of funding in SEL professional development should be an obvious initiative.
When it comes to the reopening of schools for this 2021-22 back-to-school season we know it won't be an easy task and there are no easy answers. There are still many questions that remain as to whether we will be able to reopen schools across the globe and how we will do so safely. However, there is comfort in knowing that we are in this together and don't have to work in isolation when we take the time to connect and collaborate.
We hope this post has provided some thought-provoking ideas to you and has been able to offer strategic support to your work at whatever level you’re currently serving in the education industry. We look forward to your comments and feedback and of course, welcome you to join our future conversations on Clubhouse!