Today, education leaders are being asked to do the impossible – ‘reopen’ and reimagine school during a pandemic, without a lot of clarity from policy leaders.
Parents and families protest in some districts, demanding their students go back to school in-person. 1, 2 Meanwhile, teachers’ voices are getting louder in defense of the health and safety concerns of teaching face-to-face during COVID-19. 3, 4
Teacher Tenacity as they Reimagine School
In fact, I heard directly from some of these trailblazing teachers last week who were just told they were returning to in-person instruction at some undefined date in March. After learning to teach virtually this year, a brand new way of teaching for most educators, they are now being asked again to reimagine school and reinvent pedagogy (the art and science of teaching) in a sterile, blended capacity. Nonetheless, some of their salaries were still cut in the middle of this school year, even reduced to substitute teacher pay in some cases. Some teachers haven’t even been able to make appointments to get vaccinated, despite qualifying in California as educators in Phase 1B and some of them over the age of 65. 5
My heart has been exploding for teachers today more than ever. Coronavirus did not create these problems, but exposed the cracks that already existed within the US education system for decades. We need to take action to dismantle the outdated, irrelevant paradigm of school that we haven’t needed for generations, but haven’t previously had the courage to take. We are being forced to take action in response to a global public health threat anyway. Teachers this is our time to speak. American policymakers, this is your time to listen.
An unintended consequence perhaps, education leaders are now expected to be experts in public health policy on top of public education policy today. Fear and distrust circle any guidance that does emerge, 6, 7 some of which is valid, since Public Education and Public Health policy decisions have both been politicized beyond belief in the last year. 8, 9
Reimagine School with Trust, Transparency, & Time
I spoke with other colleagues who represent their local Teacher’s Unions in regions that have already returned to in-person instruction to ask how they have been able to do it. Themes that stood out were trust, transparency, and time. Some education association representatives met everyday during summer “break” 2020 without pay to plan alongside their school district leadership team. Committees were established to guide reopening with representation from the whole educational community: parents, teachers, students, administrators, support staff, and community members. As a true community, they created new school policies together to safely reopen for face-to-face instruction while mitigating health risks.
How were these school districts able to prioritize trust, transparency, and time? For starters, they were all relatively small. We know that one-size-does-not-fit-all in education, and the needs of one school community can differ from another nearby. New school policy decisions need to be made as locally as possible. If your school district is large, create Reimagining Committees for clusters or neighborhoods with a smaller number of schools in the same community (max 6).
One-Size-Does-Not-Fit-All in Education
Does that mean “school” can potentially look differently at sites within your district? Yes, yes that is exactly what that means. On top of whichever learning mode your school is in currently (in-person, hybrid, virtual), your students and staff will also be rotating in-and-out due to various quarantine periods from possible exposures. School leaders, it is best to include the various moving parts in your plans today instead of fighting it both today and tomorrow.
Don’t wait, elevate!
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