Tag Archives: pandemic

Dear school leaders and policymakers: It didn’t have to be this way

Covid map 2020-08-05Dear school leaders and policymakers, 

It didn’t have to be this way.

You had all summer to watch the rising number of coronavirus cases all across the country.

You had all summer to educate yourself about the science.

You had all summer to read credible news sources and see the viral outbreaks that occurred everywhere that people gathered without appropriate protections.

You had all summer to encourage people to do the things necessary to slow down the viral spread (hint: it wasn’t going to restaurants and bars).

You had all summer to invest in the safety precautions necessary for schools to be safe (ventilation systems, personal protective equipment, rules and policies, etc.).

You had all summer to recognize that reopening schools this fall was magical thinking and instead invest heavily in your educators’ ability to do high-quality, high-engagement remote learning (unlike last spring).

You had all summer to help your community close family equity gaps regarding computing devices and Internet access.

You had all summer to fortify yourselves for the brave political conversations and gather allies.

You had all summer to engage in realistic messaging to your community.

You had all summer to be the leader that you were appointed / elected to be.

Now you’re asking your community and citizens for “grace during this difficult time.” Are you surprised that many folks aren’t willing to give it?

It’s never too late to lead. Are you finally going to do so?

 

P.S. If you did most or all of these things, THANK YOU.

 

Image credit: Covid ActNow

Welcome back for the 2020 school year! [a letter from your local superintendent and school board]

Dear students, educators, and families,

Welcome back for the 2020 school year! We are incredibly delighted to have our children and educators back in school again, particularly after such a challenging spring and summer. We couldn’t be more excited to see your kids’ smiling faces back in our classrooms!

As you know, some things will be different this fall. We wanted to share a few things for us all to think about over the next few months…

First, some of our children and families probably will become very ill. The coronavirus can reside in young children at high rates and may even spread more efficiently than across adults. Recent news stories about outbreaks at summer camps in Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin, and Missouri show us that children are not immune from the virus. Asymptomatic children not only may infect other students, they also may go home and spread it further to the possibly-vulnerable adults around them. A school in Indiana reopened and had to immediately send students home again after a student tested positive on the very first day. Hawaii is seeing a surge in the number of infected children. And so on across the country… Thank you for being willing to send your children to school despite these risks. We are so appreciative!

Second, some of our educators probably will become very ill too. Dozens of principals in the Bay Area had to quarantine after an in-person planning meeting over the summer. Hundreds of teachers in Gwinnett County, Georgia already have tested positive for the coronavirus after just a few days of returning to school for pre-planning. Symptoms can be mild but often are quite horrific (and could mean weeks on a ventilator). Even if victims recover, effects of the virus can linger for months on end. Medical experts are in agreement that neither students nor educators should come back to school unless community transmission rates have dropped substantially. That drop has not occurred in our community. Indeed, coronavirus cases in our community are higher than in the spring and have doubled across the nation. However, our President, U.S. Secretary of Education, and Governor have reminded us that you need to get back to work so we are grateful for the bravery of our teachers and support staff. Please give them a big thank you the next time you see them!

Third, some of our infected kids and teachers probably are going to die. Children are dying from the virus, and of course adults are dying too. Death rates increase as people get older. About 1 in 4 of our teachers is at risk of serious illness or death if they are infected, due to either their age or pre-existing health conditions. Contact tracing is taking 7 to 10 days in many areas, which also means that identifying and tracking down who is infected and who isn’t may take us a while. Please be patient with us, particularly since we haven’t decided what our decision triggers are for keeping our schools open or closed. And, just in case, please also start preparing your children now to say goodbye to some of their classmates and teachers this year. Our amazing school counselors are available to you and we encourage everyone to practice appropriate social distancing measures at funerals and memorial services in our community. Safety first!

Fourth, due to anticipated teacher resignations, retirements, illnesses, and deaths which will cause a number of instructor vacancies, we are experiencing a substitute teacher shortage. If any of you are interested in being a sub, we would love to have you sign up. We always welcome parents in our schools and classrooms!

Fifth, per your request, we are providing remote learning options for some of you that will be taught by local teachers. However, we simply do not have enough student seats or teaching spots to accommodate everyone. We know that many parents are worried about student ‘learning loss’ after this spring, so we are pleased to announce that we have purchased self-paced online courses from several major corporations for those of you keeping your children at home. Your children can move along at their own pace and will have a few opportunities to interact with an instructor from somewhere else in the country. It’s a win all around!

Sixth, assuming that we can get enough personal protective equipment (PPE), school may look a lot like this:

Thank you for helping us with these new restrictions and guidelines. We are doing everything that we can to keep your children safe!

Finally, for those of you who are considering participating in a ‘pandemic pod’ with other families or sending your students to the private school down the road, please don’t. We need everyone’s support (and money) for the public schools during this challenging time.

Thank you for all that you do to support our local schools and the success of your children. Looking forward to seeing you at Back-To-School Night in a few weeks!

Yours truly,

Your Local Superintendent and School Board

“Just following orders” isn’t good leadership

Just following orders

 

Every leadership program discusses “What hill are you willing to die on? What decisions are worth losing your job for?”

We haven’t done the necessary work to contain the coronavirus. Other areas that have opened too early have seen large waves of new cases. And we now have growing evidence that young children are powerful virus spreaders.

What could possibly be a bigger hill than keeping your children, families, educators, and community safe during a deadly global pandemic? What hill would you possibly pick instead?

“Just following orders” isn’t good leadership.

A conversation with Katie Martin

As always, Katie Martin has been doing a lot of wonderful work this summer around deeper learning and student engagement. I thought it might be fun for the two of us to just get together and chat. I tweeted an invitation to her and she kindly took me up on the offer.

Katie Martin Twitter exchange

Two days later we made that conversation happen and the result is below. As you can imagine, our discussion was wide-ranging and SUPER fun. I am sharing it here in case you’d like to join us. Hope it’s useful to you.

Happy viewing!

What are your school’s decision triggers for closing back down again?

The Buck Stops Here signYou’ve opened up school again and at least some students and teachers are attending in person. Unsurprisingly, some students, families, or educators begin to identify as positive for COVID-19. Now what?

How many kids have to get sick before you shut down again? What are your decision-making criteria? [practice saying these out loud and see how they sit with you]

Well, if 1 kid gets sick, that’s sad but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 10 kids get sick, that’s terrible but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 100 kids get sick, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

If 50 kids at that one school get sick, we will shut that school down but the rest of the district will stay open…

Until 20% of our students are sick, we’ll stay open…

How many educators have to get sick before you shut down again? What are your decision-making criteria? [practice saying these out loud and see how they sit with you]

Well, if 1 educator gets sick, that’s sad but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 10 educators get sick, that’s terrible but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 100 educators get sick, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

If 20 teachers at that one school get sick, we will shut that school down but the rest of the district will stay open…

Until 30% of our educators are sick, we stay open…

Until we can’t get enough substitutes to adequately cover classrooms, we stay open…

How many kids or educators have to die before you shut down again? What are your decision-making criteria? [practice saying these out loud and see how they sit with you]

Well, if 1 kid dies, that’s sad but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 10 kids die, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 3 teachers die, that’s terrible but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 20 teachers die, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

Until 10% of our staff are dying, we’ll stay open…

Some schools are tracking their state or local health department data for guidance, but community spread is an imperfect match for school system spread. Accordingly, school systems should be prepared to make the kinds of decisions noted above, which means that school leaders are going to need to be very clear with their educators, families, and communities about what their ‘decision triggers’ are. 

Decision triggers are critical thresholds that trigger action if crossed. If school systems don’t identify and articulate their decision triggers beforehand for when schools will need to reclose again, then they will be hammered by educators, families, and community members who have their own decision triggers and will be angry that you’re not following theirs.

What do you mean 10 infected children are acceptable? Don’t you know those children may infect their siblings and vulnerable family members?

What do you mean you’re okay with 5 teachers dying? How heartless are you?

What do you mean that you’re waiting for state or local guidance? In the meantime, kids and educators are getting sick and some are probably going to die!

What are your school’s decision triggers for closing back down again? Have you made those public to your educators and community?

Design for high engagement this fall

Student wearing maskIn a couple of recent posts, I said:

One of the biggest challenges of ‘remote learning’ over the past few months has been that most of the motivators been pared away. For many students, all that has been left is the uninspiring learning. Little to no interaction with classmates. Little to no interaction with caring educators. No electives, extracurriculars, or athletics. And so on. Accordingly, we shouldn’t be surprised when our students – who generally have more control and autonomy at home over their learning decisions than they do at school – simply opt out. They decide that the exchange rate has shifted and they’re no longer interested, regardless of our pleas (or punishments) to the contrary.

As we try to figure out what schooling will look like in the months to come, we need to pay attention to the motivators and demotivators that help foster student engagement. If all we’re offering students is the uninspiring learning, we’re in a heap of trouble.

and

Our families gave us grace in the spring when we did remote learning because it was an ‘emergency.’ If we squandered the summer by engaging in magical thinking about returning in person this fall instead of making the organizational investments that we needed to make, they’re not going to give us the same grace again. And they’ll be right. We had our chance this summer to get better at online learning. And many school systems didn’t do nearly enough.

Whether we’re face-to-face, blended, hybrid, hyflex, or fully online, we need to be thinking deeply about what our students need from us this fall. As much as we’re worried about past or ongoing ‘learning loss,’ our students aren’t going to learn if they’re not first engaged. We can’t learn things if we have ‘checked out’ of the experience!

The student who’s sitting in school at an isolated desk, wearing a mask, separated from her friends, facing forward with her feet on the floor, perhaps behind a plexiglass divider? She’s going to be nervous, scared, and feeling disconnected. She’s also probably disenchanted with her overall school experience compared to years past. Listening to teacher lectures and doing rote, low-level desk work isn’t going to help her stay engaged.

The student who’s sitting at home, trying to find a quiet place to concentrate and work, separated from his friends, juggling a variety of technologies and assignments, perhaps struggling with device / Internet access or parent support? He’s going to be anxious, confused, and feeling disconnected. He’s also probably disenchanted with his overall school experience compared to years past. Sending home low-level factual recall and procedural regurgitation work isn’t going to help him stay engaged.

All of our students deserve deeper learning opportunities, even during a pandemic. As educators, we should be designing learning activities that are hands-on, active, and applied; that provide students with a lot of voice and choice; that allow them to be creative; that foster their critical thinking and problem-solving skills; that let them share, communicate, and collaborate; that provide opportunities for them to tap into their interests and passions; that give them chances to use technology in interesting ways; that connect them in meaningful ways with outside experts, organizations, and local communities; and so on…

No one should be surprised when we start to hear families pushing back on the kinds of learning tasks we put before students this fall. We had all summer to design for something different than textbooks, homework packets, and electronic worksheets. If day after day, week after week, we push out low-level and low-engagement learning, we’re going to start losing kids left and right like we did in the spring.

Did your summer professional learning opportunities for teachers focus on technology tools or robust learning? What are your schools and educators doing to design for high engagement student learning this fall? (and maybe the 4 Shifts Protocol can help?)

Image credit: Special post, Chris Schultz

See also

Avoid magical thinking: ‘Design for online’ this fall

As coronavirus cases continue to increase across the country, numerous school districts are reluctantly announcing that they will be doing ‘remote learning’ again this fall. Although we had the summer to prepare for this eventuality, unfortunately we have instead seen a lot of magical thinking from educational leaders and policy makers. 

Magical Thinking 01

Magicalthinking02

Magical Thinking 06

As much as we want our children to go back to school in person, we can’t underestimate how harmful this magical thinking can be.

Magical Thinking 03

Magical Thinking 05

Magical Thinking 04

We are seeing a wide variety of school schedules being proposed for the fall, even in locations that are leading the world in infection rates. Many of them center learning in person at school as the main modality, with accommodations perhaps being made for students, families, and educators who are rightfully concerned about becoming infected with a deadly virus.

Magical Thinking 07

Magical Thinking 08

Given that every time a place opens up we seem to have a surge of infections there, centering a school’s fall reopening plan on in-person instruction sure feels like magical thinking. We aren’t providing schools with the funding or supplies necessary to keep students and educators safe and, even if we did, there are a number of other issues for which we don’t have very good answers

Many of the schools that are still planning to be face-to-face this fall will have to switch over in the next couple of weeks. It’s also likely that a surge of cases in their area will shut them back down again soon after opening. Even those that are planning to start in person – either entirely or with a staggered schedule – realize that many families are going to keep their children at home. And schools may have to dip in and out of in person, online, and hybrid modalities throughout the year, depending on what happens with the coronavirus.

This is what I have been recommending to the schools and educators that I am working with this summer:

Design for online this fall. Even if you’re lucky enough to have students in person in your classrooms at some point, use that precious time to work on technology skills, social-emotional resilience, building students’ capacity to be self-directed learners, creating classroom community, etc. Given that you have some of your students learning remotely anyway, design for online instead of asking teachers to do double work for both in school and at home. Even the kids that are sitting in front of you in class should do their learning work online – the same learning work that the kids at home are doing. It’s incredibly likely that you’re going to have to be wholly remote at some point this school year anyway. Designing for online as your primary modality allows you maximum flexibility and a more seamless transition when you almost inevitably have to shift over to remote instruction. It also protects your staff from burnout, and most communities will support you.

I don’t see any other reasonable way to do school this fall. Anything else seems like magical thinking. Magical thinking that our schools and communities will be free of the virus despite inadequate safety protections. Magical thinking that students and parents will engage in appropriate mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing precautions. Magical thinking that teachers can operate simultaneously in face-to-face, online, hybrid, and/or hyflex modalities all year, even with scant training on how to do so. Magical thinking that the decisions that we make this summer about in-person instruction are going to somehow hold for an entire school year. And so on… 

Students and families are going to pay the price if they are in school systems that haven’t invested heavily this summer in professional learning for teachers to teach effectively online. Students and families are going to pay the price if they are in school systems that haven’t figured out how to remedy device and Internet bandwidth inequities. Students and families are going to pay the price if they are in school systems that continue to prepare primarily for in person learning and have neglected online learning.

Magical Thinking 09Magical Thinking 11I also think it’s worth considering what we are fighting for this fall. Are we fighting for compelling visions of learning and teaching in person, or just child care so that people can get back to work?

Magical Thinking 10Magical Thinking 12

Our families gave us grace in the spring when we did remote learning because it was an ‘emergency.’ If we squandered the summer by engaging in magical thinking about returning in person this fall instead of making the organizational investments that we needed to make, they’re not going to give us the same grace again. And they’ll be right. We had our chance this summer to get better at online learning. And many school systems didn’t do nearly enough.

Is your school system ready to ‘design for online’ this fall and do it well?

P.S. We need to do this in higher education too…

Magical Thinking 13

If all we offer is uninspiring learning, we’re in trouble

TroubleOur students come to school for a variety of reasons:

  • to see their friends;
  • to participate in electives, extracurricular activities, and athletics;
  • to interact with and get support from caring teachers;
  • to get a credential for college, career, or the military;
  • because their parents need child care;
  • because state law requires them to attend;
  • etc.

What about learning? Yes, that’s a reason too… for some. But engagement data show that many/most of our students are not coming to school because their learning is engaging. The reasons listed above tend to be much more compelling for most students than the fairly-uninspiring learning tasks that we put before them. But many students are often willing to put up with the uninspiring learning and play ‘the game of school’ in exchange for the other aspects of school. In other words: “Most of my classes may be boring but I get to hang out with my friends, be in a club, participate in music and art, play a sport, see a couple of teachers that I like…”

One of the biggest challenges of ‘remote learning’ over the past few months has been that most of the motivators been pared away. For many students, all that has been left is the uninspiring learning. Little to no interaction with classmates. Little to no interaction with caring educators. No electives, extracurriculars, or athletics. And so on. Accordingly, we shouldn’t be surprised when our students – who generally have more control and autonomy at home over their learning decisions than they do at school – simply opt out. They decide that the exchange rate has shifted and they’re no longer interested, regardless of our pleas (or punishments) to the contrary.

As we try to figure out what schooling will look like in the months to come, we need to pay attention to the motivators and demotivators that help foster student engagement. If all we’re offering students is the uninspiring learning, we’re in a heap of trouble.

Image credit: In case you were looking for it, Schwar