What To Do About School?
Plans to return to normal are being carried out in every part of society. Companies rebrand themselves to keep their market share. Politicians present ideas to help working Americans get by in a pandemic-weakened economy. Shoppers return to malls and restaurants to spend time outside of their homes. And schools look to reopen.
A quick lesson in state and local government
The typical school district is governed by a school board. Members of the school board run for office and serve the legislative, executive, and judicial functions for the school district.
School districts have large budgets. A lot of which comes from state funding. To get local school boards (who are independent from state control) to comply with state mandates states can threaten to cut off funding or reduce the amount district are entitled.
In normal times the two entities work well together. Here are a few examples of the two levels of government not working well. Hillsborough County Florida the district I teach in had a plan to open remotely only to have state officials deny the plan. Meanwhile, schools in other states such as Georgia opened early in August and experienced some problems.
There is a long line of teachers, students, parents, and political leaders waiting to debate the merits of face to face or online instruction. Here's a few ideas to focus on instead of this.
Early in my teaching career I learned that the best way to allow all stakeholders in the classroom to buy into what you are doing with students is with communication.
For students this means the teacher should take time to communicate expectations and norms of the classroom. Explaining a list of rules to students needs to be more than the teacher in front of the class offering the students "my way or the highway" riot act. This is not very helpful in gaining authentic buy in from students during normal times, during a pandemic when students have been told to do a lot of extra things, they aren't used to doing this might be too big of an ask.
For parents that means the teacher should provide a Google voice mailbox (if your district doesn't offer teachers voicemail) to enable direct communications parents at home try to navigate assignments for distance learning. Keep office hours where parents and students can contact you directly. Establish a normal turnaround time for getting back with parents and students so they know when to expect you.
For the administrators that teachers work with that may mean communicating when your comfort zone has been exceeded. Teachers are always asked to do a lot. So, when your class is overcrowded most years, we say nothing, but this is the new normal. In the new normal teachers need to be more proactive for student safety. Administrators are busy keeping up with ever changing district and state mandates, so teachers need to be vigilant to safety concerns of our students and ourselves.
For the community that the schools serve an individual teacher might have difficulty having their concerns heard. Consider a letter to the local newspaper or contact the local education writer to voice concerns.
In all of this don't forget to be a good listener. Communication, as they say, is a two-way street.
Change "How are you doing?" to "How are you feeling today?"
It should be no surprise to any teacher who has been in the classroom that some students will be emotionally impacted following the spring when school was moved online. A move like this would impact a student during a normal school year but a once in a century event like a pandemic might have a bigger impact than we imagine.
Develop effective ways to teach your students mindfulness so they learn to take care of themselves. This could be as easy teaching them to focus on just their breathing at the start of each class. Do it with them to show them the benefits of taking a minute to breath.
Develop effective ways to allow students to communicate how they feel about school, the pandemic, or any of the other issues that come with being a school age kid in the world today. Some teachers do an emotional check in at the start of class. During the spring I would check in with students by starting with "how are you feeling today?" And I would offer a pause to allow them a chance to communicate their feelings. On top of this I would offer my own feelings to model that its ok to feel the way you feel each day.