I hope you all are having a safe, healthy, and prosperous summer as much as possible. With all the personal and professional changes in our lives, it's important to continue to check in with each other on our total well-being. Covid-19 brought many changes to the public school system. Like many of you, we're now preparing to fully reopen in fall 2021 for 5 days a week after 1 year of 100% virtual learning within our school district in California.
Although many students and families are eager to return to school, many individuals cannot return in person for different reasons. According to a recent Health Issues article, “Schools provide more than just academics to children and adolescents. In addition to reading, writing, and math, students learn social and emotional skills, get exercise, and have access to mental health and other support services. For many children and adolescents, schools are safe, stimulating, and enriching places to be while parents or guardians are working. For many families, schools are where kids get healthy meals, access to the internet, and other vital services.”
There are extenuating circumstances that make some students and staff reluctant to return to in-person learning. Some families fear contracting Covid-19 after maintaining their distance from anyone outside their immediate circle. To address these concerns and reduce anxiety after reopening schools, the following list provides a good guide for us on what should be monitored:
Effectiveness of symptoms-reporting, monitoring, rapid testing, and tracing of suspected cases
Impacts of policies and measures on educational objectives and learning outcomes
Impacts of policies and measures on health and well-being of children, siblings, staff, parents, and other family members
Trends in school dropouts, chronic absenteeism, and average daily attendance after lifting the restrictions
The number of cases in children and staff in the school, and frequency of school-based outbreaks in the local administrative area and the country
Assessment of the impact of remote teaching on learning outcomes
Furthermore, the CDC offers to the public what school communities should do to ensure a safe and healthy life after reopening schools. As part of the operational strategy for K-12 schools, the CDC emphasizes that "regardless of the level of community transmission, it is critical that schools use and layer prevention strategies. The CDC holds these five key prevention strategies as essential to the safe delivery of in-person instruction and the prevention of COVID-19 transmission in schools:
Universal and correct use of masks
Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities
Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine.
We must equally prioritize our students' emotional well-being with their safety as they return to in-person learning. From my perspective as an education leader, these needs are equally important as CDC’s guidelines. This has been one of, if not the most challenging experiences in the lives of educators and the people they serve. Our students need emotional support. Here are six suggestions from EdWeek on holistically managing the transition back to the classroom:
1. Strike a balance between predictability and novelty. (Example: Replacing an advisory or class meeting with a recess so students can play in a space that’s not micromanaged by adults.)
2. Be understanding when addressing misbehavior. (Example: After remote learning, kids are used to using the bathroom any time they want and turning off their cameras and muting themselves so they can have a side conversation; students need reassurance that they’re not in trouble when they make a mistake)
3. Rebuild students’ sense of competency. (Example: Many students had a hard time with online learning, and their academic self-concept has taken a hit...be flexible and help students manage their time wisely.)
4. Crank up the connection. (Example: Remember that kids disclose more to teachers who take emotional risks themselves.)
5. Don’t forget that different students have different needs.
(Example: New students will need support such as welcome buddies and groups for new students.)
6. Work together to create a safety net. (Example: Be sure to compare notes with your colleagues to ensure no student falls through the cracks.)
Life after reopening schools is happening right now. Let’s do our part to take care of ourselves and each other as much as possible.
Dr. Mike Jones has served as a K-16 teacher, executive director, principal, leadership coach, teacher supervisor, and humanitarian for 25 years in the public and private education sectors in the USA, Jamaica, UAE, Slovakia, Nigeria, and Ghana. He is the host of Let’s Talk with Dr. Mike Jones, an online show that informs and connects the global education community through conversations about the impact of COVID-19 and how to respond to the opportunities to transform learning systems. Visit drmikeshow.com.
Comments or Questions? Want to share your educational experience with COVID? I cordially invited you to reach out! All respectful, on-topic comments are welcome.