As schools begin navigating the waters of reopening in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a lot of concerns and logistics school administrators must face to keep students and teachers safe while also ensuring the quality instruction and student learning still occur.
Despite recent data that states that the majority of parents of school-age children who usually attend school would prefer schools to open later to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, many schools around the country are making plans to reopen their campuses in a few weeks.
Be Aware of Official Guidelines
The CDC makes a case for the importance of reopening schools in the fall for students’ continued educational development and as a vital part of our society’s infrastructure. Citing evidence that suggests the spread of COVID-19 is low among children, as well as evidence that the continued closing of schools is “harmful to children,” the CDC strongly urges school districts to reopen.
It’s important to note that teachers around the country largely lack confidence in the CDC’s or the Department of Education’s case for the reopening of schools, citing concerns over how to handle if a student is exposed or whether or not extra paid leave will be available to teachers if they’re infected, among many others. As the next part of this article will address, administrators will need to keep these concerns at the forefront when reopening the school.
For districts that are reopening campuses for face-to-face instruction, specific guidelines should be followed to help mitigate the risks of exposure to the virus.
The CDC has provided guidelines for administrators to consider in reopening schools that include:
- Social distancing
- Wearing masks
- Encouraging proper hygiene
- Frequent disinfection of surfaces used by students and staff
- Developing a plan for how to handle when a student or staff member is exposed to or infected with the virus
Seek to Alleviate Concerns
Students and teachers have an endless list of questions. This should be expected under the circumstances. Teachers are wondering about logistical concerns. Students and parents are wondering what learning will look like and how students will be prepared for high stakes testing in the coming year. These are only two questions, but there are many more covering details that school administrators may not think about unless they ask for feedback from teachers, students, and parents. Many school districts are taking a more proactive approach by openly communicating with their student families and staff by inviting their questions.
Another way to alleviate concerns is to provide as much information as possible. Most student families and staff know that things could change at any moment as state and federal officials change guidelines and requirements from day to day, but they also want clarity. They can accept changes to a plan, but what heightens concern is lack of a plan or lack of communication about a plan. “We have a plan,” but not providing details of the plan only creates doubt.
Streamline Curriculum and Instruction
Given the circumstances, instruction will likely look much different in the fall. For classes that rely heavily on group work, social distancing will be a challenge and may mean a complete overhaul of a teacher’s approach. Many districts are using a hybrid model of both face-to-face and online instruction, while others are having students divided between models.
In the virtual and blended teaching models, it’s vital to focus on the critical standards to help students succeed. Encourage your teachers to identify the priority standards that are directly connected to previous grade standards and foundational to next grade standards. You can use the Standards Coherency Map by Grade and Subject to identify the priority standards by grade and subject.
To alleviate the stress of planning for teachers, teachers would benefit from more time for planning and a commitment to streamlining instruction so that if a student has to transition between models, the student doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Teachers should be encouraged and provided the opportunity to work together to make their jobs less stressful under the circumstances.
There’s so much that can’t be controlled under the current circumstances, but these three strategies can go a long way in engendering confidence from teachers, students, and parents.