I have been facilitating many educator conversations around the questions, “What have we discovered?” and “What do we want to do about it?”
In a Fast Company article, 5 changes to expect in the workplace after COVID-19 by Diana Vienne, a senior partner with global change-leadership consultancy, Notion Consulting, I found a structure for some of what I am hearing and thinking.
Vienne opens with this statement: “Rather than waiting for reentry and being reactive, leaders need to prepare, setting expectations for the ways of working that will benefit the organization down the road.” That is exactly what needs to be today’s focus for educational leaders.
Vienne describes this time as a great opportunity for positive change and for the possibility of negative impacts from ignoring the need to shift. Here are her five changes and what thoughts they trigger for me:
#1 – Full digital transformation, supported by a truly virtual workforce.
Parents and students have discovered how vast amounts of work and learning are capable of being accomplished in a distance mode. They have also discovered where we are still unprepared to maximally profit from digital learning and communication. In addition, certain critical elements of the physical face-to-face learning environment have been highlighted. Communication with parents, students, and among educators has in many cases greatly increased as folks went online. I had a principal ask, “Do you think when school doors open, we will have to go back to leaving school and driving to the district office for each meeting?”
My sense is that there will be an unwillingness to give up the positive potential of this new system to “go back” to ALL face-to-face. Having to do in school what could be accomplished outside the school will not be acceptable to many.
#2 – Focus on outputs versus face time.
The key is “what gets done” vs the “time spent”. This requires a clear set of learning outcomes and the ability to assess student progress on the outcomes rather than on the work completed or the time spent. A teacher shared with me that a student who in class continually complained about her explanations and instruction now online was plowing through learning and producing quality that she hadn’t seen before. (Note that there are students who deeply needed her explanations and instruction.) Do we go back to a system where everyone needs to receive that because some need it? What learning opportunities must we provide educators to maximize student learning opportunities? What autonomy needs to be provided to teachers, administrators, parents, and students to create personalized learning options. Right now, as some locations in the world are opening schools, there are parents who do not want to send their children back yet, while others can’t wait. How do schools respond?
A colleague shared that he and his wife were finding less stress as the two worked from home with their two young children at home. I was intrigued and listened carefully. He described the switch from hectic mornings getting two kids fed, packed and off to school and then getting to work on time. He talked about the extra and flexible time with the kids and that while he and his wife didn’t necessarily have more time together, just seeing each other was valuable. At the same time, there were parents unable to work at home and struggling to find childcare for kids not in school. How do our employers and schools respond? A starter thinking point for me is building options so that I don’t need to be at work or at school when there isn’t a clear need to be there.
#4 – Stronger communications.
COVID-19 closing schools moved educators to increase communication with parents, students, community and with each other. In many cases they learned to use new tools and created new opportunities. A monthly parent meeting at school moved to a weekly parent letter from the principal, weekly surveys went to parents and students at some schools, webinars where parents could share questions and thoughts became weekly occurrences as well. Teachers began requesting feedback from students at a personalized level that was unlikely to occur when we were all in class. Increased communication leads to shared goals with shared responsibility and accountability. I listen to a worldwide weekly conference call of heads of international schools around the world. There is a high degree of sharing problems, questions, ideas and resources. Educators rooting for each other’s success is replacing a past where competition may have been more the norm.
#5 – Increased trust, transparency, and empathy.
Vienne shared, “Now, leaders and employees must understand and support each other like never before. People are sharing more about their personal situations with colleagues, and as a result, they are creating an expectation of humanity, active listening, support, and connection.” I have heard empathy in the voices of administrators as they shared concerns about the lives of their students, staffs, and parents. There’s been a tendency for leaders to be more understanding as to how individuals’ circumstances impact their ability to respond to certain tasks under a deadline. The same understanding appeared as teachers considered how “things at home” influenced students’ engagement or execution. I’ve heard teachers complimenting principals and students complimenting teachers as they sensed the increased personalization of support and expectations. Will we all hold these same approaches as we return to the “new normal?” The individual circumstances will still be there.
Personally, I am excited about the current advances that are possible in learning and living if we will act on what we’ve discovered.