In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve looks at the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has changed education and the options and flexibility that can potentially come out of it.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:14 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:42 After COVID-19 impacts: options and flexibility. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been asking questions of educators and our staff at Performance Learning Systems focused on two topics. One, what have we discovered? And two, what do we want to do about it? I found an article in Fast Company written by Diana Vienne that provided me a framework for some of the responses I’ve been hearing and some of the observations I’ve made. Her article was entitled, “Five Changes to Expect in The Workplace After COVID-19.” Diana Vienne is a senior partner with Global Change Leadership Consultancy company, Notion Consulting. I’ve attached the link to her article in the lead-in to this podcast. She opens with this statement rather than waiting for entry and being reactive leaders need to prepare setting expectations for the ways of working that will benefit the organization down the road. As I read that, I thought it’s exactly where we as educational leaders need to be focused today.
Steve: 02:06 She describes this time as a great opportunity for positive change and a time that has the possibility of negative impacts if we ignore the need to make shifts. The first change that she described was full digital transformation supported by a truly virtual workplace. During these past weeks, parents and students have discovered how vast amounts of work and learning are capable of being accomplished in a distance. At the same time, they’ve discovered that in some cases, we, as schools were unprepared to maximally profit from digital learning and communication. In addition, we’ve uncovered certain critical elements of the physical face to face learning environment and need to consider how those come into play.
Steve: 03:12 When I look at this changing time, I consider a colleague sharing with me that prior to the outbreak of COVID, insurance companies did not cover his 93 year old mother seeing the doctor through an online virtual format. And so she had to make the trip, sometimes dangerous, to that office. Now that those changes are in place and there’s a great increase of doctors’ willingness to work with patients online, I don’t see things turning back. Now think about that from a school vantage point. In many cases, communication with parents and students has been greatly increased during this time. Do we turn the clock back on that? I had one principal share with me, do you think when we’re back at school, that we’ll be back to all the principals having to get in their car and drive to central office for every one of our administrative meetings?
Steve: 04:24 How much did we accomplish with Zoom meetings during this time? And how might we be able to decrease that amount of time of traveling to the district office site and leaving our buildings? Critical, just like all learners, all needs, couldn’t be met in the distance. We’ve got to sort out where can we take advantages of what we’ve learned and how might that increase the time that we have and the energy that we have to invest in those face to face connections and relationships that need to also be a focus. As an example, I spoke with the middle school guidance counselor, who shared that there were quite a number of students who increased and opened up to counselors when all they had to do was click on a box that set up a opportunity for the student and the counselor to conference with each other.
Steve: 05:37 That difference of not walking down the hall to the counselor’s office, made a difference for some students. How do we keep those kinds of open doors? Vienne’s second area was a focus on outputs versus face time. She states, “the key is what gets done versus time spent.” This requires a clear set of learning outcomes and the ability to assess student progress on the outcomes rather than on work completed or the time spent. One teacher shared with me that she was currently working with a student who prior to the aurentine, continually complained in class about her explanations and her instruction. And now online, the student is plowing through learning and producing a quality of work that the teacher didn’t see when that student was in the classroom. Again, note that there were students who deeply needed her explanations and her instruction. Do we go back to a system where everyone needs to receive what some people need?
Steve: 07:03 What learning opportunities must we provide educators so that they can maximize student learning opportunities? What kind of autonomy do we need to provide to teachers, administrators, parents, and students to create real, personalized learning options. Right now, at some locations in the world, schools are opening up. There are parents who are not yet ready to send their students back to school while there’s other parents who need and can’t wait for the school doors to open up. How do schools respond? Can we have options and flexibility, or must we respond to everyone the same way? The third item in the article was titled “Respect for Work, Life Blend.”
Steve: 08:01 I found it interesting when a colleague shared with me that he and his wife were finding less stress while the two worked from home with their two young children at home. I was intrigued and found I had to listen 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 kids and that while he and his wife didn’t necessarily have more time together, just seeing each other during the day seemed to be valuable. Again, at the same time, there were parents who were unable to work at home and struggling to find childcare for kids, not in school. How do we as employers and schools respond with flexibility and options? I know that at PLS 3rd Learning, we’ve always provided people the “opportunity” to work at home in order to solve a problem.
Steve: 09:12 In other words, somebody had a repair service scheduled. They didn’t know what it was going to happen and so they’d work at home from that day or they had a sick child and they would work at home that day. I know from the experiences that we’re having right now, there’s no way corporately, that we could begin to require all of our staff to be in the office. So we’re going to have to go through a redesign of thinking as to how we respond with options and flexibility. And at schools, we’re going to need to look at similar ways of personalizing our services more. How do we create an opportunity so that I need to be at work, or I need to be at school when I “have a need to be there.” In other words, when that place and that time location will better allow me to produce and to learn.
Steve: 10:18 And how can we create options and flexibility when someplace else at some other time actually causes greater production? How do my flexible school schedules impact work family and learning time? Vienne’s fourth item was stronger communications. COVID-19 closing school buildings moved to many educators into increased communication with parents, students, the community and interestingly, with each other. I just had the opportunity to listen in on a conversation this week between an elementary, middle school and high school guidance counselor working in the same international school who shared that they were now communicating with each other online and had increased their communication from when they were working at the same site. And their realization was that scheduling that same online time when they’re all back in their offices was probably a critical element to build in. At many schools, a monthly parent meeting was moved to a weekly parent letter from the principal.
Steve: 11:49 Weekly surveys went to parents and students at some schools, webinars were held with parents so that they could share questions and thoughts from weekly occurrences. Teachers began requesting feedback from students at a personalized level that was, in most cases, greater than the feedback that was being requested from students when they were present in the classroom. Increased communication leads to shared goals, shared responsibility and shared accountability. I listened into a worldwide weekly conference call of heads of international schools from around the world. As I listened on those calls, there’s a high degree of sharing, questioning, exchanging ideas and resources. These educators are rooting for each other’s success. And I believe in many cases, this is replacing a past where competition may have been more, the norm. Improved communication leads to the final element that Vienne presented, and that was increased trust, transparency, and empathy. She stated, “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.
Steve: 13:34 I have heard empathy in the voices of administrators as they have shared their concerns about the lives of their students, their staffs, and their parents. There’s been a tendency for leaders to be more understanding as to how individual circumstances impacts a teacher’s ability to respond to certain tasks by certain deadlines. I recall a conversation with two teachers who were both working from home and they had four children all learning from home. So just the negotiation for wifi time was a critical issue. And the teachers shared her administrator’s understanding of how those conditions were impacting her ability to meet deadlines. Equally students found in many cases, that their teachers were sharing much greater empathy and understanding as to how students’ conditions at home were having an impact on students’ ability to perform and meet deadlines or requirements that were placed in front of the students.
Steve: 15:09 I’ve heard teachers complementing principals and students, complimenting teachers as they’ve sensed that increased personalization, support and expectations. The question is, will we hold on to this as the new normal develops as the school doors open? Because many of the individual circumstances will still be there. Those two teachers with four kids and that student who’s dealing with special situations at their home still exist. The question is, will we take the time to do the listening that we tended to do during COVID quarantine? Because it’s that listening that I believe produces the understanding and the empathy without the opportunity to listen. We don’t know without us taking the time to ask so that we can listen to people’s circumstances, we don’t know and therefore we frequently overlook an opportunity to be more supportive and more understanding. Personally, I’m excited about the current advances that are possible in learning, teaching, working, and living if we will act on what we’ve discovered. If we will keep a continuous learning, continuous improvement and a willingness to transform as a focus, we will all be better for what we’ve experienced. Thank you for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 17:05 Thanks again for listening, you can subscribe to Steve Barkley, Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.