There are moments in history that are seared into our brains. Some remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was killed. Others remember the Challenger explosion. More recently, we remember Columbine and 9/11. While there may not be a single moment that we all recall surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, there are individual moments that we each experienced that will never fade. Where were you when you first became concerned about your safety and that of your family? Did you rush out to buy toilet paper and masks? How did you feel when the world shut down almost entirely and literally?
As schools throughout the country closed and children came home to learn, teachers were seen as heroes. Parents witnessed first-hand just how challenging teaching can be. They also saw the curriculum, books, students, and teachers in ways never before seen by most parents.
As educators, we’re still living with the fallout. Teachers left the classroom in droves adding to an already critical teacher shortage in some areas. Parents began speaking out at school and school board meetings, both praising and criticizing their community’s education system. Many students left the classroom in the spring of 2020 and haven’t returned.
The fallout from COVID-19 is changing the educational landscape we knew. What will it become? That question remains to be answered. At the very least, it’s clear that some virtual learning is here to stay. Public schools are facing enrollment and retention challenges for the first time as parents have chosen to homeschool their children or send them to private or charter schools resulting in a significant loss of income for public schools. Meanwhile, parents are involved in school in increasingly different ways. So, how will your school or district respond to this new landscape?
The New Normal
As we emerge from the COVID-19 chaos, a new normal will ultimately emerge from the ashes. As educators, this is our chance to reinvent ourselves and our field. Planning how you will respond individually, as a school, and as a district is critical.
What role will technology play? Some schools have continued to use online classes to help address teacher shortages and prepare students for a future full of technology. Others have embedded technology into existing courses and lessons through a hybrid approach. Still, others have embraced new technology resources to communicate with students and families regarding assignments and academic progress.
What will family engagement look like? Gone are the days of the single open house at the beginning of the school year and the occasional parent-teacher conference. That’s a good thing. Research consistently shows us that increased family engagement at school increases students’ academic scores and overall personal development. In addition, families are looking for new and innovative ways to connect with educators and other families. Technology provides a valuable tool to help make that happen. As relationships are formed, teachers and schools will be better equipped to reach out to families for progress updates, volunteering, and other forms of support. Perhaps just as important, families will have the support they need from teachers, administrators, and other parents.
What will student and family recruitment and retention look like? Public schools can no longer sit idly by and expect that all students from a geographical area will magically appear at their school on the first day of class. Similarly, private and charter schools will compete against one another and a growing homeschool movement to bring in students and families. Potential and current students and their families will rely more and more on technology and websites to learn about each school, their beliefs and policies, their faculty and staff, unique clubs, or curricular options, and how to get information and connect with others.
What will teacher recruitment and retention look like? With an ever-shrinking pool of qualified educators, competition will increase. Schools will all be vying for the best teachers. More than ever, schools must support teachers through easily accessible information and tools to help them feel more connected. Connection builds relationships, and relationships build loyalty.
We all wish we could answer that question. But the truth is that we can only prepare for what we have in front of us and what we hope for in the future. No doubt, technology will be the foundation of this new post-COVID normal. Easily accessible information, education, and social connections through technology will help build the relationships and loyalty needed. And with those relationships will come students and families longing for a school that aligns with their family values and teachers who want to come to work each day.