When schools re-open this fall, they will look very different than when they closed this past spring. School leaders have to re-imagine every piece of the school day from start times, to lunch periods, to addressing gaps in knowledge produced by an extended period of quarantine. The most paramount concern for administrators is keeping both students and staff healthy in the middle on an ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Here are some guidelines and tips that will help your school population stay healthy and safe:
Enforce Sanitary Guidelines Through Intentional Structures: It’s not enough to “encourage” things like wearing a mask, washing your hands, and maintaining social distancing– they need to be enforced and built into the school’s daily structure. A virus will spread quickly without these measures, and schools cannot risk the health and safety of both students and staff by allowing these measures to lapse over time. Having these structures in place before the school opens its doors are critical to resuming in-person instruction. Creating your school’s structure based on sanitary guidelines is the best method for maintaining long-term, in-person instruction.
Allow Families Choice: No matter how cautiously or carefully your school puts sanitary guidelines into practice, some families will still not feel comfortable sending their child back for face-to-face instruction. Families may have elderly or at-risk members, or the child may have their own health issues that make in-person instruction risky. Allowing families the choice to continue distance learning keeps your most vulnerable children and families safe, and reduces the stress families feel about sending their children into the building.
Ensure Easy Access to Your New Policies: Providing one place where new school policies and procedures are quickly, and easily, accessible will be crucial to ensuring the safety and health of students and staff. With planners that are customized specifically for your school you can ensure that all stakeholders have access to information about hand-washing techniques, social distancing policies, hygiene rules, and all of your new school policies.
Recognize and Address Mental Stress: When school shifted to online learning virtually overnight, the unseen mental stress was shouldered by administrators, teachers, students, and families. We know that mental health increasingly is seen as a serious health issue, so recognizing and addressing this is also key when re-opening. Encourage students and staff to practice mindfulness, utilize stretching, yoga or other exercises to relieve physical stress, or begin journaling what they’re feeling. Students and staff have just lived through an incredibly taxing time, and acknowledging that experience is part of the healing process.
Offer Counseling: Many families suffered tragic, unexpected losses during the Covid-19 pandemic. For these families, the above steps for addressing mental stress may not be enough as they go through the grieving process. Offer counseling for both students and staff who need additional support in order to return successfully to the classroom.
Centralize Instruction to Reduce Confusion and Stress: One common complaint among families during the distance learning period was the confusion regarding online instruction. Teachers were tasked with changing their delivery method, and many had no prior experience in this arena. This caused many educators to throw too many new apps or websites at students in order to compensate for what they weren’t getting in the classroom. Now, with time to reflect, it’s clear that schools need to provide a consistent and centralized location for all online instruction. Instead of having families use 20 different apps with 20 different usernames and passwords, ask teachers to have one place, such as their teacher website or class page, where everything is located. Consistency is key to increasing student and family engagement, and reducing confusion.
Offer Professional Development Online: Staff may still not be able to re-enter school buildings for traditional summer professional development, but using distance learning is an excellent way for educators to build their tech skills. Administrators, this is your chance to highlight what went well during the quarantine distance learning period. Ask your staff, and also parents, what teachers or grades really had it together during this time. Take a look at what those teachers or grades did online, and offer training on those platforms or programs. This is where professional development can provide relevant, meaningful learning for educators who need guidance about how to best build their tech skills.
Be Open for Conversations With Staff: It’s an administrator’s job to provide guidance, leadership and structure, but no one knows for sure what to expect in the fall. If some of the things you’ve put in place were great in theory, but not in practice, let your staff know that you’re open for discussion about modifying routines. Letting your staff know that you want to hear their concerns about health, safety, and academics is crucial to a strong re-opening.
While many things were out of a district’s control when Covid-19 swept across the nation, the re-opening process allows administrators the ability to put structures and routines in place to keep students and staff safe.