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What will it take to go back to in-person education?
Jul 31 · 7 min read
All of us.
Yes, you, reading this and many who will never see it; educators, school and district administrators, parents, students, entire family units, legislatures, your neighbor who may or may not have school-aged children, caretakers…everyone. This is not exclusive to educators, students, and their families — no, it will take the entire proverbial village, my friends.
Every single person must do their part, follow protocols and safety measures in and out of school. We have to be honest with one another. If you aren’t feeling well, don’t visit others, do not go to work, do not send a child to school who isn’t feeling well, do not pass go, do not collect $200….
This is inconvenient, I know full well. Educators are some of the worst “come in while sick” culprits, I am completely guilty of this. But you see, my friends, we have an opportunity here.
We can change.
We must change.
This is the time.
Here are my thoughts of what each constituent group needs to do in order to be a part of the “back in person” movement. I fall into several of these groups which means…I have a lot of work to do and support to give. I am holding myself accountable and I need your support as well, your reminders, and your grace as we navigate our responsibilities.
It’s time to break the cycle of “it’s easier to come in sick than write adequate sub plans”.
Stop right now.
I am talking to myself here as well. We never should have accepted this behavior of ourselves — are substitute teaching plans difficult, tedious, annoying?
Absolutely, 100% — to help someone fill your expectations and fulfill the needs of your students, is really difficult, time-consuming, etc. but we have to do it. We have to stop allowing ourselves to come to work sick, we must write the sub plans, we need to change our behaviors. We also need to help one another, support our colleagues, lend an ear, a learning plan, a resource, whatever it takes to be there for one another. We have to give ourselves and our colleagues, grace — we have to commit to doing our best, hold ourselves accountable and at the same time allow one another to lean in for support. We have to show compassion, if we are all doing our best, lending grace, resources, support…we will get through this — we won’t just survive, we will thrive. This is true in “COVID-19 times” and after. We should not be going to work sick, pandemic or not.
2. We need to acknowledge something about our administrators — we (yes, me too), have never been an administrator during a pandemic. We must show gratitude for their work and we must grant them grace in the process. When was the last time you checked in on your administrative team?
Should you speak up when you feel something was missed in planning for re-opening? Yes, and we can and need to do it with grace. It is possible that your concerns are being addressed, it could be a work in progress, it is also possible administrators had not thought of the concern you have…in any case, assume the best intent and speak up with grace.
3. Students have not been socialized since March. This means they will be out of practice with social skills, problem-solving, and resolving conflict with peers. They will need your grace too, your guidance, reminders, and coaching. They will need you to repeat directions, advice, and expectations a lot. A. Lot. While there is no real “preparation” for teaching during a pandemic, know what we are all in this together, every member of the community and we all need a little time, patience, and grace.
4. Follow the safety protocols in and out of school. This should be an easy one. Study them, advocate for yourself, your colleagues, your students, and just follow them, for goodness sakes. This keeps us all safe and it brings us back to in-person education safely and quicker than the alternative. We need to be able to trust one another as colleagues, our students need to be able to trust us, and our community needs to be able to trust us.
It’s not enough to just want your child(ren) back to school in person, your support is needed as well. Students need to be prepared to wear a mask for extended periods of time, they also need to practice taking their mask off by the straps only, carefully storing, and knowing when and how to wash their hands with soap and water appropriately.
Schools need some grace. (I’m not sure I have used this word enough yet) Decisions are being made with so many things to consider from a safety lens as well as pedagogical, educational, and developmental lens. Often those articles and Op-Ed pieces you read are from one angle only, one perspective. Schools have the responsibility of using multiple lenses for decision making and they will make mistakes, they will be learning in the process, and remember: we are all living in a pandemic. We all need…..you guessed it….grace.
When you fill out the entrance questionnaire each morning asking about symptoms your student is experiencing, we need your honesty. We need you to keep students home who are not feeling well. Just as we, educators, must own up to showing up while not well, we need families to do the same. This is a huge inconvenience, I know. I am an educator and parent…pandemic or not, we have to take responsibility of our own health and those around us. If a student is not feeling well, it is best for all of us if they stay home. We need to follow protocols such as “24 hour fever free” and “24 hours without vomiting” rules. They are incredibly inconvenient, again, I know this all too well, but guess what, we must respect them, pandemic or not. Let’s hold one another accountable, let’s take this opportunity for positive change for everyone’s health.
We love you. We want to be with you. We need your understanding and flexibility, we need your cooperation. Safety protocols will keep us from the hugs, high fives, and close proximity to you that we cherish, but know that we have some alternatives, and maybe you have ideas too! Air hugs and high fives…we need your help in following those protocols and helping us think of fun ways to still connect without these coveted signs of affection. So think about what we can do and let us know!
We are going to be following and enforcing all kinds of new regulations and we don’t like them either. We need you to help by following the regulations and helping us still find ways to have fun in school together.
This is new for you and all of us too. We haven’t been around our students or friends either and we may need some help getting along, compromising, and solving conflicts. Let’s be extra patient with one another — deal?
Grace, patience, understanding, and a listening ear. It’s a pandemic, race issues here in the United States especially are on high, and we are starting a new school year after a challenging spring semester and many were/are still attending weekly meetings via video conferencing tools and “summer break” never actually happened. Educators will have varied experiences to share, vent about, and need assistance in coping…we need you to listen and we need your empathy in sharing our challenges. Minimizing experiences and struggles will only create a feeling of helplessness and even anger or resentment among your educators. While none of us have been administrators during a pandemic, you have not been an educator during one either. Both groups need grace and need to be heard.
We need to rethink weekly meetings, obligations, extraneous testing, and expectations that even during a ‘normal’ school year were a bit much. And now…these expectations are more than many of us will be able to even consider trying to fulfill. Can we switch to pre-recorded messages either audio or video of your weekly messages? Can we switch to an email with important information we need to know, that we can digest in our own time? Can we talk about amending observations, promoting increased attention to social-emotional learning and growth for students and us (educators)? Can we talk about more efficient ways to support educators and allow them space to breathe? Can we ask teachers, ‘What can I do for you?’ rather than “Everything okay?” check-ins? Just like we do for our students, slight shifts in expectations and our own language will make a huge difference.
This is also an opportunity to re-evaluate current practices — were they ever in our best interests? What can we resolve to amend permanently that will create a better environment for our schools, pandemic or not?
Neighbors: We love you, we want you to be safe and healthy. We need you to follow safety protocols too, in order to keep our entire community safe and healthy. Whether you have school-aged children or not — you are an integral part of our lives, our community, and we need you.
If ever a time exposed the need for school funding, it is now. The year 2020 has shed a light on issues of funding and equity, like no other time in history apart from segregation. We need schools fully funded, and we needed it “yesterday”. From equitable access to technology, wifi, food, resources, and knowledge…schools need help, support, but really — funding. We need you to work for public education, regardless of agenda, election year, party platform…equitable access to education is a human right. We need advocates, we need fighters, we need you.
High stakes testing needs an overhaul; it has needed it for quite some time. We can assess student achievement in ways other than standardized testing in the form and systems we currently use. Educators use a variety of assessments daily, I actually contend, hourly, in order to track student achievement and to attend to their individual needs. We need you to ask educators for help in crafting a new system. There are other answers, you just need to ask the right questions. We need advocates, we need fighters, we need you.
So, my friends, let’s get to work.
You want in-person education back? It will be tough, and it will take every one of us.
Let’s get to work, let’s do this together.