Re-Entry to School Buildings Post COVID-19

Curriculum, Instruction, Leadership, School Culture, Teacher

It has been bandied across the social media platforms that education and how we deliver learning will need to change to address the “new normal”. Given the paradigm shift schools have faced in recent time, we cannot simply return to the pre COVID-19 approach to teaching and learning. Our experience has shaped us and informed us on how to best connect with students and engage them in their learning.

Research tells us that prior to the pandemic a third of teachers were actively thinking of leaving the profession within the next five years. Given the pandemic impact in the international school setting this statistic might rise with teachers wanting to return home to a more familiar and stable environment. Speak to recruiters (and other school leaders) and you will find that schools potentially anticipating a teacher (and school leader) recruitment crisis.

But there has been some silver linings during this pandemic. Across the globe, countries have cancelled their national standardised/high stakes testing regimes and looking at other means of providing assessment for their students. However, it is not only the 2019-20 cohort who will be affected by this crisis. The future and implications of such decision making is yet to be realised (if not improved!).

When we do go back to school everything will be different – and it must be different. From what we teach our students, to how we teach our students through to how we keep our students safe. We probably need to go back and ask ourselves the fundamental question of this age: what is the purpose of education?

No doubt the educational authorities, the experts in our field, have started formulating the answer. While we wait for their direction we too must be ready to enter a new reality of doing schooling given our professional judgment in light of the COVID-19 era.

So what might a re-entry into school buildings look like for educators and their school communities? Here are three categories that educators will be pondering:

1. Health & Hygiene Measures:

Given the precautionary social distancing, hand washing/sanitising campaign and temperature monitoring that has been instituted to help prevent the spread of the virus, there will be an expectation that similar measure be put into place when we return to school. There will be temperature screening on entering the school building and randomly throughout the school day. Teachers will be asked to stringently monitor (& limit) student access to washrooms and classrooms will most likely revert to rows of desks (with social distancing in mind) facing the front of the classroom. Changes to break times, restricted playground options and a rethink of how to use the cafeteria will be worked out.

2. Curriculum Re-Writes:

In a recent article John Hattie noted that “If we take out one term/semester of 10 weeks, [Australia and the US] still have more in-school time compared to Finland, Estonia, Korea and Sweden, which all outscore Australia and the USA on PISA,” Now if John Hattie is right, then it’s not time at school that’s the problem, it’s what we are teaching our students. We need a drastic rethink of our curriculum standards and dare I say, the mandated core subject allocation. Suffice to say that our current curriculum is voluminous and over crowded.

3: Pedagogical Shifts:

The fear is that a re-entry to the school buildings will see a return to the stand and deliver teaching methodology. It’s an easy solution to comply with the expected rules and regulations that may come down the educational authority line. The challenge for teachers is to use the learning experience of school closures and the various methods of facilitating learning for students at home and blend them into a new school experience. The flipped classroom, provision of instructional videos, project based learning derivations and even active learning strategies, will need to be the “new normal” when we return to school. However, for this new pedagogical stance to rise, changes to not only current standardised/high stakes testing but also inspection accountabilities need to be considered.

That said, the real question on everyone’s mind is, will we be re-entering school buildings too soon, or not soon enough?

Time to Revisit Your Vision

Leadership, School Culture, Vision

Vision without action is a daydream
Action without vision is a nightmare.
– Japanese proverb

All effective organisations not only have a vision statement, they actually use it to drive everything in their organisations. Vision statements are advantageous (if not crucial) to schools because they help drive the decision making and keeps the school focused. In short vision statements:

  • help motivate and keep staff focused on the goals of the school,
  • define the purpose and directions of the school,
  • allow a foundation for publicising the school, and
  • helps to differentiate the school from other educational organisations.

As schools break for the winter (or summer) it is an opportune time for school leaders to take stock of where they are at in working towards achieving their school’s vision. One strategy is to measure the relevance of your vision statement by reflecting on the following questions:

  1. What strategies have been used to intentionally build a shared vision in your school? Can you draw lines between the strategies to the components of your school’s vision?
  2. What actions have you taken as leaders to model the vision?
  3. What strategies haven’t you used to move your stakeholders closer to owning the vision?
  4. How have you, as leader, demonstrated a true commitment to change?

Reflecting on these questions guides leaders to ensure the vision is at the forefront of their daily tasks. To take stock of where the school is at the school leader can undertake:

  • Surveys: Climate surveys are useful in understanding how parents, teachers, students connect with the vision and if there is alignment across the school
  • Decision Making: Leaders need to be able to articulate the connect between decision making and the vision. No alignment means no growth towards the schools goals.
  • Meeting Agendas: An easy measure is to peruse the elements planned for each meeting held. Regardless of the groups focus
  • Teacher Personal/Professional Goals: Are teachers’ goals in line with the school vision. As teachers work on their own professional learning, ensuring it connects to the school’s vision will benefit the school.
  • Signage: Having the school’s vision in plain sight of the community makes an easy reference point for the community as they wander the school.

Remember…..“Every choice you make leads you away from your vision or moves you toward it.”  – Patti Digh

Preparing to Implement Change in School

Leadership, Professional Learning, School Culture, Teacher

Effective schools are ever changing as school leaders grind towards improving their schools. Recently I was asked how I have been successful in driving change in the schools I have led. While there is no “one size fits all” approach I believe there are a few key ingredients the school leader must have in order to successfully navigate the educational change process and make a positive difference to their school.

  1. Building Alignment: The saying, “have all your ducks in a row” is the first step for the school leader wishing to engage in a change management strategy. You need to be well organised and well prepared to implement your school improvement initiative. Having alignment across the school is important. Teacher understanding (and agreement) for the change will lead to commitment to the process. Ensuring you have the resources at hand, agreed indicators for success outlined and an achievable timeframe in place will aid your efforts in bringing success to your project. Having the right mindset/attitude across the school is your goal as you bring the school together. Ultimately, your organisational alignment is the glue for achieving better performance.
  2. Think before you Speak: Part of the preparation for change is taking time to think about how to implement your initiative. Gathering your data, interpreting the evidence, and making an informed decision about future steps is an initial step in determining where you are in the context of learning. As the school leader you need to sort out the inefficiencies and decide on how you want to proceed forward before embarking on sharing with the masses. 
  3. Preempting the Barriers: If you know your staff well then you probably know who the resisters to your new school improvement initiative will be. Preempt the initial rejection by focusing on what questions the resisters will raise. This way you can have your answers ready. Looking at it from someone else’s point of view will help clarify how you will respond. Watch out for the ‘late career’ teachers who have been there for a while and seen initiatives/programs come and go. How are you going to address their resistant attitudes?
  4. Manage Yourself: Continually managing change in a school setting can be a difficult task and has repercussions for the school leader. We have all seen and heard stories of how leaders have suffered from stress and burnout. Looking after your physical self to help look after your emotional self is crucial to sustaining a successful leadership role. Understanding how you respond to the negative stuff in school will help you prepare for the rigours of engaging in educational change.
  5. Building Culture:  Probably the most important preparation piece for any leader is the need to build your school’s culture. In order for your new change initiative to work you need to have the culture to support it. Your success is going to be held back by the staff implementing the plan if the school culture does not support it. As Peter Drucker so famously stated…”Culture eats strategy for breakfast“.

In summary,  in order to prepare for change, the effective school leader begins by aligning the school culture, the staff and the action plan. This will ensure success in implementing the change initiative within your school.

Building School Culture: 4 Pillars to Success!

Leadership, School Culture

December last year I received an award from the International Schools Awards organisation. The award was for Best Innovation in Education. This innovation was squarely set on the shoulders of the Teacher as Researcher program and the building a culture of staff learning. This particular program has been instituted at my current school for the past three years. 

This is not just about the building of teacher capacity, but rather on how teachers not only improve their teaching practice but also how they collaborate with their colleagues in sharing their expertise.

Education is a social profession and when people get together, the opportunity to grow and learn is accentuated. 

The process of building school culture is organic and relies heavily on school leaders connecting four key pillars into their leadership priorities. I believe that many of the day to day tasks school  leaders undertake to improve their school can be categorised into four key pillars. 

These four pillars:

  • Commitment  & Loyalty
  • Transparency  & Efficiency
  • Trust
  • Team Work

A deeper explanation of improving schools through the focusing on school culture can be found in the following article:

Four Pillars to Building a Positive School Culture

As we embark on a new school year, building a positive school culture should be at the forefront for all school leaders and teachers too!).