COVID Impact: The Future of Education.
Even as we settle into a “new normal,” some sectors, like education, are still grappling with the transition. Focusing on the here and now is understandable, especially given how unexpected these changes have been. But leaders need to be planning ahead as well. It’s unclear exactly how long social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders will be in effect, but at some point, students will eventually head back to campus. Rather than waiting until that moment to improvise a response, the education sector can take steps now to ensure that communicating with stakeholders won’t be more difficult than it has to be. Navigate the legal challenges carefully Schools can be forgiven for not having systems in place to flawlessly convert their entire educational apparatus to an online setting overnight. That said, students’ patience for the challenges of online learning has a limit. We’re already seeing the first of many legal challenges from students against their schools, alleging that online instruction is no substitute for in-person classes, and demanding refunds for tuition and other expenses. Fighting these challenges may be necessary from a legal standpoint, but schools should tread carefully with their public statements all the same. Public opinion will inevitably fall on the side of disaffected students rather than school administrations in these cases, despite the very real financial strains schools are experiencing. Taking a reactive, low-profile approach will likely be the best way to weather these situations. When the dust settles and the COVID-19 crisis ends, thought leaders are inevitably going to write articles examining which schools treated students the worst during the pandemic. It should be every single school’s goal NOT to appear on any of these lists. Help teachers serve as ambassadors for the return to normalcy As students return to campus, they’ll have plenty of questions and fears, ranging from, “How can I be sure that it’s safe to be back in school?” to, “I’m worried I won’t be able to keep my grades up if we have to go back to online courses.” The success or failure of reopening a school will ride on how well prepared teachers are to effectively communicate the reasoning behind the big decisions and address student concerns. Before any reopening plans are set in stone, school administrators need to provide dedicated communication resources and training for teachers. Whether it’s safety measures or permanent changes to how the school operates, anticipate as many difficult questions as you can, and give teachers tailored responses that address them in as much detail as possible. The COVID-19 crisis has eroded trust in many of our society’s institutions. Schools have an opportunity to break from the pack here by preparing for the tough questions in advance. Don’t miss out on opportunities to celebrate students and teachers Much of the education-centric news coverage on COVID-19 has focused on how the pandemic has practically and financially affected schools. The real, day-to-day toll it has taken on individuals—on teachers trying to make online learning solutions effective, on students struggling to keep up their learning progress, and on parents trying to support them—is missing from the conversation. Schools have an opportunity to do what media outlets and politicians have sometimes failed to do: focus on the triumphs of teachers and students, rather than the shortcomings and challenges this situation presented. Many institutions will probably feel pressure to get things “back to normal” as quickly and efficiently as possible when they reopen, hoping to put the pandemic in the rearview mirror. This would be a strategic mistake. School reopenings can be opportunities to celebrate students and teachers alike for their achievements throughout these long months. Schools should turn these moments into major events and use them to communicate their gratitude to everyone for understanding and persevering. Students will benefit tremendously from the positive reinforcement and acknowledging the significant mark that COVID-19 has undoubtedly had on their lives. Focusing on the future is important, make no mistake, but pausing to reflect on what we’ve collectively overcome is an easy way to boost morale before we forge ahead.