Have you ever moved to a foreign country?

Not visited - MOVED.

It’s exhilarating and utterly disorienting.

Suddenly, everything that anchored your life shifts.

Language and alphabet, familiar shops, the value of coins and cash, how to navigate from one place to another, food, how to conduct official business like taxes or utilities for your home, the entire culture of your job…

As a teacher in a new country, I was suddenly faced with students who stayed in place, while the instructors moved every hour from one classroom to another. It meant carrying all of my teaching resources with me in a massive briefcase that could knock people down if I swung around too quickly. How could such a small thing be so totally unnerving to me? I just wanted my shelf of books behind my desk and my file cabinet of photocopies… Was that too much to ask?

Visiting a foreign country is different. It’s fun. You know that inconveniences are temporary, so you view them as “adventures.”
You’re operating within a “special” budget. You know that your “real” life is waiting back there somewhere - familiar and predictable if sometimes less than exciting - and in a week or two, you’ll pick up where you left off.
Along the way, you collect stories to tell your friends and family when you go home.

In the Covid19 crisis, schools have suddenly moved to a foreign country.

We know that it is temporary, but we have to act like we’ll be here for more than a two-week “staycation.” Your teachers might just be wishing for their shelf of books behind their desks. Your students might be grieving the loss of watching for Mom’s car in the pick-up line.

What are the primary challenges?

  • Schools must establish and go live with virtual learning of some sort
  • Crisis management for students and families
  • Emotional and psychological needs must be addressed

Distance learning is nothing new for some schools, but entirely new for others. Most schools have already discovered the right virtual platforms and have quickly patched together a combination of online instruction, staff and parent communication, and attendance taking measures.

Taking care of families and emotional needs is messier and possibly more important.

Some children depend on meals provided at school, families have no internet source, parents have to keep working but have no child care, and kids are trying to do the math lesson on the screen of their telephone.
And, there is anxiety.
Plenty of anxiety. More on that later...

Evolution takes millions of years, except when you have to be ready by Monday. In that case, you grow legs and walk on dry land in two or three days. Goodbye, gills! Hello, feet!

From our network of schools, we have gathered some short term tips on how to manage.

Practical/school-focused tips:

Pre-recorded, asynchronous lessons allow teachers to create lessons that students can access at different times. Video lessons relieve some of the pressure for families with multiple children trying to access limited numbers of devices in the home. Small group sign-in for discussion after watching the video lesson is more interactive. After the crisis, the video lessons will be available for students who miss school for illness and a video library can create distance learning opportunities for a wider audience.

A virtual school tour continues your outreach and enrollment efforts while the brick and mortar building is empty. Your virtual presence has never been more important than now. It’s time to show off a little! Highlight the areas of interest that you often hear questions about from prospective parents - like your sports facilities or STEAM program. Remember to integrate your social media platforms. Parents who are at home are currently getting plenty of screentime!

Set up a Pandemic Resource Team of diverse voices to make timely, inclusive decisions and to come up with ideas as you pivot, iterate, and improve your offering. They might include a subgroup Mobile Team to support online learning and special deliveries for students and families who are unable to pick up books and other items.

Conduct quick surveys to capture data and key metrics as you look to provide solutions to challenges that arise, e.g., parents’ and students’ pain points.

Use social media to engage students.  Instagram stories or Insta-live can motivate students to ask questions, allowing you to address them in a lighter tone. Video contests can be shared on Facebook. You are strengthening the sense that the school family is intact.

Create a virtual community using technology so that students connect with each other, sharing their experiences and frustrations. School is so much more than academic content! Leveraging technology can help to keep things personal, maintain relationships, and underscore connectedness in your community.

Offer a resource list for how to access help in your local community (housing assistance, food, counseling, technology).

Emotional tips for how to help your staff and parents cope:

Communication is crucial. Think - consistent, transparent, and compassionate communication, and don’t forget to celebrate the little things! Be certain that your communication is available in all the languages needed by your families.

Reach out to parents and let them know what your school’s plan is (even if it is not 100% there yet). Don’t wait for “perfect.”

Create video messages to build trust and provide a human element rather than sending an email or text message. Connectedness is essential to combat the loneliness inherent in isolation.

Pick up early stress signals from teachers/students. A quick survey, "How are you feeling today?" can give you a heads-up on who might need help. Challenges addressed early are typically easier to resolve than those that go unnoticed for a longer time.

A handwritten note from a teacher that shows up in the mail or a phone call that comes from the teacher saying, “Hey, I just want to give you a short update on what we've been doing with Nikki this week… We've had a lot of fun doing x, y, z…” When thinking about how to retain your enrolled families in this time of crisis, a deeply personal touch goes beyond what parents would expect. It’s those personal connections that are so meaningful during stressful times. A sense of belonging creates loyalty in your community.

When I found myself in a foreign country, failing fast, failing often, and failing publicly by reason of not knowing so many essential things in a new culture, I began to see failure as a part of success. I dropped the notion of being the teacher-in-control, large-and-in-charge, holding all the answers.

It’s exhausting to lose your routine and to have to pay intricate attention to details that were previously background programs running on the computer of Life - solving problems for you while you got on with the task at hand. That’s where your teachers and families find themselves today.

It is humbling for all of us to let go of long-held independence and competencies and to move into a more collaborative, less linear success. And yet…

Compressed growth, making decisions without your safety net, and owning our fallibility has a degree of opportunity woven into the fabric of the garment.

Some of the biggest takeaways we have gathered so far have been:

  • Schools don’t have all the answers, nor the perfect solution to every situation
  • Schools need to be nimble and adopt a trial-and-error approach
  • Schools must get feedback and learn from failures
  • The school day structure must shift (how we do meetings, schedules, create diverse teams)
  • Everyone in education must leverage existing tools and not lose time recreating the wheel
  • We all must get even more social (at a distance of at least six feet!!)

In the current crisis, we are learning to step into the flow of “things going wrong,” and believe that we can and must learn, shift, ask for help, and trust that we will ultimately walk away with an epic success.

At some point, we’ll go back to the familiar schoolyard and routine...

In the meantime, if we approach this as a marathon, not a sprint, schools can create new rhythms of learning, innovate solutions that provide long term benefits, and foster an entrepreneurial culture that profits the entire education community as it moves forward.

When the rules are thrown out the window, leave that window open. Something lovely can fly right in.

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