At the beginning of 2020, no one could have foreseen the impact of the pandemic. In the face of myriad obstacles, educators stepped up to implement remote learning to get through the remainder of the academic year. A post-COVID-19 world will be here eventually, but it is anyone’s guess when that will be. As schools grapple with the unknown questions and challenges at the top of everyone’s mind, here are a few that I hope resonate:
- Will school be safe for everyone?
- Will parents send their kids to school?
- Will teachers come back?
- How will social distancing work?
- How will you focus on the mental, not just physical, health of students and staff?
- Will the lessons learned during the pandemic be applied to create a better learning culture for kids?
- What happens if we open up school and are asked to shut down again because of a new outbreak?
- What will the schedule look like?
- How will reduced budgets ensure safety, hygiene, and needed professional learning?
If you are not thinking about these questions and others that pertain to your current or potential future situation, begin to do so now. There are no easy or straightforward answers, unfortunately. That’s why planning now is critical. Along the way and during implementation, constant reassessment and pivoting will be needed to ensure success. In another blog post, I addressed some strategies that can be used to address the health and safety of all kids and adults.
Another Pressing Issue
There is another pressing issue that schools need to be prepared for, and that is how they will step up to address systemic racism. Tragedy after tragedy here in the United States provides a stark reminder that not much has changed. George Floyd might be the latest unconscionable murder, but as everyone knows, it wasn’t the first. We need to make sure it is the last. It is not the sole responsibility of African-Americans to tackle these issues. All of us must combat racism whenever and wherever it occurs. It is our collective responsibility. We all individually have to do more, myself included.
Education can be a powerful tool to help turn the tide, but where and how do we begin? Venola Mason, my friend and colleague at the International Center for Leadership in Education, shared this vital perspective with me:
This is a delicate issue that can be highly charged with emotion and has a deep historical context. For institutions to recognize that some of the practices in our schools systematically put some students at a disadvantage is difficult to admit. However, now is the time to examine local and state data to bring to light any inequities that may exist to ensure that all students learn in a space where they feel safe and welcomed and have access to a high-quality education.
Cornelius Minor recently penned an article titled “Why #BlackLivesMatter in Your Classroom Too.” I highly recommend you give it a read. In the piece, he outlines different types of racism but also crafts a narrative that compels schools to take action. Below is one section that really stood out:
All of our students matter, but in a society characterized by its dogged refusal to treat all kids and their families equally, it is our moral imperative to affirm that Black lives matter. If outcomes continue to be bleak for large groups of people, it diminishes the quality of all our lives. When there is massive disenfranchisement fueled by widespread failure and incarceration, the safety of all our communities is compromised.
Cornelius goes on to identify five specific ways educators can take action in classrooms and schools while providing a series of questions to guide the change process—focusing on safety, voice, choice, growth, and flexibility. He then ends the article with this powerful statement:
There is no right answer; rather, it’s the questions that help us think about what actions or changes might lead to better outcomes for all of our students, particularly those who are underserved by traditional schooling. Being an advocate for Black lives does not mean that I am an advocate against any other lives. When we make the conscious decision to address persisting injustices, this broadens access to justice for everyone.
If you teach Black kids, it is your responsibility to spark conversations with them (and your colleagues) about race. If you don’t teach Black kids, it is your responsibility to spark conversations with your students (and your colleagues) about race. Discomfort is no excuse.
Discomfort, as well as ignorance, are no excuses.
Silence and inaction just won’t cut it. Our actions define who we are and what we stand for. The same can be said about inaction.
Black Lives Matter!
What Comes Next
My purpose as an educator, at least how I see it, is to provide practical strategies, advice, and support—and to know when to lean on others who are more experienced and knowledgeable than me. When it comes to the immense challenges facing not just the United States but all countries in the battle to combat racism, we need to not only to emphasize, but also listen to and get an understanding of the unique experiences of people of color and work together to develop solutions to create a better world.
What comes next will be determined, in large part, by the actions that are taken now. Schools have to be prepared to address racism and educating kids in a current or post-COVID-19 world.
Eric Sheninger is an associate partner with the International Center for Leadership in Education. Prior to this, he was an award-winning principal at New Milford High School in New Milford, NJ. A 2012 Digital Principal of the Year, he has authored six books, including the bestselling Digital Leadership. Follow him on Twitter (@E_Sheninger) or visit his website.