Whether your school building reopens in May or August is out of your hands for the most part. It is certainly in God’s hands, as school leader Bill McGee writes about so well in his recent article, “Don’t Waste This Pandemic.”
Like me, despite the uncertain timing, you may want to be pro-active and not reactive. In Part I of this post, I present twelve questions for your consideration. The answers would help you plan now so that your school reopens well. In Part II, I suggest seven immediate actions to accelerate your school into a preferred future.
I want to acknowledge a couple of things up front:
- The tyranny of the urgent can be all consuming. But from talking to school leaders, many institutions are to the point where remote learning is happening quite nicely (or at least happening!). They have some time to think—to ask and answer important questions and to plan.
- Your goal should not be to return to normal. If it is and you succeed, you will have missed a great opportunity. We expect things to be different in the future; the future will be a new normal. Many people, organizations, and governments expect education to morph, as illustrated in the article, “Schools Will Look Very Different When They Open, Says California Governor.” So, the question is whether we want the new normal to just happen to us, or do we want to be intentional and proactive in shaping the future. Winston Churchill said, “Never waste a good crisis.” We may never again have such an extraordinary opportunity to craft new patterns for our schools.
Part I: Twelve Questions to Prepare for a Successful Reopening
- Could you pull together a task force to plan for the reopening? This committee would include representatives of all stakeholders (all those impacted by the reopening). Give them a clear mandate to have a plan ready for May (if still an option), one for August, or one for even later. They would be forward looking and not deal with the current concerns. They could collaborate with or learn from similar schools.
- If the government or parents demand physical distancing, how would you cut class sizes (think students coming to school at different times or some online classes as an option)? How would you handle arrival, assemblies, meals, recess, dismissal, and after-school care?
- How would you ensure health of students and staff? Will staff and students have their temperature scanned prior to coming in the building? Do we need to hire increased nursing staff, at least at the beginning?
- What PPE (personal protective equipment) must be ordered and required to be worn?
- Do you need to maintain the typical calendar or school day?
- What adjustments should be made regarding after school activities?
- What is the plan to sterilize and sanitize the building (and buses?) before school reopens, during the school day, and then after each day ends?
- How can you leverage this crisis for spiritual growth during the coming year? What theme could build on the experiences of this crisis?
- Who will be trained and ready to deal with emotional needs that staff or students may bring back to campus?
- How will teachers assess the academic starting place of their students? What guidelines will they be given to adjust the physical and academic plans they have made in the past?
- What training do students and teachers need to ensure safety?
- What volunteers are needed to help make these plans work, and how will they be recruited and trained?
Part II: Seven Immediate Actions To Accelerate Your School into a Preferred Future
- Communication needs to increase, and it should highlight the uniqueness of what your school offers. What makes your school special is likely the community feeling and the relationships that cannot be found elsewhere. Leverage that value with varied and planned communications that differ by audience. Who is calling the students? parents? donors? teachers? What videos have been produced? It must have been encouraging when administrators at one Christian school delivered pizzas to teacher homes (dropping off from a distance, using gloves). Have you had a Zoom meeting with parents where they can ask questions?
- Fundraising (or friend-raising) can happen now. This can be an opportune time to raise funds. Convincing donors of the need should be easier than ever. A recent non-attender dropped off a $200,000 check at our church door last week since he assumed a need. Donors may be more available now to consider needs. There are those severely financially affected by the pandemic, and we want to assist when possible. Whereas some donors have been economically impacted, others have prospered during this pandemic. Changes in how we raise funds need to be made as this article illustrates. This is the time to lay out a systematic, aggressive plan to friend-raise and fundraise.
- Appoint a high-powered group to implement changes in how you offer education. As one leader told me this week, their institution’s strategic plan that included educational changes has been accelerated by this crisis.
• That school is now looking at how carefully planned online courses can help them accomplish their mission (and save money). Dr. Jay Ferguson, Head of School at Grace Community School in Tyler, Texas, recently said, “Every Christian school in the U.S. that sees remaining in business as part of its future has converted, or is converting, to some form of virtual schooling.” Could a hybrid offering of online and face-to-face classes be a win-win-win for students, teachers, and the school?
• Families have gotten used to flexible learning that lets them choose where and when they learn. How can your school offer some elements of that? Does every student in a secondary math class need to be on the same page at the same time?
• What elements of remote learning do teachers and students want to maintain?
• Is this the time to think about a university model school where classes are offered certain days? Could this alternative be on the same campus with a typical M-F school?
• How can deeper learning and problem-based learning take a step forward? The book Mind Shift offers these and other practical ideas.
• What are dreams and hopes for change that you or others at your school have had? This may be the best time to consider and adopt a few of them.
- Changes will need to be made in how we retain students. Using data, you need to offer what current families want. Expectations may have changed during the crisis, or they may be what recent research has shown. We do need to offer excellent remote learning now so parents see the obvious difference from what other local options are offering. Students need to feel engaged, appreciated, and yes, even loved!
- Have a small, talented group work on changes in how we recruit students. This crisis represents an extraordinary time when parents who have not previously chosen Christian schools may look at new options for their children.The options they have chosen may have let them down in this crisis. Marketing may need to change to let these parents know of the great local option they may have missed thus far. Also, reconnect with families that may have left and found out that the grass was not greener.
- Some schools need to change their financial models. This shift may be the most challenging but also offer the most needed change. Can we look at new financial models? Let’s lay out a five-year plan to get teacher/staff salaries at a respectable level that is funded by tuition. This is the time to develop several financial models that can offer choices when we are confronted with a reality in the coming months. All models would need to support a flourishing school.
- What short or long-term maintenance could be done now while the students and teachers are gone? Might contractors need work and provide affordable bids that allow the school to do more than had been planned?
If the NBA has created a 25-day return-to-basketball plan, couldn’t/shouldn’t we start planning now for what is to come? Maybe I should ask it differently: We have a pandemic that we obviously did not create. Shouldn’t we look for the opportunity in this crisis? Of course, the answer is “yes.”
Mark, great article. Thank you for laying out all of these questions. We will use this in our planning in the near future for sure.
Mark, thank you for this timely article!