As We Plan for a Return to School – Don’t Forget the Teachers

woman writing on dry erase board
Photo by Christina Morillo on

Recently, I’ve been thinking, reading, and writing A LOT about the new school year and what it might look like. This is because our school year starts on July 22 — which feels a lot like tomorrow.

I’ve seen many plans that get points for effort, but are essentially the equivalent of shoving a square peg into a round hole. My concern is that in an effort to make everyone happy (and provide a wide variety of options to students and parents) schools will not have the human or capital resources to do any of it well. I’m still intrigued by the framework of a plan developed by Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, but I don’t see this kind of measured approach being discussed, or explored, beyond this instance.

Let me be clear. The health and safety of our students should always be our primary concern. This should weigh heavily in every decision we make about returning to school. Without a safe, clean, and welcoming environment, it will be very difficult for kids to learn.

However, it is critical that in our planning we don’t forget about our teachers and school staff.

First, their health and safety (as well as that of their families) should be a priority. We have an obligation to do our best to protect them from the virus.

Second, the evidence we currently have about the virus indicates that it has far more negative health implications for adults than for children (although, keep in mind that this is a new virus and we do not know long-term effects on adults, or kids).

So, think through this scenario with me for a moment. If a teacher (or staff member) is confirmed to have COVID, they will obviously be required to stay home until they are symptom-free and no longer positive for COVID. In addition, most organizations will also require those with whom they have been in close contact to quarantine for at least fourteen days. So, if we are not careful, I could easily see a situation where a school’s ability to function collapses — not because of student illness, but because there are not enough adults to effectively teach, supervise, and administer the day-to-day operations of the facility. Making matters more concerning, I share Larry Ferlazzo’s opinion that schools are going to have a difficult time getting substitutes next year.

Social distancing for staff members will be as critical as it is for students — if not more so. We are going to need to rethink how we do professional development, team/department/staff meetings, collaboration, and social activities (such as lunch). The teacher’s lounge may not be an option for next year. For teachers — online and distance collaboration may have to continue in order to prevent staff shortages and school closures. Teaching can be a lonely and isolating profession. The upcoming school year could make that even more difficult.

I don’t say any of this to make the situation seem hopeless. It’s not. But it is extremely complex with a lot of unknowns. This is just one more thing to consider.

Please comment, or connect with me on TwitterI would love to be a part of optimistic and creative discussions about how school leaders can identify and tackle the challenges of a new and dramatically different school year.

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