It’s time to face reality: school is not going back to “normal” any time soon.
There are a lot of factors at play here. But looking at the reality of the pandemic, anyone who is advocating for “business as usual” is not putting public safety at the top of the priority list.
At the state level, we did really well in Ohio this spring. We followed the advice of our medical and public health professionals. We self-isolated. We controlled the spread of the disease. We flattened the curve. Then, Memorial Day came and we took our eyes off the ball. (Wow. A baseball metaphor. Let’s just rub salt in the wound, shall we?)
There are a lot of factors at play. The economy was in a tailspin. Politicians are trying to get re-elected. There’s a lot of crisis-fatigue among the populace. We stopped paying attention to science, and started listening to people who were telling us what we wanted to hear.
We wanted to hear that it’s okay to have a summer. It’s okay to travel and go out to restaurants and visit our grandparents. It’s okay to go to the beach and have cookouts and do all of those summer things that make January worth the trouble. And when the infection numbers started rising, we criticized the testing. If we wouldn’t test so many people, we wouldn’t have so many positive results. That seems like a flawed strategy.
Here are the numbers from Ohio. I’ve been tracking confirmed cases (not total cases) since March 8. These are daily new case numbers for Ohio, with a rolling 7-day average.
It takes about two weeks from the point of infection until people start showing symptoms. Memorial Day was May 25. Two weeks later was June 8. If you looked at this graph in late May and early June, when we were wrapping up the school year, you could reasonably conclude that we were on the right track. We might even be able to open schools in the fall. We’ll make some adjustments. We’ll put some social distancing measures in place, we’ll buy gallons of hand sanitizer, and we’ll get back to doing what we do best.
Anyone who is still saying that is either not paying attention or not making people’s safety the top priority. Debate it all you want. The inconvenient truth is that it’s not safe for school buildings to re-open this fall. The inevitable consequence of the numbers over the past month is that we can’t go back to business as usual.
Sorry. I know. Your emotional well-being was built on the hope that we’d be done with this by September. We’re not going to be done with this by September. It’s increasingly looking like we’re not going to be done with this in 2020. The good news is that it’s now mid-July. We have half a summer left.
So what should we be doing? Here are some suggestions:
If you’re not working this summer, it’s time to start working this summer. I get it. You’re not getting paid to work all summer. You have a 186 day contract, and you’re guaranteed ten weeks of vacation in the summer. But you’re salaried. And you’re a professional. And every time you spend a couple hours in July working on things for the fall, you’re reducing your blood pressure in September by a couple points. Even if you’re not doing the heavy lifting of detailed planning, at least get a big picture approach fleshed out soon.
Listen to people who put public health first. The people who know what they’re talking about are being drowned out. The World Health Organization has more credibility than the CDC at this point, simply because of the political pressures in play. I’m trying not to make this too political, but the loudest people often have the least to say. Use your information literacy skills to find the credible voices.
Be the professional. Every time a teacher whines on Facebook about how this isn’t what they signed up for, it hurts the credibility of the profession. You know what good learning should look like. You know about differentiation and authentic assessment and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. You know about project based learning and formative assessments and standards and mastery. You know that 40 minute Zoom lectures are a bad idea, and endless worksheets waste everyone’s time. Start talking about those things.
Design for online. Start with what you know about learning, and build experiences for students that reflect those best practices. Stop trying to replicate the classroom experience in a digital environment. It won’t work, and it ignores the benefits that online learning can bring to the table. You’ve been doing face-to-face learning for a long time. You learned a lot about online learning this spring, even if it was new to you. It’s time to apply that expertise. And start talking about how you can make learning better than it was instead of almost-as-good.
Pace yourself. Think big picture, and focus on one thing at a time. It’s not time to panic yet. But the more time you spend now, the easier this is going to be in the fall.
Last school year was the most unusual I’ve seen in my career. We really did change direction with almost no advance warning, and the world changed overnight. It’s time to acknowledge that we’re on a different path now, and we’re not going back. It’s time to get ready for the new journey.