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Four Key Questions for a Post-Pandemic World

By Jeffrey Shields posted 01-26-2021 11:42 AM

  

CEO Notebook |

What is still missing from our new modes of program delivery and how can we leverage the changes we’ve made thus far?

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Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

While I would wager all of us are looking for a calmer and saner 2021, an objective analysis at this point would say the proverbial bag is mixed. A deadly attack on the United States Capitol does not fit anyone’s definition of calm, and all Americans have reason to be upset and disappointed that the vitriol of our politics rose to such an angry and grave crescendo at the start of a new year. It is also undeniable, however, that there has been a significant change in leadership, not just in party or personality, but in representation — the U.S. now has its first woman, Black American and South Asian American vice president. History has already been made in 2021.

And these early milestones do not even directly address the COVID-19 pandemic. Will this “once a century” crisis that altered nearly every strand of our lives in 2020 further fill our mixed bag with both optimism and caution?

Will this “once a century” crisis that altered nearly every strand of our lives in 2020 further fill our mixed bag with both optimism and caution?

There has been much prognostication on the impact of the pandemic, including from yours truly, which is why I read with great interest Mary B. Marcy’s recent Inside Higher Ed article “Moving from the Tactical to the Strategic.” “We can and should learn from our forced response to the pandemic, but we should not mistake unplanned, short-term adjustments for necessary long-term change,” she warns. Marcy then poses top-of-mind questions that expose my greatest concern — that following the pandemic, nothing will change for our schools and that we snap back to pre-pandemic processes and delivery methods.

Applying her analysis of higher education, which often serves as a bellwether for independent PK-12 education, to the context of NBOA member schools may provide an important framework for discussions among our schools’ leadership teams.

“What has proved to be truly essential from our pre-pandemic operations and systems?” Marcy asks first and foremost. We have much to be proud of regarding our ability to pivot the delivery of our programs to online, hybrid or pandemic-safe face-to-face formats, and many agree that the strength of our school leadership’s and above all else our mission and community have carried us through this crisis.

As Marcy notes, however, many other aspects of school life that we’ve been forced to set aside are important to our students’ experience. I have noted many of these firsthand through the experience of my ninth-grade daughter, Samantha. Our mantra as she adjusts to a new school is, “This is high school without any of the fun.” It’s sad, but true, and it’s a difficult adjustment for any adolescent. The current crisis has brought us the performing arts without an audience, virtual commencements and online lectures, all understandably the best we can deliver, but what’s sacrificed is notable. 

Our faculty have developed an extended reach through technology, and it’s is an impressive asset. We should garner a shared commitment to leverage it.

Marcy’s next question is, “Should we permanently adopt some of our newly flexible systems for remote teaching and learning?” She notes in particular the heavy investments in online learning systems and faculty professional development. Our faculty have developed an extended reach through technology, and it’s is an impressive asset. We should garner a shared commitment to leverage it. I hope this is top of mind for school leadership. These new opportunities should not be abandoned once the immediate necessity to deliver our education in this modality dissipates.

Other discussion-worthy questions include, “What were we doing pre-pandemic that is no longer necessary?” and “What aspects of our pre-pandemic strategy should be modified?” Each provides an excellent opportunity for school leaders to explore a thoughtful discussion regarding their school’s future, and which aspects of change should be temporary, permanent or adjusted as appropriate.

I would also encourage all of us to acknowledge that we don’t fully understand the impact of this crisis and how soon it will end. A thoughtful exploration is necessary, but we should suspend final judgment until we afford ourselves space from the numerous challenging circumstances to do so with a clear head and equally clear line of sight toward the future.

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
From Net Assets NOW, January 26, 2021. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.
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