Your Normal School Structure & Mode of Operating Isn’t COVID-19 Compliant

Every classroom in the world has changed in some way during these last six months. Disinfectant wipes, spaced out desks and furniture removed just to name a few of those changes. But those examples aren’t how we change school operations to become COVID compliant. For months now, we have needed to re-evaluate how we operate our schools to be COVID compliant and we will need to do even more well into the future. There are two main ways this appears to be true; how we organize ourselves to do critical work and how we communicate to our community about our rapidly changing schools.

How We Organize the Work We Do

There must be some role in-between admin and teacher to focus special attention on COVID-19 and safety. Maybe you are lucky and you know who that is on your campus but even then, they may not have the authority or mandate to do the daily work of remaining compliant. This is a job that needs to be done now and your school leadership is hopefully ready to thing flexibly about how to get that job done.

Take for example lunchtime duties of teachers. This is a tricky space for a school to remain COVID compliant and with constant rotation of faculty doing the duty each day and rotations locations. It is highly unlikely that consistent rules and procedures will remain in effect throughout this tough year. I heard from a teacher who has started back with on-campus school and told me this, “the rule is three to a table evenly spaced out so I had students do just that for the first three days of school while I was on duty. The very next day a different teacher was on duty and I saw 4 and 5 students per table — no distancing!”

There could be many reasons this inconsistency happened that make it the fault of no one in particular — and that is the problem. In further questioning, I found out that there is no one person who is in charge of maintaining COVID compliance daily but that things will fall to the teacher on duty, whoever that may be. My question for this school is then what flexibility of roles exist to allow COVID compliance to become a primary role/responsibility of a staff or faculty member to get this important part of COVID-19 right? Perhaps there is a trusted faculty member who can be relieved of one class in order to permanently be on a COVID compliant lunch duty or a staff member who regularly works on these duties who can be trained and assigned specific areas of need for such compliance.

This is just one possible problem with the need to adjust how a school is operating during our current pandemic.

How We Communicate

This example comes from my school. Signage, tape and other very visible changes have been made in order to organize for COIVD compliance. Yet, here is a well organized effort with a glaring need. In one picture a student should avoid sitting where the tape is and in another a student may only sit where that same tape is located. Can you guess which one? While students would adapt and understand this over time, initial confusion is clearly very likely. The same black and yellow tape to mean the exact opposite things only meters apart from one another. This is a classic design problem that might be summed up with a question that goes something like, “How to we communicate to our community what we need to do differently during this pandemic?”

This is not an easily answerable question, but a successful effort would likely begin with a leadership team that organizes and prioritizes what it will take to open safely and how to adjust to the changing conditions. From a framework and a workflow that matches the challenge of the pandemic, such a leadership team will be poised to build out solutions, listen to feedback, observe and redesign constantly. Such a leadership team has a north star set and is refining more often than needing to totally redesign everything. Communication is one of the core needs any school has to get right as often as possible this school year and it starts with the earliest stages of planning at the top — different to how we might have seen this work before.

I’m lucky to say that my school has strong leadership doing the right work and we are poised to refine our COVID response. Also, I am glad that I am unable to identify other similar design problems in our efforts. Please do wish us luck as we continue on with the large task at hand.

Let’s Not Compare Ourselves to NASA, but… NASA.

I recently learned that NASA re-plans each and every mission that astronauts are on every single day to reflect the day’s actual event. NASA has a team who’s entire job is to re-plan the full ongoing mission each and every day while astronauts sleep so that when they wake up, they have a completely fresh mission plan to read over. This is critical in life or death situations like space travel and not in a school, even in a pandemic. Nor could this ever be reasonable to accomplish. Yet, I did wonder what regular intervals of a complete review process might look like? Every two weeks to consider everything from COVID cases locally down to each disinfectant dispenser. How great would be to teach at a place that can make comprehensive review of important matters like COVID protocols? It’s what we all hope for right now.

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