Because of COVID-19, heading back to school this fall brings more than the need to shop for school supplies, set up classrooms, and develop the year’s curriculum. With this school year comes a lot of uncertainty, potential health risk, and more than the usual amount of stress. Teachers always do the utmost for their students, but now they are being asked to give even more. It is important for school administrators to give their teachers and staff the resources and support they need to do their jobs well and safely, so they can provide the best educational experience possible for their students. The following list offers a great place to start.
1. Create a Safe School Environment
The safety and well-being of students, teachers, and staff should be top priority. Safe and healthy conditions at school are fundamental to the health of students and staff, to effective learning, and to teachers and staff doing their best work. If your teachers feel safe and well cared for, they will be more motivated and effective in their jobs both during and after the pandemic.
First and foremost, make sure your school is following all local guidelines and standards, as well as the CDC’s guidance for reopening. Among their other guidelines, the CDC recommends following the “four D’s” — Distancing, Deterrence, Disinfection, and Detection.
- Distancing - In order to meet the recommended social distancing guidelines, many schools will need to implement a hybrid model of in-class and distance learning. Distancing in schools will be difficult to manage, so teachers will need solid systems in place to support them, as well as resources to help such as room dividers and screens.
- Deterrence - In addition to distancing, deterrence will involve frequent hand washing, hand sanitizing, and asking parents to keep children home when they are feeling ill.
- Disinfection - Each school will need to have proper disinfecting protocols in place that follow the CDC’s guidance and use proper equipment and supplies.
- Detection - Students, teachers, and staff will need to be regularly screened for symptoms. Screening can take place either at school or conducted by parents at home to quickly identify and isolate those who develop symptoms. Contact tracing will also be necessary to quarantine anyone who had contact with those who contract the virus.
2. Monitor the Situation and Listen to Teachers’ Feedback
As the school year progresses, it will be critical to continuously monitor and evaluate the situation and adapt as necessary. Each school will need a framework for measuring and benchmarking students’ educational progress. This framework should take into account the teachers’ roles in providing quality teaching and fostering a favorable learning environment. It should allow teachers to be part of the process of monitoring and evaluation, as well as keep them abreast of their students’ progress and results.
It’s always important to give your teachers a voice in school policy and planning, but this year it will be especially crucial. They should also have regular input in ongoing monitoring to help ensure that the needs of all students and staff are considered — including high-risk and marginalized students and teachers — when planning for quality learning and school safety.
3. Support Both Teachers’ and Students’ Psychological, Social, and Emotional Well-being
Teachers take on a lot with their jobs, and can be especially prone to stress and burnout — even without a pandemic. With the added stress of COVID-19, it is important to allow teachers and staff to take vacation time, sick time, and mental health days as needed.
Additionally, ensure that your teachers and staff have easy access to mental health resources, and work to maintain a positive and psychologically healthy work environment. Effectively addressing stress and trauma will help prevent teacher burnout, absenteeism, and turnover. This year especially, your teachers will need ongoing psychological support. In addition to addressing their own mental health, this support will help teachers as they in turn provide support to students and families.
4. Accommodate Teachers Who Are at High Risk
Nearly 1 in 4 teachers are at higher risk of serious illness from contracting coronavirus due to health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, or to being in an older age group (over 65). These teachers may be eligible to seek accommodations under the ADA to minimize risk (such as additional PPE or cleaning of surfaces), accommodations that involve changes in the classroom environment or school building (smaller class sizes or greater separation), transfer to a remote position or one with less contact (such as teaching distance learning), or temporary leave. Do your best to anticipate the needs of your most vulnerable teachers and staff and provide accommodation as necessary.
5. Help Teachers Adapt to the New Normal
All of the changes necessary due to COVID-19 can take their toll on teachers and students alike. Do what you can to help your teachers adapt to this new normal, so they can help their students do the same. Provide the resources and support they need, from sufficient sick time and safe working conditions to ensuring there are enough teachers available to prevent overwork and burnout.
In the end, asking teachers to do more than they usually do this year may be unavoidable: some teachers may have to simultaneously continue face-to-face teaching and online education; others may need to work double shifts to keep class sizes down and allow for social distancing guidelines. Do your best to support your teachers in every way possible during this time — provide them with the resources to do their job well, recognize how hard they are working, and make sure they feel appreciated, safe, and well taken care of.
The onset of the pandemic this spring gave many of us a deep appreciation of the critical work that teachers do every day. Let’s give them the tools and support they need to do their jobs well during this unprecedented time so they can continue to guide the next generation of children through their school years.
If your school needs resources for maintaining the health protection and safe distancing of students, teachers, and staff this year, Versare has you covered. Shop our online store or call us at 800-830-0210.