What a Successful COVID Response Looks Like
By Lauren Moore
When the second semester of school started earlier this year, the prospect of schools closing would’ve been inconceivable to any educator. Less than three months later, that implausible scenario became a requirement. Like many other school districts in Indiana, Goshen Community Schools made the decision to temporarily close schools and transition to distance learning. This transition came with many uncertainties and hurdles. As I watched my district make tough decisions in real time, it became clear that some of our best practices were serving us especially well in the midst of this crisis.
Clear and Abundant Communication
By the end of the second week of March, we realized that drastic measures would have to be taken and the district notified all teachers to send electronic devices and charging equipment home with students. This decision started a positive chain reaction of timely communication and quick-yet-thoughtful decision-making on the part of our central office team. Our Superintendent, Dr. Diane Woodworth, was continually in contact with the county health commissioner as well as several physicians within the community. This allowed the central office to send continual email updates over the weekend. During those first few days information was changing every hour. As a teacher and a leader in my building, it was helpful to get real-time updates via email. These email updates also explained the reasoning behind decisions, noted the different positions, and always left the caveat that things may change again. With the world around us altering rapidly, it was comforting to obtain information straight from the source, even if it might change again. The clear and abundant communication from the leaders in our district provided a sense of security in a time of unsettling changes.
Flexibility Built-in from the Get-Go
As a building leader who is primarily responsible for coaching teachers and leading professional development, the move to working from home left me feeling unsure and sometimes helpless. However, with the support of my principal and district leadership, flexibility soon became the new motto. Even though my professional development sessions were planned out for the next several weeks, I knew they would no longer be as relevant or impactful given the situation. I was empowered to be flexible with my role and get feedback from teachers on how I can best support and serve them. Through this, I was able to find ways for teachers to collaborate virtually on topics such as technology, parent involvement, motivation and engagement, the balance between maintenance and pushing forward with new content, and other distance learning instructional practices. Flexibility has become the cornerstone of our new normal. We are flexible with colleagues, with families and students, and with ourselves. This trend has also been noticed by our district office and praised repeatedly by leadership and the community.
Making the Most of Systems Already in Place
Our district had previously built in days in our school calendar for eLearning practice and we were able to draw on those experiences. Students were somewhat familiar with the online formats and the type of work that could be expected. However, there were many new factors. While teachers were figuring how to sustain eLearning over time, the rest of the district hurriedly looked for ways to leverage systems that were previously in place. Bus drivers, cafeteria staff, and many others helped deliver meals to neighborhoods and homes all over the city. Custodial staff worked furiously to disinfect and seal off each building. Our district’s HR department made personal contact with an abundance of staff members to work out maternity leaves, FMLA, benefits questions, and other vital details. Technology staff sent out regular information and updates to staff notifying them of tips, tricks, pitfalls, and ways to reach out for help. Principals reached out to staff via Zoom to help with morale, deliver announcements, and receive feedback. Even though we were no longer in our traditional settings, the gifts and roles of everyone involved were leveraged for the greater good and the greater cause, our students.
Each night on the news, the phrase “unprecedented” is repeated. Recently, I realized that even in a time of unprecedented crisis, I have nothing but pride when I think of my school and my district. They have utilized timely decision-making, consistent and thorough feedback, flexibility, and transparency to maintain our ultimate goal — the care, wellbeing, and education of our most precious asset, students.
Lauren Moore is the special education teacher at West Goshen Elementary School in Goshen, Indiana and a Teach Plus Indiana Policy Fellowship alumna.