As we cautiously step into a new school year, there is a singular question on everyone’s mind: is there anything we can do besides hope for the best? Uncertainty exists on every level. We wait anxiously for news about federal guidelines, governors’ press conferences that announce state vaccine requirements, and buzz on what’s happening at our local schools. With so much conflicting evidence about COVID-19 and its emerging variants, “hope” just isn’t enough. We have no choice but to prepare in advance for the unknown. Here are some strategies for parents, educators, administrators, and students to do just that: 

  • Safety first. Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our students, teachers, parents, and everyone in our learning communities. This encompasses vaccination and mask requirements to social distancing and temperature-taking. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the latest information, but it’s important to stay informed. If you’re not sure about something, go to authoritative resources first, such as the CDC, WHO, and local school districts, which typically provide these resources. Another consideration is the importance of intentionally mitigating the stress that learners and teachers experience. When it comes to health, we cannot overlook mental health! Self-care is a powerful tool to overcome stressors associated with the unknown. Knowledge means power and gives everyone the opportunity to weigh their options based on concrete facts. 
  • Parents have a voice. Parents are usually the best advocates for their children and should feel empowered to ask questions and verify the answers. Is there something that hasn’t been addressed? Will this work for my child and their individual needs? Do we have the resources to make a hybrid arrangement work if that’s required? The key is for parents to form a partnership with their schools and teachers and for the schools and teachers to do the same. This hasn't always been easy, but both sides benefit greatly – as do learners. When a broader community has the best interests of students in mind and commits to open and consistent communication, social and emotional well-being result. 
  • Equity. It is imperative that we focus on equity as a top priority, regardless of whether learning is in-person, hybrid, or remote. Underserved students deserve the same safety considerations, learning options, and flexible solutions as affluent students. This includes accommodations and customizations that can be implemented immediately to ensure fair access to learning, wherever it takes place. Critical learning deficiencies, like those caused by the digital divide, have become more visible since COVID hit. While some remedies have been activated, it’s not enough. Real progress in this area must take place at a systemic level. 
  • This can't wait. COVID-19 and other factors, including the likelihood of a severe cold and flu season, are changing at a moment’s notice and often result in unknown impacts. But since we’ve known about COVID for nearly two years, we’ve had plenty of warning. Now is the time for everyone involved in learning to reflect on their experiences to date – good and bad – and have practical discussions and plans in place to adapt to a wide variety of scenarios. This inclusive and collaborative approach can change children's futures and positively impact our society and the communities in which we live, work, and learn. 

A cornerstone of safety. Clear, accessible, and consistent communication among students, educators, parents, and administrators. Permission to demand the facts and question anything less than that. These are the pillars that will support the creation and maintenance of a flexible and success-driven learning experience. Schooling will never be the same, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be better.