School leaders on the frontline of schools reopening after the pandemic

A new toolkit for school leaders provides guidance to help them navigate all the questions and decisions they will have to make to reopen schools, ensuring the well being and safety of school staff, teachers and students.

July 02, 2020 by Teacher Task Force, and UNESCO
4 minutes read
A teacher shows an image in a book to her students at an elementary school in Laos
Credit: GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer

The reopening of schools following COVID-19 related closures is raising a myriad of questions for school leaders on how to prioritize the school community’s safety and health, and ensure that front line workers – teachers and education support staff – have the support, protection and tools they need to resume work.

Teachers have been key during the school closures in helping ensure that learning continue, and keeping in touch with students and their families. Their role during reopening will be just as important.

Following the joint Framework for Reopening Schools, and the policy guidance released earlier last month, UNESCO, the Teacher Task Force and the International Labour Organization have released a toolkit for school leaders to support and protect teachers and education support staff in the return to school.

The toolkit takes the seven dimensions identified in the policy guidance, and breaks them down into a series of actionable guiding questions, tips and resources.

Figure 1. Seven dimensions to support teachers and staff as schools reopen
Figure 1. Seven dimensions to support teachers and staff as schools reopen

The toolkit recognizes the importance of local context. Local decisions about when to reopen schools will be determined by a broad range of considerations; what is right for one school may not be right for another.

In all contexts, school leaders will need to set priorities and recognize that trade-offs may be needed. In some cases, closing schools again may have to be considered.

What the toolkit shows us is that school leaders will need to think about key issues in relation to teachers and education support staff as they adapt national directives to plan to reopen their schools.

Supporting teachers in back-to-school efforts – A toolkit for school leaders.
  1. The importance of consultation and communication

    Teachers, school staff and their representative organizations should be actively involved in setting out polices and plans for school reopening. Communication with teachers, learners and education support staff about reopening can ensure clarity about expectations and highlight their role in the success of safe, inclusive return-to-school efforts, including overall well-being, and the teaching and learning recovery process.

    As decisions to reopen schools are made by central authorities, it will be important to communicate early, clearly and regularly with parents and school communities to understand their concerns and build support for plans to reopen. Parents will want to know what safeguards have been put in place to minimize health risks. As teachers are often the first point of contact with parents, they will need to be prepared to ensure everyone is informed continually.

  2. Reassuring teachers and school staff about their health, safety and rights

    Concern for the well-being of teachers, support staff and students is at the heart of decision-making. As such, it is important to balance the desire to return to school with consideration of the risks to (and needs of) teachers, support staff and learners to ensure the needs of the most vulnerable members of the school community are met.

    School-level responses may include ongoing psychological and socio-emotional assessment and support for teachers and learners. School leaders and teachers should be free to address their own needs, exercise self-care and manage their own stress. School leaders can help develop teachers’ stress management skills and coping mechanisms. This is critical to ensure that teachers can teach effectively and provide much-needed psychosocial support to learners.

  3. Using teachers’ expertise in the new classroom environment

    In most contexts, when children return to classrooms, it will not be business as usual. In some cases, only some students will be present, or there will be double shifts. Lesson plans, assessment and overall curricula will be adapted, and remedial lessons will need to be developed and deployed.

    School leaders need to ensure teachers are empowered to make decisions about teaching and learning. They can work with teachers to adjust curricula and assessment based on revised school calendars and instructions from central authorities.

    School leaders should also support teachers to reorganize classrooms to allow for accelerated learning and remedial responses, while adhering to regulations on physical distancing. Teachers’ key role in recognizing learning gaps and formulating pedagogical responses remains critical.

    This is especially true for vulnerable groups, including low-income families, girls, those with special needs or disabilities, ethnic or cultural minorities and those living in remote rural areas with no access to distance education.

    To manage the process, it is important for teachers and education support staff to receive adequate professional preparation to assume their responsibilities and meet expectations. Training, peer-to-peer learning and collaboration with other teachers, both within the school and more broadly, will be critical. Such support is particularly important where additional strain may be placed on teachers’ time if they are required to conduct both face- to-face and distance education.

This is the first edition of the toolkit for school leaders to support teachers and other education personnel in back-to-school efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. This toolkit has been drafted as a living document. It will be updated in late July 2020 with new information and lessons learned as the crisis and response continue to evolve.

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This is quite an interesting article. I was trying to imagine how school leaders in Nigeria are preparing to reopen schools soon. It is obvious that schools will soon reopen in Nigeria, but there is a concern about the safety of students, support staff, teachers, and families. And, also, the fear that some students, particularly girls, may not resume, is something to worry about. Not much is being said about our level of preparation to reopen. Public discussions are rare around reopening of schools. "National Guidelines" on reopening schools are scarce.

I learnt that GPE is working in Nigeria and investing in public education. This means that GPE and its partners are influential and can help encourage and direct any public policies on reopening of schools in the country. Therefore, it will be necessary to engage the central government to ensure that the right measures are put in place before schools are asked to reopen. Any guideline on school reopening should be a composite of ideas, thoughts and experiences shared by all parties involved in the business of education in the country. The usual top-down guidelines and approaches to crisis situations in the country will yield little or no positive results. Such should be avoided.

I want the schools to reopen immediately. Even right now. But it is important we take all the necessary precautions in order to ensure that the risks of an increase in cases of COVID-19 is averted in schools.

GPE, you and your partners are doing a great work worldover. I love what you are doing and would be glad to JOIN you. Thanks.

We look forward to seeing our students and colleagues back to school soonest

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