What did school leaders learn from the pandemic? It finally feels like we are mostly out of the crisis management mode we’ve been living in since the novel coronavirus spread out of China in March of 2020. I think this is a good time to reflect on what we learned from this horrible experience.
My biggest takeaway was a crystallization in my mind that the relational aspect of learning is the most important part of education. Many people think that school is all about facts and figures on a test. It is not. It is all about the relationship between teachers and students, between students and their parents, and between students themselves. This creates an environment that causes us to care about the information we are teaching and learning. David Sax, author of The Future is Analog, articulates this brilliantly in his interview with The Gist’s, Mike Pesca. Learning technology enhances how teachers deliver information and plan lessons but it will never replace human-to-human education. Larry Cuban, a professor of Educational Technology at Stanford writes about the history of new educational technologies being introduced to schools. It always goes back to the relationship between teacher and student. This cannot be developed on Zoom/Google Meet. Teachers will always be necessary, and even with Artificial Intelligence coming soon to common use, daily human contact will always be at the heart of schools.
Emily Oster’s article in the Atlantic, “Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty” reminds me of the uncertainty that surrounded the pandemic at the beginning. It was a “novel” coronavirus and we didn’t know the impact. Some people panicked, some ignored it, and most people were a mix of caution and getting on with their lives. It is easy to look back and see what we got wrong and what we got right. In my mind, I think it was shown that schools were not “supersites” of viral spread and school closures did more damage than good for students. I also am taking away that mask mandates are not necessary. A well-fitting K95 surgical mask protects individuals and people should be encouraged to wear them if they feel like it. mRNA vaccines work (prevent serious symptoms) and schools should strictly enforce vaccination policies for all contagious diseases. It is wrong to allow unvaccinated children to enroll in schools.
“The Fog of War” applies to pandemics as well. The deluge of information, misinformation, opinions, etc. was overwhelming for school leaders to deal with. I remember panicked teachers desperately looking for flights out of Uzbekistan, people wiping down groceries with disinfectant, the WHO advising us first NOT to wear masks and then later to wear masks, etc. It reinforced for me that a school leader needs to take in a wide range of information, but in the end, he/she needs to reflect on it and make his/her own path forward based on what is best for the school community as a whole.
Final learning was to pair with experts. No school leader was a public health official before the pandemic. I felt like I became one over the last three years :), but bringing in the Head of the World Health Organization, seeking advice from the US embassy medical team and forming stronger bonds with our sister Tashkent International Clinic helped me figure out what was going on in an ever-changing viral pandemic.