The entire education system has changed overnight. Students who once had a structure in their days now have hours of open time to fill. Teachers who could give each student the attention he or she needed are now operating blindly. They must trust that their students do their work and discuss their obstacles and academic needs.
Watch our latest "Keeping Work Human" episode on the impact COVID-19 has had on education.
This is the reality many are facing, including my brother-in-law Matt. He is a sixth grade teacher in Connecticut and a 25-year teaching veteran. My daughter Gabriella, a teaching assistant at a university, is also facing a new educational reality.
According to David Perry and CNN, while many schools pass out laptops and tablets to students who need them, “learning is going to depend on a fragile chain [of] overstressed parents and other caregivers and teachers (many of whom are caring for their own kids) creating the conditions in which learning is possible.”
Despite the enormous challenges facing students and teachers, let’s focus on the emergence of positive changes in the educational community.
Many assume that students need to be monitored – that unless teachers micromanage their students, they won't do the right thing.
But that’s not necessarily the case. According to Matt, “students are buying into the new process and are getting things done. They want to do the work.” Students are doing the lessons at their own pace, collaborating without any prompting from their teachers. We need to err on the side of trust.
Let’s take these same lessons of trust to the corporate environment. Managers need to trust their teams when they are remote. Micromanaging teams creates undue stress and increases disengagement. We need to assume people will do the right thing and reach out when they need help. Organizations installing spy software to check on employees will create toxic cultures that may not survive what lies ahead.
Changes are needed in how we define work and success. It is no longer about the hours in the classroom or in the office, but rather, about what work is completed. Managers and even teachers are turning into coaches and mentors, helping students and employees meet goals, remove obstacles, and provide advice.
We talk about Gen Z always being on their phones. But now that they are home, they are craving face-to-face connection. Students are connecting through Zoom to do their homework together. They are connecting with their teachers through video with questions or just to check in. According to both Matt and Gabby, teachers and students are so thankful to see and talk to one another. We all need human connection.
Teaching is about connection first, then learning. Connection opens up trust, collaborative learning, and growth. When we apply this concept to the corporate environment, as Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” We must connect with our colleagues and create human-centered environments. It is only then that we will do our best work.
Many teachers are finding creative ways to build connection with students. In Washington D.C., one teacher is asking how the kids are doing by rapping to them in a video. Other teachers are doing live workouts with their students to keep them moving. Some students are just hanging out on Zoom doing homework together, similar to doing work at the library.
Many spend so much time stress-ridden, white-knuckling it through life. We put on our armor to make it seem like everything is fine. Yet each of us faces daily challenges, even outside of this pandemic. We need to meet each person where they are, whether at work or school. My daughter has students who are going through incredible challenges. In the past, professors gave minimal leeway to these students for being late on assignments. Now, they are seeing students as people, adjusting tasks based on what each person needs to succeed.
Reflecting and adjusting
The “stand-up,” a common practice in the tech industry, has entered the world of education. Teachers are now meeting daily to share lessons and new ideas. At the end of each day, Matt collaborates with his colleagues on what is working, not working, and what needs to be adjusted. The knowledge sharing has not only improved the sense of community and connection among teachers, but has also created an iterative process where teachers are experimenting with new ideas and ways of doing things.
Despite the stress and anxiety, celebrating milestones and achievements is so important to creating a sense of community and bringing people together. In Michigan, Secondary Principal Michelle Floering wanted to honor the tradition of notifying the student who earns the valedictorian honor in person. She did this by pulling up to the drive-through where the valedictorian worked. She shared it on Facebook and celebrated it with the entire community virtually. The post went viral, and the whole country celebrated the achievement.
Asking for feedback
We all know giving and receiving feedback is critical for learning and growth. In the past, teachers would ask parents for feedback on how each child is responding to the teacher. Now teachers like Matt are asking students, “What can I do differently to make your learning experience better?” When this crisis is over, Matt believes we will see an educational system 10x more flexible to adjust and meet the needs of students based on ongoing feedback.
Teachers are the backbone of our community and entrusted with educating the next generation. We must equip them with the technology and human-centered processes that focus on connection; this is how they will bring out the best in their students.
“I needed something like this crisis to tell me I am doing the right thing with my life,” said Matt.