Amplifying Solutions – Creativity in staffing with COVID-19

Each episode of Amplifying Solutions focuses on questions and challenges from practitioners, primarily current graduate students earning their degrees to become the next generation of principals, school business leaders, and superintendents, as well as those students who are earning their doctoral degrees. In response to these questions, experts are brought together to discuss solutions and strategies. The complete video conversation is included below.

In this episode of Amplifying Solutions, Monica Schroeder from North Shore School District 112 and Matt Zediker from Rockford Public School District 205 discuss their organization’s approaches to staffing during the very dynamic COVID-19 Pandemic. When schools initially moved to remote learning in March 2020, staffing plans for the 2020-2021 school year were nearly complete. Over the next five months leading up to the start of this school year, school districts continued to face changing guidelines and a wide range of expectations, opinions, and pressures from various stakeholder groups.

Each school district offered teachers the opportunity to apply to serve as remote learning teachers.

Planning for Multiple Schedules

Like districts throughout Illinois, both NSSD112 and RPS205 had to plan for students who would be learning remotely and for students who would be learning in-person at times as part of a hybrid model.

Both districts were going to require a significant number of teachers that would be assigned to remote teaching positions as a result of surveys of families during the summer of 2020, and this resulted in the need to move staff members into positions different from those in which they had originally been assigned.

From these initial experiences, the following keys to successfully navigating this COVID-19 environment emerged:

  • Listening – Having relationships already in place prior to the crisis provides a strong foundation for success. Then, it is critical for leaders to intentionally build time in their schedules to be in schools listening to staff members concerns and challenges and questions.
  • Empathy – School leaders must put themselves in the shoes of others from staff members to students to parents. When a leader can deeply understand the challenges (and feelings) that others face, they are able to craft solutions that better address a wider range of issues, and they are better able to communicate those solutions to stakeholders.
  • Collaboration – Collaboration among and with union leaders, board members, and administrators on a consistent and ongoing basis is critical to creating solutions that will meet the needs of each school district as well as successfully implementing those solutions.
  • Articulate why – While specific people may not always like certain decisions, if they understand the rationale behind the decision, how it benefits students, and why it is a fair decision and/or a good use of limited resources, they will typically accept, and even support, the decision.
  • Know the law – The pandemic has brought with it unique scenarios related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Additionally, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act resulted in additional, important legal parameters for school leaders to know. As is mentioned in the discussion, school law firms have provided a significant amount of ongoing, free professional development to support school leaders since the start of the pandemic.

In thinking about the long-term take-aways for the future of education, the following items were identified as being important areas of emphasis in a post-COVID-19 world of learning:

  • Emphasize learning and de-emphasize seat time; Focus on supporting all students with achieving outcomes
  • Continue focusing on the importance of social and emotional learning
  • Be flexible
  • Be creative
  • Continue to foster an “all-hands on-deck” culture, including having families be integrated into our learning processes
  • Remind teachers and staff that they won’t be able to be everything to everyone and support them in being the best that they can be right now.
November 2020