Our pandemic experience has heightened awareness of the need to increase K–12 system resilience to mitigate future disruptions, but what exactly does that mean? We often think of resilience as a personal trait related to determination and persistence, including for our students learning during the pandemic. Resilience is a newer concept for K–12 school systems with limited practice and research.
In our first blog, we looked at why resilience is important now for K–12 school systems. Here, we explore how the resilience of local K–12 school systems can be increased with a set of principles that provide a framework for the planning and implementation of practices of resilience. Combined with a change management process for continuous improvement, this framework can support districts in ensuring effective and equitable learning during future disturbances, whether caused by natural disasters, technology innovations, or workforce changes.
Defining a K–12 Resilience Framework
We can first briefly define resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Further, a resilient K–12 school system should also learn and evolve to anticipate and proactively mitigate future foreseeable misfortunes or changes (i.e., disturbances).
Building that resilience requires a local K–12 school system to implement a set of practices to increase their agility and flexibility (i.e., resilience). These school policies and practices fall across the following principles of resilience:
- Tight-Loose Integration
- Empowered Staff and Schools
- Redundant and Extendible
- Adaptable to Change
- Authentic and Accessible Communication and Feedback Loops
These principles should also be implemented across school functions and should inform how a local school system allocates its resources, makes its decisions (governance), and provides curriculum and instruction (education delivery).
K–12 Principles of Resilience
- Tight-Loose Integration: A resilient system adopts common learning, technical integration, and process standards and requirements, and establishes norms, criteria, and expectations that guide decisions (i.e., tight), while enabling staff to make decisions and choices within that framework (i.e., loose) with a mindset of efficacy over compliance.
- Empowered Schools and Staff: A resilient system empowers schools and staff with flexibility and authority to be creative and to make decisions, adopt resources, and implement services in a timely manner that best addresses their unique campus/population needs, provided they do so within the parameters of the district’s standards and requirements.
- Redundant and Extendible: A resilient system values and curates multiple options for meeting needs, is boundaryless, and leverages partnerships to build redundant, diversified, and extendible systems so that if one method or modality is not operating effectively or otherwise meeting needs, then other options are available.
- Adaptable to Change: A resilient system is adaptable and evolves by continuously expecting change, collecting information to identify and evaluate potential disturbances, and applying new understanding and modifying practices to anticipate, mitigate, and reduce the negative impact of disturbances.
- Authentic and Accessible Communication and Feedback Loops: A resilient system has strong two-way communication to meaningfully understand stakeholder needs; build an authentic vision and shared accountability; and deliver clear, candid, accessible, and timely information to create a strong culture and provide voice and agency.
Implementing Principles of Resilience
Understanding these principles is a first step toward increasing resilience. These principles are, in fact, enabled by implementation of local policies and practices. We have identified more than 40 such practices across these principles, but we note that local K–12 systems should also identify additional or alternative practices that address their unique circumstances and needs for reaching these principles.
Finally, local K–12 schools systems need an ongoing process for building toward resilience and specifically for identifying their priority principles and practices, for piloting and scaling practices, and for continuously evaluating and improving their resilience as they adopt specific practices.