The pandemic has revealed how fragile our education systems can be. Even the highest-performing school districts struggled, and we saw inequities rise. The experience has challenged our expectations and requirements for K-12 schooling and forced us to ask some tough questions:
What are the opportunities to reimagine teaching and learning?
What are the responsibilities to minimize future risks to learning disruption?
The answers to these questions ideally will intersect. One of the first steps we must take in answering them is to understand future risks. While we hope not to see an event as significant as the COVID-19 pandemic again, our schools must recognize and plan for other impactful changes.
Disturbances Are Foreseeable
School systems exist in a dynamic world where change, though potentially uncomfortable, is inevitable. The pandemic has, for example, accelerated the digitization of the economy, which can impact everything from the local tax base and school budget to the demand for skills and student readiness.
The reality is that impactful events and change, both natural and human-made, will increasingly stress our current systems and practices. Every community has experience with such disturbances—whether it’s an unexpected leadership change, a hurricane, or the loss of a significant local industry.
Local school systems can anticipate these types of hurdles as an inevitable possibility—as foreseeable. Our ultimate goal is to anticipate, plan for, and mitigate against them to minimize disruptions to the delivery of quality teaching and learning for all students.
4 Types of Disturbances
We can define four basic types of disturbances across two dimensions: timeline and locus.
Timeline dimension refers to the period preceding a disturbance or the interval of expectancy:
- 1. Abrupt disturbances arrive suddenly and with little warning. These could include a storm or a budget cut. At the same time, we should recognize historical or other patterns that forecast such an event. For example: We may have only a few days warning of a hurricane, but we know hurricanes are more likely during certain seasons. Or we may not know when a superintendent will retire, but we know superintendents typically retire by a certain age or burn out within a certain number of years.
- 2. Gradual disturbances arrive over an extended period of time, with extensive warning, and often with impact increasing over that time. Examples include demographic changes, technological innovation, or climate change.
Locus refers to the point of a disturbance’s origination or manifestation in terms of where it intersects with and impacts a local school system.
- 3. Internal disturbances occur within a local community and school system and do not directly impact others outside that locality. Examples include changes to the student enrollment or a local budget cut.
- 4. External disturbances occur outside the local community and likely impact many school systems. Examples include the pandemic or shifts in the regional economy and the demand for certain workforce skills.
There is certainly a continuum of these disturbances across and within dimensions. Also, the longer, more frequent, and larger the disturbances, the more likely and significant their negative impact will be.
The Importance of Resilience
From economic and demographic change to natural disasters and technological innovation, we need resilience now more than ever to ensure continuity of learning as these and other foreseeable disturbances increasingly test our educational systems.
Ultimately, high-performing local K-12 school systems should:
- Recognize that change is foreseeable and inevitable.
- Make resilience a strategic priority.
- Take iterative and ongoing steps to implement practices of resilience that minimize the risks to learning when those disturbances arrive in the coming months and years.
These practices range from partnerships and technologies that create more flexible education delivery options to governance structures that make decision-making more agile to resource planning that accounts for strategic mitigation efforts. They also cut across a school system’s operations, from facilities to curriculum and instruction, and from technology to staff recruitment and development.
Get the Guide: How to Build a Resilient K-12 School System
The past 18 months have shined a spotlight on the fragility of our K-12 education system. While our educators and students have been personally resilient, even the highest-performing local school systems struggled when faced with disruptions due to COVID-19.
Through this guide, and the workbook and toolkit that are paired with it, you’ll learn how to:
- Implement the principles and practices of a resilient system.
- Investigate, design, and execute a customized plan for implementing procedures that increase your resilience.
- Safeguard and protect the quality of learning for all your students.
No one can see into the future, but we all can better prepare to handle what comes next.