What we expect K-12 education systems to deliver has changed over time. A century ago, basic numeracy and literacy were the standards. Today, we look to schools to nurture college-ready high school graduates and to ensure accessibility and equity for all students.
As we recover from the pandemic and return to schools, there’s something else we expect from high-performing K-12 school systems: resilience.
The Need for Effective, Equitable Teaching
K-12 systems strive to provide children with quality teaching and remove obstacles to access, opportunity, and achievement. Yet during the pandemic, this continuity of learning proved to be a struggle, even for high-performing school systems—and especially for their students already facing inequalities.
The pandemic was an extreme event, but it’s not the only disruption K-12 schools could face. Severe weather and financial, technological, and workforce changes—all of these forces can have similar negative impacts on effectiveness and equity.
Resilience Is a Pathway to High Performance
Knowing the challenges ahead reinforces why resilience matters. K-12 systems with resilient practices in place are in the best position to ensure the continuity of quality learning for all students. Schools without those practices are more likely to face interruptions, especially for students from low-income communities and families of color, and with physical or learning exceptionalities.
Resilience is about more than just responding to a challenge. School systems must take proactive steps so that responding to disturbances down the road doesn’t require sudden, unexpected action. These steps should carry across all school functions—from how it uses its resources to how it makes decisions and delivers teaching.
We can think of a resilient school system as having these five principles:
- Tight-Loose Integration
- Empowered Schools and Staff
- Adaptable to Change
- Redundant and Extendible
- Authentic and Accessible Communication and Feedback Loops
Each of these can help support high performance, effectiveness, and equity. Redundant and extendible education delivery, for example, can help ensure access to education during a crisis. It can also provide flexibility and personalization to meet diverse student needs on an ongoing basis.
Research suggests that school systems with built-in resilience were best able to maintain high performance throughout the pandemic. For example:
- Watauga County Schools (NC) entered the pandemic with a strong mindset of and commitment to continuous improvement and agility in education delivery. The district quickly extended its existing digital learning capabilities and gradually shifted as teachers gained comfort and competency.
- Northeast Denver Innovation Zone (CO) routinely incorporates input from those whose voices are often undervalued and empowers schools to tailor certain practices to their student population. When COVID-19 hit, schools were able to leverage existing partnerships to help meet already understood student/family needs.
Not future-proofing now could pose risks to all local K-12 school systems. Given the likelihood of future disturbances, we must build resilience so we’re ready to combat potential future lost learning opportunities.
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.