The Future of Education After COVID-19 with Dr. Lynn Swaner

In today's Vanderbloemen LIVE for Schools session, I interviewed Dr. Lynn Swaner, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer with the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), and Brian Jensen, Executive Search Consultant at Vanderbloemen, about the future of education after COVID-19.

What we’ve learned about education during COVID-19

During any pandemic, it’s common for everyone to experience feelings of loss and experience different stages of grief. Dr. Swaner reminded us that this is normal and people will experience this stress and grief differently during COVID-19. 

Everyone is responding in a unique way to this global crisis, and one of the most important strategies school leaders should implement is becoming aware of the stage you are personally experiencing. Recognizing where you are in the grief stages helps to process our responses, reactions, and the way we move forward. Again, no matter where you are on the stages of grief, it’s okay. You’re not alone.

Although there are many challenges presented for school leaders, Dr. Swaner and Brian emphasized two ways school leaders can begin to move forward even in the midst of this hardship:

1. You move forward by accepting that things will look different from here on out. 

    • It’s helpful to evaluate what you're mourning and missing, so that you can effectively and intentionally address these things and move forward.

    • It’s important to evaluate if  you're missing your connection with your team and the content of your current work versus your old routines and institutions. Taking time to pause and reflect on these things will help you become aware of what you miss so that you can take steps to find a substitute during times of change. This realization also allows us to invite God to guide us as we navigate how things will look different moving forward.

    • Fall in love with your mission again. Your mission hasn’t changed, and it’s the heartbeat and foundation of your school, so use this as an opportunity to set your mind and plans around it. 

2. Acknowledge and embrace the value of opposition.

It’s during COVID-19 that many people are beginning to see the way Christian schools are capable of being more nimble and have the capacity to respond quickly. It’s evident that within our smaller communities that we can love and care well for our students and families.  

  • Take time to over-communicate with your school community. Clearly articulate your values, vision, and mission to your students and families to remind people that in this time of change, your mission hasn't changed. 

  • Keep learning and pivoting as this global crisis develops. It’s imperative for school leaders to keep adjusting by responding to what’s happening in real-time while also doing your best for your families and students. Take advantage of this time to assess what you used to do out of habit but could really be improved.

Significant Shifts During COVID-19

  • The virtual platform is enhancing the way teachers and school leaders structure and develop their curriculum and instruction. Take hold of this because this will likely become a theme in the future of education.

  • We will see an increase in collaboration, innovation, and creativity between school leaders and teachers. This is a positive! Remember to note the changes that are bringing us closer together and further into excellence.

  • This global crisis tests and shows the gap in access and inclusion within education. Again, look for opportunities to grow and challenge yourself during this time.

  • Challenges for students who don’t have access to quality education and educational resources. This is a new opportunity to be a light to students who might need you in ways outside of learning. 

  • Teachers implementing touch-points with their students and families to stay connected and communicate effectively during this time.

Being able to adapt during challenging times as a school is necessary to contribute to the success of schools. Now that the entire education sector has been thrown into learning mode, school leaders and teachers are being stretched in their learning orientation. However, this presents an opportunity for lifelong learning to move leaders and teachers forward as they adopt new ways of teaching and serving their students.

Ways School Leaders Can Think Innovatively

  • Acknowledge and recognize that innovation can happen through challenges and crisis.

    • It’s okay and natural to enter into survival mode, but now it’s time to think of ways to begin moving forward.

  • Although we pray that we never have to go through a pandemic again, pragmatically, this is a good time to sit with your team and write out a plan that you can reference if you ever need it again. 

    • Evaluate ways you can utilize what you’re doing now in order to navigate a future pandemic. You’ll find it helpful to write out everything you’re learning so that you won’t forget. Assess the challenges you've faced and how you've solved them so you have this tool in your back pocket for future challenges. Also assess what you still don't have answers to and plan strategies for those areas now.

  • Be willing to have tough conversations with your teams to discuss your mission.

    • Evaluate and decide what levers you’re willing to pull and what levers you’re never going to pull no matter what. Now is a great time to have these conversations because you're under pressure and understand your limits in a new way.

    • Explore the innovative ideas that come to mind when thinking about accomplishing your mission. How can you expand on the impact you were making previously?

    • Think intentionally about things you’ve never had to think about before. 

Encouragement and Advice for School Leaders During COVID-19

  • Take time to read articles that are available to you about education during a global crisis. Read people's comments that are going through the same thing as you. It will quickly become clear that you're not alone and the whole education system is fighting together. 

  • Find resources that suggest bests practices for school leaders during a pandemic.

  • Ask reflection questions to help bring awareness to what you’re thinking and feeling in order to leave negative feelings behind and begin moving forward.

  • Take care of yourself and prioritize your well-being. It’s imperative for school leaders to care for themselves in order to effectively care for others. 

  • Get connected and be reminded that you are not alone. 

Preparing for Next School Year

  • Create contingency plans around finance, marketing, and enrollment based off of your school's current situation. Things might look different next year than ever before, so start planning now and accept the necessary changes.

  • Begin to do your normal planning with class scheduling and don’t feel overwhelmed by it. Continuing with a sense of normalcy while also being nimble will help you be more prepared for the next school year.

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