What About The Fall Semester? Christian Education After COVID-19

As we settle into the new norm COVID-19 has created for us, it’s time to think about preparing for the fall semester. How can we begin to prepare for substantial changes in the pedagogy after such an unprecedented time? During today’s discussion with highly esteemed higher education leaders, we discussed the path to moving forward after COVID-19. Our panel included:

  • Dr. Barry Corey - President, Biola University

  • Dr. David Dockery - President, International Alliance for Christian Education

  • Dr. Robert Sloan - President, Houston Baptist University

  • Shirley Hoogstra J.D. - President, Council for Christian Colleges & Universities

  • William Vanderbloemen - Founder & CEO, Vanderbloemen

  • Brian Jensen - Executive Search Consultant, Vanderbloemen

Fall Semester Planning

The most common way Christian education leaders are navigating COVID-19 and looking toward the fall semester is by taking everything one moment at a time. Maintaining an attitude of hope for institutions to be back in session by August is the perspective most leaders are taking in the midst of the uncertainty.

Although higher education isn’t known for being highly adaptable, our education leaders have proven to be very nimble and adaptable during COVID-19. Christian Education is in a great position to care for their students in a way that other entities may not be able to. Caring for the souls of students and their mental, spiritual, and physical health is where faith-based organizations thrive. 

There will be a new reality post-COVID-19 that requires leaders to prioritize the safety of their community of students, parents, faculty, and staff. Taking time to intentionally address safety concerns and reassure everyone within our community that protocols will be put in place communicates the level of care leaders are willing and committed to delivering. A few precautions and protocols Christian educations leaders are considering are:

    • Creating a way to maintain a healthy social distance. This includes increasing the number of class sessions offered and decreasing the actual sizes of classes.

    • Increasing the frequency of cleaning on campus. Disinfecting areas of the campus more frequently may call for additional custodial employees and leaders are willing to explore what this looks like for their campus.

    • Testing for COVID-19. Examining the possibilities of regular testing for students, faculty, and staff. 

    • Designated areas for students who test positive for COVID-19. This will help prevent students from having to move out, drop out, and still be cared for.

    • Exploring class format options. This will address whether classes will be offered in-person, on-line, or hybrid.

    • Academic calendars. Leaders are considering what the calendar may look like and if it is more effective to offer 4-week or 6-week courses.  

    • Planning for the health of students. Efforts are being mad to find ways to handle the time frame when there may not be a vaccine for COVID-19. 

    • Intentionally taking time to understand and address the needs of the minority population at our school. As we are planning, we must make an effort to understand what it looks like for our diverse families to move forward with us.

5 Ways to Financially Prepare for the Fall Semester

  1. Plan and model contingency plans of the budget based upon a decline in enrollment. 

  2. Draft data-driven contingencies on a number of potential outcomes for the fall semester.

  3. Try to keep access to cash and liquid assets while preparing for the future and steward it well. 

  4. Guarantee that there’s cash to continue forward in a way that is wise and resourceful. 

  5. Consider the fall semester in your financial plans but also look beyond the fall to the spring semester to ensure you are prepared long-term. 

Pastoring the Parents of Our Students

Christian education has the unique opportunity to truly provide pastoral care and support to its community of parents. It’s natural for parents to be concerned about the well-being of their children and leaders take that very seriously. Each leader on the panel today shared the way parents have been remarkably patient during COVID-19 while leaders work through the challenges this global crisis presents. 

Higher education leaders are acknowledging the need to offer an education that is high quality, affordable, and prepares students for life after college. During this challenging time, leaders are exploring options of pro-rating tuition for the time students aren’t able to be on-campus. Leaders are also dedicated to learning through this global crisis while also keeping their education community and parents informed of what to expect moving forward. 

Factors of Reopening the School

  • Understand that change is a long process. Reopening school is going to happen and we can prepare for that now, but leaders also have to take into consideration that things will not change overnight. 

  • Honoring directives of the federal and local government when considering reopening is what leaders are committed to. 

  • Acknowledging that every state and school has its own circumstances so be mindful to focus on what your specific community needs when reopening. 

  • Begin the conversation with donors about innovation and recovery after COVID-19. 

  • Determine what long-term changes should be made going forward, and empower the leadership team to pivot in those areas.

Working With the Board

It’s imperative for leaders to maintain a strong relationship with the board of their school. Furthermore, leaders should be of one mind and one heart with the board by communicating frequently to make sure everyone is on the same page of where to go next. This is also a great time to assess everyone's morale and to balance communication of hope and the reality of this crisis.

Higher education leaders and school boards should both be able to step fully into a pastoral role for their education community and address their concerns and questions in a spiritual and biblical way. This relationship is vital in crisis management and promotes resilience, faithfulness, and trust amongst the community through effective communication.

Identifying Leaders for the Future 

Education after COVID-19 will look different in many different areas as we move forward. When it comes to identifying and hiring higher education executive leaders, assessing new skill sets will be more important than ever. There will be new leadership traits that are in high demand when it comes to the recruitment of leaders as we navigate this new reality. Four key leadership traits that will gain importance are:

  1. Dedication to the mission and purpose of a school that is consistent through good times and through a crisis. 

  2. Being highly agile and willing to learn more about technology. We’ve seen firsthand how significant this skill is during COVID-19. 

  3. Having a can-do spirit and willing to work in different environments and on a multitude of projects if necessary.

  4. Knowledgeable in online learning and traditional in-person learning.

8 Ways to Provide Emotional Support To Your Community

  1. Take your time. When facing a crisis, it’s important to remember that it takes time for people to process and lament. Each person will also process differently, struggling with unique aspects of the crisis. It’s good to acknowledge that and communicate in a supportive and transparent way to support people through it. 

  2. Pastoral care. Leaders will have to provide intentional, purposeful, and reflective pastoral care to their education community. Walk through this challenging time with others while providing hope to create a new resiliency to navigate forward. 

  3. Provide hope and structure. This will help foster a true connection with your community as you create a new resiliency moving forward. 

  4. Foster genuine relationships. Going through crisis with one another can build a relational bridge that will provide a unique learning experience in the future for many within the educational community.

  5. Lovingly care for employees. Understand that the decisions you make impact your employees professionally and personally. Manage your message and decisions with truth, grace, and daily communication. This can help lower the fear and anxiety they may feel.

  6. Over-communicate. As you’re making decisions over a short period of time, it’s important to increase your frequency and methods of communication to build trust and comfort.

Higher education leaders are continuing to grow in agility through this challenging season of COVID-19 and what education looks like moving forward. However, there’s an opportunity presented for leaders in Christian education to find hope and encouragement in the new ways, allowing us to shift and flourish in the middle of the crisis. We should make decisions that are rooted in prayer as we ask Christ to grow our wisdom as we navigate through the reopening of our schools. 

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