Why most schools won’t ‘reinvent’ themselves after the pandemic | Scott McLeod | 5 Min Read

This blog post is republished with permission from Scott McLeod’s blog, Dangerously Irrelevant.

A number of folks have been eagerly encouraging schools to ‘reinvent’ themselves after the pandemic. Here is a smattering of such articles:

I’m guilty of this too. I even helped create an entirely new conversation series, Silver Lining for Learning, that was intended to ‘reimagine learning and teaching’ and examine the possibilities for ‘transformative improvements.’

The more I think about this idea, though, the more skeptical I am. One reason is the continued unwillingness of many (most?) school systems to reconsider even a small iota of what they do. Tragically, we continue to see traditional systems of education being shoehorned into virtual or blended delivery systems (tip: having kids complete electronic worksheets from home is not a systemic ’transformation’). And we’ve seen a large number of administrators completely ignore the unrealistic demands that they’re placing on their own educators, particularly in hyflex environments where teachers are supposed to simultaneously serve students in their rooms and at home. 

Despite our wishes otherwise, even the savviest, most skillful, most trusted school leader is going to have difficulty transforming their educational system after the pandemic. As I noted in a recent article that I submitted:

“… reflection on organizational possibilities and institutional futures is common during the ‘reconstruction’ phase (Boin & Hart, 2003) of a crisis (see also Coombs, 2000; Heath, 2004; Boin, Hart, Stern, & Sundelius, 2005; Jaques, 2009; Smith & Riley, 2012). Time will tell if these ‘silver linings’ actually occur. Although many scholars have noted the revolutionary potential of major crises (see, e.g., Prewitt, Weil, and McClure, 2011; Harris, 2020), Boin and Hart (2003) stated that there are inherent tensions between crisis management and reform-oriented leadership. During a crisis, leaders often try to minimize the damage, alleviate the pain, and restore order” (p. 549), which conflicts with attempts to disrupt the organization and move it in a new direction.” [emphasis added]

from McLeod, S., & Dulsky, S. (2021; under review). Resilience, reorientation, and reinvention: School leadership during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In other words, any school leader who is trying to sell the need for a post-pandemic systemic transformation to their educators, families, and school board members is trying to sell a SECOND enormous disruption to the community (“Now let’s change school as we know it!”) at a time when everyone is completely exhausted from — and ready to be done with — the FIRST enormous disruption to the community (the pandemic), and that is AFTER trying to minimize the disruption and ‘restore order’ during the past 12 to 18 months. I can just imagine the reactions now: “OMG, are you kidding? MORE disruption on top of what we’ve already experienced? No thanks!”

Accordingly, at best I think we will see small, marginal amounts of tinkering after the pandemic. Some school systems will use technology in different ways after the pandemic. We will see some teachers incorporate some new practices and skillsets into their work. We may see a few more options provided for families who like blended or online learning. But for the most part, everyone is going to be eager to just return to what they perceive as the ‘good old days’ before the pandemic hit. And that means our collective appetite for ‘reinventing school’ is going to be pretty thin…

Anyone want to bet I’m wrong?

References

  • Boin, A., & Hart, P. T. (2003). Public leadership in times of crisis: Mission impossible? Public Administration Review, 63(5), 544-553.
  • Boin, A., Hart, P. T., Stern, E., & Sundelius, B. (2005). The politics of crisis management: Public leadership under pressure. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  • Coombs, W. T. (2000). Designing post-crisis messages: Lessons for crisis response strategies. Review of Business, 21(3/4), 37-41.
  • Harris, A. (2020). COVID-19 – school leadership in crisis? Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 5(3/4), 321-326.
  • Heath, R. L. (2004). After the dance is over: Post-crisis responses. In D. P. Millar & R. L. Heath (Eds.), Responding to crisis: A rhetorical approach to crisis communication, pp. 247-249. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Jaques, T. (2009). Issue management as a post-crisis discipline: Identifying and responding to issue impacts beyond the crisis. Journal of Public Affairs, 9(1), 35-44.
  • Prewitt, J. E., Weil, R., & McClure, A. Q. (2011). Crisis leadership: An organizational opportunity. Australian Journal of Business and Management Research, 1(6), 60-74.
  • Smith, L., & Riley, D. (2012). School leadership in times of crisis. School Leadership & Management, 32(1), 57-71.

Author profile:

An Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Colorado Denver, Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D., is widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading experts on P-12 school leadership, technology, and innovation. He is the Founding Director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE), the only university center in the U.S. dedicated to the technology needs of school administrators, and is the co-creator of the wildly popular video series, Did You Know? (Shift Happens). He also is the co-creator of the 4 Shifts Protocol for lesson/unit redesign and the founder of both the annual Iowa 1:1 Institute and EdCampIowa, one of the largest EdCamp events in the United States. Dr. McLeod has worked with hundreds of schools, districts, universities, and other organizations and has received numerous awards for his technology leadership work, including the 2016 Award for Outstanding Leadership from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Dr. McLeod was one of the pivotal figures in Iowa’s grassroots 1:1 computing movement, which has resulted in over 220 school districts providing their students with powerful learning devices. Dr. McLeod blogs regularly about technology leadership issues at Dangerously Irrelevant and is a frequent keynote speaker and workshop facilitator at regional, state, national, and international conferences. He has written or edited four books and 170 articles and other publications and is one of the most visible education professors in the United States.

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