I have an idea or at least a half of an Idea! ‘How do we reopen schools safely and do we really need to go to ‘the office’?

I have an idea or at least a half of an Idea!  ‘How do we reopen schools safely and do we really need to go to ‘the office’?

A Think piece: By Winston Sutherland – 16 May, 2020

I listened the Prime Minister’s presentation on Sunday night followed by the autopsy and I got to thinking about one of the problems that came up. How to reopen our schools in a safe way.
There is quite a lot of anxiety, and rightly so, about class size and how to reopen schools safely. I think that assuming we can get the practical aspects of hygiene right it’s not as hard as we are making it out to be. Traditionally, you have a class of x numbers of students and they come to school, they do their school day and they go home each day. It’s a similar routine for teachers. Well, we can’t return to that world. We should have figured that out by now but no, we are hell bent on reopening schools the same old way. This new Covid world calls for something different.

It calls for a different mindset. A different way of delivering the same high quality service. This is true of schools as it is true of a restaurant as it is true of doing your food shopping. In the case of schools, we (i.e. teachers and parents) have significantly improved our ability to deliver learning online during Covid, so my idea is that we adopt a 2 x 1 x 2 model of service delivery. What do I mean? First, the model assumes that all children have an electronic device on which they can access online learning. Second, it assumes that all children have access to adequate wifi service. After that it’s simple.

All that needs to happen is to split each class into two. One half of the class goes to the physical school building on Mondays and Tuesdays and learn online on Thursday and Fridays. The other half of the class learns on line on Mondays and Tuesdays and goes into the physical classroom on Thursdays and Fridays. That leaves the teacher who teaches each half of the class face to face for two days and has Wednesdays for preparation and marking. So what do the children do on Wednesdays? Homework! Tutoring by Grandma or other trusted persons and of course the children get to mentor grandma on how to do stuff online? A variation of the model might be to have Friday’s as the off day and thereby create a longer weekend or a four day school week. ‘Simples’!

So, in effect the whole class is together for four days but only half of the class is physically in the classroom on any given day. This model should give parents and teachers the confidence that it’s safe for their children and teachers to be in a school where they will get 4 days of teacher-led learning per week. It’s a ‘starter idea’ which I think can work. What do you think?

Another problem the Prime Minister mentioned was the public transportation where demand outstrips supply by 10 to 1 or so we are led to believe. But does it? I mean does it need to?

The traditional way of working is to go to ‘the office’. We haven’t been able to do so for close to 100 days but we have still got a lot done. So, do we really need to go to ‘the office’? The work that many of us are doing does not require us to be in any specific space to do it. My office is wherever I am as long as I have my mobile and my laptop. We need to do work, not go to work and by working differently we can cut the use of public transport by up to 50%.

There are tools like Zoom and Webex and others. I have facilitated several workshops and team builds with people in many different places. I have chaired numerous meetings with participants in numerous different places and in all varying states of dress or undress and the meetings have been just as focused, if not more focused. Both Zoom and Webex have the ability to go into break out rooms, use a whiteboard, share a presentation (Share screen) raise a hand to speak, do a quiz (Poll), chat and you can even record the meeting and share with those who are not in attendance. This technology can also be used to deliver learning and development in a virtual ‘classroom’. About four years ago I was involved as a co-facilitator of a year-long leadership development programme with participants in about 15 countries. I was in the UK, two colleagues in Canada and the participants spread across the English speaking Caribbean and it worked exceptionally well. It was just a different way of doing it. The technology is quite mature and we need to make it work for us.

We are, to a large extent, a knowledge economy although many work in the service industry and will still need to go to a physical place to do what needs doing, but a significant number do not need to do so. Working from home gives us a greater say over when and how we work. The big challenge is for managers to get better at communicating (yes, that word) what needs to be done and by when. They do not need to see anyone doing the doing. When the work is done the individual submits the work. The manager reviews it and gives feed-back on content, on what is missing or what needs to be taken out and stop fiddling with grammar except where it is an essential quality requirement. This will improve feedback because it will require managers to be clear about what they want done and to be able to give specific and actionable feedback. It does not matter if the work was done at 2 am or 6pm.

This approach will allow parents to give their attention to their children during the hours of 6:00 am to 9:00 am and likewise in the afternoons and before bedtime. I can guarantee that managers will get better at managing work and managing their relationships and get outcomes that are just as good, if not better. What do you think?