Friday, September 17, 2021

Seeking Covid Relief in Collaboration and Collective Efficacy


 By Vicki Bechard, LFKS Special Projects

How are the children?”  My friend, a long time educator, uses that question to gauge the temperature of the culture of a school, the impact of decisions that are made, and the direction a school is headed. Right now every school is consumed by Covid protocols, differences of opinions, and extra work created by gaps in staff coverage due to the inability to hire a full staff or the quarantines that occur weekly (or even daily).  Learning is going on, school improvement through accreditation is continuing, but our focus seems to be interrupted frequently by the next crisis.  We may be wondering if we will ever find any Covid Relief.  As we think about how best to support our educator friends across the state, we still want to ask the question, “How are the children? But it’s important to follow that question closely with “How are the educators, (including the leaders)?”

My youngest grandson became a middle schooler this year.  When I pick him up from school every day, I always ask him how his day went (How are the children?).  After the predictable response of “Fine” then most days, he begins to talk…a lot (he is related to me of course)!  I find out all kinds of interesting things in those 7 minutes it takes for us to get to my house.  In the beginning it was all about his locker and how efficient he was/wasn’t that day.  Back in August, we planned how he would remember when and where his classes were.  He had some good solutions.  Now, I hear him raise concerns and offer opinions about how quarantines of teachers and students affect his classes.  He’s back to required mask wearing (which he has never opposed), and he noted just today that once first hour is over, he hardly remembers he has one on. He has asked what to do when he sees someone breaking the rules or how he can be more involved.  He had elementary figured out pretty well, so in many ways he’s just trying to figure out middle school and all it entails.

Isn’t that what our educators and administrators are feeling too?  They had school figured out pretty well. Then Covid hit and everything changed.  Not only are they making decisions that are fluid and criticized from all sides, they are also trying to figure out the new normal (that is ever changing).  Educators and leaders could really use some Covid Relief.  So are we checking on our colleagues and friends?  Are we asking, “How are the teachers and the principals and the superintendents?”  When I ask my principal friend how things are going, her initial reply is either “Fine” (where have I heard that before?) or “Busy” as she dashes to keep score on the JV volleyball court because someone couldn’t cover – all before she heads off to a BOE meeting.  Our question of “How are the educators and leaders” might be rhetorical, because we know how they are – they are exhausted.  And the smaller the school system, the worse it may be. How can we help?

Mr. Rogers used to ingrain in the kids watching his show that they want to identify: “Who are the helpers?”  When my 6th grade grandson works on homework, I try to help him with organizational skills, how to study, and test taking strategies. I’ve also noticed he is part of a group text where his friends ask questions about homework or talk about how to do the math problem they don’t understand.  The members share resources or possibilities.  They know how to look things up to get help.  They are succeeding together.  He has found helpers outside the school day to help him succeed in school.  What he is experiencing is collaboration and a student version of collective efficacy.  So when we ask, “How are the educators,” maybe we should be asking, “Who is helping our educators, our principals, even our superintendents?”  Who are they working with to brainstorm ideas or find solutions for their situations?”  Who is helping them grow, learn, and implement effective methods?”

How does all of this tie into our concern about today’s educators maneuvering through a pandemic that seems to never end?  Just as my grandson focused at the beginning of his middle school journey on his locker and getting to class on time, teachers and administrators are also, out of necessity, narrowly focused on logistics during these challenging times.  With fewer staff members, more paperwork (i.e. contact tracing) and less time to concentrate on school improvement, they are overwhelmed as they try to keep all the balls in the air. Collaboration and Collective Efficacy may not be on their radar at the moment but it just might be their salvation.

If we look at Collective Efficacy we know it begins as a group of people who come together for a common goal. When one has efficacy they have the skills and confidence as an individual to do what needs to be done to be successful.  When we band together we have collective efficacy in which the group believes they can succeed to achieve the goal.  In a time where we are inundated with non-academic protocols and regulations that distract us from the business of learning, we find many tend to retreat and work in isolation, but there is power (and relief) in numbers.  Collaborative work makes us all more effective when we utilize our knowledge and skills to help each other. Time you say!  I don’t have time!  To find the time, it requires us to stop and reflect on the path we are taking.  The journey is better in teams.  Even the National Park Service doesn’t want you to hike alone!

To all our Educator and Administrator Friends and Colleagues:  Learning Forward Kansas is here to cheer you on, support you, and provide resources to improve your situation.  Check out our website.  In the Inspired to Learn series, there’s a video on Collective Efficacy.  There are Tips and Tools, and other resource guides that can aid in planning professional learning sessions with your staff.  The protocols all promote collaboration and digging deeper.  The only thing we don’t specifically have is a silver bullet called Covid Relief.  But if you adapt some of these strategies, you just might find yourself feeling a little better about your situation going forward. 

Remember to ask “How are the children?” and really listen.  More to the point, directly ask the children how they are.  They will tell you!  Ask how the teachers are; the principals, coaches, and the superintendent.  Their voices need to be heard; their efforts appreciated, and made more efficient and effective.  Find the helpers.  “Hike” in groups.  This journey is hard enough.  Make it better by collaborating with colleagues who are ready and willing to find solutions and achieve the goal(s). This is collective efficacy. Then you will have found some powerful Covid Relief.