I generally like to approach life from a glass half full approach while also acknowledging that bad things can happen. It’s a cliché, but the line “hope for the best but prepare for the worst” is how I live personally and professionally. That’s why it astounds me as I approach my seventh full year living in the Bay Area and discover numerous people without their home emergency earthquake kit. Not to be a broken record, but that catastrophe is only a matter of when, not if.
Of course we have our 2020 catastrophe continuing with the current pandemic. Case numbers are on the rise, so we should be prepared for several more months in a bad situation. But, let’s allow ourselves to be a little optimistic and think about the future. In the last few days there has been some very encouraging news on the vaccine front, and maybe, just maybe, we could have a light at the end of the tunnel in all of this.
Though it will still be some time until life is normal and we move on from pandemic life, I’ve begun to think a little bit about things from pandemic life that I would like to see have a more permanent place in a post pandemic world. Most of these are educational, but also a few regular everyday life things as well that I would like to see stick around. I decided to make this list to help me keep track of the things that are working during pandemic life. Of course your list might look different, and I’d love to see your list in the comments below!
As for Steve’s pandemic changes to keep:
District Wide Collaboration: While we always had district wide meetings of counterparts and some joint planning, the district wide collaboration has magnified tremendously during this time. We went from meetings that were mostly about best practices to scheduling events together and even having every high school in the district on the same bell schedule. This has allowed us to join forces on virtual college visits, application workshops, essay workshops, etc. This may have been common practice for others before, but we’ve always had trouble convincing parents to drive to other high schools in the district. With that not a problem now, I have loved the strength in programming and opportunities we can offer when planning events together, and how much easier it is to get a rep to attend when they know it’s seven high schools worth of students who might be present instead of one. Though some logistical challenges will exist for in person events, I’d love to have more district wide events going forward.
Replacement of handshakes: Once life returns to normal I really hope we replace handshakes as the standard greeting for business and other professional settings. Maybe we could make the fist bump or elbow bump the new norm? It always boggled my mind, even in before times, that we’d shake hands at the lunch table before a professional meeting. Then we’d dig in, touching food with our bare hands that were just exposed to everyone else’s hands. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but there are no pre-dinner rolls that are worth the risk of catching a cold.
Intentional Outreach: If we’re in this field, I will automatically give you the credit of being well intentioned and wanting to help students. While you will occasionally hear news stories about independent counselors making six figure salaries from just a small number of students, those stories are not the norm. We didn’t seek this field for financially lucrative reasons, but to help students. Within the high school side we are always trying to figure out ways to reach the most vulnerable students. We will have action plans, lists of names, ideas for outreach, etc. Some of us are able to follow through on providing the levels of help necessary, other times the rest of our job can get in the way and take away the time we wanted to dedicate to the most vulnerable. We’re all guilty of times where that happened no matter the best of intentions, myself absolutely included among that. During this pandemic I have seen what looks like a renewal in that effort for reaching our most vulnerable, whether it be through providing internet hotspots, on campus learning pods specifically for our historically underrepresented students, or the hard behind the scenes work every day from school cafeteria staff to provide meals that can be picked up by free and reduced lunch students. The inequities of society have been more pronounced that ever through this pandemic. While this part isn’t news, I really hope that the intentional and more focused outreach, that has had action behind it, continues.
Masks When Sick: I’m very happy that in this time we encourage people to stay home if feeling under the weather, even if it’s with something that has nothing to do with COVID. As a society we should encourage people to stay home and rest when sick and not just “push through.” That said, I sense that when things are normal people will start going back to work while feeling a little under the weather. And to be fair I’ve been on the end of being a little run down but wanting to power through on my own anyway, as opposed to taking a sick day and letting things pile up when I know it’s not bad. As a culture, I hope that we allow masks to become common practice for someone who is feeling a little under the weather but still wants to or needs to go about their day to day life. I hope masks continue to be seen as a sign of respect and not as some sort of scarlet letter.
Digital Opportunities: Yes, Zoom fatigue is real. Yes, we miss the in person events with our students and community. That said, seeing some of the turnout for the virtual evening events we’ve had, I’ve come to realize that it’s just not feasible to expect everyone to be available for an in person presentation to parents on a random Tuesday evening when normal times do return. We probably don’t want to ever get rid of those in person events, but I’m thinking if we want to really make things more accessible, we need to consider doing a lot of our key informative sessions twice. Once for an in person audience and another for a virtual audience that can be recorded and shared later. It seems like such common sense now as I say it aloud while typing, but key informational nights really need to exist in both formats, and not just as uploaded handouts and power points to the school website.
Summer Melt: This could have been put under the intentional outreach section, but we specifically earmarked money and working hours towards addressing summer melt. Each school in our district was able to have a counselor put in some time over the summer to address student questions, guide them through last minute issues, and help minimize the problems that pop up between high school and college. I’d say 90% of the work was done with our community college bound students, which is where we’ve seen some of the biggest problems with summer melt through the years. I think even when normal times resume a targeted summer approach should exist. And that should expand beyond virtual help to in person. It can go a long way towards helping to keep our students on task.
More Sports in the Summer: I very much enjoyed having basketball and hockey on TV in August and September, joining the usual summer/fall sports lineup of baseball and then football. I’m not saying that basketball and hockey need to always go into August, but I think starting their seasons closer to Dec. 1st/Jan. 1st and ending in early July would be fun to see going forward.