Building
Resiliency
in Schools for
Sustainable
Impact:
A Tipping Point for Education in the Pandemic Era
By Dr. Bill Daggett
T

he unprecedented upheaval to daily routines that COVID-19 has had on our schools, ourselves, our families and friends, and society in general has caused both profound short-term disruptions and long-term consequences.

Man reading book
The vast ripple effect of the pandemic has kept many education leaders struggling with how to respond to the mounting challenges they face. These challenges are deep, and the solutions are complex. However, rather than accept that we will exist in a reactionary position for the foreseeable future, we can choose to look at these changing times as an opportunity to reimagine how we can safely and equitably prepare ALL students for a workplace and society in a way that is very different than we have traditionally done. To accomplish this, we need to create a more engaging and inspiring narrative that educators, parents, and students can all subscribe to: a more humane and empowering technology-enabled future.

In the wake of the many challenges that seem to confront us on a daily basis, we need to pause collectively and reflect on where we have been, where we are now, and most importantly, where we must strive to get to in the immediate years ahead. The pandemic has highlighted many pre-existing shortcomings and inefficiencies in our education system. Although the desire to return to “normal” is understandable, we must resist the urge to recreate the familiar foundations and environments that we were accustomed to for so long. That world no longer exists. I have long viewed the overarching solutions to challenges facing schools through a future-focused lens, and I firmly believe we are now at a tipping point where we as educators can put in place the policies, programs, and instructional practices that will proactively build resilient systems in schools for sustainable impact.

Woman working on computer
Focusing on literacy and the future
Our efforts need to be future-focused. As counterintuitive as it may seem, given our current environment, we need to put a stake in the ground three to five years out and build back from the future. Emerging and rapidly advancing technologies will have a profound impact on the skills our children will need to succeed at work, home, and in the community. We must strive to envision what the world will be like in 2030, rather than what exists now in 2020. As we innovate teaching and learning to prepare students for their future, it is crucial that we continue to assimilate and adapt our own skills to new technologies as well. We need to be entirely future-focused because while the rate of change has never been this fast, it will never again be this slow.
A remote workforce
The workplace of the future will look significantly different than what now exists. It is anticipated that many businesses will forego the brick-and-mortar workplace and transition to, if not an entirely remote work model, a hybrid one. New and emerging technologies will be key in this transformation and even guide it. Jobs that require manual labor will still exist, but there will be fewer of them because of advancements in robotic and other related technologies. Basic literacy (reading and writing) will be more essential than ever in the evolving workplace and society due to the need to constantly learn, unlearn, and relearn relevant subject matter. A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute found that the skills that employers will look for in ten years are higher cognitive skills (+8 percent), social and emotional skills (+24 percent), and technological/data analytics skills (+55 percent).

Every learner is different
The collective pause caused by COVID-19 has taught us other important lessons about schools. For example, many students who thrived in the in-school environment, with the structure of the bell schedule and predictable nature of the school day, found the unpredictable nature of the remote or hybrid learning model to be very troubling and stressful. On the other hand, some students who struggled to engage in the old classroom model found a less rigid schedule to be more encouraging and engaging. The pandemic has reminded us all that no two students are the same and has highlighted the fact that the old system was not working for everyone. The traditional bus and bell schedule, and standardized curriculum and assessments, is an outdated model that resisted innovative technologies. If we truly want to help and prepare kids for their future, we need to take advantage of the existing and emerging tech trends that will permit us to personalize the education for every student based upon their learning style, interest, aptitude, and other individual factors.

Girl with a mask
A remote workforce
The workplace of the future will look significantly different than what now exists. It is anticipated that many businesses will forego the brick-and-mortar workplace and transition to, if not an entirely remote work model, a hybrid one. New and emerging technologies will be key in this transformation and even guide it. Jobs that require manual labor will still exist, but there will be fewer of them because of advancements in robotic and other related technologies. Basic literacy (reading and writing) will be more essential than ever in the evolving workplace and society due to the need to constantly learn, unlearn, and relearn relevant subject matter. A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute found that the skills that employers will look for in ten years are higher cognitive skills (+8 percent), social and emotional skills (+24 percent), and technological/data analytics skills (+55 percent).

Every learner is different
The collective pause caused by COVID-19 has taught us other important lessons about schools. For example, many students who thrived in the in-school environment, with the structure of the bell schedule and predictable nature of the school day, found the unpredictable nature of the remote or hybrid learning model to be very troubling and stressful. On the other hand, some students who struggled to engage in the old classroom model found a less rigid schedule to be more encouraging and engaging. The pandemic has reminded us all that no two students are the same and has highlighted the fact that the old system was not working for everyone. The traditional bus and bell schedule, and standardized curriculum and assessments, is an outdated model that resisted innovative technologies. If we truly want to help and prepare kids for their future, we need to take advantage of the existing and emerging tech trends that will permit us to personalize the education for every student based upon their learning style, interest, aptitude, and other individual factors.

Little boy doing work on computer
Another lesson the COVID-19 shutdown helped us learn is that many students grapple with intense problems that extend far beyond academics. For many students, school may be the one place where they could escape from physical and/or emotional trauma. Those students no longer have that temporary sanctuary from their troubles outside of school. Furthermore, providing meals to socioeconomically disadvantaged students became an emergency with its own logistical challenges. For several years now, educators have tried to address the growing mental health issues that afflicted so many of our students, and the pandemic only served to accelerate the crisis. This has led many educators, policy makers, and other concerned constituents to realize that, in our drive to increase academic performance, we somehow lost sight of our single, most important responsibility: caring for the whole child.

Caring for the whole child includes changes in how we use technology to augment learning and increase equity. Pre-COVID, school districts typically tried to force twenty-first-century technology to conform to our twentieth-century schools. We have come to realize that this mindset was backward, as we have learned to use and depend on digital platforms to deliver instruction, and to collaborate and communicate with students and colleagues.

Technology should support all students
The crisis has helped us realize that we need to use data and technology to support all students in reaching their potential. This does not need to be something that we need to fear or feel victimized by. Rather, we should embrace advancing technology and strive to create a culture where teachers, students, and parents feel empowered by it. As technology gets smarter and more powerful, the opportunities it presents are almost limitless. Consider the smartphone, which is now one-thousand times smaller, one-thousand times less expensive, and one-million times more powerful than a supercomputer of the 1970s. But even the newest iPhone will be replaced by something far more powerful in the not too distant future … mind-reading computers, for example. Advancements in robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) are trending today. If we as teachers do not stay current with technology, how can we possibly prepare our students adequately for a workplace that will require a 55 percent increase in technology skills by 2030?

A focus on literacy skills
Technology, by its nature, makes tasks easier and more efficient. If an algorithm can be developed to perform a particular task done by a human, that job will be gone in short order. There is an equally valid counterpoint to this argument: lost jobs do not equate to no jobs. Having studied the labor market for much of my life, I believe we have a bright future. However, it is a future that will require different skills — skills that machines, software, and other forms of technology are not able to emulate. To prepare students for this rapidly changing world, we need to place more focus on literacy skills and less emphasis on content and information. Moreover, I believe we should be committed to making basic literacy the foundation upon which we teach ALL students, and then build the other emerging skills that the changing workplace and global society demands.

Reimagining the future and ourselves
The jobs of the future will require that high school graduates be able to forget old information and learn new information on the fly; relate to others with dignity and respect; analyze data objectively; deal with uncertainty and ambiguity; take risks; and apply creativity to approach problems from many different directions. More specifically, career success and fulfillment will be predicated on being skilled in areas where technology on its own cannot do the task quite as well as a human can, for example, analyzing data critically for quality and interpreting outputs from an algorithm. The future will require students to be, above all, literate, innovative, and resourceful.

Illustration
A focus on literacy skills
Technology, by its nature, makes tasks easier and more efficient. If an algorithm can be developed to perform a particular task done by a human, that job will be gone in short order. There is an equally valid counterpoint to this argument: lost jobs do not equate to no jobs. Having studied the labor market for much of my life, I believe we have a bright future. However, it is a future that will require different skills — skills that machines, software, and other forms of technology are not able to emulate. To prepare students for this rapidly changing world, we need to place more focus on literacy skills and less emphasis on content and information. Moreover, I believe we should be committed to making basic literacy the foundation upon which we teach ALL students, and then build the other emerging skills that the changing workplace and global society demands.

Reimagining the future and ourselves
The jobs of the future will require that high school graduates be able to forget old information and learn new information on the fly; relate to others with dignity and respect; analyze data objectively; deal with uncertainty and ambiguity; take risks; and apply creativity to approach problems from many different directions. More specifically, career success and fulfillment will be predicated on being skilled in areas where technology on its own cannot do the task quite as well as a human can, for example, analyzing data critically for quality and interpreting outputs from an algorithm. The future will require students to be, above all, literate, innovative, and resourceful.

The beneficiaries of these new jobs will be those who are able to use technology to augment their own skills in a way that elevates productivity, performance, and creativity. This transition is no different than the earlier transitions from an agrarian society to an industrial society, and from an industrial society to our current digital society. We must forever be aware of technological developments, changing demographics, and evolving job requirements. Once we acknowledge these trends, we can begin to frame what this wave of change means for students and for education.
The vast ripple effect of the pandemic has kept many education leaders struggling with how to respond to the mounting challenges they face. These challenges are deep, and the solutions are complex.
Our twentieth-century education system was not designed to do these things. Without a fundamental transformation, this century will not be effective either. That is why we must reimagine the system and ourselves. Technology is the key to help us do this. In fact, there are school districts across the country that have already embraced their future with technology. Each year, the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE), which is the organization I founded 30 years ago, organizes an Annual Model Schools Conference where the nation’s most technologically innovative and successful schools and districts are showcased. These model schools and districts all share a very important message: Culture Trumps Strategy! Despite accepting there is the need to undertake this major change initiative with technology; having the resources available to assist teachers with the process; and seeing examples of schools and districts that have experienced success by being innovative with technology, we have learned that failure is guaranteed until administration and faculty buy into the vision of where they need to go and why they need to get there.

It needs to be about the students’ future, not the eroded system of the past. We need to love our children more than the schools of our youth, and leverage our passion of caring for our students into creating a culture that embraces the new and emerging successful practices that are sprouting up across the nation. We need to bring the growing number of examples of success up to scale.

Dr. Bill Daggett posing
About the author
Dr. Bill Daggett is founder of the International Center for Leadership in Education and Successful Practices Network. Dr. Daggett and his leadership team are available to assist districts and schools that are interested in transforming into a system that is focused on preparing all students for their future and not for our past. Dr. Daggett can be reached at wdaggett@leadered.com.