Would rebuilding trust help return students to in-person learning?
I wonder if the reluctance on the part of some parents, teachers, and administrators to return to in-person learning has less to do with vaccinations, community spread, testing, and ventilation, and more to do with something basic: trust.
I reread an old Harvard Business review article on “the enemies of trust” within organizations, and it got me wondering — are those enemies contributing to the slow return to in-person learning?
The CDC’s updated guidelines on returning to in-person learning contain nearly 16,000 words on mitigation strategies and operational considerations for schools. The word “trust” appears just twice.
I wonder if many parents, especially those in large urban districts, have good reason to be distrustful of school systems: we’re simply not producing adequate results. We’ve plateaued nationally in basic achievement for years despite lots of promises, initiatives, and new laws.
Maybe they see the continued underfunding of urban school districts — a 2020 report showed Philadelphia received 5500 fewer dollars than necessary to properly educate its population — and are wary of claims that “historical” buildings can be safely reopened. Inconsistent standards?
Maybe they see the resulting academic achievement of those same districts — in Philadelphia, for example, we can barely get more than 30% of our students to read and do math at proficient levels — and don’t feel an urge to return to “normal.” Consistent corporate underperformance?
I wonder if many administrators, especially those in large urban districts, have good reason to be distrustful of school systems.
Maybe they see the absence of hectic mornings — no last-minute coverages to schedule (teacher absences are way down) or bustling cafeterias to manage or spirit-wrenching physical altercations to break up or shrinking school budgets — and are wary about the efficacy of a new set of operational guidelines. (I continue to believe we can and should return to in-person learning, and, for me at least, being a remote administrator is exponentially less stressful than it is when we’re in person.)
I wonder if many teachers, especially those in large urban districts, also have good reason to be distrustful of schools: they’ve seen their wages stagnate, been forced into evaluation systems that have yielded little improvement, and endure working conditions that are often borderline inhumane.
According to Richard Ingersoll, a professor of sociology and education at the University of Pennsylvania, “Some schools, particularly urban low-income schools, have double — over double — the rates of teacher turnover, teacher departures, in any given year than do, say, more affluent suburban schools.” Why? Per his research, it’s largely because of working conditions.
It’s no secret that many affluent suburban districts have been able to return more quickly to in-person learning. Is that solely because they have great ventilation systems? I’d be interested in measuring levels of organizational trust in various school systems around the country and comparing them to the speed at which they were able to rally all their stakeholders — parents, teachers, and administrators — and return to in-person learning.
One of the two uses of “trust” in the CDC guidelines appears in this sentence: A successful school reopening strategy requires engaging the entire school community to establish a safe environment for all educators, school staff, and students and promote trust and confidence.
I wonder if guidelines to mitigate the spread of a deadly virus are only scratching the surface of establishing “a safe environment” and promoting “trust and confidence” in our school system. Starting over?