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Forging a Path Forward: How to Design a Responsive Return Plan

Forging a Path Forward: How to Design a Responsive Return Plan

Organizational Leadership & Change Management  |  Strategic Planning  |  District Leadership

Last summer, I decided to hit the road for a year as a “digital nomad,” giving up my apartment in Brooklyn, consigning my clothes, and storing a few treasured items in the basement of my childhood home. I took this leap because I wanted to be more nimble to visit our district partners, attend education events and conferences, and celebrate Simchas (the hebrew word for a Joyous Occasion, and the root word for my name Simma) with friends and family all over the country. This all came to a halt mid-March.

It was at this moment that we all pivoted. Parents became teachers, siblings became tutors, bus drivers delivered food, teachers redesigned lessons to connect hearts and minds virtually – just to name a few. Leaders who mobilized quickly learned firsthand the importance of accepting ambiguity and making decisions guided by priorities, purpose, and the latest data from real experiences. Even though many districts didn’t have a crisis management plan to sustain remote learning, organizations who were versed in planning activated one in a matter of days.

This is because organizations that thrive in moments of crisis treat planning as a process that is more valuable than a plan itself. We recognize that we now have the unique opportunity to reimagine this imperfect system, so we must confront the profound inequities that we always knew existed.

We encourage leaders to leverage these principles as you plan your “return” for School Year 2020-2021. At Education Elements, we are supporting leaders as they prepare for recovery through three different lenses (adapted from McKinsey’s Path to the Next Normal):

  • RETURNING: Determine multiple paths for a return in SY 2020-2021, with the expressed intent to address the needs of all students.
  • REIMAGINING: Rethink the way learning and teaching are designed so that the entire district community can thrive.
  • REVAMPING: Build agile and responsive practices to support all students and families in a time of crisis

We are still experiencing unprecedented change, where conditions are ever-evolving and ambiguous.  Responsiveness remains ever important, helping leaders be clear on purpose and direction, while adapting strategy through pivots, based on feedback and new information. We don’t know yet how best to safeguard the health and wellness in each community. While there are lots of ideas on how to limit contact across students and staff, enforce safety precautions, extend learning options, and individualize student supports – we don’t have a clear picture of what our students, staff, and family will need so we don’t know what puzzle to solve yet. 

Organizations that continue to succeed are the ones willing to plan for change and pivot as external conditions shift without losing their overall strategic direction. Schools and districts will be asked to pivot yet again, and rethink many of the traditions within schools – such as the ways we group and teach students, how we move people around buildings, and through what means we embody our culture and spirit.

In our guide, How to Design a Responsive Return Plan, we highlight the opportunity to design for equity, outline the leadership “rules,” habits, and competencies that drive success, and offer a four-step process to examine multiple return scenarios given considerable uncertainty.

Forging a Path Forward How to Design a Responsive Return Plan Blog Image 1

Our approach helps leaders to identify the “big rocks” that will need to change, regardless of whether we will be in buildings, limiting contact across students and staff, or maintaining distance learning for many more months. Through analyzing multiple scenarios for SY 2020-2021, teams are able to uncover needs and prioritize redesign efforts to reimagine an education system that meets the needs of all students.

A Free Downloadable Guide – Forging a Path Forward: How to Design a Responsive Return Plan for Schools


About Simma Reingold - Guest Author

Simma is a Partner. You'll find her hanging out upside down to grow clarity, stay calm and gain a fresh perspective on education.

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