And reconsidering the way we go through the business of education.
GUEST COLUMN | by Scott Kaufman
The new school year is fast upon us, which means that teachers, principals, and administrators are scrambling to meet yet another wave of uncertainty, struggling to accommodate students and families while meeting the challenges of COVID-19. But even as the focus remains rightfully on health and safety, fall is a good time to think about a larger, and equally pressing, question: what has the pandemic taught us about the future of schools?
‘Last March, schools weren’t just thrust into a global health challenge; they were asked to reassess their technological capabilities, with many discovering how ill-equipped they were for life in the digital era.’
As someone who had spent decades in the public education system, two immediate and urgent conclusions come to mind.
A Scarce Resource
First, it’s time to rethink space. Walk into any school in America, and you’ll soon realize that there is no resource more scarce than classrooms. This isn’t just because every school is bursting at the seams with students; it’s also largely due to the fact that various compliance ordinances require schools to keep a large amount of files—everything from teacher evaluations to building schematics and emergency evacuation plans—readily available. This often means that files take up square foot after square foot while the drama club, say, or the band cram into a tiny and uncomfortable nook.
The pandemic, of course, made things much worse, as the demands for social distancing made an already tight situation much tighter. And as it is likely that even once a vaccine is introduced, health-minded officials would probably endeavor to keep proven policies, like spacing students out to lower the risk of infection, in place, the space problem isn’t going anywhere.
The same is true for the second major challenge we’re witnessing, the crisis of data. Last March, schools weren’t just thrust into a global health challenge; they were asked to reassess their technological capabilities, with many discovering how ill-equipped they were for life in the digital era.
It isn’t just that teaching young children on Zoom is an uphill battle, or that we’ve yet to figure out how to craft online education that feels as immersive and impactful as the face-to-face original.
An even larger hurdle schools now have to overcome is erecting systems that allow educators rapid access to data without lag or mistake, which means that schools now have to radically reconsider their approach to information management systems.
Catching Up to the Challenges At Hand
When I bring these issues up with my former colleagues who are still teachers or superintendents, I often hear a sigh of frustration. That’s understandable! It’s hard enough getting eighth graders to care about math, say, without having to think about ephemeral things like files, rooms, and accessibility. Meanwhile, school districts face public sector financial constraints, like tax caps and school budgets, that put limits on yearly spending. This leaves districts desperate to find ways to be more efficient and use fewer resources, working not only harder but also smarter.
Thankfully, however, the tech sector has caught up to the challenges at hand. A recent independent study from Microsoft and Pique surveyed a host of available solutions–including, in full disclosure, some by FileBank, the company where I now work–that reduced human error by 90 percent and delivers a 77 percent boost in efficiency, simply by allowing schools a rapid and surefire way to store and access their files online, keeping the documents safe from fire, floods, and mold and freeing up the space needed for in-person interactions.
But the availability of good tools alone isn’t likely to solve the problems at hand. For that to happen, educators must take a step back and conscientiously think about these larger challenges. Rather than succumb to the torrent of everyday responsibilities and activities—a mighty stream of to-dos, often met by schools that are wrestling with budget and staffing considerations—educators should seize the opportunity presented by the pandemic and reimagine the way they practice their craft in the 21st Century.
An Ancient Truth—And Room to Grow
If the last year and a half taught us anything, it’s that cataclysmic challenges can’t be met merely by scrambling; they force us to rethink our priorities and question our prior assumptions. And when teachers and principals do that, they’re likely to land on an ancient and uncontestable truth, namely that the purpose of our vocation is to inspire, empower, and prepare children for the challenges they’re about to face. The best way to do that remains clearing as much space, and allocating as many resources as is possible, not to bureaucratic requirements or constraints but to giving kids room to grow.
Once the dust settles on this school year, then, and once we figure out the basics, let’s commit to an educational moonshot, re-creating our physical spaces and reconsidering the way we go through the business of education to make sure we enable our children to thrive.
Scott Kaufman is a former educator and the current Northeast Director of Business Development for FileBank, a family and veteran-owned small business providing enterprise content management services for education and other sectors. He was previously a Director of Technology and Instructional Support, a Principal, and a Special Education Teacher. Connect through LinkedIn.