Yolanda Stephen: Time to Toss the Manual

Originally published in the November/December 2020 issue of Equity & Access Pre K-12

Parents want what’s best for their children and they are looking to us to help provide the answers. According to the National Parents Union Coronavirus Impact Survey Week Eight Update, 63 percent of parents say school should be re-imagined as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. The survey also says non-white parents are more likely to say their child may need additional instruction next school year, yet white parents are more likely than non-white parents to think they will feel safe sending their children back to school in the fall. We need to do what we can to deliver information that helps them make the best decision for their family.

No crisis manual could have prepared us for the coronavirus pandemic and anticipating only tactical solutions just won’t be effective. We have an opportunity by adjusting our lens, revisiting crisis communication strategy, repurposing community partnerships, and using our imagination. The manual has been discarded so it’s a unique moment to bring the equity divide together using these methods:

1. Adjust your lens

Remove unconscious bias’s that may present itself when the topic is social grouping. We all organize actions, words, and people in categories. It’s the way our brain thinks. It’s important to adjust your lens, or have a mindset change, so youcan learn about others and discard assumptions. Discarding assumptions can help facilitate healthy dialogue as you have discussions with your different stakeholder groups about returning to school.

2. Revisit crisis strategy

Work directly with internal stakeholders, review and adjust crisis communication and teams, survey parent groups, know what the district stands for, create key messaging, stay ahead of landmines, over-share information related to the topic, listen to feedback, adjust where necessary, evaluate. Repeat.

3. Repurpose community partnerships

While Black and Hispanic households are more technologically advanced than in years past according to a study by the Pew Research center, there is still some internet connection disparities. Many districts now provide one-to-one technology, but homes still struggle with internet connectivity. Who thought the local library was only good for the summer reading program or the bus only transported students? Work with your local libraries or faith-based community that would be willing to provide internet and a safe physically-distanced space for students to learn. Apply for grants that outfit old school buses with hotspots so they can be parked in an area that needs connection.

4. Use your imagination

One size does not fit all when it comes to communication methods and channels. Break hard-to-digest information into bite-sized pieces so stakeholders are not overwhelmed. Thoughtful graphics, bulleted lists, colors that break up text, common language, animated memes, and Kahoots learning games …it’s all open to use as long as you follow your organization’s brand when selecting these imaginative items and colors.

There isn’t just one unifying message, method, or manual to refer. Overall, what works best is a shared vision, lots of communication, and constant realignment. It takes the creativity and teamwork of stretching deep into the education Lego box to construct a bridge that unites stakeholders on the purpose of the business: providing a safe place for kids to learn and succeed.

Learn more about NSPRA’s work

The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

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