Academic Experience

Reimagining school: the ‘ongoing new normal’

Education leaders must do something they have never done before – safely teach and care for children during a global pandemic. How do they do this? By frequently listening, learning and acting on how their students and teachers are working and feeling in the ongoing new normal.

COVID-19 introduced a highly complex set of challenges with few unambiguous solutions. In the coming weeks and months, school and district leaders will need to make tough decisions about how and when to safely reopen.

Not just education, but life-sustaining social services

Pre-K-12th grade education is among the most vital services in the U.S and, without access to in-person instruction, many students will miss out on opportunities to keep building academic and social skills. Families will also lack a safe and reliable environment to send their children if schools are closed when they need to work. Further compounding the challenges, schools deliver critical life-sustaining social services such as nutrition and physical and mental health enrichment. What do student outcomes look like when schools are closed and unable to operate as usual?

Last spring, several large school districts reported student engagement rates below 60% with virtual learning platforms. The abruptness of the school closures did not leave time to ensure all students had equitable internet access and technology. In many cases, we were asking students to do the impossible -- learn alone at home without essential resources.

An opportunity for a better system

The lost learning time was felt most by under-resourced students of color who were already facing the disproportionate health impact of COVID-19 in their communities. However, despite the profound losses of the past few months, there’s still hope. Schools CAN use this period as an opportunity to forge a better and more responsive education system that listens and quickly responds to student and teacher needs.

Pre-pandemic, it was common for schools and districts to survey stakeholders once or twice a year on topics like school climate. Now, in the COVID era, things move so quickly that surveying won’t capture the rapidly evolving sentiment and the impact that each new experience has on learning and well-being outcomes.

Understand evolving community sentiment

Schools need to understand the evolving community sentiment on the new classroom experience, well-being, and operations so that they can make real-time adjustments for students and staff. Based on national trends in low student engagement after the shutdowns and skepticism among staff members about the reopening process, it’s more urgent now than ever that schools and districts listen to their community to understand what is working and what isn’t and take action to change course when necessary.

Ongoing New Normal Community Pulses

We worked with a group of K-12 district administrators and nonprofits to design a series of Ongoing New Normal Community Pulses to help districts and schools continuously monitor stakeholder sentiment as they resume operations this fall, no matter what reopening model they implement.

Our solutions allow schools to pulse stakeholders with surveys designed to gather the most urgent information and report their feedback through pre-built dashboards. These cover some of the most pressing topics in the reopening conversation:

  • Teaching and learning
  • School operations
  • Student and staff well-being

All of the solutions are designed to be brief (7 questions or fewer) and implemented on a weekly or biweekly cadence. Like all of our solutions, the questions are customizable to fit local context.

Teaching and learning

Schools will implement a wide variety of classroom configurations this fall. Options include students attending class in-person full time, a few days a week, or completely online and at home. Many districts will launch a combination of all of these models at the same time and for the first time. The novelty of this kind of program implementation means that understanding student and teacher experiences throughout the journey will be crucial to their success.

We designed a solution that asks key questions about engagement, communication, pedagogical effectiveness, and sense of belonging to help schools track and respond to student, family, and teacher sentiment about new classroom practices.

Given the uncertainty around new models of pandemic-era instruction, it is imperative that schools listen to students and teachers to understand what’s working and what isn’t.

School operations

School operations will be impacted in most communities until there is a conclusive end to this crisis in the form of a widely available vaccine or other game-changing medical innovation.

When schools launched virtual learning in the spring, there were often technical issues for students and teachers that interfered with learning. To keep schools thriving operationally, the Qualtrics Ongoing New Normal solution measures student, family, and staff sentiment on topics such as remote learning, hybrid learning, and in-person school experience.

The questions cover topics like new cleaning procedures, meal access, and technical difficulties with online learning. Schools will leverage key insights from feedback to modify practices that aren’t working and celebrate systems that are.

Student operations pulse dashboard

Student and staff well-being

With the stress of the pandemic and social injustice and unrest, it is vital that schools and districts understand how students and staff are doing and are able to identify specific students and/or staff members who need additional support.

Several non-profit organizations are stepping up to support schools with well-being throughout this period. Character Lab is one example of an organization working to support schools with the mission to advance scientific insights to help kids thrive. At Qualtrics, we’re proud to collaborate with Character Lab as experts in the field of Character and Well-Being to design and develop survey items and resources for the Ongoing New Normal Community Pulses. Results from this survey can be shared in easily digestible data snapshots that educators can quickly understand and take action on.

Our Ongoing New Normal well-being pulses allow schools to understand how students and staff are feeling and empowers key support staff to understand who needs support most urgently to guide their actions during an uncertain time. The pulses ask questions about intrapersonal well-being, the learning environment, and physical health.

President Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel coined the now oft-referenced "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste" during the 2008 financial crisis. That sentiment and framing still holds true in the COVID era.

The most optimistic view of that sentiment is that, given the immense losses of the past few months, what better way to strive forward together than to use this as an opportunity to do things differently and emerge from the pandemic with an even better system of action and improvement than we had before?

Community engagement has long been a goal of districts and schools and now family and teacher groups are demanding to be heard in the decision-making process. We know the desire to be heard and the urgent need for schools to respond will only increase as schools restart this fall, and Qualtrics is here to help schools meet the moment.

Now more than ever, it is critical that schools listen and surface the most pressing issues from their community If they intend to realize the opportunity to make a better and more responsive education system.


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