In a recent Radiolab podcast they pondered the question of what American objects would you preserve in the face of a cataclysmic event. While there was a great deal of disagreement on the topic, there was one accomplishment most people agreed should be preserved.  Our trip to the moon.  You can see why this would be an accomplishment most would agree should be preserved.  In making it to the moon, we were inspired by our leaders… we came together as a society…we accomplished something seemingly miraculous… and there were heroes.

The Coronavirus has given educators a change to “take our Moonshot.” Our gloves are off.  We have all been handed a blank sheet of paper.  Now is our chance to get this right.  The obstacles that were too tough to climb in the past have been wiped out by the Coronavirus.  The pace of change that was utterly unacceptable just three months ago is now accepted as the norm.  We are the ones who are going to change to take care of our most precious commodity, our nation’s children.  If educators get this right in 2020, they will be among the heroes of this story.

A Change with No Transition Time

A recent article written by Seafidi and Wearne, professors at Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University addressed the need for preparing for a new way of education for students.   Like many institutions, schools have been forced to make changes in their day-to-day routines such as face-to face interaction with students.  With very little transition time, students now receive instruction, assignments, and tests by virtual means.

Health Environment for the 2020-21 Academic Year

The writers of the article quote the opinion of Dr. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as hopeful that schools will be in good shape to open on time for the 2020-21 school year.  Dr. Fauci was further quoted that the virus is not going to disappear and will likely assume a seasonal nature. Schools will have to be prepared to open on time with the possibility of closing again. To protect the health of students and staff, schools should plan for a new type of school day – a type of hybrid instruction which alternates between school and home.  The question is, “Are schools ready to protect the health of students while providing a quality education?”

Is The Tenney School Ready?

COVID 19 is a new disease.  No one really knows what lies ahead.  Schools will have to follow a general plan with the flexibility to make changes along the way. With this in mind, a small, versatile independent school may have the advantage over larger institutions.

The Tenney School is a multi-faceted school with strong leadership, focused teachers, supportive parents, and personal communication with families. The fact that the Tenney School made a transition from in-person instruction to virtual instruction with minimal challenges was not a coincidence.  Administration has been exploring ways to implement virtual teaching for some time and teachers were eager and ready to make the transition. Tenney School Live, our distance learning program, was implemented solidly, all without a dress rehearsal. Currently, teachers are taking note of ways to tweak this new hybrid model of education. The goal is to improve the delivery of instruction should a resurgence of the virus occur this fall.

The Economics of Independent Schools

The professors at Kennesaw State point out that due to the loss of jobs by some parents, independent schools may see a drop in enrollment.  Large-scale institutions are suffering with multiple breakdowns in their efforts to transition to the new type of instruction.  This is a potential advantage for small schools like Tenney.

Currently, the enrollment at the Tenney School for the 2020-21 academic year is on track.  Tenney offers students the advantage of one-to-one classrooms; this allows the students to receive instruction without skipping a beat should schools have to toggle back and forth because of possible quarantine in the future. The one-to-one instruction is also highly effective for students with disabilities. Parents seek this personal instruction for students who have been failed by larger schools and whose interruption of learning will cause even more struggle through a break in routine.  Until a vaccine is developed, this hybrid education may be the way of life.  The Tenney School plans to lead rather than play catch-up in providing educational services for its families as we face uncertain times.

While many schools may face larger issues than we do as a small independent school, they need to all develop a flexible mindset.  There are solutions out there to these challenges.

The Year Spring Break Broke

The article emphasizes that independent schools, guided by leadership planning, should be flexible and equipped enough to make the transition to online learning. The Tenney School has made an exemplary transition to distance learning through the advent of Tenney School Live.

In August of 2019, no one could have envisioned that the school year would include the challenge of COVID-19.  The days leading up to the transition were full of uncertainty, but the Tenney School had a plan. We may not have been ready to cancel our Spring Break plans, but we would be ready for what would come after. On March 12th and 13th, 2020, the two days leading up to Spring Break, the Tenney School proved that we were prepared to enter this new frontier in education. In just 12 hours all technological systems were a “GO” should the need for distance learning arise. That Friday teachers were focused on their list of materials needed for teaching on Tenney School Live.  In the parking garage car trunks were open as multiple stacks of textbooks and references were loaded.  Most of the teachers spent Spring Break organizing to ensure an effective beginning to distance learning. We had a sense that everyone was indeed onboard to a new instructional destination.

Concluding Remarks

Until a vaccine is developed, hybrid education will be the new school norm.  Schools may have to switch between in-person and online learning during the coming school-year to keep students, parents, and teachers safe.  The Tenney School’s leaders and teachers have proven that the transition can be done gracefully and that we are ready for whatever lies ahead.  We’ve got this.  This is our Moonshot Moment.