A Pandemic Playbook to Organize Your School’s Academic and Social-Emotional Strategies Now and for the 2020-2021 School Year

A Pandemic Playbook to Organize Your School’s Academic and Social-Emotional Strategies Now and for the 2021-2022 School Year: Where We’ve Been and What You Should Do

Dear Colleagues,


   With the “first anniversary” of the Pandemic now on our calendar, I have been reviewing some of the “lessons learned”—during the past year—relative to students’ academic and social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health status across our nation’s schools and communities.

   I have also just reorganized and updated my Monograph,

The Pandemic Playbook: Addressing Students’ Academic and Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Needs

which, once again, gave me a loose chronological perspective of where we’ve been this year. . . and where we need to go.

   The Playbook is really an organized compilation of all of my Blogs during the past year. But I think that the sequencing of the different Blog essays into four sections:

  • Section I:  Organizing Your Principles and Practices: What Should Your Personal, Professional, and Collaborative Mindset Be?
  • Section II:  Organizing Your District/School for Students’ Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Success: Why are Strength-Based Approaches Essential?
  • Section III:  Organizing Your District/School for Students’ Academic Success: Why are Skills-Based, Mastery-Driven Approaches Essential?
  • Section IV:  Race, Inequity, Bias, and Privilege

adds significant understanding and value regarding how much we have learned this year.

   While some may want to purchase this integrated Monograph [CLICK HERE for INFORMATION], know that you can read any individual Blog essay that you want by going to the Home Page of the Blog Section on this website.

   To assist—after the “pandemic summary” below with our recommendations of “next steps” for the remainder of the school year (and into the next), we provide a complete list of our Blog essays this past year organized in the sections above.

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Summarizing the Pandemic Year

   While most of us first heard of COVID-19 in mid-January, 2020, “reality” did not fully hit the educational community until the early part of March. At that time, I was still hoping to “squeeze in” a week-long consultation and professional development training in New Jersey. . . with professionals participating from three different federal grant sites from across the country.

   The “good news” was that we got the week of training completed. The “bad news” was that, as we were flying out that Friday, the entire on-site operations for virtually every school in the country shut down. . . for the rest of the school year.

   After that, while “school” continued through June, via virtual instruction (for some) and “drive-by” learning packets (for most), every educator was thrown into a survival mode that no one had experienced before in their lifetimes.

   Initially, most administrators focused on making sure that students were fed, school facilities and equipment were clean and COVID-free, and staff jobs and paychecks were secure and delivered. Most teachers focused on learning how to utilize technology to teach virtually, design effective distance-learning lessons, and evaluate students from a competency-based perspective. And most related services and support personnel focused on finding all of their students, ensuring their physical and emotional safety, and delivering services and supports in a new way.

   It wasn’t easy. And many of us had to creatively adapt protocols and strategies, originally developed for very different crisis situations, to circumstances that, once again, none of us had previously experienced.

   But many of us also had to confront some additional “truths” as we served our students. The most striking relates to the inequity and disparity of academic and social-emotional services, supports, personnel, and resources between different groups of students.

   Critically, while we knew these conditions existed, we watched as the pandemic magnified their effects at more significant, dire, and insidious levels.

   For example, as chronicled by the Anti-Defamation League in the Spring of 2020:

  • People with lower incomes and fewer financial resources have been impacted disproportionately by the pandemic, as they struggle to navigate the health care system, school closings, reductions in or loss of employment, and shelter-in-place restrictions.
  • Many members of marginalized groups have experienced disproportionate physical/medical and/or emotional harm. People who are homeless or incarcerated are particularly vulnerable because of crowded and unsanitary conditions, the inability to engage in social distancing, and more.
  • Immigrants and those who are undocumented are vulnerable relative to the health care system due to the lack of coverage and their fear of seeking help. Many (recent) immigrants work in jobs without sick leave and are unable to self-quarantine, making them much more susceptible to the virus than the general population.
  • Victims of domestic abuse have been further marginalized and are at-risk because there is more time at home, stress, and financial strain.
  • We continue to see bias and hate that targets the Asian-American community through scapegoating and stereotyping. In addition, bullying, harassment, and racial slurs have become commonplace. And, there is a reported increase in hate crimes against Asian-American people.
  • While a majority of our K-12 schools and colleges closed their buildings and moved to online learning, disparities such as food insecurity, insufficient computer/laptop and digital access, and the lack of needed social services persisted and were magnified.

   Significantly, these racial and socio-economic disparities were further contextualized by the 400-year history of slavery, oppression, and racism against Blacks in the United States—invoked and inflamed by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and other Black citizens. 

   And then, education became enmeshed in the incredibly divisive 2020 Presidential election, its prelude and aftermath with the “Stop the Steal” accusations, and finally the attack on the U.S. Capitol involving approximately 10,000 individuals and 800 insurrectionists who actually breached the building and threatened our Democracy.

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   But some good news has appeared over the past few months.

   Most notably, there are now three approved vaccinations for COVID-19, and the supply and distribution of these across the United States appears to be ramping up to the point where anyone who wants to be vaccinated can be by mid-summer.

   Across this 2020-2021 school year, school districts have increasingly moved from virtual to hybrid to full on-site instruction, and more large urban districts are now opening up for full on-site instruction. In addition, the need for schools to return to full virtual instruction—because of classroom or school-wide COVID-19 exposures or outbreaks—seems to be diminishing.

   And, everything is pointing to a 2021-2022 school year where all students will be present in on-site and continuous instruction when their respective school-house doors open come Fall.

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Where Do We Need to Go?

   As we all know, the Pandemic is not over, and we still have a long (strategic planning) way to go.

   Indeed, many medical experts are predicting that COVID-19 and its variants will require annual vaccinations similar to our annual flu shots.

   But even without this COVID-19 “continuation,” districts and schools need to address (a) how the Pandemic has already impacted the academic and social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health status and progress of their students; (b) what they need to do for the remainder of the current school year; and (c) what they must do to extend their classroom instruction and multi-tiered services, supports, strategies, and interventions to the beginning of the new 2021-2022 school year.

   All of these needs, tasks, and challenges will require educators to understand the impact of the pandemic on an individual student level. While group-, grade-, and school-level data provide a global picture, individual student data will determine how to best group, differentiate, teach, and address the specific needs of different students.

   This perspective will be especially important given the past week’s announcement from the U.S. Department of Education that all schools will need to administer year-end state proficiency tests in one form or another.

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Strategic Planning:  How and What to Plan

   Strategic planning is a continuous, systematic process that helps schools and districts identify, plan, prepare for, execute, and evaluate their short- (i.e., annual) and long-term (i.e., three or five year) goals, activities, and explicit outcomes. 

   Designed to attain these short- and long-term outcomes, strategic planning also results in actions that are (a) consistent with the school’s vision, mission, and needs of its students and staff; (b) reflective of the school (and community’s) strengths and assets, weaknesses and limitations, opportunities and resources, and threats and barriers; (c) focused on strengthening the school’s organizational capacity and resources while increasing effective and efficient staff collaboration and leadership; (d) committed to fiscal and technological integrity; and (e) unapologetic in emphasizing data-based decision-making, the use of scientifically- or research-based approaches and practices, and staff accountability and consistency. 

   While virtually every school and district in the country uses—or is required to use—a strategic planning process that results in an annual Strategic or Continuous School/District Improvement Plan, many educators have not been trained, or trained effectively, in the science and practice of strategic planning.

   Critically, strategic planning has a well-established independent research foundation.  That is, the science of strategic planning exists as a generic “body of work” that is then applied to a specific discipline. Moreover, decades of research in strategic planning—combined with research in organizational, group process, social, and other areas of psychology—have established a core set of successful principles, practices, and approaches. And it is these core principles, practices, and approaches that are applied to (once again) specific fields or disciplines—for example, business, government, social services, and education. 

   Given our current circumstances, strategic planning processes now must be extended to include the unique events and impacts of the Pandemic.

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   Typically, a school’s strategic planning process is chronologically aligned with the district’s budgeting cycle. Working backwards, most districts begin their fiscal year on July 1st, and the school board often passes the annual budget by the end of May (at the latest). Thus, schools in the district must submit their strategic plans and budgets to the superintendent by the end of February (at the latest) so that all requests can be analyzed, approved, and then integrated into the district’s comprehensive plan and budget by April. This means that schools must begin their individual strategic planning processes by December at the latest.

   This year, with many schools physically seeing their students right now for the first time, and with many state budgets still up in the air, it is likely that the budgeting and strategic planning process either has been delayed, or that it will need to be very flexible.

   Once the school board passes the budget, each school then needs to revisit its Continuous Improvement or Strategic Plan—adjusting and finalizing its goals and activities based on the now-approved district and school priorities, and the funds and other resources provided.

   Ultimately, and especially given the current Pandemic conditions, six fundamental questions should be embedded in any strategic planning process:

  1. How do we design and deliver an evidence-based academic and instruction system that successfully addresses the differentiated needs of all students while improving their rates of learning such that they progress through the grade levels and graduate from high school with the applied skills needed for college and/or career success?
  2. How do we create a functional assessment and progress monitoring continuum that is curriculum-based, that can track students’ learning and mastery over time, while also guiding the development of successful, multi-tiered strategic or intensive interventions when students do not respond to effective instruction?
  3. How do we design and deliver an evidence-based school discipline, classroom management, and student self-management (or positive behavioral support/ social-emotional learning system) that increases all students’ interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional control and coping skills; that creates safe and connected classroom and school environments; and that maximizes students’ motivation and their academic engagement, independence, and confidence?
  4. How do we create functional assessment and progress monitoring approaches to track students’ social, emotional, and behavioral learning, progress, and mastery that are ecologically-based and culturally-sensitive; that can evaluate student, classroom, and school outcomes; that can facilitate the development of successful strategic and/or intensive interventions when students do not respond?
  5. How do we increase our parent outreach and involvement so that all parents are motivated, capable, and involved in activities that support and reinforce the education of all students? To complement this, how do we increase our community outreach and involvement so that real interagency and community collaboration occurs—resulting in effective, efficient, and integrated services to all students at needed prevention, strategic intervention, and intensive service levels?
  6. Finally, how do we design and deliver these activities as an integrated, unified educational system through a strategic planning and organizational development process that braids data-based functional assessment and problem-solving to guide decision-making with ongoing formative and summative evaluation? Moreover, how do we institutionalize this process such that it becomes self-generating, self-replicating, and responsive to current and future student, staff, and school needs?

   All of these questions, and the targets embedded in them, are essential to a school’s continuous, progressive improvement and, ultimately, its students’ success. But the improvement and strategic planning process takes more than evidence-based approaches. These approaches must be complemented by the professional and interpersonal interactions that support every staff member. . . from day-to-day, week-to-week, quarter-to-quarter, and year-to-year. 

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   Relative to the strategic planning process, we recommend five specific phases that include a number of important activities.

   These phases are discussed in our monograph, Strategic planning and continuous school improvement: Needs assessments and SWOT/Resource Analyses.

[CLICK HERE for Information on this Monograph]

   The five phases are:

  • Phase 1. Assessing the Organizational Readiness of the School for Strategic Planning/Conducting Needs Assessments and Audits
  • Phase 2. Writing the School Improvement Plan
  • Phase 3. Establishing the Infrastructure to Implement the Plan
  • Phase 4. Implementing, Monitoring, and Evaluating the Plan
  • Phase 5. Reviewing, Retooling, and Renewing the Plan

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   From a content perspective, the strategic planning process is organized to address seven interdependent components.

   These seven components are:

  • Component 1. Strategic Planning and Organizational Analysis and Development
  • Component 2. Multi-Tiered Problem-Solving and Systems of Support (MTSS)
  • Component 3. Professional Development, Supervision, Coaching, and Accountability
  • Component 4. Academic Instruction, Assessment, Intervention, and Achievement (Positive Academic Supports and Services)
  • Component 5. Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Instruction, Assessment, Intervention, and Self-Management (the Social-Emotional Learning/Positive Behavioral Support System—SEL/PBSS)
  • Component 6. Parent and Community Involvement, Training, Support, and Outreach
  • Component 7. Data Management, Evaluation, and Efficacy

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   As noted, this year’s strategic planning and budgeting process will probably be more complex for districts and schools than ever before. And we hope that the recommendations and organizational “blueprints” above are helpful.

   But we also recognize that we have to approach students’ academic and social, emotional, and behavioral status and needs differently—in the midst of this Pandemic—also.

   To this end, below is a list of my Blogs, written during the past year, organized in four topical sections.

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Section I:  Organizing Your Principles and Practices: What Should Your Personal, Professional, and Collaborative Mindset Be?

March 28, 2020 Rethinking Your Personal, Professional, and Partnership Goals During CoVid-19’s “Lifestyle Sequestration": Disruptive Innovation and Redefining What is Truly Important

April 11, 2020 The Pandemic Unearths the Raw Reality of Educational Inequity and Disparity: COVID-19 Forces Us to Realize We Need to Change the Village

April 25, 2020 How to Organize, Survive, and Thrive During Your School Re-Opening: The Pandemic Power of Three. How Understanding Small School Districts Can Help the Larger Ones

October 10, 2020 The Pandemic is No Longer an Educational Crisis—It is a Catastrophic Opportunity for School Improvement. Using Catastrophes to Create Change: We Need to Innovate When We Renovate

December 19, 2020 Putting the “Power of Three” to Work for Your Students, Staff, Schools, or Systems: The Three Hours during Your Holiday Break that You Need to Succeed in 2021

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Section II:  Organizing Your District/School for Students’ Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Success: Why are Strength-Based Approaches Essential?

May 16, 2020 Why is Education Week Sensationalizing Student Trauma During this Pandemic? Will Schools Re-Open Without Pathologizing their Students' Emotional Needs?

May 30, 2020 Preparing NOW to Address Students’ Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Needs Before They Transition Back to School: Let’s Use Caring and Common Sense as Our Post-Pandemic Guides

July 25, 2020  Identifying Students with Back-to-School Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Needs: How to Screen Without Screening. In Uncommon Times, Uncommon Sense is Best

August 8, 2020 Why Stress-Informed Schools Must Precede Trauma-Informed Schools: When We Address Student Stress First, We Begin to Impact Trauma. . . If It Exists

August 22, 2020 How Would Covey Organize an SEL School Initiative? Strategically Planning for the Usual and the Unusual

October 24, 2020 Classroom Management and Students’ (Virtual) Academic Engagement and Learning: Don’t Depend on Teacher Training Programs. Districts Need to Re-conceptualize their School Discipline Approaches—For Equity, Excellence, and Effectiveness

September 26, 2020 The Seven High-Hit Reasons for Students’ Challenging Behavior: Functional Behavioral Assessment and Why Schools Don’t Climb into the 21st Century. When Personal Agendas Overrule Effective Professional Practices

January 9, 2021 Analyzing, Understanding, and Changing Extreme Behavior: In the Capitol and In the Classroom. It’s Never as Easy as We Think or Want

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Section III:  Organizing Your District/School for Students’ Academic Success: Why are Skills-Based, Mastery-Driven Approaches Essential?

February 29, 2020 Literacy Instruction and Student Reading Proficiency: The Multi-Tiered Whole Must be Greater than the Sum of Its Disconnected Parts. How a Comprehensive Blueprint Prevents Isolated Solutions and Inconsistent Results (Part I)

March 14, 2020 Underachieving, Unresponsive, Unsuccessful, Disabled, and Failing Readers. Diagnostic Assessment Must Link to Intervention: If We Don’t Know “Why,” We Can’t Know “What” (Part II)

June 13, 2020 Using Valid Assessments of Students’ Functional Literacy, Math, and Language Arts Skills to Instructionally Group Students this Fall: The Importance of Assessing—NOT Guessing—Each Student’s COVID-19 Slide

June 27, 2020   Teaching in this Fall’s Post-Pandemic World:  Addressing the Academic Needs of the “Way High” and “Way Low” Students. For Some Students, There Will Be No COVID-19 Slide

November 7, 2020 It’s Not About the Size of the Pandemic Slide—It’s About Where to Start Teaching. During a Crisis, You Have to Change the Definition of Success (Part I)

November 21, 2020 Curbing the Pandemic Slide by Putting the Right Students into the Right Instructional Groups. Which Peas are You Going to Put in Your Pandemic Pod? (Part II)

February 6, 2021 Implementing Effective Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports during a Pandemic: Upgrading Your Academic and Social-Emotional Prevention, Assessment, and Interventions. It’s Not Your Fault. . . .

February 20, 2021  The Pandemic, Students’ Academic Performance, and Preparing for the Rest of the School Year: Helping Teachers Prioritize Their Efforts, Emotions, and Efficacy

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Section IV:  Race, Inequity, Bias, and Privilege

April 11, 2020 The Pandemic Unearths the Raw Reality of Educational Inequity and Disparity: COVID-19 Forces Us to Realize We Need to Change the Village

July 11, 2020 Do Black and Students with Disabilities’ Lives Matter to the U.S. Department of Education? Institutional Bias, Power-Based Decisions, and Ineffective Practices?

September 5, 2020 Celebrating Our Labors on Labor Day . . . While Recognizing the Contribution of White Privilege

December 5, 2020 Training Racial Bias Out of Teachers: Who Ever Said that We Could? Will the Fact that In-Service Programs Cannot Eliminate Implicit Bias Create a Bias Toward Inaction?

January 23, 2021 An Inaugural Poem for the Ages Challenges All Educators as the Torch is Passed: A Lesson Plan to Help School Staff Become Part of the Solution

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   As always, we hope that our experiences, perceptions, and perspectives are useful to you, and that they motivate you to reflect on what you are doing—at the student, staff, school, and/or system levels—to educate everyone through this pandemic.

   Please feel free to contact me with your questions or reactions at any time. And please remember my standing offer for a free, one-hour consultation to discuss these or related issues with you and your team.