How-to return to school safely during the Covid-19 global health pandemic has been a hot topic in our national conversations. Obviously, the health and safety of our teachers, students, and administration is the main priority, however, there are many opinions on how to open the doors of our education the “right” way. While there is little agreement around the correct course of action, ongoing dialogue between opposing views has placed a spotlight on several areas open to improvement.

As an international Organizational Change Management professional, I see this issue as the ultimate OCM challenge. While I have no idea how-to effectively open or not open schools – I do know that the basic principle can be applied to optimize success. Below are the top 5 change management methods that could benefit any educational organization during this time of immense change.

  1. Transparency – Having a structured and visible communication plan is absolutely pivotal to gaining the trust of any organization or community. Even if there is not 100% agreement on the vision –honesty and transparency are a must in order to be successful. All stakeholders in the process (faculty, administrators, and students) must work from the same guidelines, in this case, those laid out by the CDC, in order to make rational and informed decisions. Without a transparent and clear plan in place, there is little to no chance of success.
  1. Source Unbiased Feedback – Utilize a partner or impartial third-party to source feedback from both internal and external stakeholders. Launch a survey campaign for staff and parents so you can access readiness. Unbiased feedback will ensure all viewpoints, opinions, options, and concerns are included in creating viable solutions. Similar to change within most businesses, it’s important to understand the pulse of the organization when considering new initiatives and projects. Companies that fail to collect and understand all feedback will fail to create a plan that is best for the organization as a whole.
  1. Collaborate with Unit Leaders – Within an organizational infrastructure, there are channels/departments that require unique approaches to activating a change plan as they have their own cultural dynamics.  Each school is its own community and educational ecosystem and needs a specific plan to ensure change tactics are successful. A one-size-fits all policy or “cookie-cutter” approach will not work for everyone, just as it won’t for a business transition. The first step to any successful change management plan is to understand the dynamics of all parties involved. Identifying and planning around the unique requirements, contributions, and needs allow the change management course of action to best satisfy all parties involved.
  1. Influencers of Change – Identify community leaders, top teachers, older students, etc. to help champion your plan and communicate to your organization. A peer advocate is always a positive influence in demonstrating the benefits of any policy changes in a safe and more effective method. A successful change management strategy includes change leaders from the start including them in key decisions throughout the initiative.
  1. Measurement – Garnering consistent data and leveraging findings to realign strategies is a key tactic to ensuring the success of any change initiative. Welcoming students back to in-person learn or implementing any eLearning blueprint is going to require consistent OCM metric engagement and flexibility. The first step in successfully measuring change is to set up goals for the initiative. “Providing a safe and healthy learning environment for all students, teachers, and administrators.”  The second and critical step is to determine what to track /measure (KPIs).  “Total student, teacher, and administrator hours per week without absence due to illness”.  Third, how will the KPIs be measured? “A representative survey of students, teachers, and administrators (both remote and in-person learning) will be gathered weekly” Finally, how will the KPIs be reported and what subsequent actions will be taken based on the results.  “A bi-weekly report will be generated.  School administrators will meet 4 days after the report is distributed and changes to the classroom and on-line learning will be initiated based on the findings”

Challenges faced by all organizations navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic are unique and must be addressed without the ability to call upon the knowledge learned from past experience. When navigating through uncharted territory, it is critical to embrace a solid methodology to guide your initiative. Utilizing a solid and proven change management methodology and its subsequent tools will provide the best chance for students, teachers, and administrators to enjoy a healthy and positive learning experience.

Third Stage Consulting can help you through your COVID-19 challenges and other change initiatives to better prepare for an unknown future. Please contact me with any questions or feedback.

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