School principals report what worked and what didn't work during COVID-19
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TORONTO (September 8,2021) –Principals report that despite the massive challenges their schools faced in the last 18 months, there are some innovations that they would like to see continue. But they also say that more must be done to address the “vast disconnect between those making decisions and the realities in schools.”
In the past year, People for Education heard from 1,173 secondary and elementary school principals from across Ontario through their Annual Ontario School Survey. Principals first responded in the fall of 2020, and then a smaller group completed a follow-up survey and interviews in the spring of 2021. Three-quarters of the principals in the follow-up group said there were changes and innovations they would like to see continue beyond COVID.
The principals’ responses show that along with the anxiety, shortages, and inequities amplified by the pandemic, there were also positive adaptations and innovations.
- Online parent-teacher interviews, school council meetings, and staff check-ins were more convenient, efficient, and accessible, and had increased participation of staff and families.
- Virtual participation facilitated new collaborations and supported advances in professional development. For example, in one high school, students gained community service hours by partnering with an elementary school to provide one-on-one tutoring. In some schools, teachers were able to watch subject matter experts demonstrate an activity and then guide them in real time as they carried it out.
- Students were able to go on “field trips” and have class visitors without geographical barriers. Teachers invited subject matter experts for virtual presentations like the Science North virtual labs and organized virtual field trips to places students might not normally be able to access, such as the Royal Ontario Museum and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.
- Using different schedules to keep cohorts smaller, including staggered recess and entrance/exit times, meant students were able to interact with different groups of peers or build deeper connections with a smaller group of peers. These structural changes contributed to a reduction in behaviour issues and anxiety for some students.
- Students attending in-person school spent more time outdoors, which increased their physical activity, and through neighbourhood walks, their connections to community.
Some challenges intensified as the school year went on, including:
- In the spring, only 28% of principals agreed or strongly agreed that their levels of stress at work were manageable, a drop from 33% in the fall among the same group of principals.
- The need for mental health and educational supports increased dramatically, but without any corresponding increase in human resources. Principals reported a shortage of social workers, school psychologists, child/youth counsellors, special education services, occasional teachers, educational assistants, and speech language pathologists.
- In the fall, 64% of principals agreed or strongly agreed that there were meaningful ways for the school community to stay connected; however, by the spring, that proportion dropped to 50%.
- Many schools struggled to ensure that all students were able to access technology and internet connectivity.
- Principals continued to say that the lack of communication between the Ministry of Education and schools made it impossible for them to prepare for changes especially when they heard announcements about the education system at the same time as the public.
How it could work better
“It is essential that the Ministry and Board Leadership use administrators and teachers in classrooms to build their understanding of the impact of this past year on schools. It appears that there is a vast disconnect between those making decisions and the realities in schools.”
The 2021-22 school year is an opportunity to both build on what worked over the past 18 months, as well as respond to the challenges that schools faced.
Among principals’ recommendations for the coming school year:
- There should be consultations between the Ministry of Education and an advisory board of school board staff, school administrators, teachers, support staff, students, mental and physical health experts, among others. According to the principals, this would help to sync up the needs of the education community with province-wide decisions.
- The Ministry of Education should let principals know in advance about announcements regarding education system changes so that they can prepare their staff, students, and families.
- More funding is required to ensure there are adequate human resources to address the growing needs for mental health and educational supports.
- Improvements in access to technology needs to go beyond devices and also fund IT staff to provide training to teachers and help troubleshoot issues.
“We can accomplish a lot. We can do hard things and manage it. I know what’s good for my community, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
People for Education will be releasing their final report from the Annual Ontario School Survey 2021-22 in September 2021. For more information, please visit www.peopleforeducation.ca.
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For more information:
Annie Kidder 416-508-1484