Schooling in the COVID Crisis

Book Pic 1 Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from educators across the country who are struggling with the current COVID-19 crisis. Teachers and school leaders are being forced to do new things. Immediately. Like move their classes on-line while learning to use Zoom for the first time. I will confess that I do miss being there with you, on the front lines. But, I would like to share some thoughts for you to consider.

First, I believe in technology. For over 25 years I’ve been a technology advocate, helping educators use more technology in their classrooms, helping them find their own path to Blended Learning. But… the most important things being done in our classrooms can never be done by a computer.

It’s important to remember: What is most often happening now… is not Blended Learning. In most cases it is some combination of home schooling, distance learning, or online schooling. As educators are forced to adopt new methods too rapidly, without training or support, lots of words are being misused and methods poorly implemented.

There are philosophies and research guiding Blended Learning instructional delivery, with theories and pedagogies that are enacted in intentional ways. So, we need to guard against miss-using language that we already have in our schools with students, parents, and political leaders. Some politicians will use this crisis to call for us to adopt practices that are simply not good for students.

Across America, many schools have been pitted against each other in a competition to prove who can transition from face to face learning to virtual school the fastest!  In reality, some school districts are just trying to do something to avoid the perception that they’re doing nothing. At the same time, normal school operations, budgeting, maintenance, staffing, all continue.

In many places, schools won’t re-open this year! Let that sink in. I’ve been in education 48 years and never experienced anything like this before. It is also a time that will shape us – and the very nature of schooling – far into the future. What we’re doing right now is something completely different. Schooling and its purposes can change dramatically when a society is in shock and crisis. What we’re doing today is teaching and learning in COVID-19.

K-12 schools, colleges, and universities have been shut down. Teachers and professors have had to reimagine what their teaching looks like from a distance and what is even possible for students to learn and do in their own homes.

Educators are working from home. Many are also parents and/or caretakers for sick and elderly family members, and they’re not only still trying to work, but also manage their own children’s school assignments and their families’ needs.

girl in pink and white shirt sitting beside brown wooden table

Photo by Julia M Cameron on

Most troubling, students have been cut off from physical social interaction with friends teachers, and coaches. This is not business as usual and it is unethical to act as if it could be. No one should expect the “COVID-19 Schooling” happening now to be anything close to usual.

Let me be clear: It is impossible to “transform” face-to-face teaching and learning into COVID-19 teaching and learning overnight. And even if that was possible, doing so will have a serious downside for children.

In my recent book, The Chemistry of Culture, I survey the research documenting the dramatic decline of social/emotional skills like empathy among today’s young people. Many neuroscientists, psychologists, and sociologists it a crisis. The COVID crisis will only accelerate that decline. What happens to a culture when it loses empathy?

But there is an upside to this crisis. We have a great opportunity to slow the testing rat race. By taking away tests (most state mandates are already lifted), and thinking differently about grading, maybe we can determine how to help our students, and each other, during this life-altering moment.

Book Cover

Whenever we do return to whatever our “new normal” will be, what will our schools look like? How will we move forward with what we’ve learned from this crisis? Will we be able to find a new and better balance between technology and teacher?  These are some of the questions I explored in, The Chemistry of Culture. It’s now more important than ever to find the answers. 

Given that it’s highly unlikely the future of education will contain less technology. How will we find the right balance for our children and our culture? Remember, the most important things being done in our classrooms, particularly for our most at risk students…  can never be done by a computer.

About Jim Warford

Jim Warford is the author of, The Chemistry of Culture: Strategies You Can Use to Create a Culture of Learning. For 15 years Jim Warford was Senior Advisor and Keynote Speaker for the International Center for Leadership in Education. Jim is an author, speaker, Leadership and Instructional Coach. He was named in March 2003 as Florida’s first Chancellor of K12 Public Schools. He stepped down in September, 2005 to become Executive Director of the Florida Association of School Administrators, representing over 10,000 Florida school leaders. As a Senior Advisor for the International Center for Leadership in Education, he works with states, districts and schools to provide coaching and executive training and support to school leaders and their staffs. As Florida’s Chancellor, he led the creation and state-wide implementation of Florida’s Continuous Improvement Model, FCIM, which resulted in that state’s dramatic gains in student achievement and an 80% reduction in the number low-performing schools. FCIM remains Florida’s required intervention for all low-performing schools. As Superintendent of the Marion County, Florida Public Schools, he first implemented the Continuous Improvement Model district-wide. As a result, school grades went from three “F”, eight “D” and only one “A” school in 1999 to twenty “A”, 16 “B” and no “F” schools in 2003. Under his leadership the high school dropout rate was cut in half. He taught applied technology courses at the high school level for 17 years and created a Computer Graphics/Video Production program that won many national and state awards. He was named Vanguard High School Teacher of the Year three separate times.
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