School closure sign

Now is the Time to Focus on People

March 17, 2020

In recent times our work has become focused on numbers, results, goals and more quantifiable objectives. While keeping an eye on the bottom line is always important, now is not the time to lose sight of the people are who experiencing very real crises. I’m not sure we have good reference points for comparison for this event yet, but it is certainly unprecedented, extraordinary and will require historic responses.

Considering calls for social distancing and other measures to limit contagion, many (most) schools, colleges and universities are going on extended breaks, moving instruction online and taking other steps to try and grapple with the unfolding pandemic. It seems that things are changing by the moment and it is overwhelming even the most robust systems.

While taking classes online is a perfectly reasonable stop-gap measure, what about students without laptops or reliable internet access? Going to the corner coffee shop for connectivity is not going to be an option for the present. Let’s also keep in mind the second (or third, or fourth) language students who are already challenged by coursework in English. How do we best serve students with learning challenges such as dyslexia?

No doubt, some students will prefer this modality and will thrive in it. I also have to confess a sneaking suspicion that our students are way ahead of us and will adapt more or less smoothly, while we as instructors and educators fumble our way through what is typically a 12 month development process at many institutions.

To my colleagues in the trenches trying to get through this day by day, I hear you. We must prioritize and focus. But could we not take a few moments to ask what students and families need to navigate this maelstrom?

We are in the people business. Now is the time to use flexibility and humanity and do right by our students. Institutions moving abruptly to online without a plan for those students who need extra help to keep up will be failing in their duty, but more to the point they are losing sight of the fact that people have long memories. People who are well treated in times of crisis will sing your praises. Those treated shabbily will likely never give you another chance.

We will get through this together. Now is the time to focus on people.

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* Photo Credit: By Jason Zhang, CC BY-SA 3.0,