K-12 Guide to Building District Resilience: How to be High Performing through Foreseeable Disruptions
As we emerge from the pandemic, K-12 leaders are balancing the pull to return to normal with their recognized responsibility to learn and improve. They are asking how to mitigate future learning disruption and catalyze the momentum to reimagine and improve education?
D2L has been studying this challenge, working with researchers and education leaders to identify the principles and practices needed to build a K-12 district’s resilience. The result is an actionable guide and toolkit for system leaders to identify, plan, and execute practice changes that build their district’s resilience. By improving agility and flexibility, districts can better ensure continuity of effective, equitable instruction no matter what comes at your community.
Defining the Need for Resilience
Corporations have long recognized the need to mitigate risk. School districts have opportunity to adapt those methods. A resilient school district must not only “recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change,” Merriam-Webster, but also anticipates and proactively plans so that the arrival of a disturbance does not significantly disrupt the existing and ongoing routines and services.
While we expect the pandemic is a century event, the fact is that we face an accelerating rate of change and incidence of disturbances—abrupt and gradual, internal and external. These range from teacher shortages to student population shifts and from extreme weather events to technological disruption.
Applying the Principles and Practices of Resilience
A district cannot be truly high-performing without recognizing the impact and opportunity, and taking responsibility to build resilience. We saw during the pandemic that a district’s lack of resilience ultimately then places additional, unfair burden on teachers to scramble practices, expand their role, and makeup for system shortcomings.
“What I’ve learned this year is to think of the school system in more personal terms, I began to see our school system and its behaviors and its needs much like I do people. The system, very much, has experienced and has trauma. And it needs to learn from those experiences. I’m glad for this [D2L] research, … because now we certainly need to think of organizational resilience and preparedness for unforeseen disruptions moving forward.” –Scott Elliott, Superintendent of Watauga County Schools
Resilient school districts demonstrate these five principles across their use of resources, decision-making, and instructional delivery:
- Adopt common learning, technical and process standards and requirements that enable integrations and guide staff in making decisions and choices within that framework (i.e., tight-loose integration)
- Empowers schools and staff with flexibility and authority to adopt resources and implement services in a timely manner that best address their unique campus/population within district standards and requirements
- Values and curates multiple options for meeting needs, is boundaryless, and leverages partnerships to build diverse, redundant and extendible systems
- Adaptable to change by continuously identifying and evaluate potential disturbances and modifying practices to anticipate and mitigate potential disturbances.
- Authentic and Accessible Communication and Feedback Loops to meaningfully understand stakeholder needs, deliver clear and timely information, and provide voice and agency.
Resilience in Action
We have identified and aligned a starter kit of 40+ practices across these principles that schools can adopt to activate these principles, which include but go well beyond virtual learning, including:
- Schools have flexibility to manage and customize staffing to allow them to shift staff responsibilities and respond to disturbances and changing student needs
- System prioritizes use of common data format/exchange standards to ease appropriate use of student roster, performance, and other data across systems and applications
- System establishes and supports multiple ongoing delivery modalities through technologies that provide flexibility in the place and time of teaching and learning including remote, hybrid, and blended learning to meet student needs and preferences
Research suggests that school systems that had already prioritized resilience and implemented principles and practices of resilience were best able to maintain high performance throughout the pandemic. For example:
- Watauga County Schools (NC) entered the pandemic with a strong mindset of and commitment to continuous improvement and agility in education delivery. The district quickly extended its existing digital learning capabilities and gradually shifted as teachers gained comfort and competency.
- Northeast Denver Innovation Zone (CO) routinely incorporates input from those whose voices are often undervalued and empowers schools to tailor certain practices to their student population. When COVID-19 hit, schools were able to leverage existing partnerships to help meet already understood student/family needs.
All local K–12 school systems now have the opportunity—and the responsibility—to enhance their practices from hybrid schooling to community partnerships and from mastery-based learning to data and process integration standards. Implementing new priorities and practices is never easy, especially as we look beyond the pandemic to a sense of normalcy. That’s why the guide includes an interactive workbook, change management toolkit, and other supports to start school leaders and systems on their journey toward resilience. Building resilience is an ongoing and iterative process. Let’s start that journey now!
Mark Schneiderman, D2L Senior Director for the Future of Teaching and Learning