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I’d like to make clear that this post is not a criticism: It’s more a story about the complications and cross-currents in our lives that arise from the COVID-19 virus.

A Newton parent related the following story. Concerned about the virus, she’s been diligent in training her elementary school child to wash his hands frequently, but especially before eating. She queried him as to whether they had been doing this in school before lunch. “No,” was the answer.

So she called the school nurse, who informed her that the staff had been advised to make sure their students were washing their hands before lunch (per this summary.) But the nurse said she would send out another reminder to the teachers.

The son continued to report that they had not washed their hands before lunch. A couple days later, the parent sent an email to the teacher to relay the child’s report and, politely, to ask for more attention to this matter. The teacher’s response: “We’ll try to fit it into the day.”

What’s happening here, I believe, is not an uncaring teacher. Rather, teachers have so many requirements that they have to accomplish during the day that it is, indeed, difficult to fit in another one. When you’re in that situation, it really is hard to reallocate time and shift priorities. Everything is additive, and nothing is subtracted away from your responsibilities.

I’ve personally faced similar situations when I’ve run organizations: Under novel challenging conditions, well meaning, thoughtful, and intelligent staff found themselves with simply too much to do to get through the day. Serious safety and quality issued started to arise. It is at such times that the leaders of the organization–whether at the building level or the system level–need to help the front-line staff come up with strategies and give permissions that balance the older set of priorities with a newer set. If this realignment does not happen, the more drastic solution–closing the schools–will seem to be the right one. That would be a shame, as it is likely possible to manage through this disease process and maintain educational progress for the kids.


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