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No. 1 challenge for teachers & staff during COVID? Not enough time.

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New research shows main source of anxiety, frustration and low morale is ‘too much to do and not enough time.’

The list of challenges related to COVID-19 for school leaders is long. But emerging research tells us one challenge is causing your colleagues to lose the most sleep: Teachers and staff are fielding three times as many parent concerns since the pandemic.

Did you know…?
31% percent of teachers and district leaders say that teacher morale is “much lower” than it was before COVID-19 started changing schools.
Education Week, Sept. 1 2020

The same report says that 32 percent of teachers are likely to leave their jobs, despite being unlikely to do so prior to the pandemic. Those who say they are likely to leave their job said morale is much lower than it was when the pandemic first hit.

There are any number of reasons for this. Chief among them: job stress. Teachers and staff say they are being asked to change the way they work, while collaborating more closely with parents and responding to a huge uptick in questions and concerns from the community.

From Education Week:
Even before the pandemic, texting and school communication apps—like Remind or ClassDojo—had given students and families new ways to contact teachers 24/7. But teachers… say that school closures have increased the pressure to be “always on” for students and parents, as remote instruction has blurred the boundaries between work life and home life.

Since COVID-19 forced many school buildings to close or transition to a hybrid/online approach last March, K12 Insight analyzed data from more than 300 districts through our Let’s Talk! platform.

This graph illustrates the sheer tidal wave of inbound “tickets,” (aka questions and/or concerns) from parents and other stakeholders over what amounts to the nearly 11-month period from March 2020 through the first half of February 2021, compared to the same period pre-pandemic.

Across the board, inbound tickets into school districts are up nearly 3x compared with the prior year. Even as other pandemic-related challenges recede, the flood of parent concerns shows no signs of relenting. Despite the rise in demand, fewer than a third of school districts report using quantitative metrics to track the quality and impact of customer service on school performance.

The reason?

Most schools aren’t organized to handle this kind of volume, which means the burden of responding to parents and others often falls squarely on teachers, most of whom are tired, stressed and operating at or well beyond capacity. 

It doesn’t matter where you live, there isn’t a school district in the country that currently has enough money or resources to hire 3x the staff. That means you’ve got roughly the same number of people to deal with three times the number of problems. The result is a chaos of ineffective communication with the power to derail even the most promising initiatives. 

Talk about stress.

Some districts have gotten creative to solve for this, moving in-school support people into virtual service type roles. Others have chosen to either set up or expand VOIP call centers.

But as more schools welcome students back to physical classrooms, teachers and staff are going to be busier than ever. Some might even be asked to teach both in-person and virtual or hybrid courses at once. It’s almost certainly going to get harder before it gets easier. And most of that burden will fall on your front-line people. They simply don’t have time to respond to every concern or question that comes across their desk.

Fortunately, there is a solution. 

What if you could make it so teachers had to respond to 10 fewer calls every school day? What if you could give them, on balance, an hour minimum back of their day, every day? Would that give them breathing room to focus, to re-engage with their passions? Would it help your morale problem?

Imagine you had a system and a process that collected every inbound question or concern and immediately distributed it to the right person in your organization, so teachers didn’t have to waste precious time forwarding messages, taking notes or hunting down the right information for parents?

What if I told you there was technology out there that could give your district 7x its current capacity, without even a single new hire?

Research tells us that out of every 100 concerns that come into a school district, nearly 70 percent are repetitive — aka different people seeking answers to the same questions. What’s more, of that 70 percent of concerns, 80 percent can be answered automatically, without a staff member ever picking up the phone or typing even a single keystroke.

That’s why we designed Let’s Talk!, and it’s how hundreds of school districts are using our platform to help them manage the influx of parent emails and phone calls, while saving staff time and reducing workplace stress.

It requires a thoughtful approach. I’m not talking about simply throwing information up on a website. But implementing a tested knowledge management system and putting it to work, internally and externally, across the district.

Take a look at this story, and see what the team at Austin ISD is doing. They’re turning a lot of heads with this work nationally — and the results are impressive. [Read Austin ISD story.]

If you’re facing any of these challenges in your own district, or simply looking for a way to give teachers and staff back part of their day — and maybe say thank you for everything they’re doing — we’d love to take 20 minutes to show you how this works. Sign up here. Or call 703-542-9600.

About the Author

Corey Murray
Corey is executive editor of TrustED. Email: cmurray@k12insight.com.

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