When the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools, the Upbeat team immediately began brainstorming how we could partner with school leaders to support teachers in this unprecedented time. From initial conversations with HR leaders and principals, common themes quickly emerged about the difficulties teachers are facing during this transition to distance learning. Earlier this month, to further uncover these issues, Upbeat hosted a video call with district leaders, HR directors, principals, and teachers from all over the country to learn about the issues that different districts and schools are facing when transitioning to remote learning.

It was no surprise that the first topic on everyone’s mind was students.  One district brought up the concern that despite being a “technologically savvy district” without having one-to-one computers, students were not able to actively participate in the online lessons being delivered. “Distance learning has been…somewhat of a challenge.” shared Karon Hird, a teacher in Newton County Public Schools “We have a lot of students who are in [the same] households so all of them are not able to actively participate in the online learning lessons we have prepared for them and we have had to prepare packets for the students who do not have access to computers at home.” Other districts chimed in and shared that despite

We want to know the degree to which our teachers feel that we have been responsive either at the district or at the building level [principals]…so that teachers can feel more comfortable.

Nyree Sanders

Director of Human Resources, Newton County Public Schools

having one-to- one technology, they were concerned that students living in poverty would fall further behind than their peers. “We worry about access.” shared Treva Lee, a principal in Greenville County Public Schools, “We worry about the gap. Some kids are fully engaged and moving right along but then we have another group of kids on the other end of the spectrum who we really worry about [where] very little engagement has taken place.”

Our leaders also shared their concerns for staff members’ mental health and workplace satisfaction as many have faced increased responsibilities and stress since schools have closed their doors. “How do we ensure that employees who are working in isolation away from the school feel connected to a community of adults and a company? [How can we] ensure that they are taking care of themselves to ensure that they can take care of others who are going through grief?” shared Shawn Mangar, principal of Baychester Middle School in New York City. Scott Frauenheim, the CEO of Distinctive Schools, added “We are seeing emotions and tensions sky high…How do we make sure that we are taking care of our people without being able to see them constantly or support them constantly?”

We are committed to culture and getting more data this spring, Hopefully we are not planning for the next pandemic but getting this data and information to help make us better as an organization will be really helpful.

Scott Frauenheim

CEO, Distinctive Schools

Districts agreed that they tried to communicate effectively with their teachers and staff and wanted feedback from their employees rating their responses to the COVID19 closures. “We want to know the degree to which our teachers feel that we have been responsive either at the district or at the building level principals…so that teachers can feel more comfortable.” shared Nyree Sanders, Director of Human Resources for Newton County Public Schools. Lynn Gibbs, Executive Director of Human Resources for Greenville Public Schools affirmed Sanders and added “We would like to know how we would rate…on how we communicated how we supported our teachers when our world got turned upside down overnight.”

Despite school closures, districts were determined to give the full Upbeat survey in addition to gathering information about teaching from home. Many districts cited that their principals had made changes after the Upbeat survey administration and were curious to see the results of their efforts. “We had a very robust action plan system for principals and supervisors that took place in January to look at and to assess the data from the midyear. Principals were excited about the work that was undertaken to correct some of the deficiencies.” shared Willie Watson, HR Chief of Pflugerville ISD. Frauenheim added “Principals feel like they have worked hard on culture and want end of year summative data.”

In this unique time, Upbeat feels honored to have the opportunity to help districts collect valuable information on teacher’s engagement and sentiments about working from home. “We are excited to use Upbeat and are committed to culture and getting more data this spring” shared Frauenheim, “Hopefully we are not planning for the next pandemic but getting this data and information to help make us better as an organization will be really helpful.” Mike McCarthy, Executive Director of Specialized Services at Distinctive Schools, added that the Upbeat “Teaching from Home” survey could allow for collaboration between districts tackling remote learning. “It would be pretty cool to be able to see “‘Oh that’s what they are doing over there in that district? That’s pretty cool we never thought of that’…that would be a nice resource.”