School leaders set 3 priorities as they face a third pandemic year

Critical race theory and mask policy ranked at the bottom of a list of 10 issues.
By: | February 1, 2022

No, ventilation and keeping a lid on critical race theory are not among school leaders’ top priorities as they navigate the pandemic’s ongoing peaks and valleys.

School climate and culture and teacher and staff retention came just ahead of tackling learning loss as the top priorities for 2022 and 2023 in a survey by education services companies Education Elements and XanEdu. Having the critical race theory discussion ranked last out of the 10 issues in the poll.

Climate and culture

More than two-thirds of the 200 educators surveyed across 40 states listed climate and culture as one of the most urgent issues for this school year and next. A key part of that is strengthening relationships within classrooms, school buildings and communities so there is true collaboration around solving problems. A large majority of the respondents also said incorporating student voice to improve climate is a crucial strategy.

“Such an overwhelming focus on climate and culture suggests that K-12 administrators recognize these elements as critical to successfully addressing any of the other priority items facing their districts,” the authors of the survey wrote.

Teacher and staff retention

Staffing shortages have been the main reasons administrators have had to close schools and districts or shift to remote learning. These decisions, while necessitated by pandemic conditions, have raised concerns around other priorities such as learning loss. In fact, more than half of the respondents listed retention in their top three priorities while only 41% ranked learning loss that highly.

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“Heading into 2022, teacher burnout is real,” the survey says. “K-12 leaders likely will be prioritizing efforts to build a supportive culture that makes space for everyone to feel included and be successful.”

Tackling learning loss

Learning loss out-ranked infection rates and masking policy as educations leaders look ahead to helping students regain lost ground over the next two school years. For example:

  • 41% of respondents ranked learning loss among their top three priorities
  • 20% of respondents ranked COVID rates among their top three priorities

The leaders surveyed are likely also responding to social-emotional learning students have lost while separated from classmates, teachers and extracurricular activities. “This shifting of spotlight between student learning and the urgent challenges of school climate and employee retention highlights how interconnected these issues are. Without a strong supportive culture in a school system, it is difficult to retain employees in the face of the challenges our schools are navigating—deeply affecting schools’ ability to address student learning.”

The remaining issues in the survey were ranked in this order:

  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion work
  • Learning decisions (in-person, virtual, hybrid)
  • SEL/trauma recovery
  • COVID rates
  • Governing (board relations, district/state relationship)
  • Mask policy
  • Critical race theory discussion