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COVID-19 Health and Safety Plans the "How" is More Important than the "What"

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the most crucial action a school district "can take before reopening in-person services and facilities are planning and preparing."


In reviewing school district reopening plans, it is clear that school districts are utilizing the CDC and state guidelines to design rigorous health and safety protocols and processes for in-person learning. Districts have identified "what" to do. They have identified the policies and changes that will take place to reopen their schools. In our review, what is receiving less attention and time is "how" these new policies and practices will be implemented right and well.

Ultimately, for the sake of a learning community's health and safety, "it doesn't matter how great the reopening ideas and plans are in principle; what matters is how they manifest themselves in the day-to-day work of all faculty and staff" Education Endowment Foundation (2020).

Moving from Hoping it Happens to Making it Happen, One District's Story

During our recent visit with a school district in California, it was incredibly clear that their community and staff's health and safety were of the utmost, highest priority, for returning to in-person learning. With their district vision as the center of our work with them, the district asked us to support them in developing a robust COVID-19 Health and Safety Implementation Plan. The district had already spent the last nine months engaging multiple stakeholder groups to build an excellent vision for what they will do to support teaching and learning during the COVID 19 pandemic. What was missing from the plan was how they would successfully and rapidly implement everything they wanted to do to ensure their learning community's health and safety. In other words, how, will they put those new approaches and behaviors into practice? The district needs implementation strategies...they need an implementation plan. They knew we could help.

Who will do this work?

"Implementation – the process of putting a decision or plan into effect."

- Oxford English Dictionary

The school district gathered a guiding coalition to design, champion, and lead their COVID-19 Health and Safety Implementation Plan. Ensuring representation from critical stakeholders and constituent groups is a top priority in forming their COVID-19 Health and Safety Implementation Team. The District Level COVID-19 Implementation Team membership includes:

  • school board and community representative

  • custodial supervisor

  • teacher union representative

  • custodial union representative

  • teaching and learning department representative

  • facilities and transportation representative

  • superintendent and assistant superintendent

  • district nurse

In selecting these representatives, the district carefully considered:

  • Who will be impacted by the change?

  • Who will do the work necessary to meet new policies and practices?

  • Do we have bargaining in place to adapt to the new requirements?

  • Will our staff, students, and community have confidence in the plan?

  • Do we have the resources, staffing, and materials necessary to implement our plan?

Using IMPACT Learning and Leading Group's implementation team selection process, empowered the district to create an environment conducive to good implementation. By including implementers' voices in designing the implementation plan, the district created buy-in from the staff representing groups that will be carrying out the new policies and procedures. Inclusion of the implementer's voices surfaced problems upfront, enabling the district to plan for barriers.

How Will the Work Get Done?

Too often, new policies and changes get the "what" we are going to do completed and even get to "who" will do it. What is frequently missing is a clear, concise, comprehensive plan that lets all stakeholders and implementers know "How" the work will get done. The district leadership team believes the stakes are too high to leave the implementation of the district's Guidebook for Reopening School to be left to hoping it will happen. This dynamic, talented leadership team is committed to developing a robust, transparent implementation plan to ensure the practices and policies will be implemented well and right.

After engaging the broader stakeholder group and reviewing community surveys, the District-level Implementation Team spent four intensive days identifying their COVID-19 Health and Safety Implementation Plan components. Utilizing the IMPACT Implementation Planning Template, they identified:

  • Problem(s): (Why- is this a problem?), i.e., cleaning and disinfecting high-touch areas

  • Intervention Description (s): (What- will we do to address the problem?), i.e., ALL staff and custodians will utilize a CDC-approved clean and disinfect process on all high-touch areas.

  • Implementation Strategies (How-will we skill up our staff to scale up?), i.e., training, coaching, monitoring, educational materials, resources, incentives...

  • Implementation Fidelity: (How well- what does it look like when we have succeeded?), i.e., 100% of all spaces monitored and checked will meet full expectations.

  • Significant Outcomes: (The overall impact) The majority of the district's learning community members feel the district's Health and Safety Implementation Plan will effectively help mitigate the spread of COVID 19.

A significant commitment by all stakeholders to implementing the health and safety plan has been prioritized to expedite an implementation timeline. Developing a robust implementation plan that included key stakeholder groups and implementers' voices enabled the district to proactively confront problems and issues. The team was able to address problems, identify and overcome barriers, purchase and prepare materials and resources, and even include any necessary MOUS in labor negotiations ahead of time.

The district realizes implementation is a process, not an event. They developed a targeted, yet multi-stranded package of implementation strategies. In this way, they are prepared to deploy new policies and practices, test them out, and problem solve when issues arrive. Their capacity to solve problems as they arise is being built through District Level and Site Level Implementation Teams. To effectively secure faculty, staff, and students' health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the district made extreme strategic choices, built teams to serve and support the work of implementation, and will pursue these choices diligently.

Reference: Education Endowment Foundation, Putting Evidence To Work: A School's Guide to Implementation Guidance Report

To follow their story, stay connected with IMPACT Learning and Group.

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