The Three Stages Of The Pandemic

Steven WeberBlog, Lead Better


  • We can develop multiple scenarios and begin to recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19 on education.
  • Use surveys, focus groups, SWOT analysis, and questions to drive the work of educators during all three stages of the pandemic. 

As teachers and students continue the second semester of the 2020-21 school year, there is uncertainty about the learning environment, student engagement, attendance, and the end of the pandemic. 

When educators entered the profession, the term COVID fatigue was not addressed in schools of education.  Pre-service programs have traditionally focused on instructional strategies, formative assessment, unit planning, and the art of teaching. 

As teacher teams continue to plan for remote learning, hybrid learning, and on-site classroom instruction, they are discovering new strategies for meeting the needs of learners.  Blended learning, video instruction, flipped learning, diagnostic assessment, and small groups in Zoom breakout rooms are among the ways teachers are connecting with students and providing assignments.

We are teaching in uncertain times. We can draw lessons from Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Great Depression, and other times where there was disruption or a crisis.  As you continue to focus on unit planning and designing learning experiences, you can learn from school districts that experienced a crisis and rebuilt. 

“Strong leaders quickly get comfortable with widespread ambiguity & chaos, recognizing that they do not have a crisis playbook. Instead, they commit themselves & their followers to navigate point-to-point through the turbulence, adjusting, improvising, and redirecting” (Koehn, 2020).  This is what school staff continue to do: point-to-point navigation.  All schools will transition between three stages during the pandemic.

We cannot predict the future. But we can develop multiple scenarios and begin to recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19 on education. Click To Tweet

Stage #1: Pandemic

The pandemic closed most schools in the United States in March 2020.  Most school districts had a plan for inclement weather or interruptions to the school day, but the global pandemic created confusion and we quickly learned that there was no playbook for navigating the decisions that needed to be made.  During the pandemic, teacher teams relied on the 3 Cs: communication, curation, and collaboration

Teachers shared instructional strategies, technology integration tips, and lessons learned.  It became more difficult for teachers to plan together during a common planning period. However, several teacher teams utilized videos, Google Docs, text messages, and email to share ideas and collaborate.  Most school districts thought that schools could reopen following spring break, but one by one schools closed for the remainder of the year.

As schools opened in August, teachers and administrators waited to learn if students would attend on-site, on an A day/B day schedule, via virtual or remote learning, or on a hybrid schedule.  This created disruption and made it extremely difficult for teachers to plan.  The lessons learned during the spring semester made planning for the fall easier.  One barrier for many teachers in the fall was that they had never met the students in their new class(es).  Teachers navigated the fall semester through problem-solving, courageous efforts, and a determination to meet the needs of learners through innovative instructional strategies.

Stage #2: Complexity

Teachers and administrators would prefer to have a strategic plan or roadmap for the next stage of the pandemic.  However, complexity is increasing in most schools.  There are more questions than answers.  Educators can increase clarity by asking, ‘What is the one thing we’re going to do this week?’  An instructional strategy known as ‘chunking’ is one way teachers and administrators can survive the pandemic and the choppy waters that will continue during the second stage.

One strategy to address complexity is known as a SWOT Analysis.  Teacher teams and school leadership teams should reflect on the current reality and identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  The power of this tool lies in the opportunity for educators to focus on strengths, strategies, programs, or procedures that should be continued.  By reflecting on weaknesses, educators may find additional procedures or strategies from other schools or may identify transformational strategies for moving forward. 

When teams pause to analyze the opportunities and threats, the professional conversations can lead to problem-solving and may lead to supporting the transition to post-pandemic teaching.  “The uncertainty of the present makes it exceptionally difficult to look ahead.  But as past crises have shown us, looking ahead is more important now than ever” (Lusk, Gloss, and Daly, 2020).

Stage #3: Post-Pandemic

While it may be difficult to think and plan beyond next week, it is imperative that schools and district leadership teams begin to plan for the future.  “We cannot have plans for all contingencies, but it is a lot easier to repurpose a plan written for another scenario than to improvise a new one” (SIbony, 2020).  Educators should plan for multiple scenarios, rather than hoping for a return to normal.  Multiple scenarios should include: learning environment, instructional strategies, supporting students with social and emotional learning, grading practices, priority standards, master schedules, new and innovative approaches, common formative assessment, academic and behavioral intervention, trauma-informed classrooms, and credit recovery programs.

In addition to creating multiple scenarios, planning for the post-pandemic may involve answering questions and reflecting on the SWOT Analysis described in the complexity stage.  Mark Sanborn (2015) wrote, “In the past, leaders were those who knew the right answers.  Today, leaders are those who know the right questions.”  Consider the following questions as you plan for the post-pandemic stage.

Planning For The Future

  1. How will we plan to support the needs of students in a post-pandemic world?
  2. Which learning environments are a possible option for the 2021-22 school year?
  3. What are the needs of teachers and staff?  How can we support staff who have experienced stress, anxiety, loss, and a challenging school year?
  4. Will our school provide summer enrichment, virtual reading instruction, advisory programs, academic enrichment, credit recovery, or other programs to support students?
  5. How will we support a wide range of readiness levels when students return in the fall?
  6. How will the master schedule be developed to meet the needs of students?
  7. Will we develop common formative assessments, use a diagnostic assessment, or purchase assessments to identify the readiness levels of each student?
  8. What strategies and tools have we learned during the pandemic that we should continue to use in the future?
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The pandemic will end.  When it ends, will your school be prepared for the next stage?

Use surveys, focus groups, SWOT analysis, and questions to drive the work of educators during all three stages of the pandemic.  We cannot predict the future. But we can develop multiple scenarios and begin to recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19 on education.  We will rebuild and school will once again become a safe haven for students who are seeking to chase their goals and dreams.  Teaching and learning will continue to thrive in a post-pandemic world.  Godspeed and thank you for your efforts during one of the most challenging times in K-12 education.


Koehn, N. (2020). Real leaders are forged in crisis. Harvard Business Review. 

Lusk, D., Gloss, D., & Daly, R. (2020). Surviving the crisis and thriving beyond. AIIR Consulting. 

Sanborn, M. (2021). Retrieved from 

SIbony, O. (2020). Strategy In Unpredictable Times: Four Lessons From The COVID-19 Crisis. Forbes. 

About Steven Weber

Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (AR). His areas of research include curriculum design, formative assessment, professional learning, and school leadership.