NAIS COVID-19 Staff Reopening Survey: Perceptions of Reopening Across School Groups

By Carol Bernate, NAIS Research Associate


During the fall and winter of 2020, NAIS launched the COVID-19 Staff Reopening Survey among independent schools. The survey measures the extent of the pandemic’s personal and professional impact on faculty and staff, as well as their level of comfort and professional confidence with the prospect of returning to school. These data can help school leaders navigate and communicate decisions about the resumption of in-person learning and build targeted supports for their workforce.

Research highlights the importance of a culture of safety, trust, and support to engagement, productivity, and retention in the workplace. The results of this survey can help schools assess their effectiveness in cultivating support and connection among staff and the wider school community, evaluate areas of concern about reopening among staff and target support around these areas, and start a conversation with staff that will help validate their needs.

The aggregated national data provide a view of the response to the pandemic across the independent school industry and the opportunity to evaluate changes as the pandemic continues to evolve. NAIS is deeply grateful to our members for their participation in data collection efforts: Taking the time to provide us with information about individual schools’ experience of the pandemic enables us to provide analysis and recommendations to continue to support the success of independent schools during this difficult time.

Executive Summary

Participants in the NAIS COVID-19 Staff Reopening Survey were asked about their ability to return to school full time and in person, as well as their comfort level with the prospect of doing so. Overall, many reported a preference for at least some in-person learning for future instruction during the pandemic, and many said that they could return to school full time and in person in the event of their school reopening.

Nevertheless, participants were uneasy about the idea of returning to school in person, despite feeling well-informed about the measures being taken to allow students and teachers to return safely. Overall, just 28% felt comfortable with a return to an in-person model, and participants whose roles involved high levels of interaction with students reported lower levels of comfort than people with roles and responsibilities primarily outside of the classroom—22% of participants with teaching duties felt comfortable with the idea of an in-person return, compared to 43% of those without teaching duties. Participants who were working under hybrid, online, and in-person models at the time of their participation reported similarly low levels of comfort with the prospect of return. 

Participants were also asked about their preferences for future instruction. While all participants favored an in-person model, the strength of this preference was different for educators in different roles, and they diverged in their second most popular preferences. After in-person learning, a hybrid model was most popular among administrators. Preference for a hybrid learning model was low among faculty, however; an online model was their second preference after in-person instruction.

The difference in the strength of the preference for an in-person model was significant among participants with different roles. Administrators strongly preferred an in-person model over an online model—there was a 35 percentage point difference in the percentage of administrators who favored an in-person model and those who favored remote teaching. This gap was just 4 percentage points among faculty. 

Participants were asked to evaluate their confidence and ability to manage the logistical aspects needed to reopen schools successfully, including their ability to partner with parents, manage and enforce safety protocols among students, and teach effectively while adhering to safety measures.

Overall, six in 10 participants felt confident in their ability to partner with parents, with administrators feeling most able to accomplish this partnership (70%). Confidence in ability to manage and enforce the safety protocols required for in-person learning was low overall (27%). Participants in different roles, and across hybrid, remote, and in-person learning models alike reported low levels of comfort with this aspect of returning. Similarly, just 39% of participants in teaching roles felt prepared to teach effectively in person while maintaining distance, wearing a mask, and adhering to other safety measures in place.

Faculty in NAIS schools were asked about their level of preparedness to support the success of students, including the academic, social and emotional, and behavioral components. Overall, no more than six in 10 felt prepared to manage these aspects of care, and participants felt least able to support students’ social and emotional needs. Notably, just 40% of faculty felt prepared to address the social and emotional needs of students.

Participants who had already spent some time using an in-person model at the time of their participation in the survey reported higher levels of preparedness to support student needs than those who were working in a hybrid or fully remote model. Those teaching in person felt better  able to ensure that students remained on track with their studies (63%) and to manage student behavioral issues (62%) than to support students’ social and emotional needs (56%). These numbers were lower among participants who were working in hybrid or fully remote models.


In the fall and winter of 2020, 907 faculty and staff in 51 NAIS schools across all regions of the United States and in Ontario, Canada, completed the COVID-19 Staff Reopening Survey. This report includes the aggregated results of the surveys completed from mid-October through December 2020.

This section highlights key differences in the levels of comfort and confidence in returning to an in-person model across school groups and those working under different learning models—remote, hybrid, and in person. Additional sections include key differences in the personal impact and professional impact of the pandemic across these groups.

Survey responses are compared in several ways:
  • Between different roles (administrator, faculty, and staff)
  • Between responsibilities (those who have teaching duties and those whose focus is outside of the classroom)
  • Between current learning models (fully remote, hybrid, and in-person)
The report also identifies action steps to address challenges faculty and staff face with the goal of reducing burnout, building trust, and boosting retention.

This report was written by Carol Bernate, research associate at NAIS.

Downloadable Content

More Reports From This Survey

Additional NAIS Research