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.
Participants in the NAIS COVID-19 Staff Reopening Survey were asked to evaluate the pandemic’s negative impact on their professional lives, including their access to the resources needed to safely perform their duties and the effectiveness of mental health supports available to teachers. Participants were also asked about their levels of connection with members of the school community, including school leadership and colleagues, as well as families and students.
Overall, more than four in 10 respondents reported some negative impact of the pandemic on their professional capacity (43%), but many agreed that they had the resources and materials they needed to do their work (72%). However, key differences in level of impact, preparedness, and connection emerged between participants with different roles and responsibilities at school and among participants working under the three different models of instruction.
Faculty reported a negative impact of the pandemic on their working lives more than twice as frequently as did their staff and administrative colleagues, and they felt least equipped to do their jobs safely. More than half of the faculty respondents (53%) reported a negative impact on their professional capacity, and only 66% felt equipped to safely perform their job. This number was much higher among administrators, 87% of whom felt equipped to perform their role.
Participants working under hybrid and in-person learning models reported less negative impact on their professional capacity than their colleagues working in a remote model, and they felt better equipped to perform their jobs safely than those working remotely. Eighty-three percent of those working in person and 72% of those in a hybrid model said that they were equipped with the resources to do their job. This percentage was only 50% among those working remotely.
When asked to rate the effectiveness of the mental health supports available to teachers in their schools, few characterized this support as very or extremely effective—19% overall. Across different roles and responsibilities at school, no more than 6% characterized this support as extremely effective, and ratings were lower among teachers. This support was similarly rated among participants operating under different modes of instruction.
When asked to evaluate their connections with different members of the community during the pandemic, participants felt most connected to students (69%) but less connected to their colleagues (59%), school leadership (49%), and families (40%). This trend persisted across learning models.
Faculty reported high levels of connection with their students (79%), but they felt less connected to adults in their school community. There is a significant difference in the experience of connection between people with different roles and responsibilities at school. For example, the percentage of faculty who felt connected to school leadership during this time was 35 percentage points lower than the percentage of administrators who felt connected with school leadership.
Levels of connection with school leadership and colleagues were low across learning models, but participants working in person felt slightly more connected to adults at school than did colleagues in other groups. For example, 56% of those working in person felt connected to school leadership during the pandemic, compared to 48% of those in hybrid mode and 43% of those teaching online. Connections to families were low across learning models; no more than 41% of participants working under any of the three learning models felt very or extremely connected to families during this time.
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 professional impact of the pandemic across school groups and those working under different learning models—remote, hybrid, and in person. Additional sections include key differences in the professional impact of the pandemic across these groups, as well as their levels of comfort and confidence in returning to an in-person model.
Survey responses are compared in several ways:
The report also identifies action steps to address challenges faculty and staff face with the goal of reducing burnout, building trust, and boosting retention.
- 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)
This report was written by Carol Bernate, research associate at NAIS.
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