Keep calm and wash your hands


Editor’s Note: This interview took place on March 11, 2020. This situation is constantly evolving. Please refer to official school/district statements for the status of the schools/districts referenced in this interview.

Jason Flom (@JasonFlom) is the director of Cornerstone Learning Community in Tallahassee, Florida, and a member of the ASCD Faculty. He spoke to ASCD about how his school is adapting as the coronavirus impacts schools across the world. Responses edited for length and clarity.

What preventative strategies are you employing across the school and in individual classrooms?

Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeep cleaning. Our music teacher put up lyrics from various songs the students know at all the sinks. She reports loving hearing how often they are singing in the bathrooms. Other teachers are reporting needing to ask kids to please sing in the bathroom more quietly. 

How can schools counter misinformation and panic among students and families?

We have been utilizing resources from the CDC, Department of Health, and the Department of Education. There’s a great zine NPR put together that we have shared with teachers and families to help students understand what the virus is and is not. 

How are you addressing possible stress and anxiety among staff and students?

To open our all staff meeting we asked, “What’s been your favorite song to sing or that you’ve heard sung while washing hands?” That led to some levity and humor. “Gonna wash my hands on the old town road, gonna wash till my skin falls off.” Or, to the tune of C’mon, Eileen, “COVIT-19, whoa I swear (what he means), at this moment, you mean everything, You in that sneeze, my hands I confess, verge on dirty.” or my favorite from today was changing the lyrics from The Knack’s classic, “My Sharona” to “My Corona.” We all had a little bit of a laugh as teachers sang their variations. 

We’ve also let students know that they are fine. We are letting them talk about it and then allowing the teachers to help them make sense of their feelings. We know that it is on their minds and they are talking about it at recess, so teachers are gauging their well-being and checking in on kids who are especially anxious in general. 

What’s the central message you are trying to convey to your school community?

In the famous words of the British monarchy: Keep calm and wash hands. The other central message is that we are watching developments very closely and will stay in close communication. In the meantime, we are cleaning, wiping, scrubbing more vigilantly than ever and continue to put student safety as the very highest priority. 

How does your response to crisis reflect your emphasis on whole child education? 

This is a situation where we need to have our sanitation plans, school closure plans, communication strategies, and the like. But this is also a time when we need to care for the connective tissue and relationships we have with people. In times of stress and unknowns, staff, students, and families can act and react in surprising ways — good and harmful. Taking a step back to think about caring for student and staff emotions is important. Who is the hourly staff who might not get paid in the event of a closure? What are they feeling and what are their needs? I’ll sometimes ask a colleague who has a strength in empathy to either reach out to potentially vulnerable colleagues or to give me a nudge when they sense it is needed. In crisis response and problem solving I’ll even ask someone to assume the role of being the caring, compassionate, empathetic one. It helps to make sure the comprehensive needs of vulnerable populations are a part of the matrix of our solutions, thereby ensuring the whole child and whole teacher are at the center of our solutions.