A NC educator says that if we want to motivate coronavirus shirkers, we could learn from a first-grade teacher. (Image via Shutterstock) Reopening NC Schools After Coronavirus
A NC educator says that if we want to motivate coronavirus shirkers, we could learn from a first-grade teacher. (Image via Shutterstock)

A NC teacher says that, with schools attempting to reopen this fall, the state will have to find a way to bring coronavirus numbers down. 

Attempting to reopen NC schools during a pandemic is the most high-stakes group project of our lives.

While many say nothing could have prepared us for this moment, perhaps we forget lessons we learned or should have learned as students.

When it comes to group projects, it’s a mixed bag on student enthusiasm.  Some students are excited by the prospect of being safeguarded by those who will actually do the work, while others dread the inevitability that they’ll need to work extra to pick up the slack of those less willing to contribute.

When trying to decrease the spread of a novel virus, there is no riding the coattails of those who do the work.  We are all dragged down by those who refuse to contribute to flattening and decreasing the curve by limiting interactions, physical distancing, and wearing a face covering in public.

Parents wince when the actions of a few result in punishment for the many.  I recall my own experience with this in Mrs. Kennedy’s first grade class when the whole class lost recess because some students refused to behave.  My classmates and I were not happy.

‘If Mrs. Kennedy was able to rally her first-graders around a community goal, surely adults can follow suit.’

During my teacher certification program, we were advised against using this method and it continues to be the prevailing philosophy.

We tend to evaluate students as individuals, even when working in groups.  I bought into the idea that students should be measured by what they do for themselves and not be connected to the overall performance of the group.  This lesson seems counterproductive in a Civics class.

But our communities’ responses to this pandemic, or lack thereof, has given me pause on that approach. 

Thirty years later, I think Mrs. Kennedy had it right.  

It only took one time for our class to lose recess for my classmates and I to no longer remain silent when others failed to comply with our classroom community guidelines.  Positive peer-pressure was quite productive in redirecting behavior.

As first-graders, we thought the lesson learned was how to keep recess.  Instead we were taught that our actions are connected and it is our job to promote the common good of the community by speaking up when others fail to do their part. 

Students have a perception that in the “real world” there are few group projects and when there are, folks do the work or get kicked out of the group. 

Not true.  In this case, it’s not possible. 

Like it or not, we are all connected and our actions affect others for better or worse.  Lately for worse as COVID metrics continue to rise.

Those failing to follow health guidelines must stop expecting Governor Cooper to choose Plan A where schools reopen in August for in-person instruction with minimal social distancing.  

We have not yet earned the “A” and earning plan “B” doesn’t look promising either.

Those doing the work must unite to motivate those who shirk their responsibilities whether they’re peers, family, or lawmakers.  

Too many folks worry about “confrontation” or being labeled as “political,” but as we confront a public health crisis we must take a stand if we want COVID-19 numbers to fall. 

So far, our unwillingness to exert positive peer pressure to motivate those unwilling to pull their weight is one of the reasons we are staring at the continuation of distance learning and shuttered businesses.

It wasn’t easy or comfortable for Mrs. Kennedy’s first-graders to speak up when their friends acted up, but they cared enough about playing with them at recess to encourage cooperation.

The only safe way for our staff and students to return to school buildings is for communities to commit to following guidelines that will keep COVID-19 at bay.

After all, if Mrs. Kennedy was able to rally her first-graders around a community goal, surely adults can follow suit.