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If schools want to retain employees, rethinking the idea of the physical workspace—and making remote teletherapy work more widespread—is key

Reimagining schools as remote employers

If schools want to retain employees, rethinking the idea of the physical workspace—and making remote work more widespread—is key

In 2020, working from home became “the new normal,” with workers across all sectors figuring out how to do as much of their work as possible online. Long before COVID, sectors outside of public education began embracing remote work. A U.S. Census Bureau survey from 10 years ago found that remote work was growing everywhere except the public sector, where the percentage of remote workers remained low. In public education, that changed suddenly and dramatically in 2020. But what does the normalization of remote work mean for schools?

To think about retaining employees, schools need to think about retaining women, and particularly working moms. Women represent a majority of the workforce in schools, and educational services is among the most popular career path chosen by working mothers. Yet women also exhibit a stronger preference for working from home. One recent survey found that women placed “flexibility” at the top of their list of priorities when selecting a job, and ranked both “ability to work remotely” and “flexible schedule” on their top 5 needs from a job. Over 80 percent of working moms who opted not to work say they would have continued working if there had been an option to work from home.

While some roles within schools will continue to feel very rooted in the buildings, people will be looking for ways to inject more flexibility into their jobs. Educators, administrators, and service providers evolved and adapted to a remote working environment for over a year, and moving forward we need to consider where remote work may be able to continue beyond the pandemic.

In many administrative and service provider roles, it will be not only possible, but essential to consider this to retain talented employees. Nowhere is this more true than in special education service provision, where the number of service providers transitioning to working online began years ago, but accelerated significantly during COVID.

The workforce embrace of teletherapy

In March 2020, teletherapy service providers serving K-12 schools saw applications from clinicians seeking online therapy work skyrocket. Thousands of applications were coming from people who had previously done their work exclusively inside school buildings, providing services to students in special education programs. Suddenly teletherapy was not only the best way to reach students, but for many therapists it was also the only way to earn income. A year later, it has become a more permanent solution for some working moms.

“Since grad school I worked inside a school building,” one woman SLP shared. “But now I can’t see ever going back. I have an 18-month-old at home, and I get to see her between sessions. How could I go back?”

Teletherapy has kept more clinicians active and working with students in schools. While in the past the primary option for these clinicians was to leave their school-based position and join a teletherapy company, now schools are becoming remote employers themselves, working with companies to provide teletherapy tools and support to their own staff so they can serve students remotely on a full or hybrid basis.

With the world waking up to the benefits of remote work, schools will need to embrace flexibility to ensure that their most talented clinicians remain engaged in working with the students who need them most. Innovative schools are already recognizing this and adjusting their mindset to contemplate new employment structures that will attract more talent to their schools.

Innovation in schools

Kershaw County in South Carolina has 11,000 students in 20 schools spread across 740 square miles. School leadership was initially uneasy about providing teletherapy to students.

“Skeptical would be an understatement. I thought students would need in-person therapy to build relationships with their therapists and make progress. But I was very wrong about that,” said Lori Pate, assistant principal of North Central Middle School. Principal Chad Dixon commented that “teletherapy has enabled us to deliver services to our students that we simply would not be able to otherwise provide.”

Will technology reshape the field of education? Not completely; there’s no replacement for the value of in-person connections. But technology solutions are changing the way educators do their work, and the way they make those connections with their students. When technology is used to retain more talented educators and make more connections for students, everyone wins: school, provider, and most importantly, the students.

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Kate Eberle Walker

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