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Back to School? Let’s Salute the Work that Went On Behind the Scenes!

Conrad Hughes, Education Advisory Board Member

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As schools and universities in the northern hemisphere start to return to classes, families, learners, teachers, and administrators get ready for 2022-2023. An extraordinary amount of work goes into preparing for the opening of a school year: technical services make the learning infrastructure ready; administrators ensure that systems and processes are operational, and leadership teams need to have designed induction programs and an overview of the year ahead. This work is often largely invisible to teachers and students, who arrive when expected to find everything in place and their platform for learning fully functional. 

It is worth spending a few minutes to reflect on this and salute the work that goes on behind the scenes of learning. Logistically, schools and universities are among the most complex organisations to run. Nothing should be taken for granted: every tool, environment, message, and system has a person or several people behind it who have worked painstakingly to ensure that it all works.

For all involved in getting ready for a new cycle of learning, the foregrounding is logistical but, more importantly, psychological and emotional: it’s about establishing the right mindset, doing the mental preparation to be ready for new learning and, of course, most especially for teachers, planning out the scope and sequence of what will be learned.

Here are back-to-school open questions for students, teachers, administrators, and leaders.


As the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Learning is an active process that comes from within. Anything can be learned if the will to learn it is there. The question for students, therefore, is: how ready am I to learn, to open my mind, to put the effort into making sure that this year is a success? 


A master teacher does not only ask for feedback because it is good practice, they thrive on feedback. Knowing what our students think of our lessons is critical. How can we improve if we never ask? The question for teachers, therefore, is: how often will I ask my students for feedback on my teaching and what will I do with that feedback?


The administration is the backbone of the organisation, from timetables to contracts, classroom readiness to event planning. A core question is: how clear is my overview of the tasks ahead and the communications plan that needs to go with it? Who needs to be informed, consulted, and made accountable?


Education leaders need to make sure that the organisation’s mission, values, and identity are clear and correlated by systems and processes. If too much time is spent firefighting, reacting, pedalling through administrative minutiae, we forget our North Star, which should always be the school or university’s mission. Therefore, we need to be sure to bring ourselves and our teams back to the big question, which is: how are we living up to the mission of the school and how well are we communicating this vision and supporting our teams to grow through the mission?

Above all, as we return to our classes, let’s not forget all those who cannot access schooling or are in need of critical support to access learning. Recent studies put the number at over 200 million. Education, sadly, remains a privilege rather than a basic right and all of us involved in education need to do what we can to address this, every effort counts. The Covid19 pandemic has set back the work done to approach 2030 as the year when, finally, every child will be able to look forward to that special back-to-school feeling.