Community Engagement

OU professors help prepare local school districts to return to school in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic

Professors from Department of Organizational Leadership compile resources for school’s return to campus.

A team of educators from the Department of Organizational Leadership, led by Professor Suzanne Klein, spearheaded an initiative to assist local school districts in providing their students and staff with the resources to plan for the return to learning. (Photo Credit: James Silvestri)

icon of a calendarMarch 5, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Trevor Tyle

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For educators across the country, one of the most pressing issues in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has been preparing an effective and safe return to campus for students and staff members. Although the model chosen for a district’s plans for the return to  learning may differ, tri-county school districts have been helped  to successfully prepare for a return to school by professors from Oakland University’s Department of Organizational Leadership.

According to Dr. Suzanne Klein, associate professor of organizational leadership and coordinator of OU’s Central Office Certification program and Director of the Galileo Institute for Teacher Leadership, she and several of her colleagues had been brainstorming and locating options and resources for return-to-school plans for months.

“As the pandemic proceeded, I wondered, particularly as schools closed in June, how I would organize, plan, prepare and provide professional development for the district I used to work in as superintendent — in other words, what would have been keeping me up at night,” Klein said.

Klein and Dr. Elaine Middlekauf, an adjunct instructor for the Education Specialist program at OU, began  identifying resources from across the United States, that would not only help prepare for reopening schools in the fall — whether in a face to face, hybrid or completely online format — but would also provide  strategies to address  the unique academic and social emotional learning needs  for students. Their collaboration  expanded to informational newsletters and online webinars — in partnership with OU’s Galileo Institute for Teacher Leadership founder Dr. Robert Maxfield — that were provided for  districts in the tri-county area and beyond. These resources became a platform for  central office staff members from different districts to communicate with each other  as they worked to  develop robust learning plans and resolve some of their questions and concerns.

One of the most crucial resources that was shared in the newsletters, according to Klein, was a planning and support guide published by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET). They also sought guidance from the Michigan Return to Learning Advisory Council (RLAC), established by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to provide direction to local school districts for reopening schools safely.

“The NIET Toolkit and the diagram from the Council of Chief State School Officers provided a graphic representation of and a roadmap for the complex process to reopen district schools,” Klein said. “The links shared provided detailed protocols and examples from around the United States, as well as the State of Michigan’s Return to Learn Plan, that responded to important questions about schedule options, instructional models, student engagement, unique learning needs, technology support, social-emotional learning, safety, wellness, and staff and parent communication to inform and support their district and school level plans.”

Utilizing the webinars they hosted, Klein and her team were able to curate additional resources specific to the issues with which districts were most concerned. They published a comprehensive annotated bibliography that addresses issues such as safety and hygiene, spacing and movement, schedule options, instructional models for hybrid schedules, and busing. Upon further consultation with local school districts, Klein and Middlekauf sent out additional resources on social-emotional learning, curriculum and instructional models, and assessment as well.

“As educational leaders, superintendents and other school staff were very aware of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their community,” Klein said. “Beginning to develop a reopening plan, as well as planning for how to pivot as circumstances changed, was a necessity, as well as an important responsibility, for every school district and the children they serve.”

For additional information on the organizational leadership programs available at OU, visit

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