So, the confirmation that the government intend for schools to re-open to more pupils on Monday seemed like an apt time to write this blog. I’ve been reflecting a lot recently about life during lockdown, and how so many of things I have done have been completely alien. The old saying ‘you couldn’t make it up…’ has never been more uttered. Everything about education and what it is supposed to be about has been turned onto its head in the last two weeks, and indeed since lockdown began. But then I started thinking back, to everything we’ve been through and everything we’ve done over the last 3 months, and I’m not sure it has.
It seems like an absolute age ago that everything started. I remember speaking on the phone to a governor about how we were just two weeks behind Italy. If I’m completely honest, I don’t recall much of early March. It seems to be a bit of blur, but I do remember starting planning what our provision would look like. This reflection is what got me thinking about how, actually, education hadn’t been turned on its head after all. Although crazily busy and hectic the main thing we were considering was how to provide an effective education for the children that attend our school. That’s what we do every day. Sure, it would look different, but the key question was about how we could get the best learning out of the resources we had available to us. That is exactly what we have all been trained to do. That’s why we teach. The circumstances were different, but the priorities were the same. Remembering that helped us set up our provision. Don’t look at what others are doing – do what works for us and our pupils.
It’s amazing how quickly we fall into a routine. Working from home became a new normal, and I have to say I have enjoyed it. Seeing family more often was great. I’ll be honest – there was a lull section in the middle weeks where my workload was not so intense, and my hours were considerably less. I blogged about returning to normal (https://secretheadteacher.org/2020/04/11/we-must-not-go-back-to-normal/) and I think we need to make sure we make time for ourselves during all of this, and when it is finished. Many of us have enjoyed time with family, why should we give that up?
Community was a really important part of what I tried to do as well. People say my school has a great community feel, and they put it down to the fact we are a small village school. First of all, we aren’t that small – we are 170ish. Secondly, our catchment means that we aren’t built into a village where everyone knows everyone else. Community in a school is not where you are – it’s what you make it. It needs building through trusting relationships, through respecting and valuing everyone within your community and being humble enough to admit your faults. You can get a close community feel in a big school and be devoid of one in a tiny one. Community is built around your shared values, not the number of people you have in the space. To build that I have done daily videos for the children, read them audiobooks every day and kept achievement assembly going with our usual Mathletics and TTRS certificates. We’ve had challenges, games to play, looked at values played around with teddies. It’s been great. More than that, though, it’s kept us together. The teachers have been checking in with kids. It would be so easy to feel lost and cut off from a school at this time, it was important to us that we kept our community together. We’ll carry all that on when we re-open too. It will be so easy for the school to split in two now. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Communication has also been key. I’ve noticed a real shift in my communications with parents. The purpose of them has shifted. Usually we are imparting information or decisions and the letters we send can be a little soulless, or just factual. The necessity of the situation has meant that as well as pastorally supporting the children, our parents have needed it more than ever as well. We made the decision early one that we wouldn’t be chasing for work to be completed. All of my early letters were reassuring parent’s that they were doing a good job, that whatever they could do would help their child – and they need not feel guilty. To be honest, I felt strange giving out this advice. I don’t know their situations, and goodness knows I needed to follow my own advice when it came to home-school. Imposter syndrome was a big one for me there. My parents are largely professionals, high powered execs and the like, who was I to be giving them advice? This was an opportunity to be alongside them more than ever though, and this in turn built the sense of community. Admitting I was struggling too, telling them they weren’t letting their children down, encouraging them to keep their kids safe first before thinking about schoolwork. Despite having a good relationship with the parents at my school, these letters have taken on a much more personal aspect to them, revealing parts of my own personality to them that I otherwise wouldn’t have. That’s a positive shift. Kindness isn’t weakness – it’s strength and showing more of it is no bad thing.
Re-opening has been by far the most stressful time of the whole experience, and the most time-consuming. The guidance has been hit and miss. Some of it was very useful, some of it poorly timed, some contradictory and some just useless. The updates have caused stress to many. I’m fortunate my initial plan has remained largely unchanged. The weight of making potentially life-saving decisions looms large though. We nearly all set up and my levels of exhaustion are probably higher than they have been at any point during the process, unfortunately at exactly the time we need to kick on and welcome pupils back. We have been put in that position by the muddled messages we have been receiving rom various outlets. Do I feel let down? Yes. Do it once and do it right. I wrote an alternative piece of DfE guidance (https://secretheadteacher.org/2020/05/25/guidance-on-schools-opening-on-1st-june/) and who wouldn’t have wanted to receive such an acknowledgement from the DfE? In the same way I have shown more of myself to the parents via communications, could the DfE have not done something similar? It would have made such a difference.
I’ve written this before, but we won’t know whether the decisions we have made have been the right ones until all of this is done and dusted. All we can do is make them with the best interests of our community at heart. I said at the beginning that actually, what we have been doing over the last 10 weeks isn’t that different from what we do every day. We have been trying to give them the best education we can, with the resources we have, and we have been trying to keep them safe. Those two things have not changed, and they won’t whether they are at home, ore at school. Whatever you, or your school, has decided has been done for the right reasons, and with those two things in mind. Schools and leaders have been placed in impossible positions and been forced to make impossible decisions, ones they weren’t trained for and ones they didn’t sign up for. However, people have been brave and made them. They’ve wrestled with them, lost sleep over them, changed them, regretted them but ultimately done what they thought was right and no-one can ask any more than that, and no-one should.
Leadership during lockdown? It’s been tough. I wouldn’t want to go through it again. Despite the difficulties though, it has reaffirmed everything I thought. When people are put at the heart of leadership, when community is central when we accept we don’t know everything and lean into others for help and support – that’s when we are at our best. Partial school closures, lockdown and reopening has not beaten us, it has made us come together and when we boil it down – we haven’t done much different from the usual – we’ve looked out for the people in our care. Every member of a school community wants to put that first – and we’ve done it brilliantly. We’ve now got communities to rebuild. Now we move on to Leadership after lockdown, but I don’t think that needs to look much different – put people at its heart and you can’t go far wrong.