As I was preparing for the start of the new term, I thought very carefully about what messages I wanted to give to staff on the first day back. Over the Christmas holidays, it felt like the expectations on schools were enormous – how on earth could we do it all? I attended webinars on mass testing, read numerous email updates and guidance from the DFE, and had meetings with colleagues regarding the return to school. With all this to contend with, I wanted to make sure our time was spent productively on the first day of the new term.
At that point, before the lockdown announcement, I thought we were preparing for a short period of remote learning, until 18th January, along with a short term rota for staff in school to support those students working on site and also the Lateral Flow Testing. There had been much speculation in the media with mixed and delayed messages – what I wanted for the team here was clarity and purpose.
“There is no point climbing the ladder if it is leaning against the wrong wall”
So, I focused on the three things I think will see us through whatever happens – little did I know that the parameters were about to change again! I asked staff to think about the following:
The JTFS team have been amazing. As a “young” school, we are still a relatively small team of staff. During the recruitment process, I still explain that everyone needs to be prepared to roll their sleeves up and get stuck in to whatever needs doing. The team here continue to do that day in, day out. Whether they are support staff, administrators, technicians, teachers or leaders – everyone is here to do the same job – which is to ensure every student receives an excellent education; one that is not only outstanding but “stands out” from others. I stressed to the team on Monday that it remains our priority to focus on the education of our students. As a team, we need to support each other with maintaining our “covid secure” environment, appreciate those colleagues who stepped in to complete their Lateral Flow training and set the test centre up with lightening speed. Working together as a team will see us through whatever challenges come our way.
And so will collaboration; I wanted staff to focus on working together to plan for remote learning and to share the load, not recreate the wheel. As a collective, we can find solutions and strategies to share in our subject teams and across the school. I encouraged leaders to consider how to reduce workload in their teams, to stop doing anything which didn’t focus on quality teaching and learning, share the planning and resources for online learning to make it as easy as possible for staff to spend their time engaging with our students on a more personal level. I wanted to be clear; they should choose the most appropriate method of delivery for the subject content being covered. We are fortunate to be well resourced with technology and far enough along in our Microsoft journey to be able to make effective use of Stream for recording lessons, Teams for live lessons, instruction or tutorials and our SharePoint site is rich with research on all aspects of pedagogy. I wanted staff to have confidence that they can deliver the same high quality online as they do in person – the methods might be different and the personal touch is harder but if they can focus on collaboration to deliver learning, they won’t go far wrong.
Finally, I wanted staff to be kind. First and foremost to themselves; we can only do what we can do, we can only control what is in our gift to control. Anything else, should be set aside. There are no perfect answers at the moment, only difficult decisions made with the information we have to hand. There are times when we are choosing the least worst option. We should also think of our colleagues, our students and our families and be kind to them too. We don’t know what other people are facing at the moment, some challenges are visible and others are less so – by coming from a place of kindness we can offer a level of support which is necessary to see us through. During this period (now extended even further) of incredibly difficult challenge and uncertainty we must hang on to our integrity and our core values of “turn up, work hard and be nice”.
When we have moved on and through this crisis, we need to be able to look back and say that we did our very best – that we supported our team, worked together and acted with kindness for ourselves, our students and each other.
So when it felt as though we were being asked to do the impossible – I reminded people (and myself!) that with a little collaboration, teamwork and kindness that “that thing that can’t be done” really can, if we do it together.
Hopefully, the messages I gave provided some stability during the turbulence, clarity when there is much uncertainty and a reminder that teamwork, collaboration and kindness provide good, solid foundations for pretty much whatever comes our way!