Since the very start of this pandemic, Teachers and School Leaders have been on the frontline.
Over the past few days, the way in which they have been vilified by some politicians and certain sections of the media, has served no one, least of all our children.
Amidst the high degrees of change and uncertainty brought about by this global crisis, it is both mis-leading and mis-guided to characterise those who work in our schools as either “too lazy” or difficult”, when they have expressed valid concerns about the re-opening of schools.
Unity v’s Division
The disparaging way in which their concerns have been presented has not been helpful. By belittling the very legitimate concerns held by unions, School Leaders, teachers and parents alike, the discourse around school re-openings has sadly become divisive. At a time, when a spirit of unity has to be at the centre of all efforts to move the country out of lockdown.
As an accusatory finger is being pointed at teachers and School Leaders, what is patently being ignored is the fact that teachers and School Leaders do care! The vast majority care passionately about the profession they have chosen to be a part of. They care passionately about the communities they serve.
We need only look back over the past couple of months to see ample evidence of this: from hand-delivering food packages to their most deprived families, facilitating community initiatives (with everything from virtual choirs to helping create masks for the NHS), to of course, providing a range of online learning.
They have done this because they care. Not because they have been told to. Not because it will increase their schools’ ranking on government league tables, but because they know relationships and connections are at the heart of school life.
And it is these relationships and connections that must be secured, protected and nurtured as school’s begin to work out a way for safely re-opening.
There is too much at risk here for the re-opening of schools not to be given the due care and attention it needs. It cannot be rushed. Of course, teachers and School Leaders, want schools to re-open.
Of course, they want to bring their communities back together again. Talk to any teacher and School Leader and they’ll tell you how much they are missing the once taken for granted human interactions that make up school life. Many will also tell you that as they begin to map out a new future for our schools
“ The emotional and social development of our children is paramount and cannot be a rushed unsafe return to constant invigilation”
This is all they are seeking to secure. To re-open schools in a manner that is supportive of the development of the whole child, whilst doing everything possible to protect the health and well-being of staff and children alike.
Teachers and School Leaders need to be trusted
It is therefore not unreasonable for leaders to voice their concerns about a lack of PPE, testing and the viability of implementing effective social distancing measures in certain contexts.
It is right to ask and openly explore these questions to find a solution; particularly as the ramifications could be significant for the health and well-being of their individual communities, something which should rightly be a key priority for any school leader.
Without any meaningful dialogue about how to ensure a safe return to schools, it is not too difficult to conceive that long-held feelings of alienation regarding years of changing education policy will only intensify.
Considering that attrition rates within the profession continue to rise, ignoring the concerns of School Leaders at this time could prove to be an extremely damaging misstep by the government.
Teachers and School Leaders have valid opinions and they need to be listened to, if we are to find a viable solution for the re-opening of schools.
Scientists and medical professionals have been trusted to guide us out of this pandemic. Likewise, teachers and School leaders need to be trusted to help us map a safe way forward for the re-opening of schools.
We all want to find solutions and these are best advanced through constructive dialogue. All parties concerned need to model how this can be done; not only for the sake of School Leaders and teachers, but for the sake of the education system and the unity of our society as a whole.
Support in times of Challenge
As a result of the current COVID-19 crisis, the challenge and complexity of the Headteacher role has grown exponentially.
Every School Leader in the country has witnessed an enormous amount of change in terms of what their life, their role and school now look like. Today, like never before many Heads find themselves having to sail previously uncharted waters.
These are unprecedented times, for which there are no rule or guide-books. Everything has changed! As a result, there is understandable anxiety about the current situation we are all in. Feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, isolation and stress are prevalent.
Relationships with families, pupils and staff have changed. The speed of change has been swift, with little or no time for School Leaders to make sense of both the here and now and also what the ‘new order’ might bring.
In times like these, we need to be deliberate in pressing the pause button and finding time to reflect. Leaders need safe relational spaces to explore, question and reflect on how events are impacting on them, on others and their school.
It is a time when we can be explicit and openly address the fact that we are all in a time of transition. It is a time that requires open and honest discussion about what this period signifies for us all and with support, find ways through to the other side.
Without such spaces or the proper support, sadly we know that this crisis can prove to be both overwhelming and isolating for those who lead our schools. Leaders also run the risk of emotional ‘burn out’.
When this begins to happen, not only do we experience extreme levels of mental and emotional exhaustion that can be debilitating, but we also can begin to derive less satisfaction from our lives.
Having been a Head myself and experienced burnout, I know all too well what this feels like and equally what must be done to prevent it!
It is for this reason, that I now offer free “Coaching for the Soul” calls, for Heads who feel that they could benefit from a confidential space that will allow them to:
– Talk through the challenges they’re facing and find solutions
– Receive support and encouragement in their current situation
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they are having
– Gain clarity around their thoughts and plan a way forward
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!