Overcoming New Challenges: How to Respond to the “New Normal” in Education

It’s been over two years since the country emerged from lockdown, yet the aftershocks are still being felt across our education system, and the concept of “normal” has taken on a whole new meaning. The upheaval that we all experienced has forced many to deal with the challenge of confronting a rapidly evolving new reality. As we navigate this uncharted territory, it is crucial for Headteachers, in particular (who so often are the ones who are expected to make sense of these changes for others), to understand what “normal” truly entails and how they can effectively help others to engage with many of the challenges of the “new normal” in education today.

To achieve that, we probably need to begin by asking ourselves the question, “What exactly do we mean by normal?”

The term “normal” often implies a sense of stability and predictability. Yet, we all know that with the events of the past few years, this sense of normal has not been evident for many in their day-to-day lives. Consequently, it is essential to question whether clinging to the idea of returning to the pre-pandemic state is helpful or even feasible. The truth is that our world has changed, and we all need to find ways to respond accordingly. Rather than striving to recreate the past, it may be more helpful to consider how we can live in the present while also seeking to create a better future. One where we use the mistakes and lessons of the past to forge a society where we all have something to live for, not recreating them.

Challenges of imagining the new

Imagining what we can all do to address the challenges of the new normal poses several challenges for us all, not least Headteachers. There is a call for our School Leaders to reimagine themselves as educators and perhaps go far deeper than they have ever done before in their attempts to align their sense of vocation and purpose with the demands of the new; teaching and learning methodologies, equitable access to education, engagement in both physical and virtual spaces, ongoing support for the well-being of their staff, pupils and families are all aspects of School Leadership today that require vast amounts of innovative thinking and strategic planning, as well as a fair amount of courage, hope and optimism. Which can often feel in short supply when, increasingly, schools are being called upon to fill the ever-widening cracks in society that, sadly, can no longer be met by our public services.

It’s understandable, if you are a Headteacher, to feel as though schools have now become the number one Emergency service, with the expectation that you and you alone can cure all of society’s ills. We know this is impossible, yet people still lay this expectation at your door.

Knowing that, more often than not, this is the case, it can be helpful to consider steps that you can take to help navigate this increasingly perilous territory.

1. Prioritise Communication: Connecting Hearts and Minds

Open and transparent communication is vital when it seems things are in constant flux. Individuals want to feel connected and that they are a part of the whole. Sometimes, giving different stakeholders the whole picture may not be possible. Still, regular updates for staff, students, and parents on changes, protocols, and expectations can help create channels for feedback and collaboration, fostering a sense of shared responsibility and increasing stability when life outside of school may be anything but for so many.

2. Support Staff’s Vocational Development: Reignite the Flame

This can get easily lost amidst the vast array of skills training that staff have to do. Sometimes the equation between ‘who a teacher is’ and their outcomes becomes confused, and we wonder why it can feel as if teachers have lost their zest or are no longer willing to go the extra mile. I firmly believe that teachers put in that additional amount of discretionary effort when they have regular moments to reflect and consider their “Why” for being in the profession. Such conversations and opportunities for reflection help fan the fire and keep teachers in close contact with their sense of vocation and how they show up with our young people. When we lose the connection, we all feel its absence. Teaching becomes just another job, and ultimately, our young people suffer. 

3. Prioritise Your Well-being: Nurturing the Leader Within

No doubt, as a Headteacher, you do this well for others. But if you are to succeed in being resilient and remaining deeply connected to your sense of purpose amidst the challenges of the new normal, then you must also attend to your own well-being. Look out for the warning signs when it might feel like it is all becoming too much, and you find yourself short-tempered, emotionally numbing out, or constantly in a state of high alert. These are all signs to stop, pause, reflect and do whatever is necessary to bring your heart, mind and soul back to a state of inner peace and equilibrium. 

There are many stark realities in this new post-pandemic ‘normal’, but it is down to us, those who care passionately about the future of our young people, to find or, indeed, be the lights amongst the shadows. But to achieve that, our self-care has to come first, along with constant contact with our deepest convictions, values and desires. When in alignment, it is possible, particularly for Headteachers, to counter the challenges of the new normal and be the leaders that our communities and young people need them to be.

Would you like to deepen your Reflections?

To help further your reflections, we have created our Headteacher Seven Steps to “Staying A Head” self-assessment. This self-assessment will guide you through key areas of well-being and self-care, highlighted in Viv Grant’s seminal book, “Staying A Head: The Stress Management Secrets of Successful School Leaders.” It will serve as a starting point for developing a personalised plan to enhance your overall capacity to respond proactively to the demands of your role.

We invite you to take the first step towards prioritising your well-being by completing our Seven Steps to “Staying A Head” self-assessment.

Click here to take our Seven Steps to “Staying A Head” self-assessment and help accelerate your journey towards enhanced self-knowledge, well-being and success.

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