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Focusing on what matters – values and wellbeing

This post comes from school leader Miriam MacDonald, who reflects on the current situation and highlights the importance of wellbeing.

This reflection represents my own views on the impact of the situation we find ourselves in at present from my perspective as a school leader and participant on the Evolving Systems Thinking Programme. Throughout the programme we explored together the importance of focusing on building relational trust, collaborative cultures and collective efficacy all of which have supported our community through this initial phase and will continue to support us as we move into the summer term.

Three weeks ago we got a few days’ notice that our school building was to close. We instinctively knew on Monday what we needed to build for our community, 350 pupils and their families, by Friday. We held staff meetings every night that week - no resistance. The grit all staff showed was phenomenal.

Cleaning staff, catering staff, support staff, clerical staff, janitors and teachers knew what their part to play was and there was a unity that refused to look at any fear until the job was done. It was notable that we’d had the good fortune to have no staff absences right up until we closed, not all schools had the same blessings.

A member of staff who had been somewhat fearful of the technology working on Wednesday met me with a steely expression on Thursday and said “We’re ready. Bring it on.”

So Monday morning our Satellite School opened. Our expectations were clear. Health and Wellbeing would be priority 1, 2 and 3. Not reading. Not writing. Not ‘arithmetic. We instantly knew the impact from this was going to be deep and far-reaching and started planning straight away. That was my first realisation that there were new 'R’s' in schools and what I was experiencing were the first two that we have been fostering for the past three years as a team - relationships and resilience - coming home to roost.

In those first few days, we respectfully made realistic suggestions that might help families adjust to these new circumstances, how it was important to recognise that each family has a unique set of pressures and not to compare their arrangements with those of another family. We ensured every pupil had registered online and made phone contact with those who had not managed. We provided tech for families who had none.

Our parents were confident that we had them as securely as ever as we aimed to keep the shape of our school week as familiar as possible. I was even able to do one virtual assembly with my frequent visitor Max, the wayward rescue dog, as my solo (and for once well-behaved) pupil before we had to leave the building for an indeterminate length of time. That hurt. I had to admit to myself that I was afraid that we wouldn’t have all the answers our community needed.

There will be school staff and leaders with a similar story all over the world. It is what we do next with regard to supporting our children, young people and families that will define us and a whole generation to come.

As school life settles into a term that is usually filled with preparing for change, transition and moving on, we have to look closely at how we will support our whole community with the loss, change, grief and uncertainty it is feeling. If we don’t put shared core values and health and wellbeing at the forefront of everything we do and plan for as a community and as a nation, our future will be even more uncertain for many young people and their families.

Collaborative capacity is a key element of leadership and we need to collaborate more than ever to gain a level of collective sense-making that will help build a level of equity of support, understanding and solution-focused approaches for our families.

School life moves into Term 4 with some sense of new normality. At our virtual leadership meetings we won’t be discussing maths, writing and spelling - we are confident our class teachers are on it with the learning. We will be looking at the opportunity our world of learning has to Rest, Regroup, Rationalise, Reset and then Reimagine what learning communities need to offer our young people and families moving forward.

If this pandemic teaches us nothing else, has it at least taught us that although financial security does not really protect anyone it definitely helps and that the more physically and emotionally skilled you are the more you should be valued by those around you?

Our pupils show they believe this in one of our school values they chose 'Skills for Life - what you can do is worth the same as what I can do'. They are confident that skills for life and learning should be what defines us and what we value. We need to listen to what they have to say. Our young people will know. Let’s put that front and centre and ask them. When the times comes, whatever they need, we’ll be ready.

It will be fine