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Leadership reflections

The lockdown period has generated new leadership challenges which have been met by colleagues working at all levels within the system. In my own context, as headteacher of the Inclusion and Wellbeing Service in West Lothian, which includes leading two schools (Connolly School Campus and our Skills Centre in Whitburn) and our authority-wide ASN outreach model, I have been inspired by the way colleagues have risen to the unprecedented barriers presented by the Covid-19 crisis. The way individuals and teams have come together to support vulnerable families has consolidated my beliefs in the need for leadership which is intuitive and organic, with colleagues being empowered to make the right decision, at the right time to support those who need our help the most.

Support staff and teachers have adapted quickly to a new way of working and the approach has been grounded in two of our core values, kindness and respect. Every daily interaction with families and learners has been rooted in kindness and understanding of the situation the family finds itself in. The conversations, the listening ear, the offer of support and guidance is always given with the utmost respect to our parents and carers, as colleagues know the families best. In feedback to me it has become very clear that our relationships with our families have strengthened over the lockdown period. Often, we are the only external person a parent, carer or young person will talk to in a day and this has led to longer interactions filled with mutual kindness and respect but often include shared worries and fears for the future. The interactions between families, support staff and teachers has been mutually beneficial to ensure the right support is delivered at the right time.

The collaboration between all members of our 70+ strong team has strengthened and developed throughout this lockdown period. Through sharing experiences, ideas, professional learning, compassion and support for each other in these challenging times, they are empowering each other to become an even stronger team. Upskilling each other, professionally, emotionally and practically through the mediums of a continuous Team Chat thread in Microsoft Teams; daily full service Huddle meetings; weekly team meetings, personal phone calls and individual, innovative, supportive communications which lift each other’s spirits and make it possible to carry on through difficult times with positivity have been invaluable.

We have spent time reflecting on our successes over the lockdown period and used our recent in-service day to consider a series of reflective questions as well as reflecting on the recent survey by YouthLink Scotland on young people’s fears for the future due to Covid-19. We joined up with the Inclusion and Wellbeing Service in the Scottish Borders where we considered the following reflective questions:

  1. How well do you feel we have collectively embraced our new online way of working?
  2. How are we supporting the wellbeing of our learning community, including our own wellbeing as individuals?
  3. How effective has our approach been to support learners and families who have limited or no access to a digital solution?
  4. What are the gaps in learning (all contexts) you are becoming aware of during the lockdown?
  5. How well are we working in partnership with others in our team and further afield to learn from their experiences?

We followed up by looking forward and asked:

  1. How will we phase learners back after a sustained period of social isolation?
  2. What aspects of our current way of working do you feel should be continued and developed further?
  3. How will we ensure the poverty-related attainment gap is not widened for our children and young people when we return?
  4. What provision will we need to have in place to support the wellbeing of our learners and our staff?

These questions may be of interest for you to try out in your own context too. The outputs of our discussions were incredibly powerful and seven clear themes came out of all the discussions, which will help shape our thinking as the future parameters become clearer:

Relationships diagram

As we move towards the next phase of the response to this crisis, these seven themes will be integral to our planning. Any plan will be built around the relationships everyone has worked so hard to maintain and build upon during the lockdown period and our next steps will be driven by the needs of our learners.