The last year in education, in particular leadership, has been the strangest we have ever experienced, and hopefully ever will. As a group of leaders we are trained, sculpted and shaped into being strategic beings. Leadership in our schools is about being strategic, having the vision clear in your mind and striving towards achieving it, taking everyone with you, having the ‘right people on the right seats in the bus’.
Covid has often not allowed us to develop the strategic, we have become captains of reaction rather than pro action, excelling at the risk assessment.
In many ways schools haven’t changed as institutions for decades, the school day still broadly nine until three for three terms a year, stopping in October half term for the ‘harvest’ and even though we have new guidance every couple of weeks, in past years, change has been limited. This year new guidance has arrived almost on a daily basis, then been changed after it has been published and needed immediate implementation.
It has brought a significant change in schools this term with us all moving to remote learning whilst being open for, in Surrey, between 30% and 50% of our school population.
I have seen and felt the toll it has taken on us as leaders and it has made me reflect on training I had years ago from an occupational psychologist. Some leaders love the buzz and excitement of an ‘emergency’, the urgency of it all, and while others are equally as good at achieving the desired goal, it takes more out of their ‘resilience pot’ than others. For some of us it is deeply satisfying and for others draining, it doesn’t stop you doing the job, it just takes more of a toll.
We have been strategic, we have considered above all else the well-being of our staff, children and their families and how to keep them safe.
As we are now nearly a year into lockdown in some shape or form it also makes me think of how the trainer talked about role stress. Looking at the three areas; ambiguity, inner role conflict and incompatibility. Ambiguity is around the job description. The difference between the prescribed part of the role, the job description, and how each leader perceived that and then applies their preferred style for the role to materialise, and in practice how we implement that role. Complicated further by how the role is perceived by others, and at the moment the increase in the front-line emphasis from parents and Governors. Our usual day job has changed dramatically, it is now unrecognisable, and while we are able to utilise many of the skills we used previously it is a very different job description when you drill down, leaving us with ambiguity around our successes. Incompatibly, that you were brought in to get a specific job done, and that job has changed, you are not able to take the actions you planned and make the changes you wanted to. The third element is key here, inner role conflict which comes in two forms, role overload where there is an excess of variety and role underload when there is not enough variety but too much of one type. Surely you must all be nodding your heads with that one, we seem to be experiencing work overload and underload at the same time! The new phrase is ‘Covid fatigue’.
I think what I am trying to say if you are feeling a bit at sea, that things aren’t sitting right with you, it’s to be expected within the pandemic and all that has changed in education. That no matter how you have been feeling, you have achieved and are achieving an amazing task, following guidance at the drop of a hat and welcoming children into school. But also take a little time to get to know yourself and consider how you respond, accepting it as okay and building in opportunities to recharge. It’s okay to feel different and know you are responding differently to the Headteacher down the road. We are all getting the job done and done well! J
Roll on the summer term …
CEO The Swan Trust
Teachers go to work every day to transform and inspire young people.
I have always genuinely believed that teaching is a vocation and pupils know when their school community cares about them and works tirelessly to shape their minds, inspire them and provide them with the skills to survive the ever changing world around them. Never has this been more true than in 2020, where the world for all of us, but maybe even more so for our children and young people, has tilted on its axis and become even more challenging.
This year has been very different from any I have known. But despite having to paddle through unchartered waters, schools have coped amazingly, rapidly responding to the challenges that COVID-19 presents whilst simultaneously dealing with the pre-Covid pressures of the job.
As Teachers and Leaders, you have managed the changes brilliantly and all of us working alongside schools recognise this.
Ofsted’s recent annual report and briefings highlight how much Heads are doing to support their staff and communities. I have seen countless examples of this in our Surrey schools with Heads increasing their teaching commitment to take the pressure off others, dealing with ever-changing Public Health guidance, putting in place and monitoring systems to keep everyone safe, alleviating the concerns of worried parents and carers - I could go on. All of this whilst juggling the ‘normal’ challenges of leadership.
We know how relentless and challenging at times this has been.
One of the most significant roles that schools have played during the year has been the extra mile (or 10 miles!) that schools have gone to support their wider communities and in particular the most vulnerable and marginalised families, including ensuring that children are fed, have access to resources, and the emotional support needed to manage through these difficult times.
Too often the crucial role that schools play within their local communities, including through the support they offer for pupil health and welfare, is underacknowledged – this cannot be the case moving forward.
I am so lucky and privileged to work with amazing schools, teachers, and Heads that are doing incredible work. This has been an incredibly tough year and you might not see it yet, but the work you are doing is really making a difference to the children you work with every day.
Every day you give innumerable gifts to your pupils and communities; I hope that during the Christmas break you can give the gift of time and relaxation to yourselves and your families.
As we start 2021 - and simply because a little positivity goes a long way- I share a poem by Laura Kelly Fanucci.
When this is over, may we never again take for granted
A handshake with a stranger
Full shelves at the shops
Conversations with neighbours
A crowded theatre
Friday night out
A routine check-up
The school rush each morning
Coffee with a friend
The stadium roaring
Each deep breath
A boring Tuesday
When this ends
may we find
that we have become
more like the people
we wanted to be
we were called to be
we hoped to be
and may we stay
that way — better
for each other
because of the worst.
Thank you for everything that you are doing.
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