This is a story all about the power of great school staff dynamics. As you read your leadership books and build your team, you may never understand the true significance of what you are doing. This is because it's very hard to fully appreciate the degree of mind-blowing impact that a good team can bring to your school. When our relationships became subjected to the pressures of lockdown 1, I began to recognise what we had, what we needed and what we were at risk of losing.
The most significant factor in our journey of success, was our team. Any school seeking to be healthy and strong in the long term would do well to prioritise relationships and a meaningful vision in the short term. Every individual staff appointment had been a careful process of acquiring talent and strengthening our spirit. We were a school that were always under pressure, with days that were often intense, supporting a community with significant challenges. We used our adversity to gain strength, and it was the invitation to do something profound together, that got each one of us up every morning.
'When we recruited new staff, we were seeking to meet people who understood the community that we served. Our staff had to be wired to making a difference in this school, with these families.'
When the first lockdown hit, all of this dramatically changed. At this time, I was due to leave, but agreed to stay for another term to help the school to maintain stability and to safely oversee the provision. And so we closed our doors.
Every day I would sit in a silent school, with a view of the deserted streets outside, serene in the spring sunshine. Unknowingly, while the daily communications with my team reduced, our strength quickly began to do the same. As the months progressed, we all watched the briefings at home in separation, with increasing anxiety and uncertainty, whilst our inboxes overflowed with updates, union talk and worry.
The key worker rota soon ticked along nicely enough. Staff worked in pairs on a rota, with a couple of precious hours in the company of their colleagues. We had a lot of parents who were care workers and so I can only imagine how things were for those families at that time. It was a privilege to be able to help with child care and lunches.
'Those first lockdown days seemed to leave me stunned. We went from having the everyday hustle, to silence and serenity. That contrast between being immersed in the school year and then detaching from the children felt unreal.'
During these months I had some of my toughest experiences as a headteacher. It was very hard not to be hurt by carefully worded, pre-written emails referencing negligence and even fatality. Our team had now been reduced to series of individual emails reflecting the true pressures of the pandemic. I realised at this point that I was doing a job that had little relevance to my skill set, experience and job description.
As the weeks and months passed, we were able to host a staff meeting in preparation for a gradual reopening. I'd planned to hold it outside, with the staff each standing in plastic hoops to ensure safety, but the heavens opened and so we headed for the hall. I sat there ready to address everyone with knots in my stomach. The team that I knew, always full of optimism and laughter, entered ghostly and unsure. It would be my job to try to reassure and to share the plans for welcoming the children back.
From this situation, I learned exactly how precious and powerful our relationships can be because they had been unexpectedly tested. Togetherness can drive everything that you do, overcoming any challenges and delivering reward. From these moments of despair, we had to quickly and carefully resuscitate our relationships. I managed to reassure and safely plan the day to day provision with our staff. With the children back on site, we had achieved in adversity yet again.
It may be a well-worn cliche, but we can never place too much value on our human connections. For every author that has written about this subject, none of them has ever found themselves managing frightened staff, children and families in a school, in a pandemic. We must take the time to recognise exactly where our strength lies, as well as the worry that can occur when we become separated, isolated and reduced to solitary channels of email communication.
The WIN / WIN
This is one story where it's very hard to find any 'wins' because this is not a badge of honour and there are no indirect or direct positives. This is the legacy that school leaders are now having to live with - how to lead a school with so many additional challenges that are not related to teaching and learning.
On a personal note, I've learned that although there are colleagues that you may know well, they can still surprise you. The dedication and commitment of others enabled me to be strong enough to do my job. Our school administrator and business manager were both diligent and fearless when making sure that things were risk assessed, children were fed and our key worker provision successful. I took inspiration from both of these people.