Covid-19: Compassion and Continuity

Well, what just happened? And what is about to happen?

The whole of the last week or two has been a period of questions, often unanswerable ones, as those of us in educational leadership positions have tried to follow national guidance, local contingency planning, whilst dealing with the concerns of pupils, staff and parents.

Much has been said of the positive response of the teaching profession and quite rightly so. I tweeted last week about ‘getting the message out’. I felt that there were still many members of the public who associated school closure with ‘oh, here we go again, teachers on holiday.’ I felt determined that the public should know just how committed our profession is to the continuing education and well-being of our pupils and their families.

That message has hit home. Piers Morgan is now the profession’s biggest fan. Job done.

As we move into a new phase of this crisis, I really hope that we can maintain this momentum. It’s also a chance to have a really good think about the purpose of education After Covid-19 (A.C.).

They’ll be a time to write about this. But for now, we must make the best of our abilities, and concentrate on living out our vocation during this shutdown. In a startlingly short time, we’ve had to reinvent ourselves as leaders and as teachers. Here are my thoughts:-

  • From the very first moment, I used two words with all staff. Continuity and Compassion. We have to make every attempt to give our pupils the impression that things can carry on, but recognise that our main response has to be a compassionate one.
  • The beauty of technology is that it does allow that personal contact, a sense of immediacy. Teachers can send voice messages, video messages and reassure their pupils that they are there and will be there.
  • I believe we have wrongly underestimated, over recent years, the importance of the connection between teacher and child. It has an extraordinary power. It’s only when it is taken from us that we realise just how poignant it is, especially for those younger children.
  • So keep it personal. Our pupils want to see their teachers, hear them, be reassured by them. They don’t want a cold set of instructions from someone who is still miffed they won’t be administering SATs this year. Children’s lives over these coming weeks will be enriched by warm communication from that special person in their lives.
  • For example, one of the most successful things this week (so staff have told me) was when teachers read a story to their class. Pupils loved it. Personal connection, immediacy, simplicity.
  • So if all a teacher does over the next few weeks is say hello, establish a personal contact with their pupils, remind them that they’re with them throughout this period, and read them a story every day, that will be a fabulous job well done. Compassion first.
  • We can develop the learning as we get the other side of the Easter ‘holidays’ (remember them?). It’s a wonderful chance to allow teachers to be creative (for once). I’m picking the brains of my Chinese teacher friends to mine their experience, but my instinct tells me it’s impossible to recreate normal lessons online, even if all the technology is there. We must be realistic. And we are nothing like China.
  • At the moment, much better to appeal to children’s creativity. I’ve suggested they write a daily diary – they could become the historical documents of the future.
  • But bringing it back to compassion, we have no idea how difficult this may be for some children and families. Sounds easy – stay in and watch the telly – but this will be testing for families of seven living in two or three rooms. Our response must be compassionate first, second and third. This will be the focus of my work for the coming week.

This has also reaffirmed my belief that leading schools is an asymmetrical job. It doesn’t run in straight lines. Schools are not repetitive-motion organisms. Children do not learn and develop in easily predicted steps. Those leaders motivated by compassion, who are habitually connected with their communities, have, I suspect, taken this remarkable challenge in their stride.

Those who have no problem doing the school disco one minute, and chairing a child protection conference the next, will know what I’m talking about. In a future blog, I’d like to explore this a bit more.

But for now, it’s a time to take stock and rest the mind. For me, we’re very much in the ‘continuity and compassion’ phase.

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