The summer term was a dystopian limbo. I was trapped at home, frustrated by the inanity of relentless parenting, with few breaks where I could use my brain, connect with my students, or be myself. Torn between the wry humour of responding to eye-rolling obvious questions on Google Classrooms and sudden, shocking fear of the realities of the global pandemic, I didn’t know how to feel, how to react, how to be.
I went from missing my students desperately, worrying about their potentially harrowing lives under lockdown, hoping for a speedy return to the classroom, to panicking about the safety of us all in the inevitably close proximity of the school setting, and feeling the pressure of being compelled to support with bubbles in the final weeks of term. The whirlwind of putting in shifts at school as well as still providing full time childcare as a parent, and continuing to set ever more substantial online lessons (with disappointingly poor take-up) found me overwhelmed, and starting to feel helplessly down at the impossible seeming logistics of juggling the obligations to my family, my school, and to myself.
Needless to say, it was my own self care that was sidelined to maintain the status quo. The summer holidays, and the guiltily sweet respite of my child starting nursery, couldn’t come soon enough.
What priorities should teachers and school leaders have over the summer holidays?
I cannot fathom how school leaders have managed all of the above situations, alongside responding to updated government guidance without delay, knowing that every decision carries with it the oppressive weight of responsibility of potentially risking (or saving) lives of each member of your community. For me, the priority over the summer holidays for all teachers and school leaders is to attempt to switch off after the most mentally and emotionally draining school year ever.
Surely now, more than ever, the importance of self-care, of recharging that struggling battery, of fitting one’s own oxygen mask first, must be given the time and respect it deserves. The temptation, the necessity, to continue to tweak, to adjust, to consider and reconsider the plans for September must be put on hold for at least a couple of weeks. There will be time (and no doubt, further updates to guidance) towards the end of August. Although the sickening lurch of the realities of September looms, for now, at least, be still.
Have entire days where you do not utilise a screen for work purposes, you do not have a conversation with a colleague, lovely though they may be, and where, please, you do not sit bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night realising that you’ve misinterpreted a key piece of guidance, and spend hours awake fretfully contemplating the impact this has on September.
What priorities should schools have as the new school year begins? What strategies should be implemented?
The return of all year groups to school in September signpost a new era – one of relief, recovery and above all, hope. Hope that perhaps finally we are safe enough to move back to ‘normal’, and continue our core business as educators.
Therefore, for me, the key priority schools must have as the new school year begins is clear: to support our students and communities into re-establishing strong routines, where consistency is the behaviour we must promote and exemplify. ‘Business as usual’ is not quite the right maxim here – however the idea of ‘setting the weather’ is crucial. A positive, firm, beginning rooted in high expectations is what our learners crave after this period of uncertainty.
With this approach however, we must remember to weave in our empathy skills – conscious awareness of our students and colleagues’ moods and needs will enable us to take the temperature, and respond accordingly. Being investigative of our own behaviors during this time is vital. Catching those unconscious signposts to something being wrong: being too quick to flashes of anger over something inconsequential; finding little enjoyment in our passion; feeling disassociated from the day to day, require us to urgently step in to regain a sense of grounding, and will only be of benefit to those around us.
Resisting the urge and pressure to instil ‘catch up’ interventions that will be taxing on both students and colleagues, as these are often high input for relatively low impact. Try to ease the pressure, with regular low stakes assessment to discover any gaps, and support and trust their teachers to do what they do best – expert teaching resulting in high quality learning. Use this approach of little and often to collect evidence should we ever need to utilise it to provide our students with CAGs in the future.
And finally, the last few months have honed our focus on the importance of adaptability. Know that whatever comes, we have demonstrated flexibility beyond all imagination – and we can do so again.