Schools will now be in the thick of planning for the return of children from the 1st of June. In considering this blog, I started thinking about the big questions on leaders’ minds: risk assessments, social distancing with children, bereavement, what to teach, wellbeing and anxiety – the list goes on. I did find however that a quick google search will give you a plethora of resources that can meet the varying needs of individual settings. Blogging about these therefore seems pointless. It also occurred to me that right now, this preparation will consume your every second and you’re entering SORT IT MODE again from week one. It is very easy therefore to forget who you are as a leader. Below I discuss some ideas that may help leaders reconnect with their core purpose in a time when it is so easy to lose yourself.
Cover It All but Focus on what Matters to You
You have no choice but to wade through the DfE ‘Planning Guide for Primary Schools’ and your trust or LA risk assessment. Complete these tasks comprehensively and make sure you disseminate these to all stake holders but once this is done, focus on the parts of these documents that mean the most to you. Among your personal foci, the wellbeing of your community and acknowledging the fact that things aren’t normal and won’t be for some time should be at the top of your list. Make sure all staff have a key person they can talk to about their experiences, probably a member of SLT. Put CPD on hold and use staff meeting time to share experiences and pull together as a team. Also, use SLT time to plan a temporary wellbeing curriculum that will meet the needs of the children as they return. Make sure teachers don’t plan for normal lessons until the children are ready. Instead, allow plenty of time for children to talk about their experiences and fears planning in school wide activities that can explore how they are feeling allowing them to realise that talking about this event is OK. Be prepared to offer 1:1 sessions for children and staff who are struggling with the return to school.
Availability & Presence
Be available. I have no doubt that in this crazy time, there will be endless amendments to the risk assessment and emails to keep on top of, but your visibility is needed more than ever as we return. Make a point of timetabling your day into office tasks and walking around your site. Unless it’s an emergency, do not be distracted from letting the children and staff see you walking the building emanating positivity and warmth. They need to see you right now. Also, even though parents aren’t allowed into the building, let your community know that you are contactable should they have any concerns and use this opportunity to instil confidence and calm in anxious parents.
Be a Role Model
As with normal school life, staff and children will look to you to understand how they should be behaving. Because of this, your behaviour has to be a managed and choreographed positive display. In order to do this you have to recognise and manage your own worries first. Be open about sharing these with your staff and children but explain what you are doing to make yourself feel calm. There may also be pockets of tension or panic as situations present themselves. Take a deep breath and react to these in a calm and controlled manner, displaying the behaviours you expect to see in any crisis. Being consistent with this will teach others how they should be behaving and will go a long way to diffuse the tension in this worrying time.
The challenges ahead are great, but it is because of this that strong, positive leadership is needed more than ever. Take a minute during the madness to return to your core values as a leader and make sure these shine through the chaos as children and staff return to your building.