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'Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans' John Lennon

Posted on: 27/11/2020

I’m sure this will prompt many a rueful smile.

It’s hard to process, let alone describe, what has happened. Like Russian dolls, every layer of our worlds, private and public, personal and professional, has been disrupted. Only this time last year words which are now part of our vernacular, ‘social distancing’, ‘furlough’, ‘track and trace’ would have belonged to the realm of dystopian science fiction. Time, since the outbreak of the covid-19 outbreak, has taken on a surreal dimension.

And the demands on school leaders have been unprecedented. For most, their schools never closed and they were working through the first lockdown and now this second one too. The summer holidays were taken over by the examination results furore. Weekends are spent tracking close contacts of positive cases and communicating with worried families. Throughout this very long year, they have balanced the need for strength and resilience with compassion and kindness; the need for agility with consistency; the need for careful collaboration with swift decision making. When the ground is constantly shifting it’s hard to keep our balance. I’ve lost mine more times than I count.

Luckily, relentless and ridiculous optimism runs through the collective DNA of school leaders. It’s their instinct to look for what they can learn and make better, even from the most devastating of experiences. Modelling deliberate calm and bounded optimism takes grit as well as grace. Small acts of kindness and recognition are more important than ever as people look for connection. One of the Heads in our Trust sends me an uplifting message at the beginning of every week entitled ‘Happy Monday!’ It makes a real difference. And we are learning so much: young people truly are resilient, they have returned with a renewed awareness and respect for their education. They appreciate the joy in simply being together. The adaptability we’ve demonstrated as a profession to manage remote learning for over ten million young people across the UK will drive us to seek more creative solutions to learning in the future. Our Trust digital strategy has progressed more in the last six months than it would have done in three years in normal times. There is a truth that ‘Only a crisis –actual or perceived – produces real change.’ Milton Friedman. Our relationship with families, our key partners in home learning, are transformed now and for the future, and for the better.

School leaders have displayed quiet and understated heroism: strength, care and dignity over this year. But they are not superhuman. They also have families, children, and worries to bear. So, whilst this article pays tribute to students, staff and parents it is written to celebrate the leaders of our schools who are quietly putting the world back on to its axis for their school communities. If you have a headteacher in your life, I would urge you to take a few minutes out of your day to make contact with them and to share a simple message of thanks. It will make their day – and I can promise you, it will be a long one.


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