Getting the right ‘blend’ in the post lockdown world

No more islands - a new found collaboration and coordination across school

Tom Raw Deputy Headteacher

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A slight digression at first, if I may: Summer 2003 I had just finished university and found myself flung into the job’s market with a degree that was very niche, to put it mildly, in terms of job prospects (not many employers were after a 2:1 in Drama & Theatre Studies). The call to public service and teaching was still three years away and I suddenly had to find skills within me that I’d never given much thought to. Upon walking into a raft of recruitment companies, I was given several tests in order to gauge my skills in computer literacy. Oh dear. I suddenly felt very much like the proverbial fish out of water. 

Fast forward seventeen years and the world entered a state of turmoil not seen since arguably the Second World War. All of a sudden, learning and leadership would need to be facilitated at a distance and the IT skills I had slowly (and at times reluctantly) acquired since 2003 needed to be brought to the fore. Many questions were raised: how will I teach remotely? Will face-to-face Google Hangout meetings be awkward? What books should I have in the background? How can I do this and be visible with a trusty clipboard or notebook?

The answer to all of the above was a resounding, ‘I don’t know.’ Of course, the clipboard is now gathering dust in the office that I’ve since forgotten the door code for and some decisions regarding what books I should have in the background were easy (enter Shakespeare, Poe, Dante…Dr.Seuss and Peppa Pig). However, I have found myself relishing in the challenge of remote leadership and it has allowed me the opportunity to work closely and coordinate initiatives with colleagues I had previously had little to do with in a professional capacity.

Pastoral and academic leaders working together

An example of this is with our Heads of House. Normally, pastoral and learning can exist separately but when it comes to monitoring student engagement on both an individual and subject level, their knowledge and expertise of the students has become invaluable. Similarly, this has resulted in greater delegation to tutors who are able to utilise their expert knowledge of students in order to bring them closer to their remote learning. As a result, subjects seem now to be able to work together as one body – one single engine – in order to bring the students closer to their collective learning, whereas in many schools (pre-Covid), they operated within their own little island states. I find, when talking to subject leaders, a running narrative that is united in how we get students on board. A continent, not a set of islands.

Remote teaching phase 2

This all brings us up-to-date as to where we are now in terms of ‘some face-to-face contact’ or, as I put it, ‘Remote Teaching: Phase 2.’ We have worked together, as a single engine, to get the students on board and engaged and now we are looking at live online lessons. With the trust and common approach built up over 10 weeks of lockdown, it was relatively easy to move forward as one machine in order to bring in live lessons via Google Hangout. As soon as a timetable was released for staff to populate, there was no chasing up or clipboard pestering – teachers signed up as one with their offers and are now asking each other if they can drop in on the lesson as a silent observer in order to learn, not judge.

This is progress.

I, like everyone out there, am craving a return to some kind of (new) normality. I want to be at the chalk face again, in the classroom, and leading colleagues by having a conversation and discussion face-to-face rather than banging away on a keyboard. However, it would be disingenuous of me to say that leadership in lockdown has not been good for me; I have picked up skills I didn’t know were there and feel like, without having to run off to a series of pre-timetabled lessons, that I can coordinate and juggle a variety of tasks and initiatives in my own time – decided upon by myself – without the confines and restrictions of a set timetable that I now see as a hindrance.

The danger of not learning the lessons

But, alas, there is danger ahead.

The worst case scenario here is that when we all go back we forget these lessons and revert to being island states when what we should be is a continent. This is why, in the recent international awakening surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, a head of subject and myself met a parent and promised her that we would work together and with all subjects on how our Curriculum can better reflect the diversity of our community. Therefore, instead of curriculum leaders drawing out their own curriculum battle plans for the year ahead, a single shared document will be created where the Head of History can see where the Head of English is planning on teaching ‘Othello’, so they can strategically place ‘Colonialism’ to run alongside Shakespeare at the same time. In turn, could drama then not introduce a play such as ‘Oronoko’ to further bolster this hard fought awareness? This is progress.

Innovation

Finally, the teacher voice has been loud when it comes to the pros when it comes to digital PD. Why, they ask, are we still sitting there on 1st September listening to the (very important) Safeguarding update like generations of teachers have done before? Does this then need to be followed by ‘quick comfort break’ before another hour of ‘results update’ where only those with an advanced degree in Progress 8 fully understand what is being communicated? Yes, these are important messages but by the time the students flood back into the school on Day 2, it is all forgotten and everyone has rowed back to their island until October. Therefore, I want to see a blend – a word I will be using a lot over the coming months – whereby we prioritise what needs to be delivered in person and what can, in actual fact, be pre-recorded on a Google Hangout by the senior leader responsible, shared with staff prior to the start of term, viewed and an online register signed. The benefits to this process are great: 1) less lecture time in school will allow the messages that need to be delivered in person will have greater impact; 2) we show that we trust our staff, and; 3) teachers and curriculum leaders can spend more time, in school, doing what they crave – planning and preparing exciting and engaging lessons for their learners.

Is not this the reason we all went into education in the first place?

This is progress.

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