As the school year draws to a close and it looks like we may actually be able to draw (distanced, masked!) breath over the summer, I have been reflecting on the thoughts and realisations that this period of crisis has brought:
1. I love my job
This is not something new – I love being an SBM. However, I have realised that if there has to be a crisis, then this is the job I want to do: to be part of the team that works on the response, that develops a plan, that takes action. Despite the added stress, added workload and added responsibility, I would have found the situation much harder to deal with if I had had to sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to sort it.
2. Crisis plans aren’t helpful but crisis planning is
Prior to the pandemic, I put a lot of time and effort into developing the school’s business continuity plan and crisis management plan. So did I use our plans? Well no actually – they just weren’t applicable. I had planned for the apparently more likely local issues like fire, floods and traffic accidents, not for a global pandemic. Having said that, having gone through the process of crisis planning definitely helped. While I didn’t refer to my plans directly, I knew how to approach planning, what strategies to use and what points I needed to consider.
3. Work kept me going
When everything first unfolded, it felt just overwhelming and scary. I made a conscious effort to focus on the things that I could control, which was largely my work.
I can’t do anything about global issues or national policy, but I can make sure that we have measures in place to keep our school community as safe as possible.
I found the sheer amount of available online meetings, support and entertainment somewhat overwhelming and I actually didn’t engage with a lot of it, as it often felt like one more thing on the list – I preferred to just focus on the things that needed doing and tuning out everything else. I often felt that I should have done more to engage with others, both personally and professionally, but found it easier to keep myself in my own little bubble for most of the time.
The meetings and people that I did engage with were fantastic – so much help and support, both practical and moral. It was good to be able to share, compare notes, get others’ thoughts, and it was good just to know that others were in the same situation.
4. People are the best part of my job
Towards the start of lockdown, I spent three weeks working from home (due to my partner’s health), and I found that I was able to carry out almost all of my tasks effectively from home. When I returned to the office, on a rota basis, I had initially been worried – but it felt so good to see my colleagues in person, to have a face-to-face conversation, to have a quick chat rather than log onto a meeting. It made me appreciate how important our school community is, in a way that no written job description could reflect.
5. I thought about my impact on others
I am very practically minded and staff usually come to me with specific problems rather than for moral support – anyone who needs a hug or a cry usually goes to see one of my colleagues rather than me! However this crisis saw me dealing quite frequently with tearful staff, who were worried about their health, about vulnerable family members, about their job, about coming into school or about having to stay at home …
I took time to listen, to respond to indvidiual concerns, to reassure, and I worked hard to ensure that our procedures didn’t just follow guidance but also protected and supported our staff in their specific home and family situations.
One of the major frustrations of this period for me personally has been the ever-changing guidance to schools. Because I realised the impact this had on me, whenever I updated our risk assessment or other documentation, I put the latest changes in a different colour, so that all staff could immediately see what had changed.
6. It’s my job to tell people what they don’t want to hear … and that’s (mostly!) okay
It’s been a difficult time, with many usual routines and procedures not happening. Staff have been coming up with innovative approaches and have worked hard to support pupils’ wellbeing as well as keeping their education going. I am usually the one to point out if they can’t do what they are planning – because of funding, because of Health & Safety, because of data protection etc.
I don’t mind having that role (it demonstrates my importance to the school!) but the impact of this did hit me when a couple of SLT colleagues commented on the lovely responses they had had from staff. I don’t often send out the nice messages so I don’t get the positive responses!
As an example, on the day when we were sending the majority of our staff to work from home at the start of lockdown, one of my colleagues sent out information on ‘how to support your wellbeing when working at home’, while I sent out reminders about GDPR.
Having said that, a number of staff have recently commented that they can see how much thought and planning has gone into keeping them safe, and how much they appreciate all the measures we have put in place, which made me very happy ☺
7. A problem shared is a problem halved
I am fortunate to be part of a great SLT. We all get on well with each other, we look out for and support each other, and we speak freely with each other (what is said in the Head’s office stays in the Head’s office!). It made working through everything much more manageable, and I never felt like I had to deal with things on my own.
All in all, this has been by far the biggest challenge of my career – and certainly a bigger challenge than I ever anticipated – and I feel that I responded well to it overall. At the same time, I am aware of all the times when I’ve been short tempered, or emotional, and now I am just very tired.
I wonder how this situation will look when I reflect back in a year or two – sometimes I don’t realise how stressed out I am until a situation has resolved and some time has passed. However I think I will always feel proud of having stepped up, and of the work my team and I have done to support and protect our school community!