When the Government announced in March 2020 that the country had gone into ‘lockdown’ in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus in order to help protect the NHS, few of us were fully prepared for the reality of what was to come.
Shops and restaurants closed, businesses rallied to provide staff with the necessary kit to allow them to work from home, and supermarkets implemented strict social distancing measures resulting in long queues and crashing websites.
And yet, while the majority of the population were told to stay safe and stay home, teachers – along with other ‘key workers’ spanning the emergency services and certain supply chain industries – were asked to carry on where needed to provide vital care and support.
As the newly appointed deputy chief executive of a multi-academy trust, I have seen first hand the incredible dedication and commitment shown by those individuals in question who have rallied to adopt new and innovative online teaching tools for those now being home schooled, while also looking after and educating those children – including many of the most vulnerable - who are still coming into class.
They have done so without quibble, and it has been truly inspirational to watch.
However, while the teachers and teaching support staff here at Focus Trust have been getting to grips with how to keep dozens of easily distracted primary school aged children engaged via technology, we’ve placed equal importance on ensuring that they themselves continue to engage with each other during these unprecedented and rather difficult times.
The strain on them – and as is no doubt the case for all of the teachers across the country, and indeed the world – while trying to juggle it all is intense. From making sure our children understand the situation while keeping them on track with the curriculum, to caring for colleagues and protecting their own families.
Protecting the mental health and well-being of our education front line workers has never been more vital.
Luckily, as a trust we already had already placed considerable emphasis on this as a key concern long before the world had heard of Covid-19, and we are therefore very fortunate to have some tools and tactics in place to keep our staff connected and supported; although needless to say our efforts have ramped up somewhat.
It is our belief that in doing so, it will equip our teams with the challenges ahead when the world gets back to some sort of ‘normality’, whatever that may. Teaching children who will have been out of regular education for a number of months.
In usual times, we would have scheduled across each term a number of meeting opportunities for our staff members across our 15 primary academies to meet up face to face to share their ideas, learn from one another and implement different ways of thinking. Therefore, we have established year group forums which we are hosting on a regular basis between teaching staff using Zoom, as we think it is incredibly important to stay connected with one another.
This gives our teachers the opportunity to share their experiences, how different ways of working are affecting them both positively and negatively, and how they are communicating with the families of the children who are now learning from home. We have received a lot of positive feedback from the initial sessions and it has produced a breeding ground for common action, best practice and best advice.
This is all feeding into our ‘Learning Together’ online portal that teachers have access to. Not only this but it is helping us continue to produce regular newsletters to parent’s with information on the support that is out there as well as the learning facilities we think are best for their children.
In addition to ensuring our teaching staff are supported, we are continuing to keep ‘day-to-day’ business functioning albeit virtually. Therefore, our management team will continue to keep in touch with principals, leadership teams and governors so we can plan what the future will look like when pupils can return to school.
Alongside our ‘physical’ communication via video chat, we also see the benefit of social media in ensuring key positive messages stay at the forefront of our staff’s minds. Therefore, we are spending time each week researching what support is our there in respect of finance as well as mental wellbeing and continue to send this information out on our Twitter as well as our website.
As we continue to work throughout the coronavirus pandemic our continued efforts to support one another during these times will mean we all come back stronger than ever and can continue to ensure our children are given the best education possible.
I’m sure when we do eventually return to schools, our pupils, teachers and staff will be excited to rejoice with one another in person, and work together to minimise the longer term disruption caused by this pandemic.