When the government announced in March this year that the country was going to go into ‘lockdown’, in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus and 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. Supermarkets implemented strict social distancing measures, resulting in long queues and crashing websites.
And yet, whilst the majority of the population were told to stay safe and stay home, teachers – along with other key workers spanning the emergency services to 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 MAT, I’ve seen first-hand the incredible dedication and commitment shown by individuals who have rapidly adapted to using new and innovative online teaching tools for those being home schooled, while also looking after and educating those children, and many of the most vulnerable, who are still coming into class. They’ve done so without quibble or complaint, and it’s been truly inspirational to watch.
As the teachers and teaching support staff here at Focus Trust have collectively got to grips with keeping dozens of easily distracted primary schoolchildren engaged via technology, we’ve also placed equal importance on ensuring that the staff themselves can continue to engage with each other during these unprecedented and difficult times.
The strain on them as they attempt to juggle everything is intense, as it no doubt is for many other teachers across the country and indeed the world. Given how they’re currently ensuring that children understand the nature of the situation, while simultaneously staying on track with the curriculum, caring for colleagues and protecting their own families, protecting the mental health and wellbeing of our frontline education workers has never been more vital.
As a Trust, we had already placed considerable focus on this as a key concern, long before the world had even heard of COVID-19, and are therefore 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’s our belief that by doing so, our teams will be better equipped to meet the challenges ahead when the world eventually gets back to some sort of ‘normality’, whatever that may be. In any case, we will find ourselves teaching children who will have been out of regular education for a number of months.
Under normal circumstances, we would have scheduled a number of meeting opportunities throughout each term for the staff across our 15 primary academies, so that they could meet face to face and share their ideas, learn from one another and implement different ways of thinking. We have therefore established forums for different year groups, which we’re regularly hosting between teaching staff using Zoom, as we think it’s incredibly important to stay connected with one another.
Doing so gives our teachers the opportunity to share their experiences, discuss how different ways of working are affecting them both positively and negatively, and relate how they’re communicating with the families of those children now learning at home. We’ve received lots of positive feedback from the initial sessions, and it’s so far proved to be a fertile breeding ground for common action, best practice and useful advice.
This activity has fed into our ‘Learning Together’ online portal that teachers are able to access, and also helped inform our distribution of regular newsletters to parents, which contain information on the support that’s available to them and the learning facilities we believe are best for their children.
As well as ensuring that our teaching staff are well supported, we’re continuing to keep our day-to-day business functioning, albeit virtually. Our management team has continued to keep in regular touch with principals, leadership teams and governors, so that we can plan what the future will look like once the announcement is made that pupils can return to school.
Alongside our ‘physical’ meetings via video chat, we’ve also seen the benefits of using social media to make sure key positive messages stay at the forefront of our staff’s minds. We’re setting aside time each week to research what forms of financial and mental wellbeing support is out there, and sending this information out via our website and Twitter account.
As we continue to work amid the coronavirus pandemic, our efforts at supporting one another will enable us all to come back stronger than ever, and resume giving our children the best education possible.
I’m sure that when we do eventually return to our schools, pupils, teachers and staff alike will be excited to rejoice with one another in person, and work together to minimise the longer term disruption caused by this pandemic.