Doing things differently

‘A change is as good as a rest.’

Not many teachers have had our usual period of rest, relaxation and an opportunity to recharge this summer, especially not head teachers or many senior leaders. I’ve been lucky to escape to my happy place in the middle of nowhere in Argyll but despite this, my mind and worries have very rarely turned far from school. And so this week’s return to school made me more than a little worried about how us educators might cope. Not only with the huge changes to routines and procedures in light of Covid but in terms of our energy, patience and own well being. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

This week has confirmed a lot for me. Our pupils are amazing. Our staff have our pupils at the heart of everything they do. And, for me, thinking about ‘the thing’ is often worse than ‘the thing’ itself.

As someone who has recently completed months of CBT to help me cope with Perfectionism traits, it was incredibly difficult for me to consider this year’s return to school. My habits are triggered not so much by things not being perfect, but things not being like the rules I’ve made in my head or the routines and assumptions held previously. So this was going to be a challenge as it was very much out with my control. In June, not knowing whether our return would be part or full time caused lots of anxiety. It was difficult to plan my usual course outlines. I hadn’t had time with my team to ensure resources were updated and photocopied. I hadn’t even had the usual development time to get my new course up and running. We didn’t even really know what a practical subject would look like in a Covid classroom. For me, this previously might have been fairly disastrous. However, I continued to have regular conversations in my head… reassuring myself to tolerate the discomfort. Be ok with not being ok. I realised more than ever, that this year’s return was not about being ‘perfection personified.’ It required other qualities to make it a success. I needed to be positive for my team, flexible and adaptive to changing circumstance. My ‘to do’ list went out the window and more than ever my ‘to be’ list trumped all the things which needed ‘done.’

And do you know what? It was possibly the calmest, most pleasant of returns to school I’ve ever experienced with pupils. I recognise this might not be the case for everyone, and the week was not without its challenges, but… I’m reflecting on the positives of doing things differently.

Like most across the country, school looks and feels quite different. But different can be ok. Our new timetable’s staggered start of day timings have helped create calmer corridors and a less overwhelming beginning to the day. Likewise dismissal at the end of the day has been similar. Having two staggered lunches, again has had an impact on the pressure points in corridors and accommodation making it less overwhelming in the canteen and corridors. I’ve found that pupils have responded well to the consistency they have been met with in every single class across the school – the cleaning routine on entering and leaving the class. This personally, has forced me to slow down, take time to chat with learners and allow valuable time to consider their wellbeing and nurture rather than rush into learning at ninety miles an hour to maximise class time. I’ve always loved being outside with classes and this week, this has been even more beneficial. As always, I found our staff team hugely encouraging at this uncertain time and I’ve lost track of the times I checked in with others as well has having regular visits from my work buddies to see how I was doing. Often there were no firm answers to questions but what I did see in abundance, was real team spirit and support.

Something else I’ve recognised is a change in our approach to working at the end of the day. I’ve found it odd to be leaving the building as early as possible – going home earlier to let cleaners in to our rooms for enhanced cleaning. I would very rarely have done this previously and most definitely would have felt guilty walking out of school early. But having this new routine forced upon me, has challenged me to question my unrelenting high standards of myself. It has also made me realise that a lot of my time at the end of the day was spent making tea, procrastinating or chatting with colleagues rather than completing important work. I’ve found myself to be more efficient and focussed to prioritise after the last bell. Whilst the social side of connecting with colleagues is important, I’ve found that more time for me out with school has had benefits to my own wellbeing.

It seems to me that none of these positive outcomes would’ve been realised had we not been forced into our current situation. It’s reinforced what I’ve learned through CBT. That it’s ok to do things differently.

The other major development this week has been the announcement from Mr Swinney regarding the u-turn decision for SQA results and the welcome Review of SQA. Despite your own personal stance on this, it has shown me that it’s ok to make mistakes and learn from them, even in leadership. It’s courageous to put things right when they’ve gone wrong. And most importantly we don’t have to do things that way, just because ‘it’s the way they’ve always been done.’

We are all learning together. If anything good is to come out of this global pandemic, I hope it will be the realisation that it’s ok to do things differently. I am optimistic about the positive impact this might have on our young people.

Have a good week everyone. Take care.

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