Taken for granted
Very recently my wife and I were fortunate enough to take advantage of a sunny morning and enjoy a drive through the beautiful Kent countryside. There was no real purpose to our journey through the Weald, other than to just enjoy ‘being’. It did, however, remind us that simple activities such as these should never be taken for granted because they are, in fact, highly important and central to who we are. A number of years ago, I was lying in a bed in a cardiac care unit following a viral infection and this gave me a considerable period of time in which to reflect. I remember making earnest promises to myself that I would never again take anything for granted; I would make the very best use of my time going forward. Looking back, despite my best intentions, those promises were difficult to keep as I became re-immersed in the ‘busyness’ of life. How, I wonder, have I allowed this to happen? More importantly, how am I going to ensure that those similar feelings that are now surfacing again, actually result in a change for the better?
In a recent Twitter feed, Daisy Christodoulou (@daisychristo) raised similar questions directly related to education. In a webinar for the Teacher Development Trust she asked everyone which statement they agreed with most.
- The educational responses to COVID-19 have been emergency interventions with little long-term benefit. When schools return, I will go back to teaching as normal and be grateful for it.
- The educational responses to COVID-19 will spark profound long-term change. When schools return, I will significantly adapt the way I work based on what I have learned at this time.
Just 23% said they agreed or strongly agreed with statement 1, while 57% agreed or strongly agreed with statement 2. However, in a later Twitter poll she had almost exactly the opposite responses. In her article https://daisychristodoulou.com/2020/05/what-will-covid-19-change-in-education-and-what-will-stay-the-same/ Daisy explores which of the current changes we are seeing around us will persist, and which won’t.
In a similar article https://www.sendgateway.org.uk/r/whole-school-send-the-future-of-schools.html Anne Heavey (@AnneHeavey321) reflects on evidence from the past few months that highlights examples of children and young people ‘who are right now, during COVID-19, more successful and engaged learners than they have been for a long time.’ She challenges us in the world of education to ‘identify and preserve the active ingredients of these successes with children and their families. Once we know what the critical elements are then we need to build them into our “new normal”.’
If we do proceed to more flexible models of learning she believes that there are several considerations that need to be explored:
- Preserving social development opportunities and being an active member of a school community
- Maintaining access to trips, clubs, extra-curricular activities
- Ensuring pupils access and achieve across a broad curriculum
- Putting safeguards so that if arrangements are not working out or need to change the situation can be reviewed swiftly
There are several systemic elements that if in place could help support this including:
- High-quality remote and online options which are available and accessible to schools and families
- A commitment from the DfE that the “new normal” can have new flexibilities around physical presence in school and blended delivery
- Fair boundaries around who can draw on new flexibilities as we establish them – to ensure that pupils are learning and that unfair asks are not made of families
- More support to schools to deploy remote and online resources when needed, to mitigate workload implications
Michael Tidd (@MichaelT1979), in an article for the TES asks ‘One week back: Are smaller classes the new normal?’ https://www.tes.com/news/school-reopening-primary-one-week-back-lessons-insights
‘Like in many other schools, our small groups are made up of a cross-section of abilities, but when the overall numbers are reduced so significantly, you suddenly find yourself with so much more capacity. I’ve no idea how long this situation will be with us, nor what government plans might look like in the longer term, but I can’t help but wonder whether class sizes of 15 might be a greater success than we first thought. Perhaps that might give politicians pause for thought about the future of education? Maybe this is the new “new normal” we should strive for?
My question, however, is a personal one and relates not just to education but our lives as a whole. We will all, I am sure, be aware of things that we had previously taken for granted but which we now realise are fundamentally important to our wellbeing. There will be other things that we thought were crucial to our wellbeing, that actually have little or no real relevance to our lives.
I make no apology for returning to the recent thinking of Mary Myatt who proposed the “recovery conversations” we have as adults and with children. As she states, ‘quite clearly there is something so momentous about the lockdown that it cannot be ignored. Everyone will have a story to tell and many will want to share theirs.’ She also believes that these conversations ‘ought to consider how our experiences stand in relation to our school values. In other words, we have been through a collective experience and we need to articulate again our core purpose. Why do we come to school each day? What difference are we making? What is different now from before? Our values provide the lodestar for our decisions and actions and the return to school for all pupils is a chance to revisit these.’
When I was a headteacher, one of the most useful activities we undertook as whole staff was a termly ‘what went well?’ and ‘even better if?’ conversation. The outcomes of these discussions were formally recorded and we returned to them each and every term. Having this cycle of on-going reflection ensured that we never lost sight of what was important to us a team. I suspect that I would be following a similar process now. What have we learned that is fundamental to us as the family of our school? What do we now know we can live without? What have we done differently that must stay as part of our normal practice? By formalising the conversation and revisiting this thinking on a regular basis might also ensure that, unlike my best intentions lying in a hospital bed, they actually become a reality.
Perhaps this might also be a useful conversation to have in our personal lives?