There’s something oh-so special about your school years. Sometimes it’s very difficult to put your finger on it precisely. Nevertheless, memories are tinged with a rose-tinted filter and our recollections are powerful, colourful and vivid. We especially remember that amazing teacher who believed in us, who was always there whenever we needed guidance; boy did we need it sometimes! Playtime, storytelling, singing, those creative activities (aka making a mess in my case!) and even tidying up.
Whatever it is that sparks your golden memories, there’s always a link to a special person who believed in you. Someone inspirational who ignited a special relationship that, in our minds, will never die. Mine was Mrs Watson. I can see her now as if it were yesterday. Huge warmth oozed out of her smile and morning welcome. I loved the start of the day. “Every day is a new chance to shine,” she would say. And we all knew it was true because she said so.
One of the special moments for me was the start of a new school year. New uniform, new shoes, new jumper, new pencils etc and maybe even a new school with new friends. Transitions are critical moments in children’s lives and, it’s at these times, they need that inspirational person to help reaffirm they are safe, secure and have no ceiling set on their potential. This is their life-affirming opportunity to reach for their dreams.
However, the start of this school year is going to be a very different one for children, parents and staff. Everything will be affected by the current pandemic. Now, more than ever, we need to create Mrs Watson’s warmth wherever possible as we welcome our children back. Of course, there are fears, concerns, new routines to manage the invisible monster in our midst. However, and this is crucial, adults must model an assertive attitude in turning this ‘monster’ into a problem which we can manage collectively. Display a level of confidence which demonstrates our resilience and ability to see this thing through together in our school and wider communities.
Most children, it would seem, have been glad to get back to normality – whatever normality is. This doesn’t mean they won’t be worried, especially when we consider what they might have experienced. There will be the usual concerns atop the anxiety about Covid-19 but we are well placed to embed the routines which will enable our children to see and feel that they are safe and secure. However, we must be ever ready for the reality that flexibility and change may characterise the new normal. Schools provide a constant, but that constant will be subject to regular checks on symptoms, testing, self-isolation, tracking. Our new ‘normal’ may prove very different.
It is also a moment in time in which we may need to reflect upon the education system as a whole. To consider the goals and outcomes for our children and, in turn, the impact on society. As teacher and author Adrian Bethune puts it: “We have an opportunity to stop and rethink the purpose of education - when schools invest in the happiness and wellbeing of their communities, they help grow happier people who are kinder to others, have stronger relationships, are healthier and better learners. There are no downsides to children and teachers being happier - it's time we put wellbeing at the heart of schools.”
Recharge & Restore
Teachers meanwhile, have had time to relax, recharge and restore their resilience for the year ahead, but they have worked through a period like no other where virtual lessons, working from home and learning new technological skills have become the norm. Teachers, of course, want to be in the classroom and many have been throughout the lockdown period. Yes, schools did not close. Children and parents want schools open but teaching and wellbeing will be very different.
We nevertheless need to be acutely aware that some of our children, especially our most vulnerable children, may exhibit unusual behaviours as a result of their experience during lockdown. Pastoral teams in particular will need become ‘hubs’ of calm where children can be supported effectively. They may also need to respond to the unknowns. The young people in our care who may have experienced a variety of challenging life experiences during lockdown who were unknown to us prior to Covid-19.
School staff will also be aware of the link between school’s success and social mobility and the impact of deprivation on the achievement gap between pupil premium children and the rest. Indeed, this gap has been a focus for schools for a number of years and evidence suggests (Education Policy Institute Annual Report 2020) that the gap is not closing despite huge efforts within schools to address it. Another reason maybe to reflect upon the system itself?
Whatever happens over the next few weeks and months, one thing is absolutely certain. The special relationships formed between inspirational colleagues and our children is of paramount importance in ensuring the best outcomes for children. All adults in schools hold the potential to be that special person who helps a child believe they have the potential to achieve their dreams.
We can do this, we can and do inspire and should never underestimate the impact we have on our children and the subsequent ripple effect into our families, communities and society. I leave you with a quote from the inimitable Liverpudlian and education guru, Sir Ken Robinson:
"I believe it's important that we don't just recognize our own talents, but we acknowledge the role other people have in helping us discover them for ourselves. My dad taught me that it was important to have the courage to be yourself no matter what."