“The great thing about this pandemic is that we have learned to slow down and restore our work/life balance.” Said no school leader ever.
This “silver lining” will probably be slightly jarring for you as a school leader who has just made it through the most stressful school year in recent history. And while 2020 isn’t over yet, the dust does seem to be settling somewhat across the sector - allowing us to take a step back and reflect on some of the more positive outcomes from lockdown…
1. Technology can make for better teaching
Cue a ceremonial burning of all of the textbooks... Ok not quite. But some schools have trialled new teaching technologies for the first time this year, and discovered the benefits.
As I’m sure you will have found - assigning work via shared drives and Google Docs is more efficient and easier to coordinate than giving out and collecting textbooks. And Graham Macaulay from LEO Academy Trust shared how they’ve gone one step further - using video. “We’ve discovered that not all work needs to be written. Technology opens opportunities to different kinds of work. Pupils might create a video as a learning activity, for example, rather than completing a worksheet.” This can make for a far more engaging and creative teaching environment, and one that suits a variety of learning styles.
2. There’s such a thing as too much marking
Every school leader always knew that - but then again what was the alternative? In a similar vein to the above - lockdown has taught schools that technology can make the marking of work far more efficient. Teachers can give feedback on work via a shared document - a quicker, more collaborative alternative to textbook marking. Video and audio feedback from the teacher has also proven to be more time-efficient and is a far clearer way of communicating with pupils.
And some schools have realised that some marking is unnecessary. At the beginning of lockdown, unions advised teachers not to mark textbooks in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. For many, this shone a light on how much unnecessary marking was being done in their schools pre-lockdown - and what kind of marking can be culled completely post-lockdown in order to save time and workload. For instance, schools in the LEO Academy Trust relaxed marking during lockdown, and are now scrutinising which pieces of work really need deep marking going forward.
3. Supporting mental wellbeing can be simpler than you think
On the subject of workload - this has always been a contributing factor to staff wellbeing, and using technology to slice workload can only be a good thing. But how else have school leaders been looking out for their staff during this pandemic?
Some encouraged their teams to make use of sector-specific resources they may not have been aware of before, such as the meditation app Insight Timer, and Education Support - a free counselling service for education staff.
But most importantly, school leaders did alot more more reaching out and checking in on their teams during lockdown too. For example, Patrick Ottley-O'Connor, executive principal at North Liverpool Academy called his direct reports at the beginning of each week to check in on their wellbeing. These direct reports would then check on their teams, meaning that every member of staff had a call from their manager by the end of the week. He also mentioned that if anyone showed signs of anxiety or stress, he would speak with them more frequently.
Supporting mental wellbeing has always been a high priority for every school leader, but this pandemic has highlighted how more often than not, simply keeping the conversation going can have a big impact.
4. CPD doesn’t have to cost the earth
Time and budget have always been big obstacles when it comes to planning CPD for staff. However, lockdown has proven that you can learn just as effectively from home, and that there are a lot of free options available; from podcasts and blogs, to full-length courses.
Sam Strickland, principal at The Duston School shared his experience, explaining - “we were initially sceptical about online meetings, but now I’m encouraging staff to watch webinars for CPD. When social distancing ends, these will still be valuable - staff can often watch in their own time, and they won’t need to trek across the country for a short presentation. We won’t need to pay for travel expenses, either.”
5. Video conferencing allows more inclusive parent communication
Nothing can compensate for in-person interaction with parents, but as this year has emphasised - sometimes that isn’t possible.
Many schools have recently used video conferencing to talk to parents for the first time ever. They have hosted virtual PTAs and parent evenings on conferencing software like Zoom, sent pre-recorded videos out on YouTube, or ran live Q&As with parents via social media. Mayflower Community Academy hosted daily live-streams on Twitter - where parents sent in their questions (or ask them live on air) for the headteacher.
Whether we are in lockdown or not, there will always be parents who struggle to make it into school - whether it’s due to work commitments, health issues or distance to travel. Now schools have realised how effective video communication with parents can be, they can use it to include those who are often harder to meet with in person.
Hopefully you have witnessed some of these “silver linings” first hand, or discovered some of your own during lockdown - and are able to carry these through into the autumn term.
I’ll be back soon with more insights to get you geared up for September. In the meantime, the team at ScholarPack hope you get to take a break this summer, and we thank you and your colleagues for your heroic efforts throughout 2020 so far.
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