24 July 2020 / Dan Sears - Education Consultant
As I pensively sit across from my Year 9 son completing his last history lesson ever on the cold war, it made me think about great leaders. When as humans we reflect on the many achievements of leaders through the ages, we always find many supporters and detractors of their ideas and methodologies.
In what we now call ‘bubbles’ we are seeing many of these great leaders coming out within our schools. Covid-19 has really stretched and challenged the leadership capacity of many in our communities and as I write this, I thought it would be good to take time to reflect on and ponder the ‘new norm’ we now find ourselves living in.
The way schools operate has fast changed in so short a time, with little likely hood they will ever be the same again, though staff and students remain a constant throughout. As a school leader I was able to lead my staff to finding and ensuring the best outcome possible for the children within my care. The pace was constant, allowing little time to take a much needed breather at certain points during the academic year, before continuing on with the next uphill climb to that data review, Ofsted or trust visit.
We now find ourselves adding Covid-19 into the ever-changing mix of guidance rules from our scientific community on how best to stay safe.
Leaders and staff need to work together to ensure the children in their care have the best and safest education possible. As a school leader now on the outside, I thought it would be useful to open the door on and highlight some of the leadership traits that make me proud to be part of the UK education system.
Honesty – In some schools the stature of the Head is measured by the bravado they show. Metaphorically towering over the school like a general directing his soldiers, not too worried about the collateral damage they may be causing. This crisis has shown us that no one person can know everything and I have read a number of letters, posts and emails from head teachers where they have just said ‘I don’t know’ We want the children within our care to be honest and it is refreshing to see that the honest headteacher seems to be ‘bubbling’ to the surface. Talking to staff, parents and pupils with sincerity and honesty, not only showing empathy, but more importantly that everyone is in the same boat.
Flexibility – Before becoming a teacher I undertook a training course in Cross-functional Team. It talked about the ability of people to work in a matrix to ensure the outcome was completed, even if key personnel were removed. Once there was a hierarchical structure within schools that should not be changed. Everyone knew their place. This pandemic has allowed schools to function in a more flexible way. Junior members of the team are now developing and leading on-line activities, everyone has become a cleaner (well in one form or another) and leaders have been rolling up their sleeves, becoming the glue holding the school together.
Empathy – Previously, I briefly mentioned empathy as a trait, but felt it required its own section. People are scared and it’s not an irrational fear, Covid-19 can kill. I understand you cannot use the sentence ‘I know someone who has died from Covid-19’ as you would with cancer, but the unknown makes it feel even more threatening. When your Prime Minister sits on his own on TV and tells you that you must not go out and if you do, it could cause you or others to contract a deadly virus, I feel as though I’m watching a good sci-fi horror film. Within a school people lookup to the leaders for direction, they need to be able to understand the needs of each individual. We talk of emotional intelligence; never before has it been so needed as now. The needs of the few do outweigh the needs of the many.
At 7:30 in the morning, as I sit with my cup of coffee and watch breakfast news, I feel so unswervingly proud. I see a variety of people in schools being interviewed, trying to put on a brave face, trying not to show they are scared, while continuing to support all those around them. It makes me wonder how they feel at the end of the day, as they get in their cars to go home from school with all the empathy, flexibility and honesty drained from their bodies. To say ‘this has been a long term’ would be an understatement; this has been a long year. I hope before September arrives our school leaders will be able take some time for themselves and actually get a break. They have my upmost respect in what is the ‘most challenging of times’.