I have always had a firm belief that the greatest and most truly valuable growth comes from moments of challenge, from those times spent outside of your comfort zone and where we must call upon not what we have read or prepared but on who we are and what we value most. When we need to ‘dig deep’ physically, emotionally or cognitively is when we must be at our most creative, courageous and ask of ourselves the toughest questions. For the last 12 months, whilst our planet has casually making its way around its latest orbit of our celestial centrepiece, I think it is fair to say that we have all been thrown collectively and individually into a challenge for which none of us were ever prepared.
This week has been a time when we have remembered those who have suffered and those who have tragically been lost during this time and they will never be forgotten in the hearts of their friends and loved ones. It has also been a time to reflect on what we have learned and how we have changed and this has been a fascinating process. We spoke to the children this week and listed all of the things that we didn’t know at the beginning of March 2020. The obvious candidates came up: Zoom, Teams, Lockdown, home learning, how to unmute yourself, how to change your background, how you could do PE from your living room or have online sleepovers and virtual Lego builds. Then there are terms like social distancing, bubbles and face coverings. There will be many skills that we all take forward from this experience, some we will probably never use again once this is all over and others that we would now never be without. However, we also found out a lot about ourselves.
Our staff teams pulled together from day one without exception. It was always a big ask the first time around to begin live teaching and a full online timetable 48 hours after being shown what Teams and Zoom were for the first time. We didn’t get it all right and we learned very quickly what worked and what didn’t but the adaptability, creativity and collaboration shown in the face of adversity was staggering. The true character of individuals and the team shone through to rally and keep pushing forward no matter how big the obstacle.
This was matched by the support, gratitude and positivity of our parents who offered expertise, kind words, time and resources at every opportunity during a period that was incredibly worrying and stressful for them as well as us. I have never received more offers of help or kind messages than during the hardest periods we faced and it was heart-warming to see such a human and empathetic response within our community.
As for the third and most important pillar of the school, I cannot overstate how exceptionally children have reacted during two periods of school closures and a raft of control measures, risk mitigations, hand washing, hand sanitising, happy-birthday singing whilst hand washing and then more sanitising. Their enthusiasm and efforts have been phenomenal. There have been tears, frustration, exhaustion and distraction but they have continually picked themselves up and thrown themselves into change after change in their lives, both in school and out, and have come out the other side smiling and ready to face more! They have provided inspiration and motivation to me throughout and I am genuinely thankful for them being, well…them!
And so, how would I summarise a year that has packed in so much change and challenge that will be remembered for a lifetime but yet simultaneously has been filled with so little in regard to social opportunities and life adventures? It has been difficult, without doubt. The speed and uncertainty of lockdowns and school closures, the ever-present sadness of news and statistics, the missed opportunities, the playparks without playing, sports fields with no sports and classrooms with no children. We missed the lessons, of course, but most of all the lack of laughter, of games of tag, of skipping and jumping and of smiles and friendship.
Then came the uncertainty of return: pictures of children sitting alone in designated squares in playgrounds, having to produce PPE, extra cleaning rotas, risk assessments and the concern of whole hoards of children sent home for weeks on end because of a cough or a raised temperature as we read and reread the guidance to make sure we were doing the right thing.
But this summarises what we have had to do and this is where we have all proved ourselves time and time again. We have had to make decisions in specialised areas in which we are not specialists, to deliver provision in areas for which we are not trained to provide and support others through things that we each ourselves have needed support. We have risen to the challenge and found new ways and means to deliver and to learn. There are practical, organisational and interpersonal skills that teachers, parents and children now have that would never have been learned without being faced with the ejector seat-style exit from our comfort zone.
Whisper it quietly but there have been parts of the whole process that I have actually quite enjoyed! Online quizzes, scavenger hunts, story times, bake-offs and fancy-dress parties with the children are memories that will stay with me forever. Pre-assembly dance-alongs and whole school bingo have provided great fun and laughs; and to see Year 6s in the summer not dwelling on what might have been but pulling together to produce an online production and end of year ceremony created for them an original and unique experience that no other group will (hopefully) ever have. As the saying goes, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’ and this has given us all a new appreciation for some of the more everyday aspects of life. For as long as I do this job, I will never forget the days on which we have returned from closures and the pure joy of watching the most simple parts of school life that would have previously passed me by. I cherish a particular moment of just standing in the playground in the sun, surrounded by running and shouting pupils and watching the childhood return to our children right in front of my eyes. It has helped us to reassess, or reaffirm, what it important in education, what the true skills for life are and how important we all are to each other’s experience of life.
I have always liked the quote ‘man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.’ Well, in the last year, we have at times drifted so far from shore that it has been a distant memory but we have had the courage to paddle, to swim and to eventually sail freely despite some rough waves and have now discovered new oceans of opportunity in ourselves that we can look forward to exploring.