How has your role changed since the school closures?
Since schools closed, my role is the same, but the focus has changed massively. Usually, I work with our teams of inspiring leaders and staff across both schools, with the key focus of creating strategic improvement plans and putting them into action. Since school closures, my role has become sharply focussed on just one aspect of the role: supporting both Heads of School and other senior leaders in making a range of often very difficult decisions and plans, and keeping Governors fully informed of what we are doing. I have supported by monitoring the developing Covid 19 situation, interpreting daily Government and Local Authority bulletins for our schools, and discussing our response. In daily telephone meetings I provide advice, encouragement, emotional and strategic support to these same inspiring school leaders, as they have worked incredibly hard with their own teams to plan in-school and home-school support for families, and provide emotional support to our many vulnerable families. In this regard, our Opportunity Area Emotionally Healthy Schools project is currently more important than we could ever have imagined, and our Project Leader, Ingrid Sanfey, has developed new ways to support the City’s Emotionally Healthy Schools leaders. In this, and all other Primary Strategy Group work, I have supported our projects to continue their work in new ways wherever possible.
What measures do you think have been most important in managing the emotional wellbeing of your school during the closures?
Daily calls and meetings with leaders, making sure they never feel alone in making difficult decisions, or coping with bad news, has been the most important part of the support I have been able to give. Our leaders and staff have used their emotional intelligence, imagination, personal strength in this crisis to great effect. They have worked together to identify pupils, families and colleagues who have needed emotional support, and in some cases, physical support in terms of food, medicines and learning materials. Good systems were put in place to keep in touch with all families and staff, and keep the children active and distracted.
It has been really important to understand the challenges many parents have faced due lost employment or the difficulty of trying to work from home while caring for children. It has been particularly difficult for families and staff who are shielding others, whose family members have become ill, and sadly, for those who are bereaved.
For staff it has been important for us to say ‘Just do what you can’, recognising that many are trying to support other family members, for example young children or elderly relatives, while trying to work, which is enormously difficult. I think they have all been brilliant, and I feel enormously proud of them.
What measures do you think will be most important to maintain/ initiate on return to school?
The safety of all will be our prime concern in preparations to return. If children and staff do not feel safe, their well-being will be compromised. Planning in terms of a curriculum that promotes strong emotional health and systems of pupil/staff emotional support for all will be essential. The more we can do now to improve our families’ well-being, the better able they will be to move on positively from the crisis.
What has been most important in managing your own/ your family’s mental health during the lockdown period?
I think we all need the support of other people. I am fortunate to have the support of a very understanding husband, and family and friends who love to get together, so chatting with them on Zoom, whatsapp, House Party is a brilliant way to keep your spirits up. We also need brain breaks from the difficulties, so I take a good long walk every day, and have started doing some drawing – inspired by all the art programmes online and on TV, which is very absorbing.