Raising My Glass

Well, here we are again. The end of another year which, I am sorry to say, has not gone the way we wanted. I don’t want to dwell too much on the negatives, but I do think that it is worth reflecting on the challenges, the successes, and the sheer brilliance of what you have achieved again. Most importantly I want to raise a glass to all school staff.

At the end of last year, and the beginning of the next, schools were once again setting up remote teaching for their pupils. And of course, juggling that with providing safe spaces and meaningful learning opportunities for the children of key workers or those who were vulnerable who continued to come into school. This time though I saw teachers from all directions hitting the ground running. They wanted to make the best of this. Although there isn’t a clear answer as to whether synchronous and asynchronous approaches are better (as always it seems to depend), many decided that they would try to keep things as normal as possible to provide the best options for their pupils. Recordings, extra booklets and materials and live lessons were once again part of their lives. Just spending all that time in front of a screen is exhausting. But teachers everywhere were inventive, enthusiastic, and once again went all out to do the right thing for their pupils, however they delivered the work to them. This was following a Christmas where many school staff had lost huge chunks of their holiday to prepare and continue to work the track and trace right up to the wire.

When relative normality returned there were many still operating bubble systems, shifting timings around the lessons and use of spaces, and coping with continued pupil absence too. Were they exhausted? Yes, but every single one I met was delighted to be back seeing their pupils in the flesh and being able to get on with the job they clearly loved.

TAGs presented a further issue at secondary and creating a system that was as clear and fair to all under the less-than-ideal circumstances was once again in the hands of school staff. Producing additional mock exams, especially after waiting eagerly for support from the exam boards which simply didn’t emerge in a meaningful way, standardising, moderating, checking, and recording all adding a huge extra burden for all. At the same time, lessons were taught, transition activities took place, and children and families were supported and cheered on. Did school staff have some down days where it felt too much? Absolutely. But time and again they surprised me with their sheer determination to do their very best regardless of the circumstances.

September continued to bring the challenge of COVID testing right at the start of term, but thankfully it was short lived and most bubbles had been redistributed (I really don’t like saying they burst- yuck!) and there was a period of time when once again things were looking normal. Smiles were on every face of the staff I met when I arrived in their schools and the pupils too. Masks were on, masks were off, masks were somewhere in-between. It was like the Hokey-Cokey. To say that every school leader had to find clarity from chaos would probably be understating the issue.

Professional development has also continued apace, and I’ve seen teachers spend Saturdays engaging in research, reading and writing blogs and books, attending courses, swapping ideas and resources, and thinking deeply about their subject and the pedagogy they will use to bring it all to life for their pupils. They’ve continued to strive for excellence all the time.

Now in the last few weeks things have become more precarious. Staff have had understandable concerns for their safety, that of their families and that of those in their care and the wider community. But there have still been Christmas dinners, celebrations and of course tonnes and tonnes of learning going on. That is all with a backdrop of covering for absent colleagues, talking to parents, reassuring pupils, and generally keeping things going, with one eye kept closely on the changing picture to make sure they are as ready as possible for what may come.

And why? Because they are quite simply amazing. They are adaptable, flexible, caring and dedicated. Has the level of support they’ve had been acceptable?  Absolutely not! Have there been some decisions on high which I wished had not been made? Totally. If I could wave a magic wand and provide more funding, time and understanding of their challenges, I would in a heartbeat. This blog is a small way for me to show my appreciation but also perhaps to shine a light on just a tiny fraction of what happens in schools for those who seem to think it’s an easy gig.

It’s really not but once again it has been incredible to see how all school staff pull together to do what they know is right for our young people and I know I don’t ever think I will be able to say thank you enough. It is always a privilege to be able to work with you in so many different capacities and to also share a few laughs with such a diverse and interesting group of people. Even the ones I might not always agree with on social media. 😉

So, therefore I once again want to raise my glass to you all. Leaders, teachers, teaching assistants, site-management, cleaners, admin, librarians, and everyone else who plays a part in this journey have my upmost respect and thanks. Have a very merry Christmas break and remember, you are seen and I am a long way from being alone in recognising how great you all are.

Cheers 😊

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