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08 March 2021

The Monday Briefing: With a Little Help From My Friends

The Monday Briefing: With a Little Help From My Friends

As I was putting the finishing touches to the arrangements required for the return of students on Friday, a sense of anticipation gripped me. It took me a little while to recall the last time I felt this way, when it suddenly dawned on me that the feeling was reminiscent of ensuring readiness for my wedding in 2015. I don’t remember feeling particularly nervous back then about the upcoming proceedings. Above all, I was sure beyond any doubt that I was making what would be one of the best decisions of my life. There was, however, an extraordinary desire within me to do my best to ensure that everything on that day went smoothly - the adage ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ ringing in my ears: rewriting my speech just before going to bed the night before in an effort to make it as seamless as possible; rewatching videos of my wife and I performing rehearsals of our first dance to seek a performance deemed ‘competent’ by the onlookers; and, perhaps chiefly, to maintain composure, knowing that of the many things which could go wrong, very few of them were actually in my power to control.

On such a momentous day of reconnection for schools and colleges nationwide, it could be easy to be overwhelmed as a headteacher. Personally, my approach has been to transfer a similar equanimity from my nuptials as I have to welcoming back students. As great a deal of thought and preparatory work as planning a wedding has gone into establishing a new testing regime whilst ensuring all existing procedures are renewed. Risk assessments have been updated and extra measures planned for initiation to support students who have found this last lockdown particularly gruelling. I am convinced that preparations are in place to the highest standard possible, and that the return of students is both safe, and the right course of action. Of course, I must remain humble in the face of these challenges. My power is limited in that I can hold sway only on what happens within the College boundaries. I can’t stop the virus itself, as much as I’d like to, and I can’t influence every action of students when they are not within the College building. They must be trusted to act as responsible individuals, and they are the most vital component in ensuring that this first step out of lockdown goes successfully.

Their wellbeing in the return must be our paramount consideration until the end of the academic year, and we need to be for them everything that they require: to continue to teach them ably through the course; to lend an ear when they want to discuss any issues or doubts they may have moving forward; to provide for them outlets and opportunities to express themselves and reconnect with each other. The relationships between staff and students, though already strong, must become further enhanced, with greater trust. They need to know that we will support them through whatever comes, and to do our best to set them up for their next steps.

It was simply tremendous to see students again this morning. They obviously arrived with a sense of trepidation at having to undergo a Lateral Flow Test, but this was overcome quickly and I could see almost immediately what I’ve been missing over the last two months - a focused collegiate atmosphere where students could work collaboratively to enhance their understanding. The short conversations which ascertained how their friend was doing, or the well intentioned comments when a peer got a question slightly wrong, followed by the amusement of others. Human interaction is a key part of what makes us who we are. As a byproduct, having students arrive 30 minutes early can only help with the punctuality of our students!

Many aspects present in my leading of the College have been affirmed for me over the lockdown: success enjoyed through small class methods of teaching and individual support; the resilience and dedication of the students to commit to their aspirations; the strength of our collaboration with Bellevue Education and our fellow schools within the group. However, without a doubt the most abundantly clear confirmation for me has been how fortunate I am to lead a staff body which, when challenges arise, step up to the mark in offering selfless support. I fully understand that without this, we simply would not function.

Not only have staff delivered a high quality level of tuition within their online lessons, but when I made an appeal for their voluntary help in ensuring our testing set-up was a success, the response was both emphatic and overwhelmingly positive. Several teachers and support staff made an effort to come in early to operate testing stations, supervise students in waiting areas and meet and greet them at reception, directing them through the process. Many also made the effort to unite in the pursuit of a final College tidy-up on Friday, hoeing, leaf blowing or jet washing to have the grounds fully prepared for the student body. For this compassionate and committed team spirit, I will always be immensely grateful. 

It is exactly this altruistic spirit which should set an example for our young adults as we start to emerge from this pandemic. I’m hopeful that communities, both local and global, can become more caring, more supportive and more considerate of the needs of others as the next few weeks, months and years unfold. It is clear that far more can be achieved with everyone working together than the levels of progress made with isolation in place, and this, for me, is the predominant lesson from lockdown.

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