Without labouring the point, it is fair to say that this has been a tough term so far. A muddled start followed by a rapid switch to a blend of face to face and online teaching has been challenging, and the high numbers of students in colleges during a time of soaring infection rates and record numbers of deaths have undoubtedly added to the stress levels of school staff.
While there may be talk of normality on the horizon, the scientists rightly urge great caution given the data on virus transmission, serious illness and death. That does not mean we can’t think about brighter futures, though, and the activities we are looking forward to as school communities in the months after it is genuinely safe to be all together again. When we hold onto that vision and hope, we know brighter futures will come. These suggestions might help:
If ever you get a moment for reflection, consider what has worked well for you personally or in your college during your response to the pandemic. Make notes; not necessarily for the next time (we all hope there won’t be a next time, I am sure), but to help to focus your thoughts on your successes and how they were achieved. Don’t rush this or bypass it. This has been an intense period of rapid change in your way of working and it is important to acknowledge just how much you have achieved. Are there any changes you have implemented for the purposes of working through the pandemic that you want to retain once college life is back to normal? Have there been any useful observations about students who have thrived through the opportunity to work at home, and those who have struggled?
What do you want your college community to look like on the other side of this pandemic? Are you rethinking the values that you all share as a community? Will your overarching focus shift at all as a result of the pandemic? What are your hopes – and wildest dreams – for your college and wider community as we move through this pandemic towards less intense days? What are you looking forward to reinstating? Sports day? End of term discos? Summer fairs? This is an opportunity to dream big after the restrictions and challenges of lockdowns, and truly to imagine something better for your school, however unrealistic that may seem right now. There will come a time when we can and we will be able to bring some of our hopes to fruition.
Your reflections on what worked well and what was challenging, who was affected badly in your community, who thrived and so on, will help your college to commit to any changes needed as you move ahead. Draw from your hopes, too, to commit to something positive for the future. You might also like to consider whether there is a cause or an event that you would like your college to commit to once everyone is safely back? Or maybe an activity or way of being that you are looking forward to when your whole college community is safely together again. Focus in on the values you share and your vision of the community you want to be.
Everyone in the country has been hit in some way or another by the pandemic. Your college community may have suffered losses and the on-going illness that “Long Covid” entails. It is important to acknowledge and remember these losses and challenges. They are part of your shared experience and are what your community carries forward into the future. It may be appropriate to mark those losses as a college, or even privately as an individual in some way. This will depend entirely on your needs and/or the needs of your college.
Are you planning a way of celebrating the end of restrictions, when they come, and your new life beyond the pandemic? What kind of celebration would work in your college? An event? A creative response (some art work, poetry, dramatic art etc)? Something which encapsulates the hopes that you all have for the future? It might be positive, when restrictions lift and colleges are safely fully open again, to discuss a fitting celebration for your community.
In the meantime, if you are struggling with your mental health it is important to talk to your GP. You may also want to contact Education Support which offers 24/7 counselling on 08000 562 561. In addition, interesting research landed in my inbox the other day showing that pharmaceutical quality lavender oil can be useful in the treatment of anxiety. While it is essential to discuss symptoms of anxiety and depression with your GP, it is worth remembering that a range of measures may help us to feel better.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.