COVID19

Working from home…

In this blog I offer an insight to a teacher’s typical week working from home. I just jotted down key moments, so it’s just in note-form I’m afraid, but I hope it gives you a flavour of being a teacher (and trade unionist)  in these strange times…

Schools in the Isle of Man were notified on Sunday 22nd March that they would close indefinitely at the end of the day on Monday 23rd March to all but those children who are vulnerable or have parents who are key workers.

The notice period was exceptionally short – shorter even than that in the UK which had been informed of their school “closures” on the Wednesday before. What happened since that announcement has been exceptionally difficult and easily the most challenging period I have worked through in 17 years as a teacher. The speed, logistics, emotional pressures, and adaptations have been as swift as they have been extreme. Our Government decided that we would operate a “hub system” in the Isle of Man so the vast majority of schools were completely shut. This applied to my schools, and at one days notice my entire staff teams needed to be redeployed to one of two hub schools to work with different staff, different pupils and in unfamiliar buildings. Setting the alarm and turning the key in the doors on my schools and walking away from them was like a dagger to the heart – the sudden and intense emotions of that moment is not something I will ever forget. So many thoughts swirled around my head – “will we all come back?” “will we ever open again?” – big thoughts which suddenly felt all-consuming. We invest so much of ourselves in our schools, in our school communities, in our colleagues and of course, in our pupils. It is so much more than a job. And in a period of a little over 24 hours, all of that was seemingly taken away.

But there was no time to dwell. The new landscape – unchartered and uncertain – was there to be crossed and this was a time for rolling up sleeves and getting stuck in. This was the attitude eight weeks ago, and it has been non-stop ever since. Endlessly relentless. The work-life balance completely replaced by a blur of workdays – the blur between weekends and weekdays, and days and evenings is now even less delineated than before. Add to the mix an ever-increasing amount of uncertainty and the emotional impact has remained firmly in place. Gone were the Easter Holidays, gone were the three bank holidays we’ve had since all this started, gone was our normal working routine.

On a personal note, my youngest daughter has an underlying health need and is on a waiting list for an operation. With me now having to work in the hub schools we took the decision that I’d temporarily move out to reduce the risk of me passing on COVID19 to her. Eight, nearly nine weeks on, and I’m still not back. My story is no different to countless others in the education profession who have responded to the challenges of COVID19 with sacrifice and hard work. As the crisis has prolonged, and rows erupt over the process for reopening schools, there seems an increasing tendency in the UK press and media to label teachers as lazy. Such a shame, because all I see are hardworking people doing their very best in unprecedented times. I have blogged previously about my experiences of working in a hub school – today, I offer an insight into a teacher’s typical week working from home. I just jotted down key moments, so it’s just in note-form I’m afraid, but I hope it gives you a flavour of being a teacher (and trade unionist)  in these strange times…

IMG_6014
I have moved out of the family home during this time to reduce the risk of passing on COVID19 to my daughter. I still see her when I drop off shopping by chatting through the window.

Saturday

Public announcement by IOM Government re May Bank Holidays and TT school holidays.

Phone starts pinging immediately. Headteachers across the Isle of Man getting in touch to talk about the Government announcement. Spend the next hour or so responding to colleagues and working on a response.

Video conference with colleagues from NAHT to discuss Government announcement and colleagues’ comments.

Letter drafted for Isle of Man Government by the NAHT which, as IOM Branch President, comes to me to sign on behalf of members.

Colleagues from sister trade unions make contact and arrange a video conference which lasts almost an hour.

Phone call with DHT to discuss staffing and WFH tasks for the upcoming week for the wider staff team. Some discussions about the school website and navigation issues that users may have with it.

I turn my phone off at 7pm and decide to try to switch off for a bit…

The local NAHT response to the timing of the public announcement.

Sunday

Phone pings at just after 8am – first message of the day. HT wanting more info following yesterday’s announcement.

A document about schools lands in my email inbox from Isle of Man Government. One of my colleagues calls me to talk about it, having received the same email.

Phone doesn’t stop pinging and ringing for most of the afternoon – mainly headteacher colleagues wanting to discuss the email.

Hear from NAHT National Secretary. Catch up and discuss implications.

Last work-related phone call is just after 9pm. I switch my phone off, briefly, but give in and turn it back on. Various work-related text messages till well beyond 11pm.

So much to sort and organise next week – pretty sleepless night.

Monday

Managed to get an hour or so of unbroken sleep from about 4am. Start the day at around 6.30am.

Message key staff working in the hub schools. Wish them good luck. I let them know I’ll pop in at some point in the week.

An important email lands in my inbox and catches my eye – I read through. It’s just one amongst a great many. I confess to be struggling with keeping on top of the sheer volume of email traffic at the moment. I look at my own advice for managing emails, but conclude its advice of another time.

Video conference with colleagues during the first part of the morning. It’s good to catch up with my co hub-heads as we chat about the risk-assessments for our hubs and review any changes that we may need to consider.

Start reviewing the feedback we’ve received from parents about our home-learning offer. Call DHT to discuss.

Email conversation with one of our school governors – discuss the home-learning offer.

Spend the afternoon discussing possible changes to our home-learning offer. Phone calls with teachers about how to improve the layout of the website and a video conference with my SLT to agree some changes.

Email out to staff explaining some of the changes I would like to bring in. Delegate various aspects of the management of this to SLT members. I begin work on drafting-up some infographics to communicate these changes to our parents.

Draft various responses to parents over their feedback. DHT checks the messages for consistency and that they match the agreements made with SLT. Send.

LXY

DHN
Home-learning infographics to reflect updates made this week.

Tuesday

Video conference with the local NAHT committee. Lots to discuss.

Various correspondence is sent through from my school administrator for sign off. Spend an hour or so catching up with admin, paperwork and clearing my inbox as much as I can.

Draft a note for staff with details about this week’s phone-contact with all families in our Federation. Check it through with SLT and send. All families will receive a “keeping-in-touch” telephone call this week from their teachers.

Late afternoon I chair a video conference with over 40 headteachers and school leaders in the Isle of Man. Great turn out and the meeting runs for almost two hours.

Minutes from HT meeting land in my inbox. Read through.

Phone call with DHT to discuss our plans for induction for our new intake of Reception pupils. We look at and review our draft induction booklet for this year and map out changes. Final work-related call finishes around 8pm. I carry on at my laptop working on the review of our home-learning package for another hour or so.

Wednesday

Video conference with SLT to continue discussions about online platforms to help support our home-learning package. Home-learning is never going to replace the school environment, but we are keen to get this as right as we can for the vast majority of our parents and pupils.

Phone calls with 3 teachers to discuss various things.

Hear some very sad news that a teacher colleague from a local secondary school has passed away.

Phone call with DHT to discuss the website redesign and agree on Oak National Academy as the platform we will use as a school to augment the bespoke package our teachers have been producing. Discuss how to enable access via our websites.

Discuss with teachers the decision about the online platform. I prepare a note for them which gives some guidance around it and ask staff to begin to familiarise themselves with it.

Attend the COVID19 Response Forum meeting with colleagues from all four teacher trade unions, UCU, Prospect and Unite. We consider a roadmap document and generate a list of questions and concerns that we prepare for requesting feedback on.

Review the CPD package that we’ve put together for our staff for during the COVID19 crisis. DHT has produced our offer in a staff brochure. Agree and get it sent out.

Zoom chat with a headteacher in a nearby school. Catch up and discuss our school responses to home-learning and messaging. Good to chew the fat with experienced colleagues.

Take feedback from my teachers about how this week’s family phone calls are going and to pick up any general themes or issues that I need to know about and follow up on.

IMG_6011
Laxey School CPD Brochure for during the COVID19 crisis.
IMG_6012
Dhoon School CPD Brochure for during the COVID19 crisis.

Thursday

First video conference of the day is an update from the Department of Education to the headteachers of the regional cluster I am part of.

Go straight into another video conference with NAHT colleagues to discuss some developments we’ve been made aware of. This leads straight into another video conference with colleagues from sister trade unions.

Video conference meetings take most of the morning.

Interview with Manx Radio to discuss home-learning. You can hear my interview here.

Attend a meeting with headteachers from across the North West to discuss “Positive Education” and how to maximise any opportunities for changing and improving the education landscape post-COVID19.

In the evening I attend a meeting of over 3500 headteachers nationwide which is chaired by Paul Whiteman.

I catch up over the phone with 3 of my teachers to check how they are doing and to take feedback on their family phone calls.

Finish for the day around 9pm after another phone call – but I did take 5 to go and clap for our carers at 8.

IMG_6015
Colleagues from across the North West region of the British Isles.
IMG_6010
Paul Whiteman chairing a meeting of over 3500 headteachers and senior leaders across all jurisdictions in the British Isles.

Friday

I call into one of the hub schools, briefly, to see how my “frontline” colleagues are getting on this week. It’s great to see some of the children and look at what they’ve been up to. We discuss how we may have to adapt the classroom layout and open up further classrooms if pupil numbers continue to expand.

I record a video message for the pupils and parents of my schools – maintaining a visibility for the school community is so important at this time. Message gets uploaded to our social media channels and goes out.

Teacher’s latest home-learning packs start pinging through, and I begin to read and review the packages that have been put together. I run two separate schools, but it’s important to offer consistency between them, and I give this task my utmost attention for a couple of hours. I then begin the long job of formatting as PDFS for the websites and JPGs for the social media sites.

Check that all family phone calls are complete. Take feedback and spend time following up on one or two things. Really pleased that the vast majority of calls have been so positive.

Video conference with my AHT to discuss some of the family phone-calls we’ve made that require additional follow-up. We also touch again on the induction booklet for the new Reception intake and plan out next steps for making sure we get that right – very difficult when we have no idea about when schools may reopen.

I draft a note for the full staff teams of both schools to summarise the week that’s been, indicate how next week is shaping up, and to thank everyone for their efforts. Teachers this week have produced new home-learning activities, updated the school websites, familiarised themselves with a new online learning package, logged on to online CPD courses, written a “keeping in touch” letter to all of their classes, phoned and made contact with almost 300 families (at their own expense), worked in turn at the two hub schools providing front-line services, and maintained regular email and phone contact with myself or members of my SLT. I give a couple of “shout outs” to our cleaning and maintenance staff who are in the closed sites undertaking a deep clean, and to our school administrator who is keeping the wheels turning, remotely, for two schools.

IMG_6013
I record a video message for the parents and pupils of Laxey School and Dhoon School.

 

I can’t believe that we’ve made it to Friday evening. A week of announcements… speculation… over 50 phone calls… over 20 video conference meetings… and hundreds of emails. I’ve had contact with senior staff, teachers and support staff by telephone and WhatsApp; contact with governors; contact with parents; contact with union colleagues and government officials. I’ve recorded video messages, produced infographics and communication for the school community, popped into the hub school, completed admin work, done media interviews and offered support for my headteacher colleagues too.  What is difficult to articulate is the emotional aspect associated with all of this. It is uncertain and anxious, and that hangs over me. Even when I finally reach for a Friday night glass of wine, I can’t quite shake the shadow of all of this that we’re faced with at the moment.

Next week I’ll be in the hub school reviewing the expansion plans, health and safety, risk assessments etc that are needed to allow more pupils from unlocked sectors into the hubs. We’ll also need to look again at the staff rota and continue to adapt and change our response in the face of an ever-evolving situation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: