I’ll begin by stating from the outset: the COVID pandemic has been truly terrible. Nobody wanted it, it has caused grief, heartbreak, financial troubles, job losses, and of course, loss of life. It has permeated into almost every conceivable aspect of life and almost always in a negative way. I don’t want the rest of what I say to be seen in any other light – the context for my article is to be set against the horrors of this public health crisis, although I am going to talk about the unexpected good that has come from it.
In the world of education, schools have not been spared from COVID’s path. In the Isle of Man we are currently in lockdown 3.0 which has brought all schools and childcare facilities to a complete close, even for those children who are deemed to be vulnerable or have parents who are key/essential/critical workers.
The shift to remote learning has been challenging: demanding for teachers who have had to adapt quickly to a new way of working; incredibly different for pupils who have responded, for the most part, with a resilience and aptitude of which we can all be proud.
But, as I sit here and reflect on that shift, I am struck at how connected I have felt to all of my pupils, and to our wonderful community of parents and friends, in a way that exceeds what should have been possible. By replacing the 5 minute physical presence on the playground at the start of the day with an almost continual presence in live online lessons; by sharing an email address with parents and pupils and engaging in daily conversations with the home; by holding online assemblies that parents can join in alongside their children; by recording daily video messages and receiving comments on social media in response; by engaging in regular home phone calls; by being the virtual host at online parents’ evenings and chatting to each and every parent as they logged in; by not being pulled into firefights after meetings after bureaucratic exercises and instead focusing only on delivering a high quality remote learning package – I have felt the “connection” with my schools, and indeed within my school communities, actually grow and deepen. In that sense, the pandemics and lockdowns have brought everyone in my school communities much more closely together. And that can only be a good thing.
I don’t think that we didn’t have a good sense of connection and community before – I’ve always prided myself on putting relationships first. But if one is to find a glimmer of light behind the black cloud of COVID then seeing the positives such as this, and then building on them to maximise the opportunities and learning is a good place to start.
And I am reminded of, and thankful for, the wonderful and supportive pupils, parents and school communities that I am privileged to lead.