A year in the life of a school

Week 16: Covid, Coughing, Coffee And Conversations

In the sixteenth of an ongoing series of blogs for the 2021-2022 academic year, Executive Headteacher Max Kelly captures his week working in primary schools in the Isle of Man. As the year goes on he hopes his blogs will paint a picture of a “Year In The Life Of A School”….

Monday 10th January

After last week’s four day intro to the Spring Term, this morning marked the start of our first full week back at school in 2022.

I start the day in Laxey School and spend the morning based here visiting classes, chatting to colleagues and catching up on the weekend email and communications. I’m relieved to welcome back a teacher who tested positive for C19 on NYE and had to spend last week at home in isolation. Staffing continues to be the main worry, but touch wood… we’re ok this morning. I hope these words don’t come back to haunt me!

At lunchtime I head up to Dhoon School for the afternoon. On this site we remain a teacher down through C19. Dhoon is a very small school with a very small staff team. Being just one member of staff down has a significant impact, but we are covered with some supply today – our part-time teacher has agreed to backfill today and tomorrow and that has certainly helped to take the sting out of the tail.

Late afternoon and I chair a virtual Teams meeting with colleagues from my Federation Steering Group. We have a candid conversation about the frustrations we are all feeling at the moment in terms of not being fully able to press ahead with new initiatives and innovations. The schools are in survival mode – like all schools across the Isle of Man at the moment. Managing staff levels, increasing the focus from usual school improvement priorities to C19 mitigations, risk assessments and operational plans, and keeping children safe alongside keeping classes open and learning experiences as ‘normal’ as possible – these are all huge challenges and are taking up everyone’s headspace. There simply isn’t capacity to try and do exciting and dynamic SI work, but I use the meeting to try and keep the flames alight and to remotivate my team. I genuinely do sense that steadier times are just round the corner… again, I reflect on my optimism and hope these words don’t come back to haunt me.

Tuesday 11th January

I arrive at Laxey School with a spring in my step: it’s a day I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I’ve scheduled in a ‘professional conversation’ with every one of my teachers; a chance to reconnect, catch-up, and discuss professional aims, classroom concerns and generally chew the fat. Usually these types of conversations would probably crop up in appraisals and performance reviews, but all of that is currently suspended in the Isle of Man (for a variety of reasons linked to ASOS, the ‘deal’ which ended the recent industrial dispute, and, of course, C19) so the staff and I agreed to these professional conversations instead, which we’d have informally and over a cup of coffee.

It is a fantastic experience: really powerful to hear in detail of the work and the successes my teachers have had over the last 12 months or so. There are smiles, there are tears, there is pride, there is anxiety. A real melting-pot of emotions comes out over the course of the meetings, and by the end of them I have a really good idea of just how amazing my team are. I mean, come on, I already knew that! But this really hammered home how good my team are.

Lots of great ideas come out of the meetings: everything from CPD requests to little suggestions or tweaks which we could try to help make our Federation even better. Lots of food for thought, and it feels good to have reforged the working connections with each member of the teaching staff right at the start of term. I plan to do these conversations with the support staff team in the coming weeks.

Wed 12th / Thur 13th January

I wake up in the middle of the night and just cannot get back to sleep, no matter how hard I try. And my head is banging. A million LFTs later, all of which tell me I’m negative, and I get up and try to start the day.

Truth is, I don’t feel 100% on Wednesday or Thursday, which isn’t like me. I do as much as I can but I’m not super productive unfortunately. Again, I am reminded how good my team are: they don’t require micro-management, so on days like this, I know they’ll be absolutely fine.

On Wednesday evening the Federation holds its first Twilight training session of 2022. The time is used looking at contingency planning for possible school closures, class closures and/or lockdown scenarios. We revise our plans, and take time to plan our remote learning response so that we can switch to RL at a moment’s notice. I hope we don’t have to fall back on these contingencies, but it’s a great feeling to know we’re fully prepared.

On Thursday I meet (virtually) with an NAHT member who requires some support over a particular issue, and I’m only too happy to help. Later on I get on top of my admin and emails, before penning a blog about “Energy for Leadership” – there’s no denying the last two days have inspired me to get a bit better at trying to keep my energy up. Crikey, it’s only the second week of 2022 🤪 

The day ends with the news that my isolating teacher at Dhoon can return to work tomorrow… but the joy is short lived when I take a phone call from another member of staff who has just tested positive for C19 this evening. .. cough, cough…

Friday 14th January

Great nights sleep and back to full strength. I head in to Laxey School where we hold a virtual Celebration Assembly.

All assemblies were suspended by IOM Government at the start of the academic year, but I’m determined we are going to find a way to do our usual Learning Hero and Magic Moments certificates for our pupils. Technology gives us our answer and I tweet to say that we’ve found a way to keep our famous Friday Celebration Assembly alive, even with the current restrictions in place.

The virtual assembly is a success – eventually. The first attempt gives rise to a small technical hitch and no-one can hear me (no, it wasn’t anything to do with the mute button!) but we it sort out really quickly and take two works like a dream.

After assembly, I head straight into a Teams meeting with colleagues from my sister unions in education, and the employer, as the pay negotiations, triggered by a reopener clause in the ‘deal’ which ended the recent industrial dispute, continue. I can’t say more than that in this blog as the talks remain ongoing: but they are positive and constructive from NAHT’s perspective.

After the pay negations on behalf of our members, I head off to Dhoon School and arrive in time to host a virtual High Five Assembly there. This time the tech works first time, and the whole thing is very smooth. It’s great we’ve been able to hold these assemblies today.

I finish my day with a flurry of social media activity to spread the good news of what has been going on across the Federation today, including confirmation of our renewed IQM statuses. Laxey is Centre of Excellence and Dhoon is a Flagship (full reports copied below ⬇️ ). I’ll certainly drink to that!

They say it is always beer-o-clock somewhere in the world. In Max’s world, that time is now.

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