As we enter a whole new environment for schools in Ireland, I believe it is very important that we, as school leaders, support our staff, students, and parents in a variety of ways.
− By Marie-Therese Kilmartin, Principal, Coláiste Bríde, Clondalkin, Dublin
As a school leader, it is important to look forward, look outside, to learn and bring this learning back to our school team. It is also important for school leaders to avail of all the networks of support that exist via the NAPD, School Management Bodies, and PDST especially.
By engaging on twitter over the weekend, it was great that by Saturday night many key twitter-in-education users in Ireland had agreed that #EdShareIE would be the commonly used hashtag to share resources and supports for teachers, in addition to all of the means that already exist via Scoilnet, PDST, etc.
Having an understanding and experience of leading change is very important for school leaders as staff members are at various stages of engagement with digital technologies, many may need greater support than others, and many too have various home circumstances and we can learn a lot about all of this from other organizations that have already got experience in this area.
The China Experience
Over the weekend I both tweeted and posted on LinkedIn an article from a US teacher based in China, sharing insights and advice from the experience in China where – just like us – they had to learn to adapt together.
Simon Sinek, a global leader on change, posted a great video on LinkedIn saying that organizations should do a weekly check-in with staff – Have a Huddle. Getting everyone to simply connect on a personal basis is so important for promoting teamwork and, as we move forward in using our school system, this is something I wish to do.
Creating a Virtual Staffroom
Linking remotely can help to move to a virtual staffroom for this downtime period, to build the ever-important relationships. I heard of a school staff sending photos to each other last week showing where they were, exchanging bits of wellbeing advice, etc. Check-ins with staff members are very important as they adapt to the ‘new working environment’. Schools thrive on teamwork and collaboration; we need this to continue. Teachers are each other’s best resource and support.
Wellbeing Newsletter to Students/ Parents
We are planning to develop wellbeing resources via a newsletter to students/ parents as this is so important. Students need to engage in physical activity and we intend to build this into homework. Through our Tutor and Year-Head teams, we can continue to support students as we do in school, but I am sure new issues will emerge and together we can seek solutions based on the experience of others.
Students’ Fears over State Exams
Our 6th-year students in particular articulated their fears about their orals, practicals, exams, getting to College, having the course covered etc. These are real fears throughout the country – being lived by parents too. We all look for certainty and answers and there are none yet in this ever-changing global crisis. Many will ask also: what about Junior Cycle, CBAs, SLARs? Is this a high stakes examination?
Varying Circumstances of Families
We as school leaders need to be cognizant of our own contexts, the families that we work with. Some students may have to mind siblings as their parents go out to work. Indeed, we sadly know that some parents may not have work, as we are hearing of temporary lay-offs, etc – a truth that was real for parents whom I spoke with on Thursday last. Equally, healthcare workers with children are worried too, so we as educators can do our bit to support them by ensuring that they know their children have work to do, have their time being filled with activities to do and followed up on, that learning continues and feedback from teachers is effective and develops student skills, understanding, and knowledge.
As everyone embraces social distancing, the getting closer in homes can be a new source of stress for many, access to digital technology can be an issue too, the sharing of the computer in the house may be problematic especially as parents also may be working from home. This can reflect inequality and the reality of disadvantage. How do we serve students who do not have access at home? Getting the balance on this will be a new learning experience for us all. It will be important that students continue to receive the all-important messages about using social media appropriately.
Finding ways of providing mental health support remotely
Students who experience anxiety and other mental health difficulties will not suddenly be fine, these students need supports and the challenge is to provide this in new ways. How do our Guidance Counsellors and Learning Support teachers provide these supports in an effective way? All new issues to address.
Many new challenges
Therefore, there are many new challenges for schools to address. There are many new moral/ ethical issues. What about the family facing financial difficulties and possibly already being supported by schools through The School Meals Scheme? I am aware that one of my Deputy Principals has been working on this over the weekend, with inter-organizational supports being planned, and some teachers have volunteered to help if distribution is required. These are all new challenges but with teamwork, creativity, asking questions, sharing solutions, we can all help each other.
Focus of Senior Leadership Team
These are simply my personal thoughts as we begin to adapt, to focus on remote/ online Teaching and Learning. Our Senior Leadership Team (SLT) will focus on 3 areas:
1 Teaching and Learning – Systems and Supports
2. Student Wellbeing – Systems and Supports
3. Staff wellbeing – Systems & Supports
Remote Teaching and Learning – a very different reality
Equally other challenges are emerging for Boards of Management, planning forward, policy development, staffing & recruitment, as examples. Doing our usual work behind the scenes in schools will be very different but one thing I am confident about is that as educators we shall give our best to the students we serve and the school communities we work in.
Marie-Therese Kilmartin is Principal at Coláiste Bríde, Clondalkin, Dublin