Leading in a Pandemic - A Headteacher's Perspective

Being a Headteacher has always had its own special challenges but since Covid-19 hit us, the role has taken on many new dimensions. As a profession, we have learned a lot about education, learning, IT, wellbeing, resilience and the ‘powers that be’ over the past year. So how can we use this learning to improve?

Lockdown 1.0

Planning for the first lockdown in March 2020 was limited to just a few days and as we prepared home learning paper packs to send home, I was able to introduce my staff to Zoom and we practised having online meetings together. We also adapted the curriculum to ensure that what we planned could be realistically learned at home. This meant that from day one of the first lockdown, as a school, we offered:

  • a daily zoom for every class led by the teacher and a TA. 
  • daily class learning that was posted on the school website every evening. 
  • weekly PE zooms from our specialist PE teacher 
  • weekly whole school assemblies
  • weekly whole school themed activities e.g., MasterChef Week

Engagement of pupils during the first lockdown was very good initially but as the weeks and months rolled by, many pupils dropped out of the zoom learning. Covid fatigue set in and children became less responsive as they spent longer periods away from the school setting. We also found that as we had no formal method of gathering in work or providing feedback, we did not have a clear idea of how some pupils were progressing with their learning.  

Parental Engagement 

In July, I invited all parents to complete an online questionnaire on home learning which gave us insight into: 

  • each family’s experiences.
  • their child’s attitude to learning. 
  • their thoughts on how we could improve should we every have to provide home learning again.  

This helped us shape our provision for the self-isolations and subsequent lockdowns which happened after that.

Returning to School

When we returned to school in September, we agreed as a school community that our focus would be on wellbeing. We planned a whole school project that enabled teachers to concentrate on Maths and English every morning whilst having the freedom to teach other curriculum skills in the afternoons, also allowing for lots of PSHE. We quickly realised that:

  • some pupils found it challenging to transition back to school. 
  • pupils’ writing skills had suffered greatly.
  • fitness levels of pupils had deteriorated alarmingly. 

Whilst we tackled those issues, it became clear that many pupils had never been so pleased to enter the building and engage in learning! We witnessed an astonishingly successful return for some of our most vulnerable pupils which continued beyond the first exciting days of September. Taking time to reflect and observe during Term 1, provided a real opportunity to find out the social, emotional and academic impact of lockdown on each child which we then used to inform our plans for Term 2.

Lockdown Version 3

Having firm expectations from the DfE really helped in January to make parents realise that home learning was not optional, and I sent strongly worded communications setting out our offer and what was required of home learning and attendance. Parents like the structure provided by three live learning sessions each day and engagement is nearing 100%. We have created better methods for receiving completed work, providing meaningful feedback and developed a simple matrix so that parents can report on pupils’ attitudes, efforts and successes at home each week.

In mid-January, I held a meeting with the parent body to listen to feedback on our provision and, as a result, created five top tips videos for my school website:

1) How to keep your child on track with their learning through the day.
2) How to support your child when they refuse to work at home.
3) How to stop your child from rushing through their work.
4) How to encourage your child to check their work before they hand it in.
5) How to encourage your child to work independently.

For those families that have struggled with home learning, we have offered a range of support including:

  • Offering pupils, the chance to join zoom calls a few minutes early to speak to the teacher and TA ‘alone’. 
  • Using breakout rooms to support pupils who need ‘extra’.
  • Providing paper packs of work when needed and hand delivering if necessary.
  • Visiting families (observing social distancing) to offer contact and support.
  • Calling parents who we know have mental health challenges. 
  • Calling pupils to speak to them about their work.
  • Offering virtual Headteachers awards 

What’s Next?

While we wait to hear when school’s will be fully operational again, we can only speculate on what the longer-term impact will be on our pupils’ wellbeing and education following this disrupted year of learning.  

As a leader, my plan is not to try to ‘recover’ what has been lost - but instead to reinvent, to refresh, to learn from and to improve.  This past year has taken away, but it has also given us so many opportunities to try new things, to become more efficient, to learn – and isn’t that what being in a school is all about?

To access Gillian’s fantastic top tip videos designed to support home learning please click here. Further support for Headteachers can also be found in our Covid Hub which includes useful articles such as our '5 Steps Leadership for Mental Health in School' article. 

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