Photo by Aren Nagulyan

It’s been another interesting week to be a 40 Hour Principal. And as usual, the challenge is partly around the doing, and partly around the mental load of juggling too many balls at the same time.

But there’s also another challenge that is becoming more and more evident in conversation with people both inside and outside of our day jobs – there’s a sense of ‘waiting’.

Danny Nicholls, in his guest post a couple of week ago, touched on the topic of the ‘inertia’ that is currently gripping many of us. As he put it, we are stuck and with that comes a real sense of waiting. Those with major disruption gripping their schools are waiting for it to be over. Those who haven’t reached that stage yet are waiting for it to start.

As an example, everywhere I go I’m hearing people verbalising some version of, “I just want to catch it and get it over with” (in reference to Covid). There’s a feeling that each of us is in a limbo of sorts until we have our turn (to get sick) with the implied upside being that life will get back to normal afterwards. Job done.

But, what if it doesn’t? What if this roller coaster goes for much longer?

From my own, non-expert perspective, it’s looking more likely by the day that this adventure we are part of is here for the longer haul. If I look at what is happening in countries that beat us to their virus peaks, getting sick (or at least testing positive), does not give people a ‘free pass’ to resume normal life. While the exact science is still unknown, the best our Government experts will give us is a 90 day warranty . . .

.   .   .

Waiting for our ‘turn’ certainly creates inertia. It can bog us down in a mental holding pattern that is limiting to both productive leadership and personal happiness. I can feel it in myself.

So what to do? I believe some of the answer is be found in how we choose to think about it. As we patently can’t control the virus, we need to focus on where we do have some control – our thinking.

If we park all the conflicting thoughts we have about this pandemic, just for a moment, and pretend that our new normal is that people, including ourselves, may periodically become unwell, what changes?

What mindset and approaches would you change if this were true?

For me, everything.

  • I would stop trying to manage staff absences through a combination of ninja like scheduling skills and crossed fingers.

Absences would be expected and either we would have more staffing capacity or different allocations of responsibilities. All classes would be accessible onsite and offsite.

  • We wouldn’t be talking about whether children have a fortnight’s learning activities accessible at home.

Children at home would engage with the same learning opportunities as children at school.

  • Communication with families would be completely different.

Because new systems had been setup and a new norm created, communication would be focused on the learning – not the fact that people might be temporarily isolating.

  • The shape and intention of our curriculum plans would be much different.

Curriculum would reflect the essential skills and competencies that students need to learn effectively both in a classroom and in a home.

  • Priorities for personal wellness would look different . . .

Maintaining the best health possible would become a key focus area – at least on a par with a school’s current ‘core’ subjects. The new school organisation would reflect that focus.

The list is endless really.

Our planning and thinking would have to stop being reactive and start being proactive. There are lots of clever people in education working on exactly this. For example, one topic that is being talked about a lot is ‘hybrid’ models of teaching where the whole curriculum delivery is set up to work regardless of whether a student is physically onsite or offsite. Much of the conversation has been about temporary arrangements, but an increasing amount is around a possible new normal.

The bottom line is that this current sense of waiting has to be challenged, because as a school leader it stops progress, and as a human it is exhausting. I’m not suggesting in any way that we can ignore the reality of what is happening in our schools, but I am suggesting that to start looking at some parts of what we are doing as long term, is potentially an energising and ‘freeing’ way to think. It shifts the feeling from  holding on and reacting, to one of possibility.

What do you think?

David

 

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4 thoughts on “A Sense of Waiting

  1. Dan Griffiths says:

    Great points – thank you. I think the concept of ‘waiting’ at the moment is ever present as we all try to navigate the changing physical and cultural environment. I particularly love the apt description of navigating staff absences through ‘ninja-like scheduling and crossing fingers’. So many school leaders and administrators are doing just that every single day – waiting for the storm to pass when perhaps a greater focus could be given to a change of mindset.

    • 40hourprincipal says:

      Thanks Dan. I agree that feeling in a “storm” is not the easiest time to make change but the longer it goes the more urgent the change. Appreciate you taking time to comment.

  2. While I agree to an extent – we have to make a new norm – the assumption you make of students having the ability to access learning off site is false. Many students in my school do not have access to devices, internet, or the at home support to do this successfully. This model would further disadvantage those most challenged already.

    • 40hourprincipal says:

      Hi Meg, a fair comment for sure in the present inequitable world we live in. But imagine if our ‘system’ decided that the current model of schooling needed to change . . . perhaps the change would require more supports outside of the school gate, perhaps the answer would involve some students needing to be onsite . . . The current disruptor (the virus) has shown up exactly the system weaknesses that you point out. Thanks for the discussion! Dave

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