We have nearly made it. Only a few, hopefully COVID-free, days to go before Christmas. To celebrate the forthcoming festivities, we asked Mike Dubeau, Richard Lockyer, Lesley Stagg and Simon Thompson to pen a few thoughts as this – interesting – year draws to a close.
Simon Thompson – Wales
The past year has been one unlike any other and I’m sure many will agree, one which we are collectively keen to bid farewell to.
Life in the education sector in Wales has been like a rollercoaster, with many ups and downs as well as unexpected twists and turns. Like many other countries, schools have had to adapt quickly to new ways of working, to grapple and master the use of new technologies and of course, to quickly and confidently navigate a raft of public health and operational logistics to ensure that the safety of pupils and staff is maintained. All this of course whilst trying to provide a reassuring sense of normality for the young people who need the routines, social interactions, and familiarity of daily life in school.
What has been truly remarkable is the way in which the education profession has risen to the challenge. Teachers, support staff and school leaders have shown enormous determination and resilience and worked so hard over the past few months to ensure that pupils in our schools have continued to receive a high-quality education as well as to support pupils’ emotional health and wellbeing – they have truly embodied their professional values. I hope and wonder how, as a collective system, we can ensure that this pride and sense of collegiality can be maintained for the future. Schools working as a collective, collaborating and supporting each other is so much more powerful than the system of competition and rivalry which, at least in Wales, has been the norm for so long.
In the past month in Wales, we have had to work through a 17-day national, so-called,”fire-break lockdown”. All non-essential businesses were forced to close again, society was asked to stay at home and non-essential travel was prohibited. Unlike the lockdowns of the Spring however, primary schools and pupils in Years 7 & 8 (12/13-year olds ) in Secondary Schools were still able to physically come to school. For our school, a large mixed comprehensive with more than 1,700 pupils, this posed a different challenge with two year groups in school for live teaching (480 pupils) with the remainder of the pupils staying at home and accessing remote distance learning. For us, the mission was clear, we needed to focus on the WHAT first – what was our aspiration and vision; a provision which ensured that pupils at home received high quality learning, with teacher presence and interaction, whilst staff were also in school teaching live lessons to other pupils. As a school we were then able to translate this vision with a focus on the HOW – we were very proud of our Blended Learning approach which used a mix of live lessons, pre-recorded webinars, online chat check-ins as well as synchronous lessons being delivered through virtual classrooms using Google suite. All pupils were issued with a home learning timetable to provide structure, routine and reassurance, making use of a rich blend of learning approaches during the second lockdown. Feedback and evaluations have been very positive. We continue to refine our approaches, like all good practitioners, through honest and robust reflection using our 3E’s model. Execution, Engagement and Effectiveness.
We look forward to a Christmas break, and hope to be able to spend some time with close family and friends, to recharge, recoup and get ready for the new term. We look ahead to a new year which appears to be tinged with hope and a sense that brighter times lie ahead for us all. One thing I know for certain is that due to a strong focus on professional learning, our school ethos and commitment to developing and supporting our staff as well as strong and honest leadership, our staff in school are RAW: ready, able and willing to face whatever 2021 brings.
So from Wales, Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda ! Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2021 everyone.
Deputy Head, Cardiff High School
Lesley Stagg – Jersey
Here in Jersey the days are growing shorter and the colder penetrating winds when I leave home in the morning (on the days I actually go to the office or a school) make me glad for a warm jacket. Inside decorations are starting to appear in classrooms and homes, and there is a special feeling in the air. After the maelstrom that has been 2020, our children and their families are looking forward to the Christmas holiday.
However, this is a Christmas season we have never experienced before. Carol concerts, school plays and nativities are either cancelled or shared virtually. Older siblings are returning from university and quarantining, others are unable to celebrate with friends. Some are defying the restrictions by going out and then bringing the virus back into their homes. Younger children still share the fun that this season brings and are excited as they wonder what delights lie in store under the shiny wrappings. Others have suffered a year of misery with parents made redundant, weeks away from school and friends, and family mental health issues, and certainly no gifts or luxurious foods to look forward to on Christmas Day. Our island charities are stretched as many of us have been unable to make the seasonal donations they usually receive.
If only our world were alive with the light and love we normally share at this time of year. I see the glowing faces of our children in schools and hope that their Christmas holiday will still be able to capture some of that essence of past years. I hope that the promised vaccine will bring joy back into the lives of our children and their families.
Let us recapture the love and light within us, then everyday will have a special feeling and we can rejoice in the experiences we share at this time of year …. albeit limited in 2020. Our families glowing in a world of light and love is something worth having and something we can all strive for during this season and for the year ahead.
Dr Lesley Stagg, Senior Adviser
School Improvement and Advisory Service (SIAS)
Mike Dubeau – Quebec, Canada
As the end of the calendar approaches, I have always made it a point to reflect on the year that has passed. I believe it is important to look back on our successes, the challenges we’ve overcome, the friendships fostered and strengthened, and most importantly, the lives we have enriched through our professional calling. During this reflection, when I consider the significant challenges we have all faced this past year, I am very humbled by the resilience of our educators. As the year 2021 approaches, there is real hope we will see an end to this global pandemic. I am confident that we will emerge stronger, with a renewed sense of purpose to fulfil our collective mission to provide our students with the best possible educational experience.
In closing, please allow me to take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a safe, healthy New Year!
With respect and admiration,
Director General, Western Quebec School Board
Richard Lockyer – OLEVI, England
Christmas at OLEVI is going to be a strange experience this year. As readers of our posts will know, OLEVI is all about building quality relationships and constructive collaboration.
In the past at Jariram, our training centre, Chris has got out his guitar, Viv her Baritone Sax, Mark his Bass Guitar and I, my organ, and we ‘collaborate’ festively in our efforts to bring our community together playing and singing, ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter’, ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Jingle Bells’.
Our tuneful harmonies ring out across Farnborough Village (nay Orpington) like an angelic choir of seraphims and cherubims before we settle down to read out our Christmas messages, open our not-so-Secret Santas, and dive into our ‘bring-a-dish’, festive feast.
Of course, none of that will happen this year. We may bump elbows; we may wave through glass; or we may even create a festive room, on Zoom; but as I said, Christmas at OLEVI is going to be a strange experience this year.
With this in mind, we wanted to thank all of our members, friends and coaches, who have worked tirelessly through the pandemic, for continuing to bring outstanding teaching and learning to pupils; learning how to use unfamiliar e-learning platforms; engaging in their own professional development with chaos surrounding them; using the time to grow their regard for pedagogy; and of course, for observing themselves every day as a mirror image on Zoom!
It is this determined relationship building and collaboration that has kept a strong sense of resilience, learning and wellbeing at the heart of the profession for many teachers and leaders.
It is now time to recharge the batteries and spend quality time with our families and friends, building stronger relationships through peaceful collaboration over the well-earned break.
We would not only like to thank our four authors for their contributions but to all of you who have contributed or read our postings.
Just to emphasise the uncertainty of our times, since Simon wrote his contribution the situation in Wales has worsened. As COVID cases have surged again, secondary schools will now close a week early and the whole country is in another lockdown. In England, the Government has announced a mass testing programme for schools and colleges. Those of us in England now know what tier we will be in and all of us are wondering how far the season of goodwill will extend after the end of the festive season.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccines have arrived, and the inoculation programme has commenced and with them we all hope that a sense of normality arrives in the spring.
To all our readers in whichever part of the globe you are in, take care and stay safe.