Our Response to Covid 19 School Closure

Our Response to Covid 19 School Closure

None of us could have imagined current happenings as we planned for the school year 2020/21. Nor could we have dreamed of the ensuing impact on school communities.
Recent weeks have called for robust leadership at every level.
Every aspect of leadership,at a National level and in our local communities has been examined and tested.
Schools are no exception.
In fact,as organisations at the heart of every community,the response of schools to the current crisis directly impacts most households to a greater or lesser degree.
The responsibility of this is the single most onerous matter with which school leaders have had to deal in our times.

As I contemplate our schools Covid-19 journey to date,there are key things which emerge as being vital to an adequate response.
I choose the word adequate deliberately in that I believe that the dangers and pitfalls of decisions which create unrealistic expectations of teachers,parents and pupils,are all around us.
The pressure is on.
Some may expect a response which is rapid and inspired.
In truth an opposite approach is more realistic and ultimately will yield better results over time.The phrase ‘headless chickens’ comes to mind!
From day one I believed that most parents cannot turn a kitchen into a classroom over night.It is easy to overwhelm in an age of endless and high quality resources at our fingertips.
My instinct was that we needed a measured approach.
I wrote to staff and parents and expressed this.
It brings me to the second key point,communication.
All stakeholders are anxious.
Pupils, Parents and Teachers need to know what is happening and what is needed and expected of them in the short term.
The long term is off the radar for all of us for now. This on itself is alarming.
During the first week the leadership team at our school made up of Principal,Deputy Principal, Assistant Principal and five AP2 staff made a call to every family. We were also assisted by the Home School Community Liaison Teacher and both junior infant teachers,who contacted their own classes.
We gathered vital data through these calls.
Not only did we gain a strong sense of what was needed by families at this time but we also enjoyed great conversations which were mutually supportful in nature.
This was the basis for our next step forward with distance learning.
We reported back to our full staff cohort on these calls. This was welcomed by anxious teachers and SNA's eager to do their best to continue the learning and who also expressed concern re individual pupils who they knew would struggle with change and the loss of the security provided in the school setting.
We now also had a good idea of what might work and what limits there might be regarding technology and broadband in homes.
Critically we had a measure of the well-being or otherwise of families at this time.
Particular additional support was arranged for the families who rely so heavily on school support.
This week a staff survey is providing us with further data as to how we should proceed from here,adjustments to be made,suggestions which might help.
Another key element of our response has been ongoing reflection.
The big question we continue to use is ‘What is needed right now and what is it possible to deliver?’
What do children sitting at home need to progress their learning and to help them stay well?
What do parents need to support as much learning as their capacity/circumstances allow and how can the school respond adequately to that?
What do teachers need to support them in their changed role as distant educators and how can we direct them in this while keeping expectations manageable?
What do we need as school leaders in terms of support and direction and where is that support to be got?
Six weeks on we are satisfied that we are responding to these needs in a very focused way.
The distance learning is up and running daily with children and staff interacting purposefully. The uptake is less than we would like but all families are supported with regular phone calls since the initial contact was made.
We have also been pleasantly surprised by how much pupils like to chat on the phone with teachers. We feel that this is especially important for some children who depend on the special connection with school.
For children with particular educational needs and for those in challenging circumstances. Staff have responded by posting activity packs. Feed back on these indicates that parents are very grateful for this inclusive practice.
A very positive outcome has been the opportunity for collaboration among school staff. In challenging times we have witnessed a special kind of bonding.
A Staff WhatsApp, created to ease communication, was immediately hijacked as a platform for jokes and personal banter!
This would seem to be very important for all staff and is responding to a need of sorts.The serious professional communication happens over on  G Suite!

I think it is important that school leaders are confident enough to find a response which suits the needs of their particular community.
All schools are different with different people,a huge difference in access to resources, differences in expertise and experience as well as other local components which have to be considered.
Guidelines and advice are very welcome but every response needs to suit the particular context. A mismatch will cause untold stress for people which ultimately will impact the confidence of school leaders.
I am certain schools are doing well overall and each school can and should evaluate this for themselves.
I marvel at how far we have all come in six short weeks and am proud of the response of our profession.

Regina O Sullivan, Principal of Scoil Mhuire agus Eoin, a DEIS school in Cork city. 

CSL is funded by the Teacher Education Section (TES) of the Department of Education and Skills (DES)
This service is managed by Clare Education Centre.