Ochoning for Cocooning
Ochoning for Cocooning
Over my desk in my small home office, I have a large old- fashioned road map of Ireland. I put it there in the first week of my IPPN Presidency last September, to be coloured along the roads travelled after my planned multifarious journeys over the following two years as I contemplated the task of meeting and talking with as many school leaders as I could. Our September AGM season was a bright start as I clocked hundreds of miles visiting about ten counties, meeting lots of people, hearing of their good ideas and their concerns. In one particular week, I attended meetings in Roscommon, Donegal, Cavan, Kildare and Wexford, while in one day alone, I covered almost 600km in the car. Trips to Mayo and Sligo included several school visits, as well as calls to their Education Centres. Life was becoming a series of deli counters, diesel pumps, dodgy Wi-Fi and nightly road music from the kindly John Creedon as I urged the car back towards Tullamore and home.
When the Coronavirus emerged as a threat to world health and economic stability, it affected millions of people worldwide in how they would conduct their lives until there was some semblance of normality again. For me, it would involve a complete change of approach. Schools closed with barely a word of warning on March 12th. Many schools did not even have the chance to make sure their children took their school books home. Indeed, how to distribute school books to families after the lockdown formed a large part of the narrative over the following weeks. For schools involved in the School Meals Programme, it meant that serious challenges had to be met in distributing the food to children who relied on it.
The DE Social Inclusion office sought the help of IPPN in communicating with school leaders during the Easter break after problems emerged with the food distribution chain. School leaders as ever, were wonderful and made sure that the food was received by those needing it, by a variety of means, including spending hours of their holidays handing boxes out in their school grounds, and HSCL teachers using their vast knowledge of local areas and families to deliver to children’s homes. I found the work with the School Meals distribution exhausting but very rewarding, and I got to experience at first hand, the extraordinary generosity of community spirit which existed in parishes, towns and school catchment areas all over the country. I would also acknowledge the incredible work carried out by the Community Champions service in bringing together the resources of several community and sporting organisations and clubs, and making them available where they were most needed.
Before the pandemic, IPPN and ECSI (Education Centres) had been exploring ways in which we could support each other in providing support for school leaders. From my viewpoint, the ‘positive’ to emerge has been the rapid growth in the use of digital meeting platforms, which have allowed meetings and courses to be delivered remotely. Through the Education Centres and their reach, I have over the past weeks, spoken with principals and deputy principals, together and separately through several Education Centres. These meetings have proven to be a powerful way to meet many members in a short time span, hear their ideas, share what information we have, and gauge what issues are coming down the tracks. Many of the issues in particular around school reopening were highlighted through such meetings and were included in IPPN’s lengthy submission to the DE on the subject.
I have also been very pleased to see the extraordinary generosity of spirit between all agencies, organisations and unions in sharing good practice and working together to avoid duplication to provide the best support possible to all our schools and our precious pupils.
In the middle of all this, we must ensure that our own families and those dear to us are supported, we must mind ourselves. Our lives have changed- that’s for sure, but these changes have included many positives. Family, nature and our own downtime have all benefitted from this. Our gardens and houses have been seen to. Our dogs have had their paws worn down from walking. Whenever the new normality takes shape, we will hopefully bring some of the learnings from this time of pandemic with us. And possibly, park permanently, some practices which had hitherto affected our personal and professional lives in negative ways.
I might even use my roadmap to visit the odd place unrelated to work, but very much related to wellbeing!
Damian White is the principal of Scoil Shinchill in Killeigh, Co. Offaly and is currently on secondment as President of IPPN for the 2019-2021 term of office.