First published in GroundUp.
The delayed start to the 2021 academic year offers us a chance to breathe fresh air into the schools.
Naturally, we are all anxious. Teachers are anxious because they risk exposure even though strict protocols are in place at schools, and they are under academic pressure during an extremely challenging time. Parents are anxious because their children are “losing” two weeks of their education. Education officials are anxious because they will be held accountable for the role they play in ensuring schools are supported. And children are anxious because they are dealing with the social and emotional impact of the pandemic and miss the rhythm and routine of school. This is the reality with which we enter 2021.
As a school principal, I have a choice. I can choose to lead from a space of anxiety or from a space of possibility. I can choose hope instead of fear. I can choose purpose instead of frustration. I can choose to find opportunities instead of seeing challenges. My choice determines the path of my school community, so I choose to see this time as a gift.
Usually, the school staff only have two days to do as much as they can to ensure the academic year runs as smoothly as possible. Often there is so much administrative work to be completed that it spills over into term time. At the start of every academic year, we are inundated with forms, deadlines, programmes, meetings and expectations and we mostly feel like we are getting very little done or that we are not moving forward. We start the year exhausted before we have even begun and it’s pretty much downhill from there.
This year we can start with ease instead of a mad rush and flurry of activity. Let us use the time wisely.
We can build our skills in methodology and technology. We can unpack the curriculum in ways we never have time to take, allowing for innovation and creativity. We can engage in personal and professional development with more depth and understanding, and a greater focus on implementation. We can really get to know our colleagues and build the team. We can harness the strengths of the many individuals that make a school work. We can take time to address issues of racism and transformation, and plan for change. We can use the time to grieve for the many losses we have suffered. We can give emotional support to our school staff for the weight of the school community they carry on their shoulders.
At our school, we are giving attention to the things that will make a difference in our school community. We have been engaging in team-building activities that are much needed after the last tumultuous year. We have held meetings to build leadership capacity across the school and create more spaces for innovation and collaboration. We are rethinking traditions and tackling changes we want to make. The teachers have had time to declutter their classroom spaces without the usual time pressures. They are attending virtual workshops on various aspects of the curriculum. We are developing computer skills to help all staff work more efficiently.
What we do with this time will have a significant impact on schools. Let’s shift the needle from frantic to calm now that we have a chance to breathe fresh air into our schools.
Columns signed “A Matter of Principal” are written by various school principals. Views expressed are not necessarily GroundUp’s.