Duing this challenging time, it is more important than ever to be part of a network; to have the space to talk to colleagues, hear what they are doing and share ideas.
Our WE virtual meetings are designed to support you during this challenging time. They are an opportunity to learn with and from colleagues across the country during this fast-moving situation. Discover our WE ‘Summer Curriculum’ for Trusts, Primaries and Secondaries.
This week’s primary call had an input from Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust. He shared the trust’s approach to staff wellbeing during this extraordinary time – as well as the way they were planning for their return to the school building..
1. Woodland Academy Trust have surveyed their staff on how their actions are affecting their mental health and wellbeing so that they can understand the experience of colleagues and identify changes or support needed. 95% were positive about the approach that has been taken by the trust.
2. Everything we do is based on trust. I’d rather ‘legislate’ for the 95% that we know are doing things well than the 5% that might not be”. The trust know that a significant number of their team are managing work, caring for their only families, and worries about health. Being sensitive to their needs in this context is vital. The trust “doesn’t believe in high stakes accountability” for staff, designing their approaches around trust.
3. Woodland Academy Trust are making online CPD available to staff – but as an entitlement for staff who want to engage with it, rather than as an expectation. Colleagues that want to change their CPD and action research to focus on Covid-19 relevant practice (e.g. effectively online learning) will also be supported to do that.
4. Due to the extraordinary circumstances, Dan and his team have cancelled the appraisal process for this academic year for all staff. All staff will receive automatic pay progression. This needs to be approved at board level, but is a way of reducing anxiety for their staff and providing them with more security during this time. Staff will continue their action research projects and professional reading and CPD during partial school closures.
5. Woodland Academy Trust has contracted a counsellor to support staff online. The contract extends into next year so counselling is available for staff on their return to school – giving continuity of support.
6. WE leaders discussed the importance of personal and professional coaching during this extraordinary time. Leaders can sometimes be personally affected by focusing on staff wellbeing. High-quality peer coaching can help make the difference and help colleagues manage the variety of difficult circumstances they’re facing.
7. Staff miss the simple reassurance and affirmation from each other that is normally part of everyday life in school. In a remote world, some colleagues are less confident to make decisions without checking with leadership first because they don’t want to make mistakes. Others are sharing all the decisions they’re making because they want to check and be told they’re doing the right thing. Find ways to support these colleagues informally with different styles of group/individual check-ins.
8. Leaders should allow themselves to be honest, vulnerable and human when responding to bereavements in the school community. It is inevitable at this time that there will be people within our school communities who have suffered from losses as a result of Covid-19. This is an appalling situation for us to be in – but give your team explicit permission to grieve and be human, rather than bottling feelings up. Demonstrate this by allowing yourself to be vulnerable – you don’t have to be strong and collected for everyone else, all the time.
9. This is a scary time and we are facing unprecedented challenges – but there was optimism from leaders that this would lead to post-traumatic growth. All the leaders were aware of how challenging the situation was and the difficult circumstances facing their teams. But there was an inspiring commitment to be brave, support each other, and that eventually through adversity schools and their communities would grow.
Return to full schooling
Leaders on the call shared practical suggestions of things they could be doing now to prepare for a return to school:
10. It is crucial to stay up to date with children needing additional support free school meal eligibility. Dan recommended that SBM carry out weekly checks to see whether new families are eligible for free school meals. Due to rapidly changing employment situations Woodland Academy Trust has had a 4.8% increase in families eligible for FSM.
11. Consider what we do know about the likely circumstances when schools return (phased return and social distancing measures) – and wherever possible prepare now. It is important to consider the unique circumstances of your school community and what you are able to provide for the children (also based on your unique staffing situation). This may be different to what is offered by local schools, but clear communication with parents regarding your provision will alleviate any queries. For example, think about specific year groups, siblings, how you would stagger break times, create one way systems around the school to meet the social distancing guidelines. Dan strongly advised leaders to prepare for these now rather than waiting for government confirmation.
12. This means some really practical considerations about your physical infrastructure – which are likely to be relevant at least in the medium-term. For example, hygiene requirements around frequent hand washing are likely to be the new normal. Dan had realised that it was going to take 41 minutes to get all children into class after break – so they have purchased 88 outdoor sinks, reducing this time to 11 minute. Making these sorts of practical changes can’t wait – the lead in time for new sinks, for example, is six weeks.
13. Consider a redesign of the key transition points and those of all children. Leaders were focused on welcoming new Reception children, how to support current Reception children into Year 1 and how to ensure that the remainder of Year 6 is spent creating happy memories prior to supporting the children on their transition to secondary school.
14. Design real learning projects to help children make sense of the unprecedented times. Alison Wyld, Headteacher of Harmans’ Water Primary School, told the group how they had prepared a specific project for all year groups which they will work on together. They will create a first hand piece of historical evidence which will be a permanent reminder for future pupils at the school of the memories and experiences of Harman’s Water pupils during the Covid-19 pandemic.
15. Consider what you can take forward from this time when school moves back to a mostly physical environment. Some leaders wanted to explore how the connectivity of webinars and virtual catch ups could support school life even when they had returned to their physical buildings. Carmella Reece wanted to make more of wellbeing when the crisis was past; to put it more closely at the heart of their curriculum.
Register your interest in the series to share your ideas with other trust leaders across the country and find out how they are tackling shared challenges.