The peak of unrest for school staff and parents – particularly those in the first tranche – came with the muddle of announcements and guidelines last week regarding schools reopening on the first of June. Friends from the category of ‘reception teachers’ and also, ‘parents of 5-year olds’ have inundated me with their fears and distress at the thought of returning before they are ready. The anxious reactions were not confined to the groups most directly involved; it seeped into the thoughts from other educators, partly in sympathy and outrage, but also in anticipation of what’s to come for them.

The peak of unrest for school staff and parents – particularly those in the first tranche – came with the muddle of announcements and guidelines last week regarding schools reopening on the first of June. Friends from the category of ‘reception teachers’ and also, ‘parents of 5-year olds’ have inundated me with their fears and distress at the thought of returning before they are ready. The anxious reactions were not confined to the groups most directly involved; it seeped into the thoughts from other educators, partly in sympathy and outrage, but also in anticipation of what’s to come for them.

There are many highly emotive and political arguments on social media, further fuelled by unhelpful, un-factual newspaper articles. I have been thinking of a way to explain or understand the enormous negative reaction in teachers that involves principles, as opposed to arguing about where the decisions have come from and the basis for them.

There is a principle I try to live by when it comes to wanting ‘happy’ students and a ‘happy’ staff team. It came from a Bucks writing project and it made so much sense to me that I have never forgotten it (and often am known to quote it!). What I can’t remember is who the idea came from so a) thank you and feel free to take credit and b) please know I may have put my own slant on it. It’s one of those triangle pictures where you aim for a balance between three things:
People have a greater chance of happiness and therefore success, when they have three things in equal measure: When they are valued, when they understand what’s happening and when they have an element of choice. In my experience it has acted like a magic formula both in terms of students’ happiness in class and adults’ happiness in leading. Happiness leads to success. And when there’s no success, I start to examine whether or not the ‘unhappy’ person is being valued, has a good understanding of what’s going on and also has some choice. I’ve always wondered why these triangles used to depict the balance between 3 things are produced in 2D… they should be 3D; a triangle lying flat on only one support in the middle. The only way not to tip is to equally balance all 3 elements.

This to me explains so well why teachers are understandably so ‘unhappy’ about the pressure to invite more students back into schools. There has been little or no element of choice. How much more successful would the re-opening be if school staff and leaders could make more choices that would suit their intake, staff, school genre and location? It’s not as simple as teachers disliking ‘being told what to do’, they are used to – and very experienced in – making bespoke choices that take into account a multitude of complex circumstances. We have all read the guidelines for businesses that stipulate some non-negotiables regarding distancing and PPE etc but leave them to make the main decisions, realising that each business will vary. It shows a huge lack of understanding and trust in the profession to be so imperious when it comes to the timing of schools opening.

This leads on to whether or not educators feel valued. I have joined in with the Thursday clapping and know for the NHS it is well-deserved. How much more would it have valued other workers – bus drivers, postal workers, teachers – to be clapping for all key workers who have continued to work since isolation? How rewarding and motivating would it be to read hero-headlines about teachers who not only have had to learn how to nurture and teach on-line, but also have risked their own safety delivering food to vulnerable families? As for understanding – the lack of involvement of the teaching profession in the decisions and the mixed political and economic agenda in which the opening of schools has been caught up in, has led to a huge amount of misunderstanding.

So, to policy and guideline makers I would say if you want happy and therefore a successful return to schools opening… let the profession know they are valued; give these skilled, experienced and articulate people some choice and make sure the reasoning is based on facts and projections such that people really understand.

In the meantime, what can we do about it?

Leaders…try to find ways to value your staff, involve them in choices and work at spotting and rectifying misunderstandings.

Educators…we can learn to value ourselves; to look for what we have control over and where we can have some choice. Finally, we can seek ways to examine and enrich our own understanding.

Helen Shakespeare

 

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