A year to forget or remember the silver lining?

By Cheryl Embleton, HR & Business Manager, OIS

There is little doubt that, for many of us, we will remember this year as one we want to forget. But before we push it away, I’m going to have one last attempt at extracting some of the lessons in school leadership that I’ve learned along the way, the magic moments...

January and February: 21st century learning, it was a metaphor that flattered to deceive. The long-awaited year had finally arrived, but as we all returned to school after the holidays, there can be no doubt that most of our ambitious projections, good intentions and holiday plans were still a possibility. In February came stories of people getting sick in far-away places. We watched in silent horror as cities started to enter lockdown. And yet, somehow, we still managed to convince ourselves that we were immune. The tide had gone out and the signs were everywhere, but we still managed to convince ourselves that we would not be hit. And then we were.

March and April: As schools closed everywhere, our instinctive reaction was to encourage those around us to pace themselves for the long road ahead. The problem though, was that most of us have never run a marathon (aka: working from home the entire week). We’ve never trained for a marathon either, although we wished that we could, and we had no idea how hard it was. March was probably more like a series of quick jogs and pulled muscles and we tried out an office at home and sat at the kitchen table for meetings. We had so many ideas, initiatives, and genuine expressions of standing together, at OIS we started with a Corona Crisis Team; we held daily meetings which provided us all with a sense of community; we were in this together. Then came problem solving, ideas and initiatives to set up a new way of working and this brought its own challenges and unless your manage them carefully, they can be short-lived and they are often followed by feelings of anxiety and a general sense of lethargy.  By April, the signs were everywhere indicating that this would be longer than just a few weeks; the longer-term impact of what we were experiencing was beginning to emerge.

Mayour Corona digital journey started in earnest; students and teachers transitioned to distance learning; many experiences were better than we had expected. Many even thrived in this new environment, another reminder that our programmes and pedagogies continue to support all types of learners. Our student numbers continued to grow as families repatriated or continued to be relocated by their employers and our teachers were always on-hand for students to provide them with guidance and to support parents who were asked to become teachers at home. At OIS we also learnt a lot about ourselves; meetings were far more productive over Zoom than in person and we agreed somewhere along our journey that we would not return to long face to face meetings in the future.

June & July: The end of the school year brought a flurry of virtual graduations, virtual goodbyes, and with no respite on the horizon. We’d spent months thinking that this would be the end the pandemic, only to discover that there were more challenging times ahead. We knew that things were complicated, but we still had no idea how much more complicated they were going to become and how many different scenarios we may still have to face. All of us will agree, now more than ever, that good communication and words matter. They have the power to frame, inspire, understand, connect and much more. Words don’t just describe our history, they make it.

August and September: By August, there were new plans; the ‘school reopening plan’. Like a veritable book of spells discovered in the library of Hogwarts, we looked in awe at the planning scenarios, our guiding principles, and our commitments towards each other. More classes, new staff members, new students, new ways of working, new working times and a fabulous new library were amongst some our silver linings! As far as Corona was concerned, the human impact of the pandemic was by now plain to see in the stresses and strains of our home life and the changes that were being forced upon us, and during our working week. Our focus of attention was on the things we could do safely; the after-school activities, swimming lessons and our new outdoor play equipment. We held our first digital parent information sessions, we had more than 100 people attending, and we made our first admissions video.

October and November:  There was a day, and I don’t know exactly when it was or how it came about, but we all started to feel exhausted from working at home; we are social creatures, the need for personal contact, smiles at the coffee machine and the smiling faces of our students drew us to the familiarity of just being in school. We gained strength from the promise of family gatherings and celebrations to round off an otherwise difficult year. But as time went on, it was abundantly clear that the holidays were not going to be as any of us had hoped they would.  Every student, parent, teacher, leader lost something this year. There were big losses and small losses. There were silent losses that accumulated over time and huge losses that happened suddenly. People lost time, opportunities, memories, celebrations, their health, friends and loved ones and every loss matters.

December:  As we prepare for our unique Christmas vacation, we look back at our planned three-week holiday with the hopes, and dreams of a nice long break, easier (and less expensive) flights when we packed up our classrooms mid-December and to return to ‘home’, to ‘family’ or an exciting holiday. However, in 2020 it’s not going to happen. Sint, Christmas and our annual festive breakfast will happen as planned and we will follow the Government regulations to minimise contact with too many outside our bubble; small family groups, get-togethers if at all, and wearing face-masks in public.  However, let’s be optimistic, we were in it together, and next year will see more opportunity to make the most of this time. See you in January 2021 and please bring your silver lining with you.