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How to be a brave school leader after lockdown

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The kids are coming back - wahey! Finally some sense of normality can return. But how can you be a brave school leader, asks Sarah Creegan, and take everyone with you going forward?

Leading a school through challenging times

It became apparent early on that there wasn’t going to be a blueprint as to how to lead a school through challenging times. Headteachers had to make decisions based on what was best for their school community. 

They had to be flexible and adaptable in their thinking as we embraced the lockdown-open for identified children-fully reopen-lockdown-open for identified children-fully reopen shuffle. And now, with schools fully reopening on March 8th, more brave decisions will be needed. 

With this (hopefully) being the final lockdown, there’s a lot to be tentatively positive about. After school clubs are returning and inter-school sports competitions are being planned for later in the summer term. Bubbles can finally be fully burst and everyone will be able to play together – how exciting is all of that?

But, with all of this imminent excitement, comes a whole host of considerations for school leaders. 

Bridging the gap

As for the past year, a lot of thought will continue to go into health and safety measures, including updating risk assessments as the situation improves and the advice changes. Eventually moving away from social distancing and mask-wearing, to hugging and kissing the world and his wife. Big, slobbery kisses too - not just a polite peck on the cheek. 

Heads will also be very mindful of the ongoing debates as to how children will catch up academically. Suggestions include: starting school at 5am every morning and pushing on till bedtime and cancelling the every foreseeable school holiday, including Christmas. After all, no child needs to see the sea, visit their rellies or spend time in the park with their friends, do they?

Reflecting on what went well and what could have been even better

School leaders have walked a tightrope during the pandemic. As always, they’ve done their best to put the children at the centre of all they’ve done – even from a distance. But they’ve also had to be more mindful than ever of the demands put on their staff, as well as trying to keep anxious parents motivated and happy with the home-schooling offer.

Over the past year, feedback from people will have ranged from those who’ve been onboard, supportive, constructive and understanding, to others who have felt like more or better should have been done. Without being able to have regular little chats, all comments are likely to have been made via email or phone calls – and a lot of these have been full of emotion, as you would expect during a crisis.

Much like the government will need to do, now is the time for school leaders to reflect on how things went and what can be learnt for the future. This could be done through:

  • Chatting to your team – it sounds obvious but often, when we cope with a situation and come out the other side, we tend to just move on and not have those reflective conversations. 
  • Setting up a parent working group. Whilst it would be more comfortable to make this a group of parents who coped well and regularly sent positive emails, you need to make this group as diverse as possible –to include the parents whose emails you dreaded opening. Make sure that you are part of this group and that you keep a check on any biases that you have.
  • Ensuring that everyone feels comfortable to give their views through an anonymous staff and/or parent survey. If you do this, encourage people to suggest solutions to any areas that they think could improve (this is called feedforward) and not just list all of the things that they had a problem with!
  • Asking the kids. In the first couple of weeks, most schools will be focusing on getting the children settled back in, feeling safe and happy. To that end, finding out a bit more about what they’re looking forward to is key.

Questions to ask and things to think about 

Questions to ask

Things to think about

Were we true to our vision and values?

In light of what we know now, do we need to revisit and review these in the future?

How was the balance between looking after people’s mental health and wellbeing, and ensuring that the children still made some academic progress?

What do we want to do regarding catch-up programmes?

Would it help to have a whole school mental health and wellbeing offer?

How was communication with parents?

Which systems worked and which didn’t – do we need anything new?

If we created a whole school community spirit via a social media platform – was it inclusive? For new parents joining in September, do we strongly encourage them to access our Twitter/ Facebook pages?

How was communication amongst staff and with governors?

It’s likely that the number and length of meetings was reduced in 2020. Going forward, how can we maintain shorter, more productive meetings?

How flexible were we?

Whilst they have been exceptional times, how can we continue to support staff on an individual basis according to their personal situations? e.g. could a teacher come in a bit later once a week so that they can drop their own kids off at school? 

How solution focused were we?

Having had to look at every family’s situation with empathy and provide them with the resources that they needed, what does this mean for supporting homework, access to clubs etc going forward?

How was the workload?

In terms of planning, assessment, recording and reporting – what has been the impact of working slightly differently over the past year? Would it help to review some of our pre-COVID practices, such as end of year reporting to parents? 


Of course, there are lots of other questions that you might want to ask, which are pertinent to your setting and community. The important thing though is to welcome all comments and suggestions with an open mind. 

Hopefully (for the fourth and final time), all schools will be able to move forward positively and confidently, having used the past year as a learning opportunity and not just put it behind them as a lost cause.

At Laughology, we provide all sorts of support for schools. If you would like any help or company on your journey, we would love to hear from you.

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Join some of the most interesting and respected voices in positive psychology for our Our Big Chat about…Thinking outside the tick box, inaugural webinar. Our two and half hour interactive event will look at the best mental health strategies for organisations, identifying what works and what doesn’t.

Dave McPartlin:

Dave is the Headteacher of Flakefleet Primary School.
Creating the right environment for people and communities to flourish

Sunita Hirani

Sunita is one of the BBC’s key equality, diversity and inclusivity experts.
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Professor Sir Cary Cooper

Cary is one the world’s most influential voices in occupational health and wellbeing.
Enhancing Mental Wellbeing at Work. Evidence based strategies for creating a wellbeing culture at work.

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