The quote above describes a key characteristic of highly effective leaders. They understand the importance of investing time and energy into their teams, to build relationships, trust and a shared understanding of what the team is trying to achieve. They do this in a variety of ways, but regular formal and informal communication and interaction with their team is key. This will involve sharing ideas, talking through challenges, thrashing around approaches to problems, collaboratively planning a new approach, listening to their problems and just generally checking they are OK. The Covid19 lockdown presents leaders with challenges when it comes to working with their teams like this. Leaders have lost the visual prompts that often guide their actions. For example, when we are in school, we’ll see a colleague in our team during breaktime and that will serve as a reminder to catch up with them about X. With this in mind we need to be more intentional about staying in contact with the whole team and the individuals within it during this school closure period.
As is often the case though, I have been hugely impressed with the way in which the Durrington Leaders have risen to this challenge. I thought it would be worth sharing some of the ways they are doing this.
It’s quite normal for curriculum leaders to send out a weekly bulletin, but this becomes even more important during lockdown. This gives clarity in terms of how the team is working towards shared goals. Without the regular contact with their leaders, it’s really important that teachers have the security of information regarding what they should be covering with each year group, what other tasks they need to do, what’s coming up and just general news and update. This really supports their planning and reduces anxiety related to the feeling of ‘not knowing’.
Platforms such as Google Meet and Zoom are excellent for getting the team together virtually, to replace the face to face meetings that normally happen in schools. They are great in terms of discussing key information, but also (and as important) for social interaction with colleagues. Managing online discussions can be tricky though. One way that some of our leaders have overcome this is to do the ‘input’ bit of the meeting beforehand. So for example, our maths department were looking at introducing ‘Hegarty Maths’. Normally this would involve a presentation from Shane (Head of Maths) to the team about this new approach and then a discussion with the team. For obvious reasons this wan’t possible. Shane overcame this by recording a Loom video of himself talking about Hegarty maths – what it is; advantages it will bring; possible challenges etc. This was sent to the team, who were asked to watch it before the meeting. When the team then met online using Google Meet, the input bit had already been done, so the meeting could then focus on discussing the key points. This made for a really efficient meeting.
One to one online meetings
Whilst team meetings are great, sometimes that one to one contact is necessary, to maintain rapport. To address this a number of leaders across the school are scheduling in one to one Google meets with their teams. These are just informal chats, to check in on people during these strange times. This gives leaders the opportunity to check their teams are OK, but also unpick any personal issues they might be having with distance teaching.
We should never underestimate the importance of just spending good quality time with our colleagues. Laughing, joking, unpicking the day and just generally enjoying each others’ company. Teams are finding great ways to do this at a distance. Most teams have very active ‘WhatsApp’ groups to keep in touch with each other and check in on each other. The humanities team organise a weekly online quiz in the evening to catch up with each other.
When life was normal, we had ‘Subject Planning & Development Sessions’ at Durrington. These are fortnightly meetings of curriculum teams, where they talk about what they are teaching over the next fortnight and how to teach it well. Leaders are still doing this – but online using Google Meet/Zoom. These sessions are so important, as we all get used to a new way of teaching at a distance. they are a great opportunity to share what is and isn’t working. Alongside this, leaders are also signposting their teams to the range of ‘lockdown CPD’ available to teachers – see here. So for example, the team may have been asked to watch the Paul Kirschner video here ahead of the online SPDS and then when they meet online, discuss how they are implementing this in their own distance teaching.
CPD needs to be balanced during this time. Teachers are having to get used to a very new way of working, so any CPD offered at the moment needs to be measured. If it’s focused on helping them to adapt to distance teaching, then it’s likely to be well-received and appropriate. If not, it can probably wait.
Keeping an eye on when the doors open
Whilst managing all of this, leaders are also thinking about and planning for when schools re-open (whenever and however that will happen). So for example, they are monitoring where the learning gaps will be emerging with distance teaching and planning how the curriculum will be adjusted to address these gaps when students are back in school. From a practical point of view, they are also making sure that they are collating all the brilliant ‘Loom Lessons’ teachers are making now and filing them for the future. This is a brilliant bank of resources that will continue to be useful when schools reopen e.g. supporting students with homework, or when they might not be in lessons.
Share their successes
Curriculum teams are still finding great ways to celebrate the brilliant work our students are producing during lockdown. A number of our teams are regularly posting examples of great work on our Facebook page. The advantage of this is that even when our students are at home, we are setting the bar of expectation high, in terms of what we expect from students whilst at home and sharing this with students, parents and carers. So this approach is a great motivator for students (and parents who are being brilliant at helping/cajoling our students).
Posted by Shaun Allison