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Leadership in the Time of Cholera

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There are a number of glib phrases that make me groan: “it is what it is”; or “everything happens for a reason”. I’ve heard more than my fair share of philosophical reflections such as these during our Covid times. A pet hate has been “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”; I’ve long thought that this is palpably untrue, yet faced with the all-pervading uncertainty of 2020, I’m now wondering whether there is more than a grain of truth in this sentiment. No matter the sector of the economy we are in, the past seven months have required us to completely re-think the way in which we manage our professional responsibilities. We have come to accept that our well-laid plans may need to be cancelled, adapted and re-invented. Perhaps the flexibility that has been forced upon us will help us to be calmer, more resilient and more adaptable colleagues and leaders than we were previously?

A number of parents have been extremely kind in providing positive feedback over the way in which we have facilitated the return to school this term. There has been an understanding that, since we have had to create dozens of new routines to respond to Public Health guidance, we might not necessarily get everything right the first time. I would like to share with you my gratitude towards my colleagues at the Grammar School as they have had to quickly come to terms with doing virtually everything differently since September. In terms of their teaching, they have become itinerant. To keep our year group ‘bubbles’ from interacting with one another, rather than boys travelling to and from different departments, the teachers have come to them. This has been much more difficult as they have to carry their resources around with them between lessons, with no time to prepare their minds for the lesson they are about to teach. They have been required to stream their lessons so that boys isolating at home can pursue their learning whilst away from campus. In addition, we have more than doubled the number of staff duties as we check that Covid-safe routines are being respected. At a time when we have heard complaints locally about the variable quality of education being received in some schools, LGS teachers have always placed their pupils’ interests first, accepting without complaining the added obstacles that we have asked them to overcome.

I have never been more conscious of the value of a team than during these past six months, and I could not be more proud of my Senior Leadership Team for the way in which they have taken responsibility for different areas of school life to ensure that every aspect of school re-opening could proceed smoothly. Dr Waters has become an expert in Covid regulations and together with Mrs Foster sacrificed a summer holiday in order to ensure that we both provide as normal an education as possible for the boys and keep them as safe as possible. My pastoral leaders have been attentive to the anxiety that many boys are feeling, particularly at the ‘top’ end of the school, and Miss Jenkins’ Sixth Form Team have helped their boys to retain a sense of perspective when it has never been more difficult to do so. We have also seen tremendous teamwork from our Senior Prefects. In late-August, their video messages recorded in a deluge provided a great deal of reassurance to younger boys over what they could expect upon their return.

It has been important not solely to get lost in the morass of our Covid existence, but instead to work at improving the Grammar School still further. Among my team, Dr Willmott and    Mrs Herring have been concentrating on getting boys focused on their academic routines and goals, so that they will be in the strongest possible position whatever decisions are made in due course about the 2021 public examinations. At the same time, Mr Parish has been leading our response to our diversity challenge that was highlighted so publicly last summer, and it has been gratifying that many boys were involved in presenting our assemblies on Black History Month during the past week.

When I think of the work of all of my colleagues, I conclude that the school has been able to negotiate these challenging times with relative success for two reasons. My colleagues know their jobs; they understand what they are trying to achieve with their pupils and tutees. But in addition, they are showing an open-mindedness and creativity in how to respond to the restraints that life is placing on us. Importantly, they are not being too tough on themselves when things don’t go according to plan. Although we all want high standards, we must appreciate that perfection is unlikely during a period when the goalposts are constantly moving. I would say that the same goes for our parenting! If we can be philosophical about plans that fail and require rapid re-formulation, our children will be less anxious about the uncertainties inherent in their lives for the foreseeable future.

As we move towards half term, we are now preparing the next stages of enhancing our Covid provision. Those colleagues responsible for our co-curricular life are finalising plans for sports fixtures and musical ensembles from November onwards. Their leadership and vision will help boys to find enjoyment and to reduce the frustration that we all feel as the freedoms to which we have become accustomed remain curtailed.

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