As Deputy Head of an all-girls school in Sydney, Australia, we tried to take some new approaches to the challenges over the past two years. There was no script and I think it’s important to acknowledge all that we have done, as educators across the globe, in whatever way, shape, or form to manage to get our schools through. Across the world, teachers rose to the challenge in incredible ways, learning new things and finding new ways to keep our students engaged.
The hardships of the past two years have been an incredible and enriching experience for me personally, especially as a leader. This period really gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own leadership, and it helped me to consider whether I was spending too much time up on the balcony and not enough time on the dance floor. The past two years has taught me to resist getting too bogged down in the operational or strategic side of things and, instead, to foster opportunities for dialogue amongst stakeholders.
At our school, recognising the power of teamwork, and the importance of getting people to work together, has been transformative. It was so important for our teachers to collaborate and rely on each other in new ways to make a difference in our students. Which also extended to our students, working with them and engaging them in meaningful ways, created a positive sense of agency wherever possible.
Communication has also been key. While our students were off campus, learning from the confines of their home, we spent a large proportion of our time ensuring that we were communicating with all bodies consistently, quickly, and accurately – just keeping people updated as much as possible. Really understanding and appreciating what people were going through was key. We found that by heightening the level of dialogue, we were able to foster a greater sense of compassion amongst everyone. We had teachers at home who were trying to look after their children and teach their children at the same time as delivering lessons online. It was really important to keep the whole person and their experience top of mind, as it can be quite easy when you are under duress, to only focus on what’s going on in your world and lose that perspective.
With students, we really focused on amplifying student voice and opening conversations with our student body. For example, at the start of 2021, the issue of consent was being addressed in many schools across the nation. At our school, we saw this as an opportunity to engage students. We encouraged conversations on respectful relationships, including a beautiful student-driven initiative where boys from another school were invited in, and sat in groups and just have conversations on how to make a difference in this area.
”What I am seeing out of the last two years is that more and more young people now have the confidence to come forward and tackle challenging issues in our world – and as educators we can create safer spaces for connection within schools to explore real life issues in practical terms.
We centred much of our dialogue these past two years around embedding our wellbeing framework. Through this time, we explored what was missing and found ways to bring the community together. We started to really miss assemblies (who would have thought!?!) so we ran them in year groups when we could, and included fun and engaging activities like dance, that brought a lot of smiles to a lot of faces. We put a constant focus on identifying opportunities that were in front of us, chances to enrich the experience of students and expand their engagement. We engaged yLead to run our scheduled school committee training for newly elected leaders, online, when it couldn’t be in person and brought in ideas from previous student leaders. By providing these forums we fostered reconnection and identified opportunities for students to lean into their leadership as well, it was in everything we did, from swimming carnivals to the sports field, and even in the orchestra pit, and so on.
These learnings have dovetailed nicely into our new leadership framework, a new initiative that we have recently finalised. Our next steps will involve the development of an explicit Leadership Development program across the whole school, to further support students’ personal development and wellbeing.
If life ever resumes to the normal we once knew, the one thing I will take with me is an important reminder to keep all members of our school community at the forefront of my mind. You will also find me prioritising time for those all-important conversations on the dancefloor, operational aspects and polices can wait!