For weeks on end we’ve been listening to and talking about the dangers of Covid-19 which has fuelled fear and anxiety in our society. But I want to look through another lens and share my experience of the benefits of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Before lockdown, I was STRESSED but I didn’t really know it until I stopped. As a school leader, I worked long hours, skipped meals and had a full social diary. I thought I knew what I had to do to lead a healthy lifestyle. I did yoga to de-stress, I spent money on massages to ease the knots in my back, I prepared a healthy lunch for work (which I rarely got the chance to eat). There was a real tension between what I knew I needed to do and what I actually achieved but I didn’t have time to stop and worry about it. I was busy, busy, busy, places to go, people to see.
When lockdown started, I’m not going to lie, I felt relief. Finally I could just stop.
However, I struggled to stop initially. I felt anxious because it felt so alien to be at home with no-where to go and no-one to see. So I did what most of the nation has done and I started to clear out. Every cupboard, every drawer. I’ve never been so organised and it was great for the soul. I felt liberated, organised and calm. The process made me fall in love with my home again. It’s a place that gives me comfort and I’ve no longer got that niggling feeling that I used to get when there was a thick layer of dust and a giant washing pile that I couldn’t deal with because I had work to do. Having a tidy and organised home has helped me to think more clearly about other areas of my life.
I’ve weeded the garden, and enjoyed it! Something which was once a chore has become a pleasurable task. Granted, I was listening to podcasts and the sun was shining so it wasn’t that much of a hardship but I also underestimated the pleasure I would feel afterwards. Every time I look out the window and admire a well-cared for garden I feel a sense of pride and achievement.
I am sleeping! I no longer wake at 3am with a train of thoughts about what I need to do, who I need to phone, how many emails have to be read. I go to sleep and I sleep soundly and well.
I have cooked. Proper wholesome food and I’ve sat down to eat mindfully. Gone are the days of stuffing a soggy sandwich down between meetings or at the end of the school day.
I have exercised daily and have appreciated the warm sun on my face, the fresh air in my lungs and the beautiful Scottish countryside in Spring. I’ve loved watching families out walking together, riding bikes together, walking dogs together. Just being together.
Like many others, my use of social media has increased. It’s the antidote to the media, spreading good news stories, fun and laughter, endless examples of good will and kindness. Its helping us stay connected at a time when we’re anything but.
I’m still working incredibly hard, trying to lead a school community in a way I have not been prepared for but I no longer feel judged by others who were once quick to criticise. I’m sure it still happens but I’m safe in my house surrounded by family who accept and love me unconditionally. For the past few weeks I’ve been treated with nothing but compassion and respect and my mind and body has healed and that has made me stronger.
I’m getting to know my staff team in a whole new way. Where there was once fear, apathy, conflict and resistance to change, there’s now collegiality, creativity, bravery, motivation and innovation. Our school building may be closed but our school community is very much connected. Thrown in at the deep end, they’re swimming with the tide, not against it.
Our little education secret has become clear for all to see. Learning doesn’t just happen in school and schools are not just about learning. I’ve spoken to many parents on the phone over the past few weeks who are struggling. Juggling work, home and learning is no mean feat and I take my hat off to all our families who have the courage to follow the needs of their child. Cook, bake, make, explore, read, talk, notice, dream, laugh and investigate. These are the words I have heard some of our families using. We’ve compared stories, shared worries, offered advice and reassurance and sometimes just laughed together. Our parents are seeing their children in a different way, they are developing a better understanding of their children as learners and we are developing a better understanding of our families. This is authentic partnership working. We’re professionals, serving them but we’re all just people, working together, trying to do the best we can in a really difficult situation.
These phone calls home have reminded me that it’s not all good…
I feel guilty about enjoying the benefits of lockdown, especially when I know there are so many people out there who are struggling. I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a secure job and I don’t have to worry that I won’t be paid. I am able to buy food and pay the bills. And I am grateful for that. I miss my family hugely but I would rather not see them for a few weeks than be without them for a lifetime and I’m lucky to have the technology to be able to connect with them often.
So what are have the three main benefits of lockdown been for me?
1. I have a better understanding of what’s important to me – family, love and happiness
2. I’m better at noticing, enjoying the outdoors and appreciating the simple things in life
3. My overall wellbeing is thriving from positive relationships, eating well, exercising regularly and sleeping soundly
Notice that these were all about well-bring and none of them were about work!
So what’s next…?
I’ve still got time to reflect on what has been lost, both personally and professionally, during lockdown. I’ve still got time to decide what I want to bring with me into the future and, more importantly, what I want to leave firmly in the past. I feel excited by the opportunity we have. Covid-19 has brought devastation to many and if we’re lucky enough to make it through we should grab this opportunity to stop, reflect and make decisions about what we need for a stronger, healthier and happier way of life, learning and work.
It’s strange how such strict measures enforced by the government have brought about such liberation in other ways. The measures have gone greatly unchallenged because as a nation, we understand the importance of the cause.
If we were to relate this to our education system, we have had huge autonomy to make changes and liberate our curriculum over the last decade but yet, this has not been achieved because of entrenched traditions, expectations from society, fear and accountability within the education system. The purpose of our curriculum has been shared, printed on posters, translated into fancy taglines but I wonder to what extent it has been fully realised until now. It seems to me that this pandemic is exactly what we’ve been preparing our children for. We’ve been aiming to give them the skills to navigate a world with an uncertain future.
Our purpose couldn’t be any clearer and lockdown has given our teaching profession the time, space and freedom to reflect on our role in education and society. We have had time and space to be creative and have been respected for the work we have achieved. The work we are doing is having a positive impact on some and I hope that this incident will be a catalyst for change so we can impact positively on many. Could this be the one thing that helps us to achieve the transformational change we’ve been striving for to ensure that “Scotland is the best place in the world for our children to grow up?”