COVID-19: the toughest time in 30 years

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At the onset of COVID-19 my leadership team and I had a good chuckle as we worked through a document sent to us to advise on allocating roles and responsibilities for remote learning.

Of the 84 very well intentioned responsibilities described, only one was allocated to me the Principal: Delegate responsibilities to specific roles. If only life had been so simple!

The last eight weeks have been some of the most intense of my working life.

“The last eight weeks have been some of the most intense of my working life.”

Many aspects of my work as Principal had to be reimagined, my interactions with staff were disrupted in a similar way to the disruptions between teachers and their classes.

Principal Michael Egan says the last eight weeks have been some of the most intense of his working life.

On one level it was a bit like being a tradie whose truck had been broken into forcing them to temporarily work with only a few of their regular reliable tools.

Remote learning took away much of the relational toolbag, gone were the opportunities to use quick fire favourite responses, the gestures, non-verbal cues and gentle encouragements and reprimands that make up so much of a face to face lesson.

Teachers found the selection and preparation of materials for remote learning typically requiring two to three times the preparation of regular lessons. It was inspiring to watch the dedication with which these tasks were undertaken, but this wasn’t even half of it. Feedback, re-programming, variations to assessment and wellbeing checks all added to the complexity of the time. Rarely before have I seen teaching so universally look less like a job and more of a vocation.

COVID- 19 has meant a bit of an about face for Principals. Our national standards often describe best practice in terms of working across schools and outside your own setting, lockdown has largely eliminated this. So many meetings switched to Zoom, most (thankfully) dramatically shortened and more focussed. Increased presence at our own sites, especially in the hybrid times between remote learning and resumption of full face to face learning again, has allowed so many more encounters and interpersonal engagements than are possible at other times. This time has been rich and rewarding.

Of the 84 responsibilities referred to earlier, 12 mentioned parents. COVID-19 has been a time of unprecedented increase in communication between schools and parents, especially high schools. Many parents struggled with content and learning materials supplied. The really successful parents that I observed tended to pick up that relational toolbag that the teachers had lost and put it to good use in learning time. Accompaniment, presence, affirmation, encouragement, forgiveness, all required immeasurable time and effort. All of these things are essential aspects of our relational lives as Christians, going well beyond our educational endeavours.

Principal Michael Egan with some of the students at La Salle Catholic College.

As for new technologies, not so many are that new, rather it appears that we are all just getting around to mastering them and selecting the ones that we can best put to use.I hope the “new normal” is long lasting. The hallmarks appear to be hope, appreciation and renewed enthusiasm.