June 2020 - CSL’s Pandemic Work, Stuck Between Two Hills

CSL has continued to promote one-to-one coaching for all school principals, and team coaching for all school leadership teams through the CSL website and the CSL Twitter feed with both types of coaching available online.

CSL is in consistent contact with mentors and has requested them to keep in touch and offer support to their mentees. Mentees have also been contacted directly with messages of support. CSL has been working closely with PDST to provide an online Misneach Three, and to prepare for Misneach One, which will be facilitated online. An online version of a module on mentoring is currently in development. It is hoped that new mentoring relationships will begin with a face-to-face, socially distanced meeting in early September. All CSL mentors will be issued with guidelines in relation to this.

Collaboration with stakeholders
CSL has been working closely with IPPN, NAPD, and Clare Education Centre to address the needs of school leaders during the current crisis, particularly in relation to wellbeing. This work has included collaboration on webinars, advice to school leaders and the promotion of leadership wellbeing.

Since March 18th, CSL made a decision to put out a positive Tweet in relation to wellbeing/positive leadership on a daily basis. This is aimed at teachers and leaders within the system, and encourages people to look after themselves. Followers have increased by over 600 in response to this daily tweet.

CSL Website
CSL has initiated a weekly blog on the website offering a variety of school leaders and Irish system leaders the opportunity to write a short piece and to share their personal and professional leadership experiences during the pandemic. A specially developed pandemic video entitled ‘Leadership in Limbo’ is currently in development.

The CSL Team has written wellbeing articles which have been included in the IPPN Leadership+ magazine and the NAPD Leader, and published on the IPPN and ICP websites.

Endorsement of Professional Learning
CSL has engaged with 11 applications for endorsement. The first stage of the process has been conducted by the panels online with plans for the second stage to be conducted in face-to-face meetings in September.

CSL is working on a research publication to highlight the theory behind the Model and Continuum of Professional Learning. It is hoped this document will be ready for publication in September.

CSL continues to work closely with UL, NUIG and UCD to monitor the progress of the PDSL Programme. Applications are currently open for Cohort Four to begin in September. The programme will be facilitated online until face-to-face engagement is allowed again according to HSE guidelines.

Stakeholder Engagement
CSL is currently working with an IT company to progress the Stakeholders’ Shared Calendar and to advise on online professional learning provision going forward.

Leadership Clusters
CSL has been in contact with the clusters to ask their opinion on showcasing their work and to plan a celebration of their achievements when this is possible.

Other Jurisdictions
CSL remains in close online contact with colleagues in Scotland and Wales to learn from each other’s experience during the pandemic and to find common solutions to challenges which emerge. The team is working on two European projects online, one which supports the development of school leaders in Lithuania and one which is developing a framework for inclusive leadership to further support the Looking at our School Framework for Leadership and Management.

Data Collection
CSL is working collaboratively with IPPN, NAPD and the Teaching Council to address the need for data collection in the Irish school system in relation to leadership.

Stuck Between Two Hills
We have come a long way. The new normal has been well and truly embraced. The silver linings of lock down have come to the fore, time for loved ones, exercise, hobbies, dare we admit it, time for ourselves?? Many will read this list from a different perspective, those who have been ill, have lost family members, are on the frontline, have to cater to the needs of the young and the vulnerable, have developed serious financial hardship, and suffered from the effects of addictions, unhappy family situations and mental health issues. The difference in people’s personal circumstances has been bridged by one rather shaky platform, that of being over the dreaded surge for now, and the fact that some semblance of normality is beginning to develop in the foreseeable future. Alongside the ongoing reduction in the daily death rates, the decrease in reported cases and the preservation of the by now famous R number, there is a new sense of hope, a tangible sense of nearing normality and a deep gratitude that things have not been as horrific as was originally feared. In the last couple of weeks, we have felt the wind behind us, we have descended, albeit slowly, from a treacherous summit and we are beginning to feel solid ground under our feet again.
As school leaders, this sense of calm is essential. There is a certainty in our safety just now. The statistics look good, the virus is officially suppressed and the requested continuity of teaching and learning has been achieved to the best of our collective and contextual abilities. Collaboration has increased, trust has been built, and there has been acceptance too, of what is beyond us and our school communities in our different contexts. While still very busy, and concerned about our students, teachers and the whole school community, there is something of a collective sigh of relief, a sense of maybe being able to catch our breath once again, perhaps for the first time since March 12th.

Just as this longer breath is being enjoyed, the September opening looms and the very real possibility of another surge casts an unwanted shadow while we are beginning to enjoy the benefits of the easing of lockdown. This new adjustment brings little tastes of freedom. Instantly we want more! We want the world we left on March 12th to be there just as it was way back then. How can we summon the energy to deal with the challenges of a new existence? Lockdown was never normal and its strangeness to our psychological wellbeing always had the potential for eventual acceptance. It had a finiteness to it, the decreasing statistics brought the quantitative data we needed to reassure us. How we love hard facts in this world of fake news! The shadow in the distance is the next climb we face while still exhausted from the previous one. Surely seeing our families and friends, and returning to school and work should be ‘normal’? The indications are that it will be far from any normal we have ever known. So much is up in the air? Will the HSE reduce social distancing to one metre? How will schools cope if they don’t? How can children and teenagers be managed safely while taking account of their struggles, their excitement about the return, and their wounded sense of wellbeing? How can large staffs be managed or smaller staffs trying to stretch themselves more? The questions are endless.

In truth, there are no answers yet. We eagerly follow the progress of other jurisdictions but their contexts do not match ours. We wearily watch the activity of the virus and know that it would take very little to see a rise in cases again. We listen impatiently for guidance, knowing deep down that it is simply too early for it to be provided. But is there anything that would help? Could a ‘possible scenarios’ piece be developed? What about preparation in terms of essential supplies? Is funding going to be provided to help schools do the extras they need to do? Could we please have a road map of the road map?

The system is working hard to provide school leaders with what they need. The quality of and accessibility to webinars, online and telephone advice, blogs, social media feeds and website content is something that the Irish education system should be very proud of. For now, we have to be patient, thankful for getting this far and cognisant of the support provided. But we could also do with a leg up to begin the climb of the next hill. As leaders, we know we have our people with us but we need an extra push from the system, we need recognition that we have done well thus far, we need a hand extended to begin the next section of the climb, to energise and enthuse our weary bones and thoughts. Otherwise, some of us may remain stuck between those two steep hills, and the energy levels of those climbing out of the valley may not be enough to help us on our way. The next summit is still covered in cloud but it is there, as is the descent on the other side. There is hope, there will be good times in the future. Putting exhaustion, fear and apathy behind us will work. Let’s take our breath this July, enjoy the brief reprieve and brace ourselves to scale the summit one more time.

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