CSL Update August 2020 – A Mammoth Task

A Mammoth Task
There is little doubt that we all crave normality and routine. Both are deeply embedded in the human psyche. Over the past couple of months, we achieved some sense of both. How wonderful it was to meet and socialise, to escape our homes and gardens. The cup of coffee, glass of wine, or a meal in a restaurant brought joy and comfort, meeting those we cherish cheered our hearts and lightened our minds. September loomed in the distance but the many things we enjoyed kept us focused on the moment. The successful flattening of the curve made the task of returning to school less ominous. It was always going to be demanding, hectic, frustrating and exhausting. The recent spike in cases and clusters has heightened our sense of fear and responsibility, and made what was already challenging into a mammoth task. How can we mindfully get our heads around what is expected of us? 
Firstly, keep things as simple as possible. Complexity abounds in guidelines, check lists, circulars and practical considerations. Always choose the easiest possible option and accept that you can only achieve your best. The same applies to others around you. People have limited stamina, energy and enthusiasm, accepting this as a fact will hold you in good stead to deal with the challenges ahead. 
Remain positive and light. It’s a well-known fact that everyone looks to the leader to measure the atmosphere. When you are perceived as stressed or overwhelmed, others will be considerably more so. To achieve this state of relaxation and exude calm, you must focus on the positives. Children will be children, they will still make you laugh, catch you off guard and demand some level of normality. Concentrate on them, on their natural sense of wonder and joy, inquisitiveness and energy. Soak it up whenever possible and put the worries of the adult world aside when you can. 
Share your feelings with those around you. Talk to confident and relaxed staff members about your worries and concerns, and share your good times with those who are stressed and anxious. Listen carefully to everyone, repeating their points so they know you are truly there for them. This type of listening is mostly silent without initial comment from you.
Slow down your pace when you are walking, slow down the delivery of your speech. Do not complain about your shortened summer holidays or the complexities of the return to school. Truly, nobody wants to hear it. Make time for you, a walk, sitting time, TV, yoga, reading, do whatever is your thing to do for at least 30 minutes a day. Be rigid about this, treat it like an appointment, schedule and prioritise it, and complete it. Erase guilt in relation to it, you need this time. 
Distract yourself from the serious by noticing the trivial. Find a brightly coloured mat, a multi-coloured picture or a cushion for your chair. Place a few brightly coloured objects in the classrooms. Wear something with a bright colour, use an unusual pen or mug. Organise photo displays of lock down fun, hobbies, new skills and experiences. Ensure the school entrance is more colourful than usual, make a ‘Welcome Back’ sign. Introduce the school to different types of music on the intercom. 
Talk to teachers and middle leaders earnestly and openly. Tell them you cannot take on the enormous mental responsibility of the re-opening alone. Tell them you need more than the distribution of leadership, you need their ear, their counsel, their care and their trust. Mention the ‘school team’ often, and how everyone will get through this together. Promote common sense when exact answers and solutions are not possible. Decide together on how to avoid panic and over-reaction. Focus on facts and national guidance rather than local rumours and fear mongering. Decide to avoid or limit social media for September. 
You must manage dealing with this virus or it will manage you. As a school leader, your leadership qualities and skills will be continually tested and stretched. Now is a time to believe in yourself and your inner strength, a time to show leadership, to draw on your life experience, a time to rejoice in the positive and to face the challenges head on. There is solace in others, in not being alone, in laughing, in trivialities, in your pupils and their learning, in the guidance from the DES, the government and education partners in the system. Use them all as you need them, ask for more help, connect with your colleagues, stay close to your friends, appreciate your family and loved ones and be kind to yourself. 
There is a far off rainbow’s end awaiting. This is a place of normality and safety, and the only way to reach it is together. Hope is a wonderful thing. Do your utmost to keep it alive and well in your school community. Stay strong, more people than you think have your back. You are appreciated, you are significant and you are stronger than you think. You are in your role now for a reason, to navigate your school community through the storm, to remain strong and steady at the helm. Calmer waters await, believe in yourself until they are a reality.  

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