My summer began with a family camping trip to a quiet pocket of Sussex. It took me a wee while to transition out of the adrenalised ‘on’ state of the pandemic months. Disconnected from email, I wanted little more than books to read and early nights. After a few long hikes and a couple of dips in the Channel, my shoulders descended, and my mind calmed.
Still in the process of unwinding, I haven’t fully digested or made sense of these past months. I feel certain that profound change is taking place: this experience has altered so many of us, and that collective change must play out within society at large. Uncertainty is still high. Fear about the health risks from the virus and the damage done to the life chances of young people are high. The data remains contested and complex, to me at least.
I hope to make more sense of it all as the summer progresses, but I also recognise that I may get to September without much additional clarity or wisdom. As a leader, I will need to ‘hold the ring’ for my team, set a clear and positive sense of direction and have the courage of my convictions. Should I make the wrong call on what we prioritise, the environment will be unforgiving.
That accountability sits less heavily on me than it might. I’ve learned a lot from colleagues and friends in school leadership over these months. The best leaders have illustrated time and again that staying focused on core purpose – why we do what we do – helps in navigating the trickiest circumstances. It seems blindingly obvious in theory, but in practice, it can be difficult to retain focus with the myriad of distractions, demands and noise in our midst.
Covid-19 has brought into sharp relief the significance of schools and communities as focal points across the country. Lockdown revealed that neighbourhoods and communities are more than an idea – they are central to our way of life. Even in my busy inner London community, people have come together to support each other in thousands of small, selfless ways. These bonds have carried many of us through these months, not least since so many of us are miles from our families and communities of origin.
Within communities, the pivotal role of schools has become crystal clear. The support staff, teachers and school leaders in our communities have stood tall. They have provided a foundation of trust and care for children and families that has enabled the NHS and other front-line staff to turn their attention to dealing with the pandemic.
It is no wonder that trust in education professionals is at the top end of the scale. The integrity and resolute purpose evident in the response by schools across the country has been humbling and inspiring.
As a leader, I have much to learn from you. I hope you find the time to appreciate and learn from yourselves this summer.
About Sinéad Mc Brearty
Sinéad Mc Brearty is CEO at Education Support. She began her career at KPMG before moving to the not-for-profit sector. Previous roles include deputy chief executive at Social Enterprise London and director at award-winning social enterprise Women Like Us. Before joining Education Support, Sinéad was an organisational development consultant and a visiting lecturer at Imperial College London and The Royal College of Art. She is a trustee of The Kaleidoscope Trust and a governor of a south London primary school.
Education Support is the mental health and well-being charity for the education workforce across the UK. www.educationsupport.org.uk.
First published 27 July 2020