4 ways leaders can learn from the coronavirus crisis

Dr Kulvarn Atwal outlines how he has used the coronavirus crisis to reassess his approach to key leadership ideals

Kulvarn Atwal

Coronavirus crisis: This is an opportunity for school leadership to reflect on their priorities, writes headteacher Kulvarn Atwal

The past four weeks have affected schools in a way that will leave our lives changed forever.

At the beginning of March, I had many worries. I was worried about ensuring that we had a surplus budget at the end of the financial year.

I was worried about staffing for the summer term. I was worried about the Year 1 phonics data. I was worried about our children’s preparation for the Year 6 Sats. I was worried about governance.

Fast-forward six weeks and everything has changed – no phonics test, no KS2 Sats. Does the budget really matter that much right now?

So what am I worried about now? I’m worried about the health of my family. I’m worried about the learning of my own children.

I’m worried about how all the children and families are coping at home – are they safe? Are they eating? How wide will the gaps in learning be between the haves and the have-nots when we return? What can I learn from this month to support us all in the challenges that lie ahead?

Coronavirus has forced me to rethink school priorities

1. Tune in

I am going to take the time to tune into what really matters to me as a school leader. I’m going to take the precious time and space made available to me to think about the type of school that I want to lead in the future.

I will ensure that everything I do is focused on the best interests of all our children and that anything that potentially distracts me from that is removed.

What do I want for our children? I want them to be compassionate to others and passionate about their own learning. I want them to be humble, creative, critical, reflective, self-confident and empowered.

I want them to question the world and to have a joy for learning. I want them to all feel that they truly belong. I aim to create a school and provide a curriculum that enables this to happen.

2. Value more

I am going to take the time to value what I have in my life. To value the amazing, fulfilling job I have. To value the fact that I have the power to make such a positive difference to the lives of children and their families and to use that power wisely.

I will value the wonderful adults I work with and the amazing team I am a part of. I want every adult to equally feel that they belong, to know they have a voice and to see themselves as leaders.

I will value being a small part of that team and know that individually and collectively, we make a difference every day.

I know how important it is for me to be working alongside like-minded people with shared passions and values.

3. Be optimistic

I have to be optimistic. We are in the middle of an awful situation and it is going to get worse. I’m sick of the word "unprecedented".

But I believe we will get through this. We will do that by being there for each other and supporting each other. We will check in on our children the best that we possibly can – we will ensure that our families know that we continue to be there for them.

I’m not going to worry about the potential gaps in children’s learning, or about their phonics or Sats.

I know that when the children return, we will do everything in our power to enable them to learn and we will do this collectively as a team. We will be an even stronger team and an even stronger learning community.

And we will value our learning and our school community in a way that will be stronger than it has ever been.

4. But also realistic

It is going to be tough but I need to be realistic, and this includes not being too hard on myself. I have made mistakes in the past few weeks and I will continue to make mistakes.

We have been bombarded with instructions and directives on an hourly basis. I haven’t got everything right but I have done the best that I could in the circumstances that I’ve faced. 

I have consulted, questioned and listened – I have to make sure I continue to do this.

This isn’t a normal situation and it is unrealistic to try to mirror the learning experiences that children would have received in schools in their homes. I’ll just have to do the best I can.

That means us doing our collective best to provide positive remote learning experiences for our children at home.

I also want them to have fun and experience things they may not have had the opportunity to do – cooking, dancing, making movies, playing board games. They will return to school one day and we can worry about reading, writing and maths then.

Kulvarn Atwal is executive headteacher of two large primary schools in the London Borough of Redbridge. His first book, The Thinking School: developing a dynamic learning community, is out now. He tweets @Thinkingschool2

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Kulvarn Atwal

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