As I scroll mindlessly through social media, my heart goes out to everyone working in schools at the moment. The strain of reimagining pedagogy, working from home and supporting key workers’ children, combined with juggling childcare and self-care, is plain to see.
I hugely admire you all and feel very fortunate to be on maternity leave. However, watching the whirlwind of Covid-19 wreak havoc across our schools from the sidelines also makes me feel helpless. And I have noticed that I am not the only teacher on leave feeling that way.
My current maternity leave and past sick leaves have taught me that missing work can be isolating: some people step back to give you space when you actually need them most.
School staff on leave amid the coronavirus crisis
It strikes me that lots of schools will have staff members on leave for all kinds of reasons who will feel sad and vulnerable at the moment. Although we are lucky to have avoided navigating this chaos in school, this disruption has come at a time in our lives that already felt unsettled, new and tumultuous. Many may be lonely and struggling. Their families may be isolating or far away. Those they depend on could be self-employed or out of work, causing them financial hardship. They may be out of contact with their usual support network of school friends and have no one to turn to. They might be very ill. They may need help.
I am conscious that this may sound feeble, given that we are not dealing with the myriad pressures those of you in school are managing. But for those of us on parental leave, this sacred time for bonding with our children has been upended. We’re missing out on vital support networks such as baby groups and feeding support groups. New parents may be dealing with trauma and struggling to negotiate their new roles with limited help. The routines we were working hard to establish have been upturned and new families are being forced to physically split up and relocate.
For those who are on sick leave unrelated to Covid-19, this is a particularly worrying time. Not only are they likely to be at-risk and undergoing strict isolations, but the medical support they usually depend on may have been suspended.
“Non-essential” yet important appointments, surgeries and treatments are being cancelled. Crucial investigations such as scans are being postponed to an indefinite future date. Mental health problems are likely to be exacerbated and stress compounded, with limited access to therapy.
You would be horrified at what is being deemed “non-essential” during these desperate times, and those suffering may be suffering alone.
On top of this, it is worrying to have missed so much change in school and the prospect of returning is more intimidating than ever. For those of us due to come back soon, we have no idea what that will look like.
We appreciate that no one does. We are also fully aware that we are very low down on the list of priorities. However, just a little reassurance that school communities haven’t left us behind might help us to feel supported during this time and positive about returning to work.
A friendly email
My suggestion for line managers is simple: if you find a quiet moment at all this week, drop your colleagues on leave a friendly email to their personal account. A small thought may go a very long way. Depending on the personal circumstances of the colleague you are emailing, I suggest offering a selection from the following:
- An open question regarding their wellbeing.
- The opportunity to state whether or not they need help.
- A question establishing the extent to which they want to be kept in the loop. Do they want to be copied into communications about big developments, or would they rather be left alone? Everyone will be different.
- The chance to discuss what transition back to work may look like, when the status of schools become clearer. Bear in mind that some of us are due to be shielding until at least mid-June and may need to continue working from home in the event of schools reopening.
- To those due back soon, establish whether they would like details of and access to any new online learning platforms in advance. Aim to offer this casually, without putting them under pressure.
- An invitation to any social WhatsApp groups (or similar) that may have been set up.
- An invitation to any other wellbeing initiatives that may have started.
- Any positive updates.
- A little bit of light-hearted, friendly conversation.
Amid all this disarray, we are still here. Lots of us want to help. While you’re unable to ask for support from those of us on official leave, opening up an informal dialogue could be mutually beneficial.
Some of us may be willing and able to offer some practical or emotional support to those of you still in school. Others may be in desperate need of some help or a friendly ear. Once the dust begins to settle, just check in and see.
Caroline Powell is a head of English and tweets @CMPowell22