7 tips for headteachers coping with the coronavirus pandemic | Education Support
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Leading a school in the time of coronavirus

7 tips for headteachers coping with the coronavirus pandemic

18th March 2020

As headteacher Darren Morgan copes with looking after his school during the coronavirus pandemic, he shares his 7 tips for headteachers and leaders on how to face this incredibly challenging situation. 

As I sit here, writing this, I have 117 children who are self-isolating and 50 further families who are doing the same. 30 members of staff are off school and I am on my knees.

The constant source of information I am receiving and therefore passing on to children, families, staff and governors is unprecedented. Developments are moving at lightning speed; I am certainly not keeping up. 

Here are 7 tips for headteachers and leaders on how to face this incredibly challenging situation.

1. Be human

It is important to understand that we cannot solve this problem. We won’t be able to solve many of the concerns raised to us by members of our school community.  It is crucial that we come to terms with this at an early stage. However, people are looking to us for leadership and guidance, providing a listening ear will provide immense comfort to those who have the faith in you to hear their concerns.

2. You can’t read everything

One of the main issues for me is the amount of information I have been receiving every minute of every day. Be it national announcements or commentary, discussions from neighbouring headteachers, social media and your leadership team and staff. For your own mental health I would advise filtering the information that you are receiving. It is ok to accept that one cannot take on board this vast amount of news.

Similarly, turn off or mute your devices in order to give yourself and or your loved ones time each day. This will be a long race, without pacing yourself you will find yourself running out of steam.  Run like Mo Farrah rather than Usain Bolt.

3. Communicate regularly and strategically

There are hundreds of people looking to you for guidance.  I find that regular communication with all members of the school has been helpful.  The feedback I have received is that they have felt informed.  It is important that children, parents, staff and governors are not left in the dark as this will lead to frustration and possible negativity.  However, I would advise not communicating too frequently, as many small, sometimes contradictory messages can be confusing to those that you are trying to lead.

4. Be honest

I have found that explaining the reasoning behind my decisions has proven immensely helpful.  Part of the difficulty in situations such as this is that we can feel isolated and worry about decisions that have been made in the light of alternative choices made by other schools.  Remember that they too will feel in the same boat as you.  Stating to the parents why the choice has been made and being honest about that you are unsure but are trying to make the right call for your school at this time shows the parents that you are human, which in turn will increase the likelihood of gaining their support.

5. Be visible

I heard a wonderful talk by Ben Walden on the leadership demonstrated by Henry V at The Battle of Agincourt.  He showed how Henry demonstrated different styles of leadership at different times.  Fundamentally, during the battle he was visible, his troops could see him and therefore had faith in him.  I would try to greet parents and bid them farewell each day, and try to be visible in school.

6. Don’t destroy bridges

I think there is a risk that during times of crises bridges that have taken many years to construct can be torn down.  There will be an end to this crises and it is important that at that point the school is in the strongest position possible. I would advise frequent mention of this to the staff as part of your regular communication. In addition to the risk of relationship break down I think it is also important to consider practical issues. For instance, clearing the fridge and ensuring the school is tidy before a prolonged absence.

7. Plan for the future

I suspect that after the Covid-19 crises there may challenging times in relation to mental health and school finances ahead.  I am currently meeting with my SLT each day and are now considering these issues. I am not suggesting putting in firm strategies in place now, due to the timing and many unknown factors but I do think it is wise to start the discussion.

Please look after yourself at this difficult time and remember that today is closer to the end of this than yesterday was. 

Darren Morgan is a proud headteacher of a wonderful school and tweets @Moggy14

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