How do you solve a problem like corona

How do you solve a problem like Corona?
In anticipation of the long Summer Term ahead…

Summer Term – intentions and aspirations.
This week’s edition looks ahead to resuming crisis schooling – or online schooling. And this time, it’s for a long, uncertain stretch. We dipped our toes in the water prior to the Easter break. And can certainly congratulate ourselves for pivoting swiftly in the face of sudden and unprecedented change.
How can we make sure we harness what we learned? How best to set our intentions for the term ahead? If your working situation allowed you to actually have an Easter holiday with the kids, what came out of that experience that is worth holding onto? For those who were forced to work on and let the kids get on with being on holiday with a lot less of you – reflect…what shifted in the routines and atmosphere at home? What will you want more of, what will you want less of?
In this edition, 5 discoveries from our Fakation, 6 key points to take forward as a parent looking ahead at another potential 12 weeks of working from home ‘en famille’, and 6 key points I’ll be bearing in mind as a teacher, from conversations with colleagues I have been and will be coaching.
I’m just on my way back from Vienna via Zurich on my Fakation. And taking an early morning start to write. And it has been a lovely break – to simply stop. But it’s never so simple to just stop is it? Eventually, though, I managed to be more disciplined about checking my emails and being properly ‘there’…
And some great discoveries along the way…We CAN all cook together and work together enjoyably and collaboratively. Who knew? And my learning point is that I need to speak more about what I’m thinking about, what the next steps are, articulate my thoughts and questions – so that I can involve the others…And taking that out into other areas of life works too. All too often, I go into my own wormholes to ‘get things done’ – with the result being friction or disengagement and Mrs Atlas is back in full force. 

Great Family ‘Team’ Activities.

Fakation discoveries!

  1. Culinary travels -cooking new recipes (Apple strudel, Wiener schnitzel, goulash, flatbreads & kebabs, sachertorte were all highlights). And with a 10 year old, lots of new experiences – more confident knife skills (after nicking her finger on day 1!), discussion of the whys of cooking leading to greater understanding of the science of it as well as food hygiene…and the gratification of sharing the meal we cooked. As well as evaluate what worked and didn’t work…So some survival, some science, and some higher order thinking skills. OF course it takes more time, involving the little’ un…but I can start to see her being able to take real responsibility. That will be amazing for her agency and engagement in family life in the future, when as a teen, the work demands will go up, and the natural process of adolescent ‘splitting’ takes place. 

    1. Construction work – building furniture, and a little wooden automaton building kit…Making a desk so that there’s more than one surface suitable for working on in our small flat was a really interesting experience. Like the cooking, it’s about going slower, and reinforcing systematic behaviour and awareness, so that vital elements don’t get lost or trodden on. Giving each of us clear and specific roles and not intruding on each other’s roles was necessary and interesting to see how often we had to steer ourselves back to task…For the little’un to be in charge of the instructions and procurement of the right fixing kit, and in the building was tricky – it was high stakes and mistakes were nearly made! To be fair, with my short patience for instructions mistakes are inevitable!! What was interesting was working through those mistakes, how we behaved around the near misses…learning to look at the propensity to catastrophise, dial up the drama, heap on a little dose of shame…We were able to work through the ruptures and repairs and now there’s a permanent, unwonky, reminder of that afternoon. And how lovely that a desk with drawers can be such a source of delight! Now the little’un has places to put all those precious little things I tread on!

      1. Visiting galleries online – Google Arts & Culture resources came up trumps. We gazed at Klimt’s most beautiful works in the Belvedere Museum and learned so much! The East Side gallery of Berlin was another hit.

        1. And a trawl through classic films set in and around our holiday destinations. On Tuesday it was The Sound of Music. I must confess to having been really resistant – thanks to the way it had punctuated my childhood on endless repeats! However, by the time we’d climbed every mountain, I was hooked and singing along…much to the amusement of my family! Somehow, I was truly charmed, and transported by the joy of the singing. It reminded me of the importance of the beginners mindset – and of the ways in which sometimes we edit our lives through mental shutters…Mind you, I’ll be happy to let another decade or two pass before I’ll be donning any alpine gear!! Introducing our daughter to Bond films was a differently joyous experience. The gateway to lots of discussions about sexism and objectification – as well as immersion in the thrills and spills. Interesting how the cultural beliefs emanating from some of our classic movies can age like a nice vintage, or sour with time (not to mention #MeToo!)…I’ll confess to a meltdown and walk-out at Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit…We’ve had A LOT of screen time- at least a film a day. But the discussions around what we’ve seen have been great – and having / making the time for that has been brilliant. Making it a much more critical exercise than passively watching. And that is really how we will need to redefine boundaries and value of screen-time over this period. What’s the quality of the screen-time experience, what is the context, what skills are engaged? 

          1. Exercising together…We did 2 Joe Wicks sessions before the holiday and I hobbled around like Baba Yaga for days afterwards…So in case you think this 5 point account of the highlights of our holiday is a bit ‘Von Trapp’… OK meaningful exercise has been RARER…and for sure we need to step up here. Family yoga via Zoom has been great – and likely to become a regular feature in the week. And of course this in where the younger generation are often more sure footed and bendy and can participate on at least an equal footing!

Intentions for the term ahead – from the home-front.

  1. Reframe expectations about what we’re all going to be able to do and how we’re going to be able to do it. Many things will go backwards to some extent. But in other -and in all likelihood unexpected areas of life we will see growth. We absolutely need to exercise tolerance and self- and other- compassion. Achievement and success is going to look and feel different. And that is hard for us as parents and workers. We may feel the pressure is on to overperform in order to keep our jobs. And whilst we are shouldering that burden, we’ll expect our kids and their teachers to do likewise. And they probably are – but in their own ways.
  2. To build on the dialogue about what we’re all doing and want and need to achieve. So that everyone can work with and around each other better. 
  3. To have my own routine clear so that I can carve out quality time to do my harder work. To be responsible and accountable to myself for that. As an introvert, I thrive on having time alone to do some work. Therefore I will be getting up earlier than the others to drink tea and write (as opposed to trawling through emails, linkedin, facebook etc etc). My intention is to start on my book. 
  4. To have higher expectations of independence & focus around the crisis-schooling. To touch in at the start and end of set sessions in which our daughter is responsible for the task and her time. To stop the school day bleeding into a work-length day. Now the reality of this is here and ongoing, to only ‘home tutor’ where absolutely necessary. And for us all to have dialogue about this. To be really clear about what good work feels like and looks like. 
  5. Our children’s work and schooling belongs to them. And the separation between their problems and our problems, the teacher’s problems, the school’s problems is VITAL. 
  6. To remember that there is a quick and easy transfer of blame around problems when under pressure. And that when difficulties arise with school-work, my child’s helplessness has the capacity to pull up a whole symphony of feelings…and blaming the teacher or the school for my child ‘not getting it’ is an easy funnel for lots of my own feelings of helplessness and lack of control. It may feel justified and sweet in the moment. But here is where processing our own feelings is VERY important. What do we model, when we leap to accuse or blame and complain. What character strengths get built via that route? Really? Tolerance of difficulty and frustration has been in short supply in our ‘feedback’-centred, instant-gratification PAST world. We need to, and our kids need to learn to sit with and work with OUR difficulties better and seek help – where really needed – in non-persecutory ways. This generation will be like the evacuees of World War 2. Their education is being interrupted, for the sake of our survival, their survival and the survival of the most vulnerable in our society. So we can expect cognitive learning to be less sure footed, the pace of progress through syllabuses to be disrupted. But the emotional learning around this, – a stronger backbone around imperfection, tolerance of our own difficulties and other people – has the potential to mean they and we all can move forward more quickly in the future.
    Parents…please read the teacher section too! The more we can consider each other’s points of view, the better we can continue to achieve the best teamwork around the growth of our children!

And in all likelihood – some conflict and tension…
Intentions for the term ahead – school view:

  1. Reframe your expectations about being able to be all good things to all students. You will take pride in pivoting your teaching resources and methods and you may well have spent a lot more of the Easter break getting ready for this next phase. This doesn’t alter the fact that in uncertain times, emotions run high, and people young – and old – will tend to use PROJECTIVE methods to deal with difficulty and disappointment. This means that rather than use some introspection, reflection and analysis, they will push out those feelings UNPROCESSED into the most likely available target / resource. And that’s you. You will all too easily be a target for blame, frustration and helplessness. And it will deplete your resources radically if you let it. For the past few decades, teachers have been held responsible for all sorts of societal ills. You are very tempting blame figures! Despite all your good intentions, thoughts, and care in the way you go about your work, you will be too harsh a task-master for some, and too negligent / too slack for others. And it will by YOUR fault that sufficient progress or engagement is not in place. Or that some child or other is overwhelmed and feeling lost. When you take away many of the human elements of the teacher / pupil / parent dynamic, this narrative can really easily get gothic! Your availability and readiness to listen and take their struggles in mind is your superpower. AS well as perspective and proportion. 
  2. When starting the term again, it is really helpful to consider a process of ‘checking in’ or ‘clearing’ with older kids if they are attending virtual lessons or in touch via email. Or with parents, if of primary school age. What’s in the virtual school-room? How have they found those first 2 weeks? what have they learned? What are their concerns? What might help going forward? 
  3. It is really easy for the school – and the teachers – to become a digital institution / fortress / persecutory entity that gives out (impossible) work and has ‘unrealistic’ expectations (or expectations that are too high, too low)…
  4. Meaningful connection, dialogue, and a show if interest in how things have been will be really helpful to reduce anxiety and to facilitate some problems coming to light – so that you can move forward from a better informed point of view. 
  5. Understand – or seek to understand how pacing and focus is working at home for your class. We know from work-place data that adults suddenly thrust into working from home, are finding real struggles with focus, motivation and engagement – affecting 2-3 days per week…Be strategic in the types of work you will set, and when. At the start of the week, how to make things inviting, accessible, piquing energy and engagement. In the middle of the week, what core issues are you aiming to clarify or consolidate. Make sure those are robust, and that there is a sense of a solid build. Think carefully about endings – how do you want them to feel at the end of the week – and as the rhythm of the weeks progress? Just because the scheme of work says move on to X topic next, is the timing right? Given what you are aware of about how your group are working during the weeks? IS it worth introducing something new and challenging just before the weekend? How might you do that in a way that will invite and inspire rather than defeat and depress- especially when you consider mid and lower ability pupils? How much homework do you set? Of what quality? NOw might be the time to really look at the discipline of ‘best work’ – assessing less often, and setting work to be assessed less often, but with better scaffolding for success? I’m not saying that educational Levi’s should leave the building here. But motivation and engagement is key. As is the trust each and every pupil feels in their schooling, in their ability, in your subject, and in your department…And that trust is hard won…as they say – trust arrives on foot, but leaves on horseback…
  6. Continue to have courageous discussions about the reality of this situation, how hard – and counter-productive – it can easily be to keep going as though nothing has happened. As a team of professionals you and your leaders need to listen to different points of view about what’s working and what’s not, what to dial up and what to dial down. You’ll need to work as a team like never before. And quality communication will be the key. Social / professional support is a key buffer against stress. As teachers we need to be respectful and caring of each other’s lived situations right now – which are hugely different. We need to have an interest in each other’s development and growth around this crisis. Especially where there are established, high performing teachers who right now feel they are having to work with their hands tied behind their backs with childcare responsibilities clashing with the timetable…And we need honest and authentic conversations about how to hold onto our values about the strategic quality, quantity and pacing of what can and should be achieved over this much longer time frame.

From the Alps to the Himalayas…We are more ‘homo-imitans’ than ‘homo-sapiens’ – our amazing brains are calibrated to work faster and more readily with the familiar. It takes a lot more energy to engage system 2 which is more deliberate, more inventive and creative. (Daniel Kahneman – Thinking Fast and Slow) And a real change in approach is what is needed here. Not the assumption that the Sound of Music is a load of Von Trapp…As the late Sir Alex Ferguson said, coaching takes us beyond the places where we can get to by ourselves. The Corona virus, like Maria is a disrupter. It is forcing us to stop living in ‘homo-imitans’ and start living more wisely. 
Did you know that due to the climate repair happening as a result of this crisis, the tops of the Himalayas are visible for the first time in decades? Like Fraulein Maria and Captain Von Trapp, we need to look to the hills and tune in to what will nourish and what will deplete the human spirit, in the classes we teach, and the families we lead – and make sure that our adaptations are based on real discernment around this -and not on ground-hog day routines.So how does this help you set your intentions for the path YOU most want to carve for the way ahead? For you? For your family? For your pupils? And for your colleagues?I hope this has been of help – as always I’m very keen to hear feedback and suggestions for future topics….With love and gratitude, Emma.

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