The school system finds itself in uncharted territory, but it has its moral compass to fall back on and an opportunity to explore new horizons, writes Hannah Wilson
What the world needs now is values. As hubs, leaders and role models for our children and communities, all the more so the world of education.
This global crisis is felt first and foremost locally, and by now we will all be aware of rising anxieties and stresses triggered by uncertainty and precariousness, of colleagues and families under strain due to increased workload, of vulnerable neighbours and friends whose emotional and physical safety are not guaranteed.
All of these things are affecting school leaders and teachers too, yet our schools have faced those challenges head on. As I have watched from the safe distance of my new role as PGCE programme leader, I have felt awe at that. I have also felt a sense of guilt and a deep desire to help.
Until last summer I was the executive headteacher of two schools. Letting go of the drive and the habits of being on the frontline, of leading a team in solving students’, families’ and communities’ problems is far from easy. But while I know the sense of purpose it gives us, I am also concerned for the dangers it can lead us into. Our mental health and wellbeing are important too.
Creativity is a great source of therapy for trauma
Many of our communities have already recognised that. Our social media streams are filling up with impromptu concerts in front gardens and at upstairs windows and house fronts decorated with #RainbowsOfHope. On my daily walk, I took a photo of each rainbow I saw and posted it on our village’s Facebook group to say thank you to the children for brightening up my day. It resulted in a positive outpouring of love from the community as they recognised their artwork, and I was inspired to act.
The sheer fact of it is that we are strapped into a seat on an emotional rollercoaster that has left the docking station, and nobody will be the same at the other end. And while there is value in maintaining a sense of normality, there is also a risk that in simply pursuing what we are used to doing, we lose sight of what we ought to be doing.
As headteacher of a STEAM school I hosted The Art Room – art therapy sessions that made a massive difference to our vulnerable learners. And as social media is already showing, singing is also a source of happiness and positivity. We must make time to process the situation we all find ourselves in. Creativity is a great source of therapy for trauma.
So with a few teacher friends, we decided to start a little something that’s already having a big impact. Writing is another cathartic, creative process, so we have created an opportunity to blog about our feelings – to help ourselves make sense of our situations, and to share that sense-making with others. The #DailyWritingChallenge is already receiving dozens of entries a day.
Each morning, we share a value and anyone can post on the theme. We’ve received poems, personal reflections and short stories. We launched with “kindness” as a stimulus, and we’ve followed up with courage, honesty, guilt, resilience and empathy. They all make for an equally cathartic reading experience – rainbows of hope for a profession that’s keeping the light of learning shining amid a stormy period.
As VbE (Values-based Education) founder Dr Neil Hawkes says, it’s about more than reading and writing. It’s also about how we “put into practice positive values such as empathy, compassion, honesty and trust. Thinking about how we are living our values is helping us to act ethically and responsibly.”
So as we come to Easter and consider the longer-term ramifications of our global predicament, let’s ensure we take stock of what we are doing, what we are asking of others, and what values we are putting into practice. The education system has not seen such room for creativity for what feels like an age – if we are bold enough to act on our values.