Monday, 30 January 2017

A community at its strongest

I have written before about community, and what this means within and around a school.  I imagine that, for many, one definition is around the larger group who not only share in the successes but also pull together at times of difficulty, learning from our collective mistakes and trying to do our best for the most important group within the community: the children.

Our community has been shaken this month by the news no school wants to hear – following our inspection in November last year, we are now in an OfSTED category.  That in itself is bad enough to deal with, but in the current political climate, that brings enormous uncertainty with it, possibly more so than at any other time.

No community needs to be shown how to celebrate its successes; this is something that comes naturally.  I have had several people remind me in recent weeks – from both within our own school community and in other communities I inhabit, such as the headteacher community – that we all have a great number of these successes to our name, and we shouldn’t forget this. So is it not true to say that the real test comes not in how a group deals with success, but in how a community’s collective strength demonstrates itself in times of adversity?

My staff colleagues were immense.  On the morning I broke the news, there was a great deal of anger, plenty of debate and, truth be told, not a little sadness.  However, in amongst all of this was a steely resilience, a determination: we can put this right.  I was repeatedly amazed and humbled by the collective strength of the general “we can do this” ethos, and by the many personal messages I received, in various formats, lending me their unconditional support, and reinforcing what we all know to be true: we need to do this for the children.

At the same moment, the governors received the news.  They too reacted with ire and consternation, and made a comment that has been repeatedly stated in the following weeks: we just don’t recognise our school in the report.  More precisely, they feel that the report ignores the many wonderful things that happen in our school and our community on a daily basis.

Next came the children: yes, I told the children.  I was extremely up front and honest with them, and ensured they were a full part of what was to happen: after all, if we are to engage in the seismic change our visitors demanded, we would need buy-in from absolutely everyone.  Although most children, quite rightly, allowed it to wash over them, year 6 discussed it openly and sensitively, but were equally cross about some of the comments.  “We’ve been here the longest so we know our school” they said.  “And that’s not it” concluded one.

Finally, the parents and the wider community.  This was the one reaction I could not predict, the one group whose response may have been different.  As per usual, I should not have been so concerned, as once again this community, for that is what it is, demonstrated its strength.  On the night we published the report to the parents, a dark, wet January Friday, we received only encouragement, support, and sympathy. 

The comments contained the whole gambit of human emotion:

“You must be gutted”
“That’s not our school”
“We don’t agree”
“You all work too hard for this”.

The following Monday, having had time to read and reflect, I wondered again how the community might feel.  If it had changed in any way, it was how it had become even more supportive.  The entire staff received messages of support and solidarity.  Throughout that week, including the official parents’ meeting, what we heard repeatedly were members of the community stepping forward to make known their support, and their high esteem of the school. 

Therefore, at a time of difficulty and worry, our community has done what it does best, and I don’t know why I am I the slightest bit surprised.  I recall driving home on that Friday evening when the news was out, smiling.  When I should have been on my knees and maybe even out the door, I was left wanting more, as I often do, of being a part of the Badock’s Wood community.

The adversity did not stop there.  During the following week, we got into the mentality of waiting for that day’s big event; nothing happening in school, other than the hard work our children and our staff pride themselves in.  No, we, awaited what the outside world had to throw at us.  Every day, something fairly major leapt up and tried to knock us off our feet.  But nothing succeeded.  When I got the phone call that the press were at our gates, I rushed down there to see what was happening, and heard only parents talking positively and effusively about the school and the community, and how disappointed they all were for the school and for the children.  When the local paper went to press without consulting us, they were quickly bombarded with messages of support from our local community (and some very odd political one-upmanship from members of the wider Bristol community).  Parents and families have flocked to support the whole host of school trips we have been able to arrange for this time of year, and spoke eloquently, knowledgeably and fairly at the parents’ meeting.  Once again, we didn’t shy from adversity, we almost reveled in it.

And throughout this time, I personally and the school as a whole have continued to receive messages of support, solidarity and positivity.  As recently as last week, I saw a very shy parent who I only see when they aren’t on shift work.  We spoke about a whole range of things, this being our first meeting of the year.  Just as she was heading off, her parting shot was “And I read the report – I don’t believe a word of it”.

Throughout all of this month, as the news has spread and settled, the community has been unfaltering in its support, and it’s something we cannot be sufficiently grateful for.  In among all this, please don’t think that we have lost sight of the report and the messages contained therein, far from it.  We are still planning in detail how to bring about some of the improvements needed.  Essential to this process have been invaluable comments and suggestions from our children and from our parent community, another example of how we have all pulled together.

So, we head into the great unknown of what is to come with a great sense of unity, of togetherness, of – it’s not too cheesy to use it here – community.  You may find it ironic, but I am enjoying my role at this moment more than ever, and I know that, as we have done before, we can achieve great things.  And it is not always made this amazing by big, public demonstrations of support – sometimes, it’s in the almost unseen moments.

This morning, the children came into school in the midst of a miserable, mid-Winter mixture of darkness, rain and mist.  As ever, I was out directing traffic in the playground, welcoming the children in, reassuring those more concerned ones that they were not late, we had simply sent them all in.  As my personal thermometer was just reaching freezing and I was seeing the final parents out of the gate, one of them came over to me and leaned in close.  “Do you know something?  It doesn’t matter what’s happening, you are always out here for our children.  We do notice”.  I couldn’t have thanked him more, but then, as part of this amazing community, I knew that it was not needed.  Someone noticed, that’s what’s important.

From a revised view point and a different stance, with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm for the months ahead, if not a little trepidation, that is all.