Joyful June

Posted on: 12/06/2020

This week I would like to talk about emotions. We are living through an uncertain and difficult time and, understandably, emotions are running high in many of us. At St. Helen’s College, we do not shy away from discussing our emotions, either amongst the staff or with the children. We believe it is important that we all recognise and accept our emotions, allowing ourselves to feel and then channelling our feelings into positive action.

Each month I circulate a calendar to all of the staff to display in the classrooms; this month’s calendar is ‘Joyful June’ and you can see a copy of it here. Every morning I look at the calendar and remember the motto from Action for Happiness - I read the advice for each day and I find that this makes me smile and realigns my thoughts. The Action for Happiness mantra for the moment is this: “The world is in crisis. Keep calm, stay wise & be kind”.

It is not always easy to follow this mantra. Over recent months, I have felt angry, upset and emotionally and physically drained. Should I feel bad for recognising this in myself? No - I do not feel bad for recognising these feelings. We are in a crisis and we are dealing with a situation which is so far removed from what any of us have ever experienced in our lives, it is only natural that we will feel unlike our usual selves. Nobody prepared us as human beings for so much uncertainty and so much change.

The anger I felt some months ago was real. Without getting on a political soapbox, I was enraged at the lack of clarity, communication and consideration given to schools at the beginning of lockdown, since it left us in a very difficult position without any clear guidance. As time has moved on and our situation has evolved, this anger has now dissipated; however, I used this emotion to motivate myself and our Senior Leadership Team to make a difference and to respond with initiative and resourcefulness to the situation we found ourselves in.

I have been upset that we are not able to look after all of our children in the way we would like to as educators, and I know that my colleagues have shared this disappointment and sadness. This has spurred us on to put into place the very best educational and pastoral provision for those children who are not able to be with us on our school site. Although my colleagues and I have at times felt these ‘negative’ emotions, they have been balanced by ‘positive’ feelings too. I am so proud of the resilience of our pupils and the incredible support from parents and staff. We can all take joy and a sense of satisfaction from knowing that we are doing our utmost to look after the needs of the children: not just their academic needs, but their personal wellbeing too.

I have felt emotionally wrung out as the impact of the past 15 weeks has taken its toll, and I know that this feeling has been shared at times by colleagues, parents and pupils as well as family members and friends. Back in February I attended the first webinar on how to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic; we had not been affected at that point but I listened to the experiences of an overseas school and way back then I did not think that, in June, we would still be in such a surreal situation. It is certainly a marathon rather than a sprint, and it is only natural that we will all feel worn out by the emotional roller coaster of hope, disappointment and grief we have been riding, as well as by the extraordinarily heavy workload that the pandemic has brought.

Since February, the Senior Leadership Team at St. Helen’s College has had to focus on planning and implementing strategies and protocols to allow children and adults to be as safe as possible whilst also maintaining a good level of educational provision and protecting our organisation’s future. We should have been moving forward with the objectives of our school strategic plan, developing our provision for the children at St. Helen’s College with exciting initiatives and developments. However, as for almost everyone, ‘normal’ life and business have been put on hold for us, and our - more frequent and lengthy - SLT meetings have had a different type of agenda. COVID-19 features as agenda item 1 and will, necessarily, continue to do so for the immediate future. 

I have tried to follow the Action For Happiness mantra and I hope that I have remained calm, wise and kind. However, I have welcomed all the other emotions into my life, being fully aware of how important it is to acknowledge these emotions and respond to them in a mindful manner. In doing so, I am grateful for the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and other mindful practitioners whose books and research help me to improve my ‘practice’ and enable me to find a level of peace in a frantic world.  I highly recommend this book or the app.

To all of our community - staff, parents and pupils - I say this: it is ok not to feel fine all the time! It is the ability to observe negativity without criticism which is key. We need to catch negative thought patterns before they take us on a deeper spiral. We need to develop greater self-compassion, observing unhappiness or stress but allowing the associated thoughts and feelings to come and go. I teach the children about ‘thought buses’ - they need to observe thoughts but should not allow themselves to jump onto one of the negative thought buses as it may not be such a pleasant journey. Many parents have approached me, keen to find out more about what we do at school in regard to mindfulness. I recommend that those of you who wish to find out more sign up for this course, which is for teachers and parents, or watch some of these videos.

For those of you who are finding this pandemic difficult, you are not alone. At times, we all struggle, and at times we all need support. There may be greater hurdles ahead as we begin to rebuild some sense of ‘normality’, with the world beginning to open up once more to trading, tourism and hospitality. We need to allow all of our thoughts and emotions a place, but also keep ourselves optimistic about the future. There have been so many positives for us to celebrate as a school, as we have seen children, parents and staff respond to this crisis so magnificently - and when some among us have found it difficult, the school community has worked together and provided the strong pastoral support needed. I am sure we will continue to find more positives as the summer months unfold.

It has been a joy over the last two weeks to see the children from Ducklings, Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 back in school, along with the children of our key workers. As they arrive, they are lining up in the new ‘normal’ manner to enter school, the majority of them not even giving a backwards glance as they skip into school after sanitising their hands. I only wish we could bottle up their enthusiasm and happiness to send to you all - it would be a very lucrative ‘happy’ business! 

What lies ahead next for schools is still unknown, but what I do know is that our planning has always had, and will continue to have, the wellbeing of the children at its core. As our country’s leaders advise us further, we will continue to respond with integrity and care, planning for the best outcome for our children and our school. 

I feel nourished writing this blog and even more joyful as we end our second week of June - today’s note in the Action for Happiness calendar  is 'Make a plan with friends to do something fun together!’ I have not seen any of my friends from outside our St. Helen’s College community since February half term. Like many of you, I have not seen my family for much longer. My mother (in her 80s) is alone in Scotland; my Easter trip there was cancelled and, as she does not use technology, weekly phone calls are her lifeline. Thankfully I have a cousin who shops for her and checks in on her. I shall, of course, plan to do something fun with my friends and family when I can - we all need to plan for the future ahead and be proud of what we have all achieved in this crisis together. 

So, I have felt anger, frustration, disappointment, joy, pride and hope...but my overriding emotion today is gratitude. I am grateful for our community and the strength we are demonstrating together. I am grateful for the determination and support shown by parents, the resilience, adaptability and happiness shown by pupils, and the perseverance, love and sheer stamina shown by staff. You are all superstars! 

Have a wonderful weekend.

Mrs. Drummond