This week in NSW and Victoria, students and staff are returning to face-to-face learning after nearly four gruelling months of lockdown and other government-imposed restrictions.
For principals, this time presents an opportunity to make the return to school a smooth one for their students, teachers and support staff. However, the start of term is also a busy time for leaders, so having the right tools in place to provide this support will help make this job more simple.
Dr Paul Kidson is a senior lecturer of educational leadership at the Australian Catholic University (ACU), who has worked on the Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Surveys.
Below, Dr Kidson shares five key tips that principals can use to support teachers at this crucial time.
1. Be present
When more students and staff return to campus, it’s important to prioritise the relational connections ahead of the operational and administrative. A welcoming atmosphere is key, and school leaders set much of this tone; if possible, make a point of visiting each staff work area and connect personally to as many staff as possible.
2. Be flexible:
The anticipation of returning to campus is varied in its emotional status; some can’t wait, some are apprehensive, some are reluctant. Treat each staff with the dignity and respect they need, based on their particular response.
3. Be attentive:
Look and listen for signs of uncertainty and anxiety, both in and between staff members. Teaching and support staff in schools can sense genuine care as much as students do, and similarly detect its absence. Be open to hearing if plans are not going as well as anticipated and listen for suggestions staff give about how best you can support their needs; the best feedback is the honest feedback, even if it is sometimes hard to hear.
4. Be responsive:
Where there is need to adjust a schedule, perhaps even provide release from duties or attendance at meetings, do so. A well-intended staff morning tea, lunch, or afternoon drink might be far less valuable for staff members than postponing, or even cancelling, a meeting. Time is a precious commodity in schools and giving permission for staff to manage it themselves might far eclipse the perceived value of strategies which have worked in other times.
5. Be trusting:
Overwhelmingly, professional diligence characterises how educators have managed periods of remote and blended learning. Celebrate their professionalism and use this to enhance it on their return.