A Valediction: So long, and thanks for all the fun.
A while ago , back in April, I wrote a blog reflecting on what it felt like to be in lockdown, after being on the road almost constantly for 5 and a half years.
Since leaving headship in 2014 I have spent a large amount of my time travelling all over the country, and sometimes abroad, working with schools in a variety of roles and contexts. It isn’t unusual for me to travel up to 1000 miles a week. My record is 8,000, that did include a weekend dash to Washington DC and back though, a story for another time. So finding myself at home, unexpectedly required quite a shift in perspective.
Fast forward 3 and a half months and I have barely left the local area. Yesterday I ventured out into the public for something other than food shopping for the first time since March and it felt very odd. Being back in schools is probably going to take some getting used to.
One of my coping mechanisms when things are difficult is to keep myself busy with projects. The idea of doing nothing indefinitely and not being useful filled me with horror. A good fettle in my office, gardening (courgettes, carrots, aubergines, tomatoes, beans, chillies, sprouts, beans and peppers are all flourishing, thanks) crochet, writing and finding out as much as I can about this virus so I can support people to navigate the crisis became ways to keep my mind occupied. Launching EYFS home with the fantastic Nic Ponsford and Maureen Hunt, to support parents at home with younger children also kept me busy. So far, so good. But I am a naturally sociable creature. One of the aspects I sometimes miss about working full time in a school is the camaraderie of the team, and one of the aspects I love about all of my roles is being with other people. I usually have quite a busy social calendar too. So, to find myself unable to socialise outside my home was one of the most challenging things I faced. Don’t get me wrong, it was a real pleasure to be able to be at home with my own family, but there’s only so much me I want to inflict on anyone.
Virtual staffroom was my saviour. I’ve written about how it was born here:
Did I expect it to run for 17 weeks? Never in my wildest dreams! Did I expect to form friendships that I suspect will last a long time after this pandemic has become a distant memory? I couldn’t possibly have hoped for that. Did I expect to spend 85 days yattering into my laptop screen in my office at 12.30pm every weekday with people from all over the world, all parts of the education sector, country, political spectrum, backgrounds? Not at all! But that’s what happened.
Some days were serious, in the very early days we were all adjusting to a very unusual set of circumstances. Jobs were lost and gained, some people were thriving and others weren’t and it was a safe space to be able to come and say “I’m not ok today”, or “I’ve got a problem, what do you think about…?” I don’t think a day has gone by without laughter and sometimes I have been almost unable to speak for laughing. There have been a few tears too. When the government announced the wider opening of schools was going to happen on the 1st June staffroom took a different turn and became a place to share and discuss ideas and explore possibilities without judgement. After the 1st June it took a different turn again, with some colleagues no longer being able to join us (much missed) but others feeling more isolated now that some people were getting back to work.
Political debate (sometimes very robust), pedagogy, gossip, box set suggestions, twitter, crochet, gardening, dandelion wine, music, evening primrose, hand sanitiser (I think the least said about that conversation the better) gin, cards against humanity, childhood, holidays, camper vans, health, dogs, cats, children, families, you name it, I think we’ve discussed it – although I can’t go into details as we have one rule “What happens in staffroom stays in staffroom”. It has been a source of joy in a really difficult time.
On Friday, when a lot of schools broke up, I called time on the daily staffroom. We finished the term in style with a zoom party and a typically shambolic awards ceremony, Including a special mention for Pete, my better half who popped in most days with refreshments. It’s not the end, because I know we will definitely meet up in person once this is over, and I think we’ll still have regular zoom chats to check in and see if everyone is ok. But it felt like the right time.
When Monday came around, I felt strangely bereft at 12.30, I’d just finished a training session and I’d usually be dashing to grab a quick catch up with family before opening the doors. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. On Tuesday morning the doorbell rang early and I answered it to a lady with a huge bunch of flowers from the staffroom crew. I was so touched and thanked everyone, then while I was making lunch a personalised card turned up which contained some really touching messages, and I was so moved by what everyone had said about what staffroom had meant to them. Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any better in the middle of the afternoon a parcel arrived. The most beautiful hamper full of gin themed goodies (they know me well, the staffroom crew) and this morning an engraved gin glass arrived. I shall use it proudly and think of the crew every time I do.
Some people became staffroom regulars, I consider them friends even though we haven’t all met in person (yet) some dipped in occasionally, some only came once ( I hope we didn’t terrify them) and some would have liked to have been there more often but other commitments were, understandably, more pressing. I can’t even begin to guess how many people joined in over those 85 days but I suspect there were over a hundred in total and I hope that if you were one of them, it helped a little. It certainly made a difference to me.
In the last week one of the people who had joined in at the beginning and had to go back to school popped in to see us. She said she wanted to end the term where she’d started it, and this prompted me to think of a quote from John Donne;
“Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.”
In the poem “A valediction forbidding mourning”, Donne is persuading his wife that being apart will actually strengthen their bond, he talks of their parting being,
“not yet a breach but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat”
That sort of sums up the whole experience for me. Wherever I go in the world, I think there will always be a little part of me that is forever in a zoom meeting at 12.30pm with a bunch of the funniest, kindest, most knowledgeable and opinionated bonkers educators with hearts of gold.
Thanks all, it’s been a blast!