2020 provided challenges to school leaders across the world like never before – and taught us a lot, too.
We can now tentatively start to think about a post-pandemic world. But we must ensure that we do not ignore the opportunities the crisis has afforded us to develop our schools and the young people and staff within them.
After all, strategic planning and further development must continue as we navigate our way out of the crisis just as surely as we navigated our way through it.
Coronavirus: What schools have learned from the pandemic
Here are five positives we must remember whatever the future holds
1. Reshaping the school day
The pandemic resulted in a shortened school day, a reduced movement of students between classes, split and reduced break times and a greater reliance on digital and online learning.
In my school all these areas have been seen as huge benefits by all key stakeholders as this has allowed staff and students to rediscover their school-life balance and parents to organise their time more efficiently and even miss the dreaded Cairo traffic – an issue known the world over.
It will vary by location and setting, but leaders should not overlook what can be retained from these changes.
The school day has been so embedded into society, we never dared imagine it could be different. Now we have seen that it can be changed – even if through enforced circumstances – we should not forget what we have learned.
2. Improved logistics
As a large school, it has been essential that all aspects of school life have been organised in a more efficient and effective way.
This has included our arrival and departure arrangements in the morning and afternoon, our bus protocols and safety expectations and even how students eat and socialise while on campus.
Cashless payments and the acceptance of visitors on to site have also been part of life now and will continue to be.
It shows that if we want to make changes to areas of school life that have in the past felt too entrenched, it can be done.
3. Pupil wellbeing
The development of the school’s provision of wellbeing resources and more attention to the psychological development of students has been a central theme since schools reopened at the start of the academic year.
This is an area that all of education should welcome and continue to build on.
4. Reconnecting with staff and their development
One of the biggest concerns I had was the impact that ex-pat staff felt from not having the day-to-day interactions with their children and with each other.
This is an issue in all locations, but for international staff especially not being able to return to their home countries, welcome visitors or see loved ones could have had a significant impact on wellbeing.
So to see staff returning to school, to their classrooms and making a difference to young people provided a “bounce” with morale, even with anti-Covid measures in place. It was a powerful reminder of how important a motivated and positive workforce is to school life.
We must ensure that, as leaders, we focus on staff and their development as a mission-critical area of our planning.
5. Focusing clearly on priorities
Finally, the pandemic perhaps brought clarity to help us treasure what is important within our schools and find ways to maintain it: quality teaching for our pupils and that sense of school community.
After all, it was fundamental to the continued development and reopening of our schools that we embraced the possibilities and opportunities that were presented to ensure we delivered our number one goal: great teaching.
This willingness to adapt and the mindset change it has brought are something we should not take for granted – or let fade away.
We have seen what we can achieve when we need to, so let’s ensure that we keep that so that whatever the future holds, we are always ready.
Matt Topliss is British school principal at El Alsson British and American International School New Giza, Egypt