At this time of year, we would normally be entrenched in daily rehearsals for the week of Christmas performances and nursery nativities to come. From the sound of carols, old and new, being sung in classrooms to our youngest children, dressed as shepherds, recounting their experience of meeting an angel as they watched their flocks by night and, latterly, the wise men with whom their encounter with a star would guide them towards a life changing moment; immortalising their stories for centuries to come, whatever our personal beliefs, working in education during this time of year can be the most magical.
At present, the sky does seem darker than usual and the challenge of this autumn term, harder than most. However, as we stand on the precipice of the final week of term, the first day back, as we guided pupils through playgrounds and school yards, supported by staggered start times, socially distant corridors, one-way systems, hand sanitiser units, floor markings and the new reality of covering our faces, it all seems like a life time ago.
In any term, there is always plenty to reflect upon from our day to day interactions, but the autumn term of 2020 will be etched in our collective educational memory for many months and years to come. The question is, how will we remember it? Of course, we can all make comparison to the epic monumental struggles of history, note it down in thick permanent marker as an experience we would like to forget or, as a profession, make a pact and agree never to speak about it again. However, as the ancient Chinese proverb states ‘in every crisis, there is opportunity’ and, the opportunity that is afforded to us currently is that of reflection.
If we frame our collective comparison to this term differently, each problem or complication we face, as a star in the sky, we can alter significantly the manner in which we consider the challenges we have faced within our sector. Albeit rather romantically and through a rather opulent pair of jewel encrusted rose tinted spectacles, the current situation in education can be viewed through a very different lens if we chose.
Each star we face, equalling its brightness to the size of challenge it was born; some microscopic, dim and muted, others astronomical and as incandescent as the sun. Nonetheless, no matter the size of the star, as each one flares, the light emitted allows us, for a fleeting moment, an opportunity to see every path, turn, step, track and mountain road we need to navigate in order for us to prevail and, in a sky full of stars, the autumn term would burn brighter than most – A supernova. A class of exploding stars whose luminosity temporarily increases from several thousand to as much as 100,000 times its normal level and, just like the timing of the pandemic we are dealing with, stars that become novas are nearly always too faint before eruption to be seen with the unaided eye.
So as we continue through the last week of term, the light of the nova burning brighter and longer than most stars above our heads, let us not be dazzled by the glare it creates, let us be guided and consider, over the many weeks it illuminates our sky, what we have learnt, what we have achieved, where we have grown, improved and developed, the staff we have supported, comforted and rebuilt and, importantly, the pupils we have welcomed every day with a smile, kind word and the warmth we aim to offer everyday as teachers and leaders within our schools.
In doing so, we will also reflect on the steps we need to take next term, the items on the agenda that never warrant discussion, the meetings we don’t really require and the policies and procedures that ultimately have to change because, before this moment, we never had the chance to consider if they did work in the first place. Whilst the light of this challenge is at its brightest, the problem may not have gone away, but let us reflect on this moment to make change for the better.
Finally, and in keeping with the timely traditions of Christmas and the stories, this year, being told remotely through Zoom, pre-recorded on Youtube, streamed on Teams or sent home in sterilised cases on DVD, the comparison continues. The nova is very special star indeed. To observers, such objects may appear unique and mysterious, powerful and luminescent, a star never to have been witnessed before, a new star. So as the wise men and the shepherds before us, even in the darkest of nights, there will always be a star to guide us.
Just look up.