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5 ways to get schools through ‘SORT IT’ mode

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When something like this happens, the human brain goes instantly into ‘threat mode’. We have sensed threat, something has changed, and we need to do something.

There are three common responses for the human: fight, flight or freeze. In teachers, there are four: fight, flight, freeze and SORT IT MODE. And teachers across the country have entered SORT IT mode.

As a profession we’re used to vague information and making the best of it (remember the new curriculum, the removing of levels and the new Ofsted framework?) This is where we thrive – we get our heads down and SORT IT. But like any new ‘threat’ we are usually working under the influence of adrenaline (and coffee) and sometimes guilty of making early mistakes. SORT IT MODE makes us spill out all our thoughts and ideas hoping that the right answer is in there somewhere.

I mean, if we don’t think of everything instantly, and get it out there, we’re not doing our jobs…right?

Wrong… here’s a few thoughts to help get teachers and leaders past this sometimes manic response of SORT IT MODE.

Don’t be too self-critical

Teachers: If you don’t know what you’re doing it’s fine. We’ve all been thrust into this world not knowing how to navigate it. Because you teach children every day, doesn’t mean you know what to set them when they are learning from home, in varying contexts, with varying resources and varying levels of support.

Consider: Not being hard on yourself. Your feelings and confidence will change within this period, just like it did when you started teaching. Own your inexperience in this weird situation and don’t think you have to have all the answers, or that you have to get it right all the time – you don’t, and you won’t.

Avoid overload

Teachers: In a time of panic have you dumped all your thinking onto your students and parents. Too many resources / online learning? Three weeks’ worth of work?

Consider: Drip feeding your resources so people don’t feel overwhelmed. We don’t know how long this will last, and we definitely don’t know whether families have the structures and forethought to split up the work coming from you. So, do it for them.

Keep it brief

Leaders: Have you been guilty of over information. Yes, the DfE are sending out daily updates for schools. But are you adequately reading this, distilling it and sending it out to your community in an appropriate, time considered fashion? Too much information can lead to snow blindness. There are some messages you do want to get through and others are less important. I have also seen some monster communications from schools.

Consider: Less is more. In a confusing time, brevity and accuracy are key. If Boris can fit it all into a few sentences, we should consider doing the same

Parents aren’t teachers

Leaders & Teachers: Remember parents aren’t teachers (most of them). They will be worried, scared, unsure. So, measure your expectations. What do you really want back? Parents should not be made to feel guilty, inferior or worried about handing things back in. Have you made this clear?

Consider: Making schools / MAT expectations clear about the work you want back. Be wary of ‘one-piece-a-day’ expectations. We don’t know who has to use the family laptop when all family members are working from home. We don’t know if a family decides to all play in the garden for the day. They deserve the flexibility to make ‘learning from home’ work for them, so don’t inhibit that with your own expectations.

Put wellbeing over work

Leaders: Wellbeing is everything at the moment. Making sure that your staff, at all levels, feel supported and valued is key. Even though your leader SORT IT MODE may have set home working jobs (like the curriculum policy or deciding on your subject’s three I’s), now is not the time to be checking the progress of those. Staff are feeling vulnerable and they need to know from you that they can choose when to engage with schoolwork and when to be with their family / have free time.

Consider: Have you checked in with your staff from a wellbeing point of view? You need to. Have you made sure your staff understand your expectations of ‘working from home’ and self directing their time? And remember that an Easter break was coming anyway. Staff have to switch off at some point. Even though they may be on a rota, low level ‘thinking’ about work can be detrimental to their wellbeing. Make sure they know that switching off is OK. And this includes their activity in staff WhatsApp groups and social media.
As we move through the phases, there will be a time professional dialogue to resume. And this may be online or through skype in a different way, but now is not the time.

Like any phase, SORT IT MODE will soon pass. In the coming weeks as the adrenaline fades and our rational thought resumes, we will enter our normal cycles of well thought-out, considered problem solving. But right now, we have to let the adrenaline do its thing. Hold on tight, the scariest part of any roller coaster is the first descent – but remember, you only go down it once.

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