Pause 4 Thought – 10 July 2020

As this is my final Gateway message to you, I hope you will allow me a slightly longer one than usual…….

Back in February, when we were midway through this academic year, I don’t think any of us could have foreseen that we would be ending it in this way, or under these circumstances. ‘Man plans, and God laughs!’ is an old saying, and one that has played through my mind many times over the last few months as, yet again, we have all had to change our plans, amend our expectations and adjust our schedules.

As a community, we all, teachers, school staff and parents, have a shared responsibility for our children. This means that the last few months have seen colleagues here in school work tirelessly to support our students, putting the wellbeing and learning of our students at the centre of all that we do. Consequently, they have acquired super-skills in filming, in Google/Seesaw; accommodated ever-changing plans resulting from ‘guidance’ emanating from DfE (usually at 3am on a Sunday!); reorganised classrooms; cleaned classrooms; juggled children and ‘bubbles’; found creative ways to offer our students a breadth of activities and a depth of support. Everyone has played their part in helping the School to navigate this time as well as possible and I know you will join me in thanking them all.

We are also very aware that this has been an enormously challenging time for many parents and families, and we in turn thank and salute you for the support you have given your daughters, at a time when many of you will have been under significant pressures. Every family has its own situation, anxieties and dynamic – consequently there is no ‘one size fits all’ or ‘right’ way through either remote learning or how/when to return to school. The choices that you have made will be those that you believe were best for you and your family, at that time. We respect that, just as you respect the complexities that we have needed to balance in running the School.

This period has raised some issues that concern me – for our students and for the world in which they are growing up:

  1. Lockdown has seen the role of women in the household regress in some ways back to the 1950s. Despite both parents being at home, a recent UK poll found that 72% of mothers became the default parent; 70% were responsible for homeschooling; for each hour of uninterrupted ‘work’ time a mother got, the father got three. We need to be aware of the messaging this sends to our daughters – the women of tomorrow.
  2. Polarisation – of so many types across the nation and within our school community: in school/not in school; furloughed/working; different levels of anxiety; able to access/engage with remote learning/unable to do so/disengaged; employed/unemployed; healthy/struggling with health issues. Even youth and age and ethnicity have become potential divisors.

3. Fear/anxiety around other people: lockdown saw understandable retrenchment to our homes and to us mixing with a very limited number. of people. ‘Social distancing, bubbles, shielding’ – a new vocabulary emerged, which we needed. But I am very aware that ‘coming out of lockdown’ is an anxious process for many. I also worry that those outside our immediate family/group etc are seen as a threat – whilst obviously ensuring their safety, we need to ensure our children don’t grow up scared of other people.

On behalf of our children, I feel that we all will need to take action to redress the balance and reduce the damage limitation from these issues..

On the other hand, I see some positives that have perhaps come from the last few weeks

1. We have all been prompted to consider what matters to us, and have had time to reflect. Maybe a chance for us all to remember what really matters – what have we missed? We hear recurrent themes: family, friends, being with people; nature; free movement outdoors; travel – new places; joining in communal activities – choirs, worship, etc; It is clear from the girls coming into school without a backwards glance that they have missed school!; and many people have missed going to work.

2. On a lighter note, many of us have spent less – on going out; gym memberships; holidays; even (but notably for me!) on tights!

3. Our enhanced use of Google Meet/Zoom/Team/Facetime etc has meant that we have in some ways got to know each other better. We’ve all had glimpses of homes/pets/flatmates etc, perhaps enabling us to see each other as human beings, not just as colleagues. It has also been good to see that some parents, who might struggle to get to a parents’ evening in school, were able to meet remotely with their daughter’s teacher.

4. We have a growing understanding that we are all connected to each other, whatever our race, nationality or faith. The virus has known no boundaries and we are each dependent on the actions of others. I hope that this will promote unity across the world.

Hold onto these.

When I reflect on my nine years at The Abbey Junior School, the last six as Head, I see physical changes in the school – the opening of Abbey Gardens, the refurbishing of the Science & ICT labs, the re-landscaping of Knell garden, and, recently, the wonderful extension of the original school building together with a new, open, face to the world. I have seen colleagues come and go – and I thank them all for everything they have done to support The Junior School. My thanks go also to Rachel Dent and to our governors who have acknowledged what a special part The Junior School is of The Abbey. It has been a delight to see hundreds of girls learn and develop over the years – particularly those whom I have been able to see go on to flourish at The Senior School and beyond. With those students, come you – their parents – and my thanks must of course go to you too for all that you do to support your daughters and our school community. Some of you I have come to know well over the years – I am particularly indebted to those of you who have acted as parent guides at Open Days, helped support Fun Runs and other events, supported the Christmas Fairs, acted as year group ambassadors, or offered me constructive feedback, perspectives and ideas. I know that you will continue to do so and your support and involvement will always be welcome.

At the year group meetings at the beginning of this year, back in September, you would have heard our ongoing commitment to promote an inquiry-based approach to learning, to enable collaboration and to promote international-mindedness. This will continue, as will what lies at our core – namely that learning and teaching is the life-blood of the School, and that we draw a distinction between learning and performing. We know that those students who establish strong foundations at the Junior School, becoming self-aware and engaged learners, are those that flourish in the years to come. We are privileged in being able to follow the majority of them through the Senior School, to university and beyond. We are educating our students for the long term – it is a long game, and we all need to keep a sense of perspective. I am very confident that Mrs Kaura will take the Junior School forward on the next step of its journey as part of The Abbey. She will be most ably supported by the team at The Junior School and by the new Executive Head of the School, Will le Fleming. I wish them very well.

I do not plan to take up another headship. I have an open mind with respect to ‘what next?’ but I expect it to involve coaching, counselling and consulting. I am also a governor at another independent school and am now a trained funeral celebrant. We shall see where life leads next………Masterchef has always been a dream??

Thank you for all your kind and generous words, gestures and gifts. I thought you would appreciate the photo above – my ‘Pants of Retrospective’, adorned with words from the girls, kindly given to me by some very wonderful parents.

So, to close, I must return to the children and young people who are the purpose of this job. It is they who give it meaning, and they who colour the fabric of the life of the School. It is to them that I go when I need my spirits lifting, need to be brought back to the present – or to escape with them into a world of imagination and wonder.

I finish, therefore, with the words of Kalil Gibran, which is my mantra – as a parent myself and as an educator.

On Children

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,

but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children

as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might

that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable.

by Khalil Gibran

My very best wishes to you all, now and always.

Mrs D-C