As the nights draw in and the leaves begin to turn from green to the vibrant shades of autumn, nature gives us a stark reminder of the passage of time. How quickly the summer has passed and the school session is underway once more. Weeks pass in the blink of an eye and before we know it, the end of 2020 will be upon us! One of my Northern Alliance colleagues reminded me that children starting Primary One this year will have left school by 2033. The scary thing is that 2033 will be here in a flash – what will the world be like in 2033? What capabilities and attributes will our young people need to be able to thrive? How are we creating the right conditions for our children and young people to learn and develop in preparation for 2033?

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought chaos and mayhem across the globe. It has turned on its head in an instant our approaches to pedagogy, curriculum design, communication and collaboration. However, has it also given us the opportunity to press the ‘fast forward’ button in developing our 21st century approaches to learning and teaching? Have we had a glimpse of the future? Certainly we have had to make the most of our current technologies to bring learning to life online. There have been some fantastic examples of how technology has enabled practitioners to continue to connect with their children and for learning to carry on. At a recent Education Scotland ‘Headspace’ event, we heard from Barbara Jones, head teacher from Hazlehead Primary in Aberdeen, who shared their ‘Thrive Project’; an IDL project that engaged 95% of their children while learning at home. Colleagues have been able to access professional learning opportunities online more frequently than ever before- between March and June, there have been over 7,500 visits to the Northern Alliance Sharepoint site alone. For us in the North, it is wonderful that meetings are now accessible through a click of a button, instead of lengthy journeys at the end of a busy day – some which required time spent away from home. Great for family life, for wellbeing, for the council purse and of course, the environment!

How do we hold on to some of the positive learning we experienced from life in lockdown? We crave a semblance of normality in returning to school – getting back into a routine and feeling more reassured is welcome, yet we know how quickly time passes and gradually the ‘new norm’ fades and normal service resumes. Except we can’t afford to go back to what was before. John Swinney states,

We have been clear, however, that the return to school is not a return to normal. The virus remains a threat and schools will feel different for both pupils and staff. The full time return to school remains conditional on vital factors such as continuing reductions in infection rates, confidence in our health surveillance measures, and a clear process in handling the local outbreaks we have witnessed elsewhere. Blended learning is a contingency that we may still need to enact.’

In addition to the continuing impact of Covid-19, there is also the risk of losing our lockdown learning – instead of building on and strengthening our innovative approaches to learning and teaching. In ‘Professional capital after the pandemic: revisiting and revising classic understandings of teachers’ work’, Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan state, ‘Educational reform in the postpandemic age must be transformational and not seek to return to normal’.

My colleagues within the Northern Alliance central team and I have had lengthy discussions around our role in working with our local authority and Education Scotland colleagues in the North. At the very heart of our discussions is a clear focus on our Northern Alliance vision:

Developing a culture of collaboration, sharing of expertise and creating local and regional networks to improve the educational and life chances of our children and young people.

Collaboration is the primary purpose of a regional improvement collaborative, and in moving forward, we aim to work even more closely with our local authority colleagues and national partners, such as Education Scotland. In order to help us further improve our approaches to collaboration, we have developed a ‘Regional Collaboration Model’, which will help us to understand to what extent we are collaborating and will also help us to focus on what we need to do better. Collaboration is our strategy:

“Children are the Priority
  Change is the Reality
  Collaboration is the Strategy.”
  Judith B – Washington State Superintendent.

Over the summer, our Workstream leads have reflected on the priorities outlined within our Northern Alliance Improvement Plan – just in the same way that you will be considering your priorities for the year ahead.  In order to help us to focus on the learning from lockdown and inspired by the work of Simon Breakspear, we have developed 4 drivers which will help us drive forward our improvements. These drivers will weave their way throughout our improvement activity and will support us to collaborate, to evaluate, to reflect and to build back better.

  • Agile ways of working – Harnessing new platforms, norms and routines in how we work, collaborate and communicate.
  • Building relational capital – Strengthening trust, connections and collaboration, reducing competition and silos.
  • Digital learning transformation – Adapting and exploring our approaches to learning and being online.
  • Working alongside one another – To explore new and emerging practices in learning and teaching

We have developed a Northern Alliance Priorities and Drivers Overview to help you see at a glance key activity associated with each Workstream. Currently our workstream leads are working with their networks and national partners to flesh out the activity they plan to take forward this session. I’ve had a sneaky peak and I’m excited about the year ahead!

Before I go, it would be remiss of me not to talk about our own wellbeing. This is a time of uncertainty. We don’t know when Covid-19 is going to go away or when it is going to pay an unwelcome visit to one of our communities. There are many questions which don’t yet have answers and this can cause anxiety for everyone. Add to the mix, the normal pressures of work and family life! As a team we recognise this as we have those same questions and pressures. In order to look after one another, we have online tea breaks to keep in touch and to reach out to one another socially. We also want to be able to offer the opportunity for colleagues across the Northern Alliance to come together to talk and to discuss some of the barriers they are facing. Over the coming months, we will be holding ‘Connect and Reflect’ sessions – look out for the link on our website and on our Twitter feed.

Look after yourselves and one another – whatever the future holds in the coming months, we will be facing it together. Remember to think about taking time out either as a team or as part of one of our Reflect and Connect sessions to hold on to your learning from lockdown – ditch what no longer works and build back better for our young people in 2033!

I’m finishing with a quote from Matt Haig – it’s a bit long, but hopefully it inspires!

Keep calm. Keep going. Keep human. Keep pushing. Keep yearning. Keep perfecting. Keep looking out of the window. Keep focus. Keep free. Keep ignoring the trolls. Keep ignoring pop-up ads and pop-up thoughts. Keep risking ridicule. Keep curious. Keep hold of the truth. Keep loving. Keep allowing yourself the human privilege of mistakes. Keep a space that is you and put a fence around it. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep your phone at arm’s length. Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. Keep breathing. Keep inhaling life itself.’

Kathleen Johnston, Northern Alliance Quality Improvement Manager

August 2020

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