CEO Blog: Responding to COVID-19

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SHINE’s response to COVID-19

Sitting at my desk again at home, I’m just about to dial into my fourth video conference of the day. This time it’s with my family. It’s great to check in but there’s a palpable longing we don’t name. I think it’s Thursday.

Reflecting on the enormity of these past few weeks, it is difficult to process just how much has changed, and how significantly all our lives have been affected.

Many of us are trying our best to navigate drastically altered working environments, taking decisions, and getting things done, if only to cling to some semblance of normality. There is a heaviness to the debt of gratitude we owe to frontline staff, knowing that no amount of thank you will ever be enough.

Since the school closures were first announced, we have all felt a visceral sense of foreboding. For many of the children SHINE exists to serve, this will be an interruption to their education they can ill afford, with increased pressure on families acting to further exacerbate the inequalities our charity exists to tackle.

We’ve always believed in the incredible dedication and expertise of teachers, so naturally, our first stage was to ask them how SHINE could help. What we uncovered was a picture so stark and so complex, we soon realised that we needed to be thinking far beyond the next few weeks.

COVID-19 is a human tragedy which will have profound effects on family life. The best school leaders we know recognise that many families are unable to fully replicate the experience of school at home. Rather than setting unrealistic expectations, they are instead demonstrating genuine empathy for the situation parents and teachers now find themselves in, being prepared both to ask and then listen to what they need.

The best schools are prioritising strong relationships based on empathy and trust. This applies just as much to staff as it does to parents and the wider community.

Our best leaders are not clamouring for intensive, academic programmes in the first week the schools re-open. Instead they are focusing on how they can reintegrate children in ways which support their long-term needs, socially, emotionally and academically.

Schools serving the most disadvantaged children are going to need significant additional resources to battle this crisis, not just now but in the years to come. In my view, they will also need full flexibility in how this is deployed so that they can meet the full range of the needs they face.

In the coming weeks and months, SHINE will be profiling incredible teachers across the North of England who are going above and beyond to meet the needs of the children in their care, helping to tell their stories and ensure those dealing most directly with the crisis are given a voice. We will also be providing significant additional support for the teachers and schools we already support to help them navigate the challenging landscape ahead.

At some stage COVID-19 will end and the schools will reopen, but for many children the implications will last long after the headlines have disappeared. Teachers and schools across the North are already at capacity trying to respond to the crisis as the situation stands. The most important thing the rest of us can do right now is listen.