In the first of our occasional articles written by members of the wide LDBS family, Christalla Jamil, Executive Headteacher of St Paul’s & All Hallows’ shares her thoughts on some of the challenges and triumphs of the past year or so. We are delighted that she has agreed to write for us and we hope you enjoy her insight.
In April 2020, I commenced my new role as the Executive Headteacher of St Paul’s and All Hallows’ School, N17. As for all leaders, the COVID-19 coronavirus crept up on me – not unlike the way it infected its victims. Like all other leaders, I think I was unprepared for the speed and scale of what was required. Governments around the world-imposed lockdowns on their nations, essentially shutting down much of their economy to save lives and to relieve pressure on health services by slowing down the spread of the infection.
Leadership, of course, is about people. It’s about how we inspire, enthuse, engage, persuade, support, cajole and sometimes direct people. It’s about how we envisage, describe, shape, mobilise and sustain change in institutions to make a better future. It’s about how we imagine, communicate and map transformation. So being appointed as a new Executive Headteacher during a global pandemic was going to present me with a new set of challenges in achieving this. How was I going to form relationships with my new communities? How was I going to be able to interact? How do I move between the present and the future, between what is and what could be, between mind and heart, between leaders and my new family of schools? Leadership can never be done in the abstract. It gains traction in context.
One of the main challenges of lockdown has been the one-dimensionality of communication. The routines of leadership have become something discharged through a screen. The explosion of emails, the intensity of screen-based meetings, the challenges of navigating the urgent and the important, the relational and the specific, the now and the future are all managed through a single screen. There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.
Staking my ground ahead of where opinion was and convincing people, not simply following the popular opinion of the moment was now my mission.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the lives of everyone. For children in particular, education, socialisation and other formative experiences have been disrupted or suspended, leading to changes and developments in digital behaviours. The crisis has obliged education institutions to adopt new ways of working, almost overnight.
The almost overnight transition from face-to-face teaching to online and distance learning placed significant and unprecedented demands on our communities, on our leaders, our staff and most importantly, our children.
With the pandemic making many of us feel cut off and isolated, communication with friends and family has never felt more important.
You can imagine the joy I felt when Simon Knowles, the Executive Headteacher of three schools in our LAT, invited my schools and Meridian Angel Primary School to take part in a Year 4 service across all our schools. We are always passionate about bringing our children together to celebrate their many achievements and to unite in prayer, but now more than ever, we needed this spiritual pull to bond and draw us together as one family.
Planning commenced. The common theme was ‘Hopes for the Future’ illustrating how as Church of England Schools, we unite in love, grow in wisdom and build deep friendships by challenging ourselves in all that we do so that we can flourish and become the person God is calling us to be.
Each school was given a role to play in the service: some children played the steel pans as we sang hymns; some children wrote prayers to share; some children recited Psalms. It was truly magnificent. Inigo Woolf, the CEO of the LDBS joined us and our LAT CEO, Liz Wolverson, addressed all in attendance, thanking us and praising the great learning across all our schools. The Rt Revd Rob Wickham, Bishop of Edmonton spoke with clarity about the effects of the pandemic and how lifted we all are when our children showcase their learning through worship. He, of course, added his unique humour and we were all beaming, literally, from ear to ear. Sally Moore, the Primary Advisor, School Support Services (LDBS), spoke of how emotionally moved she was to see our children, albeit through a virtual medium, but how she has missed connecting with LDBS children over the past year.
In order to reinforce and share our hopes amongst all schools, the children wrote postcards to each other, clearly outlining what their hopes for the future are. These have since been shared with all our children across our 6 schools.
Creativity flowed in abundance and further examples of this were created through wreaths that the children designed and made.
By having faith during probably the most challenging year of my career, of my life, I feel I am better equipped to lead my life as a Christian, uniting in prayer and being ever hopeful that we will come through this together. The Year 4 LAT service is just one example of how we are achieving this now.
The test of leaders is not simply in responding to crises, but in shaping the futures which could be opened up in periods of enormous change. This is a moment of profound challenge and real opportunity for leadership and leaders; for empathy and for compassion to prevail.
The LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
I just want to end by thanking all our schools, for their friendship, for their understanding and for the comradery shown whilst guiding each other for the betterment of our communities.
By Christalla Jamil
Executive Headteacher of St Paul’s & All Hallows’