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As schools across the country reopen to all pupils, in Venturers Trust we’re focusing on positive language to help our school communities thrive once more.
Instead of ‘catching up’, for example, we talk about ‘continuing to progress’. We actively avoid suggesting that students may have ‘fallen behind’, as we recognise that every student will have experienced lockdown differently.
For some young people, 12 months in lockdown will have presented rich opportunities to spend quality time with their families, explore the area they live in – with the luxury of time to really absorb and appreciate their surroundings – study hard and learn many new skills.
For others, lockdown will have been hard. They may have felt isolated, lonely, anxious, even hungry and afraid. For these young people, their return to school will be a lifeline that allows them to reimagine their future and start realising their ambitions.
The pandemic has impacted to varying degrees on the mental health and wellbeing of our young people, which we are addressing in parallel with a focus on academic work. Young people need to develop strong social and emotional skills if they’re to succeed in society, so across all of our schools we have been helping students rediscover and strengthen some of these core skills that have been impacted by lockdown.
Successfully re-engaging with the routines and expectations of school life is a necessary first step towards ensuring that every student achieves their full potential. As we collectively confront our ‘new normal’, it’s clear that we’ve entered an era where the concept of working hard goes hand in hand with the importance of being kind.
I joined Venturers Trust in January 2020, back when no one had any idea that a pandemic was about to turn life as we knew it upside down. My first day as CEO coincided with our first ever Trust-wide development day, which saw me give a presentation on what success looks like, and how we would achieve it.
The overarching theme of my presentation was to ‘Work hard and be kind’. The phrase was quickly embraced across our school communities, and soon came to define our pandemic response. Our schools became a focal point for multiple communities, providing on-site care for vulnerable students and the children of key workers, but also ensuring that local families had enough food and other forms of support.
Our teachers adapted quickly and were able to provide engaging remote learning resources, while simultaneously retaining the camaraderie unique to their classes, and most importantly, their students’ appetite for learning.
We also launched a ‘We are listening’ initiative to support our staff, creating various channels to encourage the flow of two-way dialogue. We listened, took action to address any concerns and worries and focused on making improvements.
The initiative has proved to be so beneficial that we now intend keep it going after the pandemic. In February of this year we were selected as a teaching school hub – a wonderful boost for our talented staff, who have worked incredibly hard and are eager to develop their careers and collaborate with others.
To achieve our Trust-wide goal of ensuring all children from all backgrounds succeed, we have to develop and retain the very best teachers. Ours have shown remarkable resilience and determination throughout the pandemic, refusing to be phased whenever the goalposts move yet again. They are our greatest asset, and we’ll continue to support all of them to be the best they possibly can be.
As our students and staff settle back into their familiar routines, that ‘Work hard, be kind’ sentiment remains at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Much has changed since March last year. Many positive connections have been made in the face of adversity.
Schools and families have developed a greater understanding of each another, leading to improved relationships. All of us have learned to appreciate those things that really matter. In education, however, standing still simply isn’t an option. Young people only get one chance, and we’ll continue to develop and implement improvements across all our schools as we emerge from the pandemic, stronger and more determined than ever.
David Watson OBE is the CEO of Venturers Trust – sponsored by the Society of Merchant Venturers and the University of Bristol, it comprises one all-through, one secondary, one special and five primary schools across Bristol. Ffor more information, visit venturerstrust.org and follow @VenturersTrust.
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