Some of you may know that we live in a village which floods. The Trent, which is usually about a mile away from the house, sometimes makes it into our living room.
We knew the house flooded when we bought it, but we loved it, and as water hadn’t actually been inside the property for several decades, we decided we wanted to live here anyway. We moved in in April 1994, and in November 2000 we flooded for the first time. This was the autumn term as I had started my headship in September, so it was an interesting challenge. Since then we have managed the situation several times where water fills the fields, the lane, comes up our drive (so we have to move the cars to higher land) and eventually fills the garden. The house can be completely standing in water, but the floors inside are about a foot higher than the ground outside, so until the flood starts to climb the brickwork, we are safe (though by that stage we have moved as much as we can upstairs, emptied the lower cupboards, raised the white goods on milk crates etc). On Christmas Day 2012, we were within half a brick of the water flooding the house, when, at 8pm, the level steadied and then began to drop. Sandbags are ineffectual, as the water actually comes up from underneath the house, In 2000, we watched the lounge carpet slowly lifting in the middle of the room.
In February of this year, we experienced another near miss. The house and gardens were completely surrounded by water. However, eventually the waters began to recede, very slowly. By the time we could get down the lane without waders and use the drive two weeks later, COVID-19 had started to make its presence felt, and we were facing a different kind of challenge.
All this has made me reflect on the idea of control. When we are at risk of flood, we take what precautions we can, and do everything in our power to minimise the potential damage. However, we cannot know how bad it will get, when it will stop, and what will ultimately happen. We have to be able to cope with that uncertainty and the feeling of being out of control. We must plan for the worst, while hoping for the best. It seems to me that this is what the coronavirus crisis is also demanding of us. We have to consider what is within our control, and what can we do to best effect with the agency we have. What is beyond our control, and how can we work to ensure that railing against it doesn’t sap our energies?
Yesterday I read this very good article by Charlotte Parry, a Year 11 student, in tes magazine. She gave a student’s perspective on the current situation, which made me thoughtful. I hope that over the Easter break schools will be surveying students, and staff, and parents, as they make their plans for the future. In the last two weeks, what has worked, and what hasn’t? What is manageable and sustainable, and what isn’t? What has helped to give students a sense of purpose and a useful structure, and what has simply felt like counter-productive pressure?
I was impressed by these words in Charlotte’s piece:
“Uncertainty is scary for everyone, including all the other young people up and down the country. We have now lost the main constant in our lives – school.
However, what we need to recognise is that even though school has stopped, learning does not. We don’t know when this will end, we can’t control that – but we can control how we deal with it.”
And I loved this post by Director of Education Sallie Stanton, and agreed strongly with this:
“I think work is essential for our mental health, and I don’t want to risk promoting the idea that if students disengage, nobody will notice or care. But of course, any follow up needs to be supportive rather than punitive, and right now, we probably do need to be flexible in the level of engagement we expect.”
I would say we all need some structure in our lives – children and adults. We need to safeguard our mental health as well as our physical health. We still need a sense of purpose, to experience satisfaction because we feel we have achieved something – whatever that might be. We need to look after ourselves to the best of our ability, and that includes exercise and thinking about our diet and alcohol consumption. We have to think about our agency – what can we control, and how can that help us. And that might help us to deal with the complexity, the uncertainty and the unknown challenges which may lie ahead. We have to be flexible and adaptable in the light of changing circumstances and the feedback we receive.
We also need community, and a sense of collective social responsibility, I think. I understand that fear can drive people to acts of selfishness, but we are also seeing how crisis can bring out the best in humanity, too. We can be lifted by the examples of everyday heroism we are currently surrounded by, and we can play our part in this. Gratitude for the contributions of others, and making a positive contribution ourselves, will definitely benefit our mental well-being.
Sending best wishes and positive thoughts to you all.
Photo credit: John Berry. The view from our kitchen window in November 2019, and the same view in February 2020. Play ‘Spot the Difference’?