As we reach the final days of December, writing the traditional ‘nurture’ post provides me with an opportunity to reflect on the year which is ending, and to look forward to the year which is about to begin. My #Nurture 19/20 post makes interesting reading! Who would have thought, a year ago, that the world would look quite as it does today, and that our lives would have changed so dramatically? The final paragraph of last year’s post reads:
“We have booked holidays next year in Tallinn in Estonia, and Valencia in Spain. I have work which will take me to Glasgow and to Belfast – and John will come with me each time for an extended break – plus various speaking commitments across England. I plan to continue to enjoy the company of family, friends and my professional contacts. I wish you all a very Happy New Year, and a year ahead which is full of the things which bring you joy.”
2020 has certainly presented its challenges. I recognise that I am fortunate in a number of respects, and haven’t had to deal with many of the issues and stresses that friends and contacts across the education community have had to face. I have watched in awe and admiration as those I connect with in the world of education, and the key workers I know, including the medics, have stepped up and shown what they are capable of in these extraordinary times. Difficult circumstances can bring out the best in us, it seems, and there have been many examples of selflessness, even heroism, and a commitment to supporting one another through this. I listened to a podcast last week, in which Emma Smith (@Jigglyem on Twitter) talked about disability and equity, and at one point Emma said, quoting her grandmother, “When you watch the news, look out for the ‘helpers’ ”, and that struck me. There are always helpers, not just those standing around watching any disaster unfold.
So our life hasn’t been as we anticipated this time last year. We did make it to Glasgow in January, where I carried out some professional development work with Middle Leaders and we stayed an extra night in the hotel so that we could spend time in the city. We also travelled to Ipswich where I talked about making the leadership leap at an event for women educators, and to Abingdon where I chaired a panel discussion about women in educational leadership. On each visit John and I enjoyed a meal out in a new place and an overnight stay. But our trip to Belfast, where I was due to speak at a conference for primary heads in March, was sadly cancelled at a late stage as Covid-19 began to sweep across the world. We decided to rebook the flights for later in the year and enjoy a mini-break there instead – and that didn’t happen either! We have rearranged our Valencia visit for June 2021, but have to wait and see whether that will be possible. We’d hoped to reschedule the Tallinn trip, too, but the company which owned the apartment complex where we were due to stay has now gone into administration. And, of course, the ‘speaking commitments across England’ which I mentioned weren’t able to take place.
One additional challenge for us this year came in the form of floodwater in February. Our home flooded 20 years ago, in November 2000. Although that was the last time the water actually came into the property, we have had a few ‘near misses’ since then, and one of them was in the spring of this year. The house was completely standing in water for several days, but the water levels began to recede before it could actually soak the carpets. It was tense and dramatic, however!
And as the flood waters receded, the virus took hold.
But looking back over the year, I see that there were opportunities as well as challenges, and I want to focus on four of those in the remainder of this post.
- The Power of Connection
I HAVE enjoyed “the company of family, friends and my professional contacts” this year, and in many cases have had far more opportunities to connect with them, but the ways in which we have communicated have changed. There have been interesting conversations during long country walks, more letter-writing, phone and WhatsApp calls, emails and a significant amount of interactivity using Zoom, Microsoft Teams and GoogleMeet. I reflected on all of this in my keynote for Mark and Bukky’s #UKEduStories #TeachMeet: a 16 minute video here, and a blog post, which includes the links I mention.
Four of us even had a naked Zoom wearing just bobble hats and drinking champagne for a friend’s birthday – but I have promised faithfully that I wouldn’t include the screen shot in a future blog post or tweet….
- Professional Opportunities
As it’s now ten years since I stepped down from headship, I had planned to do a little less work this year, and this has happened naturally as a result of the restrictions navigating the pandemic has imposed. But it has been an interesting challenge converting many of the sessions I would have led face to face into an online context, and I have enjoyed that process. I have done work for a number of schools, and for different organisations – all leadership-related, fascinating and satisfying. In addition to leadership development sessions for serving and aspiring Middle Leaders, Senior Leaders and heads, I’ve continued to work with Andrew Hampton on our four-week online course which supports those preparing for senior leadership and headship in the independent sector. We have had three excellent cohorts completing the course in 2020, and begin work with cohort 29 in January 2021. I have also continued online coaching with a number of educational leaders. I enjoyed talking about finding the balance in our personal and professional lives, and considering flexibility across your whole life/career, for the #WomenEd global online conference in October. See the last 20 minutes of this if you want to watch it, or this blog post if you’d like to read the text of the session. I’ve enjoyed making short videos for Mary Myatt’s new platform, ‘The Soak’, and I’ve recorded podcasts. One of the professional learning opportunities I especially enjoyed was being involved with CollectivEd’s Knowledge Exchange event, including chairing a discussion with Rachel, Rose and Christian.
So my involvement in professional development has looked different this year, but it’s continued to be healthy, and rewarding. And I have spent less time travelling, and in hotels, and more time in my study, enjoying the stimulation of a one, two or three hour online session before coming downstairs to have my evening meal with John! I blogged about online professional learning here.
- Health and fitness
I fully understand that some people have struggled with health and fitness this year, but I’ve found that having more time at home has meant that I have exercised considerably more, and I feel much better, as a result. Without actually dieting, I have lost half a stone – and partly as a result of that, have experienced far less stiffness and discomfort in my arthritic knees! (I recognise that the fact that I haven’t worn high heels for my professional work has also had a bearing on that!) I have done my half an hour exercise routine on Wii-Fit every morning since March 14th, apart from two days when we had a break in York and Whitby. My husband and I have been to our local David Lloyd to use the pool/jacuzzi/sauna every day we’ve been able to (which also helps with the knee pain). And we have walked whenever the weather has been fine – even in autumn and winter we have had a fair few bright, sunny (though bracing!) days. So at the moment I feel physically fitter and well, and the exercise and water treatments have helped with my mental well-being too.
- Time to write
As I said in last year’s #Nurture 19/20 post, I hoped this year to have more time to write fiction. I could never have anticipated just how much time I would have! Last December I had written a short story, ‘The Dresser’ but wanted to try to write a novel.
In 2020, I have expanded ‘The Dresser’ from a 10,000 word story to a 55,000 word novel, and written a second novel, ‘#oneword’. The two are very different from each other, but I enjoyed the process of writing them both, and I feel proud of what I’ve produced. Whether either is considered worthy of publishing is something I can’t yet know, but I will contact agents and publishers in 2021, and see whether anyone thinks they may be of interest to a wider audience. I also want to consider further ideas and write more in the future. Thank you to all those who have read the fiction I’ve written so far and given me feedback – your comments have been invaluable as I have reviewed and revised my writing, and I appreciate the time people have taken to do this.
I’ve written more education blog posts and articles, too – some of which I have been paid for, which is always a bonus. Thanks to those who have given me the opportunity to do that.
So there has been satisfaction and joy this year, in addition to tension and challenge. Several of the young couples we know have announced new addition to their families – welcome to Mia, Freddie, Wilf, Freya – and also to Coralie, born to John’s cousin and his wife in September, and another Berry coming into the world!
And spring is on its way – with vaccines and adequate protection against Covid to allow some kind of normality to resume. But I have appreciated this opportunity to reflect on 2020 – what we have experienced, enjoyed, achieved, and valued.
Wishing you all the most positive and hopeful year ahead.
Photo montage: Our home this Christmas