I have welcomed this weekend with huge relief and have had a shamelessly lazy day today. Monday feels as if it were about three months ago. I know it’s a particularly intensive time for everyone, with Year 11 on their final countdown (I do worry about the effect of the ‘number of days/hours/seconds’ countdown on some of our more dedicated students). On top of this, there were a few issues in my department. For obvious reasons, I won’t go into detail, but mistakes were made and organisation wasn’t what it should have been, and, where we would usually have muddled through, this time, bigger issues around.
As with most difficult weeks, it wasn’t something obvious which tripped us up. There were no dramatic resignation or public rows and violent incidents. It was relatively small day-to-day stuff that didn’t go quite according to plan.
I’ve consistently strived to place wellbeing as far up the agenda as possible with my department, but this week, accountability had to take priority. As Head of Department, there was no option but to actively take ownership of that accountability and to confront the issues head-on. This necessitated leadership strategies I’m not naturally drawn to, and a more methodical and pace-setting approach, which was a challenge for both me and those at the receiving end.
Trust was a big issue. After months of building it up, it was seriously tested this week. When things don’t go according to plan, this is inevitable. There was the potential for finger-pointing, anger and accusation. Assumption is the mother of all f**k-ups is one of my husband’s favourite phrases, and lo, this week, this was very true. People were already exhausted after intensive holiday sessions with their students, and there was defensiveness, tetchiness and tears.
Stress hasn’t been a huge issue for me this year, but I felt myself getting a bit reptilian at moments this week. Most issues gets resolved by the end of a working day, but this one built, day by day. After two decades, I’m pretty resilient, but I will admit to my nadir on Thursday at 5.00 when it became apparent that it was simply not morally or professionally possible for me to leave my dept to take the flack and was forced to cancel my presentation at the Bloomsbury TeachMeet, to which I had been so looking forward. I even wore my new pretty dress and still feel a pang of self-pity when I walk past it, still hanging up behind the bedroom door.
Very long hours were worked. Folders and data were checked and re-checked. Emails were formal and sometimes terse. As a department, we put in dozens of hours beyond our contracted hours.
And then, sometime around 5.00 on Thursday, we realised we had resolved the issues. The crisis had been averted. No student had been disadvantaged in any way. I even managed to get out for emergency chocolate for those involved. I wrote a final report to SLT confirming that ends had been tied up and we were back on track. There’s more stress to can, but we can draw a line under this particular set of circumstances.
My department and I are rather bruised and utterly knackered. Trust will need to be carefully rebuilt. Egos will need to be smoothed. Credibility will need to be carefully restored. Serious lessons need to be learned. And I saw more of my colleagues than I did of my own children this week. We need to re-evaluate some of our priorities.
But, but, but…
At no point in the course of the week did I lose faith in my team or doubt that we would get to this point.
At no point did any of us shy from embracing – and solving – the issues.
Several people showed blinding strength, kindness and comic timing which helped us get through.
Moments of blind stress were interspersed with silly if slightly hysterical humour.
And we sorted it. And I suspect and hope we’re a stronger team for it. And the students are still getting a good deal. That’s what counts, yes?
Oh, and I’ll wear my dress to the next Bloomsbury event. Here it is, anyway.