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Community First Leadership by Patrick Adekoya
These lyrics made famous by the late Vera Lynn have resonated with me during this pandemic. They depict a picture of perseverance in the face of adversity and resilience in times of uncertainty. Resilience, as aptly defined by the Mental Health Foundation, is the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to psychological, social, cultural and physical resources that sustain their well-being individually and collectively. At a community level, resilience is tested as we rely on each other to not only withstand the problems that this pandemic has brought but to come out thriving. Compassion, collaboration, empathy and love: four essential values that we as a community have drawn upon to navigate through these unprecedented times and the greatest of these is love for our community.
Community first connects our mission to transform lives with our vision to ensure pupils have the skills, qualities and attitudes to achieve the very best. Leadership behaviours for everyone are rooted in serving communities, especially those who need us most. Schools are hubs for communities across the world and therefore it is our duty to serve and have a commitment to the growth of people and building our community.
A key skill to ensure this commitment is to listen sincerely and with compassion. In order to listen without pretence, we have gathered parent voice on families’ needs and struggles. This vulnerability allowed us to act on feedback from parents to ensure transitioning into remote learning was as smooth as possible for our families. At Foxfield Primary School, we believe that there is strength in unity, collaboration, and relationships. Relationships are the foundation of our success; they allow us to make progress while simultaneously reminding us to be vulnerable enough to accept and act on feedback to grow. In order to listen to the community we held virtual coffee mornings; these were opportunities for parents to express their views on the remote learning offer. From this, we were able to tailor our provision to hold more Google Meet sessions with the children and increase engagement. The sessions enabled us to learn which specific topics the community wanted and plan subsequent coffee mornings in the future. We took it as our responsibility to seek out local expertise. As a result, sessions on mental health, information on accredited courses, CV improvement and upskilling and ESOL workshops were planned. We also collaborated with Greenwich Citizens UK to hold more listening workshops to hear the specific needs of parents and bring these concerns to the local governments to bring around a change.
Listening has allowed us to connect deeply with our parents and model empathy to our wider community. We may be socially distanced but our hearts are connected to those around us. Empathy allows us to see the world from the perspective of others. To build our awareness of the community we are serving, we started every coffee morning, phone call and virtual session with the questions:
“How are you?”
“How may we help you?”
These intimate questions gave us an opportunity to understand the feelings of our community and triangulate support systems in place for those who needed it most. We also were able to appreciate that everyone’s capacity to dealing with this pandemic is different. We created a safe environment where parents can coach other parents with tips and strategies that have helped their families. This brought oneness in the community as more families engaged with each other to empathise and offer solutions. In addition to understanding and appreciating the feelings of others, another strand of empathising with our community was to communicate our understanding and respond appropriately. Our Inclusion Team published our first Community Newsletter, which provided strategies on helping children at home, attendance, supporting children with additional needs, mindfulness, online safety and signposts to different local incentives and schemes to further support families. Following the positive feedback, we will write these community newsletters on a half-termly basis.
In this information age where newspapers have demonised educators across the nation, our collaborative approach has healed and rectified the perceptions some media publications have tried to create. This pandemic has exposed our innate capacity to love, support and heal those around us; we have sought to collaborate with various local providers and their networks to exchange knowledge and resources to provide equity for our most vulnerable families. Collaboration matters because this creates shared agency amongst staff, pupils and our wider communities. We are stronger together and can achieve more through working in partnership to provide a bespoke provision that will contribute positively to the physical, mental and emotional health of all members of our local community.
During this time, we have collaborated and fostered relationships with local service providers to enrich our curriculum; strengthen our inclusion and celebrate our diversity within our community and fulfil our moral responsibility to address critical issues in society by offering pragmatic and empathetic support at all levels. Thankfully, our collaborative efforts have strengthened our links with the wider community and enabled us all to “keep smiling through”.