The decision to close schools to the majority of children on Friday 20th March 2020 will forever be etched in my memory. It affected me both as CEO at Focus-Trust and Mum to two teenage sons, one in Y9 and one in Y12. I like a routine, I like to be organised and I thrive with being around people. The uncertainty of the situation we were facing, not being able to go out, the worry about having elderly parents and a mother in law living alone, and two sons needing home schooling, was a challenge like none I’d ever faced. However, I remembered my Story of the Five Balls (family, health, friends and integrity being more precious than work), dug deep, connected with as many family and friends as possible using Zoom, dragged myself out running most mornings, walking daily with my husband and embraced this new challenge whilst being grateful for who I had in my life. I’ve learned I actually like a slower pace of life and it’s quite refreshing not to have anything planned at the weekends.
Suddenly, at work, our key priority was to keep our staff and children safe and we had to be reactive to a rapidly changing situation, deal with concerns from our Head Teachers/Principals and respond to the daily DfE guidance we were receiving. As a Trust, we pride ourselves on being organised and yet we were faced with cancelling all our forums and visits up to Easter and maybe beyond,, and the challenge of not having the answers to many of the questions we were being asked. In an attempt to be solution focused and supportive, I realised how important it was to connect and support our team (Central Team, Leadership Team of sixteen Principals/Head Teachers/Heads of School and our trustees and governors) but balance this without taking over decision making from them. Luckily, we’d invited Greenwood Academies Trust to our Leaders’ Forum on 12th March and knew the potential that virtual technologies could have on keeping staff and children connected and for sharing resources. Appointing Donna as Deputy CEO and our Digital Strategy Leader was key to this success.
Within the first week of lockdown we had lived out our value of ‘Dare’ and held our first Teams Board meeting, Zoom Team meeting and Zoom Leaders Forum. The first of many! I love working as part of teams and the importance of this has never been more apparent to me than this past four months. I am fortunate to work with so many knowledgeable, talented and creative people who I’ve learned to rely on to have the answers I don’t, and I’m very proud to be the conductor on the Focus-Trust train as we journey on this challenging Coronacoaster.
My most memorable professional experience has been having the opportunity to talk on behalf of the Trust to Baroness Berridge, the Academies Minister. She had heard of the great work going on in Focus-Trust academies and offered me a forty minutes call with her. This was such a privilege; I was able to take her on a virtual tour of all fifteen academies and talk about the wonderful work we are all doing for our families and communities. A very proud moment!
I’ve learned that so much more can be gained by reaching out, learning from and supporting others, admitting you don’t know the answers, asking for help and providing help to others. I’ve joined new networks, read lots of education books and raised my own and our Trust profile on Twitter – all of which has brought lots of new connections for me and our @FocusTrust1 team that I hope will continue.
I’ve been amazed at the benefits of using technology for professional development and the ability this has to connect wider groups of staff using technology, particularly our Community Champions and Learning Support Assistants. I’m keen to ensure this continues as we develop our blended model of responsive professional learning.
Finally, I’m passionate about the power and potential of the collective voice of Focus-Trust to make a difference locally, nationally and internationally. Through the power of @FocusTrust1 #CareDareFairShare on Twitter we can share our great work, support others, become civic leaders and ‘a beacon Trust’, living out our values to make a difference to our children, families, staff and communities and help us achieve our vision of being ‘Great academies at the heart of our communities’.