Burnside High School Acting Principal Andrea Griffin has affectionately been named ‘The Covid Queen’ by the staff at Burnside High School.
The title was earned due to Andrea’s obvious hard work and leadership regarding all things Covid, as well as being recognised for prioritising the health and well-being of the staff.
“We have made a real effort to listen to our staff and when we have had to use our different hybrid learning plans, we have listened to what our senior leaders have said and what our heads of faculty have said, because they are a gauge as to how staff are coping,” says Andrea. As a result of this, the school would consistently keep staff well-informed with current and accurate information, and also communicate what is happening into the near future.
With reduced ability to meet face to face with staff, a streamlined and more purposeful meeting structure was introduced. “We had to evaluate our meetings and we now will only have a meeting if there is something to talk about.”
A significant and constant challenge throughout the pandemic, has been the task of synthesising, interpreting and acting on the large quantity of information that was received from authorities - at times daily. This was a consuming and often overwhelming process. Andrea adds it was frustrating when there were expectations to engage with some of the education work streams that had kept progressing, such as the NCEA Review and Curriculum Refresh. While being involved was important, the timing was less than ideal. Andrea makes no apologies. “The bottom line for me was to keep our staff functioning,” she says.
At the height of Covid when staff and students were impacted directly, the school operated a hybrid learning model that involved senior students learning at school on Monday and Tuesday. All students were learning at home independently on Wednesday, and junior students were learning at school on Thursday and Friday. Andrea says this model worked really well and especially Wednesdays, which provided staff and students time that could be used flexibly, often with many students coming to school for project work and specialised tuition.
Given the success of aspects of the hybrid learning environment Andrea is keen to explore what that might mean for learning programmes at school. “We want to be able to use our learnings and possibly transform learning programmes that will be better for students and staff.”
Throughout the pandemic Andrea acknowledges that leaders have had a significant increase in workload, and says that when they were faced with the immense job before them, “they all just put their heads down and got on with it”. She is naturally concerned for their current and ongoing wellbeing and expresses frustration that there is a lot of talk about wellbeing, but limited solutions that are well resourced. “Staff respond well if you are able to give them time, during difficult times like this,” she says. Andrea believes that having increased staffing entitlement and greater flexibility on how to apply it would be beneficial.
Because leaders have had to approach managing their staff in new and innovative ways during the pandemic, Andrea sees that there is room for improvement within the wider education system, to allow more flexibility with staffing and provide better support for the challenging job teachers perform.
For principals, “the job is all encompassing” and Andrea would endorse additional opportunities that would enable leaders “to have time away, and get your head out of the job” in order to reflect and refocus.
Andrea is truly committed to ensure the staff at Burnside High School are supported and are able to do what they do best – teach young people. Staff have responded well to this and recognise that they are cared for, valued and important.
About the school
Burnside High School
Y9-13 Co-educational State Secondary