Principal of Auckland’s Glen Taylor School, Chris Herlihy, says they are keen to retain the innovation, fun and engagement that emerged as the school navigated pandemic.
Within 48 hours of the first Covid lockdown in 2020, Glen Taylor School’s staff had set up a digital environment with blogs and various active platforms (including Therapy Dog) that were visible anywhere, anytime. Teachers found and set up Chromebooks for the 25 learners in Years 4-8 who needed them and set up a system to prepare 110 hard packs for all Year 1-3 learners, which support staff delivered to homes. By the 23 March, each class was set up with online meetings.
The speed with which the school responded was just one measure of its staff’s dedication, which an appreciative community described as “inspirational”.
Support and leadership
Principal Chris Herlihy says the Board of Trustees were incredibly supportive, which helped staff when they had to contend with lots of unanticipated challenges, such as delivering student medication that was stored at school and accessing chargers for the devices.
The school deliberately rotated its leadership team so there was always a leader available, which proved fortuitous when one of the team contracted Covid-19. The team’s work day shifted to late in the evening, with much of its work done from 6pm to 10pm, after the Ministry of Education’s daily 6pm update, when the team could more effectively plan the next day.
Chris says the Ministry’s 6pm communication was indispensable. “We were able to plan, communicate in real time, often just cutting and pasting the relevant key messages. This saved such a lot of time and allayed people’s worries.”
Support for staff
As principal, he went to great lengths to ensure staff knew how much they were appreciated – holding daily meetings, Friday catch-ups, online social events, dress-up days, and online competitions. The Board funded wellbeing initiatives, including occupational and EAP (employee assistance programme) support for teaching and non-teaching staff.
Support for the community
Chris says the school became a crucial hub and support for the wider community and it worked closely with external agencies to access food parcels and support for various social and health issues. Every Friday, Chris met with the local DHB to work together on what was needed and then updated the staff. The school also used some additional Ministry funding to employ a matai to engage with families, which proved so effective that the Board is now considering continuing to fund the position into the future.
“This approach needs to become the norm and social agencies as a hub potentially based in schools may need to be the way of the future,” Chris says.
Facing the challenges
As did most schools, Glen Taylor School faced some big challenges, the first when the school holidays were brought forward. The move did not suit Glen Taylor’s community and here was concern the early break would seriously affect future engagement. Chris lobbied successfully to make the school an exception and it continued with the normal holiday schedule, roping in well-known personalities to appear on a ‘Legends with Larrikin Leaders’ online to keep students engaged through the holiday break.
In other areas, the school adapted. To avoid raising further anxiety, it dispensed with formal assessments. It found some learners had excelled in home-based learning, so attention was given to those who had not. Its emphasis has been on re-engaging through positive relationships, and alongside strong systems for tracking each learner, the school has pulled levels of engagement back to normal.
Chris is already thinking about how to avoid returning to the pre-pandemic norm and instead, encouraging the innovation, fun and engagement that emerged during the pandemic, which included tapping community resources in innovative ways to gain donations that provided every learner with gifts at the school prize giving.
Celebration, open days and welcoming returns
The culture of the school is one of celebration, and every opportunity is taken to affirm the great work being done by all parts of the community. Staff have missed having parents in the school and are planning a big launch next term with an open day for parents to welcome their return. Chris is convinced that schools are the heart of their communities, and he continues to focus his leadership on making that true for Glen Taylor School.