King’s High School rector Nick McIvor was determined that school should remain a constant for students in a time of change and uncertainty.
The metaphor of the school being a rock for the students of King’s High School, is what Rector Nick McIvor has used throughout the pandemic. “With the increased uncertainty in family life and in the wider community…as well as the things that people were dealing with, there needed to be a positive predictability in the school each day.”
He wanted students to turn up to school, knowing that they could count on being able to continue to learn in their lessons, and know that there was someone who focused on their best interests and who would get alongside them. “I can count on school because I know that is not going to change.” Nick’s message to staff was that it didn’t matter what was going on in the background, “even if we are flapping around and improvising”, what students needed to see and experience was school to be “calm, solid and steady”.
With the school already having well developed structures, processes and a strong culture, Nick says that it was important to “turn into them and emphasise them even more”. The circle of care and guidance for students was strengthened and adapted to meet the needs of the students, while at the same time reinforcing the boundaries and expectations for their young men. The overarching message needed to be that school is the same, and that as a student they are going to be able to get through this, get what they need, without being impeded unnecessarily.
One priority for Nick has been to keep as many activities on the school calendar occurring as possible and he is very pleased that although they have modified certain events, they have not cancelled any of them especially when it would have been very easy to do so. It was decided that new students to the school needed to have the typical introductory experiences, so that they would be able “to gain a sense of belonging, and be on the inside of the school rather than feeling like a visitor”. He adds that “staff have been brilliant in keeping things going, and still being consistent with the health guidelines to reassure people”. He acknowledges the hard work and commitment from his staff and has delivered food hampers to those staff who have been absent due to sickness or the need to isolate at home, conveying the message: ‘You might be away from school but you are not forgotten’.
Overall, Nick believes that the school has had a reasonably stable and cohesive experience throughout the pandemic, that has increased a sense of solidarity. “We have learnt a lot and we have adapted a lot.” Teaching staff have developed their digital pedagogy skills and there is a greater prevalence in the use of digital tools and platforms for teaching and learning. “There is now increased confidence and capability of staff who previously wouldn’t have been inclined to make those changes.”
Even though the development of teaching practice has been a positive benefit, the experience of teaching and learning from home has highlighted that while the digital environment can be very useful for learning, it hasn’t supported the view that it is superior to other modes of learning. Nick says “that it was a refreshing experience for everyone to get back to face-to-face personal contact at school after lockdowns… technology has a key place as an enhancement to great relationships with students but it’s not a great replacement”.
School-wide decisions have been informed by comprehensive data collection, including focusing on student attendance, academic tracking, staff absences and general health and wellbeing information. Staff that teach the same classes would typically meet twice a term to discuss progress and support needs, but now meet every 2-3 weeks and have gained a very good understanding of the students’ needs, that are then acted on.
Nick has been very motivated to maintain the best possible health practices at school that will keep everyone safe. He does believe that there were mixed messages sent to the sector around the use of masks, especially when the decision was left to individual schools to make. “If you think it is important to the extent that it saves lives, then you make it mandatory for schools to wear masks,” states Nick, “If you leave it to individual schools, we will get variation within the community, which will inevitably make things less safe.”
For a school that has good systems, structures and a really strong work ethic, the pandemic has been disruptive but hasn’t stopped Nick and his team reinforcing the key principles and values that the school strongly holds. Nick’s leadership approach throughout this crisis has been to acknowledge the hardships that people are going through, provide the necessary support, but not allow the circumstances to take over. Due to this attitude the King’s High School community has been able to lean on the rock that the school has provided.
About the school
King’s High School
State Boys’ Secondary School