Saturday evening walk with the girls
Leadership of a school community requires a good deal of strategic planning. During the last year, we have all had to respond swiftly to circumstances, and we have had to contend with challenges that seemed totally unimaginable just eighteen months ago. As we gradually emerge from this situation, we need to learn how to thrive again. The struggle to keep everyone safe and the School operating meant that for much of the last year, there was little sense of life beyond Rossall. The mission was total and absorbed every fibre of our being. On a personal level, I felt there was little left of me other than the overwhelming determination to protect the school. I know that many colleagues felt the same. Nothing else much seemed to matter and when the second wave of COVID hit these shores in December, we were shattered. I had not heeded the warning that this was a marathon and not a sprint. Online learning during January felt bleak and parents, pupils and staff struggled with a growing sense of weariness and increased isolation. Even when we were together we were apart. Thankfully, we have been saved by the wonders of science and, as we emerge into the sunlight, this Spring feels especially vivid and especially precious.
Of course, the years can rush by in pursuit of goals that may seem laudable enough in their own right but have the potential to come at the expense of those aspects of our lives that are so precious. Many Rossall parents have struggled to keep businesses afloat during lockdown. We have all had to grapple with the demands of online learning and work pressures. For some, challenges have arisen from an abundance of time together. For others, long hours and worry have caused absence. There were times during the last year when I might physically have been present for my family but my mind was elsewhere. My life felt entirely governed by statistics, travel restrictions, logistics, Department of Education bulletins and the need to steer a course between those who felt our protocols and procedures were unnecessary and those who felt that they were not firm enough. Fiona did her level best to cover for me and ensure the children were protected from a world which, at times, sounded frightening. At times, she was a single parent in all but name and it was she who kept everything going when the midnight oil was being burned in the Hall. The narrative of every family during COVID is unique but no families have been untouched by the emotional and psychological toll that these past fourteen months have brought us. In particular, I am in awe of our teachers who taught a full timetable online whilst also having to look after their own children. They are true heroes.
As life begins to return to normal, we all need to move from surviving to thriving. For me, that means reconnecting and learning how to live in the present. It means being emotionally available and cherishing every moment spent with my family. It means accepting that there are times when I need to switch off and just enjoy ‘being’. The pile of work on my desk is forever replenished and my ambition for this community will never be satiated. However, there are times when less can be more. The greatest gift we can give our children is our time and yet for working parents exhaustion and anxiety so often get in the way. There are not enough hours in a day and not enough years in a lifetime. Childhood is fleeting and parents often lament the passage of time.
Like many of you, I suspect that I am very much work in progress. However, the last few weekends, I have really enjoyed spending time with my daughters. We have spent hours going for walks and exploring new places. I have accompanied the girls as they have practised their singing and we have spent many happy mealtimes giggling and laughing. Caitlin’s impression of David Attenborough has me in hysterics and Teigan’s cheekiness keeps us all entertained. Alicia loves talking about the Arthur Ransome novels that she is reading and Fiona and I are finding just a little time to reflect on the past year and, well, just enjoy being together. School is just as busy as ever, but amidst all the hustle and bustle, I feel that, as a family, we are regaining something precious and yet I had not even realised the true extent of what we had lost.
Last Saturday was a wonderful day here at Rossall. Many of our girls travelled to AKS where they had an enjoyable morning of rounders. We hosted Fleetwood Town Football Club U17 team here at School. For once, the results seemed unimportant (though we won at home!). For all of us, whether we were on the touchlines or on the pitch, there was something utterly glorious about watching sports in the sun and just being together and shooting the breeze. The joy on the faces of our pupils was complemented by the pleasant and relaxed conversations taking place between members of staff, coaches and spectators. There was something special about the scene being played out on the field and it seemed to epitomise all that is great about this School.
In the afternoon, our boarding community gathered in the Square to remember the Duke of Edinburgh. Immaculately attired, our pupils bowed their heads as we reflected upon the loss of the Queen’s consort of 73 years. The school flag flapped in the gentle wind and, as a community, we silently marked this moment of national significance. On Sunday evening, the Chapel Choir performed beautifully and the service of Compline provided a wonderfully peaceful and reflective ending to an action-packed weekend. Sectional assemblies are back and whilst congregational singing is prohibited, the Chapel is, once again, fulfilling its function as the emotional and spiritual heart of the School. It is great to have day pupils back in the Dining Hall and work on the Pre-Prep has almost concluded. The smell of freshly cut grass and the sight of the groundsmen tending the cricket-wicket has never been more welcome.
We are back, the School is back, and it feels better than we could ever have imagined!