A Deputy Head’s Reflections on Working From Home.

Back in September 2019, during a Senior Leadership Team meeting, my boss floated the idea of having a day-and-a-half working from home every half term. At the time, after a little bit of thought, the SLT unanimously agreed that it would be a great way for us to have some “catch up time” or some dedicated time to work – uninterrupted – on our area of responsibility. We joked about this being an opportunity for us to get our home offices renovated… except, for me it wasn’t a joke: new desk, new plants, new layout. I went for it. And on top of that, there was the need for new tech: a new webcam, ring-light and microphone! It was costly but looked great!

Little did we know what 2020 would have in store for us and how the decision to work from home could potentially be taken out of our hands and made for us.

In March 2020, myself and the Head worked out rota after rota after rota to make sure that staff had a fair and proportionate amount of time working in school and working from home. It was a nightmare for me; as everyone who knows me will attest – I absolutely HATE creating a timetable. It throws me into the depths of “Just Surviving” so, playing to everyone strengths, the Head took this one onboard and did a great job of creating an easy-to-read, colour co-ordinated spreadsheet. Phew. At this point, the Head and I only had the odd day working from home, which was initially… nice… provided some space to “crack on” and get stuff done, but being in school seemed more natural – “where we were needed”. There comes a security with being in a familiar surrounding. However, when at home, you’re always on call, which limits what you do.

For the majority of Lockdown 1.0, however, I was in school. In my comfort zone. Happy. Busy. (Very busy). Productive.

Fast forward to Lockdown 3.0 and after an initial period of wondering whether there would be a repeat of the rigmarole of putting together a timetable and rota again, things settled quickly and most teaching and learning staff opted to remain in school where they had access to their support network, their classroom and their resources. Sensible. Those who were able to work from home did so. We made the situation work for us.

The same applied to SLT. We were in. Supporting as much as we could, whilst maintaining Bubble Integrity and social distance. Things were going well. Week 1 (after the children being in school on Monday and then not on the Tuesday) went smoothly. We felt much more prepared this time around, with robust systems and procedures honed and refined from Lockdown 1.0, that kicked in straight away.

I personally felt more assured with our Device Loan Scheme roll out, which, this time, included SIM cards with free data. It was a positive week, which ended well. No disasters. Until Sunday evening when we got The Call. (And no, I don’t mean the OFSTED Call.) A member of staff had tested positive. This was not a new scenario: we’d had to close a Bubble before, like many schools up and down the county… however, this time, the impact on me personally would be greater. I was required to self-isolate for 10 days, also.

I was gutted. It was what I had dreaded. Being forced to stay at home and work remotely. So what was the difference between this and the previous working from home arrangements? Choice. I had no choice this time.

After getting over the initial disdain, Monday arrived and I joined our virtual staff briefing. Seeing everyone at school suddenly made me feel two very unpleasant things:

  1. That I was missing out. Everyone was at school except me. (This actually wasn’t the case, but in my mind it was).
  2. That I was letting the team down. Everyone was having to work harder now because I wasn’t there. (Again, this wasn’t the case, but it felt like it.)

After getting used to this “new”, new way of working, I cracked on with my tasks. Doing as much as I could:

  • Picking up safeguarding reports.
  • Calling parents.
  • Checking in on staff working from home.

These daily tasks forged the basis of my routine and became the bedrock of my work day.

Then I referred back to what we initially agreed about the working from home “days” – catch up on stuff and concentrate on my areas of responsibility.

So the rest of Monday and Tuesday saw me catch myself up with staff development and training, reading the latest research and adapting my planned strategy to suit the shift in the landscape for the year ahead.

Great stuff. At 4:15pm, I Zoomed the rest of the staff team for our Virtual Staff Meeting – the first in our Spring Series on Writing. This one was going to be a good one because it was about the future vision for writing and was entitled “I have a Dream.” I’m in straight away. It was passionately led by our writing lead supported by our Associate Headteacher, and had everyone engaged and interacting. Beautiful. When it ended, I was reenergised and kept going with my work on professional development. Before I knew it, I looked up from my kitchen table (why not the newly refurbished office, I hear you ask? Well my partner has been working from home since March 2020 so has bagsied the office… yes… I renovate it, and don’t get to enjoy it!) and the time is almost 10pm. I started work at 7:30am! How time flies! I logged off and moseyed the few meters from the kitchen to the lounge. Actually, it wasn’t too bad… was it…?

The Wednesday arrived.

Following a poor night’s sleep, limited exercise and having not left the house since Sunday, I was at an all time low. I cried. But what was different? It had only been 2 days!

To all intents and purposes,

I was missing the connection to other humans. To other professionals. Yes I’d Zoomed and called and Teams’ed… but nothing – for me – can replace the actual feeling of having a connection with another human being: reading their facial expression, their body language, responding to their tone of voice or laugh. I hadn’t realised quite how much it meant to me, until this point.

Wednesday was tough. I found it hard to motivate myself. I found it hard to be productive. Wednesday dragged. I found myself not doing things I needed to do. Instead I watched recording of lessons that teachers had been uploading to Showbie, scrolled through Class Stories on Class Dojo and looked through children’s work. I was missing being a teacher. However, these activities re-energised me and gave me a strong insight into where my teachers were at with Virtual Blended Learning. I was able to assess where the most effective practice was and this gave me a mechanism by which to share this with other teachers. I re-read Doug Lemov’s Teaching in the Online Classroom and started to compile a crib-sheet for teachers. The day ended much more positively than it began.

(Without this turning into a rendition of a Craig David classic) I was back on it on Thursday – which is interesting because Thursday is the day I “Act Up” in the Head’s absence. How would that work, eh? I made a point of connecting with the other members of SLT more frequently… mainly by phone. I connected and checked in with the Middle Leadership Team and I joined a live lesson. Beautiful.

I felt more connected than yesterday, but still at a superficial, distant level. However, I cracked on and got on with my tasks.

Thursday ended with our usual SLT check-in email to the Head. In my mind, there were only a few days to go. I was now closer to being back in school.

Friday was a mixed day. A bit of a meh day. A day that was neither positive nor negative. I was productive. I got stuff done. The day went reasonably quickly. But it was just unsatisfying and unfulfilling. The most satisfying thing about Friday was recording an asynchronous model Year 4 maths lesson. It took me three attempts, but was definitely worth it!

So what have I learned from this experience?

I have learned an awful lot about myself:

  • I am connection driven: I crave human connection.
  • I need regular feedback from humans.
  • I care passionately about being in the classroom – this is where I thrive.
  • I care passionately about teacher development – this is where I get my energy.

But more than that, on a leadership level, I have realised that working from home provides you with a perfect opportunity to be in “Operator Manager” mode. The safe space. It allows you the time and head-space to “get stuff done”, to check off the items on your to do list – which feels nice.

What it doesn’t do, however, is allow you to be strategic. Why? You cannot be completely strategic in isolation (literal or metaphorical). You need your team around you to bounce ideas off of, to offer critique and to challenge.

So, would I work from home on a more frequent basis, through choice? Probably not unless I needed to be in “operator manager mode” and get stuff done. It’s too quiet. It’s too lonely. That’s exactly why it’s called self-isolation.

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