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Safeguarding on the Lockdown Rollercoaster

The Difference’s community shares learning on effective safeguarding practice from the lockdown rollercoaster… 

It is a tired old metaphor, but a relevant one. The start of this term, for many of us in education, felt like the beginning of a rollercoaster. As we made our slow ascent up to the point of term starting, we undoubtedly felt the adrenalin begin to flow, the butterflies in the stomach and the almost sickening sense of anticipation for what was to come. Of course, this is a ride that none of us would ever have chosen to be on – and even the most ardent thrill seeker might have turned down, on the point of it being too unpredictable.

At times like these it can be difficult to look outwardly. It seems logical to strap in, make sure those around us are strapped in, and to hold on tight and hope for the best. It might not feel like the greatest time to throw your hands into the air against the onslaught of wind and say ‘Hey, look at me!’

The fear of roller coasters (Veloxrotaphobia) is often cured by taking small steps and building up to riding on larger ones. If the first lockdown of March 2020 was our Big Dipper, as a profession we are now on to our first roller coaster with loop the loops. It is going to be challenging; things will be quite literally up in the air.  But, as we make our way through it is crucial to remember that we survived the first ride, and we can apply our learning from that to feel more confident this time around. 

With that in mind, members of The Difference’s community have been reflecting on how staff wellbeing can act as a tier of safeguarding intervention. The term ‘wellbeing’ will be banded around in many guises over the lockdown period, but one thing that is often overlooked is the importance of staff wellbeing on the ability to maintain safeguarding vigilance over pupils, especially when they are not in the building. 

“Prioritising staff wellbeing can be a safeguarding intervention”

Lockdown, whether we are consciously aware of it or not, affects us all in different ways. The sudden and rapidly developing changes that lockdown brings with it can be difficult to manage on an emotional level, even for battle hardened school leaders and teachers. Losses of routine, structure and purpose all can have a massive impact on staff psyche and wellbeing. When staff are feeling the knock-on impact of this it can undoubtedly impact on the clarity of safeguarding oversight at different levels across the school. 

Maintaining morale is crucial. Seemingly small gestures like celebrating birthdays, allocating senior leaders to check in on staff who may be vulnerable or shielding, getting the whole staff together where possible to celebrate the positives achieved on a weekly basis – all of this can be done online instead of in person, but maintains a feeling of community. The extra effort to maintain these moments can be shared across the middle and senior leadership team – and can pay dividends in staff morale. 

“It is a fallacy that only weak teachers and leaders fall victim to burn out”

It is a fallacy that only weak teachers and leaders fall victim to burn out. Although self-care is another phrase that can be reduced to a cliché with over-use, it is true that without reaffirming boundaries our energy and agency can be quickly depleted – reducing our ability to make informed, clear minded decisions. It is important as leaders to build in moments of preservation, simply having a break or a moment to exercise – something as simple as a walk around a local park at a suitable moment in the day – can give much needed perspective. 

An enabler during lockdown, can be when leaders take extra time to reaffirm the expectations and updated systems for safeguarding, especially as staff members adapt to new processes when working remotely in lockdown. Thinking through and clearly communicating these structures is imperative to freeing up the wider team’s capacity to maintain vigilance. 

When these things are in place, it is easier to notice the little things – work going unsubmitted, a camera persistently turned off, a change in mood of a student – which can lead us to realise as teachers that there could be a change in mental health or safety of one of our children.  And it is also easier to prioritise and gain the headspace we need to prioritise the signposting, quality-assurance and safeguarding systems to go alongside.

There is no escaping from the fact that this term will be intense and tiring. It may be easier said than done, but doing what we can to look after ourselves and team members can significantly protect our capacity to deal with the additional safeguarding demands of lockdown. 

The Difference will be spotlighting and sharing lockdown learning from our network of school leaders and teachers over the coming weeks. Sign up to 4 Bullet Friday mailing list to keep in touch. 

If you would like to be involved, have an opinion, or have something to share please e-mail us.

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