Jacqui Cornell, Headteacher
In our latest isolation blog, Jacqui Cornell, Headteacher, discusses her experience of the lockdown and what this unique situation has meant for the SGGS community...
One quote that I wholly agree with and often share with my students is: “A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)
The one thing that lockdown has taught me is that our capacity to adapt to what the world throws at us is immense. I honestly thought that four years into Headship, I had experienced everything that was likely to come my way. Since becoming Head in 2016, I have had to deal with real sorrow within our community, as well as share in moments of complete and utter joy. I have adapted and flexed in response to cuts, policy and national issues. I have responded to emergency situations like snow and floods and accommodated student strikes. I was starting to think that I had probably got most experiences under my belt. Then along came a pandemic that would not only close the whole school but the nation. My word, the learning curve suddenly increased (for the Mathematicians, from dy/dx approaching 0 to an exponential curve, or so I am told!), and it is still going upwards.
I have been able to find solace in the fact that no Headteacher, no matter how experienced, has been asked to respond to a situation such as this before. Each week brings another set of challenges to test our skills of leadership, empathy and communication. The networks of support that exist between us and the other top performing girls’ grammars, as well as those between us and the local secondaries, have really been of benefit. Knowing that we are all in this together, sharing and learning as the situation unfolds, has been invaluable.
Reasons to be proud
Reflecting on the instruction to close back in March to now, I can see that we have come such a long way. It is genuinely remarkable. The staff have once again shown me why I enjoy working with and alongside them. Our students have responded brilliantly as lessons have moved online to a world of virtual lessons, activities and support. I am a very proud Headteacher!
I am also reminded that we are a community that is incredibly buoyed by our engaged and supportive parent/carer body. To know that they trust us implicitly to have their daughters at the forefront of the movement toward facilitating and promoting an excellent education and access to opportunities, is something I certainly don’t take for granted. I am so pleased to know that parents and carers feel reassured by the knowledge that we’ve been delivering excellence for the last sixty years.
The investment we made in a new IT infrastructure and kit for the teachers enabled us to move SGGS into the virtual world with ease. That is not to say that it was (or continues to be) an easy process for all those involved. From a strategic point of view, I miss the quick interactions that allow you to move an idea or plan forward, the spark from a corridor conversation that will feed another development and having everyone in the same room. Teams meetings are great, but the physical interactions are lost. I also miss the girls - who breathe so much of the life into the school. They provide me with the energy needed to do what I do. Time seems to be even shorter in the virtual world; everything takes so much longer. A common factor for all of us from student to Headteacher is that we are tired. Is this also true for those outside of education? I think we are all looking forward to the summer holidays!
On a personal level, lockdown has affected me to a lesser extent, as I have continued coming to work and so has my husband. My son, however, arrived home from university to study and take his finals exams remotely. As with our exam classes, my heart goes out to all those Third Years who have been unable to test their learning through formal exams this summer. They have also missed out on the associated celebrations - the rites of passage - that come with these stages in education. I, like many other parents, have had many discussions that stem from frustration, injustice and sheer boredom. How do you explain the inexplicable? It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for all of our young people.
The other thing that lockdown has taught me is that I favour optimism over pessimism, though I am mostly pragmatic. With some caution, I am now looking forward to welcoming back staff and students to school from Monday 22nd June.
The school always looks amazing at this time of year and the centre lawn is central to this. To have some life back in school will bring a sense of normality back to us all. I know that we are all looking forward to bringing the community back together, even if it is through tentative steps to begin with. Though little will have changed on-site, I know that much will have changed for those who belong to our school. We (I!) cannot wait to have everyone back together, connecting in the real world.