When the unwanted house guest that is COVID-19 came to stay at St Columba, we suddenly became newsworthy.
We have weathered that storm and the subsequent self-isolation process and, rather than bemoan the consequences, we are looking at what we, as a School community, can learn from our experiences.
As we look towards Term 2 here are some of the things we learned from the storm that surrounded the positive diagnosis:
- Before the positive diagnosis we had already chosen to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. We already had a critical incident team in place, operating under a reviewed critical incident policy and set of working protocols. When the situation came, we were ready to respond.
- A responsible attitude makes a difference. We are grateful for the family of our first COVID-19 victim. Their quick and responsible response to the possible diagnosis limited the disruption to the School.
- Knowing the rules of engagement set by NSW Health made a huge difference. We were able to find out exactly what constituted “close contact” and who we had to inform and consult with before we could take actions like temporarily closing the school. It was also helpful to know who in our community had “compromised immunity” so that we could take some protective measures.
- In a crisis situation, where events and their implications are changing rapidly, it was imperative that we communicate clearly and with authority to our community. Similar to the bushfire crisis, we found that your community responded positively to regular communication and were often able to refute the rumors and misinformation that floated around the community, particularly on social media. Where possible, we personally contacted members of our community who had particular concerns.
Here are some things we learned about setting up online education for the majority of our students:
- We are lucky to have teachers who are professionally agile and dedicated enough to not only set up online learning but to care deeply about the quality of that educational material. Our staff spent weeks working in teams to ensure that the work being sent out was imaginative, engaging, varied and suitable, before they were able to join those who were working from home.
- We believe that providing generic online knowledge and exercises is not enough. Our planning took into account the pastoral care needs of our student community and we embedded processes that ensured both students and parents retained a feeling of attachment to our School community. Our message – “You are not alone”.
- We accept that we are going to be in this situation for the “long haul” and that means that the amount of work and the contact we set up with our students and their families has to be sustainable for all involved. What seems like a reasonable workload being presented to families in the first weeks, may become untenable as the months roll on and household circumstances change.
- As part of the wider community we acknowledge the impact that this situation is having on our families in terms of health, stress levels, government regulations and sudden unemployment or stand-downs. Our School Council’s early policy decisions to offer support to both staff and parents, decreased the levels of stress felt by parents and staff members.
In summary, we now know for certain that:
- When these potentially serious situations appear on our horizon, it makes sense to calculate our risk exposure and assume the worst can happen and have a planned response prepared.
- We have the necessary people and systems at hand and are able to be ready for rapid implementation in a crisis situation.
- Our community deserves to be given the necessary information as quickly and clearly as possible. If we want them to have faith in us to deal with a crisis, we have to let them know what we are doing.
- In a crisis like this the School has to take into account the impact the situation is having on the wider community as well as the School, and act with empathy.
- No matter how hard we try in a crisis situation we know we will not please everyone. With the positive diagnosis, a number of people in the community were displeased that we did not announce the name of the person, where they lived and how she had been exposed to the infection (as if we knew). We had to balance these demands with the right to privacy of the family and the rules of disclosure of NSW Health. Thankfully, our School community was more interested in the health and welfare of our student than in demanding information to which they had no right.
- This will not be the last crisis our School faces. No matter how well we do in any situation, there is always room for us to improve. We will look at everything we have done and identify any shortcomings and try to make sure the same mistakes or stumbles are not repeated. We will work on the idea that: Everyone Makes Mistakes…But Not Everyone Recovers. We will recover and come out better than before.
Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School