In his first statement after being elected the leader of the Liberal Party (for the second time), Malcolm Turnbull spoke about the importance of Australia being “agile”.
He said in September 2015 that “the Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative.” “We have to recognise that the disruption that we see…, the volatility in change is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it.”
Of course, volatility and disruption were not Turnbull’s friend towards that end of his political career. Neither has the disruption of 2020 between welcomed by anyone, but it has demanded agility by organisations if they are to survive and maybe even thrive.
On 3 March, Principal Luke Thomson dispensed with much of the planned agenda for the regular fortnightly School Management meeting and challenged the senior leadership with the hypothetical that: “the school was about to be closed for face-to-face teaching within two weeks – could we be ready? Which of our systems were ready for such a change? What needed to be reinforced? What needed to be invented?”
The provocation seemed a little far-fetched to some present, but all around the table engaged in the conversation; though at the time felt like planning that would likely remain purely hypothetical. Few suspected that by the 1st of April, those preliminary plans would be required to become a fully operational regime, one where Pembroke would operate with almost no students onsite.
The work of planning and preparing for this challenge was a widely distributed task – certainly the role of senior leadership was important – but much of the work was completed by teachers and non-teachers working together to adapt existing methodologies and adopt new ones. Training for online delivery was provided 6 days a week – after school Monday to Friday and all day on Saturday. None of this upskilling was delivered by outside providers, but staff members eager to assist others in preparing for a form of schooling that seemed just a few weeks earlier was inconceivable. Staff had varying existing skills, but all were highly motivated to engage in the training and upskilling. Few if any were wondering if the new skills would be put to practical use – but rather it was a time of highly motivated and agile response to a massive disruption.
Purely online delivery of teaching was only in place for 12 days, spread roughly equally either side of the Term 1 holidays. Was it better than face to face teaching? Well – of course not. The reality of human connection so key to every classroom and learning interaction was not present to the same degree. Did the community, staff, students and parents respond with agility? Yes – and in great measure. Our students, as always, were cooperative, resilient, resourceful and committed.
It’s too early to understand the lasting effects of the 2020 pandemic. We are all living with uncertainty, challenge and in many cases tragedy. It’s not possible to predict what will be demanded of our leaders, institutions, organisations and population in the coming months and years. What is certain is that our response will require agility, fuelled and sustained by a united sense of common purpose. It’s a privilege to work for a school where we do find strength in unity.