It’s arrived… September is here and for many families, the tentative first steps in returning to school are being taken. As a parent of two primary aged children, I’m delighted that they are returning to their teachers (if only for a few short hours per day!) and that the onus of their academic success no longer sits quite so heavily on my shoulders. In conversations with friends with children, their experiences have been mixed, with some loving having their children around and wishing it could continue long-term. Others have firmly been at the other end of the spectrum, willing to stand toe to toe with Covid-19 (without a face mask) if it only meant a little peace and quiet and return to normality! The truth is that for many, these two extremes are rarely reached... the truth is found somewhere closer to the middle!
Many of you will remember that over the 2019/20 academic year, we used Dan Rockwell’s excellent 7 Universal Competencies for Success as a basis for a series of reflections. This year we’ll be once again dipping into the wisdom of others, looking at how we apply their learning within east to west, as well as how it can also be used to challenge and grow us in our own environments and experiences. September will also have an additional wePRAY addressing east to west’s response to the Black Lives Matters movement, which we initially put together for July. We decided to hold off posting it then, as we wanted to pause, reflect and take stock of what was happening in the world. We didn’t want our response to feel like a knee-jerk reaction or something that was being prompted by a sense of must do or social pressure, but rather a commitment and acknowledgement of the work east to west needs to do in this area.
As with all our wePRAY’s we’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and feedback… it’s how we grow and get better.
wepray - September 2020
The New Normal?
I write these notes as the east to west office begins to come out of hibernation having been largely closed over the past 5 months. We’ve been in sporadically, but generally speaking we’re adapted to the idea of home working. Being back in my normal chair, with my desk set up as I like it, with no adaptations needed for children’s learning, or shared space feels comfortable and like slipping into a well-worn piece of clothing. The teasing and banter is as if the past 5 months haven’t happened and there seems to be genuine joy at being back in each other’s company even if it’s at a socially responsible distance. Behind me, I can hear Ian delivering the first of two days of east to west induction to Philippa (Hoe Valley) and Amy (Esher High) and to deaden the sound slightly I’ve got my headphones on listening to a Spotify playlist… Emails are starting to creep in, the phone has re-discovered it’s ring, and the postie has resumed her cheerful refrain of ‘morning’ as she pops the mail through our door. There is the sense that a butterfly is slowly beginning to emerge from its chrysalis.
As I ponder what this means and try to write this months wePRAY for the third time, I realise that the past 6 months or so have had an impact on my mindset and how I perceive things. Both initial drafts looked at the challenges of Covid-19 and how we’d begin to transition into the ‘new normal’ (hence the title above). They spoke of people’s responses to facemasks or how we need to cling to a God who is never changing in the uncertainty and fluidity of our current experiences, and I wrote about the problems and potential barriers that we’d be faced with heading back into schools and hospitals.
But then the lightbulb went on! I re-read what I’d written in the opening paragraph and realised that it spoke of something that had all but evaporated over the past months of lockdown. Hope! As things slowly begin to re-open, and we return to working face to face with young people, both in school and at St. Peter’s Hospital, so hope returns. Connecting in person, looking into their eyes and reading their body language as well as listening to their words… Hope. Being present with one another and sharing learning, fun and laughter… Hope. Training new team members and meeting with old… Hope! Experiencing the joy of being in one another’s company once more… You get the point!
A quick Bible Gateway word search reveals that there are 180 references to hope in the bible, and interestingly, one of the greatest clusters of hope is found in the book of Job. A man brought so low by life that all hope seemingly has gone… and yet in his experiences he remained resolute in his love of God. It was in God that he found his strength, in God where he discovered his refuge and in God where despite all his pain and suffering his hope remained.
As I emerge from lockdown like a hibernating bear (my wife and kids would probably say that this analogy needs a reference to one with a sore head!), I realise that the one thing I missed most was hope… I’d stopped looking for it and as a result felt overwhelmed. I’d become indifferent and unpleasant, self-absorbed and callous. All the things that the positivity of hope helps me overcome… so maybe as I emerge from lockdown a bear with a sore head, I can become the butterfly God intended me to be… I can but hope!
This month we’re praying for Clare, Relational Support Worker at Matthew Arnold, and east to west’s Head of Schools. This photo is of her first day back in school, earlier in September and shows some of what our team are having to do to, in order to bring hope to young lives.
My eldest, Caleb is heading off to Southampton for university this year. Please pray for him as he settles in, with all of the challenges of the current climate. Please also pray for me as I get used to him not being at home.
My eldest daughter Lydia is starting 6th form having done brilliantly at her GCSEs (proud Mum!). Pray that she’d settle well into a new environment after a long time not in school.
Pray for my youngest Bo who will be catching up with work missed and getting back into a rhythm of school.
My Mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s which has progressed significantly over the past few months of lockdown. She has new carers coming in, which is challenging for her (and her diagnosis), which helps us as a family, but we’d really appreciate prayer as we know we’ll have some really hard decisions to make in the near future.
Please pray for my older sister Anita who is battling stage 4 lung cancer and is currently in hospital after her final chemo treatment. Pray for a sense of peace and that the Doctors and Staff at the hospital would be able to do the best with her care. Also pray for us as a family as we support her through this tough time.
Please pray that as the new school year begins to take shape, students, parents and staff would feel reassured and secure in the way in which school will now look and operate.
Pray that the east to west team are able to work effectively within the parameters that have been put in place, and that any potential obstacles to the work we do are eased aside and our paths are made straight.
Pray with thanks that God has given us the opportunity to meet face to face with young people once again… pray that He would give us the right words and responses to those we serve.