That was the year that was: COVID-19 and reflections from the staff room

Author: Andy Sammons
Published: 16/03/2021

Covid classroom image

In the dim and distant past, just before the pandemic kicked off, I remember having pizza with my family – a huge get-together for my nephew’s ninth birthday.

The conversation meandered onto ‘all the nonsense kicking off in China.’ We’d finished the main course and everyone was on their third or fourth drink when my brother said ‘I’m telling you, your school will be closed at some point this year.’ I was disparaging, shaking my head and saying ‘You’ve never met my Head, though!’

How right he was. How wrong I was.

I miss that level of naivety: since then, I have cultivated a few extra layers of the cynicism that seems to be the easy antidote to what this pandemic continues to take away from all of us.

That’s before I even get started on top-down policy. I can barely put into words how disempowering it feels to be saying to parents and pupils, ‘No, we really are just as much in the dark as you!’ 

But in actual fact, the last twelve months have provided us in education all kinds of interesting and challenging opportunities.

Who’d have thought we’d all be adept at putting our pupils into breakout rooms? At using forms to help gauge students’ levels of understanding? At angling the camera to make sure our double chin isn’t in full view? Maybe that last one’s just me, although it’s a skill I’m proud of, I’ll have you know.

I do think that, when all of this begins to settle, there are all kinds of positives that we can take from all of this. I overheard someone on the radio saying that in education, we’ve been forced forwards three or so years in terms of technological habits. Yes: it is very likely that we’ve now been robbed of snow days for life, but it’s also very likely that we’ll be in a much better position to provide support for pupils that are away from the classroom for whatever reason.

What has really hit home is that some kids want to learn and achieve irrespective of the situation: they could be in a den made of twigs and leaves in Outer Mongolia but, as long as they’ve got a WiFi connection, they’re on it. Others, however, seem to have trouble following a three-step video to upload their latest scrawl onto OneNote.

These pupils are, of course, the extremes. If nothing else, the last twelve months have reaffirmed to me just how important teachers are to young people. That kid in Outer Mongolia? You can spark their interest in your subject as an expert in a way that other adults are simply unable to do. The one submitting the scrawl on OneNote? They need you to ignite that spark more than all the others. (I’ll stop before this starts to sound like a DfE advert.) 

I’d also like to think that this year has given us in education a sense of perspective in terms of our actual locus of control. I think even the most optimistic of senior leaders is looking at themselves and questioning whether we can compel pupils to make ‘sustained and rapid’ progress when their WiFi is intermittent or when there’s only one laptop in the house.

This sense of perspective extends to us as individuals too. I for one know that as we ease back into whatever semblance of normality that awaits, we will do so with a fraction more appreciation of all the wonderful things that life has to offer. I’m not a spiritual person and I don’t believe that ‘everything happens for a reason’ but I do think that we owe it to ourselves to move forward with a renewed sense of perspective about what matters and why.

So, to everyone in education reading this having survived the last year, I hope you move into the next twelve months a little wiser and – although a little battle-weary – ready to take everything you’ve learned onto whatever comes next. 



Andy Sammons

Andy Sammons (@andy_samm) is Head of English at a large secondary school in northern England and author of 'The Compassionate Teacher'.