ISC blog: "Never has our community shown itself to be more hard-working, self-motivated and more altruistic than now"

Posted on: 26 Mar 2020

Suzie Longstaff, head of Putney High School, reflects on how pupils and staff at her school have adapted to their "new normal".

As we settle into our ‘new normal,’ the reality is beginning to set in. Each morning classes are beginning (almost as usual!) at 8:35am sharp and students and staff come together online to continue their learning together.

In the Senior School, teachers are ready and waiting for their students, who are in front of their iPads, reporting in for their lessons and ready to get on with the task at hand. Thank goodness for technology, that we all have school iPads and are already literate in the numerous online platforms, like Microsoft Teams and Firefly, that despite the inevitable teething troubles, are proving invaluable already and will undoubtedly be a lifeline over the weeks ahead.

Technology has suffered from some bad press over the last few years. How ironic that in our time of most need, it will now be our saving grace, keeping us connected with our classmates and colleagues, and learning with one another in times of trouble.

The resources are at our fingertips and thanks to some phenomenal hard work from our amazing teachers, there are lesson plans in place to keep our students on track and busily engaging with the curriculum. Out of crisis comes creativity and we are all finding new ways of working that enable us to rise to this unprecedented challenge. From Mr Castle who has created a Roman forum green screen backdrop in his office at home, which has apparently “gone down a storm”, to Mrs Armstrong holding a live classroom chat with her Year 7 class teasing out ideas on Shakespeare’s creation of comedy in Much Ado About Nothing, this is just the start of a multitude of lessons and resources that are ready to fill our hours as we also find time to indulge our academic curiosities. The girls are being just as creative and we will be gathering some fantastic examples to share over the coming weeks.

There is no doubt that anxious, uncertain times are unsettling for us all, so never has it been more crucial to embrace the reassurance of familiar routine. Over the coming weeks it will be important for us all to stay healthy, both mentally and physically. Who would have guessed that Joe Wicks would become such a part of our daily routine? Not relying entirely on Joe, our wellbeing ambassadors are encouraging us to come together for yoga and meditation, and the PE department, always up for a challenge, have been sharing online workouts and tips to help us keep up our fitness at home. There have been online theatre trips for Mrs Crocombe’s Drama students and I for one was delighted to see that Mrs Gough’s breaktime crossword challenge is still fully operational amongst the staff, who have been downing tools at breaktime to take part in this popular Putney pastime.

Aside from mental agility, it has always been our aim to give our students the character and the adaptability to succeed in life. I don’t think any of us realised quite how quickly these qualities would come to the fore, and how firmly they were already embedded, throughout the school. Last week, as our Year 11 and 13 students grappled with the knowledge that the exams they have been preparing so hard for, may not even happen, the positivity, strength and spirit they displayed was humbling to witness.

In my last Assembly, which was delivered in email form, I reminded the girls of the importance of doing their bit, by looking out for others and helping out at home. Hopefully you will see this suggestion being taken seriously! Over the weekend, I was so proud to see some of our Sixth Form girls, already on community platforms, offering their services to vulnerable local people and ready to assist those in need with shopping for food, medicine, or just by being a friendly voice at the end of the phone.

And as our remote learning community starts to take shape, Putney has remained open to the children of London’s critical keyworkers who now join us in school each morning with their spirits high and their chairs two metres apart, as their parents do their bit for the national effort. Never has our community shown itself to be more hard-working, self-motivated and more altruistic than now, and these are the qualities that will see us through.

Life has thrown us a curve ball but rest assured, we will learn from this and return stronger and most definitely wiser, judging by the quality of online learning in progress. We are showing that our community is a team of truly spirited, enterprising, kind and brilliant individuals. While I am embracing ‘the new normal’ I cannot wait to see the ‘old normal’ return.

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About Suzie Longstaff

Suzie Longstaff is Headmistress at Putney High School, a girls' school in South West London.