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Learning to do what we never thought we could

Michelle Green /
08 December 2021

2 min read

If you ask a school principal or teacher how they are feeling in the final days of Term 4, chances are they’ll reply with one word: exhausted.

It’s more than the usual sense of weary relief that comes at the end of a typical school year. It’s deeper than that. Many feel drained, physically and emotionally.

This time last year we talked, optimistically, about how in 2021 we would enter a phase called the new normal, when the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic would be behind us. We talked too soon, of course.

Instead, COVID continued to confound us. The uncertainty, disruption and stressful anxiety of 2020 rolled into the new year, with even greater shocks, extended lockdowns, protracted periods of remote learning, and, for many schools, outbreaks of the virus among teachers and students.

Solidarity from shared experience

None of us and none of our institutions have been left untouched by the disruption of COVID-19, but it has imposed distinct burdens on schools and their communities, especially in Victoria.

Over the past two years ISV’s Member Schools have had to improvise and innovate, constantly adjusting their processes in response to a capricious virus. They have had to implement shifting government guidelines for schools, which have been amended at least 50 times as official health directives changed to deal with new outbreaks or new virus variants. Anxious uncertainty became part of normality. Little wonder, then, that educators feel exhausted and drained of energy.

Yet there can be a positive dimension to exhaustion, when it’s the result of achievements reached despite the odds. It’s also possible to draw positive lessons from this experience, without sugar-coating what has often been a traumatic time.

It’s possible the past two years has forged a greater degree of solidarity between educators that can only come from a shared stressful experience. There are signs of a new awareness in the community of the work done by teachers. Let’s hope this respect endures whenever we enter a post-pandemic period.

What's in store for 2022?

At ISV we hope the support we’ve given schools in the past two years has strengthened the sense of trust that exists between us and our Members. It’s certainly deepened our understanding of the challenges schools face. Based on that understanding, we’ve been thinking ahead about how we can give them the support and the services they need. We’ve devised new programs and projects, and enhanced existing ones, for 2022.

As this year ends, we don’t talk about entering the new normal. Instead we’re told we must live with COVID. This suggests we will continue to face localised disruption, new outbreaks, and some forms of restrictions. Yet there are grounds for cautious optimism after a crisis which has taught us we can do things we never thought we could.

Michelle Green was Chief Executive of Independent Schools Victoria from 2002–2023.

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