Courage in adversity 20 March 2020

20 March 2020

This article first appeared in Queenwood News Weekly 20 March 2020

What a remarkable week.

We continue to adapt to a new ‘normal’ – and what a strange ‘normal’ it is! Every day we are tightening our protocols on physical distancing and other precautions. It is hard to break with habit but gradually it is becoming more natural for everyone as we change so many routines, large and small. There is constant handwashing and hand sanitiser and soap aplenty. (Beware of rumours! One dispenser running out of soap for two hours went home as ‘There is no soap at school’, to understandable parental consternation. Please know they are being restocked frequently.) Musical instrument lessons are being delivered online by our peripatetic music tutors. Playground areas are being adjusted – and so on.

Our trial of off-campus learning with Years 7-9 is just finishing as I write. This morning I walked through the School and observed classrooms full of girls with the teacher on their screens, and classrooms with only a teacher and lots of girls on screen. Happily, there was both laughter and good, productive learning coming out of all of them. I was grateful for several emails from parents during the first few lessons this morning, who reported that their daughters were engaged and happy – not least when they did their practical PE lesson in sports uniform in front of the laptop!

We know that the trial has not been without hiccups, and we will be surveying students, parents and staff so we can identify successes to be replicated and weaknesses to be addressed. I thank parents for their flexibility in responding to our request at very short notice to trial this with the girls at home. We have also asked teachers to acquire skills, create new resources and completely change their mode of teaching and I acknowledge with gratitude their exceptional professionalism and can-do attitude as they meet this challenge. There are more challenges to come – for all of us.

I acknowledge, too, the tremendous support that Queenwood parents have provided to the School, including many messages expressing their trust and confidence in the School’s decisions so far. In a climate of uncertainty, that it is a precious thing and we are greatly encouraged by your support. Some girls are remaining at home for a variety of reasons (eg a family member who is immuno-suppressed) and absence is higher than usual because we have asked you to keep girls with even slight symptoms of illness at home. But almost all our families continue to send their daughters and we are getting on with learning together.

These extra precautions can cause understandable frustration. Girls who regularly get otherwise harmless symptoms are having to stay away because even though we are 99% sure they are healthy, we can’t be sure. I want to thank those parents who have persisted in observing our protocols, even if it feels like overkill in their particular case. The key to managing the spread of COVID-19 will be absolute consistency so we very much appreciate your support despite the significant inconvenience.

On this point, we still have a few families for whom the reality of this pandemic has not sunk in. Even this morning, one or two parents were having to be persuaded to collect their daughters who arrived with noticeable symptoms of sickness. We feel the responsibility of adhering to our protocols acutely because, along with the general health advice, the welfare of all the other girls relies on compliance. I am not sure how much more we can do to get the message across, but there is no point sending your sick daughter in to school because she will be promptly sent home again.

Similarly, some parents who have kept their girls home have, according to the girls’ reports on return, been engaging in an active social life with their daughter – taking her to cafes and social visits and other outings. Whatever might happen in a normal year, this is not the time. Our health professionals are gearing up for extraordinary demands, at some personal risk. We are asking them to stay at their station, and we must support them by staying home if we are sick.

Communication is a key aspect of our ongoing management of the current situation. A reminder that if you have any queries, suggestions or information relating to COVID-19, it can be sent to The QPA has also suggested that reducing the volume of email for parents might be timely so that important messages from the School are less likely to be missed. Given that the weekly routine is also much simpler at the moment, this seems sensible so the usual QPA weekly email has been suspended for now. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of the QPA Committee over the past few weeks. Their advice and support to the School and to me in particular have been invaluable.

In all our communications so far, we have emphasised the risks, the disruption and the need to treat this pandemic with the utmost seriousness. Without retreating from that view for a second, perhaps we could all do with a few glimpses of hope:

  • Rapid, accurate widespread testing is key to successful control. Researchers at Oxford University have this week developed testing technology which is more sensitive and takes a third of the time of current tests.
  • Researchers around the world, including Australia, have found promising candidates for a vaccine and one has already moved as far as testing on humans.
  • Researchers at the University of Queensland are beginning clinical trials for drugs which could be a cure.
  • Yesterday was the first day that no new cases were reported in China.

I make this point because everyone – child or adult – is feeling the strain at this point. We are confronting an extraordinary challenge so we need to think about how to look after each other and ourselves. Part of that process is finding a balance between the bad news and the good.

The Australian Psychological Society has a good factsheet on dealing with the anxiety which naturally arises in these circumstances. Based on that advice, we recommend:

  1. Get the facts from reliable sources
    There are links to good sources on our COVID-19 Updates page. Avoid the myths. Be careful that you don’t talk constantly about COVID-19, for your own sake and your daughters’. One girl told me this week how stressful the trip to school is because the radio news in the car is a stream of bad stories. We can keep up to date without immersing ourselves or our children in negativity.
  2. Keep things in perspective
    • Am I forecasting or predicting something that hasn’t and may not happen?
    • Am I overestimating the situation or consequences?
    • Am I underestimating my ability to cope
  3. Practise self-care
    Now, more than ever, our own wellbeing deserves attention. We need to practise physical distancing but also community closening. Connecting with and reaching out to help others is one of the best ways of reducing distress. Sleep, nutrition, exercise, lifestyle practices are doubly important now.

Children are very quick to gauge how their parents or other adults manage challenging situations. Modelling a calm and measured approach will go a long way to instilling a similar approach from your child. There is further advice about how to talk to your children in this factsheet.

We know that maintaining both physical and mental health amongst our students, staff and community is vital to riding out the coming months. We are already working on measures to support this and we will continue to draw on the wisdom and assistance of our parent body as we do so.

Finally, a story about Year 12. The reality has sunk in this week that their final year will not be what they hoped. Milestone events have been cancelled or postponed, one after the other. Games, competitions and performances are off. Eighteenth birthday parties have been cancelled, and it feels a bit like all the fun has been sucked out of life, while the hard slog of study remains. How have they responded?

On Monday, Head and Vice Prefects came to see me. ‘We’ve been grieving over the weekend,’ they said. ‘But now we all think we need to work on improving morale and getting everyone to focus on who they can help.’ Together the Year 12s have come up with a loooong list of ideas for how we can find some joy together, support people who are finding it tough and help communities that are particularly vulnerable. I’m looking forward to seeing them put their plans into action.They are having to be creative but they have taken responsibility to shift the focus of our community onto what can be done, rather than what can’t, and what we can make together, rather than what we have lost.

There are serious times to come but I have never been more proud of our girls.

Ms Elizabeth Stone