We’re only a couple of weeks into the new term – and not much further into the New Year – but I have to say that it feels like longer. On Monday 4 January, our whole staff team were meeting (virtually) for an INSET day. We knew it’d be a slightly strange start to the term, we were expecting a week of virtual lessons and a staggered return to school for pupils, but we were really looking forward to welcoming everyone back.

Those plans changed in the blink of an eye and I am incredibly proud of how our pupils and staff have responded: our Upper Fifth and Upper Sixth pupils have started the term with focus amidst the uncertainty of what is happening to exams; new pupils have navigated virtual St John’s successfully; and everyone else has slotted back into the old virtual routines and got on with it. This positive adaptability doesn’t diminish how tough it has been but, as before, we’ll support each other through.

So it is probably not a surprise that the theme that comes to mind this January is unpredictability.  When Autumn Term ended, as a country, we were full of optimism. 2020 was drawing to an end, 2021 would be a fresh start, the vaccination for Covid worked and we were looking forward to five days of relaxed restrictions over Christmas when we would see our families. Although we knew we weren’t there yet, there was everything to look forward to. The first (of several) big changes came just a few days into the school holidays when the government announced that schools were going to be responsible for lateral flow testing before term started and there began a whole lot of planning…

By the first Monday of January, after hours of planning, we were ready and our lateral flow test centre was set up. To be honest, we were feeling quite pleased with our efforts! But, at 8.00pm that night, it was all change again and we were relaunching ‘virtual’ St John’s. A few days later, I saw this message (right) circulating on social media. Well, I empathise with the sentiment but it’s not really an option. Recent weeks, and indeed the events of 2020, are a reminder that sometimes life doesn’t pan out as we planned – it can take some fairly unexpected twists and turns.

There’s no doubt that we aren’t where we want to be at the moment, but we must remember that these time will end and life will return to normal.  We all need to keep going, to do what we individually need to in order to learn, to stay in touch with friends, and to look after our physical and mental wellbeing as best we can.  For some of our pupils, the things   they love doing are much harder to do at the moment.  I have encouraged them – and all of us – to try to identify new ways of doing them, to remember all the elements of things that give them pleasure, and to be disciplined about putting one foot in front of the other.  Like many others, I have appreciated the gentle wisdom and kindness in Charlie Mackesy’s drawings, which have seemed particularly apt over the last ten months.

Even in tough times, there are good moments and we can create good memories. Towards the end of December, I received this image (left) via social media. I had a couple of attempts at pressing the play arrow with nothing happening before realising that this was the joke: there were no best bits of 2020.  I was amused but thought that it wasn’t actually true.  Admittedly, 2020 wasn’t the best year on record but there were special moments and really positive times. I have reminded our pupils to think about their own ‘best of 2020’ – great examples of friendship, time with family, moments of laughter. I’d like to think that coming back to school in September was one of their highlights – it was definitely one of the highlights of my year to have them all back on site!

And, in 2020, we learnt what we could achieve against the odds. From teaching and learning to performance and sport, we found new ways of doing things. They weren’t always the ways we wanted to do things, but the sense of achievement was all the greater for finding a way through.  Lockdown 3.0 will be no different. On that Monday night as the third lockdown was announced, I was gutted at the thought of not having our pupils and staff back on site but I could see the situation more positively by the following morning. Despite being unable to use our test centre immediately, setting it up had once again demonstrated the amazing camaraderie that exists across the school staff team. Our pupils, our staff and our families have been brilliant at responding to the challenges we face, and that reminds me that we will find a solution whatever is thrown at us and, always, we will be stronger together.  Adapting to unpredictable circumstances demonstrates to us all just how flexible, creative and innovative we are capable of being.

As I said at the start of this blog, we are only at the beginning of 2021 and, although it hasn’t gone as we’d planned so far, we know that – collectively and individually – even if there are dark moments, there will also be amazing moments to come and we will appreciate them all the more.