Peer Support Circles

3 weeks ago I reflected on what I could do to support others navigate the turbulence, from the safety, security and stability of my home. I felt somewhat bereft that I don’t have a purpose to meet on the front line, which my professional training has prepared me for, but I knew I could value in a different way.

I thus decided to offer to host and facilitate a series of Peer Support Circles for women who I know who had reached out for a supportive chat but also it would be an opportunity to reach out to women who might being feeling vulnerable and isolated. I shared the idea tentatively across my networks via LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

There was high interest from a diverse group of women who I know from different spheres in my life so I scheduled weekly zoom meetings for 5 groups of 6, which has actually ended up being 6 groups of 5 due to availability. So for an hour on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday night, plus an hour on a Sunday morning I log in and meet each circle. These check ins have become the highlights of my day and my week.

The safe spaces are informal and conversational. Each circle is an opportunity to reflect, to share, to support, to learn and to grow. As we talk and develop our relationships within the circles, common themes are appearing:

Time… Boundaries… Routines…. have led to discussions around how to create some order in the chaos.

Anxiety… Overwhelm…. Apprehension…. have encouraged us to share strategies for coping and for managing the disorientation and derailment.

Communication… Relationships… Conflict… have invited honesty around the conversations we need to have at home, at work and with friends and families.

Opportunities… Creativity…. Focus… have enabled us to revisit our purpose and redirect our time and energy on activities that both serve us but also serve others.

We reflect on the highs and lows of our weeks. We articulate the emotional journeys we are on. We share dilemmas as they arise to unpack and explore. We suggest strategies and support one another in navigating the mess and finding solutions. We help each other in sense making and in seeking clarity.

We have revealed vulnerabilities to each other, to strangers who have become friends in a short intense amount of time, that have enabled learning and growth. We hold each other accountable and we hold each other able.

‘Circle of Friends’, by Maeve Binchy, was a book I read as a teen and then watched the movie of – it explores friendships and relationships. I feel very privileged to have so many circles of friends around me. I draw strength from these relationships and am nurtured by the love we gift each other each time we meet.

As I reflect on what I am grateful for and on what is bringing me joy in the current climate, I thank my circles for signing up, for showing up and for standing up. I might have set the circles up, but I don’t have all of the answers to all of the questions, the power is shared across everyone in the circle to help each other to be resourceful and to find meaning as we journey together.

Women’s Peer Support Circles

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 13: Adventure

An adventure is an exciting experience that is typically a bold, sometimes risky, undertaking. Adventures may be activities with some potential for physical danger such as traveling, exploring, skydiving, mountain climbing, scuba diving, river rafting or participating in extreme sports.

I love going on journeys. I love exploring. I love adventure. I love learning new things about new places, new people. This was instilled in my from a young age.

My parents love to travel and we had some amazing life experiences as children, learning to ski, going on safari. My Dad is an adrenaline junky so I was brought up canoeing, mountain-biking, water-skiing. I think it is why I am so fearless.

Adventure might seem like a bizarre thing to think about when we are in lock down but planning my next adventure is keeping me going. When I say planning, I mean mentally exploring, considering my options for physical adventure but also for professional journeys.

On days when I am climbing the walls I reflect back on the adventures I have been on. Last year I was 40 and I went to Iceland with old school friends, I later travelled through South America by myself. If I need to feel calm I visualise myself bobbing in the blue lagoon. If I need to feel free I imagine myself at the top of Machu Picchu surveying the sublime vastness of the Andes.

This summer we are due to be going to Rwanda on our 2nd Action Aid project, following the success of our trip to Mozambique in 2018. Rwanda is a country I have wanted to visit for a very long time, but it looks like that adventure will be on hold until the world is a bit safer and more stable.

A year ago this week I resigned from Headship. I started a new career adventure. Since stepping out of the system and into another space, which is currently Higher Education, I have been exploring new pathways. A metaphor for career journeys in the #womened community is that women often meander and cross-traverse the mountain, where as men climb directly up the mountain face. As someone who has not yet had a family, my journey for 18 years was very linear. I didn’t have obstacles to navigate, there were no roadblocks slowing me down in my travels, my pace of travel has been quite fast.

Stepping out of the race, I have spent a year decompressing and re-calibrating. I have re-framed a lot of things that have defined me. I have created new routines and established new boundaries.

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 13: Adventure

On a coaching call this week I was asked about my journey and the coach wanted me to explore my feelings about leaving permanent employment in 4 weeks time. She used the metaphor of travel and being on a plane, going to a new destination. I said that at the moment I feel like I am on a shuttle going to the moon. We unpicked that analogy. I feel like I know the world of schools quite well, I know how to operate in a salary, how to perform in an organisational structure. From May 1st, I don’t know where I will be or what I will be doing, yet.

Yet, I am not worried. I am excited about the adventure that I am preparing to start. She asked me if I had any regrets about my timing. I resolutely confirmed I know I am doing the right thing. I think my words were: “it was a bold decision” to resign from my salaried role. That it feels like “an even bolder decision” in the current climate. But my intuition is telling me it is still the right thing to do. It doesn’t feel dangerous or risky.

As she helped me exploring my feelings and thoughts we revisited my purpose as an educator. I spoke passionately, at length, about what I care about. Moreover, who I care about. I am a people person, I care about the profession, I am invested in relationships and am good at making connections.

She had a light bulb moment in the middle of our call and called me a Cartographer. She complimented my ability to see the bigger picture. To make sense of chaos. To see patterns. To draw maps to help signpost others. To support others on their journey.

It was enlightening to have someone reflect something back to you about yourself that you have never heard before. This metaphor really resonated with me about who I am, about what I have to offer. It will help me to articulate my next chapter.

I’ve always had a strong sense of direction. I can often visually remember how to get to places once I have been there once. But I am also comfortable with getting lost, in the knowledge, that I have a strong inner homing device and will always get back to safety.

Jill Berry talks about leaders “building your bridge” as you cross it, but my new metaphor, with love and gratitude to Naomi Ward, is “drawing your map” as you go on your adventure.

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 12: Support

Support (verb): bear all or part of the weight of; hold up.

Support (noun): a thing that bears the weight of something or keeps it upright.

We are in this together is a powerful collective intention. It sounds like a mutually supportive action. But are we? Is everyone truly supporting each other and everyone else?

I am doing what I can to support myself, support my friends and family, support my work colleagues and more specifically my trainee teachers, support women through my peer support circles and others through various networks I am in such as We Are In Beta, NourishEd and HeadsUp4HTs.

In turn I am being supported, I have lots of people reaching out to me to check in on me too. But I am also reflecting on who has not reached out, on who is not offering emotional support to me as a friend during these bizarre times. In turn, I will have friends who will be wondering why I have not reached out too.

The idea behind the #DailyWritingChallenge was to offer some individual support through the catharic process of writing. I process my feelings each morning by writing down my thoughts. It is my daily anchor. If my blog helps one person, then it is worth me writing it, but above all it is supporting me. The growing DM group is supporting 34 people on twitter who are dipping in and out of the blogs, it is helping some find and use their voice. I know others are reading the blogs and they are journalling privately at home so it is helping them too.

To be supportive:

Are we holding each other up during these difficult times?

Are we listening to understand and not to judge?

Are we reaching out to loved ones regularly?

I have a small tight nit family who I speak to weekly normally but it has moved to every few days at the moment. I have a vast friendship network, I am in lots of whatsapp groups who are checking in on each other and I have a close circle of people who I ring/ who ring me regularly. I am appreciating the positivity and support from social media at the moment – the world definitely feels more united than it has done in a while.

To be supporting:

Are we doing our bit?

Are we an emotional or a financial crutch for others?

Are we volunteering to support those who are lonely and isolated?

I have seen some brilliant community initiatives come to life in the last few weeks. Many people are going above and beyond to do their bit. People are reaching out to strangers. People are showing their appreciation for key workers who normally feel downtrodden. Is the pandemic a message to the world to come back together and behave as a cohesive unit?

To be supported:

Are we asking for help?

Are we accepting assistance?

Are we giving or taking?

For some this is a difficult thing to do, it does not come naturally to reach out, to share one’s vulnerability nor to ask for what we need. I shared a meme on twitter last week reminding people to check in on their ‘strong’ friends. Just because they appear to be holding themselves together does not mean that they are and it resonated with many. Moreover, we all have ‘gifts’ and resources we can share with each other. It is a reciprocal process to support and to be supported.

When our world feels so unstable and chaotic, support makes it feel safer. Whatever the metaphor you want to use of an anchor keeping a ship safe, roots keeping a tree upright, scaffolding keeping a structure standing, our support mechanisms will get us through the coming days, weeks and months. As existing support is tested, new sources of support will also be formed.

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 11: Self-Care

In health care, self-care is any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated. Some place self-care on a continuum with health care providers at the opposite end to self-care while others see it in a complex multidimensional construct.

Did we really need a crisis to make us stop and listen to our bodies?

A pandemic has got our attention and has forced us to slow down.

Less has become more. As things like commutes and meetings have left our schedules, we have found space and time to do what matters.

Physical Health:

I am eating more vegetables and home-cooked meals.

I am drinking more water.

I am walking more.

I am resting more.

I am sleeping more.

Emotional Health:

I am being kinder to myself more.

I am being more compassionate to others.

Social Health:

I have set more boundaries.

I am communicating more.

I am asking for help more.

Spiritual Health:

I am alone more.

I am writing more.

I am reflecting more.

I am in nature more.

If COVID-19 is teaching us anything it is teaching us what we should be spending out time doing.

It is making us consider our lifestyle choices, our use of time, energy and resources.

I for one am embracing being at home and my life being simpler, slower and stiller.

Let’s not forget when the storm ends, what we learnt during this time of reflection about how to looks ourselves and each other.

#DailyWritingChallenge #SelfCare

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 10: Forgiveness

Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, and overcomes negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance.

I was brought up to treat others how you want to be treated. But I have met a few people in my life who did not have the same upbringing nor set of values instilled in them.

I believe that I am quite a patient and a tolerant person when it comes to children learning how to behave, but my tolerance for poor adult behaviour is quite low. Adult treating others badly is a trigger for me. I just don’t have the time nor the energy for people who are unkind, disrespectful, dispassionate or dishonest.

As a direct person, I articulate the poor behaviour from colleagues, friends and family as and when it happens, like I would do with the children I have taught. It needs to be addressed and corrected in the moment, and reflected on at a later stage too. It is then up to me, if it happens again, to decide how to react. At that point I often vote with my feet.

I also expect the same back. If my words are too direct, my tone too harsh, my actions too cold for example I expect those around me to challenge that too. I am generally quite self-aware and will reflect and self-correct, but having trusted people around you to hold up a mirror to reflect back your behaviours is important.

I have ended friendships, relationships and jobs because I have not seen the values displayed that I choose for my life. Living our values means that they should shape our actions and our behaviours. Too many people talk about their values but do not walk their values.

When we wrote our culture for wellbeing policy (behaviour, rewards and sanctions) we chose our language carefully. We communicated that values being personified would be celebrated and values being contravened would be sanctioned. Values being contravened became teachable moments and learning opportunities – they initiated some really good restorative conversations about how our values feed off of each other.

Forgiving and forgetting when we have been crossed or wronged is hard to do. More so, dependent on the scale and impact of the misdemeanour. It has taken be a long time to process some of the hurt caused to me to enable me to forgive others. I am quite good at letting the small stuff go and moving on, it is the big stuff, the deep hurt that is harder to shake off, forgive and forget about.

As an upfront, open and honest person I expect the same from other people around me, especially those who I choose to have in my life. I value trust and loyalty. So lying and withholding the truth is something I find hard to forgive, as is people being disloyal.

“Forgiveness does not excuse their behaviour. Forgiveness prevents their behaviour from destroying your heart”. 

But they say that in order to heal and to grow that you need to forgive. That your energy needs to be invested positively rather than held negatively. Forgiving others is a gift to our selves rather than a gift to those who need forgiving.

A trickier one to tackle is the act of forgiving ourselves. We are humans. We are flawed. We have faults and we make mistakes. Once we accept this perhaps it is easier to be kinder to ourselves.

We are going to make mistakes. We will need to be forgiven by people in our lives. But we need to own those mistakes. More importantly we need to apologise for our actions when they upset others, whether it was intentional and conscious, or unintentional and unconscious.

“The first to apologise is the bravest, the first to forgive is the strongest, the first to forget is the happiest”.  

Once forgiven, we can forget. In theory. I know I am better at forgiving than I am at forgetting. I hold on to those lingering memories of hurt. They are there as tiny scars, as reminders.

Perhaps this enforced time out is an opportunity for us to reflect on, to process, to unpack and to release some of the things that are weighing us down. Releasing the weight will bring us the peace and the freedom to move on. To step from the darkness into the light, to move on from hate towards love.

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 10 Forgiveness

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 9: Time

Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, into the future.

Isn’t time a funny thing?

We either have too much of it or too little of it?

We are either busy or we are bored?

We are either young or we are old?

Isn’t time an ironic thing?

I chose this theme to reflect on how we are spending our time in the new normal, but have had hardly any time all day to think, read or write.

Moreover, my inner clock is out of kilter. The clocks going back knocked me out of my routine of bed at 10pm and awaking natually at 5.30am.

I went for a nap yesterday afternoon and woke up 4 hours later, was that a waste of time or a good use of time I ask myself?

My morning ritual of a coffee on the couch, listening to the birds and writing my morning blog was knocked out of sync this morning as I woke up at a different time to my clockwork routine.

How does time define us? How does time shape us? How does time confine us?

I was brought up in a busy household. My parents are both self-employed so time equalled money. Mum and Dad worked hard, they worked long hours but they reaped the benefits of their entrepreneurial approach to life.

To do lists and diarising everything is how my sister and I have been trained for life. We are time efficient. We are highly productive. We maximise every minute of every day.

But that means that we are always busy. My electronic diary is crammed, I schedule things back to back. It is how I function.

When I used to have a paper diary my friends would tease my over my pen v pencil entries. If it was in the diary in pen, it was confirmed, it would be honoured, no better offers would knock it out of my priorities. If it was in pencil, it was more likely to be, if a loose plan could not be committed to by friends who were busier than me.

Time is precious, but it is precious for all of us. That is why I find punctuality says a lot not only about an individual’s character but also about how they regard you.

I am good at making time for other people, but I have had to teach myself how to make time for myself.

I often put ‘Hannah’ in my diary. I schedule ‘me time’. Otherwise I look at blank pages and I fill them up with things to do, places to be and people to see.

That is when busy turns into frenetic and the joy is squeezed out.

A while back I tried to remove the word busy from my vocabulary. I consciously tried to reframe the language I use about time.

My life isn’t busy, my life is full.

I am not short on time, my life is full of friends, family, trips and experiences.

Time right now is surreal. I feel like an extra on the Truman Show. I have gained time at home, I am taking advantage of this time to do things that I have been putting off for a while. I am utilising this time to connect with people, to plan things, to tidy/sort/clean the house.

When I am busy I can’t think. When I am busy I can’t stress. When I am busy I can’t worry. So right now busy is my armour.

Time can be our friend but it can also be our enemy. I am trying to keep time on my good side, playing nicely for now.

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 9: Time

Using Your Values to Navigate a Crisis

We are all navigating a storm. We know it is happening, we know it is gaining momentum, we know it is heading in our direction. We don’t know when it will arrive exactly, but we know it will come. We know that this is a critical incident, we know that there are casualties and that there will be more. We are practising our survival techniques, we are honing our navigation strategies, we are gathering our safety resources. We are using our values to stay buoyant, physically and emotionally.

The Safety Briefing

Whenever we go on a journey, we need to know how to stay safe. We need a trainer to explain to us what to do in the case of an emergency. We all need to hear the same message, we all need to respond in the same way. We need to hear the shared vision and the collective responsibility. We need to act accordingly. It is the intelligent thing to do.

What values are our leaders showing us right now? Do these leadership values instil our trust?Are they the values we want to be seeing and following in our leaders?

In the UK, I have been inspired by the school leaders who are making difficult decisions in a humane way and by the Headteachers who are challenging the decision-making from the system. Globally, the leader who embodies the values of courage, compassion and common sense I want to trust in is Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. She has been a country leader for 3 years and is a year younger than me, she is impressive in the emotional intelligence she has and the values she models. She is a swan and seems to take everything in her stride in her characteristically composed and compassionate way.

The Safety Manual

We have literature we can read. We should all be reading it, and not relying on someone else to read it for us. We need to listen to the experts and follow the instructions we are being given for our collective safety. We need to learn from the case studies of what is and what is not working. We need to be consistent in how we follow the instructions. It is the sensible thing to do.

Who are our experts during this time? Who is talking sense? Who is making pragmatic, human-centred decisions? Who is sharing helpful advice?

I am filtering the information I am consuming. I am keeping my social media feeds positive. I look for updates when I want to check something but am not overwhelming myself with the news, I am not sure it helps. I am trying to steer every conversation I am having away from doom and gloom, towards hope.

The Life Jacket

We all need to put on our own personal flotation device. We need the protection from this piece of equipment that is designed to keep us afloat in water. We don’t know when, or in fact if, we will end up in the stormy seas, but we need it on, just in case. We need to don the protective layer. It is the responsible thing to do.

What resources have you invested in to ensure you stay safe? What habits and routines have you changed to ensure that you stay afloat? How are you keeping others safe? How are you challenging your loved ones when they are not acting in a responsible way?

I am going about my new routine in a careful and considered way. I am checking in with friends and family, discussing options and opportunities as they arise and challenging if I do not agree with decision-making. My hands are parched from all of the hand washing. My body is craving a hug from all of the social distancing.

The Compass

We need our internal compass to help us navigate and orientate the journey. It will help us keep going in the right direction. We are heading due North, but our route has obstacles in its way. The compass will return us to our course each time we detour off. We need to listen to our intuition and follow our gut. It is the dignified thing to do.

Which values are guiding you right now? Which values do you need to develop? Which values can you gift to your friends, family and community?

I am trying to balance thinking as an individual and behaving as a collective whole. I am reaching out to people to listen and support. I am being kind, courageous and resilient. I am also creating boundaries though, I need to self-preserve so that I have the energy to help look after others too.

The Lighthouse

We need our external lighthouse to emit light to help us navigate the waterways. The silhouette of this structure built to protect us is looming on the horizon, we can see it through the storm. It is guiding us. At times it will become so dark and overcast we will not be able to see it but we feel its presence. We will continue on our journey. It is the moral thing to do.

Who or what is keeping you calm? Who or what are you relying on? Who or what is helping you stay positive, hopeful and optimistic for the future?

I am doing the right thing, even when no-one is watching or checking. I am trying to find the small pleasures in our new regime, celebrate the small wins along our way. I am keeping my spirits up and connecting with friends when I need a pick me up, as they are with me.

The Coast Guard

We need to do as we are told. Other countries are managing the pandemic better because they are cultures who are more obedient and they are used to following strict social rules. We need to consider that each time one of us is socially irresponsible that we are putting another live at risk. We need to consider the vulnerable people we know, and the vulnerable people our networks know. We also need to be mindful that the key workers are putting themselves at risk to look after ourselves. We need to do as instructed, until we are told otherwise. It is the obedient thing to do.

Have you broken any of the social distancing rules? Are you bending any of the expectations? How are you holding the needs of others alongside your own needs?

I have not stock piled and I have not booked massive online deliveries. I have not bought a chest freezer nor filled the garage as if the world is about to end. There are a few non-essentials I have run out of. It has made me think about how little I actually need to survive.

The Storm Lamps

When our visibility is poor, we sometimes need to rely on source of light, a lamp, a candle or a torch. We need to be a source of light and strength for one another. We need to help each other navigate the darkness. It is the kind thing to do.

How can you be a source of strength and hope for others? How can you inject some positivity and optimism into the world?

I like visual symbols. The #RainbowsOfHope are a representation of the weather and the mood changing. I have drawn them for our windows but also for my neighbours. I have ordered a pack of rainbow cards to write to friends and family, to post some hope and some love through their letter boxes.

The Buoys

We need to follow the rules. We need to stay in our designated spaces. We also need to be resilient. We need to bounce off of each other and keep each other float in the coming months. It is the honourable thing to do.

How can you keep your spirits up? How can you uplift others? How can you add some humour and some lightheartednesss into your life right now?

Despite the doom and gloom, I am laughing a lot. I am reaching out to people to show that I care, and I am being reached out to. I am connecting with people and talking nonsense, sharing stories, listening to concerns.

The Life Boat

We need our rescue crafts to attend to rescue us if we do have a collision and become a vessel in distress. Our crew and our passengers will be pulled out of the sea, some will be injured, some will survive. We need to ensure that our life boats can access us. We need to ensure that we are not putting the rescuers in a place of danger too. It is the respectful thing to do.

How are you ensuring that your actions are not putting others at risk? How are you helping to keep others safe?

I am eating what I have in the cupboards, I am exercising in isolation. I am in the safety of my 4 walls, all day every day, I am staying home to stay safe and save lives. I keep reminding myself, the world is not going anywhere but our lives could.

The Anchor

As the storm hits we need to hit pause, take stock and put our anchors down. Our anchors will hold us tight and support us. It might feel at the moment like everything is in chaos and out of our control. We need to consider what we can and what we cannot control, and find peace with that. It is the mindful thing to do.

What can you no longer control? What can you control? What can you do, step by step, to regain a sense of control over your life?

On my peer coaching support circle calls this week we have reflected on what we can anchor. What one thing can we tie down this week, and then each week as we progress in our reflections, we will try to tie a different thing down until the control over our lives feels like it is back in our hands.

The Harbour

We need to stay home to stay safe and to stay alive. My harbour is my house and my garden. They are my sanctuary, my space of peace and calm. Physical safety is important right now, as is emotional safety – our families and friends are the supporting walls that protect us from the storm. We need stay in the harbour. It is the safe thing to do.

How are you coping with spending so much time at home? How are you managing living on top of your loved ones? Or how are you managing being totally by yourself, as many people are?

My parents are on their farm in Devon. They are both vulnerable following recent accidents but they are still quite young and they are very self-sufficient. They are safer there by themselves, away from us all, in their bubble than they are if my sister or I tried to visit, but that is hard to think and hard to say out loud.

To finish my morning musings, when I was a headteacher I wrote our school homily. It encompassed our 12 community values. We shared it at the end of each assembly – many of the children learnt it off by heart. I am going to work on a homily for the values we need in the world right now and share a variation as a daily affirmation for us to reflect on.

Aureus School’s Values Homily

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 8: Gratitude

Gratitude, thankfulness, or gratefulness, from the Latin word gratus ‘pleasing, thankful’, is a feeling of appreciation felt by and/or similar positive response shown by the recipient of kindness, gifts, help, favors, or other types of generosity, towards the giver of such gifts. 

Gratitude is an Attitude – it is said that by practising gratitude and being grateful that we will be happier. So today, make a lit of everything you are grateful for, it will remind you of all the good things you have in your life.

Today I am grateful for…

My home – I moved into my new house last year, it is my sanctuary. I feel safe and secure here.

My lodger (and his girlfriend) – I have lived by myself for a long time, I love my own company, quiet and stillness. I have Airbnb guests occasionally, one asked if he could stay for a few months whilst he found somewhere permanent, he moved in the week before lockdown was suggested – he and his girlfriend are in isolation with me. Luckily they are lovely!

My garden – I know I am lucky to have outdoor space to escape to when I get cabin fever.

My family – I live a few hours away but we talk regularly – we are a small, close knit family, there is a lot of passion and a lot of love in the relationships with parents, siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins.

My friends – I have a lot of people who love me in my life, they are looking out for me, checking in on me.

My neighbours – moving into a new development, we have all bonded, I have people either side of me and we are all looking out for each other and checking in regularly.

My health – we take these things for granted, but I am healthy, fit and well.

My happiness – I am a hopeful optimist, my class is half full not half empty, I keep holding on to the Silver Linings of our situation.

My job – transitioning out of school leadership and headship was hard, but I have a secure salary, for now.

My old teams – the staff I recruited who are keeping the children I admitted to our schools safe and supported during these tricky times.

My devices – I take my technology for granted, it is my gateway for survival and for staying in touch with everyone.

Today I am also grateful for…

The NHS – the community clap last night made me go a bit teary, the sense of the united appreciation and collective effort to combat the disease overwhelmed me.

The teaching profession – all of the colleagues I have worked with, trained and know through education.

The weather – the sunshine has helped us all with our moods in the last week, it encourages us to get out for a walk/ some exercise and some air each day.

If I could hug everyone and everything I am grateful for I would, for now a virtual hug will have to do.

#DailyWritingChallenge #Gratitude

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 7: Friendship

Friendship is a relationship of mutual affection between people. It is a stronger form of interpersonal bond than an association, and has been studied in academic fields such as communication, sociology, social psychology, anthropology, and philosophy.

Relationships with partners, family, colleagues and friends are under a new spotlight as we adapt to our new normal. Some will be strengthened, some will be broken and some will be formed in this period of social distancing and isolation.

I think perhaps we need to use our words more specifically, this period of physical social distancing and physical isolation, socially we can connect now more than ever more. We now have the time, the energy, the empty schedule and the inclination to reach out, for many to reconnect with old friends who we may have lost touch with.

Friendships are a great source of support, love and energy for me. I have important relationships with different friends and friendship groups which mean a lot to me. My friendships enrich my life.

Some friends have been constants in my life since I was at primary school, college and university. Other friendships have formed through work, socialising and staying in touch when people move on. I have several groups of women who I see regularly, we rotate dinners, spa and theatre trips. My sister is someone who, even if we were not blood-related I would want to have in my life as a friend. We are chalk and cheese but have a strong bond.

As my friends have got married and had children around me these relationships have not changed, a few friends have disappeared and found new friendship groups, but on the whole my circle of friends has remained in tact, our catch ups may be less frequent, but we pick up where we left off each time we reconnect on the phone or in person.

At one point, my two oldest and closest friends were both living away – one in Borneo and one in Canada, navigating time zone differences and life style changes meant we had to recalibrate how and when we communicated. Thankfully, free Whatsapp calls enabled regular messaging and voice notes. Friends living overseas has also shaped my travels as I have arranged trips to go and visit them and their families – I am Godparent to the children of both.

Leaving London and relocating meant that friendships had to evolve as I was a few hours away from my immediate circle. I miss the mid-week wine, cinema/ theatre and dinners but I now get to spend long leisurely weekends with my friends instead. I don’t mind bombing around the country at weekends to visit friends and they really don’t mind escaping to mine for a weekend away from husbands and kids!

Becoming a Headteacher didn’t affect my work relationships, I think some educators fear the shift to SLT or Headship as putting barriers between them and their relationships with peers and colleagues. I am fortunate to have recruited two brilliant teams, and despite leaving my role and my schools, I am in regular contact with many of the ‘originals’ still.

Relocating and not knowing anyone in the local area except for work colleagues, plus being flat out at work opening two new schools, meant that for the first few years living in Oxfordshire I didn’t meet new people who were not linked to the school. Yet, overtime I have met some wonderful people who are my local friends who I am beginning to resurrect my mid-week socials with.

And then there is Twitter. My Dad still doesn’t get that I have friends who I met on Twitter. I think I have been on the platform for 8 years, and I have probably been an active user for 5 years, which is when we founded #WomenEd. Through going to grassroots events and networking online, I have met so many kindred spirits. Converting virtual connections into real time friendships has been a gift that I didn’t expect to receive. Some of my closest friends who I am in daily contact with, are from relationships ignited online, developed at events and that have moved into more social interactivity.

So in the coming weeks I am going to consciously reach out to people in my circles who I have not seen nor spoken to in a while. I am going to pick up the phone and have a chat, rather than commenting on Facebook or sending a text. Who knows what new friendships will also be formed under these new conditions too.

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 6: Empathy

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

We explain empathy to children with the phrase “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”.

I have not worn shoes very much in the last 10 days because I have been at home, staying safe. The shoes I have put on are trainers to go for a walk locally or wellies to get out in the countryside. I love shoes, and have cupboards of them, for all occasions. But I prefer most to be barefoot or in a pair of flip flops. I fear my shoes are going to become dust collectors under quarantine.

Who am I empathising with as I sit at home, in my pyjamas, drinking my coffee and staying safe?

My restless thoughts that woke me at 4am this morning are with the vulnerable and with our key workers who are on the front line:

Black leather school shoes – for children around the country their school shoes will be strewn in the hallway or on a bedroom floor for the next few months. I wonder if they will still fit when schools reopen?

White surgical shoes – for doctors, nurses and other health professionals, their white clogs will be pacing the corridors over the coming months, as they struggle to save lives, their soles will slowly be worn down as their step count goes up on back to back shifts. I imagine some will be sleeping in them as they pass out on a break.

Black work boots – for the police, the ambulance service, the fire service and other emergency response services, it is business is as usual, as they fight to keep everyone safe, they will be donning their uniform each shift to keep civic order.

Slippers – for many elderly they are trapped at home, or in a care home. A friend is volunteering with Age UK as they have put a call out for volunteers and donations to support the most vulnerable during this crisis. We were already a nation trying to combat loneliness, this will be compounded by enforced social isolation?

Baby’s boots – for new parents or expectant parents this is a scary time to be raising young children or bringing babies in to the world, how will this affect the development of children in homes where the remote learning will not be a priority?

Trainers – for our mental health and well-being sports stores have been left open, signposted as essential resources, as the nation invests in home gyms and sports wear to get active once a day, I wonder if these new habits will stay?

Wellies – for many parents and carers confronted with the reality of spending all day, every day with their children, and now being responsible for home schooling them, the great outdoors has just become our classroom, a new learning environment. My personal social media shows my friends with kids taking them on hikes to get them outside and keep them busy and active. I empathise with those families with no green space to access.

There are many shoes I have missed, of many people who are going above and beyond in the current climate.

Whatever shoes you are wearing today, tomorrow, this week, this month – remember, and remind others, to keep putting yourself in other people’s shoes. We are all struggling to come to terms with the new reality. It is likely to get worse before it gets better as the death toll rapidly creeps up.

My thoughts turn to profound art installations using shoes as poignant symbols that I have seen on my travels or read about in the last few years. Shoes by rivers, climbing up tower blocks, exiting public institutions, representing human loss, grief and trauma.

Shoe Art Installation on the banks of the Danube river in memory of the Jews killed in WWII

If you are at home, not wearing shoes, consider who’s shoes you could be in right now and how they are feeling.