Renfrewshire Council

Gordon McKinlay

Our Head of Schools, Gordon McKinlay, reflects on the challenges of the last nine months through the lens of Our Values 

Gordon's Blog

In my role as head of schools, I am used to having to deploy resources in a way that ensures we are able to provide the highest quality learning and teaching for the children and young people across Renfrewshire. This year has been like no other. We have faced a number of challenges throughout this crisis and it can be hard not feel overwhelmed at times by the enormity of it all. On that day in March when offices closed, who would have thought that buildings like Renfrewshire House would not have been back to normal over eight months later.

Like so many other people, I had to adapt space at home in order to work effectively there. Juggling work and family commitments has often felt like spinning too many plates at the one time. It has been very easy to become disconnected from our colleagues and the communities we serve and I have had to work hard to make sure that my work practices have not become too unhealthy. I am sure that I am not the only one who misses those little conversations in the kitchen or between meetings.

Never switching off, not being physically active enough and ensuring time for real human connection whilst online all day are challenges that I am still grappling with. It can be too easy to fill my diary with back to back to back meetings, start work earlier and finish later without giving time to think and reflect on what I am trying to achieve. Whilst responding to an emergency situation requires us to act quickly we also need to act thoughtfully and I continue to have to work on finding that balance in the working day.

Yet in the midst of all the uncertainty, anxiety and concern it has been so important that we continue to live out our values in all aspects of our work together. There are many positive signs of the simple things we have done to look out for one another to be kind to our colleagues and to really listen.

We have learned so much this year. Yet that learning has not always been easy or comfortable. I remember when I undertook council incident officer training a few years ago we thought about different phases of the emergency situation we were dealing with. None of those phases lasted more than a few hours or days with recovery to the status quo being the obvious end point. I don't think any of us envisaged a scenario such like the one we have lived through in 2020.

Both during the period of lockdown and since, I have been continually amazed at the way that teams have come together to collaborate as we have sought to completely reshape our services over a very short period of time. We have demonstrated how adaptable and flexible we could all be when, with one common goal, our working and personal lives were turned upside down overnight. The public sector has often been criticised for being slow to react and highly bureaucratic. If 2020 has shown us nothing else then it must surely have shown that myth is just that. A myth.

Whether during the initial phases of lockdown in March or the recovery phases over the summer, we have worked together across services and professional boundaries. We have found new ways to innovate which have led to improved services.

It is going to be really important that we don't automatically just go back to the way things were at the start of 2020. We have learned so much about how to innovate, use online tools to collaborate better and adapt our working practices so that we can continue to deliver services to our communities.

We need to reflect deeply on what has worked well and make sure we hold on to those things. I certainly want to take time to think about what has worked well so that we can adopt new ways of behaving that ensure we value each other and the roles we play.

There have been many positive aspects of working differently during this crisis. For example, the lack of travel time both to the office and to meetings has created space for other things as well as having a positive impact on our planet. I am confident that the coming months will allow us to continue to grow together as services continue to recover and we find new ways of working that are fair and get it right for the communities we serve.

I will, however, be quite happy not to hear the phrase of 2020 quite so much in 2021 ... "You're on mute".

My plea is that we make sure that our values continue to underpin the way we work together and that we are able to listen to one another so that none of us is on mute.