Educators in lockdown: It’s still a messy business! (But a little bit tidier)

This week, we will feature a series of blogs from Professor Susan Smith, Associate Director, Centre for Learning and Teaching, at Leeds Beckett University. Susan first shared her findings and reflections on educating in a lockdown back in May; in this second instalment, she reflects on how organising and managing a flexible working life is ‘still messy, but a little bit tidier’. You can find yesterday’s introductory blog here.

Head shot picture of Susan Smith

Back in April 2020, our first key finding was that working and teaching in higher education during lockdown was a ‘messy business’. Now, in October 2020, our first finding is that it’s still a messy business – but it is a little bit tidier.

The hasty transition to lockdown working was not linear or tidy and it still isn’t. There is still no absolute view of the future and still no full return to campus date. This is the same across the sector. We have a glimmer of hope of a less disrupted life with the new vaccine.

Team colleagues now report that our daily diaries have become more strange and flexible and we have become more assertive at managing them, prioritising, being collaborative and listening to each other and our needs.

In March 2020, we were worried about the stress of working on kitchen tables in small houses on dodgy desks.  Now, by the autumn, we have much better equipment, have sorted our home offices. We are all more worried about our physical health. In the “old days” we would move from room to room, climb stairs, move from campus to campus at speed. Now our activity levels have really gone down, and we are having to be strict in encouraging movement and exercise. We walk at lunchtime, have Skype meetings while we walk and sometimes speak ideas into our phones as we amble through the neighbourhoods and discover new local sights we never knew existed. We work a bit later into the evening and have a longer lunch to catch the sunlight in the day now the clocks have gone back. This is good, this is helpful, but some feel guilty about being so assertive with their diaries. The team leadership has encouraged this more flexible approach.

We are now all timetabling non-screen days for our own non-work time. It seems our annual leave days are now not used for family gatherings, trips to the seaside and foreign holidays. The treat of a non-screen day and a spot of essential shopping seems to satisfy annual leave standards temporarily amidst the resigned recognition that “this too shall pass”,

We are clearly less shocked, but still navigating how we can clarify the borders between home life and work life and how to make sure your whole house doesn’t feel too “worky”. 

Professor Susan Smith, Associate Director, Centre for Learning & Teaching, Leeds Beckett University


Covid-19: Collaboration, Opportunity, Virtual, Invention, Distance

This blog was contributed by Leisa Nichols-Drew, a Forensic Science Lecturer at De Montford University, and winner of both an NTF (2019) and a CATE (2018) award. Leisa is also a friend of the Committee of ANTF. Based in Leicester, which experienced an extended lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, Leisa was inspired to share with us her reflections on academic life during lockdown. Here, she shares her thoughts on Collaboration, Opportunity, Virtual, Invention, and Distance.

If you were asked to choose one word to describe the Covid-19 pandemic, what would your choice of word be? Unprecedented? Rainbow?

When reflecting on the last twelve weeks, I actually found this extremely difficult, to choose just one word, which resulted in me creating an acronym. This was in no way out of disrespect or failing to acknowledge the severity of this situation, it was a coping mechanism to summarise my personal snapshot of this time.

I am a new NTF (2019) and was fortunate to be in a CATE winning team (2018), so for me being part of the NTF-CATE network is a community of like-minded people, where uniting together and collaborating is key. Since 23rd March 2020, I believe ‘Collaboration’ has never been so relevant, whether it is colleagues pulling together, families living and working in one space, neighbours looking out for each other, and people clapping their appreciation on doorsteps for our key workers and NHS.

Additionally, this difficult time in my mind has given us an ‘Opportunity’, one to pause, to take a moment to think and reflect, develop, even to declutter, to try something new such as knitting, baking, or hair cutting!

One word that had to be included is ‘Virtual’, whether communicating in team meetings, informing each other in conferences, socializing with friends and relatives, participating in quizzes, fitness, choirs and even escape rooms online.

This brings me to ‘Invention’, as we have all had to change (whether we liked it or not) and find new ways to do our jobs, shop, home school, live, learn and work. For some, this may be for the better, when considering the positive impacts on wellbeing and reductions in travelling time. For others, the impacts may be longer lasting and uncertain.

Finally, I had to include ‘Distance’, not only the recommended two metres from one another, but the isolation I have felt from relatives, the people I work with, my students, even though ironically, we have never been more connected with technology. Even, events where we look forward to attending to celebrate together were cancelled, such as weddings, birthdays, graduations, concerts, holidays etc. When I had a bereavement at the beginning of lockdown, not being able to attend the funeral, to grieve together was unknown territory for my family, as I can imagine many others during this time.

Moving forward, whatever the next steps will be, this has made me realise the importance of contact, to rejoice when we can (and we will) be together again. Furthermore, be kind and thankful, to others and yourself.

Thank you for reading.

You can find out more about Leisa here: and follow her on @ForensicLeisa on Twitter

Photograph of Leisa Nichols-Drew