I’m quite an optimistic person, I like to find the silver lining around most grey stormy clouds and whilst there haven’t been many silver linings to the worldwide pandemic and subsequent COVID19 lockdown, something awesome has happened and I need to tell you about it!
Back in April during one of the weekly ISBL regional network group leaders meetings I mentioned the likelihood of Somerset School Business Leaders (SSBL) not being able to meet as planned in the summer term and what were the other regional leaders planning on doing for their groups? Was there an alternative option for our group to continue meeting and receive CPD? Step forward Neil Limbrick, leader of the Sandwell SBM Network regional group and also SSBL’s website & forum provider who suggested there could be something we could do. Stephen Morales, suggested Neil and I meet and come up with a proposal. And so we did.
Neil had the technology to host webinars for us, so I approached the SBM classic go to training provider Nickii Messer to enquire whether she would try out this new format of delivering great content to SSBL. She said yes! So did Justin Smith, Stephen Mitchell, Stephen Barratt and the Real David Cameron. Very soon we had a schedule of weekly 45-minute webinars covering a variety of topics. SSBL paid the speakers out of our existing funds and offered the sessions to all our members for free.
We hosted them every Thursday afternoon from 30th April to 18th June. It soon became apparent that not everyone could easily make these times and requests were being made for them to be videoed and shared. By this time other regional groups who are in the Education Collective umbrella of the school business forum, were also hosting regular meetings and sessions. Neil had been known to host a couple of sessions simultaneously and could possibly fill in for some speakers and deliver their training session for them he had heard it so many times! This led to a gem of an idea in mid-May – a virtual learning zone for the regional groups to purchase and make available for their members to dip into as and when they could. We felt by using the ISBL Professional standards areas Leading Support Services, Procurement, Marketing, Infrastructure, Finance and HR, we could build up relevant contact for those already in an SBL network. We also wanted to provide support to develop the ISBL behaviours (emotionally intelligent, collaborative, agile, decisive, leads and resourceful) amongst the regional groups.
We asked Justin and Nickii to start with and there was a positive “Yes! How can I? when shall we?” and so the Virtual Learning Zone was born. Neil coached the speakers into how to use the software to record their own webinars. And then the idea bloomed! As of 1st August, we have the following content in our Virtual Learning Zone:
Overcoming Insomnia (14 mins) – Elisabeth Holmes
Fraud Awareness (20 mins) – Ian Buss
Common causes of workplace conflict (17 mins) – Jake King
Sustainable Budgeting (53 mins) – Julie Cordiner
A Brave new world – kickstarting income generation (38 mins) – Justin Smith
Marketing your school (41 mins) – Justin Smith
Winning bids – Essential bid writing skills for schools (31 mins) – Justin Smith
Excel course – good file management (14 mins) – Patrick Shaw
Excel course – building & formatting spreadsheets (18 mins) – Patrick Shaw
Excel course – making Excel do the hard work (16 mins) – Patrick Shaw
Excel course – sorting and filtering data (8 mins) – Patrick Shaw
Excel course – tables and pivot tables (13 mins) – Patrick Shaw
Nickii as ever the champion of the SBL, has developed the idea further and created for us a four unit Developing leadership programme each around 60 minutes long for our Virtual Learning Zone. In addition, she has a 45-minute webinar on Managing Aggression and Difficult Conversations and a 38-minute session on Promoting Risk Awareness.
Content is still being added regularly as we respond to the suggestions from regional groups or speakers who are keen to create SBL specific content. Currently the Virtual Learning Zone is being accessed by 6 regional groups, which equates to just shy of 500 SBLs. If you lead a regional group and want to know more, please contact Neil Limbrick firstname.lastname@example.org. If you aren’t in a regional group and want to join one – find out if there is one near you as documented in the following websites:
And If you cannot find anything that covers your local area from the sites above then you can always take advantage of the current offer of free membership of the SB Forum https://www.sbforum.co.uk/ – normally reserved for members of local SBM Networks as a place to discussion national issues but opened up in response to the COVID-19 crisis to make sure that all SBM’s have somewhere to turn for peer to peer support.
The Virtual Learning Zone can be accessed at any time of day or night and sessions repeated as many times as each individual requires. Our SSBL hosted webinars meant we could see each other and share news and support each other which was lovely. I think for now the blended approach of virtual learning zone and virtual networking is the way forward for SSBL in the current COVID19 unpredictable climate. However, I look forward to the day when I can return to the traditional networking format – share a yummy Danish pastry and cup of tea with my lovely colleagues in a beautiful setting and be thankful that we’ve all survived the drawn out and lengthy grey stormy clouds of 2020.
Chair of Somerset School Business Leaders ISBL Regional Group