‘Gaining Invaluable Virtual Leadership Experience’

May 30, 2020

[Written by Warwick Academy students McKenzie-Kohl Tuckett & Noah Da Silva]

Warwick Academy’s recruitment process for student leadership positions started several months ago, with the submission of an application letter to the senior management team. The letters highlighted leadership experience, why we felt that we were suitable candidates for the roles that we applied for and school/community involvement. Following that, interviews were held. While we had the opportunity to showcase what we felt were our leadership strengths, none of us had virtual leadership experience, nor did we anticipate gaining any.

Functioning in a remote learning environment took some getting used to. The great irony is that our generation, portrayed to be always “glued” to our devices and technology, are now the ones yearning to return to a life outside of a computer screen, as that is now the only way to keep in touch with the ones we care about. However, we believe that this ‘tech-savvy’ quality of our generation has inadvertently made our age group uniquely suited for remote learning. The relatively high levels of technological use of our generation have made it easier to adapt to a virtual learning environment than it otherwise may have been. Of course, we must also acknowledge Warwick Academy’s admirable response to this unprecedented event. Without the tireless efforts and near-instantaneous response of Warwick Academy’s administration, faculty, and technical teams, it’s doubtful that we’d have been able to transition so smoothly and continue such a high quality of education.

McKenzie-Kohl Tuckett & Noah Da Silva Bermuda May 2020

However, though the situation is presenting unique challenges, it is also offering unique opportunities for leadership. Communication and connection between the school during these separated times has become a top priority. Keeping all members of our staff and students connected as a coherent team and making sure that no one feels alone or lost. Even when the situation is over, these qualities may come to the forefront of leadership and inspire new methods of communication and teamwork in the future.

Additionally, due to the pandemic, the opportunities that technology offers are being realized – if you had told us, three months ago, that school, education and leadership could shift entirely to a digital version, we might not have believed it. This shift towards virtual working and learning is certain to continue, at least in part, after the worst of the pandemic is over, and our student leaders are gaining invaluable experience of this new ‘virtual leadership’ that will surely help them in our new, digital world. The sense of isolation brought about by the pandemic is also, somewhat ironically, bringing people together like never before. Our leadership team is soon to begin communicating with other student leadership teams in New Zealand and the US, opening up exciting new opportunities and inspiration from other countries. By communicating and exchanging leadership ideas, we may apply these methods to our own respective school environments. This international cooperation would likely not have been prompted without the pandemic and will undoubtedly continue in the years to come.

Newly appointed Head Girl, McKenzie-Kohl Tuckett, recently had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Carika Weldon, former Head Girl at Warwick Academy [2005-06] and Research Scientist and Project Manager in the Oxford Genomics Centre at the University of Oxford. They discussed her thoughts on leadership during such challenging times. Dr. Weldon is currently back home and is one of those who is leading the charge with COVID-19 testing on the island.

McKenzie-Kohl started by asking Dr. Weldon, as former Head Girl, what advice she would offer to the new student leadership team, who’ve taken on their roles during these times. Dr. Weldon indicated that it is important to be open and that as a leader, you have to know how to follow. Whether it be following the situation or following others who have more experience than you. A teachable spirit is important, as is flexibility and adaptability. Serving the school and the students is the main goal. Ultimately, the people that you serve must be served well.

When asked if, back in 2005-06 when she served as Head Girl, she anticipated that she’d be who she is today and if there’s anything that she wishes she’d done different, Dr. Weldon stated that back then, her dream was to study medicine at the University of Oxford, become a pediatrician, and then return home and open her own Pediatric Practice. Dr. Weldon indicated that being a researcher who is known internationally for what she does, having her own science charity (Bermuda Principles Foundation) and to be back home leading testing during a pandemic… she never saw that coming. Dr. Weldon went on to say that she doesn’t think that she would have done anything different. “I believe that every decision one makes forms and shapes them and the decisions that I’ve made have led me to where I am now.”

As one of those who is leading the charge with COVID-19 testing on the island, Dr. Weldon shared that the most challenging aspect of her work has been managing all of the difficulties that arise throughout the day. “I start out with a plan, and I want to stick to it, but things come up. In many instances, it is often critical and requires urgent action. I have to ensure that I get everything that I need to get done, while also handling urgent matters with the required time and attention. Also, being a leader involves managing people, and sometimes people get burnt out, people get discouraged. While I wouldn’t say it’s been a challenge, I have had to do it a bit more during this time. We are in a pandemic and it’s just a totally different kettle of fish.”

Dr. Weldon was asked what she believed is the biggest challenge facing leaders today. She explained that putting the people first and yourself last, can be challenging at times. She spoke of how hard it is, when you want to put yourself first. “I recently had a birthday and I wanted the day off. There was still work to be done and while a day may seem like a small thing, it meant that it would be an extra day of people not knowing their COVID test results. So I made sure that we got those results out. Me-time will come, but in this climate, I have to focus on the people and what we are during as a country.”

McKenzie-Kohl’s next question to Dr. Weldon was with regard to what she does to ensure that she continues to grow and develop as a leader. Dr. Weldon made it known that the best way to grow is to keep doing what you’re doing and look to others who’ve already done it. She stressed the importance of having constant dialogue with those who are leaders and getting their direction. Dr. Weldon stated that “No one has all of the answers and I am a firm believer in not pretending as if I know everything. Seek direction and guidance to ensure that you continue to develop.”

McKenzie-Kohl was curious to know Dr. Weldon’s take, as a scientist, on when she thought students should return to school, locally or overseas. While she was clear about being less inclined to comment on policy, she did share her personal view. Dr. Weldon felt that in Bermuda, we have more control and therefore could manage easier, by putting various measures in place to ensure that students are safe. Though she admitted that she doesn’t know when that will be, as it’s still too early to call it. Dr. Weldon stated that locally, we are making sure that we don’t pull the trigger too early because we don’t want a second wave of this. She went on to say that it’s more challenging for those students who are returning to school overseas, as it depends on how other countries are managing the pandemic and we in Bermuda, have no control over that. Also, borders have to be re-opened. “I honestly don’t know if it will happen any time soon.” said Dr. Weldon.

In a recent article about the COVID crisis, the author stated, “I understand the reasons for reopening the economy, but if you don’t solve the biology, the economy won’t recover.” When asked her thoughts, Dr. Weldon echoed these same sentiments. She stated that while opening the economy is important, we can’t do it just for money’s sake, we have to do it because we are in a comfortable position to do so. “We don’t want waves of this virus.” She continued, “this is why testing is so important. If we don’t test, we don’t know.”

While there is no doubt that Dr. Weldon is an inspiration to many and that students with a keen interest in science are sure to be empowered by her works, McKenzie-Kohl asked her what she would say to further motivate those students. Dr. Weldon shared that she was really humbled to be inspiring others. She went on to say that it’s always been her goal in life, so to achieve it is humbling. She encouraged those who are pursuing careers in science to ask questions, and don’t accept something just because someone says it. A scientist is someone that questions everything. Dr. Weldon also stressed that it’s better to do something that you are passionate about, instead of something that is simply feasible, and that you should stick with what you love. Dr. Weldon stated, “If science is your passion, stick with it, because science is everywhere… keep going.”

We would like to express our thanks to Dr. Weldon for making time to speak to McKenzie-Kohl and share her insight, at a time when she is incredibly busy on the front line.

As a school and as a community, we have truly shown our resilience during these difficult times. We look forward to a great year of learning and leadership.

P.S. A HUGE congratulations to all of the 2020 graduates! We know that this isn’t the senior year you imagined but your hard work couldn’t go without special mention. YOU ALL ROCK!!

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  1. Blessed Girl Mama says:

    Well done Kenzie and Noah!