Within a week, or maybe even a day, the world of education changed.
The voices of students eager to take on learning, connect with teachers and converse with friends were replaced by silent, empty hallways. I know I speak for all the teachers at Master’s when I say that we are grateful that our students and families are staying safe, but we do miss the world we once knew—a world where lockers slammed, and the sound of the noisy chatter and children’s voices could be heard in the hallways. I am sure you miss this world as well.
For each person that the realm of education touches, there has been undeniable upheaval.
Parents, in particular, have been thrust into a new role as their children are now working from home. Suddenly, parents must contend with the unexpected reality of overseeing their children as their children connect with the teachers, and their learning, remotely. As one parent wrote, “I am a better mom than I am a teacher.” We understand. In the context of parents’ many other responsibilities and obligations, the addition of seeing, if not actively supervising, their child’s learning at home must feel overwhelming, maybe daunting, perhaps even a little impossible. Parents are being stretched, in some cases beyond what they ever thought.
Teachers, too, need to quickly adapt to teaching and learning conditions that many of them never imagined. The task of adjusting curriculum, programming, and instruction to a remote model is not an easy one; and though the technology available to educators has provided an amazing, and helpful, method of delivering distance education, it is clear technology can never connect teachers and students in the way that teachers’ personal, unique, and wonderful relationships with each of their students can. Another quote taken from a parent email refers to this joy in personal connection, with their son’s teacher: “We both are excited to see your face every morning and look forward to what you have to share.” Teachers, too, share this feeling of longing for, and missing, their personal connections with their students.
As part of Master’s Seven Habits of a Master Learner, we have always emphasized to students the importance of being an Independent Worker. We have always believed that this habit is one that would set students up for success, both now and in the future. However, neither students nor we could have imagined how this habit’s importance would be emphasized during a global pandemic. Like never before, students have been called to take ownership of their learning. From kindergarten through to Grade 6, students must demonstrate and continue to learn how to truly become independent workers as they navigate the new system of remote learning. This is a huge shift for students, who may feel a little as though they are being asked to fly over Everest before even attempting a quick test flight in the backyard.
Perhaps all of this upheaval, and its inherent challenges and changes, feels a little like winter in Calgary: ongoing and never-ending. We understand. And yet, still, we hope for spring.
We hope parents can know and feel the support teachers are trying to provide to them, and we especially hope parents can experience the joy teachers know well: the joy of watching firsthand the amazing process by which children learn, adapt, and grow. Parents, your children will amaze you with their humour, their brightness, their resilience, and their numerous capabilities. There will be challenges, yes, but we hope you will cherish getting to celebrate and see firsthand your children’s successes, their expanding abilities, and their growing confidence.
We hope teachers more than ever realize how important it is to connect personally with every one of their students and we hope that teachers will continue to guide, instruct, and care for each one of their students in ways that transcend walls, or screens, or social distancing. We hope and we believe that the power of education is, and always has been, its ability to connect people; and we know that a teacher’s connection with his or her students will be seen, in this time, to be more powerful than even physical separation.
We hope too, that despite the challenges set before them, our students meet the current moment and find in themselves reservoirs of persistence, patience, and independence that they do not yet know they have. We hope students surprise not only their parents and teachers but also themselves with how much they are able to learn and do independently. We hope this time infuses in our students a deep and unwavering confidence in their own abilities to navigate not only remote learning, but also times of great change.
Finally, as leaders of our school, we are being challenged to lead in a way that we have no context for leading. Like teachers, and parents, and students, we have never done this before. Still, here we all are, together! From passionate educators going above and beyond to support learning, to students who are rising to the challenge of learning in a strange new world, all the way to parents who are showing almost Olympian juggling talents, we are all working together for continued success. As one student said to her teacher, “It is hard to get used to the new system but I know the new normal will probably feel more normal soon. I miss you so much!” We miss everyone, too, but we know, every year as snow falls on the city, that we will miss the green grass and the abundant foliage of leafy, green trees. Still, we have hope. This is the ordinary miracle of living: it continues. We know spring will come. We know that someday, in the future, be it near or far, we will read the history books and find this pandemic written about in the past tense.
This is a time of great change, yes, and it is hard, yes, but great change also heralds new growth—crocuses poking their dusky heads up from the frozen ground. So, we continue. We look forward to that growth, to that Brand New Morning—to borrow a phrase from Ms. Dolly Parton herself—and I leave you with her music, because it lifted my spirits and I hope it lifts yours.