By Jensen, Randy on June 3, 2020.
A strange school year is coming to an end, giving way to an uncertain summer. It is a summer that most staff, students and parents are anticipating with great eagerness, not necessarily for the normal reasons of vacations and trips, but an end to a very complex and stressful school year.
At this time of year I usually write about the importance of maintaining reading and numeracy skills over the summer to ensure students are ready for the next school year. While these practices and skills are still important to maintain over the summer, this year it’s also valuable to discuss that final push through the end of June and how to survive the last few weeks of a trying time.
Normally at this time of year, students are busy finishing up final assignments, writing exams, participating in field trips, celebrating graduations and, of course, dreaming of the summer break. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all the normality that schools are accustomed to and have thrown teachers, students and parents into a turmoil unlike anything we have experienced. Over the last few months, we have all navigated through new learning processes and experiences that have been both interesting and challenging.
All of a sudden, on March 15, teachers were working on designing and implementing ways to ensure students continued to learn from a distance. Students, meanwhile, had to adjust to a whole new realm of being at home, away from friends and learning through means that may not have been familiar to them when the school year began. As teachers became more adept at providing learning materials and lessons via a distance learning model, students also adjusted to learning in this format. Some days things went great and others, well, not so great. Through all of this, teachers and students persevered to find ways to ensure learning continued. Students also found means to have virtual hangouts with friends and, of course, ways to “miss” a few lessons due to technical glitches. Teachers learned to ask that cameras be turned on, to remind students to dress appropriately for their virtual classes, and to finish their breakfast before starting their online class. All this occurred over the months we have been away from our traditional classrooms and environments.
As staff and students went about their daily business finding ways to learn and explore, the other party in this adventure was there to make sure it all came together. The other linchpin in all of this has been the parents. As students and teachers struggled to adapt and figure out this new world, parents were there to provide support, a reassuring word or, at times, a stern word for all parties. Parents were thrust into a role that made them an even more crucial figure in the success of their child and the teacher. As their child struggled, so did the parents. As success came, many parents were able to join in celebrating each new concept learned.
Without a doubt the past three months have been filled with many highs and lows. As we close in on the end of the school year everyone is hoping it will be done soon. Between the stress levels, nice weather and a strong desire to “wrap things up,” many would like to end sooner than later.
It is important, however, that we all remain engaged as long as possible. The academic part of the year may be winding down and there’s a desire to shut the books and turn off the computers, but it’s important to stay engaged with the school and each other. While the conversations may not be about a particular subject, the contacts between the school and student can provide a sense of support and normalcy. It might only occur every second or third day these last weeks of June, but the opportunity to have some fun and share experiences with each other prior to the start of summer holidays will allow everyone to depart with some positive interactions and memories.
We will be back to learning and teaching in September. What that will look like has yet to be decided, but whether it’s face-to-face, online or a mixture of the two, one thing is certain: the relationships that have been nurtured this year will foster a stronger start for everyone, no matter what the classroom looks like.
So as we prepare to end our strange school year and you hear the computer “bing” or the phone ring with inquiries from the school, we hope you don’t wonder “why won’t they leave me alone?” Instead, we hope you join in and enjoy the last few weeks of building relationships and having fun.
Dave Driscoll is Superintendent of The Palliser School Division.