"Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful. " - Margaret Wheatley
Once upon a time...lots of great stories begin with this hopeful phrase....
Once upon a time teachers at Eric Harvie School imagined a year of learning during a pandemic that would not only be a story of limitations and constraints. This story of learning would carry children into the natural world intentionally, making connections with each other and honouring visible relationships.
This story would elevate the notion of relationships, embodied in the words: We Walk This Path Together...
Teachers dreamed of possibilities and engaging students in breaking those possibilities wide open to be bigger, better, more interesting and engaging than teachers might ever begin to imagine!
And so the concepts embraced in the notion of 'Coulee School' emerged from imaginations seeking to break the restraints that would define all learning in school year 2020-21.
That imagined beginning nested in the work of the students and gained life as a new story of learning - a story that nudged children to question, wonder, reflect, discover, innovate or explore as they uncovered and began to make sense of new elements of life on our planet, making connections with prior understandings and knowledge. Imaginings of the teachers flowed seamlessly towards the collective learning the children would create as they acknowledged and understood every story begins with a blank page...
"Research shows a direct connection between a student’s mindset and academic success." - Ron Berger
As the school year unfolded, the work of our learners began to emerge both physically in their numerous representations of their school work, and virtually on the pages of our Coulee School website. The diverse teaching and learning across the school was phenomenal in scope - relying on the questions of students, we witnessed the brilliance of learner curiosity as it became the impetus for investigations and explorations as students acquired and assimilated new information into their knowledge repertoire. The array of information was captured so eloquently by learner representations - and then we imagined bigger, transitioning student work into public displays of exploration and new understandings.
The energy of this project has been oxygen to our school during this year of constraint and limitations. We were outside where viruses seemed less menacing. And we were engaged actively in real discoveries, authentic questions, puzzles that we needed to make sense of and perpetually changing natural conditions. The more we ventured into the Coulee, the greater our awareness of learning possibilities became until we were positively crackling with energy, curiosity and open minds!
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s
mind there are few."
- Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind)
What began as possibility - imaginings and ideas from a group of teachers trying to open up learning opportunities in a year where every familiar experience had been swept off the table - came full circle, reflecting the power of relationships, consideration, perseverance, tenacity and inquiry when students were invited to participate in the learning processes. And #Coulee School became a real event to celebrate!
As we look ahead to the fall, there are many uncertainties for sure. We wonder what the expectations for each teacher, staff member, student will be as we sit, firmly mired in the face of not knowing, of speculating, of being anxious. This pandemic year has brought about some amazing learning for the children in attendance when they could be here - but there are also children who weren't able to be in school every day this year - sometimes for extended stretches of time. And others who will be returning to EHS from a variety of possible teaching situations. One thing we know for sure: our expectations will need to be tempered with reality and be judiciously shared.
We have to imagine ways to bring school to life as we enter the fall, to celebrate families, siblings, friends and share stories. To make the unknown visible for and with our students. Some will need extra support; some will need the freedom to fly. All will need interested, caring, supportive adults to guide them in these journeys.
"But our kids are not broken.
To foster students’ growth, districts should think beyond traditional ways of grading and teaching.
Instead of federal and district test results becoming labels...districts should use them diagnostically, as guides only,
and encourage teachers to collaborate with students in understanding their skill profiles so that the kids feel empowered in their own development."
- Ron Berger
As staff and teachers begin to envision next school year, we know there are many things to celebrate - imagination and resiliency immediately come to mind. We also know whatever our journey becomes next school year, it will be best led by student questions and curiosities and the more hands-on, engaging learning opportunities included, the more likely learners are to invest themselves in developing deeper understandings of the world.
A beginner's mindset stays open to new possibilities. Even as we anticipate knowing what the outcomes will be, we still want to experience the richness of living in the possible, imagining the best, seeing what happens as we navigate the journey.
Schools should also recognize their students’ resilience over this past year, support their healing and emotional growth, and honour them with meaningful and challenging academic work, not with remedial classes. That’s how we’ll get our children back on track. " Ron Berger
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School