"This storm is making me tired," said the boy. "Storms get tired too," said the horse, "so hold on." - Charlie Mackesy (The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse)
"Everyone, from parents to educators to children, is feeling the stress of uncertainty. Many parents worry that their child has regressed, withdrawn, or disengaged from school. Educators have rapidly acquired new instructional delivery methods, and some are balancing both in-person and remote instruction. Even teachers with decades of experience feel like they're back in year one, and educators across the country are on the receiving end of a steady stream of demoralizing criticism. Meanwhile, emotions are contagious, and children are absorbing all the ambient anxiety." - Phyllis Fagell (Educational Leadership, January 2021)
"Children will need a lot of the same things we have offered them pre-pandemic at school, but they are also going to need different things, and less of some things.
What better time to redefine a developmental path for children from preschool through graduation?"
- Bethany Hill (January 2021)
It goes without saying what a trying year this has been - and also without saying (I hope!) how hard the school has tried to keep things as familiar as possible within the context of absurd change.
When I think about the amount of planning and consideration we typically put into changing one small thing in a school, it is astonishing for me to consider the number of changes we have made in the past 9 months - along the magnitude, I think, of what could be generational change in any usual timeline.
We've been diligent in implementing changes to the point that excessive everything - sanitizing, wearing masks, distancing, cohorting, etc - has become de rigeur and a way of being in school. It is safe to say we have worked hard to build the strongest fortress against COVID-19 possible. And we have, through all the changes, been so impressed with the resiliency of the children.
Having survived - and hopefully thrived - almost five months of establishing this new order of how school operates during a pandemic, we are beginning to breathe a little more slowly as we settle deeply into what school might truly be for students during these unusual times. January has, in a way, brought us back together with a bit more perspective than seemed possible through the tumultuous changes of the autumn months.
One of the things we are recognizing is that many of the assumptions we have built our teaching practices around are not on the same firmament as they were before the pandemic arrived unexpectedly last spring. We are noticing there are some cracks developing amongst the resilience we have all been building together, and that is impacting our thinking as we look forward to the remaining months of the pandemic, towards the great beacon of hope that will be the 'time of post-pandemic learning'.
Truth be told, there are challenges for all of us, children and adults alike, that are beginning to take a toll on us as we continue moving forward through this school year. While the general veneer of 'we're all coping' is still intact, there are signs of stress that lead us to wonder: How are the children feeling these days?
We've observed some changes for sure....
We've noticed more children resisting learning, feeling anxious, sometimes saying they are bored, misreading social situations, exhibiting unanticipated delays in learning, worrying about many things - such as when the next online learning time will begin, or a relatively new phenomena where children are mourning vocally the loss of favourite activities they remember from 'before'. Not every child for sure, yet more than we might have expected.
This is not just a time of lockdown, isolation and separation. It is a definite time of loss and sea-change with long-reaching implications for all of us, as individuals and as families. While the children have persevered quite well for many months, the endless feel of this experience is beginning to wear on them as much - sometimes more - than the adults in their lives.
Everything about school is different for our students this year.
This one fact has, however, tremendous implications for children still growing into being students in a school setting - because the school setting is not really familiar once they get into the building, routines have changed and opportunities for learning are limited in multiple ways that are more about keeping children safe than about optimal conditions for learning.
Kids are happy to be back at school - it feels like a release from being so confined to home. Yet, once they are inside the school, it doesn't really feel like school has in their brief pasts. And the kinds of tasks they are engaging in are necessarily constrained by safe behaviours to be less active, creative and imaginative, as well as more solitary.
Educators know that knowledge is socially constructed, best acquired in the company of others. When we severely limit opportunities for collaboration, conversation and working in cooperation with each other, knowledge becomes a personal construct of understanding. There is less scope for possible challenges to single perspective understanding and fewer opportunities for applying new understandings in novel situations.
While knowledge is, of course, still acquired in solitary learning situations, it becomes a more restrained 'knowing of ideas, facts or concepts' rather than an exercise in exploring, applying, investigating, designing, re-designing, questioning, practicing, innovating or challenging those ideas to become a broader and deeper appreciation of possibilities in the world.
It is not surprising most children benefit from and thrive in a school environment where opportunities to socially construct understanding of new concepts together are offered every day, all day as part of their regular learning experience. There are reasons to get up and come to school every day and live out various adventures in learning - the motivation to engage in learning actually lies in the learning experience itself.
It is also not surprising that children are expressing frustration with constraints on their learning no matter how hard we work to make their in-school learning as interesting and as creative as possible. Regardless of how much teachers and staff try to make coming to school under pandemic restraints inviting and engaging, none of us are able to escape the fact we are experiencing school in a constrained, restrained and controlled environment that runs counter to everything we know about how children love to learn.
Dr. Brad Johnson, an educator/author who reflects often on how children learn and engage in school, noted long before the pandemic, "If we allowed children to learn how children learn best, maybe it would be a more joyous and impactful endeavour for all involved. Children love and learn through free play, physical activity, recess, Arts, Music and movement." And these are the very things we are currently constraining most in schools.
Have you noticed your child is resistant to doing learning tasks or balking at going to school? Is it harder to get them motivated when learning temporarily moves online - or vice versa? These are typical responses when children feel they are on uncertain ground and not comfortable with experiences or expectations.
We've noticed a higher number of our earliest learners demonstrating some resistant behaviours to being in school every day - most likely reflecting the interruption to building school familiarity over the past months, beginning with the school closures last spring. In a regular school cycle students gradually develop appropriate in-school behaviours and routines over time together. We are discovering - for the first time for most of us, as educators - that interrupting this regular school cycle of development has a significant impact on how skilled our students are at coping successfully with the demands of school.
This is exacerbated for our youngest learners who are now being asked to respond to school in typical ways when their preparation was not complete and, often, forgotten completely. No wonder they are resistant - school is not inviting them to do the things they do naturally - play, explore, move, interact with others - and they can barely remember what it 'used to be like' anyway. Confusion and frustration are the byproducts of small children expected to conform in unfamiliar circumstances to practices they have not encountered before. Depending on personality and background experiences, some will willingly do their best to conform while others will exhibit varying degrees of nonconformity. We've noticed several other indicators of child stress as well that are becoming trends as the pandemic endures - in future blog entries, I will further explore some of the nuances of motivation, frustration, anxiety, boredom, worry and delays in academic achievement associated with living through a pandemic in real time in a real school setting.
It is so important for us to remember that nonconformity of any nature is how a child tells us "this is not a comfortable place for me to be" - either emotionally, physically or socially. Brad Johnson reminds us always, "There are no BAD KIDS! There are kids who have been traumatized, have little hope for the future, have never experienced success, love or joy, have not learned to regulate their emotions. It is NEVER too late to help a kid who is struggling!" When a child acts out, they are sending a message to the adults in their circle that this situation is not comfortable for me but I can't explain why and I need a little help - or maybe a lot of help. And in this pandemic time of constraint and uncertainty, it may take some extra investment of time and care to actually unpack what is underneath the discomfort and causing the reaction in a child at all. It is hard enough for adults to wrap our heads around what has happened to the world and explain how we feel. For children, trying to figure out why they feel anxious or confused or frustrated in a world that is their unfathomable reality.
Dr. Michele Borba, educational psychologist and author of many books on raising and educating children, offers what she calls the 'TALK Strategy' for helping children cope with anxiety, stress, trauma or tragedy. It is a 4-step discussion strategy that requires no background in psychology; just a wish to help a child in distress for whatever reason:
1) Talk about what is happening - what are your child's understandings related to an event, a situation, a conversation and correct any inaccuracies of information while listening and affirming feelings
2) Assess how your child is coping with the situation; what are they feeling and how are they behaving in school and/or at home. Appreciating the realities of the situation will help with developing resiliency in the future.
3) Listen to your child's concerns and questions. Use the 'Talk. Stop. Listen. Talk. Stop. Listen.' model as you talk to your child. As the adult, listen more than you talk. Answer what you are able to answer truthfully. Don't give more information than needed in the moment - follow your child's lead.
4) Kindle hope - despite this difficult situation and all the other challenging events taking place in the world, there is also goodness, compassion and hope. Offer awareness of all three to your child in as concrete a way as possible.
When we talk to children and really listen, we begin to see the world through the eyes of a child, to perceive and appreciate childlike perspectives we may have abandoned long ago. We find ourselves able to reframe our own thinking while guiding our children to consider alternative possibilities. We are able to offer them ideas to apply in their own situations for problem solving, using empathetic thinking, appreciating other human beings and the flaws we all carry as members of the human race. And, perhaps most importantly of all, we are able to acknowledge feelings and behaviours as authentic and normal and part of living in a pretty mixed up world. It is through these practices that children develop resiliency and become comfortable with their own feelings and discomforts.
Examining the nuances of children's feelings through these later days of a still-raging pandemic, I recognize there are many implications for successfully leading students through this time of social, emotional and physical upheaval that will require reflection and examination well beyond one blog entry.
Over the next few weeks, I expect to explore multiple aspects of working successfully with children during these uncertain times, and begin to visit possibilities for moving forward in numerous ways with children through the final (hopefully!) months of the pandemic into a quite different post-pandemic time. Our learners are on this journey with us as children of the world, and they deserve the time and attention focused on a much different future.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
It has become a much-used word in schools through the 2020-21 school year, attempting to capture the sometimes whiplash-like changes that have occurred (and most likely will continue to happen) as school boards, governments and families grapple with the constantly-changing situation that is our current COVID-19 pandemic reality. In schools we use the word pivot within the context of the pandemic to describe teachers moving swiftly - sometimes in a matter of minutes or hours - to shift between online and in-class learning. This sounds much more innocuous than it actually is; shifting between online and in-class learning requires a significant investment on behalf of all staff members to ensure productive, positive learning encounters.
I thought I would share some of the behind-the-scenes efforts that afforded our whole school an online learning experience the week of January 5 - 8, 2021 as a way of acknowledging and appreciating the tremendous efforts of staff and students as we all work together to manage the many aspects of the pandemic situation.
Our preparations for online learning really began much earlier in the fall when teachers established new Google Classroom environments and collaborated together to generate plans for teaching and learning that correlated to a previously non-prescriptive scope-and-sequence for learning that aligned with learning in the Hub online school environment. A plan for providing learning encounters in the event of student isolation or extended at-home illness was also developed. Students were re-introduced to their google passwords, Google Meet and Google Classroom over the first several weeks of school - a 'just in case' preparatory move in the event of a COVID-19 related event requiring cohort isolation. These steps laid the ground work for any pivots toward online learning for in-school students and teachers.
When the announcement was made in late November that all students - including elementary - would be engaging in online learning for the first week of January, preparations became focused on that particular situation. The CBE presented timetabling expectations and guidelines and staff worked to collaboratively develop schedules for cohorts that were reasonable, varied and would meet students' learning needs. Once the timetable for the whole school was established, teachers planned collaboratively for instruction in anticipation of January 5, 2021. Information was shared with parents, as well as opportunities for accessing school-based technology as needed. And winter break began.
The weekend before school re-opened online, Mr. Strand spent several hours preparing digital devices for families to pick up for use through the online week of school so they would be ready for parents to pick up on Monday morning. Last minute plans and preparations were finalized on our PD day, Monday, and teachers set up stations either at home or at school complete with resources, headphones, laptops, etc. On Tuesday morning, January 5, we were ready to go 'live' with online learning - again.
From our perspective, focused preparation resulted in a successful week of online learning - there were a few glitches for sure (there always are!) but overall, the week unfolded relatively without incident and both students and teachers pivoted and adjusted effectively. We are also prepared to continue to support students going forward through the next few months when the opportunity for periods of cohort isolation will continue to be very possible, with the potential to cause students and teachers to pivot between online and in-person learning on very short notice. And teachers do have plans for modified support for students who might be isolated or quarantined at home due to exposure to a positive case outside the school or in their families.
We have adjusted to the concept of pivoting from an educational perspective, with full realization it takes the collaborative effort of a whole school, supported by the school system, to make this happen effectively for students.
From a framework for expectations related to instructional minutes, planning, teaching and assessment established at the system level, to the communication with families, decisions related to online formats and platforms and ensuring access to internet as well as digital devices that includes the necessary signatures and inventory tracking, and the actual unfolding of the daily teaching and learning that also includes opportunities for extending learning as well as specific support for students who require a little extra attention to continue to grow as learners, the robust nature of our pivot to online learning reflects an amazing level of collaboration and cooperation across our staff.
And I am the most fortunate of principals to work as part of this outstanding team!
There is no doubt the pandemic restrictions are taking a toll on all of us - our patience levels, our frustrations with endless restrictions on our personal movements as well as our professional practices, our reduced social interactions that sustain a school on so many levels, and the recognition that the success of our teaching and our students' learning is being impacted by all the layers of restrictions, changes and constrictions of learning experiences are draining energies and impacting our emotional wellness every day for staff, students and families.
Collaborative practices and checking in on each other helps immensely; it does not diminish the pandemic situation nor relieve any of the vigilance and perseverance required by all of us to continue with schooling through the next few months. Collaboration and support does mitigate, however, some of the more overwhelming effects of feeling like we can never rely on the previous conceptions of school, teaching, learning and living we believed were foundational to successful educational experiences.
We hope your child's online learning experiences were positive and accessible - they were the result of a tightly woven web of multiple levels of support and effort by everybody at the school as well as the CBE - and of course was the result of our families' extremely strong support of the school in every possible way.
Together we will weather this storm too!
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called 'Opportunity' and its first chapter is new Year's Day." - Edith Lovejoy Pierce
"We are all afraid. We are all confused. We are doing our best, no matter what it looks like. We are all lonely and weird and beautiful. And we are all here together. We should remember that more."
- Nanen Hoffman
Happy New Year Everyone!
I have thoroughly enjoyed the 16-day break from school, as I am sure all other teachers, students, administrators and parents have as well. It was definitely a different holiday season - completely unlike any other I have celebrated in a very long past - thanks to the impact of the pandemic on pretty much the entire world and definitely in Alberta. I do not recall a quieter, more confined break ever!
We return to school on Monday, January 4/21, although our first day will be a professional day with no children in attendance. And, as per provincial mandate, our school will also be virtual for the remainder of the first week, with an expected return to in-class learning on Monday, January 11, 2021. We have shared our plans for online learning with families and are ready to go!
When school returns to in-person learning next week, we will be focused on persevering with precautions, doing our best to keep things as safe as possible while ensuring students are growing as learners. While vaccinations are clearly on our horizon, persevering with layers of protective actions will continue to be our primary focus for the foreseeable future. The promise of a return to a typical schooling experience is certainly on the horizon, but we have months of persevering with protective practices before that becomes our reality again. We know there will be challenges; we are ready to persevere.
There are multiple layers of protective practices we have established and will continue to keep in effect in the coming months. The most visible, of course, are the three strategies we emphasize daily with the children and have captured in our school healthy triad poster.
Other protective strategies include those mandated by the Calgary Board of Education, such as not allowing visitors in the school or on school property, all grades wearing masks in the school any time 2 m distancing cannot be sustained, and enhanced cleaning of the school each day with additional staff assigned for these purposes. Strategies that include distancing, assigned seating, use of PPE and daily checks at home for absence of any signs of illness begin with provincial mandates. And then there are strategies developed or enhanced by the school to provide additional precautionary layers of protection from COVID-19.
Pre-cautionary strategies that our school uses include:
- staggered entry and exit times for all students
- mask wearing at all times, inside and outside, except for mask-free designated areas and physical activity outside
- hand sanitizing/washing when entering/exiting the school or classes
- individually wiping surfaces after we are finished with them (eg. tables, shelves)
- students cohorted in class groupings at all times, both inside and outside and during lunch hours
- individual supplies in labelled, personalized containers for each student
- managed used of reading books to limit cross-contact, with 'book spa' time (3 days) between users
- no use of Learning Commons, Maker Space or other shared spaces, manipulatives or resources
- controlled, supervised access to washrooms and hallways
- 4 mask-free zones in the school where a supervised cohort of students may safely take a break 2 m apart for a story or lesson
- open windows where appropriate to facilitate air flow
- occupancy limitations for staffroom and other working areas, and use of virtual meetings for staff
These strategies offer precautionary layers of protection for students and have been in place since the fall. We will definitely persevere with them as the winter progresses into spring, appreciating the support of our families, carrying a great deal of hope and optimism for keeping the virus at bay until the realities of vaccinations are able to keep us all safe and able to have learning look more like school used to and will again.
It has been a restful break, preparing us for the immense work ahead - we are energized and ready to begin learning again - with appropriate cautions well in place. Welcome back to 2021 - a whole new year of growth, challenge and (I expect) many surprises :)
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"I cannot do all the good that the world needs, but the world needs all the good that I can do."
- Jana Stanfield
"Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone."
- Charles M. Schultz
This afternoon was a big day at our school - it is D-Day - Delivery Day!
This afternoon we are delivering all the wreaths and cards students have made for a nearby Seniors' Residence, as well as the stockings students stuffed for 10 families from a partner school, and 4 families within our own community, that will be accompanied by donations of gift certificates from our generous community.
The excitement is visible as we load vehicles and take photographs documenting this year's efforts to share warmth and care throughout our community and our city!
These are two Peace Education initiatives our school has adopted as a way to build empathy, care and compassion with our students from very young ages. We believe Peace Education has a multitude of benefits - including reducing bullying behaviours, fostering positive social interactions, developing responsibility for our own behaviours and attitudes, learning the critical importance of humans caring for humans, creating opportunities to 'see' the world through the eyes of others, for example. Peace Education also deeply promotes empathy and care - two qualities essential to sustaining and advancing the human race.
But why do we need to intentionally teach Peace Education, empathy and care to our children?
When we intentionally support children in building empathy, we are offering them ideas and strategies for trying to see things through the eyes of someone else, as well as attempting to feel the same emotions. The Roots of Empathy program - accessed as a support teaching strategy at our school on a weekly basis - teaches children it is critically important to develop nurturing relationships with each other as human beings for, if we do not do this from the moments of our births, we will simply not survive as a species. Learning empathy is foundational to understanding the nature of human interactions - the essence of the human condition is reliance on each other through relationship.
Children who have lived through trauma at a young age struggle to develop empathy, requiring a significant investment in re-building this foundational belief. For it is empathy - caring for others as humans - that fosters trust, independence, autonomy, commitment.
We intentionally teach empathy to support our youngest learners with making investments in trusting, caring relationships that will yield personal well-being while also providing opportunities for others to build personal well-being too.
Care requires a person to make a personal investment in an act of kindness or concern towards another. It is possible for humans to be empathetic without an accompanying act of care - we acknowledge and feel emotions about someone else or the experiences they are living through, but we do not take the next step of investing ourselves in an act of kindness or help that will physically support them.
We intentionally teach care through visible acts of kindness or acknowledgement, sharing of physical, emotional or spiritual support as a way to both demonstrate our concern and to offer someone else something they visibly need or have expressed a desire for support. It is possible for humans to demonstrate care - through donations, letters of support, conversations, etc without actually taking the time or energy to consider their personal perspectives or emotions. We can care without being emotionally connected at all.
Compassion is the melding of empathy with care - when a person considers the perspective of another human, has a shared emotional connection and decides to invest in an act of kindness or concern in an attempt to influence and improve the other person's quality of life.
We intentionally teach compassion with all our children to foster recognition of the human connection through relationship as well as the active part we can all play in enhancing and improving each other's life experiences. Compassion - taught through experiences with empathy and care - gives presence and form to Peace Education.
I believe Michael Crawley said it best:
"Compassion is the most powerful force in the world. It can defeat indifference, intolerance and injustice. It is able to replace judgment with acceptance because it makes no distinction between age, ethnicity, gender or disability. It freely embraces the rich diversity of humanity by treating everyone as equals. It benefits both those who receive it and those who share it. Every person on earth desires it, and every human being deserves it."
Compassion extends our abilities as humans to make the best of our most human qualities - empathy and care - to foster connection with each other, to attend to the physical and emotional needs and reasonable wishes of each other as other humans, to have a deep and abiding respect for all living entities. These are the seeds and roots of Peace Education.
Through Peace Education, we foster attachment with each other, build strengths in recognizing and managing our emotions, develop clear, kind strategies for communicating effectively with each other and develop strategies for cultivating acceptance and inclusion of all regardless of our physical, cultural, emotional, intellectual or experiential life encounters. Peace Education promotes active involvement with each other; encourages children to develop a profound appreciation for each other and all of humanity, and to seek ways to help and act kindly, to share deep emotional human connections.
We teach Peace Education so children will be able to recognize when experiences are not generous, kind or helpful and intentionally know how to respond with positivity, care and empathy. These are not easy lessons to learn, and they must often be repeated numerous times to be truly understood in a multitude of situations throughout a person's lifetime. It is not an easy approach to living; it requires care and attention and thinking outside the box as often as not. Peace Education requires an abiding commitment to seeing others find happiness, joy and strength in relationships with one another.
It takes time to foster Peace Education in the same way it takes time to design a building, create recipes for new meals, prepare and launch a new artwork for the world. These are not small ideas - they are enormous, all-encompassing and truly remarkable!
In this season of giving, we reap the benefits of developing a compassionate approach to life as we see our students take such pride and enjoyment in the valuing of others' needs. These are not discussions about others who don't have enough as much as we ourselves do, as they are discussions about acknowledging widespread human needs in a multitude of ways.
I believe children change the world. They have the power to take up new ventures and ideas and make them real for humanity. They have the power to re-think quickly, re-address an idea swiftly and move to another plane of thinking without barriers. They have yet to become jaded with life and its' myriad obstacles. They have the determination, grit and desire to see things play out better - differently - for themselves. The possibility to find all of these skills rests deeply in the intentionality of teaching Peace Education.
And it is also how we develop a compassionate approach to life - one person, one connection, one interaction at a time.
May your winter break be restful as we contemplate a quiet, constrained holiday season. I am personally investing in a new tradition with our family - the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, or 'Christmas Book Flood' where everyone curls up on Christmas Eve with a new book to read, a cup of hot chocolate - and maybe some chocolate to eat as well! Sounds like the perfect new tradition during a pandemic - and it carries all the elements of compassion for humanity too :)
I invite you all to join me - and wish you the very best of quiet holiday seasons celebrated safely and healthily at home.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people." - Maya Angelou
"Making difficulties into the path." - Buddha
Just over three months into the 2020-21 school year, with a history of almost nine months of disrupted learning experiences behind us, I find myself having numerous - sometimes ongoing - conversations with parents, colleagues, family members and friends about the 'children' and how they are faring through this extended time of learning - and living - disruption.
These conversations have given me pause to thoughtfully consider what I am observing, hearing, noticing, encountering with students as we travel unfamiliar landscapes. Since none of us have lived through this type of experience before, it is impossible to 'know' with any certainty what the potential impacts or outcomes on children will be. Although we will all, I am certain, strive to apply our best knowledge and wisdom as we attempt to unpack the question of 'how are the children doing?' in the coming months and - perhaps most particularly - post-pandemic - when the world begins to tilt a bit more towards the familiarity of our past experiences.
One thing I am coming to know for sure is that there are losses and there are benefits, as there are in any life experience. And it is in the balancing of these experiences that the children will find a way forward. I also know they will look to the adults to help with the balancing and with finding ways to move forward successfully into what is sure to be a familiar yet significantly altered future.
As a child, I lived through the experience of losing my mother to complications from diabetes. She was almost 34 years old and I was 11, with two younger sisters. My paternal grandmother had always been the grounding influence in our large extended family and she attained mythic status for me during the years following the death of my mom. She gave me many 'stars to guide my way' through her words of wisdom and advice and when I consider the path ahead for the children I know, love and work with every day, I hear her words as crystal clear as if she were here:
Make the best of, not the worst of your experiences.
Since I am now a grandmother myself who has always held these words close to my heart, my goal will be to balance the losses and benefits children have experienced through this pandemic in such a way as to make moving forward into a post-pandemic experience a growth opportunity rather than embracing the impediments that might seem to be a challenge to relinquish.
And we are not post-pandemic yet; there may be many terrains to navigate still ahead.
Here is what I do know...
I have the great good fortune to teach the youngest children in the public school system - it is on my watch that they enter the world of school, learning, socialization and emotional development that will shape and guide their growth through some of the most formative years of their lives. How they come to see themselves as learners and humans reflects, to a large extent, the experiences they will have within the school environment I endeavour - with the help of many colleagues - to design, structure and invite them to participate in as students. Their elementary learning years are critically important - they are the times when children establish foundational skills, understandings and attitudes towards learning, thinking, relating, questioning, caring, wondering that will carry them forward to living successful, fulfilling lives.
It is a great good fortune, yet also a truly awesome responsibility.
I also know the routines, learning environment structures and strategies, supports and services, attention to learning challenges and successes, opportunities for engaging with ideas that provoke novel thinking, encountering multiplicities of information in various formats while feeling safe, secure and capable, provides learners with the essential qualities of a school environment that will promote both successful academic achievement and healthy personal growth and development.
And I absolutely know our youngest learners have experienced unparalleled disruptions to learning, the security of their learning environments, and their social interactions over the past nine months on a scale that really eludes clear comprehension by any of the adults in their world.
What I also know, however, is that humans are adaptable, flexible and have an enduring capacity to thrive even in the most unimaginable circumstances.
The challenges and losses due to pandemic disruptions are real and the true dimensions of these losses - academic, social, emotional, physical, familial - are not yet clearly revealed or finished accumulating.
We are seeing more young children displaying symptoms of anxiety - sometimes they are able to verbally express their concerns, sometimes they act them out as a call for our attention to concerns they cannot clearly understand or express.
There are numerous academic gaps that are surfacing as learners navigate typical academic learning expectations midst periods of isolation following the reduced, emergency learning situations from the spring.
Students who thrived as learners in a vibrant, lively school environment that encouraged and supported the social construction of knowledge as a collaborative, engaging exchange of ideas and practical applications are finding it very challenging to focus their thinking and energy on controlling their bodies 100% of the time under the constraints of physical distancing, mask wearing, vigilance to sanitizing surfaces and hands. As their minds are concentrated on keeping their bodies in one place, their learning energy is reduced and understanding new ideas takes much greater concentration and focus than ever before - sometimes more than seems possible in a learning moment. Out of necessity, learning environments are accommodating health precautions rather than promoting best learning practices.
Social interactions are tightly controlled and limited by adults with the very best interests of children and health safety at heart. Even lunches and outdoor experiences are controlled with physical limitations. Learning to share, negotiate, discuss, imagine together, invent, collaborate, compromise - these are just some of the skills that will need to be acquired at a later date in a different learning environment.
Children's expressions of emotions are visibly changing - anecdotally, we are observing less spontaneity in the school setting, fewer outright peals of laughter, greater frustration with trying to follow layers of directions and instructions, a 'flattening' of discussions and enthusiasm during interactions. When negative emotions erupt, they erupt quickly and fiercely. Children are holding in emotions as they hold their bodies in check too. There are conversations, smiles and laughter of course (sometimes well hidden behind masks), and children are naturally inclined to be cheerful and upbeat. However, these anecdotal observations are on display every day as some of the exuberance of learning and being together in school has been diminished and stifled within the school environment.
There are visible benefits to the pandemic constraints that will carry young learners forward successfully.
I have written in this blog about the resiliency students are demonstrating every day as they come to school - their willingness to adapt has been exceptional in so many ways! They wear their masks without comment, line up in physically distanced lines to enter school or go to the washrooms. They sanitize and handwash every time they enter or exit a space in the school almost without fail - often, as I collect a child to come and work with me in the Learning Commons or the Hub they will effortlessly and without reminders stop to sanitize before they leave their classroom and then again as they enter the Learning Commons well before I remember to do the same! Playground times and playmates may be controlled and cohorted but their play is still active, enthusiastic and noisy. Every invitation to try something new - like bang on pails for drums or find reading books online through Epic or use sign language to give 'voice' to a song performed in an assembly when singing is not allowed - is met with enthusiasm and delight as children thrive on the novelty of something new to do. The resiliency of our children remains strong, visible and beneficial for keeping our children active and engaged.
I have observed, as well, and gleaned through many conversations, that families are building different and sometimes stronger relationships as a result of cohorting and isolating at home. Many parents have mentioned to me (including my own children) that they will not be returning to the previous levels of social engagements, sports activities or the pursuits of other childhood interests with the same scope of commitment as before the pandemic hit, preferring this quieter, slower pace of life for their families. Family dinners are on the increase - a daily social interaction opportunity that is vitally important for building emotionally connected, happy families as well as sustaining and enhancing beginning social skills of young children - not to mention, greater appreciation for home-cooked meals!
Families are more aware of children's learning strengths, challenges and attitudes as a result of the pandemic school closures that began last March - for young children, sustained learning of any kind required a significant investment of time and energy on behalf of parents (greatly appreciated and valued by teachers and students alike!). As parents connected more deeply with their children around learning, they also came to appreciate the particular learning quirks and approaches specific to them. Recognizing individual differences related to learning, parents also became more aware of the best ways to meet their children's learning needs - information they have willingly shared with teachers to ensure ongoing successful achievement with their children.
So, there are notable losses and benefits for children surfacing as the pandemic continues to unfold.
We are not through the journey yet - not at all! As we work with children, their families, teachers and support staff to map both losses and benefits for both particular, as well as all students it is crucial for us to all remember humanity thrives with adversity - maybe not at first, maybe not completely visibly - but to adjust, to be flexible, to find a new path is the very nature of being human. As we seek to balance losses and benefits for the youngest learners in our care, I hope we never lose sight of human nature and the potential array of responses to adversity that have scattered across our history as humans on this planet Earth.
Yes, learning has been disrupted. It also continues. It is in the continuity of learning that we find a path to balancing losses with benefits and move forward with our children into a brighter, safer, healthier future.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another."
- Charles Dickens
"I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do."
- Jana Stanfield
December has arrived, paying no attention to rising COVID-19 infection numbers or the warm weather we have been enjoying the past few days.
As we contemplate moving into what is traditionally a month of joyously excessive festivities and fun, the 2020 holiday season is absolutely bringing an uncertainty and constraints that will change so many of the typical activities we all enjoy every holiday season.
It comes at the end of a most trying and disproportionately challenging year for pretty much every corner of the world and will, I am sure, present a whole new set of challenges for virtually every member of our school community as we adjust family celebration plans to acknowledge new restrictions, move our gatherings outside and try to tweak traditions enough to be familiar yet safe.
We have been reflecting on December as well, at EHS.
Having safely navigated the first three months of the 2020-21 school year, there is no question it is more imperative than ever that we strictly adhere to the many layers of precautions we have implemented and follow every day at school regardless of the time of year - this school year appears to be merciless in requiring all of us to be increasingly attentive to every precautionary strategy possible as our only defence against an immensely erratic virus. The greatest non-negotiable for December 2020 is that there will be no easing of safety precautions, especially in elementary schools that remain open while all schools province-wide have moved to online learning until January 2021 for students in grades 7 - 12.
That does not, however, mean that December cannot still bring joy - and that is what we have, as a staff, determined will define December 2020 for our school. We will not remember this Christmas for the virus (well, not completely anyway!) but rather for the joy we are hoping to bring to our school, our community and the hearts of everyone we are able to touch.
Welcome to the "Light Up Our Hearts December of Joy" at EHS for December 2020! Our ultimate wish for this month is to bring joy to as many aspects of our school and community as possible - and oh! do we have ambitious plans :)
Our first initiative is, of course, our 'Families Helping Families' initiative - a peaceful communities project we began our first holiday season five years ago. Each year our families donate so generously to help other families (this year, as in past years, from Col. J. Fred Scott School) whose needs are so much greater than most of us (thankfully) are able to imagine. Usually children are encouraged to contribute to purchasing appropriate gifts for their classroom's family, but the the tentacles of the pandemic managed to change this as well, and we are so grateful for our families donating over $2800.00 towards the purchase of gift cards to support 14 families - a most generous gift of joy marking a remarkable fifth year of this peace project at EHS!
We are adding a new joy project this year to share some warmth and festive spirit! We want all our Seniors - our grandparents, great-grandparents and the carriers of wisdom in our world - to know how much we value and appreciate the gifts they bring to us, including helping to ensure our planet is such an amazing place to live :). So we have partnered with The Manor Village at Varsity and will be making and delivering holiday wreaths to cheer the Seniors' shared residential areas and the medical spaces during this time when isolation will be the expectation. Each classroom will be decorating two wreaths in the coming days, to be delivered to the Manor on December 11/20. Children are also making cards for each of the 166 residents at the Manor. We are planning to also share parts of our holiday musical celebration with our Senior Friends, and hope to keep our connection with the Manor Village at Varsity long past December of 2020. We are excited to develop these new friendships and connections which will bring us all greater joy!
Mrs. Coulson, our most remarkable Music teacher, is leading an exceptional internal project to bring joy to the school through December. This will include events such as crazy sweater day, crazy hat day and a pyjama day as well as a musical celebration "December Around the World" we will be sharing with classes and parents in video form. We will literally "light up our hearts" with all the donations of holiday lights parents have brought to the school over the past couple of weeks - thank you for your generosity! Classroom opportunities to decorate both our learning spaces and our bigger gathering spaces will offer our students creative outlets with a festive spirit and energy! We are looking forward to continuing to bring light and joy to our school through the next three weeks :)
While we are continuing our learning journeys through these unusual circumstances we know even these events intended to bring light and joy to our school will only slightly diminish the focus on all the constraints and dubious news that impact our daily pandemic-dominated lives. Our hope is not to divert attention from living safely during this time, but rather to find positive ways to weave opportunities for also remembering that celebration, fellowship and caring for each other are fundamental to human existence and improve the quality of all our lives. While we cannot engage in our usual boisterous, exhilarating gatherings we are still capable, willing and eager to know we share our gifts of creativity, generosity, kindness and laughter with each other in the school, in our community and around the world.
Challenging times mean investing a little extra energy into bringing joy back into the school is a most worthwhile endeavour - and be prepared for an outstandingly enthusiastic celebration of December festivities in 2021 because we are already making post-pandemic plans :)
Hope you all enjoy this festive month in as many ways as possible!
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Masking & Distancing in all classrooms, including Music
"We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience." - John Dewey
"If we take it just one day at a time with a positive attitude, anything is possible." - Alex Trebek
One Year Ago...
December 2019 celebrations with "Green Fools" Artist in Residence; Winter Christmas Concert
As the days fold into weeks and weeks transition to months, we continue to be vigilant in our efforts to hold the COVID-19 virus at bay as much as is humanly possible. Usually, as I've noted here before, the vigilance takes a great deal of energy! However, our first priority as a school is learning so we are also doing our very best to elevate learning as much as humanly possible too.
The challenge is that learning, at this particular moment in time, does not look or sound much like it used to for our students or our staff. All the teaching beliefs, research and pedagogical experience that typically influences lessons, investigations, projects, conversations, creations have been set aside in favour of classroom management and control to keep everyone as safe as possible. This does not just change the students' experiences, it also changes the way teachers plan, engage and assess student achievement. Uncharted territory that we have waded into with the same determination as we have engaged in protective health precautions.
We are drawing the map as we walk the path.
Learning, as we understand and champion it for all our students at EHS, is best accomplished when children are actively engaged with their minds, hands and bodies in doing and thinking.
When children are able to socially construct knowledge together, they question, explore, analyze, compare, contrast, interpret, investigate, problem solve and work together to utilize numerous critical thinking skills and approaches that develop understandings to be successfully applied in multiple situations.
Learning as it unfolds in these ways is both engaging and exciting! Children want to come to school, are willing to make mistakes and celebrate them as bold steps towards future success. This fosters resiliency in learning as well as curiosity and achievement with students.
It's the best part of being in school, from my perspective - I can visibly see and hear learning all day, every day - spilling out into the hallways and every space in and around the school. Laughter, conversation, exclamations of 'Look! Look!' and 'Oh! that didn't work - let's try this...' fill the air and result in amazing representations of learning.
As teachers, we create provocations and invitations to learn - as well as develop direct teaching opportunities on a daily basis that support and advance the visible next steps in learning for each child that have made themselves apparent in the students' productivity. Our work is to observe, question, provoke thinking, nudge, offer opportunities for learning that catch children's attention and invite them to get involved in the work immediately, even if the skill set is not quite a match, because doing is learning and learning generates growth in skills.
Except today, the world cannot tolerate the most effective learning situations. Children cannot gather and work together collaboratively as they are accustomed to doing; their connections and conversations must be significantly curtailed and controlled. Touching same surfaces and items is absolutely not possible. Mixing in learning spaces is not a possibility. Provocations and invitations to learning must be framed as independent, solitary engagements. Class sizes, movement restrictions and health precautions restrict and confine those exuberant learning opportunities we have so successfully fostered and championed on behalf of our students - your children.
It is not an understatement to say invoking huge health precautions while re-thinking everything we know and understand about teaching and learning all within the space of a few days (all the time we had to re-think this when we regrouped in late August) was enormously challenging. We definitely focused our attention on the health precautions for the first few weeks, trying numerous ways to honour what we know about teaching and learning within the confines of these restrictions. We attended to the physicalities first - use of space - creating individual learning spaces and 'buckets' holding personal learning tools and books, tracking seating plans and movements of classes each day, staggering entries/exits to limit possibilities for close contact, taping 'lanes' in our hallways, closing off sinks in the washrooms to allow for appropriate spacing, increasing supervision three-fold in hallways and for washroom breaks, closing down free play on the school grounds, creating our 'triad of healthy practices' we follow so diligently each day. Gradually, we have restricted movements of cohorts even more over the past weeks to ensure contacts between groups of students are as limited as possible in a school building.
Drawing the map as we walk the path.
This was the map we focused on drawing first - how to keep our children as safe as possible.
Through September, as we navigated the precarious terrain of instilling health precautions into our daily work, we focused our learning time on building new relationships with our students who had missed almost six months of school, moved on to the next grade of learning and had been re-organized to ensure families were together in similar cohorts/hallways, as well as gathering new assessment information through observations, direct informal assessments and collecting information from parents, who had been the 'teachers' for the intervening six months at home. Slowly, we began trying on new assignments and activities that were of a much greater solitary nature where students worked independently and waited for teachers to access them, one by one, as time allowed.
This was a painstakingly new process for the EHS staff - not only were we navigating classrooms differently, fully masked, we were learning to look for different evidence of understanding, asking students to write more independently and attempt tasks independently until we could get to them to offer support. This required changing the way we scaffolded and structured tasks since we do not want students to learn how to do something incorrectly and then have to un-teach and re-teach strategies. And all the while, staff continued to be vigilant in ensuring students did not leave their learning spaces, remove their masks unless appropriately distanced, did not touch anyone else's learning supplies or leave the room for any reason without the presence of an adult. Unfamiliar practices are quickly becoming our way of moving, behaving and responding in the classroom.
And again, we are drawing the map as we walk the path.
Teachers are spending a significant part of their day using classroom management strategies to effectively keep children in their 'learning spots' (ie. at their chair/table) and focused on tasks that are solitary with expectations that are very much paper/pencil concentrated. As one student told me quite vehemently earlier this school year, "This new way of doing school is not meeting my learning needs!" Most EHS teachers would agree - it is not always ideal to demonstrate everything you are thinking and wondering about on a piece of paper, nor does it engage learners' minds/hands/bodies in expressing their new understandings. But it is what it is, and we continue to make the best of every learning situation - incorporating art, music, drama, movement-in-place, video, use of technology - whenever possible.
Three months in we are still finding our way - every day brings new challenges that we continue to wrestle with collectively and independently, as teachers, to keep the spotlight on learning. The kids are, for the most part, happy to be in school and are working to adjust to these new learning circumstances, although there is no doubt the need for vigilance in classroom management has become the most active component of the day in classrooms.
The strategies we would typically use to support students with focus and attention on learning (such as SPARK, CALM, Wonder Time, using the Maker Space collaboratively, independent investigations across the school, extracurricular activities like Choir or Intramurals, borderless access to the Learning Commons and other areas of the school as needed to support learning) are not available this year and we know active learners need to be active, so the constraints of solitary sitting-in-place require much greater effort on the part of students to attend to learning.
This uses more energy and reduces the energy students have to attend to actual learning because they are trying - so hard! - to sit still, not move around the room to get the resources they need to enhance their learning experience, collaborate with classmates, ask a teacher or support staff member for support.
There is a clear dance of trying to control movement and behaviours that both teachers and students are engaged in every day as we navigate this new learning landscape. We have wiggle stools, therabands, stress therapy balls as strategies we typically use in classes to support children with staying-in-place. We engage in body breaks every morning and afternoon - outside as much as possible (distanced from other cohorts, of course) or in-class with a video. Children have daily PE opportunities that are intentionally very active and, again, frequently. But there is no doubt our children are coming to school in a decidedly restrictive learning environment that some days irritates all of us more than seems tolerable in the moment! Still, we all persevere and try new iterations of the now-familiar patterns - change a seating plan (and record it!), stop everything and share a read aloud story, take a brief, unplanned body break (inside or outside), have a class gratitude meeting.
Drawing the map as we walk the path.
I am aware that this blog entry sounds very much like a giant whine!
And I think it definitely is as I just try to make sense of the journey as we travel this unfamiliar trail.
I would absolutely be remiss if I didn't celebrate that our learners and staff have also been incredibly creative and innovative with Coulee School outdoor learning opportunities, the Remembrance Day Ceremony, our first Peace Assembly and outstandig, creative approaches to a songless music program, an active, sustained daily Phys. Ed. program and the establishment of our virtual book borrowing program through our Learning Commons - students, teachers and staff have not lost their innovation or creativity by any stretch of the imagination! It's just been muted temporarily :)
And now December is peeking over the horizon. It has been a long time since I heard spontaneous laughter in the hallways and I miss that so much! We are beginning to consider how we might make the month a 'bright spot' in the year - weave some opportunities for celebration and caring into our daily control and management cycles that might spark some of those instant giggles and shouts we appreciate so much as indications children are enjoying their time at school. They like being here, we know this; they like being with their peers and having a place to go that is familiar and has opportunities to do things that are different than when they are home; they like learning even when it is not as hands-on or engaging as before. Enjoyment, however, remains a somewhat elusive goal. And enjoyment certainly leads to greater engagement and, therefore, learning.
Drawing new lines on the map as we travel this new path.
We may not love the strategies we have to abide by, but we appreciate they are keeping us safe in this absurd year! And we will continue to do our very best to keep learning at the forefront with consideration for student engagement and enjoyment a primary focus.
It has definitely been an unusual educational expedition, this 2020 year - and I am hopeful the map we finally finish as we traverse the months of 2020 is one that will be able to be folded and buried in a drawer forever once the pandemic has been tamed and school gets to become a full-brain-and-body learning experience again!
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"Peace is not an absence of storms, but a belief you will survive the storm" - Ben Johnston
"If we are to create peace in our world, we must begin with our children." - Mahatma Gandhi
This is not exactly the blog entry I intended to write today. With Remembrance Day Ceremonies coinciding with a sharp, consistent rise in COVID-19 positive cases, however, it is the blog that is writing itself as I contemplate the weeks ahead while reflecting on the outstanding honouring by the children of our Veterans, as well as those currently serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, and in peace-keeping forces around the world. What has surfaced for me as I consider both these current events in juxtaposition to each other is how much visibility tells the story...
As I watched the final virtual Remembrance Day Ceremony the students from EHS presented on Tuesday - popping in to all the classes as they watched simultaneously - I was so moved by the investment of time, energy and thoughtfulness all of our students poured into this grateful acknowledgement of sacrifice they are just beginning to grasp the importance of in their young lives. It occurred to me that this was the 31st Remembrance Day I have acknowledged in the company of young children - and how absolutely grounding and amazing those experiences have been through the years.
I am a daughter from a Nova Scotian military family so I spent my young years attending ceremonies at the local cenotaph and Royal Canadian Legion with full military involvement. Moving to Alberta brought a different set of Remembrance Day experiences into my life through the schools and I have learned so much from both teaching and honouring the purposes and events that inform and bring meaning to this holistic acknowledgement of sacrifice, commitment and desire for peace.
The most important thing I've learned, I think as I reflect on 31 years of school-based Remembrance Day Ceremonies, is the incredible value of making stories visible. As we guide our children through the acts of creating ceremonies of acknowledgement, we are making visible gratitude for the sacrifices of previous generations who set in motion the democratic principles that have brought us to this time and place - the year 2020 and a pandemic - where good governance for the people offers hope in times of fear and sickness - as well as funding to research, produce and provide excellent healthcare and possible medications and vaccines. As we make visible these connecting through-lines from generation to generation, our children are reassured the world will soon stop tilting and we will be restored to the simple acts of every day living we so took for granted before a world wide illness stole our comfort zones away and brought us to the constant state of vigilance we now adhere to every day.
Remembrance Day offers us a moment, as educators and parents as well as a community and country united in recognizing sacrifice and valiance, to make these stories visible - stories of destruction and rebuilding, of hope and optimism even in the face of great despair and fear. Stories of restoration and re-alignment, of knowing all humans are capable of writing new stories and that changing landscapes will not defeat us but simply make us stronger, more innovative, aligned as humans to shape a better existence into an unknown future.
Children come to the world with the faith that the adults who care for them will take great care of them - it is the most innate human characteristics to trust in our caretakers. They collectively (usually!) get up every morning with the belief that today will be a good day, and as the adults who take care of them, we strive to make that story visible to them as well, surrounding them with love and comfort and as much joy as we are able to muster! We reassure them, when we teach these stories of Remembrance Day, that the world is a resilient place that still cares for humanity and has faith in a future where humans can live safely and happily, secure in healthy living.
I am so grateful to have 31 years of ceremonies from the hearts of children as they have embraced the stories made visible through honouring and celebrating veterans and our Armed Forces personnel on Remembrance Day.
And the connection to rising COVID-19 cases in Alberta? Visibility tells a story.
Last week, following our school's contact with a positive case, we were visited and inspected to ensure our school is taking every possible precaution to ensure safe learning experiences for our students. We were recognized as taking EVERY possible precaution with recommendations to tweak a couple of small strategies. One of the things discussed during the inspection was the high level of compliance with masking amongst staff and students, as well as the presence of our hoola hoops being used as tools to remind students about appropriate distancing and the school posters depicting our 'healthy triad' (we all have bookmarks as well) of handwashing/sanitizing, physical distancing and wearing a mask.
As I reflected on the rising number of cases in Alberta, and the extraordinary precautions we are taking in schools to try and keep our children safe, it occurred to me our learners are willing and fully compliant with our strategies because we are making visible what needs to be done through our role modelling, our visible reminders in the posters, bookmarks and school-created videos we share every day and through the consistent practices we routinely follow - from lining up on the yellow 'x' spots to not mixing classes during outdoor breaks to ensuring every student has hand sanitizer applied before entering the building every time through the school day. We are sharing the story of how to be safe from the COVID-19 virus through our actions made visible to students.
If we want to reduce cases in Alberta, I believe we will all need to do our part to make this part of the story visible to everyone in our community, our city, our province, our country - not only in our schools.
What if we all - teachers, students, parents, families, community members - made a conscious decision to visibly declare our safe strategies to the world every moment of every day?
What if we wore masks inside and outside at every possible moment to demonstrate the value in keeping others - and ourselves - safe?
What if we intentionally moved a few steps away from our neighbours, our friends, our colleagues while we are chatting - even with our masks on - to exhibit our convictions physical distancing works to inhibit virus transmission?
What if we take the hand sanitizer out of our pockets or handbags and offer it to someone who is just entering or leaving a building as a strategy to encourage others to make sure they are not unsuspectingly transmitting germs?
What if we share stories of isolating and cohorting with our families at home rather than our latest outings?
Then we would be visibly telling a story that we are all capable, through the layering of simple steps, to interrupt transmission of the virus and we would be supporting each other to make our communities safer in these crazy times.
I am well aware so many of us already feel like we are doing everything possible to turn the tide of infections - or might even feel like we are doing too much already and it 's hard to make the decision between public health and making a living.
Remembrance Day reminds us we are not the first generation to face tough decisions, to feel compelled to get involved and make a difference for the future of our country, our city, our community, our children. Remembrance Day reminded me we all have the capacity, the ability and the where-with-all to make a difference, even if it is not the first choice we want to make.
We have the power to make this story - our story that we are currently living - visible. History teaches us that visibility tells a story. We remember the stories that brought us our superior quality of life generations after sacrifices were made to protect our freedom and quality of life. Today, we have an opportunity to make our present-day story visible in an effort to maintain a healthy quality of life for everyone.
Our stories matter and carry us forward into the future.
I look forward to seeing more masks outside and inside, intentional distancing and family cohorting in our community - I know today's reflections have given me great pause. These are actions I am now committing to be more visible with outside the school as well as inside - and I hope all our families will join me in immediately making our stories of action much more visible.
"Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.
- Henry Ford
As we move into the third month of in-class learning during these months of pandemic teaching and learning, there are a few things that have become abundantly clear - the vigilance required to sustain a safe and healthy school environment is overwhelmingly exhausting, the children are being astonishingly resilient through everything, there is less time spent learning and more time spent watching and taking precautions, the typical, small celebrations of learning we are so accustomed to sharing with parents have come to a complete and abrupt halt - and we are mourning them, as I am sure parents are as well! COVID-19 cases are increasing steeply every day and we have been informed our school now appears on a 'schools with COVID-19 list' somewhere on the internet. There are many fears and worries and testing has increased for schools and families proportionately with the rumours and questions that abound around the world as the fall surge in corona virus infections continues.
Some days it is very hard to keep our focus on what schools are all about - teaching and learning.
And living through all of this has made me stop and thing about how integrity lives on the landscapes of schools. Or perhaps more accurately, how integrity that usually lives on the landscapes of schools, feels very much like it is ebbing away...
When I looked up the meaning of integrity (trying to confirm in my own mind that what I thought integrity meant was accurate), I discovered these descriptions:
Being dependable and following through on commitments
Being open and honest when communicating with others
Holding yourself accountable
Owning up to your shortcomings
Respecting the rights of others
Having patience when required
And I realized that coping with COVID-19 restrictions, precautions and the associated changes all of those things have wrought in our school have really impacted our pathways to integrity. So many of the pedagogical principles we hold dear that underpin our practices and relationships with each other, our families and our students have been set aside through these days, weeks and months of precaution.
We believe in and espouse the principles of Peace Education - caring for others, welcoming new people warmly, resolving issues with a healthy conversation and empathy - these are principles that are challenging to follow when we must keep our distance.
We believe in and espouse principles of design thinking and inquiry-based learning - collaboration, innovation and creativity abound when children engage in investigations, problem solving, inventing new solutions, uncovering new findings or trying out new ideas - impossible to foster when we are keeping children apart, fixed to a chair, unable to touch anything communal.
We believe in and espouse literacy across the disciplines and have an extraordinary - and growing - book collection in the learning commons. Although we have been creative with getting books from our collection shared with students, it is a limited experience at best. Guided reading cannot be organized in terms of what the next best steps in learning to read are for children - groups must be from the same cohort with little regard for learning needs. We've just been given the go ahead to actually engage in guided reading with students and will begin that very soon - up until now, reading support has had to be 1-1 inside a cohort. We have been able to take up reading online - for example with Epic books - which is a perk, for sure. But it does not replace the side-by-side nature of reading and enjoying reading we all know children absolutely need!
We believe in and espouse the principles and practices of outdoor education and Indigenous learning. Finally! One principle we can still adhere to most of the time!!
We believe and espouse open, honest communication at all times with our families, students and staff. If anything, we have frequently been guilty of over-communicating (that would be me, I am afraid!). Yet through this time of a possible positive COVID-19 contact, we have found ourselves limited by knowledge of what happened and the necessity of controlling a very restricted message. It is hard to be open and honest when you don't really know the information people would like you to share - and that shakes the integrity of being an opening communicator to the core.
Here's what I do know about integrity in the days of COVID-19:
- We will keep our commitments to ensuring your children are as well-educated as possible.
- We will keep our commitments to open communication as much as possible in as timely a manner as possible.
- We will be accountable for our actions every day in modeling and demonstrating safe, caring behaviours for your children to emulate.
- We will let you know when things are tough and we mess up - we know failure just means we will learn to do things better next time and we are happy to share our learning with all of you.
- We will always respect the rights of our students, families and staff, even when that means we cannot reveal all the details when something happens. We are helping each other through this time of chaos and confusion - that means we take care of each other's wellbeing, reputations and feelings too!
- We will try to exercise and demonstrate patience (very tough for me!!) when things in the world seem to take too long - sometimes I just need to accept that I don't fully understand the process.
- We will offer your children - every one of them - the best possible learning experiences we are able to provide every day, no exceptions.
- We will ask for and honour your partnership in helping students become the best versions of themselves.
- We will carry and honour the principles of peace education as we care for and celebrate each other every day.
There are a hundred more commitments I could make if we were not living so tightly with COVID-19 restrictions - but we are. So I am going to work hard at carrying on through this challenging school year with as much integrity as I am able to muster - and I am going to trust everyone else will too!
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"Our knowledge of the world comes from gathering around great things in a complex and interactive community of truth. Good teachers do more than deliver the news from that community to their students. Good teachers replicate the process of knowing by engaging students in the dynamics of the community of truth....But our conventional pedagogy emerges from a principle that is hardly communal.
It centers on a teacher who...delivers conclusions to students. It assumes that the teacher has all the knowledge and the students have little or none, that the teacher...sets all the standards and the students must measure up...in reaction to this scenario, a pedagogy based on an antithetical principle has arisen: students and the act of learning are more important than the act of teaching.
The student is regarded as a reservoir of knowledge to be tapped, students are encouraged to teach each other, the standards of accountability emerge from the group itself and the teacher's role varies from facilitator to co-learner..."
- Parker Palmer, "The Courage to Teach", 1998, 2007, 2017
We have always embraced Twelve Mile Coulee as a very special and valuable place for learning since our earliest days as a school when we were housed in seven classrooms at Tuscany School, looking for strategies to be outside in the open air as much as possible. From those beginning days we have taken up the focus of 'place-based learning' as a way to engage our learners in exploring the environment of their community as a way to value and appreciate the patterns, relationships and nuances found in nature, in Indigenous story and in the ways human beings connect with the world in which we live.
Place-based learning is "an approach to learning that takes advantage of geography to create authentic, meaningful and engaging personalized learning for students...(it is) an immersive learning experience that places students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, and uses these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum." (Center for Place-Based Learning and Community Engagement, 2017)
For our school, the Coulee has offered easy access to a broad landscape full of engaging, meaningful experiences that is always changing, thought-provoking and offers endless opportunities to pursue the million questions that arise with each visit from the children. Although we visited the Coulee frequently through the first four years and used it as a significant place for connecting and learning, we recognized there were multiple opportunities for learning that could be maximized with shared intentions and expertise.
Additionally, each school year, a few classes would apply for and participate in the Calgary Campus/Open Minds off-campus learning experiences that were frequently quite similar in nature to those learning experiences our students were already engaging in during our Coulee adventures. With a highly experienced and visionary staff, we began to consider strategies for developing best-possible learning approaches to being in the Coulee from a whole school perspective, as well as ways to bring in our Elder, Sa'akokoto, to share Indigenous perspectives that would assist all of us, students, staff and families, in appreciating and valuing the geographic significance of the Coulee as an impetus to learning in a wide variety of disciplines.
In the fall of 2019, we formed our initial Coulee School Committee of 6 teachers to begin to brainstorm and research possibilities for creating positive learning experiences across grade levels together. We worked with Sa'akokoto, with Stephanie Bartlett and with each other to conceptualize, connect to curricular objectives and synthesize a lot of information to create a working operational plan. We continued meeting periodically through the middle part of the school year, anticipating a shared, effective rollout of the initiative. The week before we were set to launch Coulee School with our staff, the pandemic intruded and all schools were placed in 'closed' mode with teachers scrambling to work from home indefinitely. Coulee School plans were set aside and we focused on home learning as much as possible.
While schools re-opened to students this fall but with understandable restrictions on external field trip experiences, volunteer opportunities, presentations and guests coming into the school, the prospect of continuing our learning with Coulee School was still a very viable option - made a more desirable option because it got all of us out of doors into fresh air, a key recommendation for reducing possibilities of virus transfer. The Coulee School Committee picked up the work where we had left off last spring, re-visited some of the internal design and documenting aspects and presented it to teachers in late September. Teachers were definitely interested and willing to broaden perspectives on Coulee visits to become intentionally connected, more frequent and aligned school-wide in our learning objectives, goals, tasks, questions and assessments. Over two professional development days, teachers worked together to generate a plan for learning across the grade levels, captured quite beautifully in one of our giant sketch notes by Mr. Kelly and Mrs. Low (pictured here). Ultimately, we have adopted the mantra 'We Walk This Path Together' to guide our work. And, additionally, we are in the process of developing a multi-faceted web page where each class will ultimately be able to document their students' learnings, insights, questions and new understandings.
So, this is what Coulee School is and will be. But why Coulee School? The answer to that is found in the Coulee itself and revealed through our experiences there.
As we launched Coulee School over these past six weeks, we have seen the Coulee transformed from golden autumn colours to deep white snowy banks of winter through this past week of late-October unseasonable frigid temperatures, and had the great pleasure to share Indigenous perspectives with our Blackfoot Elder Sa'akokotoo. We have many more plans for Coulee explorations, particularly since each visit brings us back to school with great inspirations for research, questioning, building models, sharing stories, writing stories, reading about life cycles, plants and animals. The Coulee provokes more questions in students in a one hour visit that a whole week of staying in class and trying to find out things using digital resources, books and our own memories and thoughts.
Children and their teachers visit the Coulee and immediately feel connected - as the children will so often say, 'this is our place!' Sitting beneath the trees or scattered across the grassy hills, students may be calm or inquisitive, gently listening and exploring or running uninhibitedly through the paths. Regardless of their stance, they are absorbing information about this magical place, sharing Indigenous stories and re-telling tales they have heard before or read, observing and asking questions plants, animals and ecosystems. These experiences prompt learners to explore further - to write, read, investigate, create, innovate and express their understandings from a wide variety of perspectives which may or may not be similar and may prompt even more questions or investigations. This is science, social studies, mathematics and language instruction in its most authentic form - response and reaction to real life and the connections, patterns and relationships evident in that real living. The Coulee inspires and invites a greater commitment to understanding, recognizing, celebrating or questioning who, what, why, when, where and how real living, growth and change is happening in the real world.
Why Coulee School is to take teaching and learning to the highest level, provoking thinking and engagement of every child. Why Coulee School offers every learner the opportunity to investigate at their own pace with their own questions and then transfer their curiosities to their academic work. As we connect our learnings from Coulee School we build new skills and strategies as learners and broaden our perspectives wider still as we appreciate multiple aspects of life, growth and change that touches all forms of life, human and otherwise.
Why Coulee School offers opportunities to lift children from the tables and chairs they are currently firmly anchored to, bringing a learning perspective to a beautiful natural geographic feature that has a history geographically, geologically, biologically, anthropologically, mathematically, historically, ecologically. As we explore how interconnectedness lives in the coulee, questions abound - such as these that were generated through discussions with both students and teachers:
What can the past teach?
How might we see through different eyes?
How can we observe our world in different ways?
How does the coulee shape our way of life?
How might we measure/capture/understand natural changes over time?
How are we connected?
What is the Way of the Wolf?
How do we tell our stories of the land? How does the land tell us stories?
How might we use the history of the land to inform the way we engage with it today and in the future?
How do we impact our environment? How does it impact us?
We walk this path together.
What surrounds us-- forms and connects us.
Why Coulee School is the best part of moving our learning ever further onto the land - because it inspires all of us to live in the world in ways that are more intentional, caring and aware. Our perspectives shift, we see with fresh eyes, hear with open ears, notice our surroundings, colours, sizes, shapes, patterns, lifestyles. We are the Coulee and the Coulee is part of us.
And that is why we will spend a great deal of this COVID-19 constrained school year in our beautiful Twelve Mile Coulee.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal