"To help young people become more receptive to learning, we need to actively engage, cultivate and sustain their focusing skills. Luckily, brain research points to effective ways of gaining children's attention." - Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin
"I hope that our classrooms expand from a place where we are taught to a place where we can explore together. " - Katie L. Martin
"We need a new story that teaches us how to live together differently in this country because right now most of the stories are divisive." - Dr. Dwayne Donald
"Instruction that promotes complex thinking over memorization is associated with strong class participation, achievement and students setting hopeful, aspirational goals for their educational futures....Collaborative, interdisciplinary, active and problem-based learning have been found to improve student attendance, course completion and graduation rates." - Mosher, Hartwell & Brown
Recently, I read an article about the discovery of insulin 100 years ago - interesting to me because my mother was a childhood diabetic in the 1930's and would not have survived without insulin, despite the many tribulations she endured at the time as researchers, doctors, patients and their families continually refined the medication, best practices and understandings of this 'miracle' medicine.
It reminded me of another article I read within the last month about the speed of vaccine development for the COVID-19 virus - which was actually not a 'speedy' process at all, but a series of developments over almost 10 years prior to the pandemic occurring in 2020 when MERS first began appearing in the world - and this had built on vaccine research that had begun a decade before that.
Research building on research until a worthwhile and timely discovery is made. 100 years apart but a similar process - discoveries are made by a researcher or group of researchers, questions are asked by many others, there are experiments and conversations, graphs, charts, comparisons, wonders, imaginings, 'what 'ifs' and maybe's, exploring and predicting, trying, failing and trying again. In the early 21st century, we call this 'design thinking' in many circles - including the field of Education - and as I reflect on the state of the visible world (so much of what hits the media represents only a small fraction of the human experience overall), I am wondering what the role of design thinking really is in the world of 2021?
It feels, sometimes, like possibility, inspiration, discovery and imagination have fallen out of fashion in our zeal to have 'hard facts' that often are so over-analyzed and turned inside out that the actual truth never seems to really be acknowledged or perhaps, even available.
There have been times in the past five years when trying to understand the truth of the world's events has been a gargantuan and futile effort, caught as we, the 'public', have been between lies disguised as truth and fiction masking as fact all jumbled up together with a loss of empathy, kindness and care overall. As many of us struggled not to get caught on this slippery slope, humanity itself was suddenly and unexpectedly assaulted by a virus that rapidly began killing thousands of people. Immediately, lifestyles changed and we became wearers of masks, inveterate hand-washers and struggled to define what 'social distancing' actually meant - and then vaccines arrived on the horizon and suddenly everyone was questioning everything. Where was the evidence of how the virus was transmitted? Where was the evidence masks worked? How did a vaccine get made so quickly? What is herd immunity? What is a variant? Is this a disease of 'old' people or not? Everyone wants an answer - no! Everyone wants the 'truth'!!
And a draft curriculum arrived midst all of this clamour for the truth, asking children to recite a particular version of history, study known algorithms and calculations in math, be classical in our thinking and slide back into historical patterns of social interactions that we have already clashed with in our not-so-distant past. More 'truth' for all of us to clamour for as we continue to close doors, narrow our perspectives and hide from anything that is not familiar and reliable from our pasts.
And I wonder where our human ingenuity exists within all this muddle of fear, anxiety, best intentions, confusion and disarray of life that is 2020-21?
Where does imagination go when fear overwhelms? Why is building on the discoveries of others no longer celebrated but regarded with suspicion? Where does one find inspiration these days for new ideas, re-designing, thinking bigger, trying out new iterations of previous thinking? Why is it suddenly horrifying to discover anything new about math? Where are the possibilities for tomorrow?
As I watched a few children creating in the Maker Space last week, it was clear to me that imagination, inspiration, discovery and possibility are alive and well in our children! The Maker Space has been very quiet during this pandemic year, and it was not the lively, noisy place of old with just a few masked and protected students working in the Studio at a time. Nonetheless, the children were fearless in their designs, trying out new ideas all the time, adding ideas to each other's, trying to capture their dreams in fabric, wood, glue and nails - there are our dreamers and doers of the future!
They will carry this deep-seated belief they can change the world, one nail or hot glue gun at a time, from their earliest experiences of school. They will know curiosity can lead to great things for humanity. Our children will dare to explore and discover, try new things and help each other out with ideas and new iterations.
When they are in the Coulee, they carry this perspective with them there too, as well as an awareness of the history, the connections, the presence of Na'a as they explore, question, wonder, imagine and investigate their world. They are not in pursuit of any truth; the presence of possibility is what captures their imagination. Each child knows they will experience and see the world through their own lenses, appreciating the nuances of others' perspectives at the same time. There is room on the planet for all of us to care and share together.
This pandemic year has caused so many of us to withdraw and turtle, to worry and pull back to home, to question and fear as well as feel frustrated, angry and isolated. Our children are capable of echoing every fear and worry we display, especially in these days of isolation when parents and teachers are their primary sources of contact and security. These are, without a doubt, precarious days...
Yet there is optimism and joy to be found in the laughter of the children, in the discoveries, the designs and inventions, the plans and stories they each dream, share and grow together with every waking moment. It is essential the adults in their world sustain the bubble of confident possibility they naturally carry as they make sense of the world. Their future does not feel constrained by the pandemic in any way - and that is extremely refreshing in a world that, just now, feels so riddled with distrust, disorder, blame and an unending search for some definitive truth that never really seems to be attainable.
Perhaps it is the children's work to help us remember the importance of possibility, imagination, inspiration and discovery. And they do this so effortlessly every day - when we give them the space to do so. Our work, therefore, is to create the space and let them show us the possibilities of their futures.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
"In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind, there are few."
- Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind)
"For so long school has been a place where we would take our kids as parents and show up to work as educators.
The schedule kept us all in place and moved us from class to class so we could make sure to cover and essentially learn all that was required of us in our given class, or semester, or year.
It was a system that was predictable and that allowed for us to feel safe going through the motions.
The tests tell us that the majority of students are learning and therefore they were on track as they moved from grade level to grade level.
We rarely question this process, because the structures have existed for so long and have allowed us to keep the systems in place that look very similar and function as they have for over 100 years."
- Katie L. Martin
It has been an interesting year on so many levels - the grinding, never-ending fear of 'what will happen to my family? Myself? My friends and acquaintances?' underlying multiple levels of 'different' as we have cycled through numerous iterations of social and business closures, rising case numbers, the arrival of variant viruses in our community, and long periods of separation from everyone and everything we once held dear in our lives. Covering these losses and incalculable changes has been the enduring wearing of masks (multiple layers!) and shields, repetitive and incessant hand-washing and the never-ending reminders to stay 2m apart at all times. Just writing it all down seems overwhelmingly numbing and interruptive to everything we ever considered to be 'daily living'.
In response, humanity has persevered - investing billions of dollars, endless time and energy, creativity and imagination - and even political cooperation - into prioritizing human survival in the face of odds we once only gave credence to in movie scripts and apocalyptic novels.
On a whole world scale, the virus continues to wage a battle that out-scales anything previously anticipated on the medical front and gives new meaning to the phrase 'public health emergency'. While the end to this whole mess does seem to be in view as countries invoke enormous vaccination strategies around the world, a return to some semblance of 'normal' seems to be becoming increasingly inevitable as well. Humanity will tame the virus and wrestle it into submission. The human toll will be huge - it already is and we really have no 'end' date in sight - yet it will be considerably less than if we had not had an international public health response at all. Human ingenuity will win in the end and we will all count ourselves, fortunate, I expect and hope, to be alive in a time in history where we are able to witness such a triumph over nature.
Schools have been a low-level, less visible element of the world effort to sustain some semblance of normalcy through these days of great uncertainty. To keep schools available as places of learning for children resulted in a wide variety of approaches deployed across the globe - from in-person to virtual learning and every possible permutation in between. Much has been written about the impact of the pandemic on students overall, in a general sense, regarding the levels of stress and academic implications children have been experiencing over the past year.
At Eric Harvie School, we have learned some lessons, too, from our pandemic year.
It has been a most challenging year - absolutely the most challenging I have experienced in over 30 years - for so many, many reasons. The pandemic itself, of course, has created high levels of anxiety for everyone - sometimes the worries ebbed a bit, but they always seemed to manifest again and again. Other challenges emerged as a result of the pandemic that shaped our school year, and we have learned some lessons as a result.
This school year has caused our school to change all the strategies we typically use to guide learning - including building independence, making real-life connections, fostering numerous opportunities to apply problem solving and critical thinking skills, encourage innovative and design thinking and opportunities to practice and nurture building peaceful communities together. Most of the learning occasions we typically foster in our school have been set aside this year in favour of safety and security of our students and staff. We have become, overall, much more traditional in our approaches to teaching and learning than any of us ever imagined as we championed innovation through our first four years.
This year, our learners have been confined to one classroom with the same teacher and classmates for every portion of the school day - from entry through to the end of the day, they have been at their table spots and teachers have taught primarily to the whole class rather than the small groups we typically prefer. When we have been able to offer learning support, it has been one-to-one or with one or two children from the same classroom who need similar support. Teachers have been able to teach directly with children for much of every day, offering learning in much different formats than we previously would have, including a greater focus on written work, reading, math algorithms with fewer manipulatives, videos, and small hands-on creative projects that may be completed within the classroom or, preferably, at the table where children are located for the day. Except for two music classes per week and daily Physical Education in the gym, children have attended school much like I did as a child - in the same room, with the same children and the same teacher. Much more traditional, definitely, than we are accustomed to at EHS!
There have been some advantages to this approach - the first being that we have been quite successful, overall, in keeping children and staff safe from the virus with only 3 known cases over the course of the year and limited impact on student learning (although having all the grade 3/4 classes pivot to online learning for 6 days was certainly an impact!). That was our goal and we will continue to focus on cohorts of children with their teacher, handwashing, masking, distancing and enhanced cleaning until the COVID threats have subsided.
Teachers report they feel they know their students very well as a result of being with them all the time, every day, for learning. They have been able to build strong relationships with all the children in their classes, as well as with the families. Teachers are able to identify specific areas where students are struggling and offer ideas and strategies to support students in strengthening their knowledge and skills. They have been able to target strategies identified in IPPs (Individual Program Plans) for children with identified complex learning needs with greater frequency and attention.
We have learned some interesting other lessons from our more traditional approaches to teaching and learning as well.
Classroom management, student interactions outside the classroom (eg. playground) and fostering appropriate peaceful behaviours amongst the students have all definitely become interactions that require a much higher level of administrative/teacher intervention on a daily basis. Students benefit socially and emotionally from interacting with a wider expanse of other children on a daily basis - they like seeing other friends to play with during recesses and lunch times, Peace Assemblies, field trips, moving about the school to engage in activities in the Maker Space, the Hub or Learning Commons with small groups of peers. The loss of this change of pace and variety of learning interactions has certainly elevated the number of small conflicts and disagreements in the school, necessitating significantly more administrative interventions than we have ever seen before. When we meet with students to work through these situations, they are very much still aware of what is expected of them and what appropriate interactions look and sound like - they are simply not as patient or accepting of each other as they used to be when their interactions were more varied and diverse.
Interestingly, although teachers have reported knowing their students better and being able to identify specific areas of learning need, student achievement has stayed about the same. For some students, achievement has improved a bit; for others it has declined somewhat. Overall, there has been a levelling of achievement - students are doing the work they are asked and engaging in learning but improvements in skill or knowledge development are not evident in their daily work such as one might expect, given the time and attention teachers have focused on students in the classroom every day.
This finding reflects, from my perspective, the reduced attention on a key part of learning - the social construction of knowledge. When children are able to work in small groups and discuss/explore/question learning of new concepts together, each of them brings their own background experiences and understandings to the table. Together, they share what they already know with each other, greatly expanding their realm of knowledge and pushing each other to try out new thinking and ideas as they engage in their work. Working independently more often leaves each of us relying on our own insights and understandings and reduces the opportunities to hear about and share in others' perceptions of the same concepts.
Humanity relies on social interactions to survive, thrive, improve and be innovative. It is through these opportunities for socially constructing new understandings that children are often able to access a new way to understand or approach a problem they might otherwise have missed on their own. Research shows, clearly, that children who have opportunities to engage with others while learning new things are more apt to advance in their thinking and skill development. And it is quite possible that the limited opportunities we have been able to provide this school year for socially constructing knowledge together is being reflected in the levelling of student achievement across the grades. There are certainly pockets of improvement - as well as pockets of learners who are struggling. Overall, however, we are seeing a steadying of student achievement as students build greater strengths in the skills they are already good at without the boost of socially constructing knowledge available to help improve achievement in other areas of learning.
"Students who engage in authentic learning do as well as others
on standardized tests, and do much better on real assessments
and real tasks of critical thinking and problem solving."
- Linda-Darling Hammond
Along with the pandemic, we have had to contend with the metres and metres of orange fencing surrounding all the usual playing areas of the school yard, hemming the children into the compound or a small area of the playground. Between that, and the winter weather, the lesson about being outdoors is much better for children than being inside has been triply reinforced for us this year! Our learners are often outside, in the community, in the Coulee, in the school yard, during a typical school year. This year we have had to assign them to particular areas of confinement for breaks and recesses to ensure there are no cross-cohort contacts, and those confined areas have been particularly small due to all the fenced off areas where we are not allowed to go until the construction project is deemed complete - hopefully by summer.
We have always encouraged our learners to take their curiosities, their investigative skills, their creativity and innovative thinking outside the school walls. Through field trip experiences, as well, we have been able to provoke their inquisitiveness, encouraged their questions and asked them to apply their critical thinking skills to novel situations. Lesson emphasized for us: get the children outside learning as much as possible - it is good for their physical activity, social activity and, as well, for their brain activity!
A challenge for us this year has been the interrupted learning some of our children have experienced - whether through required periods of isolation or times where parents kept them at home out of worries about exposure to COVID-19, or illnesses of their own, many students have experienced interruptions to daily learning and routines that would usually help them organize their thoughts, their work and their learning. When we return to school in the fall of 2021-22, we anticipate we will have learners with a wide variety of skill and knowledge experiences behind them - much more so than we would usually expect. Recognizing this as a lesson of the pandemic will also help us better prepare for learning that will meet student needs as we move further away from pandemic-controlled teaching and learning.
"For so long school has been a place where we would take
our kids as parents and show up to work as educators.
The schedule kept us all
in place and moved us from class to class so we could make
sure to cover and essentially learn all that was required of us in
our given class, or semester, or year.
It was a system that was predictable and that allowed for us
to feel safe going through the motions.
The tests tell us that the majority of students are learning
and therefore they were on track as they
moved from grade level to grade level.
We rarely question this process, because the structures
have existed for so long have allowed us to keep the system
in place that look very similar and function
as they have for over 100 years."
- Katie L. Martin
We have invested so much energy and focus into a year of more traditional learning, striving to keep our students safe and attend to their learning needs at the same time. We have adjusted our teaching styles and approaches to accommodate these demands and, upon reflection, have learned many things from this experience that we will take forward to inform our next year practices and school set up. Time for teachers to get to know their students, of course. Also moving to provide multiple learning opportunities that engage students in socially constructed learning experiences that stretch and expand their understandings, social interactions and capacities to solve problems and think critically. Maximize outdoor learning opportunities as well, to keep our children physically, socially and neurally healthy and active.
"Specifically in education, this collective experience has
challenged educators, administrators, policy makers, families,
and communities to reimagine how we educate young people."
- Katie L. Martin
Traditional learning practices were not designed to amplify the thinking of learners; they were designed to measure the content learners had acquired. Acquiring content does not prepare our children to engage in the world in a reflective, inquisitive, engaged way that will allow them to approach life as having the potential for change, growth and adventure that the 21st century offers. Rather than holding them in place as markers of a population who attended Eric Harvie School, we will seek to offer learning experiences that encourage learners to think more deeply, question more fully; to try out new ideas and see what happens without being intimidated by failure or short term inconvenience; to believe they can truly make a difference in the world in which they are going to grow, thrive and change over a lifetime. We have learned many lessons from our very traditional year of learning - including a verification of our need to elevate our students' learning rather than ceiling it through our teaching practices.
Teachers have proven so flexible - moving from engaged, flexible learning opportunities to online learning last spring with a day's notice. Developing traditional teaching processes to ensure the physical well-being of children through this pandemic year. Pivoting from online to in-person without hesitation. Offering learning opportunities that get kids outside to Coulee School even when our yard is completely hemmed in by giant orange fences. Staying positive and calm through a third wave of positive cases and variants that sends chills through all our hearts. And, perhaps most importantly, still being willing to turn our faces to the sun, be confident in a new year of learning and willing to reflect on our lessons learned from this year so we are best able to live up to our school's vision: to establish and sustain a learning environment that fosters creativity and innovation in a peaceful community of connected, independent thinkers, problem solvers and learners. We are definitely up to the challenges of next year!
Eric Harvie School
“What if we give every kid in kindergarten through sixth grade in America the option to spend the academic year engaged primarily outdoors in a kind of “pandemic camp” instead of traditional school? The focus would be on achievement that is not narrowly academic—physical challenges; acts of service; and the development of self-regulation, independence, and friendship. Academic goals would also be part of the program; you can learn a lot of science while roaming a municipal park. But the emphasis would be on creating a new set of challenges for students to master, not on an ersatz version of school as we know it. "
- Katie L. Martin, Educator & Author
Sometimes it feels like being in a school is similar to a giant bowling game - and it's hard to dodge the giant bowling balls headed our way unbeknownst to us! COVID-19 was a giant bowling ball that smashed right into our school last week, sending all of us proverbially flying in many directions - coinciding with the drop of a new draft curricula that has significant flaws and needs a major overhaul at the very least, as well as being 'budget week' for CBE schools, as we begin to grapple with the realities of next year's school budget. It can all seem like too much to manage, consider, deal with, work around, learn to live with - depending on which response seems the most appropriate in the moment...
Amongst all these unexpected symbolic 'thwacks' to the best laid plans for teaching and learning our staff and students had been planning and envisioning for weeks, our team was simply outstanding! They all rose admirably to the occasion, pivoted to online learning overnight and tried to make isolation seem like a bit of a break from coming to school and worked hard to make Friday as engaging as possible on a minute's notice!
We had planned a Coulee School 'blitz' for April for a number of reasons - the weather is significantly improved, our student teachers are (were) still here to help out when we aren't allowed to have parent volunteers join us, we have a grant for temporarily displaying our discoveries on both physical (to be located around/near the Coulee) and digital document boards (on our Coulee website) and, not surprisingly, we were anticipating there would be a spike in cases so taking the children outside to learn seemed like a good idea. Most importantly, the children themselves have many, many questions about the Coulee and some of their happiest learning moments, I am quite confident, occur in the Coulee.
As we contemplate the new draft curriculum, consider what steps the school might need to take in the fall to help students re-assert their in-school learning attitudes, behaviours and approaches to advancing their understandings of the world, and continue to put our best efforts into ensuring the individual learning needs of each student are elevated and enhanced, all of these efforts are focused, with a laser-like beam, on the children.
I have written a number of responses to the new draft curriculum, trying to honestly read each subject at each grade level and identify the strengths and limitations as I perceive them to be - I am about halfway through this personal challenge but am heartened by the fact that opportunities to provide feedback will continue through to the spring of 2022. I bring 30+ years experience and 3 degrees in education to the process but, without the context of why various components were introduced at particular times, it is a long and tentative process. The lines I keep writing over and over are 'developmentally not appropriate' and 'presentation as offered lacks engagement for children in this age group'.
And I realize the greatest issue I have with the new draft curriculum is that there is little evidence children were considered when the curricula was being developed. And that, to me, is a heartbreaking possibility.
I believe - actually hope fervently - that most people who have worked with me in schools, as staff or families ,would say that my primary goal with every thing we do in schools is about what's best for kids. Children need an environment that provokes curiosity, invites investigation and is both welcoming and energizing. They do not come to school just to learn how to follow rules or fill in lists and recite facts. Children are trying to make sense of their world while understanding new ideas and concepts that require play, inventiveness, exploration, connection. This is what schools need to be in the 21st century. And teachers and administrators need a strong, child-centered curricula as a lens to invite children into learning with joy and enthusiasm.
As my colleague, Jackie Bates, noted,
"Children learn best through exploration, through playing with concepts to build an understanding. Memorization appears to be a common thread throughout the draft documents - while there is need to memorize SOME things, we also have to recognize that we are in the year 2021 and we have technology at our fingertips to gain access to information such as dates and definitions. There are important historical events, for example, that we all need to understand but rather than memorize, children need to understand the impact of such events and how they shape the past, present and future."
As we go through the rest of this school year and begin to plan for 2021-22, these are the principles we will continue to adhere to while considering how to best meet the learning needs of all our students. Will we be perfect? Naturally not - but we will do our very best with the resources and parameters available.
We have an enormous mission ahead of us as we enter the next school year and try to weave the pieces of 'school' back together. It will be imperative to hold the children at the front of our work, to acknowledge their emotional well-being and the re-establishment of connections with friends and teachers across the school - as well as meeting their academic needs. And that is exactly what we will do - start with the children.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"As each generation does, our children will grow up to shape the world. They need plenty of creativity and enthusiasm for the task ahead. Nurturing them in loving relationships with plenty of freedom to play is wonderful preparation." - Laura Grace Weldon
"The CBE supports the goal of strengthening the curriculum to prepare students for the future. We trust that government will consider all the feedback gathered across the province and make the necessary changes prior to implementation in September 2022." - CBE, April 8/21
Children live in an odd juxtaposition of home and school, where one offers them the comfort and freedom of a loving, caring anchor in life, and the other the entry point where they begin to acquire skills and attitudes to prepare them for eventually leaving the proverbial nest.
As parents, we invest everything we are capable of offering to ensure our children feel safe yet capable, protected yet willing to take risks, loved yet confident.
As schools, we invest everything we are capable of offering to ensure our students develop competencies, strengths and approaches that will carry them successfully into adulthood with essential academic and life skills.
And our work with students is always guided by the provincial curricula which determines the lenses through which our students encounter the world academically and socially.
There are several ways to approach academic learning within schools - a classical education, for example, emphasizes the study of history, languages and literature through language rather than with images, and has a foundational commitment to the moral development of children, including the idea of immortality and a superior Being as foundational to understanding how the world exists. Classical education is often referred to as 'traditional education' too, and rests on the premise that the accumulated knowledge of a society can be handed down to the next generation in totality - the world has an ordered knowledge that can sequentially be taught to all children since the goal of education is to have all people understand the world in a particular way that will ground them in strong moral principles of living. Children are all taught in a similar way to reflect their common need to develop the same understandings of how the world functions.
Conventional education, on the other hand, does not have theological foundation and sets as it's purpose the socialization of children to promote the meeting of particular learning needs, understand the world from a more 'scientific' or 'exploration of facts perspective' and to conceive of education as a way for a child to develop their individual skills and aptitudes towards living a quality, educated life as an adult. The focus, therefore is more on the learner and how to best access their ability to learn rather than on a codified content of knowledge every child must learn to be successful. The goal of conventional education is to produce functional, skilled people who are able to create a successful, independent life for themselves and their families within a secular society of competing interests.
Within these two broad frameworks of learning exist numerous subsets that have evolved through many, many decades of 'schooling'. Through the twentieth century in particular, schools offered primarily teacher-centred, lecture-style instruction (a classical interpretation of teaching) that was, for the most part, effective for sharing information students could not easily access by themselves, and encouraging of students to take greater interest in the content and lessons presented. Those students who were able to make sense of new knowledge through listening were the most successful with this teaching approach, and there tended to be a high attrition rate in high school environments where students who found themselves struggling academically left school to pursue other, less academic avenues for building successful lives.
Throughout the last century, there evolved pockets of educational research and theorizing that acknowledged not all students were alike in terms of being able to learn, and a multi-faceted approach to instruction began to emerge that recognized all children could become learners if they were offered different opportunities to learn. As well, significant social changes through the 20th century presented numerous challenges for educators - families moved farther apart as the result of industrial growth, religious affiliations began to decline, women became more predominant in the work force and the social fabric that had held society together for many centuries - withstanding much social upheaval - ultimately began to realign the socialization of children away from home, church and community to secular, individualized, smaller spheres of influence.
These changes, influenced heavily by drastic technological advances that occurred through the latter half of the century, caused schools to re-think approaches to childhood socialization and learning.
Researchers studied how children learned, and affirmed the growing awareness that not all children learned best by listening in a lecture-style, teacher-focused environment - nor did this style encourage children to become independent thinkers. The era of teaching all children in the same way began to unravel as schools and educators looked for new teaching paradigms that recognized individual students' learning needs, changing social norms and exponential technological growth within the academic environment.
A new conception of 21st century learning has emerged from the immense changes that unfolded through the last century. While honouring the value of a classical education in many ways (for example, disciplines of study are a typically classical influence), 21st century learning approaches content, teaching, learning, building the classroom environment, assessment and even the use of technology in the classroom from a much different perspective: rather than viewing teaching only through the lens of a body of knowledge a teacher must present to a learner, teaching is structured to be more learner-focused, with the learner contributing to establishing their own learning goals within particular parameters while learning to apply new understandings to novel situation.
Over time, it has become clear that both approaches can be effective strategies for teaching children, depending on the ultimate goals of a society/school/family. There is also significant evidence that affirms most teachers recognize there are multiple ways to teach and that different approaches work best in specific learning situations. 21st century, learner-centered approaches to teaching and learning have been informing teaching practices in Alberta for at least the past twenty years, both formally within a couple of the Programs of Study, and informally as teachers have adapted their renewed understandings of content, student development and how children learn best based on their individual needs to flexibly support even the most traditional of curriculum documents.
Alberta's curriculum has made room, historically, for students to successfully analyze, evaluate and synthesize, as well as to apply new understandings and skills, in a wide variety of real life and classroom-based situations. Educators have clearly demonstrated that learner-centered approaches to teaching are truly able to enhance traditional, teacher-centred instruction as they offer students meaningful contexts to practice and master their emerging skills.
Whether a parent considers a classical education to be most appropriate for their child, or that a conventional approach that encourages individual growth would be ideal - or any other subset of these two primary academic perspectives to be the most relevant for their child - it is a component of what parents are being asked to respond to in the survey to the new draft curriculum: does this curriculum meet your expectations for your child's learning overall?
Consider: What is it that I believe curricula should offer my child as a learner?
This is the lens through which you will then consider the new draft curriculum - will it be able to provide the education for your child that you believe to be most valuable for their successful living?
Responding to the Draft Curriculum - Read the grade/subject areas here:
Draft Kindergarten - Grade 6 New Curriculum Draft
Once you have read this draft, you will be asked to:
- Describe what you believe are the strengths of the draft curriculum
- Describe what you believe are the opportunities for improvement in the draft curriculum
- Offer General Comments
As you read through these draft curricula pages, it is a good idea to use a chart (this is the one we included in the Connect Message today to families) to gather your thoughts and impressions. Each grade level in each subject area offers multiple Initial organizing ideas (think themes) students will be expected to study and know. Each organizing idea is followed by guiding questions and specific learner outcomes - or the learning goals for that particular theme. There are structured knowledge, understanding, skills and procedures columns for each organizing idea. Consider whether your child will be able to successful accomplish the objectives and tasks in each category next school year, based on your understanding of your child as a learner.
Once you have read through each draft subject/grade area pertinent to your child's next grade and jotted some of your impressions on the chart, consider the workload included across the multiple curricula. Minutes of instruction per week per subject area are mandated by Alberta Education, as indicated in this chart:
It is a worthwhile idea to consider workload at this point - will your child be able to accomplish all that is required in the assigned minutes in class, or will homework become a reality for them? This is important general feedback for the survey.
There are more specific suggestions for evaluating curriculum as a parent in the Monday Connect for today (April 12/21). We do encourage every parent to take an hour or so of your time and respond to this critically important draft - it holds your child's future success in the confines of the document and the opportunities for feedback will be critical in ensuring children's learning needs in the youngest years will be met successfully in the years to come.
Principal, Eric Harvie School
"Gosh, how I wish we would just get real and say: Ok look, let's not get back on the hamster wheel we were on in 2019. Let's focus on well-being, authentic learning, curiosity, equity. IMAGINE!"
- Julie Stern
Spring Break was just what we all needed - or, at least I did! A chance to catch my breath and relax just a little without worrying daily about the possibility of cases, transitions to online learning or anything else remotely pandemic related. While there was not the usual travel (which somehow now seems like such a distant memory!) nor daily outings with friends and family, there was at least warmth in the air, time to walk in the great outdoors and an escape from the daily routines that begin each morning with the alarm :)
And now we are back with only 3 short months remaining in this wildly unpredictable school year that will forever be framed by pandemic realities and restrictions. There has never been a school year like this in the last 100 years and I sincerely hope we have the fortitude as a society to prepare much better against any future catastrophes so there will never be another! As we look forward to the final three months of the 2020-21 school year, the promise of spring has presented itself with warmer weather, melting snow, sunshine and increasing numbers of vaccinations - even as the threat of variant COVID transmissions and rising caseloads darkens the horizon of 'getting back to normal'.
It appears we will be living with a spring full of both promise and peril.
So, how will we navigate the next three months with these competing influences floating large in the background?
With regard to the COVID risks, we will continue - with increased vigilance and reminders in these early days of spring - to follow all our pandemic protocols listed with the accompanying document in each of our weekly Connect Monday messages to families. So far, we have been most fortunate with limited exposure to the virus within our school. We think this is attributable to both the vigilance of our staff and students as well as our families - you have all been so careful to not send your children to school when then are not feeling well that even instances of the common cold or stomach flus that can ordinarily trouble a school during a school year have been virtually non-existent this year. We applaud your care and thank you for helping us continue to follow every possible precaution during these last months of the school year.
Since we are a school that believes in offering maximum opportunities for students to engage in learning through applying skills, strategies and critical thinking to as many real-life opportunities as possible, we have some significant prospects for student engagement that will keep them busy, focused on learning and active through these final months of this year.
First of all, we are very excited about COULEE SCHOOL! This is not a new adventure for us - we have been connected to the Coulee since we opened way back in the fall of 2017 as part of Tuscany School. Initially it was space constrictions with the two schools sharing tight quarters that led us to consider the Coulee as an excellent site for learning - that, in turn, guided us to a ton of research and possibilities connected to place-based learning and exploring ideas with children related to fitting into all the spaces in our community on a personal as well as public level. For children to fully appreciate place and how they exist within an environment, they need to appreciate who they are within their families, community, city, country and the world, as well as the histories, geographies and biologies of the places where they connect and live.
Coulee School offers so many different opportunities for students to engage in considering the impact of the land, the impact of humans on the land and the interconnectivity of living plants and animals within the environment that children never grow weary of learning and being in the outdoor classroom! For much of April we are focusing on a Coulee School 'blitz' - with several planned in-coulee learning experiences for every class as well as two days of virtual visits and stories with our Blackfoot Elder, Saa'kokoto. We will be sharing much of the students' learning on our Coulee School websites in the coming weeks - you can check out the growing body of documentation from each class/team through the home site at EHS Coulee School Website
Our 5-Year Celebration Murals Project with our Artist in Residence Rebecca Ellison from Radiant Art has, of course, been quite changed as a result of the pandemic. However, artists Rebecca Ellison, Lexi Hilderman and Kristin Boettger are collaborating to offer both virtual and video lessons for our Grade 4 students to complete the construction of the first Mural before the end of the school year - and we have great plans to have it installed before June 30th as well :). Here is the current draft of the Mural the children and the artists have designed together:
We are confident the Grade 4 students will be applying many of the skills, strategies and critical thinking as they work through the creative process, capturing their experiences at EHS over our first 5 years! The remaining Murals are planned to be completed in the fall, hopefully as an authentic Artists-in-Residence experience, involving students from all the other grades as well.
We are also working on developing a temporary Coulee School Information Board to be displayed near/in the Coulee for the final months of the school year - the product of the grant we received from the City of Calgary's 'Embrace the Great Outdoors' campaign. We will have this project finalized by the end of April and look forward to sharing our learnings from and about the Coulee with all of Tuscany soon!
A new project that has just emerged is a natural community art project currently in the planning stages that will also reflect our connections with the Coulee using tree-cookies as the foundation of the art design. We are still in the planning stages of this one, but it will involve all students in the school, be completed by the end of June and displayed on the chain link fence near the playground. Stay tuned for more information on this exciting new learning adventure!
Our Peace Books Video Challenge has launched as well, just before spring break. Spearheaded by our Peace Ambassadors, the video challenge invites students - individually or in teams - to prepare a virtual/digital representation of a favourite Peace book title in video form to share with the school on our EHS YouTube channel. This will be an ongoing project for the next several weeks and we look forward to celebrating students' digital representations of our Peace book collection!
There are numerous other learning opportunities that are planned to carry students successfully and enthusiastically through to the end of this school year - we are not daunted by the impediments of precautions nor worries about eruptions of COVID cases as we contemplate our role as champions of learning at the school. One does not preclude the other - learning that is engaging and meaningful must always be our central purpose and we will continue to foster optimum learning opportunities for every student despite these strange pandemic times!
It is in the learning, in the exploring nature of the curiosities of children, that we find the greatest promise of this 2021 Spring - we hope all our families enjoy the amazing adventures our learners are embarking on as our final three months begins - we look forward to meeting you all on the trails in Tuscany as the Coulee calls us to truly celebrate spring as nature intended. Outdoors in the sunshine!
"There is no such thing as learning loss.
When it comes to K-12 schooling, the truth is that some of us are more used to interruptions than others. Those of us who have to move around a lot, are living between two countries, or who have experienced a major injury, illness or are chronically ill, and even those who just changed schools once know what loss feels like.
But it is not a loss of learning.
It is loss of a previously imagined trajectory leading to a previously imagined future. Learning is never lost, though it may not always be “found” on pre-written tests of pre-specified knowledge or preexisting measures of pre-coronavirus notions of achievement."
- Rachel Gabriel, Author/Educator
As we have progressed through the pandemic with it's numerous economic closures, shifts to remote learning, quarantines and waves of transmission, I think all of us are feeling a little battered and worn - some of us a whole lot more so than others, depending on how frequently we have been personally impacted by any or all of these circumstances. And there is no doubt our children have experienced the pandemic through their own lenses with a wide variety of impacts and implications.
For the greater part of this 2020-21 school year, I have been considering the impact on children from the perspective of emotional wellness and how the school might best support and sustain students' well-being as we gather in-person every day under very unusual circumstances.
We have worked hard to stay focused on the core work we believe sustains students - using peace education, place-based learning and design thinking to continue to build our learners' academic tool kits so they will be able to successfully engage in real world learning and understanding. This has included our highly focused work on improving student writing that we took up this year as part of our school development plan.
We have engaged in a variety of personal well-being activities intended to promote a sense of familiarity, fun and collegiality when we cannot gather in our usual ways to celebrate and share learning. Things like Spirit Days, virtual Peace Assemblies, the virtual '12 Days of Christmas' concerts, the Peace Book Video Challenge just recently launched - these are all intentional strategies intended to foster a sense of safety and well-being in this tumultuous school year.
When I saw Rachel Gabriel's post called "What Learning Loss Really Means" it gave me pause to consider how we will continue to teach and learn past the pandemic. Although I have clearly stated many times I do not consider this to be a time of learning loss we will need to make up, but rather a time of learning differently we will need to leverage and build upon for and with each child to catch them where they are and scaffold their learning forward, I had not considered the many implications the idea of 'learning loss' might have for students in schools. Gabriel's post brought the idea of 'filling in learning loss gaps' much more clearly into focus.
"The legacy of the standards movement of the 1990s, and the high-stakes testing it inspired in the early 2000s, is a version of education that is assumed not to exist or matter unless or until it is predicted and measured. The pandemic has illustrated with searing definition how wrong that assumption is. We have all learned, every day, unconditionally...
Students are learning how to reset the rhythms and structures of their days. They are learning different patterns and modes of communication. They may be taking on different roles in their homes and learning how to complete new tasks, engage in new games and develop or sustain new and different activities.
Some are learning from the outdoor world on walks that go slower and last longer than before. Others are watching nature change day-by-day out their window, in their gardens, and along trails and bodies of water. Some are spending more time in their imaginations because it’s the only place to go, but this is not unimportant work.
Students cannot help but learn about themselves, others and the world around them in this time when solitude has steadily increased alongside disconnection and uncertainty. Even those who are too young to verbalize their understandings understand their world has changed, and are changing right along with it."
Wow! These words abruptly shifted my thinking away from 'how will we help children learn the skills and strategies they missed out on as a result of the impacts of the pandemic?" to 'how will we acknowledge and honour the learning children have experienced as a result of the impacts of the pandemic, and build new bridges with them to leverage these experiences in support of learning?'
The truth of the matter is that our trust foundations, whether we are young or old(er!), have been definitively rocked and knocked about. Nothing we counted on can be counted on anymore - our health, medical care, jobs, homes, school, travel, relationships, governance, community supports, how we gather, play and celebrate life - to be the same as it once so concretely was in our lives. Even those of us who have managed to persevere relatively unscathed with health, jobs, homes and relationships relatively intact have all experienced the insecurities of familiar routines, gatherings, experiences all evaporating inexplicably and unexpectedly. It is hard to lose what we trust - it is harder still to trust what replaces the familiar.
The truth also is that there have been gains. We do not see the world with the same eyes we filtered daily living through just one short year ago - yet we are finding ways to survive and even thrive. Gabriel captured some of this in her article as well:
"(Students) learned to take gym class on YouTube, that people you have never met can be your greatest teachers, that the ability to go outside and play during the day makes every day brighter, and that their safety depends on the decisions of others.
They learned that...learning does not require feet on the floor, hands on their desks, and eyes tracking the speaker. They learned what taking breaks does for them as learners, and what conversation and companionship means for them as individuals. Teachers learned too — that their already lean curriculum could be even leaner and more focused. That practice and application could and should look different at home, and that family members, friends and neighbors are a resource not only for supporting what happens in school, but for extending and elaborating on it in ways we cannot predict."
In other words, children learned to trust different structures than those we counted on to frame the concepts of 'school'. As adults, we are struggling to trust different structures as well - neighbours who help brighten our days in little ways, community drives to support families struggling with job, home or food insecurities, working from home, trying to make sense of what 'economic recovery' might really mean if it doesn't restore the world we once knew, grappling with the idea of recurring waves of variant transmissions and vaccine uncertainties and where in the world we find enough truth about anything to feel like we can trust our world again.
Learning to trust again is a by-product of any disaster and our world has been completely upended during this global disaster. Our children trust - generally speaking - more readily than we do as adults - they trust us to provide a safe world to live in. We are scrambling, trying, re-arranging and re-considering everything as we work to honour their trust even as we ourselves no longer recognize the best path. Gabriel captures this best when she notes:
"The truth is that we are all in the process of learning and unlearning; of being schooled and unschooled. Our imagined trajectories were disrupted, and this particular disruption with its layers of grief and edges of uncertainty cannot be overestimated in scope or impact. This is precisely the reason we must stop telling the Corona Kids that they fell behind and have to catch up. Anything other than acknowledging unconditional learning is a lie that sustains fear-fueled systems of inequity...sometimes you have to unlearn things in order to get them right.
Where this is the case, then the academic version of so-called “covid loss” should be considered humanity’s gain. Some of us unlearned taken-for-granted assumptions about our neighbors, ourselves and our history. Some of us unlearned our relative contempt for teachers when we saw how hard it was to teach our own children at home.
Now, it is time to unlearn our trust in companies that stimulate fear of low achievement to sell tests and remediation programs. It is time to relearn what learning really looks like."
In September 2020, we welcomed students back to EHS both in-person and as part of HUB online learning. We established as one of our school development goals to focus on helping students improve with their writing. Regardless of where students were with developing writing proficiency when schools switched to online learning in March of 2020, we knew every child would have experienced a 5-month gap in daily learning with a change in their approaches, skills and strategies associated with writing so we determined we would personalize their learning-to-write experiences as much as possible.
Although it seemed like an enormous task to take up last September, teachers have invested great efforts into approaching the teaching of writing with specific scaffolds, opportunities to practice and practice in gentle ways without overt assessments or demanding expectations, offering time and space for children to engage in learning as they felt ready and supported. Five months later, we assessed their progress and compared it to the progress of our students a year ago in January, 2020. We were amazed to see students progressing as we would have expected them to - sometimes with greater success - despite the disparities and perceived 'gaps' that were evident in September.
Children bring their best selves to school, full of all the experiences and perceptions that create their lived experiences. As teachers we need to meet them where they are, honour their worlds and offer, as gently as possible, the time/space/unique scaffolds/abundant opportunities for each child to proceed to the best of their own abilities. This has punched some holes in our long-honoured scope and sequence plans but it has also offered us the gift of teaching differently within the context of each learner rather than the lesson plans, the anticipated trajectories of student learning we have become so familiar with and the expectations we all bring to the table of 'school'.
I am coming to see that even more than an economic recovery from the pandemic, we are all in need of soul recovery - a way to accept what is, navigate new paths and not apply pre-pandemic blanket thinking to children whose lived experiences are considerably different than what we had experienced pre-pandemic. Soul recovery means we need to find the grace for each child to be valued as they are, the time, space and opportunity to try learning out in a variety of ways until they feel comfortable with moving forward. We are not removing targets, expectations or curricular goals. We are simply finding comfortable ways to navigate a new reality.
There are no gaps to fill - just an awareness finding our ways to success might mean building new bridges and learning maps for each child. And that is, in my opinion, an amazing opportunity to learn from and with our students.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"Acknowledge the stories of the past to inform decisions that will shape the future.
Take ownership and become stewards of the land.
Exercise their rights and responsibilities as global citizens.
Listen, hear and internalize stories of others.
Be empowered to become citizens committed to making a difference.
Recognize that they are an important part of a bigger story.
Impact, change and make a difference in the world. "
- Eric Harvie Teachers, 2020
'Coulee School' is the name we have given to all the multi-disciplinary work our students do through the learning lens of studying Twelve Mile Coulee, located right here in our community of Tuscany. We deliberately selected this name for several reasons - it's simplicity of meaning (a place of learning), the Indigenous history that is entwined in the Coulee, the implication of school as a place we return to often for learning, the presence of 'wild' - as in wildlife, native plants growing wild, the wild yet predictable passage of seasons in the Coulee, the juxtaposition of learning in place with the presence of a place of wide open wild existence. 'Coulee School' embraces our goals to connect this place where we live with every segment of our existence as we learn about our place, our existence within the history and future of our place, uncover, recover and discover stories of our place, recognize we have a role to play in assuring this place continues vibrant and dynamic under our stewardship.
These are huge life lessons for young children.
They are completely capable of learning every lesson from their hearts.
They are completely capable of learning every lesson through the lens of the Coulee and all the life that teems there, resides there, promises to continue there.
"One of the least noticed harms of the standards-and-testing movement is that the focus on individual subjects (ELA, Math, History) discourages interdisciplinary teaching, which begins with broad questions and problems so students can draw from whichever disciplines are relevant." - Alfie Kohn (Educator/Author/Researcher)
Life does not happen in compartmentalized areas of content, and learning does not either. We do not read only to know stories; reading takes us into multiple areas of information, research, history, geography, philosophy.
We do not apply mathematical thinking only in mathematical contexts - we measure, estimate, design, calculate, formulate, project possibilities about everything from the weather to building structures to sending Rovers to Mars.
We do not use maps only to find our way to new places - we also build maps of possible pathways, uncover old sites and map historical walks, revision maps to embrace future possibilities, use maps to explain events, possibilities, places for finding new resources or regenerating old growth areas.
And in the Coulee we find enormous, virtually endless possibilities for applying multidisciplinary thinking in a natural environment where stories both call to be remembered and offer possibilities for future living.
We come to understand ourselves as part of a whole; a small, meaningful component of a tremendous, interconnected web of living and non-living relationships in the Coulee. As we make sense of small components of knowledge within a whole, we cannot lose sight of other connections and relationships for they are all around us. When we encounter problems elsewhere in our lives, it is awareness of these connections and relationships within the Coulee that offer us possibilities for envisioning different pathways forward as we creatively and critically assess, extrapolate, ponder, innovate and pose possibilities for change. We know the connections exist. When we problem solve, we also know we need to follow the patterns and connections and then re-vision them in new ways.
The Coulee is a place for connecting, for questioning, for applying. We consider and document what our senses are telling us. We listen to, and uncover, stories. We notice, ponder, reflect, question, offer theories, reframe theories, apply and assess new ideas. There is no division of subjects to be studied in the Coulee. Biology intertwines with chemistry intertwines with physics and connects fully all at the same time with history, geography, math, art, music. Language exists everywhere as we identify, describe, question, theorize, strategize, design, test, re-design, share stories and possibilities.
Teaching our children that the world is compartmentalized into specific subject areas diminishes their capacities to make sense of the intricacies of the world and their place in it. Encouraging them to use their senses, observe and apply those observations, question and predict, infer and synthesize information offers them new lenses for seeing the world with clarity and authenticity as it exists rather than trying to pull pieces together at a later time and out of context. Learning in a holistic way affords children opportunities to see the world as interconnected relationships using a wide variety of learning skills and strategies to make sense of their role as part of a complex set of interrelationships.
Environment. Living and non-living. Wildlife. Indigenous plants. Historical stories. Geographical features and geological records. Ecosystems. Designs. Patterns. Interrelationships. Measurement. Dimension. Connections and relationships.
Children are always learning. Disciplinary boundaries require a blending of understanding at some point - for our young learners, exploring the Coulee through multiple lenses of learning offers endless opportunities for students to make sense of the whole world rather than needing to piece the world together later.
The Coulee offers a rich and varied learning landscape where children thrive and move in fresh air with multiple opportunities to make sense of a complex and vastly interesting world. We call it 'Coulee School' because Twelve Mile Coulee offers endless learning opportunities regardless of subject area.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"Through this disruption, there has been a recognition that schools play a vital role beyond learning. Their custodial and community roles are central to a healthy society. As we grapple with the issues of reopening schools in this uncertain time, we must seize the opportunity to reflect on what has been learned, and what matters most..."
"Over the last decade, student engagement has plummeted. Almost one in every five students does not reach a basic minimum level of skills to function in today’s society (OECD) Moreover, many school systems have not maintained pace with technological advances; schools have not provided widespread access to digital tools. When the pandemic hit, 1 in 5 students did not have access to the internet or a device to support them in lockdown. This disruption revealed systems that already struggled to support all learners...."
"Aside from the widespread technological deficits that hampered learning for all, this period also revealed that digital alone could not replace the social and pedagogical impact of teachers. Parents recognized that the craft of teaching is not as simple as it appears. Teachers also play a vital role as relationship builders and connectors. In response, teachers embraced technology to reach out to students and families..."
"To put it plainly: it’s time to situate education as an instrument of individual and societal good."
- Michael Fullan & Joanne Quinn New Pedagogies for Deep Learning
As we look forward to the remaining four months of this school year, continuing with cohorts, multiple layers of precautionary actions and limited opportunities for collaborative, innovative and creative learning in-person, teachers are considering strategies that will begin to bring students together intentionally, without disrupting precautionary measures, to re-establish the idea of 'shared learning experiences' as fundamental sources of learning, while also fostering opportunities for learner-to-learner support.
Strategies for cooperating with each other, demonstrating curiosity as well as questions and suggestions, listening and attempting to pull new ideas together while advancing opportunities for learners to provide feedback for each other are significantly important elements of the collaborative learning process. These are not easily learned processes or strategies - they require repeated opportunities for students to engage in learning alongside their peers in different environments, working through various questions or problems, using critical thinking skills like questioning, clarifying, organizing, inferencing and problem solving together. What one can accomplish on one's own may be enormously amplified and improved in the company of innovation and curiosity of others. Learning is advanced and enhanced in collaborative settings.
As teachers, we are considering virtual, distanced, innovative ideas for designing and developing shared learning experiences that will enhance and provoke thinking without infringing on the precautionary actions we have set in place to help promote a healthy place to learn. This week we launched our new 'EHS Coulee School' website where we will be able to document and link all our activities across the school related to student learning in our Twelve Mile Coulee. With multiple entry points available for students, Coulee School can ensure they are outside studying, comparing, contrasting, questioning, researching, sharing stories. Or they might be virtually working together from different sites to gather information, make recommendations, find ways to connect each other's understandings in an interesting and innovative way. Students might be working independently for a short period of time, then move back into a virtual group to test new hypotheses and ideas. Coulee School has been part of our learning since we opened five years ago; now we have a way to track and build on those experiences while also looking forward to being 'out of the pandemic' and into a period of high collaboration both inside and outside the building.
We are also exploring ideas to generate greater well-being and social/emotional wellness within our student population. Given that wellness tends to improve through contact and sharing of experiences and ideas with each other, there are currently barriers to this work as well. Together, teachers generated many ideas and suggestions over the past couple of weeks - and now we need to begin threading some of these together to weave a tight wall of support and help for our learners.
We know our young learners need to be/love to be active! Learning is stimulated by activity - what one can learn from sitting is increased enormously when one is active. And our children need to be - deserve to be - as active as possible.
Contemplating the next four months, we are planning to find ways to foster greater opportunities for collaboration, both in-person through being outside and in the Coulee and virtually. We expect to enhance social/emotional wellness through shared wellness experiences - like whole school projects, scavenger hunts, music, active learning or building literature knowledge. We also are seeking ways to keep our young learners as active as possible - learning to slow down is an act, not a never-ending story.
Once we have successfully developed a plan and begun to navigate the shores of a waning pandemic, it will be time to look beyond the next four months to the 2021-22 school year and begin to envision strategies to engage, support and provoke creative and critical thinking and learning with all our students, whether they stayed with us through in-person learning, moved to the Hub, or chose to home school directly. Multiple entry points will become an even stronger element of our classrooms than we could have every imagined!
I suspect it may be a bit of a bumpy ride, these next 4 months, and that we are going to all come out the other side with a much greater appreciation for our learners as individuals, as critical and creative thinkers and as citizens of the world.
The pandemic may have interrupted our 'flow' but it did not stop us!
And we will persevere and see this thing through till it begins to fade away - as we begin to emerge from the shadow of the pandemic this school year, and contemplate shifting the tectonic plates of teaching and learning with school re-entry next fall.
So many things to think about! So much excitement - wrapped up tightly inside precaution - but worth the thinking!!
"We believe that the voices of students, educators and families should be front and centre in decisions about how to remake school after this moment." - 100 Days of Conversations Project, Human Restoration Project/REENVISIONED
"Being Indigenous is firmly grounded in the land that you are born into, as well as the traditional language and knowledge that goes along with that land...A day out on the land can teach you that food is medicine; it can help to pass on the traditions of your people; it can strengthen your sense of identity; it can promote belonging through sharing with family and community; and it can build character skills like patience, determination, confidence, resiliency and focus. All of these things are grounded in traditional knowledge and are extremely important to the well-being of our people: physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally." - Karl Moore & Wahiakatste Diome-Deer
Although still firmly in the clutches of pandemic constraint, there are numerous impacts of our year-long (so far!) imposed restrictions that are surfacing and beginning to demand the attention of educators, parents and students - even as we all glance longingly forward to a fall that does not demand the same level of hibernation currently required for safety.
These visible effects will necessarily nudge educators into different actions in our very near future and will significantly influence student learning - most likely for the foreseeable future. Although we think 'back to normal' almost immediately when we consider the beginning of school year 2021-22, the reality will be much different whether we acknowledge it immediately and plan differently to meet the changes with forethought and imagination, or we simply wait and respond as things begin to happen on our school landscapes.
It is up to educators - and our parent partners as well as our students - to decide whether we shape our responses intentionally as we orchestrate a gradual release from pandemic controls and risk-mitigations, or we wait to react whenever a new impact emerges unexpectedly amongst our learners. It may look like a clear, linear journey towards opening with some sort of normalcy - all we have to do is stay the course at present and sustain precautions, wait for vaccines to be administered and then we will all return to what 'school used to be like' in September.
There are already so many curves emerging on that 'straight line to September' - and we have not met all our challenges yet - with an extended, elusive vaccination period in front of us all, the absence (at present) of vaccinations for children, the continuously evolving restrictions and relaxations across our country and around the world, the tremendous demands on teachers and school staff to adapt their teaching and learning approaches - while both learning and teaching new digital skills simultaneously, the demands on our children to adapt to blended learning environments, as well as the demands on parents to fill in the learning blanks that are becoming increasingly more visible in students, it is becoming abundantly clear we are going to have to navigate carefully to travel straight down this twisting path as we struggle to write new stories of learning in what will be yet another massive shift in our reality.
What will those stories be and where will they take us as we navigate a new world of teaching and learning?
We do know that social and emotional well-being of children will require primary attention. Already we are seeing social interactions become less harmonized as students continue confined to specific spaces and groups with reduced opportunities for interacting with friends both at school and at home.
Anxieties in children are increasing as the pandemic restrictions continue to extend into their forseeable futures - some are no longer able to easily recall what freedom to come and go to play dates, shopping and activities was even like, the pandemic has taken up such a huge piece of their life. If a child is 6 years old, approximately 20% of their whole life has been spent living within in pandemic restrictions - and that percentage is their most recent experience.
Additionally, children are beginning to express a sense of loss for their previous activities and freedoms, wondering if they will ever be able to freely play with friends again or visit grandparents whenever they want, go to Disney World again. As the pandemic restrictions continue unabated, the distance in time from when these experiences were part of their real world become more remote in their memories and they mourn their losses more visibly.
Academically there are myriad challenges awaiting as we move to open and run schools in any way resembling as we did before.
Schools are organized to develop independent learning, organizational skills, critical thinking and problem solving gradually through opportunities that are spiralling in nature and encourage learners to practice their skills naturally as part of their overall learning experiences until they achieve mastery and move on to further develop new skills. This is accomplished in an environment that fosters social and interpersonal development and communication skills, while also fostering the growth of citizenship qualities, personal characteristics and understandings of social justice, empathy and care for other humans. Gradually we release the responsibility for increasingly challenging aspects of all these skills and qualities to students themselves as they progress through a wide variety of learning situations.
As students drift away from this structure through periods of isolation, online learning, home schooling and quarantine, their development in these areas also begin to diminish as they respond to competing influences where they are using a whole new set of life skills.
These skills might include helping out at home with chores or siblings, adapting to much different routines and expectations that may fluctuate in reliability and persistence compared to their school experiences, finding themselves with greater periods of free time to fill quite differently than before, accessing technology more frequently as an essential part of existence rather than for entertainment or creative expression.
Nothing is quite the same or as predictable as before; building essential foundation skills like independence, organization, critical thinking and problem solving has less reliability and predictability for every child as shared experiences diminish and limit opportunities to practice and encounter new or creative thinking.
The academic challenges resulting from a patchwork of learning experiences that lack the consistency previously available to every learner will eventually erode the skills online learners require to continue progressing successfully as students who are obliged to be self-motivated, organized problem solvers as they miss out on some, many or even all of the repetitions and gradual expansions of skill opportunities that students typically spiral through in the course of a usual school year.
Academic opportunities to gradually develop multiple learning skills and strategies.
Social interactions that foster multiple chances to build communication skills and understanding, as well as empathy, care and appreciation for social justice.
Emotional supports to assist learners with processing new demands on them as they gradually expand their circles of contact and interaction, work to restore their broader social contacts fairly and with kindness and develop greater communication skills and strategies.
These are, at the very least, some of school-based elements that will demand our attention as we continue to progress through these times of constraint and make our way to living out school in a more open, accepting and engaging way - hopefully by the beginning of the next school year.
We have work to do for sure.
Educators, parents and students will need to work in tandem with each other, starting now, anticipating the challenges and begin to write new emerging-from-a-pandemic stories as we seek and find ways to travel a path full of twists and turns as we try to see a clear path to a renewed, revisioned and revitalized school year.
This is our children's future we will be writing with them. Once these days of restraint have passed, we will need to turn our undivided attention to reestablishing their confidence and capabilities through re-envisioned quality learning experiences.
It will be, I am certain, well worth the attention, effort and grit to create successful learning paths with children and assure their abilities to stride confidently into an uncharted future.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"The closure of schools is, of course, damaging to children's education. But schools are not just a place for learning. They are places where kids socialize, develop emotionally and, for some, a refuge from troubled family life..."When we close schools we close their lives."
"...the pandemic has caused a range of harms to children across the board from being isolated and lonely to suffering from sleep problems and reduced physical activity..."- Prof. Russell Viner, Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health, reported by Nick Triggle, BBC News, o1/28/21
The idea of 'cabin fever' is a familiar one to Canadians who are sometimes confined to home temporarily through periods of extreme winter weather, resulting in occasional restlessness and boredom. Typically, these confinements are short term, ending when warmer weather returns. We don't necessarily enjoy them but we've learned from experience to wait them out with relative patience!
These days, our restrictions are of a much longer nature, not dependent on anything as 'reliable' as the weather might be. 'Cabin fever' has taken on a whole new nuance of meaning, accompanied by additional words we have added to our everyday lexicon - like 'quarantine', 'isolation' and 'physical distancing'. And we are all living through the realities of confinement, coming to terms with the fact that these restrictions - essential to keep as many of us safe from COVID-19 infections as possible - are going to continue considerably longer into the future than we had all hoped.
I have been reflecting on the cracks in resiliency that are beginning to surface for many students who are finding the incessant, almost year-long restrictions we have all been learning to live with just a bit much to endure every day. Through the past couple of blog entries, I've been exploring what may lie behind some of the visible demonstrations of 'things are not quite right for me' we have been noticing with some of our children - specifically, students who are resistant or reluctant to participate in learning activities, as well as children who are identifying themselves as 'bored' in school or are displaying disinterest in learning new knowledge, skills or understandings. Identifying strategies for supporting these learners and encouraging them to continue to engage in learning were explored as well, with full acknowledgement and appreciation that every child responds differently to a stressful situation and there are no easy solutions waiting to be implemented in all schools.
For this blog entry, I am going to explore what might be going on with students who are struggling with social interactions, or who are anxious about all the changes that have resulted in reduced contact with others both in and out of school, as well as children who are becoming more visible or vocal with feelings of loss and abandonment as a result of the pandemic shutdown virtually world wide. What I anticipate will be the final blog in this series related to the question of "How are the Children Doing?" through this extended closure will be published in two weeks' time and will explore the academic challenges that are beginning to litter the road ahead.
'These are not typical behaviours for this child...'
I know we are a bit of a unique school - only in our fifth year of operation with an amazing, dedicated staff who have poured boundless energies into ensuring we opened and sustained a school focused on active learning experiences, Peace Education, inclusive learning environments and place-based learning - and with families who fully support engaging learners as completely as possible in a non-traditional school setting. To say our students are active learners would truly be an understatement - at least right up until March, 2020 when the brakes were applied so completely it left most of us gobsmacked and reeling in the ensuing milieu of restrictions, closures, rules and recommendations.
It is our school's approach to consistently weave a tight net of supports - behavioural, social, emotional, academic - for all our children. For those students who express their inside turmoil through unanticipated behaviours, we typically wrap them even more closely in supports, strategies and opportunities to make sense of their feelings, intending to foster greater interpersonal successes going forward in life. Behaviour is not a negative event overall, but rather a call for the adults in the building to be attentive and help a child problem solve effectively. Support with identifying feelings and their roots, developing appropriate strategies for managing impulsive outbursts or anger as well as direct teaching of strategies that support children with identifying emotions and reading social situations appropriately - these are some of the opportunities that exist for students who are exhibiting challenging behaviours as a way of expressing emotional, social or physical discomforts. So, overall, as a general rule we deal with very few incidents of inappropriate behaviour in any school year, and most of the incidents we do encounter are relatively minor in nature.
This is slowly shifting as the pandemic endures. Over the past few weeks, we have had numerous minor incidents of inappropriate behaviour popping up in classrooms and outside during body breaks or lunch times - most often these incidents are occurring for students who have no previous negative encounters in school of any nature. As we unpack these incidents with students, there is strong anecdotal evidence children are becoming increasingly frustrated by their restricted movements and circumstances. And some reach a point where they are no longer able to quash that emotion successfully and it 'leaks out' in negative behaviours.
Cabin fever has definitely set in...not weather caused but rather a reaction to COVID-19 restrictions.
Recognizing that the close cohorting of classes has resulted in 5 months of being always with the same people - for class, for lunch, for outdoor body breaks, for Phys. Ed., for Music, for lunchtime playtime - and that, sometimes, everyone would like an opportunity to see other people, play with someone they used to know, play a new game no one in the cohort ever dreamed of before. Especially at a school like ours where we have actively encouraged children to mix and mingle all day long, indoors and outside - in the Learning Commons, during Wonder Times, in the Hub, in the Maker Space.
"School has become almost unrecognizable." (Scott Muri)
There are strategies to help students cope with these feelings of irritability, confinement, restlessness, frustration, even boredom over spending so much time with the same people. All. The. Time. Some of these strategies are already taught almost daily within the context of Peace Education approaches woven directly into our learning environment.
- be kind to others at all times
- if someone seems sad, offer to play
- differences reflect the beauty of people and are to be celebrated
- every day is a new day
- everyone has a bad day now and then
- we are here to support each other in every way; there is no room for sabotage
- do your best as much as possible
- use helpful and kind words
- be mindful (focus, listen, think carefully)
- creativity is the best!
- use design thinking strategies whenever possible to solve problems
- the best way to begin to solve a problem is to listen to each other
- everyone has feelings
And there are many more Peace Education approaches that have become part of the absolute social and cultural fabric of our school.
Additionally, we offer students who are struggling with understanding theirs or others behaviours opportunities to work in small teams (appropriately distanced, masked and sanitized) to solve a problem creatively and with their words and actions, supported by the "Zones of Regulation" program. We are weaving a few tried and true support strategies back into our days, under careful monitoring, to provide a stronger web of support for anxious students - such as staggered entry engaging learning tasks, Discovery Centres, reading support, support for Fine Motor development, Peace Ambassadors. While this a fraction of the programming we usually offer, it illuminates our best efforts to support students struggling with all the nuances of pandemic teaching and learning.
We hold students accountable for their behaviours - gently. We know mistakes get made, frustrations rise, tempers flare. We know children rely most heavily on facial cues to interpret body language - and these are now blocked from view most of the time. School Counselor and author, Phyllis Fagell, describes what teachers and students are up against in a socially distanced, mask-wearing environment:
Recognize that social distancing can also heighten sensitivity.
"One of the reasons why this is hard for everyone...is that before, we were getting all this positive energy from daily interactions and reaffirming relationships... it's harder to accurately interpret someone's tone through a mask.
We need facial expressions to decipher emotions in ordinary times, let alone in the middle of a pandemic.
"Our nervous systems get activated when we feel threatened, and we can't access our prefrontal capacity as well,"
explains psychologist Tina Bryson, coauthor of The Whole-Brain Child (Bantam, 2012).
Before react(ing) with a strong emotion, take a deep breath and consider whether you're likely to elicit the desired outcome.
Lashing out in anger or placing blame tends to be divisive and counterproductive.
As the pandemic has illustrated, we're stronger when we work together...we all can show a little grace and resist the inclination to be swept up in....experiencing angst and frustration.
When I think about extending grace, the following things come to mind...
- We must seek to understand and ask questions before reaching conclusions
- We must assume positive intention and...that people are trying to make things work and giving it their best
- We must use language and messages...to communicate in ways that are clear and kind
- We must be deliberate about not placing (stress or angst) on others with frustration and short-tempered reactions
We can help children read other body language besides facial cues, listen for verbal tones and assume the best of everyone. We can help children lead with laughter and kindness rather than retaliation and anger. We can nurture the belief in students that everyone they come in contact holds a deep desire to be fair, honest and trustworthy. These are very good places to begin re-framing inappropriate behaviours. Children will understand the need to red-build trust.
It is clear there is no one strategy for bringing all our learners together and ensuring they are successfully adapting to the layers of change the pandemic has shaped in our school.
As teachers, we are constantly learning and adapting all the time too, trying to make sense of this new reality that has been so unexpectedly thrust upon all of us. We are all in this together in so many ways, and adapting to how we might best support learners who are displaying unanticipated emotions through this pandemic year is just one of the ways we are all coming together to make sense of 'school' in this new era.
'Anxiety lives inside us all...'
Without a doubt, we hear many more children express worry and anxiety on a daily basis - from the smallest concern over a lost pencil no one is allowed to touch, to the greatest concerns such as "Am I safe?" For children during the elementary school years, there are some common stressors that activate worry responses in virtually every child at some level or another. For example, Fagell mentions:
- performing in front of peers or parents (a speech, play, sports game)
- academic performance on a test or project
- health or hygiene issues such as bedwetting
- being chosen last for a team or project group
- getting along with friends/peers
- real world dangers such as fires/burglars/illness/storms
- disappointing parents or teachers
Michelle Borba reminds us "kids younger than ten are especially vulnerable to repeated stress." If we know a child has a particular stress point, we can work to alleviate any triggers that might nudge the child past worry into extreme fear.
There are a few other strategies that might be helpful in particular circumstances offered to teachers in a school by Phyllis Fagell:
- reframe personal narratives - mindsets help us understand life is a series of experiences, both good and not-so-good; and without valleys, we cannot have mountains
- prune and preserve relationships - in times of stress, everyone has fewer reserves to draw upon emotionally
- uncertainty feeds anxiety, fear and anger - emotions that hinder the ability to read social cues and adopt someone else's perspective
- build community and foster collegiality across the whole school
- name emotions and be specific; discourage and re-frame negative self-talk in children; offer a new mindset or reframe
These are global strategies we have established as part of our everyday teaching and learning, for the most part. As children exhibit worries and anxieties with teachers, these strategies are offered and reinforced on an 'as needed' basis. Additionally, Fagell notes "It's easy to feel powerless in the face of a pandemic so focus on what you can do to improve your situation." For our students, redirecting fears about the virus towards the actions we are already taking to keep us safe is one of the key reassurances children understand when they get worried over something they have heard - they know these strategies because they have lived them every day since school opened in September. They are comforting and comfortable assurances they have at least some agency over an unseen, unknown threat called a 'virus'. And reassurance that is tangible and visible for children can go a long way towards reducing fears and anxieties.
"I miss.....so much"
Last spring, when schools first moved to online learning, children were living through a period of adjustment at both home and school that was simply enormous - school as they knew it simply stopped existing; they were not even able to visit the school to play on the playground. Home became their whole focus and home was familiar. Parents were home, children were home, school moved home. That made sense in a world turned upside down. While there were many expressions of loss, in that long-ago time they were short-term in context. "I won't get to see my Grandma until summer." "When the sickness goes away we can go to the playground again." "My brother and me will go back to the pool and swim in six weeks." There was a sense of finite in the children's framing of loss.
Over ten months later, that has changed significantly.
The adjustment period has faded into distant memory - even the re-adjustment back to in-school learning and acquiring all the precautionary skills that are part of the everyday school experience has faded for children now. They accept school as it is - even when they are frustrated with the restrictions, or upset over not seeing other friends, or weary of sitting by the same person all the time, they do not express this as a temporary event. School is just what it is - school. And, accepting the adjustments as permanent in their minds has now offered the opportunity to glance backwards and find memories.
As more and more children begin to verbalize their losses, they increasingly frame them as a memory. Remember when we used to go swimming as part of school? Remember when we had birthday parties and kids came to your house and ate cake? Remember when we went to the big library downtown with the little reading house? Remember when I used to play hockey? Remember when my Grandma came to volunteer at the school?
These are just a sample of the loss statements children have offered unprompted over the past month - December has faded and they are still cohorted and restricted. The memories are sifting to the surface and, after all this time, prompting feelings of loss.
Psychologist and author, Catherine Steiner-Adair, describes four types of grief: ambiguous, acute, anticipatory and moral outrage grief, noting "and nearly everyone is experiencing two or three of them right now."
Ambiguous grief is "free-floating—the loss of summer, the pervasive sense that we've lost so much." The opposite of ambiguous grief is acute grief - this includes a significant loss, such as moving to a new home or community, or a parent losing a job. Anticipatory grief is expressed through 'what if' phrases such as "What will school be like online? Who will I play with tomorrow? What if Mom has to go back to work and can't help me with my work anymore? What if I can't do what my teacher wants me to do?" And then there is also moral outrage grief, which is a deep sadness over what has happened - and is continuing to happen to the world. For example, when a child says they have had a birthday over the weekend and in response to the question "How did you celebrate?" hesitates and says, 'Well, it was just our family you know till the virus goes away."
Teachers cannot make grief or a sense of loss disappear, of course. We can, however, name the grief to help our students tame the feelings. We can be good listeners, encourage discussion, give form to the sense of loss through art or music or movement, acknowledge feelings and validate them as real, make lists of things we miss and what we will do 'when the sickness goes away'. "Being hopeful has a therapeutic value...being able to be hopeful about the future is useful for (humans). And it provides some protective psychological armour." (David Blustein, Psychologist). As teachers, hope is an ever present tool in our collection of resources and we know the power hope has in sustaining both children and adults during times of grief and loss.
I have traced the evolution of 'cabin fever' in the school through the last three weeks' of blog entries, attempting to surface, acknowledge and offer strategies and ideas to help all of us continue to successfully navigate a long period of constraint and restriction through the experiences and perceptions of our children in school.
We see, hear, anticipate, support children as they exhibit the responses that come most naturally to them in the face of cataclysmic change - whether it is resistance to learning, boredom with the sameness of the learning environment, unexpected negative behaviours on display in the school setting, visible anxieties or expressions of loss and grief, the children are telling us in no uncertain terms they are being impacted by living in a time of constant limitation and control. We have strategies, we are sharing ideas, we are listening - always listening - to the children to support them in making sense of a world that has somehow lost all the anchors and predictability and fun it once contained.
I wish I could end this blog with a reassurance this will all soon fade and we will pick up the threads of our previous school lives and move forward with the knowledge we will restore what used to be typical to learning experiences. However, I simply don't see how that can happen - too much time has passed, the world has changed so much and the students have not and are not living out expected experiences of learning. There are so many stories of learning on the landscape of education just now - and the similarities are overshadowed by the differences in learning experiences. For a system predicated on predictability, benchmarks, tools of assessment, scales of learning abilities this year - and more - of uncertainty has done more than simply throw our children for a loop. It has, I believe, initiated a sea change that will have great ripples of impact far into the future.
Will we mark the experience of public education with 'before the pandemic' and 'after the pandemic' notations in history? That is something to ponder and explore for sure - and will be essential even as we guide and nurture and fumble our way through this accurately described (although very overused!) 'unprecedented pandemic'.
And we remain all in this together :)
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School