"...to establish and sustain a learning environment that fosters creativity and innovation in a peaceful community of connected, independent thinkers, problem solvers and learners."
- Eric Harvie School Vision Statement 2016-2022
'...navigating what will come to be known as this inter-pandemic space—a time between what our traditional notions of schooling once were and what they have the potential to become." - Allison Rodman, 2022 ASCD
Since we are a Kindergarten through Grade 4 school, over half our school population has never experienced what we would typically consider a full 'school year' experience. Children currently in Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2 have never participated in a spring concert, a year-end celebration of learning at the school with their families present, seen our Magician (Steve Harmer) perform in person, participated in a year-end sports day, been part of a parent-attended Peace Assembly. Even our current Grade 3 students would have experienced these things through the lens of a Kindergarten student with modified participation due to the half-time nature of the program itself. And for our Grade 4 students, participating in all these new experiences only once as Grade 1 learners may seem very much like distant memories.
This is without considering how learning itself has also looked and sounded vastly different over the past 2 years and 2 months than it ever did before.
Should we consider this a loss for our students currently enrolled in our K - 4 school?
Well, it is a loss of what used to be for sure - yet, perhaps not a loss of what is now 0r might be in the future.
Children don't actually have a sense of loss for such experiences as spring concerts and sports days, anymore than they have a sense of loss for field trips or guest speakers or reading clubs in the library they have yet to experience either.
The children and babies I've encountered over the years have a lot to teach us about living each day for the experience and the joys of living in that experience - they do not mourn what they do not know they have lost.
While adults seek to restore some sense of normalcy - or what we remember as normal - the children come to school every day excited to do whatever the day offers to the best of their abilities. They learn, they laugh, they attempt new things, sometimes they get frustrated - or even angry, sometimes they are sad but they are always actively doing something with their brains and bodies active. They are not living regretfully, lamenting lost experiences.
Even when we were enveloped in online learning, the children still were children. Some of them found ways to talk all the time regardless of mute buttons and turned off cameras. Stories continued to be told. They emailed written work and read books digitally, sent photographs and videos of themselves learning. They built relationships with their teachers and peers - differently, for sure - yet they were nonetheless relationships. They still trusted and cared, helped one another and smiled, grateful to see each other without masks without even making note of the difference.
When we look back on these past 2+ years, I have a hunch we are going to notice children who consider school, life and each other a bit differently than what we adults recall.
I believe we will see overall greater resiliency - our youngest learners have grown up needing to adapt quickly to new circumstances - learning at home with parents physically present and their peers absent, going back to school with masks, constraints and lots of adult control for 2020-21, and then returning to school again, in the fall of 2021-22, to an unpredictable school year where masks, constraints and vaccinations were defined and monitored initially. Quickly these constraints gave way to a less-structured approach accompanied by much higher levels of illness for both children and adults, significant school absences, a huge focus on assessment for learning gaps and, finally, the presence of new curriculum waiting to make their next school year yet another one of uncertainty and much-needed adaptability.
And still the children persevere - with smiles!
They put forth effort, seek discoveries, ask questions, wonder aloud at all things unfamiliar. Their spirits are resilient and they do not see themselves as enduring learning losses in any way. They are learners, they are learning at their own pace. They are quicker to notice emotional responses in each other and in adults, and they are more willing to help if they are able.
They also squabble more than they used to, often with the peers they know best. Their patience for each other is less obvious; they are wearying of the specific company of some of their peers. Familiarity, on occasion, will sometimes breed contempt...
Are they reading, writing, counting, printing, etc at grade level? There is a ton of data to sift through and we are trying to make sense of it all. Truthfully, the non-strugglers will forever be the non-strugglers. Other learners will find some tasks to be challenging and other tasks much easier.
All the children will, however, find a way to persevere and try again, to adapt and adjust and find a way to grow, learn and succeed. This is the trajectory of learning, teaching, human existence. Children living through this inter-pandemic space will find ways to thrive, to survive, to adapt and grow. Their ways will not necessarily echo the 'before pandemic' times, yet will define the characters and qualities of this generation.
If we look forward with infinite mindsets, there is a clarity required that is essential for sustaining quality teaching and learning into the future. It is clarity that acknowledges adaptability, resiliency, the capacities to accept a situation as it is temporarily and still make the most of it.
These are qualities humans have exhibited for centuries when confronted with wars, famines, drought, disease, pestilence, poor governance. The human qualities necessary to thrive despite life's challenges have been blanketed by a few decades of prosperity and gentler living requirements - at least in western countries. As learners, as parents, as teachers we became accustomed to every option being readily accessible for as many learners - as well as ourselves - as possible.
And then it seemed like everything stopped, walloped by COVID-19. Everything we wanted was no longer easily accessible - especially to schools and learning as we understood them to be.
We mourned the loss of predictable patterns to the school year, of ritual and sharing and growth, yet the children really did not. They got up and adjusted to a different reality and acquired resiliency and adaptability as a result. It was not a perfect process - not for anyone - for sure. Nonetheless, we have children in schools now who are thriving despite the loss of field trips, football teams spring concerts and big graduation ceremonies. They will become, instead, resilient, thinking, adaptable adults.
Infinite mindsets allow us to imagine a much different future for all of us as a result of a generation of children faced with unpredictable, inexplicable, challenging life experiences. All that is required is staying aware, awake to possibilities, being encouraging, positive and recognizing the potential provoked by two years of interrupted routines and events.
Given what we have endured through the pandemic so far, being hopeful seems like the best possible strategy.
I remain hopeful.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
"Adultification is the failure to see the world from a child’s perspective."
“Being little” is of critical importance because we see the signature of early childhood experience literally in people’s bodies: their life expectancies are longer and their social-emotional capabilities are more robust when they have a chance to learn through play and through deep relationships, and when their developing brains are given the chance to grow in a nurturing, language-rich, and relatively unhurried environment. It’s clearer than ever before that young children are not simply mini-adults." - Emily Kaplan
It is tempting to see the world of children through adult eyes - after all, we are older, wiser, better prepared to protect them from all the known and unknown uncertainties that might invade their young lives - plus, we are the keepers of the keys (for driving), the vaults (for purchasing) and the pantries (for nourishment) so we carry a lot of influence around the smaller versions of humanity.
We think we know what is best for them, what will help them grow and thrive in the long term, what they 'need' to succeed in living and in life.
The truth, however, is far different from what we think as adults. The truth is that we should be trying to see the world through the eyes of the children, not the adults. We have already learned the 'how and why' of the world, already experienced joys and sorrows, rejection and loss, already not counted ourselves 'good enough' at particular games or activities.
We are well-insulated from experiencing the world first hand and with wonder; as adults, we are great anticipators and we pride ourselves on 'knowing' the outcome of a situation even before it happens, based on our previous experiences. Most importantly, we know about 'time' and that it is quickly running out on us so we must ensure our children have all the experiences in life they need before 'time' runs out on them as well.
Except that 'time' as we think of it was envisioned by adults and is managed by adults. For children, time is defined by adults and mostly never passes too quickly or too slowly - unless an adult has noted that particularly unfathomable phenomenon!
"...we’re in danger of losing the child in childhood. The notion that there is something of value in being a little kid—with little kid desires and, above all, needs—seems to have fallen out of favor. We talk about young children, increasingly, as commodities to “invest” in for future payoffs. Parents express enormous anxiety about their children’s futures, and seem to be curating their children’s life experiences in a way that would look quite unnatural and even rather joyless to previous generations." - Emily Kaplan
Especially in schools, we need to remember the world we are a part of has been intentionally developed to acknowledge and meet the learning needs of children. If we continually approach all learning from an adult perspective, our interactions will become adult-focused as well, interrupting the natural paths of learning children are hard-wired to be an integral part of all the time. They need to experience interactions where imagination, collaborative dreaming, pretending and posing questions is considered to be perfectly okay and worthwhile.
We must hold the child at the front of all our decisions, our plans, our ideas for facilitating and supporting learning.
Learning spaces need to be designed with children in mind - how will they move? climb? play? imagine? engage in cooperative play? solve a problem? How will they sit? stand? jump? lie on their tummies? What makes them happy, sad, tired, revived? How do we design multi-functional learning spaces that meet the learning and physical needs of all?
Additionally, the learning engagements and activities the children will be engaged with must be considered as part of the whole educational experiences. If we want children to take risks with their thinking, they need to first take risks with their doing - find their 'brave' and try it on. Children are much more inclined to do something active than listen passively and understand. They hear with their ears but they learn with their whole bodies.
Children learn by doing, building relationships through shared activities and demonstrating their own abilities for finding their way in the world. Whether they are thinkers, jumpers, doers, climbers, assemblers, designers or any other kind of learner, they are constantly processing and assessing their deep understandings of the world as they know it, and how it works.
"Play is the defining feature of mammalian development: the impulse is hardwired into us and can’t be suppressed. However, it’s crucial that we recognize that while the play impulse is one thing, the play know-how—the nuts and bolts of playing—is not always so natural, and requires careful cultivation." - Emily Kaplan
Our current Kindergarten program is a play-based program, with the intention that children will learn to do many things through play - develop social skills, knowledge and awareness of their community and each other, begin to understand concepts of print and basic math, engage with basic science and environmental concepts and become familiar with the routines of school and collegial interactions. As they create and imagine, playing together through much of their school day, the value of play is clearly demonstrated through the language they use with each other, the physical movements they use to accommodate each other in the room and in games, the smiles and encouragement they offer to each other when something is a little tougher than they anticipated. There are always offers to help in Kindergarten - I think of it as the place where the growth and development of the first five years begins to encounter the social structures that will guide them appropriately through the rest of their lives.
"All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" (Robert Fulghum) was a popular book in the 1990's that still holds true today - and we learned all those things - like sharing, playing fairly, say you're sorry when you hit someone, clean up after yourself - through the medium of play. Seeing the world from a child's perspective allows the Kindergarten year in school to offer multiple opportunities to 'try out' new skills and understandings without pressure and overt assessment. I consider it be an indispensable part of our education system and believe we have many lessons to learn, as educators, about the value of play from children's experiences in Kindergarten.
Kindergarten programs offer both structured and unstructured play times - always with the understanding and intention that children will use these times to coalesce their perceptions and appreciations of interacting with others in specific situations. Organized learning times throughout the rest of a child's educational experiences will - ideally - continue to offer structured play-like opportunities infused throughout the learning day.
When learners engage in maker space activities, art, drama, music, science, social studies, reading, writing, math or any other academic pursuit, there are always numerous opportunities for children to learn through playful activities that will both enhance their skills and knowledge as well as their social interactions, creativity, imagination, physical movements and collegial communication. The value of play in school cannot be overstated - most adults prefer to be playful with their work when possible and most of us definitely prefer our hobbies and fun pursuits over going to work. Play is where we find our joy most often - and play can make learning in school more joyful too!
Unstructured play has enormous value, as well, for both children and adults. While organized sports certainly offer significant opportunities for children to learn to play collegially, follow rules, acquire specific skills and strategies and understand the boundaries of structured team sports, unstructured play offers students unlimited opportunities to think creatively, imagine without boundaries and engage in both physical and mental 'stretching' that will carry through into future learning situations. Unstructured play offers children opportunities to pretend without concern about meeting specific requirements and this kind of play is invaluable for promoting unconventional thinking that will serve to stretch the boundaries of conventional thinking in educational settings.
It is at the intersection of unconventional and conventional thinking that the dreamers, inventors, designers, writers, poets, musicians, artists all find their ways to push social considerations and thinking continually forward in our thinking, our doing and our evolving as a society.
"The physical exercise and emotional stretching that children enjoy in unorganized play is more varied and less time-bound than is found in organized sports.
Play-time - especially unstructured, imaginative, exploratory play - is increasingly recognized as an essential component of wholesome child development." - Richard Louv (Author, 'Last Child in the Woods')
There is no doubt that play is something we need to sustain and hold in the front of our minds as we plan for learning in our schools, for it is play that will shape the lives of our children forever.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"Every student is unique, with different learning styles,
strengths, and areas of growth.
Personalized learning encourages and challenges
students to achieve their best.
It is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Instead, personalized learning customizes
activities to align with each student’s strengths,
needs, and interests." - Sandy Sutty, Sanford University (2018)
As we are attempting to either live with various iterations of the COVID-19 virus - or to be hopeful it is fading into oblivion - schools are, of necessity, continuing to consider how to best meet the needs of our learners every day, as we have through the past two years' pandemic constrained living. Regardless of our beliefs, wishes, hopes related to the impact of the virus itself, children show up to learn and, as teachers, we are doing our very best to make professional judgements and decisions that will benefit each child to maximize their possibilities for learning.
There are numerous ways to approach teaching and learning on a daily basis in classrooms. Probably the one I knew best prior to becoming a teacher was the one-instruction-for-all model I experienced as a student myself.
My teachers planned daily lessons and taught them to all of us each class every day - sometimes there were activities to do as well as the more 'academic' pursuits of reading, answering questions, calculating mathematical problems, completing worksheets, writing tests. I do not remember any diversity in teaching, all the students in every class from Kindergarten through to grade 12 were taught the same lessons and we either understood and could represent those understandings on tests and worksheets or answering questions and writing essays - or we did not.
Those who did not ultimately left school early and pursued other interests. Learning came easily to me and I came from an academically-inclined family who introduced me early to the public library, museums, historical and biological institutions so I was able to experience success in school. Approximately 60% of the students I started Kindergarten with in my small Nova Scotia community graduated from high school together, and perhaps 25% pursued opportunities in higher education. I have not gone back and researched whether this was a typical graduating rate for the time; I do know for the three years my sisters and I were in school, this was a typical graduating rate.
One-instruction-for-all clearly did not serve everyone well.
32 years as part of the education profession has offered me numerous opportunities to both implement and observe other approaches to teaching and learning, including using a whole language approach, a balanced approach, a centres approach, self-guided approach, digital approach, hybrid approach, research approach - among several other approaches. Every approach has been implemented with the best of attentions: to improve access for learners to the knowledge, skills and strategies associated with the various subject areas and enhance student success and improve achievement.
A few years ago, we began to hear about personalized learning - or the practice of determining teaching and learning practices that are tailored to reflect individual needs, strengths and interests of each student to maximize their engagement in learning and, therefore improve their opportunities to be successful as a learner in school.
Personalized learning does not require writing a separate lesson plan for every student - many learners are able to engage in a wide variety of activities that are quite similar to each other as long as students are able to approach it from their own area of strength first. For example, if a child is not an auditory learner first, engaging them in a visual or hands-on initial task will help them grasp a new concept before being asked to listen and respond or participate in a conversation about that concept prior to truly understanding the meaning of the new idea.
Personalizing tasks for learners takes a bit of preparation for sure, on the part of teachers. There are multiple strategies for personalizing tasks, including considering visual/auditory/kinesthetic approaches to similar tasks or learnings as well as tasks that are highly adapted using digital tools, specific manipulatives to support specific student challenges. In a somewhat typical classroom, personalizing tasks that require significant adaptations are usually needed for one or two students while personalizing through the three lenses of auditory/visual/kinesthetic will meet different needs of many learners.
"One challenge with schooling is that teachers want students to focus on the curriculum they’ve chosen, and students have other interests and concerns that lead them to daydream or disrupt instruction... about half of our students in grades 5-12 are engaged with their learning. About a quarter are passively disengaged, and another quarter are actively disengaged." - Dennis Shirley (5 Paths of Student Engagement)
Personalizing learning really gets to the heart of student engagement. Knowing how learners best connect with understanding and appreciating new ideas is immensely valuable knowledge for teachers to have about their learners to facilitate active learning all day long - there should not be gaps in the day where students are simply not paying attention or learning anything new because they have lost interest.
Teachers weave learning opportunities carefully for their learners, acknowledging their differentiated learning needs while also embracing student interests, motivating activities such as music or art and empowering learners with active learning tasks that provoke their thinking and energize them to pursue new understandings through the lenses (visual/auditory/kinesthetic) that appeal to them the most effectively.
Differentiating learning through the teaching day so it is personalized to the needs of students is not difficult or unusual. It is what meets the needs of learners' best to advance their opportunities for success. We cannot devolve to one-instruction-for-all when we know so much more about designing engaging and effective learning for our learners.
Personalizing learning elevates the need to know and appreciate our students as individuals with needs we are capable of meeting every day in classrooms. To do less is to deny what we know to be true about children as well as about teaching.
And in 2022, as we are trying to navigate a social climate that is simply impossible to clearly understand, our learners warrant all the individualized attention and support we are able to offer - this is not only a new social climate for them, it is the only one they have ever known or navigated as a learner. They deserve our best opportunities for learning in every situation, all day, every day if we are to generate enthusiasm for learning and promote life-long learning in what is certainly a precarious social circumstance.
Schools are consistently places where kids land and seek affirmations of worth and viability. Personalized learning offers educators the strategies to ensure they are affirmed capable and ready to engage in learning every day.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"If you’re involved in education in any way, then you are acutely aware of how challenging the last few school years have been for our students. This is especially true for our youngest learners. While young children can quickly adapt to new situations and are astoundingly resilient, they are coping with a lot—both in and outside of school. " - Jennifer Orr
We are a Kindergarten - Grade 4 school - learners who register with us for Kindergarten have the opportunity to spend five years in our school if they register for our half-day Kindie program and stay in the community for all five years.
This is the ideal situation for learners because it provides opportunities for them to build expected behaviours, routines and learning practices the school intentionally plans to provide successful, engaging academic and social experiences for every child.
Since the spring of 2020 when the pandemic first impacted our world, educators have not been able to provide the same opportunities for children to learn, socialize, engage and participate in 'school' experiences that we know will provide optimum academic achievement and social growth.
Our routines have orbited around safe health practices, as have our learning opportunities. When routines and learning opportunities are not able to be offered in the intentional ways we know will best meet our young learners' needs, their social/emotional development is impacted as well, since the situations where they would typically learn to interact, solve problems and develop positive communication strategies are interrupted too.
"There have been many difficult moments for many different students and problem solving with them has not been easy. Some students can talk through difficult moments, problem solve together, and advocate for their needs. Many other students cannot. " - Jennifer Orr
As a Peace Education school, we have intentionally developed routines and strategies intended to support our learners' overall academic/social/emotional growth from Kindergarten through to Grade 4. Teaching principles of kindness, joy, harmony and peace through literature, service projects, exploring simple social justice issues, community initiatives, stories, Roots of Empathy and shared experiences, our learners gradually build on early experiences with understanding how to approach the world through lenses of kindness, joy, harmony and peace to support each other and communicate effectively.
As learners progress from Kindergarten through to Grade 4, they begin to see themselves as positive members of a community and acquire communication skills that effectively solve problems, support children to see each other as capable and unique, approach adverse situations from a solutions-focused perspective. This is achieved through developing intentional opportunities for active learning in a wide variety of situations throughout the school year, and offering opportunities for children to engage in whatever learning supports that will help them learn and socialize most successfully (such as SPARK, Calm, Ignite Time, Wonder Time, Discovery, etc).
When we opened EHS, we began this intentional weaving of multiple learning opportunities with social/emotional teachings, knowing this would yield a pattern of student leaders across the school as each year's incoming new learners would be immersed with peers who have already developed communication and learning strategies to support optimum growth. And we were able to celebrate and experience this for the first four years - the sudden pandemic shut down of March, 2020 also slammed the door on this best laid plan.
We now have three years' of learners - those who entered grade 1 in 2020, 2021 and 2022 - whose beginning experiences of school have not included the usual level of interaction, group learning, shared experiences and shared communication we would typically design and offer in our school. While we have worked hard to try and offer as many learning opportunities as possible, with the various constraints and occasional episodes of online learning, most learners have not been able to participate in the more open, spontaneous learning and socialization experiences that best support optimal academic growth and communication development. While I have noted the three years of grade 1 entry as experiencing significant interruptions, there have been impacts on all students - even students in grade 4 this year have only had two years (grades 1 and 2) of expected, intentional school-based experiences.
Simultaneously, social interactions outside of school such as participation with sports teams, birthday parties, play dates, dance, music lessons, family or friend gatherings, etc. have all been interrupted too.
As all of society begins to grapple with 'living with COVID', there is considerable conversation occurring about 'getting back to normal'. The problem with the call to return to normal is that there really isn't any normal to return to in a school setting - for most of our learners, not communicating with anyone outside of a select group (i.e. your classmates) is what they know and, when they do try to interact with someone new outside of their tightly cohorted circle, there are very few problem solving strategies that have been practiced successfully ready to be used immediately. Students do not have previous experiences working in bigger spaces with multiple learners from other classes or grade levels so entering into a new learning opportunity is no longer routine and knowing how to do this successfully is a skill many children have yet to acquire.
"We are social beings - we are not meant to struggle on our own...Our children will have a reservoir of resilience from living through the pandemic, they have learned to cope with levels of isolation. Social situations opening up will present challenges...Learning to work through issues together will become the goal as children adapt to new stressors in their worlds." - Dr. Mona Delahooke
As a school, we are exploring gentle ways of opening back up again to the multiple learning opportunities and experiences that previously defined our school, with the intention to scaffold our learners into situations where they will be able to try out positive communication strategies, problem solve, be supportive of each other, accept, embrace and understand each learner is unique and brings gifts and talents of their own. Appreciate and value each other in a wide variety of learning situations. We will be nudging children away from just one 'best friend' towards developing connections with many friends, in both academic and social situations.
Fortunately, we have not encountered huge learning losses and gaps amongst our youngest students - with some additional support and the help of amazing parents, most of our learners are where we would expect them to be, 3/4 of the way through the school year. However, the social/emotional interactions are proving to be more noticeable and also more challenging to deal with as we begin to explore a world without constraints - even as the virus maintains its presence in our school and in our communities.
While there may not be a 'normal' to return to in a K - 4 school significantly impacted by the virus itself as well as the constraints put in place to protect the health of our learning community as much as possible, there are learners eager to find all possible paths to successful growth academically and socially. And that is why we will be building intentional connections amongst all our students in the coming weeks and months to foster new beginnings relationally across the student population.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"When events in the world are scary and tragic, it's totally understandable to want to protect our children from it. Our instinct is to let them keep believing that the world is safe and that bad things don't happen, for as long as possible.
But kids are incredibly attuned to our emotional states, stressed expressions and any tension at home. They easily sense when something's going on or when things aren't right. Without an adult to explain what is happening, children’s imaginations often create scenarios that are even worse than reality." - Dr. Aliza W. Pressman (Raising Good Humans)****************************There is a war happening in Ukraine. Just typing these words seems surreal in the 21st century - yet again, our histories continue to haunt us into our futures. And the children who are already living through an unprecedented pandemic are now exposed to a war that is highly visible in western societies - especially those whose populations are linked to Ukraine as we are in Alberta and in Canada.
In my 32-year career, I have taught children connected to 9/11, the Bosnian/Serbian war, the Iraq war, the Syrian war and the Afghan war - not to mention numerous other conflicts around the world. I believe it is important to respond appropriately and honestly to children when they ask questions, when they are trying to make sense of incomprehensible events and help them find a way to process strange things in a strange world to carry forward with hope and without fear.
Our learners are very young - ages 5 - 10 years for the most part. Dr. Aliza W. Pressman, clinical psychologist and Director of the Mt. Sinai Parenting Foundation, author and podcast presenter of the 'Raising Good Humans' books and podcasts, specializes in resiliency and supporting parents with guiding healthy childhood development. When considering how to best approach conversations about the Ukraine/Russia war with my grandchildren and our students, it is in Dr. Pressman's words that I find best guidance. I do recommend checking out her podcast, Raising Good Humans on a wide variety of parenting topics as well.************************
"There is a war in Ukraine. This is all over the news, all over social media, all of our hearts and minds. If we don’t get in front of explaining this to our kids, they will explain it to themselves."
- Dr. Aliza W. Pressman
*****************************Dr. Pressman offers 9 key points for discussing the war in Ukraine with our children, included in her bulletin at https://draliza.bulletin.com/talking-about-ukraine-with-our-childrenI am including them here as well:
Take a deep breath, so you are calm and regulated. It can help to physically put your hand on your heart to soothe your nervous system.
See what they know. “You may have heard about what is happening in Ukraine. I’m curious what you know and I’m here to answer questions.”
Be honest and clear. “Russia has invaded Ukraine, and as with any war, people will be hurt and killed. That’s why you’re seeing so many grown-ups who are so sad. You are safe, we are safe, but we care about the experience of people even when they are far away.”
Pause. Let the information land. See what your child has to say.
Listen. Make room for any reaction. Your child does not need to be interested, or sad, we just need to tell them so that they don’t pick up on unspoken cues of our collective distress.
Describe the age-appropriate facts. If your child has questions, look up answers together on child-friendly news sources, like Newsela. If your child is repeating mis-information, help them to think through more reliable sources. Answer only the questions they’ve asked and resist going into longer explanations. This is not one conversation, but unfortunately an ongoing discussion.
When you can’t answer a question, acknowledge it. These are complicated questions that are an opportunity for critical thinking, investigation, and the acceptance of a reality where we don’t always have answers. Get comfortable with the idea that we can’t solve these problems for our children or ourselves, but that we can help make peace with the discomfort and uncertainty.
Stick to routines. Whenever things in the world feel uncertain, even far away, it’s important to lean on routines to keep things as stable as possible for your child. This is also helpful to manage your own emotions and be present for your family.
If you notice your child is having anxiety around current events, after this discussion or at any point, let them know that you are there and strategize ways for them to remain informed while also taking care of their own emotions. Reassure them that it makes sense to feel anxious right now, and that we all feel similarly.
*****************************As a peace education school, we focus on building empathy, care and harmony in every circumstance, and on the ways in which we can help build a peaceful community. Many of Dr. Pressman's suggestions are likely to be included in any conversations with students that occur in the coming days, and possibly weeks, about the war in Ukraine, as well as making deliberate connections to literature, poetry and specific efforts to build peaceful communities together.
We do this by showing our solidarity with Ukrainians in the face of invasion, by answering questions honestly and fairly without alarmist or accusatory language, by reassuring anxieties that might suddenly emerge and by ensuring our conversations with children acknowledge truths while also encouraging critical thinking, questioning and research to make as much sense as possible of specific events and stories that emerge from the conflict.
We will stick to routines as much as possible at school, as always, and develop engaging learning activities for our students to keep their minds actively making sense of new concepts and weaving new understandings. A world where war casts a shadow impacts the experience of childhood but it does not destroy childhood, nor love, nor imagination. Carefully navigated, even making sense of war has the potential to be a positive learning experience where children build resiliency, empathy and care for the world.
And just now, it seems like that might be the most important work we do with children in these first decades of the 21st century. *****************************"Keep in mind that there is really never a reason to expose children to TV news reports and graphic details of scary topics. Large doses of media coverage can be very harmful even to adults. The news is built on keeping an audience engaged and anxious. Turn it off the minute you feel your nervous system become activated. You can keep informed without obsessively watching the news, and are modeling for your family how to keep connected without becoming unhinged." - Dr. Aliza W. Pressman (Raising Good Humans)*****************************
Lorraine Kinsman, PrincipalEric Harvie School
"No amount of planning will prevent students from being anxious.
Therefore, encouraging tolerance of fear and anxiety,
rather than avoidance, will be essential." - Anxiety Canada
We have had a first few days at school with learners no longer required to wear masks.
For many adults, this is excellent news - we are pandemic weary of masks and restrictions and have a great desire to 'get back to normal!' For others, we are cautiously optimistic the worst of the pandemic may be behind us - even as we encounter new infections and isolations reminding us COVID has not left the planet at all. For the children - especially our youngest learners who have never known school without masks, distancing, frequent hand sanitizing and constrained use of school resources and spaces - suddenly changing things quite drastically and visibly may cause unexpected anxieties and concerns.
Last week, we encountered some children who are anxious about the changes, while other students seem ambivalent one way or the other. Our goal, as educators, is to support every child with their experiences through the pandemic/endemic/disappearance (hopefully!) phases of COVID-19. To do this successfully, we need to share our plans for supporting children with our families, knowing we are all partners in this COVID journey together.
Eric Harvie School has been fortunate to have experienced few actual cases and infections over the past two years. This has been achieved through the tremendous support of our families with vaccinations, vigilant mask-wearing, enhanced handwashing/sanitizing, distancing, heightened cleaning, appropriate ventilation and cohorting and constraining students. As we remove these supports in the coming weeks, we do expect the questions from children will increase as they begin to notice the differences - fewer masks, greater flexibility with grouping/regrouping, reduced focus on cohorting, more resources brought into the classrooms and other learning areas, etc. And, while children will thrive overall in these new situations, there will be concerns that come up as well - perhaps fears, always questions.
They will hear different perspectives from other children about whether they should/should not be wearing masks, should/should not be keeping their distances, should/should not frequently sanitize/handwash or touch items that have not been separated or cleaned between uses by different children. These differences may cause confusion for some children, worries or anxieties for others and even deep-seated fears for a few.
"As educators, it is important to listen to students’ concerns and, even if the emotions are extreme, express understanding and empathy. Letting families know you understand and appreciate their perspective will help open up a dialogue for problem solving." - Anxiety Canada
In keeping with our work around Peace Education, we continually work with our students to accept each others' ideas, thoughts, feelings as real and valid at all times. There are no right or wrong sides to anything that happens in school - we are all on a learning journey together and learning to value differences of opinion openly and honestly and respecting differences is a significant lesson in building peaceful communities together.
We will also always answer learner questions as openly and honestly as we possibly can, within the developmental range of each child. We will, for example, support any student who is concerned to understand that at some point, our school might be closed due to additional illnesses or a short period of time - not will be but might be and we would work with them to help them understand the differences between might and will.
We will acknowledge with them that someone - or several someones- they know will become ill with COVID-19 - or they might as well. May become ill rather than will become ill, and we will encourage them to recognize COVID illnesses are managed differently now than they were two years ago - we have medications, vaccinations, better knowledge about the illness so medical professionals can support us to recovery. We will also continue to help learners understand responsibility for illness rests with everyone, not just one of us. The government sets policies to keep the public safe, the school board sets rules for schools based on the government policies and the school keeps the children safe by following the rules. And each of us can help keep ourselves safe with handwashing/sanitizing, distancing or wearing masks as needed. We work together to stay safe and we are not solely responsible if someone becomes ill.
When questions or concerns surface about COVID 'coming back' or perhaps having to resume masking or some other precaution, we will encourage learners to remember they were able to cope before when things changed and they will cope capably again.
"Educators can let students know these situations can be upsetting to think about, but that we can try to take things one day at a time and enjoy the current day rather than worry about what the future holds – especially when that future can be somewhat uncertain.
These are challenging discussions that aren’t easy for anyone, but helping students develop an ability to be ‘comfortable being uncomfortable’ may help them cope with future anxieties." - Anxiety Canada
There may be some children who experience elevated anxiousness to the point of fear - they may even be afraid to come to school because it is such an unfamiliar way for them to experience school. Should that happen, we will work with families to gradually build tolerance of uncertainty and use strategies to help them face their fears. As learners work through their fears, their anxieties and their questions, they are building resiliency and coping strategies that will serve them well should there be another wave of COVID-19 infections in our forseeable future - or any other future significant societal event.
Teachers and school staff are also working to manage quick transitions to the removal of precautions and will always do our best to model calm, honest, caring and encouraging behaviours for our students to see and emulate in their own relationships with each other as we enter this next 'living with' endemic phase of COVID-19. Whether this is too quick or too slow, necessary or a whim, based in science or in fatigue really isn't the issue. We are here, the precautions are lifting and we are learning to both cope and model coping with our learners and our families. As always, we are on this journey together.
As a school, we are committed to staying in clear contact with families at all times. We will let you know whatever changes are coming for your children and for yourselves through our Monday Connect, our school website, family Messenger emails and this blog.
And, hopefully, we will be able to welcome you into our beautiful school where your children are focused on learning through active engagement every day! That is one of the most enticing aspects of the removal of precautions - bringing all our learning spaces alive with children for sure, but also welcoming their parents inside the school to share in the excitement as learners represent their learning!
Finally, I had the great pleasure of listening to Alan Doyle last Friday as part of the Teachers' Convention presentations. One comment in particular has stayed with me all weekend as I contemplate a return to school with diminishing precautions, knowing we are entering uncharted territory yet again.
"When you can't do what you do, do what you can do." (Alan Doyle)
Quite honestly, this has been what schools have done for the past two years. Moving forward into the next months of uncertainty, it is how we will continue to ensure schools are centres of learning, of excitement, of energy and enthusiasm for all our learners.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought life would be like and learn to find joy in the story you are actually living." - Rachel Marie Martin
There is a lot of discontent evident across Canada just now.
Pandemic fatigue has erupted.
It seems like an appropriate time to take stock and reflect for a few moments on my own experiences through this pandemic.
I understand that fatigue - I too am often tired of constraints and restrictions and imposing them at school and home - even with the very best of intentions - has been exhausting.
I am frustrated with not seeing my family and friends like I used to, and with restricting all the little things - and the big things like travel - that we were so used to doing whenever we chose.
I am frustrated with schools not being open to families, with teaching and learning not looking and sounding the way I believe it works best for children.
I am saddened and frustrated that so many families lost loved ones sooner than they might have in a COVID-free world - having experienced unexpected and early loss of loved ones far too often in my own life, it is heartbreaking to consider the depth of pain these losses have caused over the past two years, and the bright lights of human life that have been prematurely shortened and lost to the world.
I am frustrated with the deferred surgeries and medical procedures that have resulted from an over-taxed medical system that simply couldn't manage both COVID patients and other patients at the same time.
I had no idea when the pandemic began that it would go on this long either - I have never lived through a pandemic before.
But I am also grateful. Grateful that I have been guided carefully through this situation by a school board that demonstrates repeatedly they care about children and about learning.
That our community has consistently supported our efforts to both keep children safe and learning continuing to the very best of the school's ability.
I am grateful for vaccines that have kept so many of us safe and will continue to do so - I was born part of the 'vaccination generation' and I have confidence in medical breakthroughs - there have been so many over the decades that have kept my family and friends safe!
I am grateful for a government that had the courage to recognize potential harm and strive to keep all it's citizens as safe as possible - there have been rules but also funding for vaccination research, to keep people surviving when jobs disappeared, for tests and vaccinations and medical equipment and personnel to ensure those who did become ill were cared for - especially during the previous waves that were so virulent.
I am grateful for free healthcare and frontline workers who continue to strive to keep our hospitals open and available to help.
And for the Canadians who have kept our grocery stores filled, our online orders delivered (especially books!) and our heat and electricity managed.
I am grateful our family has stayed healthy and safe.
And I am grateful for everyone who was willing to wear masks, get vaccinations and follow public health guidelines to reduce the impact of COVID around the world - to keep themselves protected but also to boost the health and safety of others. It was a choice and I am grateful we had opportunities to make choices that could help others as well as ourselves.
More recently vaccinations became an expectation, temporarily, to stay employed in many cases (including mine), also to to safeguard public health. And I am grateful, as a public employee, for all the people who have been willing to continue to keep our schools as safe as possible, as well as many other public spaces.
And I am so grateful I have been able to come to our beautiful school everyday, work with dedicated, deeply caring staff who persevered through so many changes to ensure learning happened in a joyous way each and every day with our curious, engaged, amazing learners.
Perhaps I am most grateful to have had the opportunity to see our country come together - initially anyway - reaching out to each other, sharing things like window art and sidewalk chalk pictures or words of encouragement, baking bread and sharing photos on social media, visiting virtually, working from home and trying to support each other through the initial lockdowns with words of encouragement. This was a shared experience such as I have never experienced before.
Finally, I am hopeful for the future because of the lessons this pandemic has bestowed upon humanity.
I am hopeful we are more attentive to global human health in the future, to the realization the Earth has complexities and impacts on humans that are not predictable and life cannot always offer everything we want when we want it, just because we want it. There are checks and balances that must be acknowledged, honoured and accommodated to ensure the endurance of human living on this planet.
I am most hopeful for the future because of the children - they have learned these lessons early in life and are developing both resiliency and a respect for the planet that I, personally, don't think I understood as a child.
These have been my personal gifts from the pandemic - I have lived long enough to know life is completely unpredictable and things happen all the time we never anticipate might occur.
My personal approach to life has always been to figure out the best path through the challenges and look for the nuggets - the small gifts that redeem the moments I truly would have rather skipped, given the choice. And I am grateful there were so many nuggets to appreciate through this whole experience.
I do get tired. And frustrated. But I am also grateful, and it is with gratitude that I will continue to follow the masks, vaccinations, distancing and other protocols until the world feels as safe as we all would truly like it to be.
For me, that is not now.
There is still work to be done and perhaps the best gift of all is knowing we are all able to persevere until the time is right to make significant changes, in a safe world, rather than a precarious one.
For me, living through this first pandemic of my lifetime has afforded me new insights into building peaceful communities together.
Yes, I am tired - like everyone else - from the efforts, frustrated they are required longer than we would lke, yet so grateful to be part of the endeavours to sustain public health and well-being of both big and small humans.
This is, from my perspective, the very essence of building peaceful communities together.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"Learning is a social act, and talking with peers and adults helps students clarify misunderstandings, work through confusion, and deepen their thinking... (there are) ways to help students use talk to deepen their learning and understanding of academic content. But in this moment, as students are coping with constant change and uncertainties, talk can also be a strategy for dealing with emotional challenges." - Jennifer Orr, Author/Educator
One of the primary roles school plays in a child's life is to provide a safe, supportive place to develop independence, begin to establish personal identity and be inquisitive as they approach new situations and information. When children enter Kindergarten, we begin a slow dance with them, scaffolding experiences and gradually releasing responsibilities related to making choices about learning, friendships, engaging in tasks, communicating with care and respect, asking questions, making responsible decisions about their actions, applying critical thinking to novel situations and furthering the growth of their personal identities as they progress through school.
As educators, we intentionally employ numerous strategies to engage children in activities and situations where they are able to consider options, discuss their perspectives, explore different possibilities, generate new ideas and practice new skills, gently nudging them towards independence as learners and as individuals.
Despite the restrictive circumstances that have emerged through the pandemic and impacted the flexible operation of schools, we have continued to offer these teachable experiences and interactions with our students, albeit in constricted conditions. The ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 situation has interrupted the typical flow of experiences schools are able to offer as well, subsequently disrupting the usual progression towards independence of our learners over the past couple of years.
Yet children need to develop independence, critical thinking, empathy and responsibility for healthy maturation and growth. And teachers - educators - all possess an array of possible experiences that will foster opportunities for in-person learners to continue their gradual journey towards independence and help them to make sense of a suddenly very crazy world no one was prepared to navigate.
"Students of all ages must be able to talk to advocate for themselves (and quite possibly for others). If students can articulate what they feel and need, we can help them more effectively."
- Jennifer Orr, Author & Educator
Some strategies we use in schools to support learners with building independence and developing skills to make sense of their world - even in the time of COVID - are briefly described below. These strategies are simple in concept and may be easily adapted by families who may be considering how to best support fostering independence and positive social-emotional growth during these days of unexpected events that so frequently rock the predictability of the world in which our children are currently living.
- using picture books to encourage students to identify their own feelings and needs will offer opportunities for children to share stories and experiences, to question and imagine, explain or investigate events and situations from a secure place and perspective, even when their world feels uncertain; as they identify with characters, they also identify with themselves and begin to make better sense of what may often seem like an incomprehensible world at times and they come to understand their emotions are completely okay and others are feeling the same way from time to time
- another strategy that supports students' independence is to celebrate small successes with them - this requires helping children understand the tasks being asked of them can be broken down into small steps and that small steps are much more doable than trying to accomplish one large task all at the same time
- as we help learners understand the smaller steps, we also note when they have accomplished one small thing, and then another and another; they build on one small success after the other and are motivated to continue growing and learning
- sometimes teachers use checklists to help children understand the small steps, or exit slips, visual or sequential charts as well - these scaffolds (or supports) build confidence and independence
"The power of the small wins...(are) straightforward and convincing." - Mike Gaskell
- Sometimes children need a framework to help them express their feelings, questions, ideas, concerns that might be impeding their journey to independence - when these situations occur, educators (and families) might use sentence starters or a skeleton of ideas to support children in capturing, identifying and understanding what they might be worried about, or might be causing them to hold back from trying something new or expressing their own perspective
- a few sentence starters might include such things as:
"Every moment, our brains are bombarded with millions of bits of information—far too much to process. Which means we tend to ignore most of what's happening around us, paying attention only to what we find interesting, novel, or compelling." - Bryan Goodwin
If students are able to articulate their feelings, ask for help to get their needs met, identify small goals and celebrate achieving them, these emotional supports and understandings will move them successfully towards independence as they celebrate their small successes and begin to identify who they are going to become in life. Developing oral language skills (also called 'talk skills') encourages children to work through their own personal challenges and emotions, as well as foster self-advocacy and, ultimately, independence.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
“Being little” is of critical importance because we see the signature of early childhood experience literally in people’s bodies: their life expectancies are longer and their social-emotional capabilities are more robust when they have a chance to learn through play and through deep relationships, and when their developing brains are given the chance to grow in a nurturing, language-rich, and relatively unhurried environment. It’s clearer than ever before that young children are not simply mini-adults."
Erika Christakis (Author: The Importance of Being Little)
I have lived through three years of this pandemic (almost!) in a unique position - very closely affiliated with parents as a parent myself, as a grandmother of seven, and as an elementary school principal directly connected to children and families. What began as a 'we are all in this together!' movement has morphed into what often feels like an 'every person for themselves' situation with competing images, unclear directions and a general sense of fatigue and uncertainty.
While I could ruminate on many lessons - both negative and positive - I will hold in my heart from this pandemic when it finally subsides, perhaps the most profound observation I have made is how sharply this pandemic has pulled parenting into focus. I believe this may fall on the side of a positive lesson although, in some instances, it has emerged as an unexpected and perhaps puzzling aspect for many of us - grandparents included!
Before the pandemic punched holes in our world views (remember those days? They do seem to have happened so long ago...), our children were busy, active, involved little folks as they played minor sports, took music lessons, art lessons, dance lessons, swimming lessons, engaged in martial arts sessions, filled weekends with vibrant, sometimes excessive-but-entertaining birthday parties, spent their spare time in large indoor play spaces with names like The Flying Squirrel or Ninja Games, and kept their parents and grandparents very busy managing their social activities. While this scenario did not play out exactly the same way for every child, dependent as it was on socio-economic and/or family status, there is no doubt children of three years ago were overall much more committed to their external activities than it even seems possible to imagine today.
Even as a grandmother, I remember sitting on the phone with my calendar and either of my children with families, pencilling in where my husband and I could help out with getting children to activities, watching assorted sports activities, music recitals, helping to supervise and organize birthday parties, babysitting little ones while older siblings attended school events, planning holidays to Disney World, lakes, Mexico or Hawaii, etc. Having experienced these activities similarly as a mother, this did not seem unusual to me in any way - childhood was a time to ensure active living, learning to play new sports and engage in new activities, to promote creativity and personal passions. Although I recall feeling that motherhood included a huge 'social convenor' role, this was parenting as I experienced in through the last two decades of the 20th century and well into the 21st - it was not a surprise to me that my children parented similarly, nor that the parents of the children I taught and worked with every day in schools were parented as active, involved members of society too!
What the pandemic caused in its' earliest iteration was an abrupt and unexpected end to all things encompassed in our modern definition of parenting. Suddenly there were no more lessons to go to, no playgrounds or school social events available for fostering friendships, no games to learn to play or watch or relive afterwards. There were no escape places either - no one could travel to Disney World or Hawaii or even the province next door easily. Instead of line ups for soccer or hockey registration, we worried about finding enough toilet paper and, rather unexpectedly, we worried about each other. Neighbours became very important in a distinctive way - they were our only contact with the world outside our homes for the first few months, and we suddenly paid attention to them even though we might have never even known their names before. We got to know their children and their pets out of necessity, as well as interest - we had just never had time to be interested before. We wanted to help each other, ensure the health and safety of the world as we all felt we were part of the global fight to eliminate COVID.
Suddenly our kids were home 100% of the time - and even when school began in person again last fall, there were still so many restrictions in place, school was about the only place they were allowed to go away from home. Gradually the world began to squeak open ever so slightly - some soccer, dance, hockey resumed in a controlled way, modifications for music classes began to emerge, theatres tentatively opened. Yet the virus swirled relentlessly on, and our worries about our children have been magnified by overwhelming media reports that often conflict and frighten, leading us to wonder if anyone in the world honestly knows anything...and should we care anymore about anyone other than our own families?
Despite this rather chaotic pandemic experience, parents have pivoted amazingly well in response to the pandemic experience - at least from my perspective. They have become much more aware of children's strengths and challenges as learners, understand their social responses and behaviours much more clearly, articulate their children's passions and pursuits beyond the activities of choice requiring registrations, tell stories about their children's favourite books or authors, find time to get to the public library with their children in tow, are learning new games, activities and seeking simpler, outdoor activities for play that appeal to both children and adults. Camping, skating, skiing, hiking - these have all elevated significantly in importance in our lives as the outside world has had to retreat from our immediate line of vision.
Knowing your children intimately - what their likes, dislikes, questions, opinions, passions, curiosities and deepest wishes are - even as they change frequently - makes the role of parenting richer and primal in a way that convening the childhood experiences of three years ago did not take the time to offer. We knew our children and grandchildren from the way they engaged in activities and social exchanges - now we know them from the way they engage in living closely within our family units as they find ways to provoke their curiosities and entertain themselves in ways that are considerably constrained. These are distinctive differences and mean our parenting must be front and centre with our children on a completely different level than previously - we are their primary navigators of relationships, technology, play, interests, outdoor pursuits, independence without the potential of safety nets where kids could learn skills and strategies for living from various external social experiences.
Parenting has never been easy - we had five children over the course of 14 years and every time we ever made the arrogant mistake of thinking 'we've got this!' we were proved almost immediately inept as we dealt with yet another personality quirk or unexpected event in one child's life or another!
Every beautiful baby comes with their own genetic set of unexpectedness - as much as they mirror the qualities of one parent or another - this genetic code is intrinsically designed to keep parents perpetually on their toes! What the pandemic forced upon us was an opportunity to shift our focus as parents to deeply connect with our children in ways we might not have been called on to try before.
Are our children experiencing mental health challenges as a result of the pandemic?
Perhaps - it's been my experience that children typically respond emotionally to frightening world events, require a variety of honest, concrete reassurances and then are able to find new ways to cope, building their resiliency along the way. I remember when 9/11 occurred - no one would argue that event marked a generation of young children with mental health challenges as well. Parenting through those days was difficult, and required finding out how each child was processing their understanding of events so we could reassure each in the most appropriate way - and without telling them 'everything will be okay' since it was clear nothing was okay and might never be again.
One of the things I am most confident about as a result of the pandemic is that parents are now even more deeply connected to their children, know them better than they ever have before, and are actively seeking whatever supports that are needed to reassure their children they can be hopeful, happy and active in their lives.
Again, this perspective does not apply to every child, every family, every circumstance.
Overall, however - as an educator, a principal, a parent, a grandparent - I have great confidence in parents and their primal connections with their children. Parenting has changed visibly over the past three years and it is this shift in parenting that I believe will best support the children in our schools, our country and the world with navigating our current chaos and build their personal resiliency.
We no longer blanketed by our children's social calendars. They, however, are wrapped in our concern, love and connections as we focus on what is most valuable in life - families, health, friends, connecting with one another and with our world.
As pandemic lessons go, I do think this is a positive one!
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"What should educators do next?
Everything seems like it needs fixing.
The return to school-based learning should be accompanied by a more dynamic curriculum that serves all students...
Greater stimulation and success in the classroom are a big part of what makes kids feel well, happy, positively challenged, and flourishing."
- Andy Hargreaves
There is no doubt the pandemic's impact on teaching and learning over the past two years has been significant in multiple ways. At Eric Harvie School, we have experienced considerable shifts in how we engage in learning through our days - when we opened the school just over five years ago, we worked very hard to establish a climate of learning that focused on student engagement - ways to get students excited about learning - in a wide variety of ways.
Through peace education, design thinking, place-based learning, borderless classrooms, multi-age class groupings, student-centred learning, inquiry-based investigations, Wonder Time and in a physical environment intended to deconstruct traditional paradigms of what 'learning' looked and sounded like, our school established itself as a place of learning intentionally considering learning through the perspectives and experiences of children rather than through mandated curricular directions.
We explored the curricula, rather than 'learned' the curricula. We celebrated active learning both outside and inside, and we intentionally took our learning beyond the borders of our school as frequently as possible - whether it was into the community of Tuscany, Twelve Mile Coulee or to a significant number of places external to our school, including Head Smashed In Buffalo Interpretive Centre, the Calgary Public Library Downtown, Calgary Reads 'Reading House', the Vivo Centre, the Telus Centre, City Hall, the Calgary Tower, the National Music Centre, Glenbow Ranch Park and many other places as well - all in just three short years.
We were delighted to witness our students representing their learning in multiple ways as well - through song, oral and written story telling, through video, dance, physical movement, art, drama, investigating in person, sharing experiences, asking questions, comparing data, observing and documenting the world as they encountered it through numerous perspectives and situations. We celebrated every learning experience possible with our families and our community and we were delighted to acknowledge the growth, enthusiasm for learning and academic development of our first students.
The pandemic has, without a doubt, constrained many of our initiatives, directions and willingness to explore the world in manifold ways.
We've been cohorted, isolated, compartmentalized, cut off from each other, from the learning spaces and openness of communication and collaboration we had valued so greatly and championed every day. We developed our student engagement opportunities over the first almost four years of operation around flexible, collaborative learner interactions with a variety of experiences.
The abrupt changes prompted by the pandemic created an urgency for teachers to re-consider how to best engage all our learners as a strategy to foster interest in learning and motivate students to invest energy in continued academic pursuits.
Teachers worked together to develop a daily schedule that offered choice, multiple opportunities throughout the week to connect with teachers and classmates and the 'Superhero' project to engage children in learning activities that were academic in structure and design. As we worked through the first 3 months of the pandemic online, attendance was occasionally sporadic, continued engagement was sometimes a challenge as technology demands increased in families and schools but teachers were pleased with the investment of children in learning and the overall positive growth of learners despite the unexpected pivot to online learning - and with the amazing Superhero projects!
"We're not just in a pandemic; we're living amid multiple and interrelated global crises, from climate change to rampant wealth inequality to attacks on democracy. Our schools can't educate students well if we ignore the world around them." - Andy Hargreaves
When we returned to in-person learning in September 2020, we were constrained significantly by new rules and precautions. Again, our capacities for developing engaging learning opportunities were interrupted as we contained learners in specific seats in classrooms and removed the capacity for flexibility of movement around the school.
Instead, we moved learning outside. Coulee School - always a component of our learning environment - took on a whole new role in our school's learning focus. We developed websites, applied for an outdoor grant, created opportunities for learning that focused on the natural environment and allowed us to be outside when inside was no longer the safest place to learn. Coulee School became our outlet for engagement and student focus, easing the intensity of the constraints in the school and encouraging learners to continue exploring new ideas and perspectives, new ways to represent understandings, even within a pandemic environment.
This fall we re-opened some of our learning spaces - the Learning Commons and the Maker Space - and made the Hub a more flexible place for collaborating and engaging in hands-on investigations and explorations. We continue to live with constraints and have increased them in response to the recent arrival of the Omnicrom variant, including modifiying the ways we access open learning spaces.
We continue to envision learning through the lens of engagement, interactions with hands-on learning experiences and real-life, authentic encounters and investigations. We continue to advance place-based learning through Coulee School experiences, we continue to engage in design thinking creations and we continue to encourage opportunities for learning that are connected to multiple curricula outcomes.
In the Coulee, for example, we have identified winter feed for birds, used our observation and investigative skills to describe landforms and then used multiple synonyms to create concrete poems, and we have traced ecosystem structures for the survival of flora and fauna from our searches for seeds. And our mural project offered opportunities for learners to capture their thinking in a unique, collaborative effort. Snapshots of how engaged learning brings non-classroom based explorations together with curricular objectives and outcomes.
We have, as well, participated in the provincial assessments intended to identify learning gaps resulting from the pandemic interruptions, as well as possible escalations in anxieties, fears or not feeling safe in a COVID world. We have also considered the increase in digital knowledge students have developed over the past two years, and whether we should capitalize on that as we move forward in this school year, seeking to increase technology-based learning.
Teachers believe the most effective way to identify and address any learning gaps, social-emotional wellness or access to learning is to provoke student interest and engagement - children who want to know more, try new things, investigate and represent new understandings, questions and possible solutions will continue to grow as learners.
"As schools look to recover from the pandemic, instead of focusing on "learning loss" and persisting with heavy standardized testing, let's bring magic and mystery into learning and teaching...let's infuse the curriculum with meaning and purpose to arouse young people's passions and address compelling issues. And instead of trying to make everything entertaining, let's ensure...students experience the mastery of hard-won accomplishment, while increasing achievement." - Andy Hargreaves
The 2021-22 school year is still unfolding and our students are still thriving as interested, engaged, curious learners. We continue to focus our energies on captivating them with opportunities to think independently, ask questions, seek solutions, try multiple approaches to discover a best solution, investigate, plan, interrogate, create, propose options. The pandemic constraints have not disappeared but they will not impede learning. It is not the environment, the technology, the curricula, the tests, online videos nor sequential lessons that lead children to grow as learners - it is curiosity, imagination, investigation and opportunities to engage in purposeful work that defines engagement, and it is engagement that motivates learners to continue growing academically even in times of pandemic constraints.
Andy Hargreaves is a reknowned educator, researcher and author. His recent article in the Educational Leadership magazine, titled 'The Future of Learning Lies in Engagement" reflects, in many ways, the experiences of Eric Harvie School and our learners.
Our students may be young but they are mighty learners. And we are deeply committed to continuing with student engagement as our primary motivator for learning.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School