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Principal's Message

Temperature Check: How Are the Children Feeling These Days?


   "This storm is making me tired," said the boy. "Storms get tired too," said the horse, "so hold on."  - Charlie Mackesy (The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse)

 "Everyone, from parents to educators to children, is feeling the stress of uncertainty. Many parents worry that their child has regressed, withdrawn, or disengaged from school. Educators have rapidly acquired new instructional delivery methods, and some are balancing both in-person and remote instruction. Even teachers with decades of experience feel like they're back in year one, and educators across the country are on the receiving end of a steady stream of demoralizing criticism. Meanwhile, emotions are contagious, and children are absorbing all the ambient anxiety."   - Phyllis Fagell (Educational Leadership, January 2021)
 "Children will need a lot of the same things we have offered them pre-pandemic at school, but they are also going to need different things, and less of some things.What better time to redefine a developmental path for children from preschool through graduation?" - Bethany Hill (January 2021)*******************************************It goes without saying what a trying year this has been - and also without saying (I hope!) how hard the school has tried to keep things as familiar as possible within the context of absurd change. When I think about the amount of planning and consideration we typically put into changing one small thing in a school, it is astonishing for me to consider the number of changes we have made in the past 9 months - along the magnitude, I think, of what could be generational change in any usual timeline. We've been diligent in implementing changes to the point that excessive everything - sanitizing, wearing masks, distancing, cohorting, etc - has become de rigeur and a way of being in school. It is safe to say we have worked hard to build the strongest fortress against COVID-19 possible. And we have, through all the changes, been so impressed with the resiliency of the children.Having survived - and hopefully thrived - almost five months of establishing this new order of how school operates during a pandemic, we are beginning to breathe a little more slowly as we settle deeply into what school might truly be for students during these unusual times.  January has, in a way, brought us back together with a bit more perspective than seemed possible through the tumultuous changes of the autumn months.One of the things we are recognizing is that many of the assumptions we have built our teaching practices around are not on the same firmament as they were before the pandemic arrived unexpectedly last spring. We are noticing there are some cracks developing amongst the resilience we have all been building together, and that is impacting our thinking as we look forward to the remaining months of the pandemic, towards the great beacon of hope that will be the 'time of post-pandemic learning'. Truth be told, there are challenges for all of us, children and adults alike, that are beginning to take a toll on us as we continue moving forward through this school year. While the general veneer of 'we're all coping' is still intact, there are signs of stress that lead us to wonder: How are the children feeling these days?We've observed some changes for sure....We've noticed more children resisting learning, feeling anxious, sometimes saying they are bored, misreading social situations, exhibiting unanticipated delays in learning, worrying about many things - such as when the next online learning time will begin, or a relatively new phenomena where children are mourning vocally the loss of favourite activities they remember from 'before'.  Not every child for sure, yet more than we might have expected.This is not just a time of lockdown, isolation and separation. It is a definite time of loss and sea-change with long-reaching implications for all of us, as individuals and as families. While the children have persevered quite well for many months, the endless feel of this experience is beginning to wear on them as much - sometimes more - than the adults in their lives. Everything about school is different for our students this year. This one fact has, however, tremendous implications for children still growing into being students in a school setting - because the school setting is not really familiar once they get into the building, routines have changed and opportunities for learning are limited in multiple ways that are more about keeping children safe than about optimal conditions for learning. Kids are happy to be back at school - it feels like a release from being so confined to home. Yet, once they are inside the school, it doesn't really feel like school has in their brief pasts. And the kinds of tasks they are engaging in are necessarily constrained by safe behaviours to be less active, creative and imaginative, as well as more solitary. Educators know that knowledge is socially constructed, best acquired in the company of others. When we severely limit opportunities for collaboration, conversation and working in cooperation with each other, knowledge becomes a personal construct of understanding. There is less scope for possible challenges to single perspective understanding and fewer opportunities for applying new understandings in novel situations. While knowledge is, of course, still acquired in solitary learning situations, it becomes a more restrained 'knowing of ideas, facts or concepts' rather than an exercise in exploring, applying, investigating, designing, re-designing, questioning, practicing, innovating or challenging those ideas to become a broader and deeper appreciation of possibilities in the world. It is not surprising most children benefit from and thrive in a school environment where opportunities to socially construct understanding of new concepts together are offered every day, all day as part of their regular learning experience. There are reasons to get up and come to school every day and live out various adventures in learning - the motivation to engage in learning actually lies in the learning experience itself. It is also not surprising that children are expressing frustration with constraints on their learning no matter how hard we work to make their in-school learning as interesting and as creative as possible. Regardless of how much teachers and staff try to make coming to school under pandemic restraints inviting and engaging, none of us are able to escape the fact we are experiencing school in a constrained, restrained and controlled environment that runs counter to everything we know about how children love to learn. Dr. Brad Johnson, an educator/author who reflects often on how children learn and engage in school, noted long before the pandemic, "If we allowed children to learn how children learn best, maybe it would be a more joyous and impactful endeavour for all involved. Children love and learn through free play, physical activity, recess, Arts, Music and movement." And these are the very things we are currently constraining most in schools. Have you noticed your child is resistant to doing learning tasks or balking at going to school? Is it harder to get them motivated when learning temporarily moves online - or vice versa? These are typical responses when children feel they are on uncertain ground and not comfortable with experiences or expectations. We've noticed a higher number of our earliest learners demonstrating some resistant behaviours to being in school every day - most likely reflecting the interruption to building school familiarity over the past months, beginning with the school closures last spring. In a regular school cycle students gradually develop appropriate in-school behaviours and routines over time together.  We are discovering - for the first time for most of us, as educators - that interrupting this regular school cycle of development has a significant impact on how skilled our students are at coping successfully with the demands of school. This is exacerbated for our youngest learners who are now being asked to respond to school in typical ways when their preparation was not complete and, often, forgotten completely. No wonder they are resistant - school is not inviting them to do the things they do naturally - play, explore, move, interact with others - and they can barely remember what it 'used to be like' anyway. Confusion and frustration are the byproducts of small children expected to conform in unfamiliar circumstances to practices they have not encountered before. Depending on personality and background experiences, some will willingly do their best to conform while others will exhibit varying degrees of nonconformity.  We've noticed several other indicators of child stress as well that are becoming trends as the pandemic endures - in future blog entries, I will further explore some of the nuances of motivation, frustration, anxiety, boredom, worry and delays in academic achievement associated with living through a pandemic in real time in a real school setting. It is so important for us to remember that nonconformity of any nature is how a child tells us "this is not a comfortable place for me to be" - either emotionally, physically or socially. Brad Johnson reminds us always, "There are no BAD KIDS!  There are kids who have been traumatized, have little hope for the future, have never experienced success, love or joy, have not learned to regulate their emotions. It is NEVER too late to help a kid who is struggling!"  When a child acts out, they are sending a message to the adults in their circle that this situation is not comfortable for me but I can't explain why and I need a little help - or maybe a lot of help.  And in this pandemic time of constraint and uncertainty, it may take some extra investment of time and care to actually unpack what is underneath the discomfort and causing the reaction in a child at all. It is hard enough for adults to wrap our heads around what has happened to the world and explain how we feel. For children, trying to figure out why they feel anxious or confused or frustrated in a world that is their unfathomable reality.  Dr. Michele Borba, educational psychologist and author of many books on raising and educating children, offers what she calls the 'TALK Strategy' for helping children cope with anxiety, stress, trauma or tragedy.  It is a 4-step discussion strategy that requires no background in psychology; just a wish to help a child in distress for whatever reason:    1) Talk about what is happening - what are your child's understandings related to an event, a situation, a conversation and correct any inaccuracies of information while listening and affirming feelings    2) Assess how your child is coping with the situation; what are they feeling and how are they behaving in school and/or at home. Appreciating the realities of the situation will help with developing resiliency in the future.    3) Listen to your child's concerns and questions. Use the 'Talk. Stop. Listen. Talk. Stop. Listen.' model as you talk to your child.  As the adult, listen more than you talk. Answer what you are able to answer truthfully. Don't give more information than needed in the moment - follow your child's lead.     4) Kindle hope - despite this difficult situation and all the other challenging events taking place in the world, there is also goodness, compassion and hope. Offer awareness of all three to your child in as concrete a way as possible. When we talk to children and really listen, we begin to see the world through the eyes of a child, to perceive and appreciate childlike perspectives we may have abandoned long ago. We find ourselves able to reframe our own thinking while guiding our children to consider alternative possibilities. We are able to offer them ideas to apply in their own situations for problem solving, using empathetic thinking, appreciating other human beings and the flaws we all carry as members of the human race. And, perhaps most importantly of all, we are able to acknowledge feelings and behaviours as authentic and normal and part of living in a pretty mixed up world. It is through these practices that children develop resiliency and become comfortable with their own feelings and discomforts. Examining the nuances of children's feelings through these later days of a still-raging pandemic, I recognize there are many implications for successfully leading students through this time of social, emotional and physical upheaval that will require reflection and examination well beyond one blog entry. Over the next few weeks, I expect to explore multiple aspects of working successfully with children during these uncertain times, and begin to visit possibilities for moving forward in numerous ways with children through the final (hopefully!) months of the pandemic into a quite different post-pandemic time. Our learners are on this journey with us as children of the world, and they deserve the time and attention focused on a much different future.Lorraine Kinsman, PrincipalEric Harvie School ​
 

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Eric Harvie School

357 Tuscany Drive NW Calgary, AB, T3L 3C9
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School Contacts

Principal
Lorraine Kinsman
Assistant Principal
Benjamin Strand
Education Director
Prem Randhawa
Trustee
Trina Hurdman

School Information

Grades
K-04
Enrolment
433
Programs
Regular
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School Hours

Morning Start
8:20 AM
Dismissal
3:05 PM
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