With the arrival of our Centennial Homecoming and Gala this weekend, I look forward to celebrating the 100th anniversary of Matthews Hall. This milestone has been a century-in-the-making, so we should all take a moment to reflect on the significance of the occasion. A quick scan around our city and throughout the local area will reveal that very few other schools can lay claim to such an uninterrupted heritage. If centuries are how we measure significant historical events, then – as The Tragically Hip once intoned – we are Ahead by a Century!
If we are truly going to appreciate the accomplishments of our school over the decades, we must always return to our roots. How and why and for whom was our school started? How and why and with whom has our school endured?
We are fortunate to have some solid evidence of the school that Kate Matthews envisioned when she began her work with elementary children in 1918. The experience of school was certainly different in those days – desks in rows, drills and rote learning, and an emphasis on King and Country. In keeping with most schools of the time, such traditional values and rules for “right conduct” ruled the day. And yet, one of the specific things we know about Miss Matthews’ work with children was the value and importance she placed on relationships.
The guiding principle of our school from its earliest days was an emphasis on appreciating that children needed to “live life sanely and happily with others, facing life bravely and with joy” even in the midst of struggles and adversities. It meant recognizing that academic progress and success were vital objectives that could only be fully realized when learning to work effectively with others was also prioritized. This should be the mission of every elementary school serious about helping children learn to live a happy life – accepting of the faults and shortcomings of others along with their own, as they meet, exceed and achieve important academic goals.
While such expectations continue to be upheld in our school today, we strive not to understand ourselves as a “rules first” community. We prefer to think of ourselves as a “relationships first” community in keeping with Kate Matthews’ vision for children . Miss Matthews would never have presided over a school where meetings and planning focused on the consequences of poor behaviour. She would have spent her time looking to create positive experiences intentionally designed to strengthen relationships with all students – the excelling and the struggling.
Today, we must continue to prioritize relationships with our students and one another because without relationships, there can be no learning that lasts.
If we are committed to this as a school, we honour the work of Kate Matthews and, like her, focus on making the positives so loud that the negatives are almost impossible to hear.
By doing this, we remain excited about the future, which – in our work with children – is simply not negotiable.