Normally, when we flip the calendar to March, we can look forward to a few things: the promise of longer days, warmer temperatures, and the possibility of a break from the routines of an “unforgiving February”. During this year’s pandemic, we soldier-on in an effort to keep our students learning and connected, and we look forward to a delayed spring break in April. We’ve got this, right? We can do it!
As we all know, the pandemic has brought “changes and pivots” that have become a daily reality, the impact of which has been felt by everyone. Whether we’ve liked it or not, we and our kids have been tested and we are learning a few things about what is required to keep everyone healthy, optimistic, and future-oriented. For some, we are likely engaged in the biggest “resilience experiment” of our lives.
There have been many tests for our students and us. Masks and physical distancing have altered behaviours in far-reaching ways from the passers-by who lunge off the sidewalk to avoid us to the “virtualization” of many daily tasks (…including time with friends). Will this widespread, enforced isolation have a lasting impact on the mental health of our children or us? Or on our wellness as social creatures? As human beings?
Thankfully we are back at school for the time-being. And thankfully we have the technological supports in place to ensure that virtual learning can continue either way. As we all have seen in recent months, today’s children are “digital natives” who readily adapt to different learning modes using a variety of tools. This is good when it comes to resilience and coping under pandemic conditions.
But it cannot become the norm. From scissors and ballpoint pens to typewriters and tablets, we must all work very hard to assign technology to its proper place in the lives of our children and ourselves. Tech and tools are great, but people need other people in order to survive. Children need people to thrive. The social and academic learning of human beings cannot be “downloaded” to screens, mics, and “collaborative platforms” without sacrificing something important.
Our students all need technology to work efficiently and share effectively, but a permanent pivot to a world where virtual learning, virtual playdates, and virtual relationships take the place of personal encounters will not work in the long run. It will ultimately lead to social isolation with all of its far-reaching consequences.
And it’s not just about the children. Studies in pediatrics already show a massive increase in parents reporting their own mental health concerns arising from the impacts of isolation, and we know that there’s no such thing as child mental health without parent mental health. Children absorb the stresses and strains of the adults in their lives. As the popular saying goes, “We are all in this together” and it is certainly true when it comes to health and wellness.
In terms of education, there is no question that different children need different things at different times. Some thrive in a virtual setting and others wither. What is the right balance? What is good for children? What is good for the human person? At Matthews Hall, we strive to be informed about trends without becoming trendy, to be purposeful in the use of technology without becoming its slave, to be strategic about future directions without becoming strangled by passing fads.
You might say we strive to be more interested in the band than the bandwagon!
The elementary years are fleeting enough and, in addition to teaching all the foundational academic skills, we have a serious duty to ensure that our students are “becoming human”.
That will never happen on a screen alone and, to the degree that it’s even somewhat possible, it won’t be lasting or authentic.
Just like there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned hard work, there’s no substitute for the value of people working with people. In the same place. At the same time.
Face to face.
Ric Anderson, Head of School