“I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”
I first encountered this quotation (attributed to teacher and psychologist, Haim Ginott) when I was at the very beginning of my career. A framed copy actually hung in my classroom for several years and I often took note of it as I went about my work with students. It was at once both inspiring and frightening – and, for me, served as a daily reminder of the tremendous privilege and responsibility of teaching. Thirty years into my career with the many problems and opportunities (“prob-le-tunities”?) facing contemporary classrooms, the words of Ginott are as important today as ever. Especially in a pandemic world.
The COVID-19 moment has presented many challenges to students, educators, and parents. Children and adults already coping with mental health conditions have been especially vulnerable to the changes, and each day we are learning about the broad impacts on students as a result of schools being closed, physical distancing guidelines and isolation, and other unexpected changes to their lives.
Taking steps to support our students and teachers is essential during this challenging time, whether they’re learning remotely or in classrooms. For us, that means more than simply making sure they learn from lesson plans and score well on tests. We are just as concerned about the social, emotional, and mental health needs of everyone in our community.
As we “brace for the impact” of relaxing public health restrictions in schools and communities and a gradual return to a more normal way of doing things, people in our lives will “land” in different ways – some gently and intact, some with a thud, and still others in a heap at our feet. Enduring over two years of anxiety and uncertainty will require everyone to dig deep and exercise that greatest of virtues – patience. Patience with others (especially those whose perspectives differ from our own), patience with our children, and patience with ourselves.
The one thing that always helps is the ability to see the promise of something new and hopeful on the horizon – like the children who will enjoy the launch of their elementary school years in our soon-to-be-completed Early Primary Learning Centre. In the near future, the months of planning, dust, and noise will give way to beautiful new kindergarten space at Matthews Hall: the kind of space that will set the standard for early learning classrooms in our city. It will truly feel like a home away from home, which is the hallmark of any effective school.
As we move forward with purpose and optimism for the future, I am encouraged by yet another quotation. I don’t know who the author is, but I do know that exact moment I encountered the words (…and memorized them!). It was the on first day I dropped my eldest child at his preschool class twenty-three years ago.
“Walk far from cynics and whiners. They don’t believe, they never have. Uphold those who care, those who share. Cheer on the re-newers. Cheer on the new!”
Debeo Possum Volo!
Ric Anderson, Head of School