As you begin the March Break this weekend, we hope that you will be able to breathe deeply, relax fully, and sleep soundly knowing that, in our country (flawed though it may be at times!), your children are safe and that their school, teachers, and friends will be awaiting their return in two weeks’ time. The strange monotony of routine and isolation, combined with the uncertainty and fever pitch of the past two years, have been a challenge for everyone in our community, country, and families. However, as we watch the escalation of the situation in Ukraine, somehow the beefs, crises, and petty gripes of our work-a-day lives pale in comparison.
Are our children concerned about the world of 2022? What do children do when they see a situation coming unhinged around them? Have you ever noticed – during an argument in the car, or while overhearing frightening news on TV, receiving bad news, or witnessing angry outbursts on a city street between strangers? One of the first things they do is immediately look to the adults in their lives to gauge their own interior response. Usually, they look to mom or dad, but it can be to a teacher, a coach, or another trusted grown-up. By searching the faces of their trusted adults and sensing the “temperature” of their words or the calm reassurance in their eyes, children intuit quickly which things are serious and which things are manageable. A quick glance at their parents can sometimes give them everything they need in order to feel that “we’ve got this” and everything will be all right.
So much of our shared experience during the past two years has tested this for children and youth as they faced endless lockdowns and restrictions the consequences of which we are just beginning to understand. While schools in Canada – and particularly those in Ontario – have been among the most impacted in the world by such measures and restrictions, at Matthews Hall we have always tried to make decisions that serve our unique and thoughtful community without forgetting the child at the centre. Without a doubt, such decisions have been challenging, but we have been laser-focussed on the students throughout.
As normal begins to glimmer on the horizon, we should also be focussed on our school’s core values – respect, responsibility, and inclusion, in particular. The transition to the spring term will likely come with challenges, anxieties, and excitement for everyone, as certain measures are relaxed and activities in our schedule return to normal. It will be important for everyone in our small family school to re-commit to the kind of respect and responsibility that is crucial in the face of differing perspectives and understandings.
If our ability to live through a pandemic as a school is to mean anything at all, the test about whether we’ve been successful or not over the past two years has got to be, “Has our commitment to inclusion survived?” And more than that, “Do people feel like they belong, especially the children we serve?” “Has anyone been sidelined in our effort to ‘stay safe’ and ‘be kind’?”
As a school community we must all promote respectful, welcoming, and inclusive practices and communications at all times – especially as we move ever closer to our new post-COVID reality.
After all, the kids are watching us.
Ric Anderson, Head of School