After more than two years of guests-at-a-distance, it was a pleasure for us to welcome more than 250 parents and visitors to our Spring Concert last night! It is never easy to return home at the end of a busy day and then take your children back to school for an evening function. We are so glad that you did. Gathering to enjoy some of the musical contributions of our students was the first opportunity in a long while that felt like a return to normal was truly within reach.
During our COVID sojourn, life in schools and in many homes has been anything but “normal”. As teachers and parents, we have witnessed some of the impacts and may be wondering if our kids will be okay in the long run. Have their learning and social development been compromised amid all the starts and stops since March 2020? In a school that made the needs of children its number one priority, the impacts are likely to be short-lived.
At Matthews Hall, we work hard to safeguard the learning environment for the benefit of the development of all students. We know from research and professional intuition that brain development flourishes when children feel emotionally and physically safe, when they know that they have adults who care about them, and when they are challenged in their learning.
It’s no wonder, then, that research has found that a positive school climate improves students’ academic achievement, attendance, engagement, and behavior, as well as teacher wellness.
While this may all seem like a no-brainer (…of course students learn better when they feel safe and seen, right?), the practice of creating and sustaining a positive school climate is a full-time job. School climate involves everyone connected to a school – students, teachers, support staff, administrators, governors, and parents – and almost all aspects of their experiences in school from relationships to school cleanliness. I am proud to say that our Matthews Hall team works very hard in each of these areas.
So what are the hallmarks of a healthy school climate and what can each of us do to nurture and sustain one? There are four big areas on which teachers, students, and parents must collaborate. As partners in education, each of us must support and promote (a) strong relationships throughout our school community; (b) high academic expectations with strong and flexible supports; (c) consistent expectations for the behaviour of kids (…and adults!); and (d) mutual respect and boundaries – especially during those times when there are disagreements.
While there isn’t total consensus on all the components that add up to a healthy school climate and culture, these four go a long way to ensuring that elementary students will thrive in their learning environment.
In the busy-ness of everyday life, children go about their school days (and parents their working lives) with precious few chances to “stop and smell the roses”. Events like last night’s spring concert are important indicators of school culture because they honour, celebrate, and accentuate some of the things that matter more than others.
Every single day, our students and staff walk into our school, consciously or unconsciously, wondering: Do you know me? Do you see me? Will you grow me?
If our school does not stand for something more profound than raising achievement levels, then we probably will not make a memorable difference in the lives of our students, teachers, or parents.
Community events like last night – and all the special occasions that help define a Matthews Hall school year – are our chances to show that we are committed to making such a difference!
Ric Anderson, Head of School