Keep Calm and Carry On: Thinking differently in a time of COVID-19

It is still difficult to contemplate that 8 months ago the threat of a pandemic was not really on our radar.  Many of us now reminisce of the days prior to the International/National/Provincial shutdown. A time when one could make a trip to the store without a mask and not have conversations through plexiglass; where one could enjoy the ambience of a restaurant, planning holidays beyond the borders of BC,  or even enjoy the occasional hug. Sadly, a walk through a neighbourhood is no longer filled with greetings – many pass by single file or cross to the other side of the street.  In addition, amongst all this trepidation, hands have never been so well washed and sanitized. Yet, despite these circumstances we have opened our schools and even managed our way through our first COVID-19 case in a school. Now that’s a challenge!

I never would have thought I would be taking part in the opening of schools during a pandemic. The sheer number of things to consider is staggering: entry and exits to buildings, staggered breaks, health and safety protocols, cohorts, directional decals throughout facilities, ever changing communication, Teams and Zoom meetings, and of course managing anxiety. In addition, changing to a quarter system at secondary and creating a blended distributed learning model we call the Transition Support Model, for those not yet ready to attend. Let’s also not forget the new structure for meet the teacher night, parent teacher interviews, and delivering provincial assessments – boy do I long for the good old days of organizing hot lunches!

Just to add to these challenging circumstances the first COVID-19 case appeared in schools. The school and district staff response to manage the communication from the public health authority and coordinate with students, staff, and families was very impressive. It was important to demonstrate to our community that we can calmly navigate our way through a case while ensuring our students are safe and continue on with their learning. We were prepared then as we are now.

Yet, despite all of the challenges the pandemic continues to throw our way – the education system will find a way to move forward. I was amazed during my school visits how many students were very conscious of physical distancing, mask protocols, and hand washing routines. Classrooms have been re-organized and outdoor breaks are separated by cohorts. In addition, staff continue to adjust their lessons to align with this new reality.  Furthermore, Teams and Zoom platforms have enabled us to communicate and collaborate in different ways.

At the end of the day, children still need to connect with their peers and with school staff. Parents need to work, and families desire some sense of normalcy during this crisis. Not surprisingly, human contact has never been more valued. Ultimately, it will be our collective work on a local level to creatively solve problems and assist others that will make the greatest difference and serve as our legacy.

Gord Stewart