Eye on Education: Education During the "New Normal"
Once a week, the Lethbridge Herald publishes a column written by a superintendent of one of five school jurisdictions in the Lethbridge area. This week’s column is authored by our Westwind superintendent, Darren Mazutinec.
The past several weeks have been unlike anything we have ever experienced in education before. The Premier’s announcement in the middle of March that classes would be cancelled indefinitely to help slow the spread of COVID-19 instantly altered the educational landscape. Education has entered an uncharted wilderness that we have never before lived or experienced.
Change of this magnitude brings with it a broad range of emotions, both positive and negative, as we seek to make sense of our new reality and answer difficult questions. The questions I’ve heard asked repeatedly over the past month include, “What will education look like now?” “Will my child still graduate?” “What will my child be expected to learn over the next four months?”, and perhaps most importantly, “How can I help my child succeed with their learning at home?” These are all valid and important questions that deserve answers.
Immediately following the class cancellation announcement, all school districts quickly gathered, huddled and began making preparations to support the government’s direction to continue teaching students with a fresh mindset and a new method of delivery. As teachers were asked to create a home-based learning environment that emphasized core classes, reading and numeracy, online lessons, take-home work packages and Zoom discussions instantly became the new normal for education in Alberta.
As we continue to navigate this new normal, there are four groups of people in our current education landscape that deserve to be recognized, honoured and applauded. First, parents. Overnight our homes became schoolhouses and our parents have become teachers. They are also dealing with the new realities of self-isolation and social distancing that this devastating pandemic has invited into our lives. Many of our parents continue to work full-time and face challenges associated with childcare, while others are facing layoffs and other severe economic difficulties. An involved parent’s tough job has become even more arduous during this difficult time.
The second group that deserves recognition is teachers. I am so proud of our teachers and their dedication and commitment to our students. Their ability to problem solve, adapt and find unique solutions to continue doing their valuable work has made me proud to stand among them. Last week I had the opportunity to walk around and visit some of our Westwind schools and teachers to see first hand the ways they have acclimatized to this adventure we find ourselves in. The smiles, laughter, depth of planning and creative uses of technology by teachers made for an enjoyable and memorable afternoon. I had a wonderful visit with one seasoned teacher in particular whose excitement and anticipation about using technology to connect with his students lifted my spirits.
Third – school principals and vice-principals. The leadership of these individuals has been pivotal as our schools have worked tirelessly to follow government direction and get course materials to our students in their homes. These school leaders continue to work tirelessly to make sense of new direction as it arrives daily and offer continuous caring and support to their staff. Without this level of commitment and leadership, we’d be seeing a much different product coming to our students.
Finally, I’d like to bring awareness to all my colleagues across the province who are responsible for overseeing school division operations during these uncertain times. These individuals have spent countless hours in discussions with colleagues, teachers, principals, government agencies and legal counsel to determine how best to meet all legislative requirements, laws, acts and policies and ultimately do what is best for students. This group of workhorses often goes unnoticed and unrecognized; however, I want to highlight how much work goes on behind the scenes in situations like this. Countless division leaders and their teams have stepped up to work, learn and plans so our students can continue to learn as best they can in this unique world situation.
Eventually, COVID-19 will be a memory. Schools will return to their usual robust routines and patterns. Teachers will be back in classes delivering lessons and kids will get to be kids once again. I know that every group in this new symbiotic relationship is doing our best to help all students continue to learn. I ask that you be patient, cordial, compassionate, creative and committed to your child, your teacher, your school administration, your division and the province. We’re all in this together, and I’m confident that we will be able to work together to make sense of our new routine for as long as we need, and hopefully return to our “old normal” soon.