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Blog: Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

Together but Apart: A New Rhythm of Schooling

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

With the challenging September start-up slowly receding in our rearview mirrors, school districts around the province are beginning to settle into a new rhythm of schooling for the foreseeable future. The fact is that society needs schools not just so that parents can go to work, but because educational continuity is a source of human connection and hope during incredibly difficult times. It is fair to say that we will be living with COVID-19 at least for the rest of this school year, so it is necessary that we all discover how to safely and calmly educate students amidst this pandemic. As I have made my rounds to schools so far this year, I am asking students and staff three very similar questions:

  • What has gone really well so far this year?
  • What challenges exist, and how are you addressing them?
  • What are some things that you are doing (learning) now that you would like to continue when the pandemic is over?

The responses so far have been revealing, though not surprising:

  • Teachers and students really value human connection. Teachers have observed just how important they are to their students and vice versa. For the most part, students were really excited to get back to face to face classes and have been remarkably resilient in terms of their ability to grasp and adhere to the new procedures we have put in place in schools. The early observation is that there is more warmth, kindness and understanding in our schools, and that is a good thing.
  • New routines take time. There is a lot more handwashing going on in schools, and this is a good thing. However, teachers have observed the noticeable time now spent in class following safety and personal hygiene procedures, which has reduced instructional time. With a loss of instructional time, teachers have really had to focus on what matters most: essential learning outcomes and student well-being.
  • Administrators are “on” a lot more. In addition to the significant time spent on establishing routines and safety protocols, our principals and vice-principals have had to spend a lot more time supervising students through staggered starts, recesses, lunch and dismissals. True, they would be the first to admit that there seem to be fewer discipline issues by virtue of a more proactive connection with students, but less time is being spent supporting classroom learning.
  • Students prefer to be in class. Despite the initial excitement of the promise of blended learning experiences, most students say they prefer to be in school for face to face instruction. It is not an indictment of blended learning, but a recognition that our system is not nearly as competent at it as we would like. There are some critical capabilities for authentic blended learning experiences that take time to learn, and we do not become experts overnight just because the situation demands it.
  • But we can learn to do it well. We have about 1000 students in our blended Transition Program, and we are learning a lot about what it takes to meaningfully support these students. Not all students need to be in our buildings 100% of the time. We must work strategically with the students, their parents to design an individualized education plan to meet their needs, and one that makes careful use of the precious times that they enter our buildings. When teachers work closely together on these challenges, we amplify our learning.

A key observation for me is that just because we cannot be as physically close as we used to be does not mean that we cannot stay connected. Actually, the opposite is true. Because we cannot spend as much time together, we must treat the time we do have together as something precious, and in doing so, make the best of it.

By Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.