Seaside Magazine Starfish

Saanich Schools: Change During a Pandemic

by Dave Eberwein, Superintendent / CEO School District 63 –

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has caused some significant upheaval in the public education system – for students, parents, teachers, administrators and support staff. Schools were closed in March, then partially reopened with an emergency remote learning option in April, a partial opening in May and then fully reopened in September with an optional transitional remote learning program. All of them complex on their own with each phase requiring different approaches, different resources and different thinking – and all in an accelerated timeline.

We did it. Not only did we do it, but I would argue that our staff in Saanich did a great job pulling together. I take the opportunity to tell who ever will listen how proud I am that our team found some creative solutions to incredible challenges.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” This quote from Sir Winston Churchill is just as applicable now as it was at the end of the Second World War. If it wasn’t for the war, the UN likely would not have been created as an institution where countries came to work out their differences. We sometimes need a crisis to see significant change – to see what we’re capable of achieving. We have that reality in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has created such a space.

So, what have been some of the realities in our schools these past 10 months? What things have stood out for me that are significant in their potential for positive change? Here are three areas that are worth noting:

The Importance of School. Whether it was virtual or in-person, it became crystal clear to all of us: kids need school. It’s critical to their growth, their mental health and their connectedness to their community. Schools are more than just places where curriculum is taught. We have been reminded that schools are a critical social-emotional anchor for our children, where they not only learn about “stuff,” but they experience the importance of belonging within a community of caring adults. School is where we connect, where we learn and where we grow. COVID-19 has required us to find new ways of interacting with students, their parents and the broader community to ensure support is there when it’s needed.

Leveraging Technology. COVID-19 restrictions forced us to leverage technology in ways not even considered a year ago – new learning platforms, new e-resources and new communication tools. Launching a video conferencing platform called MSTeams retooled our communication patterns. Not only have we used it for our professional meetings, but it has been instrumental in connecting schools and teachers with students and parents. We share documents, send questions in a chat box and even raise our virtual hand when we have a comment to make.

New technologies have allowed connections in ways not previously considered. As an example, parent/teacher conferences have gone virtual this year, something we perhaps could have done earlier but didn’t have the necessary impetus to make happen. Now, we see the increased convenience for both teachers and parents. Previously, parents may have had difficulty scheduling their day to accommodate the conferences. Now, the person-to-person dialogue with a teacher can be turned on at your desk or even while you’re walking the dog.

Encouraging Risk-taking. We had no choice. We tried new and unfamiliar things in a hurry as we worked to connect with our students and their families: new resources, new learning platforms, new assessments and new reporting formats. What the COVID-19 crisis provided us with was the permission to take these risks and it paid off for us. It taught us that we have the ability to find creative solutions to even monumental problems when they happen. Even a global health crisis was no obstacle for the creative minds of our educators when their backs were to the wall.

So, as we move through to the other side of this pandemic, we need to remind ourselves that even forced change can result in some really positive innovation. Massive disruptions create opportunities for growth. Our new challenge is to find ways to maintain some of these very successful changes as we continue along our journey of being better tomorrow than we are today.

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