Many things in education have changed throughout the past eleven months. Classrooms look very different to the settings children knew last spring. Words such as ‘bubble’ and ‘social distance’ have been redefined and we have all become accustomed to making reference to ‘these unprecedented times’. Now, students’ "learning loss" due to school closures has been the subject of much research and concern – especially for vulnerable students. While many may feel that the education system is fighting an almost impossible battle, the first step in addressing learning loss lies in forging strong relationships.
We initially marveled at the way platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom brought us together last spring but it became clear that digital interaction was not the same as in-person connection. As human beings, we require input from organic, three-dimensional space in order to establish trusting relationships.
Consequently, it is these authentic connections that make Mother Teresa Middle School (MTMS) so unique and equipped to support students through this period of time. Relationships, deeply rooted in trust, with students and alumni have helped in laying the foundations for higher expectations, overcoming any adversity and instilling a desire for growth. The holistic approach at MTMS fosters connection and learning inside and outside of the classroom. Certainly, the amplification of the effects of learning loss is an important consideration, but directing attention to missed learning should not mean overlooking the powerful contribution of connection, well-being and mental health to student success.
Using trauma-informed research from expert behavioural scientists, in the area of Threat Assessment and Trauma Response, MTMS has sought to create even greater experiences and to provide consistent opportunities for student engagement. Students begin each day with Mindful Mornings, shaped by student voice, as well as current best practices around breathing, meditation and visualization. By addressing feelings of stress and equipping students with the tools needed to effectively navigate anxiety and trauma, we help fulfill the need for emotional safety.
Students have the opportunity to celebrate and honour their diversity with weekly Cultural Hour. The sessions are led by Mr. Evan Whitestar, who is an Oskâpêwis (Elder’s Helper) and provide a space for knowledge sharing and teachings that emphasize the spiritual connection to Mother Earth and our relationships with one another – a timely message as our experiences with COVID-19 have demonstrated that we are all closely linked.
Thanks to the generosity of Harvard Western Insurance, MTMS middle years students also had the opportunity to dive into the new year with an exciting contest, the Harvard Reading Zoo Challenge (HRZC). Through collaboration and team work, the four teams have collectively read a combined 164 books since the Challenge began in January. We extend our gratitude to our entire community for providing the MTMS Team with the resources to exercise creativity within the curriculum and craft a space of fun and hope during this time.
Teaching is not just about the grades, it's about building a relationship and ensuring that our students are happy, safe and secure. Making children feel emotionally safe and supporting their ability to self-regulate through positive relationships and connections, will support their quest for academic success. So, when discussions regarding the COVID-19 Slide arise, we choose to extend our horizon; it's not about what has been lost, it's about continuing our vision for our students by creating well rounded young men and women, academically, socially, emotionally and spiritually.
The MTMS Team