The full return of students to the College over the past few weeks has surfaced the value of “school” as more than just a place to study subjects. In the days following our class numbers swelling again, my many interactions with students were always lead by the question, “What did you miss most about school?”. The answer was invariably – the community. Yes, we are all very aware of the capacity of staff and students to engage in online learning; we have celebrated and thanked the efforts of our parents to support children navigating their remote learning requirements and we know that content can be readily accessed without face-to-face interactions. The key missing element for our students over the pandemic was the relationships they had built with others, which just can’t be replicated in the online context.
As the Director of Secondary Teaching and Learning, I am critically aware that the “learning” students engage with at school reaches far beyond the syllabus requirements. Whilst we can tick off the number of outcomes we have measured in a unit of work, how do we measure the quality of the relationships that our students build in the community? If ever we needed to grow our capacity for relating to one another, it is now. Recent events in the US have highlighted the collapse of community when our ability to relate to one another with humility, humanity and respect are broken. Amy Cooper and George Floyd have become names embedded in our pop culture psyche for how they symbolise the consequences of broken social contracts. Similarly, in the classroom and the playground, there are social contracts and expectations of conduct that students are required to maintain. It is imperative that when we witness this breakdown, we take a stand to rectify it. As parents and teachers we are called to model this behaviour for our young people and to empower them to speak out against injustices when they experience or witness it, just as the prophet Habakkuk, upon witnessing the ruthless behaviour of the Babylonians, turned to God to ask, “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (Habbakuk 1:3) The Lord answers him by declaring, “See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright- but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness”. (Habbakuk 2:4)
The fact that so many students realised, during their period of isolation, that they liked school and even missed school, was a surprise to many of them. The experience confirmed that it was the people, not the content of classes, that they longed for the most. As we reconnect now as a college community, it is imperative that we take proactive steps to rebuild relationships with one another so that school continues to be a safe, calm and connected home-away-from-home. Students must continue to be the friend they want to have; to ensure the relationships they build are forged on terms that do not favour discrimination or abuse of power. In the classroom and beyond, it is these connections we form that make the learning truly valued, as we gather again as a community, learning together in shared spaces. Only then can we truly live out Jesus’ commandment to “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)
Director of Secondary Teaching & Learning