Kia ora koutou katoa

As I write this, today, April 15th signalled the start of Term 2, 2020.  But the schools are empty and devoid of the happy chatter of children as they reconnect with their classmates.  Staff rooms are cold with no welcoming coffee aroma and friendly banter. The situation we find ourselves in with this global pandemic, and having to find a new way to educate our children, would have been unimaginable only a short time back. 

In calling around the schools, I have been incredibly impressed at how the teachers have worked together and collaborated with other schools in order to very quickly put together resources that can be used at home.  One principal told me that his staff had shown how the republican system of self-management really operates as they worked in partnership to prepare for Term Two.  A huge banner of appreciation goes out to those many teachers across our schools and to the parents who have had to step into what, for many, is a very unfamiliar role.  We all know that information is not education and that what we offer the children in our schools is more than that. One of the most important opportunities that the school environment extends to children is friendships and connections with their peers.  How many of us have life-long friendships that were forged in the classrooms? Is that something that can be emulated in the home environment without having to resort to telecommunications? The situation is calling on families to become self-sufficient in terms of friendship.  

The care of families’ wellbeing is of primary importance to our principals and teachers. They are very sensitive to the stresses that parents are experiencing during this time, especially solo parents and nobody wants to add to that stress.  For that reason, many of the activities that are being required of the children have to do with everyday activities. Children are innately geared towards learning and, as long as they are relaxed and happy, will learn from almost anything they are exposed to.  Innate learning is part of the human condition.  Play is important to us all but especially to children and finding “treasures” in nature and making things from them will occupy hours of happy enjoyment.

This is a temporary situation that none of us wants to become the new norm but, at the same time, we need to maintain appropriate realistic optimism. In other words, this too will pass but don’t fall into the trap of picking a date or you may suffer disappointment. The move through the various levels could go on for some time. 

Although we are very lucky to have access to technology to communicate, we still need person-to-person interaction and we cannot accept the current distance education as a “new norm” but as something that we are having to meet as a challenge for the time being. Perry Rush wrote the following in his editorial for the latest NZ Principals’ Federation newsletter:

The airwaves are groaning with calls to move teaching and learning to remote online learning, and we have all been assailed by offers from technology and software companies keen to promote their products.  Do not let these offers distract you. Technology is not a pedagogy. It is an enabler and provides an opportunity for us to connect to our students and them to each other. Pedagogy begins with your vision, your values and finds expression in your local curriculum. There are almost as many approaches to teaching and learning as there are schools in our broadly diverse country.  The important question is not what online learning resource is best for you, but how technology might support your kaupapa; your school’s approach to learning”.

So, whilst the children were enjoying a break over the holidays, our teachers were busy planning their lessons, as usual, but with the added task of having to quickly upskill themselves on how to deliver lessons remotely to the children without disrupting the flow and rhythm of their school day and, at the same time ensuring that they get a balance of physical and practical activities, artistic activities and something to think about.

Anxiety levels are high across the world at present.  Mary Willow at Plum Parenting offers some practical guidance to parents as they negotiate the day, trying to balance their own work with supervising children’s learning.  Edit down your self-expectations and work at not putting “shoulds” on yourself. Take the time to tidy your minds, gardens, houses, accepting who you are and want to be.

One teacher has sent home this suggested guide for the day, along with a folder of detailed lessons and advice that the school work need not exceed 1½ hours a day:

    1. = Morning circle / movement, 
    2. = Main Lesson, 
    3. = Practice Lessons 
    4. Arts (including recorder and handwork) 
    5. Acts of Service – there is no folder for this, but I’m hoping that your children are helping around the home and making your life easier with acts of service that become increasingly automatic for them.

We are all in this together.  We have been working with our contributors and have been very grateful to read the various school and Waekura newsletters.  There are many suggestions, ideas and teacher professional development possibilities available here and our early childhood sector, Waekura, has regular newsletters with comforting advice and ideas for parents and teachers.  If you would like to subscribe to the Waekura newsletters, please send a request to edith.vandermeer@gmail.com

Here is a suggested rhythm for the day for younger children:

In reading through the various school and class newsletters, I have seen some appreciative comments from parents.

You will be happy to know that relief teacher Daddy is right now teaching class 6 and class 7 here at our house! All going smoothly thus far – kids (and Dad!) are fully engaged! 

Great job teachers on all the work you sent out! 

Yay! Good news. The teachers (well the ones that I know of) have done an awesome job putting together videos and audios and other materials for the kids. My son is absolutely thrilled to see his teacher doing morning circle. It feels like the right amount of material.

The H Family is locked down at our Lodge. The twins enjoy the guest free property for excessive stomping, screaming and singing, making as much noise as they want (and can) as no one is here to complain. We spend a lot of 1:1 time with our new baby who is growing like a king, 7.2kgs already and only 7 weeks old. Their teacher has mailed them some artwork so we’re currently preparing for rainy day pen pal activities. We’re also sewing and knitting. While the sunny days last we stick to the outdoors, jump the trampoline and make firewood, weed the garden and tidy up the garage and storage. The first week is going well and we’re big supporters of Jacinda’seffortssowewill#stayathome!

We’ve been busy settling into our new slow homeschool routine. R is doing bits of book work in the morning, he’s reluctantly reading his way through the BFG and he is loving magic squares and maths sheets. He’s the self appointed chief of licking out baking bowls; and a fearless play dough colourist. He is a dedicated wrestling coach for our dog and he puts her through her paces several times a day. He is missing his class and playtime buddies, and sends greetings to you all! 

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the Secretary for Education for the regular and full updates she has provided us to keep us informed; the Early Childhood Council for advice and resources; and thanks go to the MoE for the kindness, flexibility and care of families and teachers during this time of Lockdown Level Four.

Keep tuned as we move from Level Four to Level Three and share stories, ideas and community building that is happening in our network.

Janet Molloy

CEO