And we are back … and I have to say, what a blessing it is!
It’s not very often that we get to experience the freshness of a new school year in October, but arriving at the Middle Cove campus this week after exactly 116 days away, working from home, has been reminiscent of precisely that moment that is usually experience in mid-January, when teachers but not yet students arrive back from the summer holidays ready for new learning and what’s ahead.
At that pivotal point each year there is a quiet readiness and a careful holding of the space, with both teachers and the campus environment itself feeling rejuvenated, preparing to welcome the students back. Interestingly, that same experience is here again now, although I was certainly not anticipating that with a long period of remote learning at my back and a general assumption that I was heading into that aging part of the year where things start to gallop towards a close!
The beauty of the bushland that we all so often take for granted, the nestled classrooms in village-like configurations, the biodynamic garden overflowing with an abundance of nasturtiums, sweet peas, poppies and overall new growth, and the clean and tidy classrooms and hallways are here waiting, looking forward to next Monday when the high voices of the Class 3 to 6 children ring out over the walkway as the Year 7 to 11 students find their way down the hillside and spread out into the body of the school.
Back at home, as your child crawls towards their last day of online study, I anticipate that the picture I have painted hasn’t been alive in your mind or in theirs, as it wasn’t in mine! At least for some, the bedroom may have become a little if not a lot den-like, and the screen may be beaming both the science main lesson as well as the latest Netflix series. I like to think that that hasn’t been the case, and I am conscious that it hasn’t been for all, but I am only too aware that for many high school students the capacity to keep learning fresh without in situ classroom experience has well and truly waned, and that the lack of delineation between home and school, family life and work has reached its expiry date. And … I am happy to announce that that will be all swept away!
As much as staff meetings and collegial planning continued (and in fact intensified) during this lockdown period, and as much as I knew that the answer to a question was at the end of the email, phone call or the Zoom, it was only after I was back on campus that I realised the effect our remoteness and distance had had on the efficiency with which matters could be resolved and in a sense, my motivation. Suddenly, a discussion that would have needed careful scheduling could happen on the driveway and a document I needed to finalise could be edited in a flash.
While the experience of the return will be a little different for each student, I anticipate that much will also be universally felt and may somewhat align with my own. The teachers’ facial expressions, body gestures and the rise and fall of their voices will be that much more engaging, the task at hand will be easier to understand and the work of peers around them will spur effort on. Teachers will readily be able to see the degree to which a student is grasping a concept and whether the work is in fact getting done, right there and then. Importantly, the screen will be off!
But most vital of all, the environment will support the learning activity. The classroom space will be bigger than the bedroom or kitchen table and will be well equipped, the bushland and the Middle Cove setting will bring a feeling of lightness and health, the blue sky overhead will provide that summer expansiveness that engenders a breathing out after a period of contraction, and the community of other people, the students’ friends, will bring to life belonging and connection. And the students will return having grown, not just physically but emotionally and cognitively as well, and their teachers will draw on their newly developed capacities and take hold of the zest for life that will be evident.
Newness brings with it growth potential, and while I had expected to experience a return to the old when I came back on site, I instead encountered the beginnings of something new. I anticipate the students will experience the same.
So I have decided not to welcome the students back to campus next Monday, but instead to welcome them to October 25, 2021, and then to October 26, 27… and on and on to days that haven’t yet happened, to dates which are in the future. So although there is work to be done in ascertaining what was and wasn’t retained during our time away, there is also the realisation that there is no need to go over the old and that in fact we are not coming back. We are instead going forwards and on each day when the students come here to learn, they will be stepping into learning that will be new … and I can’t wait for that to begin.
See you, dear students, next Monday!
Deputy Head of School (Years 7-12)