Over the past year, there
has been no shortage of news stories around the critical and absolutely
necessary endeavours of front line workers in the many sectors of our society. Nurses,
doctors and the myriad of healthcare workers in the medical profession certainly
are atop the list, for without them, our environment would be unimaginable. Workers
in food stores and other identified essential service businesses have been
relentless in their pursuits to provide the necessities of life. We also know
how school administrators, teachers and the variety of support staff in our
schools have gone the extra mile to ensure that our students are safely guarded
in a welcoming and loving learning environment. They have made learning come to
life in creative and engaging ways in a very different learning context. There
is no question that these people are real heroes.
Those of us in the education
system know that superheroes are not just those fictitious characters who wear
capes and swoop in to save the day. I am always most impressed when it is our
students, the young people we serve each and every day, who take on the role;
when they inspire those around them by going well beyond that which is
expected, when their strong work ethic, attitude and effort are undeniable. It
is for this reason that the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division has initiated
a special means of recognizing the missionary work that is carried out by the
dedicated and hard-working students in our schools.
The stories that have come
back to us are heartening. We’ve heard of many students who act as peacemakers
on the playground, encouraging the inclusion of peers and classmates in a
variety of activities. Another small group of students organized a special
fundraising activity and donated all of the proceeds to a charity that supports
individuals in need. A third example involved a single student writing messages
of hope to every schoolmate in the building. Just this past week, one of our
grade one teachers delivered a special gift to our office that contained
carefully illustrated and coloured posters with uniquely crafted messages from
her creative-minded students. Special messages included, “We love you”, “You
are just right” and “Thanks for being you” to name a few. One even said, “Just
keep swimming!” What an uplifting
experience that was for everyone here at our Catholic Education Centre. It is
people like this who make all the difference in our schools and communities. In
spite of all the current difficulty and challenges in our world, we don’t have
to look far to intentionally see young learners making our world a much better
True superheroes lie in our
students. We all recognize as educators that students learn well from their
peers so when students go out of their way to make this world a better place,
it is particularly important that we encourage and support them. Children and
youth, at all ages, who make kindness their priority, who are empathetic
towards others or who graciously see the selfless need to extend gifts of time,
talent or treasure to others understand that we are called to be our brother’s
keeper. We must be intentional to make and seek out these acts of kindness,
whether overt or subtle, and appropriately recognize them.
Do you remember growing up during childhood and adolescence when, for a short period of time, every muscle, joint and bone ached in your body? Although the physical hurt and soreness was almost unbearable at the time, it was absolutely essential to our development. These were physical indicators that we were growing and changing – never again to be exactly the same.
In the arena of education, the year 2020 was figuratively similar to the physical pains we experienced growing up. We experienced the irritating hurt of the disruption in the education process early in the spring, the aches of adhering to the health measures and public restrictions along with the discomfort of having to be immersed in the ways of learning relatively unfamiliar and to some degree undesirable. These temporary hurdles and different ways of being have caused us to embrace educational diversity. Whether we are ready or not, education is evolving.
Teachers and administrators have become proficient at using Zoom, Google Meets and Google Classroom as platforms to facilitate online instruction. At the same time, students have become very accustomed to receiving instruction in this way, particularly for our secondary students, who have been learning from home since late November, in addition to those who chose to begin the school year in an at-home-learning environment. However, the ongoing challenge in education is far more involved than being comfortable using technology. The change we must provide our students with is a framework upon which they can create and direct their own learning at any time and place and at any rate or speed. Technology then becomes the tool or the vehicle by which all of this happens. The learning process needs to be personalized for each student so that he or she can grow and develop in accordance with his or her God-given potential. When students become more engaged and invested in the education process, because it is more personal and meaningful, their learning is optimized.
As we wrap up this past year, I encourage everyone to move forward into 2021 with confidence, enthusiasm and optimism. Having been challenged within our personal, economic and political circumstances unlike any we have previously experienced, we’ve learned a great deal this past year as it relates to the many facets of teaching and learning. As we proceed one day at a time, my prayer is that all of our students, who are entrusted to the care of teachers and staff, experience the richness of educational opportunities presented to them.
Wednesday, October 28, 2020, marked a very special day for Holy Spirit Catholic School Division as Catholic Central High School received a Blackfoot name at a small and personal gathering in the school’s Eggplant Theatre. Led by Kainai Elder Tom Little Bear, the very touching ceremony involved a smudge, face painting and the Blackfoot naming of the building.
From time to time, we learn of when First Nations communities honour individuals with a Blackfoot name, but it is particularly distinctive and rare that such entities as buildings are honoured in the same manner. As a former student in our Catholic school system, Elder Little Bear shared his experience growing up in a very traditional First Nations family on the Kainai Reserve with grandparents who were spiritual leaders in their community. Together with the influence of those within the Lethbridge Catholic School District at the time, Little Bear’s experience was particularly inspiring.
Only the fourth building in the City of Lethbridge to receive a Blackfoot name, Catholic Central was beautifully named, “Taatsikioyis – Centre Tipi”. As I have come to understand the significance of this name, I realize that, to have received it in one of our schools, is of the highest honour. In their culture, Blackfoot people gather annually in the summers on the Kainai Reserve for Aakokaatsin – Circle Camp. Their traditions, relationships with each other and their Creator would be renewed. At Aakokaatsin – Circle Camp, the central tipi is viewed as a very special place of sacredness, learning and relationship. With this special honour now placed upon Catholic Central High School, this institution of learning becomes a beacon – a place where our Blackfoot students can connect with each other and with the entire school community – a place where learning and prayer are interwoven.
I felt so privileged to have been a part of and to witness this powerful and beautiful cultural ceremony; listening to Elder Little Bear’s wisdom about the interconnectedness of our faith and the cultural beliefs and the ways of being and knowing of our Blackfoot people. As a Catholic school division, we continue to be truly blessed by the presence and leadership of the First Nations people in our greater communities. We are indeed grateful for this very special distinction.
A recording of the livestreaming of the event can be found here at this link.
From every possible angle and perspective in the field of education the development of meaningful and purposeful relationships with other people is of utmost importance. While the development of many different relationships in schools are essential, like those with colleagues and parents, we know that the primary focus needs to be on the students entrusted to our care. Students rely on being able to connect with and develop trusting relationships with those who care for them, whether a teacher, administrator or support staff. Dr. Jody Carrington, author of Kids These Days, tells us that “schools and educators are the most significant connection point to most every child on this continent.”
As educators we recognize that strong genuine relationships are the starting points for all learning. Before we can begin to worry about teaching lessons, delivering content, and facilitating learning, students need to feel that they are welcomed, cared for, and as though they truly belong. I’m fairly confident that each of us can remember caring adults in our past who embraced, supported, and encouraged us to develop to our greatest potential. Our accomplishments in life can very likely be attributed to these relationships.
Though we are all well aware that our children socialize and connect differently now, I think we are also very aware of how important it is for them to continue to develop close, real-life relationships. The isolation that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic has only made this truth more evident. Perhaps more than anyone, our youth are struggling with the restrictions of not being able to gather as larger groups of friends. They may rely heavily on technology to link with each other through various social media, but they are not able to connect in-person which, in many ways, is devastating to them. Connectedness and secure reliable relationships are critical to their mental well-being.
While we navigate through this temporary and difficult time of not being in the typical routine of our in-school classroom environment, we must remain mindful of the importance of our relationships and interconnectedness with students. Matthew Kelly from Dynamic Catholic tells us, “It is those things that are unchanging that allow us to make sense of change. So, at a time when change has never been more constant or intense, what is unchanging is more valuable than ever.” Although the pandemic has changed the way we do many things, let us continue to develop and foster the most fundamental of all human needs – the never-changing need to develop and sustain positive relationships.