Friday Update – May 29, 2020

Mark Turner

Dear Parents and Guardians,

In the UK, May 20 is designated as the official Thank a Teacher Day. Michael Morpurgo, acclaimed children’s author, stated:

“So often and for so many of us, it is a teacher who changed our lives, was at our side through hard and difficult times, who lifted us up when we were down, helped us to find our voice, gave us confidence when we needed it most, set us on a path that we have followed ever since.”

Some of my own most vivid school memories were of inspiring characters, sometimes eccentric ones, who were able to lift our thoughts above the mundane. I remember, for instance, Mr. R. who regaled us with tales of battles, and heroism in the face of catastrophe and natural disaster. These stories unleashed our imagination to run riot far beyond the confines of our rather squashed and boring classroom.

I also remember the French teacher Mr. W., who brought his dog into class only for her to give birth to six adorable pups in the corner. Then there was Mrs. B., who in primary school ruled with an iron regime which required the passing of a spelling test before we were allowed out at the end of the day. Of course, she always asked a particularly difficult word to anybody who had irritated her.

Great teachers have the ability to create magic that somehow holds sway over the adolescent mind and can banish all the other distractions that may be competing for the mental attentions of an inquisitive student. Our Floreat strategic plan seeks to encourage inspiring classroom practice.

During the last few months our teachers have had to contend with extraordinary and unprecedented challenges. Back in March they had to very quickly adapt their teaching strategies to move online. Recent surveys conducted at almost bi-monthly intervals, suggest a high level of appreciation and satisfaction with the work that our teachers have done, to enable our students to maintain continuity and momentum on their educational journey. Over the course of the last few months we have heard about the heroic efforts of our healthcare workers who have provided direct care to COVID-19 patients and have helped us flatten the curve. Their achievements are deservedly worthy of acclaim and recognition. In my view; however, it is now time to cast the net wider, and recognize the many other sectors of our society that have gone ‘above and beyond’ and made, in some cases, significant personal sacrifices.

As we will very shortly be expecting teachers to prepare once again for new possibilities which will come over the horizon in September, flexibility will be key. I would like to propose that on Monday, June 1, when we blow our whistles and bang our pots and pans for healthcare workers at 7 pm, that we also think of the teachers, many of whom across our province will be planning for our phased return to school.

I mentioned our recent survey results. We were particularly delighted that of the approximately 380 parents who responded to our last survey, 85% gave a 4/5 or 5/5 to the question asking whether they felt well supported and informed. Over 50% gave top marks, 5/5 for overall satisfaction. These general statistics, together with a great deal of anecdotal evidence offered to us, making comparisons with other schools, suggest that our faculty have worked exceptionally well to make the very best of a challenging situation. Kudos!

I would like to offer very best wishes to the Junior School, who are at the vanguard of leading SMUS’s phased return to normal. On Monday, June 1, those students who wish to access it will be returning to the Victoria Avenue campus for supervision. I know that a vast amount of work has been dedicated to planning this phased return in a safe manner, and which will stand us in good stead when we open our doors more completely in September.

Over the course of the last week, I have had cause to remind our community of the most helpful and constructive ways in which we communicate as a school. Within our guidelines in the Family Handbook we stress that if you have a particular question or concern about your school, it should be referred to your Director; Becky Anderson in the Junior School, Richard Brambley in the Middle School and Eliot Anderson in the Senior School. If there is a broader whole-school issue, please contact me directly. We would encourage you to raise your questions at an early level, on the principle that we hope to prevent molehills from becoming mountains.

As we move toward September and have a clearer vision of exactly what our education will look like, we will communicate this with you. We hope that by a combination of virtual coffee mornings, updates to our website response section, and regular emails and newsletters notifying you of relevant information, that everybody will feel they are kept in the loop.

One frustration has been that very often when questioned about the future, I have had to give the honest answer: “I do not know.” I appreciate how frustrating this can be; however, given that we are dealing with many factors outside the school’s control, we often must wait for information to be released from the Ministry of Education and the health authorities before being able to make our plans.

I can say that we are looking forward to September with increased optimism. Our Admissions numbers have held up strongly, and our day student enrolment specifically is currently well ahead of predictions. This suggests to me that, after we are given the green light, we can be up and running again with a rapid resumption of normal routines.

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