By Cal Braid
Sunny South News
As deputy superintendent at the Palliser School Division, Tom Hamer is welcoming the 2022 school year with anticipation. He sees it as an opportunity to re-engage with students and families in ways that have been conspicuously absent in the last two years.
His enthusiasm is high, and he believes in the positive impact schools and teachers can make in the lives of students.
“When you look at where we were the last two school entries, (it was) very disruptive and very uncertain at all levels. Messaging was coming out globally about the increasing risks. We were not in a good spot last year.” He said, “schools were struggling with the question of how to keep kids safe, because that’s first and foremost.”
“All the recommendations were that you had to limit and reduce contact,” Hamer said. “Schools became these very restricted places where parents could not come into the building. It was ‘drop your stuff off at the door’. The human aspect of the handoff was non-existent, so the relationships suffered greatly. We were communicating behind barriers of some kind all the time.”
“That’s done now,” he said. “We’re getting far more relational and far more open again.”
For the first time since 2019, back to school means a stable routine that kids can find safety and structure in.
“The absolute crazy thing is we have some kids who haven’t done that (and are) going into Grade 3. Their parents have never seen inside of the school or walked the halls. They don’t have a feel for it. It’s like they’re saying, ‘Here I am, trusting you with my most valued person and I’ve never seen what you do, where you go, and what it looks like.’”
“We’ve had two years of disconnection and we need to focus on reconnection. We need to focus on building positive relationships and getting to know our families — getting to know what our parents want to know more about, what they’re perfectly fine with, and what they might be frustrated with.”
The question of resocialization is relevant, given the long impositions of separation during COVID. Hamer answered that some children become much more withdrawn due to the distance that the pandemic conditions created.
“Across the province, everybody in education is worried about the kids that we haven’t seen; kids that for whatever reason were able to disconnect completely from school,” Hamer said. “Families were making choices based on their situation for their child to not come into school. Online education did the best they could, but now we have to reconnect.”
Hamer noted that students lost valuable opportunities to do general socializing and learn about conflict resolution. He explained that because school is structured in a way that those elements are built into it, those learning opportunities occur naturally between students. The school intentionally allows for those interactions to occur, but there’s not a lesson plan for it. An example he gave was, “Playground conflict — where kids would literally bump into each other and have problems, so the adults come alongside and help them solve those problems.”
“We weren’t able to do those with the same frequency and intensity over the last two years,” he said, referring to the moments where a teacher could show students how to share, how to work in a group, or communicate with each other.
“How do you manage the moment when you as a student are feeling frustrated because somebody sitting next to you has a different opinion? How do you reconcile those differences and still be respectful and supportive of one another?” He believes that those opportunities for instruction are vital and that they mirror what happens in society and in life.
For two years, people were in a protective mode. “We knew why everybody was guarded, but it set us up sociologically for a place of (families feeling like), ‘You’re not building a relationship with me and you’re not taking the time to make this a positive experience.’”
Given the limitations and setbacks of two difficult years, Hamer is clearly anticipating the ‘welcome back’ BBQs, the relationships and connections, and the fact that parents will be allowed to enter and see their kids’ schools firsthand.
“The philosophy that we have here is anything that we do to enrich the experience for kids is going to make them better citizens in the future,” he said.
“Nowhere in life do you have this many people working for you to be successful — once you get out of education, you’re always having to look over your shoulder because somebody might want to take advantage of you. I know that’s a Pollyanna optimistic look at schools, but that is our core purpose. We’re here to help kids, we’re here to protect kids, and we’re here to enrich kids”