Encircling our students with care while fostering their resilience

I have no doubt that all of us have now compiled a list of phrases we find challenging: unprecedented times, the new normal and social distancing among them. However, as much as we hope for a quick end to the pandemic and the ability to go back to the ways things were, we know that aspects of our lives have undoubtedly changed and that those changes will remain, to varying degrees, into the future.
If we are unsettled by this sudden shift, so are some of our students, and never before has it been more vital for the school and parents to attend to the needs of our students.

One of the key aims of our distance learning program, aside from ensuring the continuation of our students’ learning, was to help support them emotionally and socially during this time of isolation. We wanted to give them a sense of routine that was as similar as possible, and we wanted to make sure they could see and talk to their teachers and classmates - all touchstones in a student’s regular life. We wanted to remind students that they remain citizens of our larger TFS community. 

At no time is the connection between our individual students, their teachers and classmates more necessary as a foundational part of their development than during the youngest years. This is why one-on-one meetings and small group instruction are so important to our distance learning program within these grades. Equally important to us was establishing times for imaginative and creative play, those moments that bring pure joy and laughter to our students, letting them know that we are all okay and life continues. It could be the funny costumes that some teachers have donned online, the cooking sessions with chef teachers, the challenges to build the tallest towers, or games of Kahoot! for the entire Grade 1 at La p’tite école.

For those students with more autonomy, between Grades 2 and 5, screenless Wednesday afternoons are seeing a flurry of cooking and baking, and eating of course, as they take on recipes posted each week, often completed without the need for adult supervision. These proud chefs-in-training have sent us many a photo of their achievements, and we applaud their tenacity at learning new skills, and knowledge, such as chemistry, physics and math, which never before have tasted so delicious. 

At the Senior School, we’ve taken a business-as-usual approach, but balanced it with new conversations and places for this branch’s community to gather. Knowing that wellness and formation have many dimensions at this age and stage, including academic, our learning strategies team continues to focus on skills such as personal organization, time management and motivation, but has now also incorporated ideas, discussions and actions related to resilience and grit.

Similarly, guidance classes are regularly occurring as scheduled on students’ timetables. In Grades 6 and 7, students continue to work on meditation, mindfulness and gratitude, with counsellors now asking questions such as, “what does physical activity look like for you now?” The goal is to prompt all of the students to take action and reflect on their well-being, as well as share with their peers.

Activities for students in Levels I through III encompass the above, but now all guidance classes start off with the counsellor asking, “what are you doing to help yourself academically and emotionally?” In the social emotional realm, we want them to identify what makes them content and to engage in those endeavours. When they do, the guidance counsellor intentionally acknowledges those moments with the class, so that everyone is brought into the conversation in a helpful manner. 

Our Level IV students are about to complete the first of the IB Diploma Program’s two years. This always challenging yet deeply satisfying program, combined with the need for distance learning, has placed them in a unique position. For reasons both academically and well-being related, all of these students have regularly scheduled one-on-one check-ins with their counsellors, to discuss how they are doing, and what form life after high school may take. The counsellors also often invite parents to these sessions, so they, too, know what is currently taking place in their child’s program.

One wonderful and important part of Senior School is student life. It is the strong thread that binds the school together, over shared initiatives and experiences that give it richness and depth, filling the halls and all student spaces with so much youthful energy. Recognizing that students still needed a place to gather as a community, a padlet was created to socially connect students on a daily basis. Each day, this padlet offers announcements, the joke of the day and congratulations to those celebrating birthdays. Student government activities have also moved forward unabated. Meetings of student councils, prefects and house heads have all taken place, as have elections for the Citizens’ Assembly, with videos of those seeking positions posted online. These actions have given our older students a realization of what adaptation and resilience look like in times of challenge.

Finally, but in no way last, I'd like to mention you, our TFS parents. We understand how demanding this entire situation is for you, as well as for your children. We are all feeling the weight of uncertainty and know the burden placed on you is considerable. Last Wednesday, we held a webinar for parents, whose featured speaker was Lynn Lyons, a psychologist, author and speaker, and expert on addressing anxiety in children as well as their parents. If you did not have the opportunity to hear her present, this is a link to a recording of this exceptional webinar.

We know we need to nurture, develop and safeguard our students through the pandemic. We know we need to encircle them with care, while at the same time fostering their resilience. I’d also like you, our parents, to know that we extend that concern to you, and that you are supported within the TFS family.

Michael Burke
Deputy Head, Citizenship and Community Engagement
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