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Week's End: Please read
Week's End: Please read
Jeff Valence
Saturday, May 02, 2020

Hello Everyone, 

Welcome to May! Not sure what day of the week it is. As for the year, last I checked it was the year Twenty -Twenty- Billionth.  At our recent meeting the School Board voted the last day of school to be June 12th. They also approved the 2020-2021 calendar, which I have attached below.

I have been asked to keep my communication with all of you brief due to the volume of email people are receiving.  This is a challenge, as what I hope to share is more than just bulleted items or sound bites. So please consider this worthy of reading.

The Dilemma of Learning Amidst a Crisis

The Reality Every individual is experiencing this pandemic differently.

  • Some have the benefits of access to the internet, others don’t.
  • Some have an adult who can help their child/children with their work, others don’t.
  • Some have factors that make this period overwhelming, others don’t.
  • Some are worried about academic progression, others are not.
  • Some have had events take place that would be disruptive under normal conditions, others don’t have that to contend with.

What we may all have in common is ‘worry', the best interest of our students, and hopefully an understanding that no effort, plan, or system the school can employ, no matter how well conceived,  will make this go away.

We have a system in place that, ideally, allows families and mentors to adjust aspects of their child’s experience to match how each family is experiencing learning during COVID-19. But there are limits to what we can do.

We have surveyed families and the results were very encouraging. However, we have also received anecdotal responses and secondhand feedback that some families want more academic work for their students. It is clear that, perhaps more so than under normal circumstances, the needs of our students and families are highly varied.  

We are simultaneously being told to increase assignments, as we watch participation decrease and extension opportunities ignored.  We are asking teachers to invest the time, which is substantial, to create such opportunities.   These efforts can take them from other needs, which is regrettable when the opportunities they create are not being utilized.

Although we are working to satisfy requests for increased assignments, we also want to reassure those who are not seeking more that the existence of assignments and continuation of the school year to June 12th while other schools may be closed, should not dictate that the academic work is of greater importance than maintaining healthy levels of stress or anxiety.  

The Dilemma: These two conditions are at odds with each other.  As we emphasize the importance of maintaining lower stress levels due to the increased stress of this pandemic, assigning more academic work may for some families increase the stress and anxiety of managing this work as it is likely that many will feel responsible to complete work if it is assigned.  

The Reality: Because we are all having different experiences during this period of time, we need to acknowledge that both conditions can co-exist and the existence of one does not bind anyone to the other.  

The Concern: It is also important to remember that there is a limit to what we can accomplish.  The people who will fulfill the spectrum of needs are our faculty (Teachers and Educational Assistants) who are also experiencing the challenges of this pandemic, not only professionally, but also personally.  

To those wonderful rule followers who may feel that the existence of assignments necessitates that it is their responsibility to complete them, I want to emphasize that there is only one rule during COVID-19 Remote Learning: Engage to the extent and duration that you can without inflicting unhealthy levels of stress on your family.   

While I would agree with the ‘rule follower’ work ethic under normal circumstances, these are not normal circumstances.

My Dilemma:

 At times, I worry about our students’ well being, specifically for their social and emotional development — as higher anxiety levels decreases resilience which is critical to learning.  My worry for their academic development is offset by the fact that our teachers are doing, and will do when we are together again, what is necessary to mitigate the impact of this period of time, academically, emotionally, and socially.  My confidence in our teachers’ ability to accomplish this is based on 30 years experience in education, 25 of which have been leading schools, which provides the perspective to appreciate the talent, devotion and professionalism of our Faculty. More Specifically, my confidence is based on what I have seen them accomplish firsthand, year in and year out, for the past 14 years here at the Lyme School.  

I worry about our Community. That the stress of this period will erode the patience, respect, and kindness that define us, and have contributed to what we are and why many of you came here.

I worry about our teachers.  Their hard work, time, care, and concern for our students cannot be fully appreciated from any one perspective. Yet it is the only perspective available to families.  It is only because I am in a position that I can see all the different ways teachers are simultaneously working with individual students, groups of students, advisees, mentees and colleagues that I can appreciate the breadth of this work.  The learning curve to accomplish what none of us were trained to do has been incredibly steep.  Our teaching community has taken on this work with a passion, commitment, enthusiasm and love of their students that go well beyond what is typical (maybe even reasonable) to expect.  What I have witnessed is a level of poise and grace in the face of utter upheaval that humbles me, and for which I have deep respect.

In Conclusion: 

I don’t know how your family will experience the next several weeks/ months.  I just know we are committed to be a part of supporting you, whatever it looks like. I don’t know what you will need, but I know it will be different for each of you. We are reluctant to push students to make sure assignments are being completed, so that we do not overwhelm families that are already stretched or anxious.  However, some families may want this information as it can inform your family's goals for academic engagement. We want to share this information with those that need it and not with those for whom it would only lead to feelings of increased pressure. We ask that, if you want updates on your child’s assignments that you request it from your mentor. Teachers will send this information on Friday's to the emails of parents that desire it, as well as, in the case of grades 6-8, students' personal email.

Please remember to engage remote learning during this time to the extent that it supports the wellness and health of your family. As they do every year, our teachers will engage students where they are when we return to achieve the growth that results in future success, much as other educators will have to do for the estimated (1.5 billion) or 90% of students globally who have had their education interrupted.

Finally, as this coming week is teacher appreciation week, I would like to express my gratitude to educators have chosen a profession devoted to the well-being of others.  As we focus on the needs of our students, whether we want more academic rigor or less, let's remember that educators have families of their own, who need them, who are being taught by them, and who are struggling to adjust to the uncertainty of this new normal.  Thank you, Teachers, Educational Assistants and in this new reality… ALL OF YOU! This is a challenging time, but I can’t imagine a group of people I would rather go through it with than all of you.  Thanks for all that you do.

Jeff