North Cavan Public School Principal Martin Twiss joined this school in the fall of 2016 in the final stop in an extensive career in public education.
During his time with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board (KPRDSB), Twiss has been in the classroom, Board Superintendent and, finally, Elementary School Principal. As the commercial says, “he knows a thing or two because he’s seen a thing or two”, but nothing prepared him for the challenges he, his staff, and North Cavan families have faced over the past two months.
As he explains, the COVID-19 crisis has forced everyone to reset some priorities, to think differently, to learn differently to focus on what matters and, in some cases, to let go of things or focus less on things that don’t matter as much. School staff have been forced to learn how to use technology as a powerful communication and teaching tool. In the past there was a broad range of skills in this regard but to cope, staff attended on-line learning courses to be better equipped to use technology effectively.
Attitudes about how to deliver virtual learning has evolved with this experimentation, and in some instances they have found new and better ways to use technology in the learning process.
Teachers have learned how to locate, use and share on-line resources for their students.
Concerted efforts to think about accessing, collecting and sharing information are at the forefront. Teachers share assignments, parents assist their students in understanding the work and completing the work as best they can, then the work is delivered back to the teacher for feedback. Teachers provide descriptive feedback to their students electronically or by phone to help them grow and improve or to help them complete tasks that are challenging. More than ever, parents have a window into the school experience, and while some embrace it, others can find it another source of stress during an already difficult time.
KPRDSB Board Trustee Angela Lloyd reports that all schools have reached out to deliver technological support including tablets and hub sticks to help students connect to their teachers, but for some families, internet access is inconsistent and scheduling access to it in families with students competing for tools and wifi presents another barrier. A rural resident herself, Angela has found participate in school board meetings from her business in Millbrook where internet access is more reliable than doing so from home.
In addition to educational issues, administrators are looking for ways to facilitate arrivals and departures to the school. With no physical orientation possible for incoming Kindergarten students, the school is preparing an Orientation site for Kindergarten students headed to the school this fall. On the other end of the school population, staff are working on ideas to deliver a virtual graduation ceremony for graduating students that honours school traditions and provides students with a meaningful experience. Busing logistics that respect social distancing will be a summer project at the board level as well.
The experience has confirmed Martin Twiss’ belief that digital learning is very helpful, but it is really not a sustainable substitute for good old fashioned school. He suggests that the virus has reminded us of what matters most. It also helps us realize our power as human beings to work collectively, to be kind, to help one another, to appreciate the small things and to maintain hope in times of challenge and change. He sees kids as naturals at this, and hopes adults around them can follow their lead and get off that “hamster wheel of life”.
As it happens, the week before March break, Twiss submitted his retirement request for the end of this school year. That deal is now off. The consummate professional, Twiss feels compelled to return in the fall to help his school community get through what could be a difficult transition back to a new normal. The extension will allow him one last opportunity to watch North Cavan students develop their academic, social and personal skills and allow him to accompany the graduating students as they say goodbye to North Cavan. It will be a much more satisfying conclusion. KG