It is hot! Not just a little hot, but really hot! The cyclone season is upon us, so the 90 plus degree temperatures are made sweltering by the high humidity and intermittent rain showers. In the midst of this heat, we have begun the 2022 school year…online. While the beginning of a new school year is always hectic and takes a bit of getting used to, starting the year online presents a number of different challenges. For teachers it means figuring out how to build relationships with students and establish “classroom” expectations through a screen. For students it means struggling to stay focused and complete tasks with limited personal interaction and accountability. And for support staff, like me, it means largely feeling helpless to do anything for students who we know are struggling because we can’t meet with them face to face and they are often reluctant to “meet” online. Of the few who have agreed to meet online in the past, most do not want to do it again because they are afraid that others in their household will overhear their conversations. On one occasion, I had a student who was so hesitant to speak out loud during our video call that he used the chat feature to type his responses to me.
Being unable to effectively provide support has been yet another obstacle in this pandemic, and it has also been a reminder of how we are people in need of connection. We want it. We seek it. We even yearn for it at times. Despite being a person who is undeniably introverted, I recognize the power of connection, and how without it, I begin to sink into myself and my own thoughts. I see this same tendency in students who, being teenagers, are naturally predisposed to their own egocentric thoughts and fears and who often need their peers to validate and reassure them that they are not alone. Connection is key for all of us. And as we social distance, self-isolate, and communicate through screens this connection can be lost. Relationships can be lost. And sometimes this loss happens so subtly that we don’t even notice until it’s gone.
This brings me to the theme for much of our professional development this term—relationships matter. Relationships matter in all contexts and in all forms because we are creatures built for connection. During our professional development days in early January, we talked about our individual relationships with God, our relationships with each other, the relationship of the school with the community, and also our relationships as staff with students. This year in the secondary school a specific focus has been put on building relationships as new smaller homerooms, called “family groups,” have been established. Each “family” is made up of one teacher and roughly ten students from either the lower secondary (grades 7-9) or upper secondary (grades 10-13) school. The goal is to allow students the opportunity to develop relationships with other students outside of their grade, which can facilitate peer mentorship, and also for the students to have one family teacher who will stay with them through their lower or upper secondary years. The hope is that through this ongoing relationship with one specific teacher, students will feel comfortable going to that teacher for support or guidance. It also will allow the family teacher to become more knowledgeable about each student’s personal circumstances.
But just having a relationship isn’t enough for connection. The quality of those relationships also matters. So, in an effort to help the teachers feel more equipped to effectively support students, I was asked to provide a professional development workshop related to helping skills. As I considered the content for this workshop, a consistent theme reverberated in my brain—relationships matter. I did not know at the time that several of the other workshops would also be centered on this theme, so when it came time for my session at the end of the day, I couldn’t help but feel like there was a bit of divine intervention or serendipity to it all. I felt reassured that this was not just me talking about how student-teacher relationships matter, but instead, it was part of a larger discussion about how relationships and connection matter in all aspects of our lives.
When it comes to student-teacher relationships specifically, research has shown that students who have a positive relationship with a teacher perform better academically, are more engaged and motivated, are less likely to be disruptive in class, have better class attendance, and are less likely to engage in harmful or risk-taking behaviors. One study also found that students who feel a sense of connection are more likely to stay in school and that this sense of connection can come from a relationship with just one key person. I call this the anchor. Students, like most of us in life, need an anchor. They need someone who can be their calm in the storm, the person who sees them and knows them and loves them no matter what. This person provides a sense of safety and security. This is the person who keeps them connected to something outside of themselves, something greater than themselves. And the truth is that we may not always know when we are someone else’s anchor, especially in the case of young people who may or may not disclose their inner thoughts and feelings.
So, it is with this idea in mind, that I continue to reach out. I continue to send emails and messages to connect with students and to check on how they are doing. Some respond. Some don’t. Some probably welcome the messages. Some probably don’t. Nevertheless, I reach out. I let them know that this connection is still available—that this relationship and their well-being still matters to me even if I can’t see them face to face and that I am still here on the other side of the screen if they need me.
As we move into February, we are looking forward to being back on campus which will make connecting with students much easier. But even still, I anticipate that there will be challenges as I’m sure this pandemic will continue to make things stressful and unpredictable for all of us. Nevertheless, we will press on. With that, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes:
My hope is that, whatever comes, we may all find the courage to love intentionally, extravagantly, and unconditionally—to be an anchor of hope and light in this world. With peace, love, and gratitude from Mauritius…
Other news and photos:
Aaron turned the big 40 on January 16th! And we forced him to celebrate despite it being the eve of the first day of school.
We all enjoyed having Emily’s mom visit in December. Here are a few of the highlights.