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34 Professionally Speaking June 2021 Teaching Through a Pandemic BY STUART FOXMAN K indness is free, so give it to everyone. That's the message Andrea Murree, OCT, spread this year to her Grade 1 students at St. Matthew Catholic School in Toronto. They learned a poem about kind- ness, and discussed what it looks like. Murree also had the children draw what's special about them inside a heart, and share it with the class. She wanted them to recognize each other's value. To her, it was the most import- ant lesson of the year. "This year wasn't only about test scores, curriculum expectations and learning goals," says Murree. "It was also about developing relationships in the school community, supporting each other and lending a hand when needed." COVID-19 upended the education landscape. Health and safety proto- cols, the use of technology, and the shifts between in-person and online schedules were only part of it. Throughout the pandemic, what have educators discovered about their students, themselves and how they teach? What were the most challen- ging moments? The most rewarding ones? And what reminded them of what matters most? Here are eight lessons learned. 1) GO WITH THE FLOW So much of school is about routines. Murree thrived on them. She assumed her students did too, and would especially welcome structure and familiarity during a time of uncertainty. Instead, she was impressed by how they adjusted. In the midst of the greatest disruption of their young lives, her students just rolled with it and, Murree says, even stayed silly. "I realized the only constant is change," she says. The year enlightened Murree about just letting things go. Life and learning can get messy. We're all trying our best. She learned much from the way her students reacted. "They have an ability to look at the bright side," she says. "It fostered a culture of positivity. They keep teaching me what it means to be happy and how to have a good day." 2) RESPECT THE RESILIENCY Like, Murree, Joe Archer, OCT, was struck by how quickly his students adjusted. "The overarching theme for me is resiliency. Students had to become extremely resilient in learning new ways to go about their days online and in person," says Archer, who teaches math at Lakewood Elementary School in Port Dover, Ont. That's not true for every student. Many struggled. But for others, Archer says, overcoming the challen- ges of the year was a confidence booster. That can serve them well, and informed him about what students can take on. Samantha Di Blasio, OCT, agrees. Before the pandemic hit, she some- times felt like she gave her Grade 3 students at Our Lady of Peace Cath- olic Elementary School in Oakville, Ont., more than they could handle. During the pandemic, she saw how well her class embraced the technol- ogy (when the learning couldn't be hands-on) and kept up in less than ideal circumstances. What Ontario Certified Teachers have discovered about their students, themselves and teaching.

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