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The Adaptability and Flexibility of Children: A Lesson for Adults

When reading through the extensive literature and research on best practices in educational administration, there is, of course, very little available on global pandemics and educating children during extreme moments of uncertainty. Throughout these past nine months, educational leaders have been forced to learn on the job, using their systems management understandings, interpersonal skills and organizational mindsets to adapt to an ever-changing education landscape. 

Working at Bialik, I am fortunate to be a member of a dedicated administrative team who have worked quickly, yet methodically, and have responded seamlessly to the demands of this pandemic, always keeping the needs of our students and families at the forefront of our decision making. Although we have proven ourselves to be adaptable and flexible, it is our students who have risen to the occasion most significantly and have impressed us, each day, with their maturity, grit, resilience and courage.

Before the start of the school year, I had dozens of conversations with teachers and administrators about the many unanswered questions — the “what ifs” — that we were facing. Many parents also expressed their fears and concerns about the upcoming school year. What if the students return to school with significant levels of anxiety? What if our youngest students, 3-, 4- and 5-years-olds, simply can’t manage wearing a mask? What if the hand sanitizer irritates and damages their hands if they are forced to use it many times per day? What if our children miss the “normal” of their previous school years and act out in defiance? These questions were challenging to answer since no educational administrator has a crystal ball and none of us is able to predict the future. 

By the end of the second week of school, however, it seemed as if I had virtually all the answers to my own questions and those of the parents I had been speaking with all summer. In short, our students amazed us. Regardless of the challenge, they showed a level of adaptability and flexibility that was beyond what any of us could have anticipated. With the support of their phenomenal teachers, students of all ages seamlessly adapted to wearing masks. They overcame the challenges of staying in their cohorts at recess and created safe games that fit in their new, rotating stations. Primary, Elementary and Senior Division children showed that they understood the importance of our health and safety protocols and, in some cases, even began reminding each other about following our various school protocols. Washing or sanitizing their hands multiple times per day became a non-issue. Although the school is very disappointed that athletics, plays, extracurricular activities and large gatherings are not currently possible, our kids have taken it all in stride. The adults, watching from the sidelines, are in awe, with respect and appreciation.  

Those who work with children on a daily basis — Family or Child Psychologists, Social Workers and Educators — will tell you that children benefit from structured routine and consistent expectations. In a group of new parents, the topic of conversation often shifts to routines such as sleep training or eating patterns. Although the benefits of consistency and predictability are undeniable for children, so too is their ability to be flexible and adapt to new situations. Kids are resilient and it is the adults who can learn this integral life skill from them. Reopening our school doors during a pandemic was no easy task, but it certainly would not have been possible without the determination and confidence of our over 1,325 students. They amaze us every day and we are proud of what they have accomplished in such a limited time. Many of the concerns that we adults had before the start of the school year have not come to fruition, and it is clear to me that we have much to learn from the in-the-moment, go-with-the flow attitude of our students and children. 

As we look ahead to the coming months, we remain in a position of the unknown. Although the uncertainty can cause anxiety, I am comforted by the confidence that I have in our students to tackle any challenge that is thrown their way.

 

Jake Gallinger
Principal, Viewmount Branch