Changing the Mindset

Dear Parents/Guardians

Ara aktar l-isfel għall-verżjoni bil-Malti.

The period we are going through at the moment is a challenge for all of us. Earlier today I came across this graphic, which I find to be very powerful.

I do not usually reproduce images without acknowledging the source but I cannot find the original source for this one.

This graphic challenges all of us to think and reflect on the sort of person we want to be, beyond any curricular content that schools in the traditional sense of the word are mostly concerned about. Of course everyone is worried about the fact that children are missing precious contact time with their teachers. If we ever needed proof that digital technology could ever replace the buzzing face-to-face interaction in the classroom, COVID-19 is the proof we needed. It simply cannot.

But back to the graphic. It is very easy to start pointing fingers and blame schools and teachers for something for which no-one was prepared. I am always fascinated by the fact that in any crisis, the number of experts multiplies exponentially. All of a sudden, everyone has advice to dispense. Everyone has a solution that would work if only someone else made more of an effort. Everyone knows more than the actual experts. The collective expertise of a whole professional community becomes second to what a single person says on social media. Even worse, are people who rather than calming troubled waters, incite fear and instigate others, hiding behind a screen and closed chat groups.

It is understandable that some parents may be worried about academic progress. As a school community we are very much aware of that. But we should be more worried about staying healthy, physically and mentally. Some new content can and will be covered remotely. The rest will be covered next scholastic year. We are already making plans for next year and I would like to reassure parents that we will do our utmost to mitigate the issues caused by school closure.

I am trying my best (even though I will be the first to admit that I am not always being successful) to see this experience as a learning one that will eventually lead to growth. This is the reason why all along I have been arguing for a change in mindset, in the way we think about things, and in the way we do things. It would be extremely easy for us to make tons of worksheets available for students to work through. Would it help our students? The answer is a definite no. Rather, we are carefully choosing activities and tasks that will push students to develop other skills and competences beyond content. Are we succeeding? As yet, I do not have an answer to that question, not because I lack the expertise, but because no-one has ever experienced anything of the sort. But we will give it our best.

Over the past years, digital technology has revolutionised the way we think and do things. If during this period, our children learn to navigate the digital world comfortably, then we could start appreciating and perhaps even being grateful for this opportunity.

As much as is humanly possible, we are monitoring what the children are doing remotely. Some children are diligently working on each task we are assigning, very obviously supported by their parents. I am seeing some of the work, and I am impressed but at the same time saddened by the fact that some children (and parents) have not even bothered. But let us blame schools and teachers for not doing enough… because that is easy.

One the biggest achievements at school over the past months has been “Freedom to Learn”. “Freedom to Learn” or F2L as we know, is an Erasmus+ project which we have been working on with a school in Italy and a school in Poland. It would be easy to argue that because schools are closed we cannot continue working on this project. Instead, we are thinking of how to make this project accessible to anyone who is interested even though schools are closed. We are working on the details and will let you know more soon. And yes, we are excited about it.

In the meantime, consider letting the children getting bored but really bored! And when they (or you) cannot take it any more, suggest that perhaps they should try reading a book. Until I was 10, I hated reading. Then one day I was so bored that I reluctantly grabbed a book. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I must have read that same book ten times over. Its pages are yellowed, its spine broken, but it holds a special place in my heart and my library at home. And if anyone of you wants to read it, it is called “Five on Finniston Farm” by Enid Blyton.

Or you may want to encourage your children to read this new book by Ġorġ Mallia – L-Avventuri Msaħħra ta’ Melanie u Karl.

We are fast approaching Easter. Under normal circumstances we would be looking forward to the Easter holidays. As it is, we cannot wait for that moment we will be able go back to school. Next week we will not post tasks per year group but a few tasks for all children to enjoy over the “holidays” while we plan the best way forward for what would have been the last term at school. Cherish this time together as an opportunity.

Rather than spreading fear, let us all learn and grow from this experience.

Stay safe!

Charlot Cassar
Head of School

Looking Ahead

Dear Parent/Guardians

Ara aktar l-isfel għall-verżjoni bil-Malti.

Following the announcement that schools will only re-open in September 2020, there are a number of logistical issues that we need to consider. We are trying our best to reach out and support but please appreciate that we are dealing with an unprecedented scenario and may not have immediate answers to all your questions.

A few points:

There is only a skeleton staff at school and no one to answer your calls. If you have urgent issues then you may reach us via email. However, as advised earlier I cannot guarantee we will be able to answer every single query.

Children’s Belongings – We appreciate that many children left books, worksheets and other belongings at school. For the time being it is not possible for us to allow any parent to pick up any material from school. We are trying to find a way how parents can pick up their children’s belongings without putting anyone at risk. Please bear in mind that we need to deal with over 400 children. Ultimately, any way forward will have to be cleared by the Health Authorities. We will not make any exceptions whatsoever.

Moneys – As a result of schools closing, outings and other events have had to be cancelled. Some outings had already been paid for. We will take this into consideration when we start school again in September 2020. In so far as Year 6 students are concerned, we will liaise with the Middle School to make up for any money that has already been paid. Some parents had also paid for Figolli. Unfortunately, we cannot make any Figolli available and we will refund money in due course. We do not know when this will be possible yet.

Continued Support – We are working with teachers to find ways how to continue supporting our students during this period. We are looking at various possibilities but there is no clear-cut solution. We will be advising you of a way forward in due course.

Given the situation we need a shift in mindset. It would be foolish to assume that things can go on as if nothing is happening in the world. We need to consider the fact that children are experiencing this pandemic and first and foremost they need support to be able to deal with it. Content can be covered next year but we need to take of care of children’s mental well-being now.

The activities that we are making available aim to develop other skills and competences that children still need to develop over and above content. Children need to know how to navigate online environments along with the numerous online tools that are available. Knowing how to retrieve information online, critically reflecting on sources, creating online presentations and collaborating with others online are important skills that all our children should develop along with becoming independent, life-long learners.

We appreciate your co-operation and support during this difficult time. We will keep you updated with any developments.

Thank you, regards and stay safe!

Charlot Cassar
Head of School

Another Week

Ara aktar l-isfel għall-verżjoni bil-Malti

As I write this, measures to contain the spread of the virus are becoming stricter, while some people are still behaving irresponsibly. We do not really know what is going to happen, or how long schools will be closed for.

There are a few realities that as educators we are trying to contend with.

We are concerned about our students. And we are not just concerned about academic progress. We are concerned about vulnerable families, and in particular about vulnerable children who may be stuck in abusive situations. Being stuck at home is a challenge for everyone and even more so for people with mental health issues. Please look out for vulnerable families and children. Give them a call, or reach out to authorities if need be.

We are learning as we go along. No educator was really prepared for this. And before anyone starts pointing fingers with the usual talk of teachers having it easy, teachers have been working round the clock to provide work for students, learning how to do things as they went along. And I could not be prouder of staff members at Zabbar B who rose to the challenge. Of course we are making mistakes but we are trying our hardest and our best.

We also have families. We have parents, children, grandparents, elderly relatives who depend on our help. Yes, this whole situation is overwhelming for all of us. And it is perfectly fine to feel overwhelmed. We can empathise with how parents and children must be feeling at this time. And because of this we want to make sure that the work we are setting our students is actually helping.

We have created a survey to gather feedback about the tasks we are setting our students. There is an English and a Maltese version. Please take a few minutes to fill this in. It will help us to help you.

A few other points…

Individual Requests – We are receiving numerous emails with specific requests. Regretfully, we are unable to reply to individual emails and meet every request, even though we are making every effort to do so.

QR Codes – We are being asked for QR codes to access material on tablets. You do not need QR codes to access the material related to the work we are posting online and teachers are working on making other material available without the need of the QR code.

Printing material from tablets – We have been asked whether it is possible to print material from students’ tablets, This can be done by attaching the tablet to a computer and accessing the tablet as a USB device. Search for pdf files and you should find all the handouts that teachers have uploaded on the tablets. At this point we do not know of an easier way to do this.

Tasks for students – We understand that parents may feel overwhelmed by the situation we are facing. But… Parents have a huge role to play in their children’s education in any case, and now more than ever. We are making work available. We are trying our best but we cannot do it all alone.

We need parents to take an active role and support us remotely. This is an excellent opportunity for children to develop independent learning skills and digital competences. Explain the work (if needed) and then let them get on with the work on their own. It is fine if they make mistakes. Impact have published some great tips for primary age parents and the current situation.

If there are parents who genuinely cannot manage, we understand. We also understand that it is much easier to simply let children play on their tablet, or watch TV all day long. And it is fine if that happens on a bad day. However, that should not happen every day. We will not insist on all the work assigned being done but we believe that children will gain from it. I will not mince my words – if some parents cannot be bothered, don’t blame the school for trying.

Finally, I want to thank the entire school community for the support. We are in this together. There may be worse days ahead, but there are also better days to come.

Stay positive. Stay safe. Stay inside!

Charlot Cassar
Head of School

A 1000 Cranes for Hope

There is a beautiful Japanese legend often referred to as senbazuru or literally 1000 cranes. In Japanese mythology the red-crowned crane is known as the “Honourable Lord Crane” and its wings carried souls up to heaven. The legend promises that if anyone folds a thousand paper cranes they will be granted a wish by the gods. In same cases you are granted happiness or good luck. In Japan the crane is said to live for 1,000 years which is why one must fold 1,000 of them. 

This legend became popular after Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl who fell victim to the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, decided she would fold 1000 paper cranes while she was in hospital. Since then people around the world fold cranes as a symbol of hope.

I have a challenge for our school community – teachers, LSEs, parents, students and anyone who wants to join us. Let’s fold 1000 cranes to bring back to school when we finally go back.

You can find instructions on how to fold a paper crane here. You will need a square sheet of paper (try to recycle) measuring 20 by 20 cm. It is important that you start with as perfect a square as possible and that you fold the paper carefully.

Can we manage this? Can we have a 1000 cranes at school? Start folding!

While schools are closed…

COVID-19 is forcing everyone to come to terms with a reality that is a bitter pill to swallow. It is a difficult moment and at times like this we are forced to reconsider and to think about what truly matters. And that is definitely not grades or examination marks.

Like the rest of the world, our country is witnessing some bizarre situations at these most difficult times. On the one hand we see doctors, nurses and so many other professionals working round the clock, sometimes sacrificing their own lives, to assist the people who have been struck by the Corona Virus. On the other hand, we see people fighting over toilet paper.

If this virus has taught us anything, it is the lengths to which people will go when desperate. Please remember that the next time you judge human beings fleeing their war torn homeland to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Albus Dumbledore, the principal of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry says

It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

J. K. Rolling (1998) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

When a boy or girl misbehaves at school, I often challenge them on the kind of choices they are making. There are times when the right choice means saying or doing something. There are times when the right choice is NOT saying or doing something. Almost everyone is able to raid supermarkets, to steal hand-sterilisers from hospitals, to bulk buy medicine which most probably we may not even need. But what does that say about our choices?

Many people today feel entitled to some form of special treatment because of this or that. Well, another lesson that this virus is teaching us is that after all, no one is that special. Unfortunately we often encounter this sense of entitlement in our students – I have a right to this and that… The truth is we also have responsibilities.

This virus is somewhat scary, but even scarier is the way some people are behaving, by being irresponsible, by not following official recommendations, by spreading fake news or playing the experts on Facebook. I can assure you that the experts at the moment are not on Facebook. They are busy on the front line trying to find a solution to this crisis.

We all have a part to play in this situation. Schools may be closed but we are not on holiday. As much as possible stay inside and keep children inside. Children should also spend time engaged in meaningful activities.

Over the past days I have been working closely with teachers to identify tasks and activities that students can do while the schools remain closed and they are cooped up at home. I have created a web page entitled School Closure Activities. At the moment of writing, this page is empty but over the next days, I will be adding material to it. Please be patient. The virus did not exactly give us much warning and we are doing our utmost.

In the meantime, for those parents and children who need something to do and need it quick, here are a few ideas:

  • Finish and revise work that was assigned before the schools closed.
  • Read a book.
  • Look at the Summer Activity Challenges from previous years and take up some of the tasks there.
  • Look at this great page from Actions for Happiness on how to respond constructively to the Corona Virus.
  • Specifically for parents, this page from UNICEF gives practical tips on how to speak to children about the Corona Virus and the current situation.
  • Check out a newly founded Facebook group called Home Activities during School Lock Down in which parents and teachers are sharing tons of great ideas!

A note on language – Malta has 3 official languages, Maltese, English, and Maltese Sign Language. I appreciate that some may prefer receiving information in Maltese and in as much as possible we will try to make information available in both languages. However, this is not always humanly possible.

Nota dwar l-użu tal-lingwa – F’Malta għandna tliet lingwi uffiċċjali, il-Malti, l-Ingliż, u l-Lingwa tas-Sinjali bil-Malti. Nifhem li forsi xi wħud jippreferu informazzjoni bil-Malti u sa fejn hu possibli qed nippruvaw li l-informazzjoni tkun kemm bil-Malti kif ukoll bl-Ingliż. Iżda fuq livell uman, dan mhux dejjem ikun possibli.

Given the amount of time our children spend watching television and playing online games, we realise that most of our students have become very fluent in English. If a post is in English and you experience difficulties with it, then challenge your child to read and translate it for you. You will be doing him/her a favour.

It-tfal iqattgħu ħafna ħin jaraw it-televiżjoni u jilagħbu logħob online. Dan qed iwassal biex it-tfal tagħna qed jifhmu u jitkellmu l-Ingliż ħafna aktar minn qatt qabel. Jekk xi ħadd għandu diffikulta’ bl-Ingliż, xprunaw it-tfal biex jaqraw u jitradduċu l-informazzjoni li ngħaddulkom bl-Ingliż għall-Matli. Tkunu qed tagħmlulhom il-ġid!

Watch this space for more and please stay safe.

Charlot Cassar
Head of School

St Margaret College