Creating Opportunities from Challenges

By Ann Donoghoe,
Principal of The River School

2020 has presented many challenges for schools around the world as a direct result of the Covid Pandemic. While The River School has been fortunate in Australia, especially in our state of Queensland, where cases have been efficiently traced, monitored and minimized, the disruption to regular schooling did impact us on a number of levels. This article is a snapshot of our how we have channelled our experiences into opportunities that have given rise to new ways of thinking and being. We have discovered, during the process of working our way through the challenges that we have entered into a new phase of growth which has deepened our Neohumanist understanding.

Nurturing Our Staff

Returning to school in May after a period of forced closure and offsite learning, our first priority was to welcome educators back into the changed learningscape with a pupil free day dedicated to wellness, sharing and connection to reset relationships. This day included a beautiful yoga flow led by our Yr.5 teacher, followed by meditation with our new Acarya, Dada Divyalokeshananda. Throughout the day we engaged in relational activities, redefined our WIG — widely important goal (To improve 90% of students’ literacy outcomes in reading, writing and spelling by the end of 2020) and engaged in a workshop facilitated by Dr. Marcus Bussey, Director of our School Board and exceptionally talented educator. Adopting a futurist mindset, we revisited our School Mission Statement with renewed vigour and purpose, linking it to our classroom practices. Through lively discussion we came to appreciate the importance of our mission statement as our anchor in a changing world abound with a multitude of theories. With our School’s mission statement sitting at the core of our Neohumanist ethos, it identifies our fundamental purpose and is the guiding reference for how we exchange wisdom on every level of learning. For follow up on Marcus’ workshop visit:

The River School Mission is to:
  • Nurture each child’s highest physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual potential,
  • Encourage a deep Neohumanist understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, embracing humanity, animals, plants and the entire universe,
  • Model love and cooperation throughout the school so that children develop a compassionate heart with a clear moral compass and the skills and confidence to put their love into action.
  • Create a supportive learning community encouraging diversity, unity and service to all.

Nurturing Our Community

At the heart of our Neohumanist school lies our community. Immediate community extends to our families who usually enjoy a physical connection with the school through monthly café nights, classroom assistance and various events such as our Spring Fair. Since May, Covid measures have meant restricting parent access to the school grounds. This has resulted in us exploring new ways to connect with our community. One successful avenue has been the learning portal we created within our website for offsite learning during school closures. When students returned to school, we kept this portal alive, redesigning it to become a parent portal. Each week we upload classroom news, photos and information. Our long-term vision for this portal is to include a flexible learning option for families wishing to access a combination of onsite and offsite facilities. It is becoming evident that flexible learning arrangements are the way of the future and will support families to have greater involvement in their children’s education.

Nurturing our Students

Our children have perhaps shown the most resiliency with the changes brought about through Covid restrictions. From the first day back, we created a welcome zone where students could farewell their parents and then spend relational time with their teachers before heading into classrooms. While whole school external events were cancelled, we made sure internal events such as the much-loved River School Olympics were maintained. This popular day where students practise high jump, long jump, sprints and javelin throughout the term to achieve a personal best, was videoed and uploaded into the parent portal.

With a focus on wellbeing, we are currently re-evaluating the way we teach through our Neohumanist lens. At this present time, we are writing a detailed Neohumanist Pedagogical Framework which uses the six pillars of Neohumanism [expansion of mind, expansion of heart, expansion of community, virtue and good character, rationality & critical thinking, and harmony of our inner and outer worlds] as its starting point. The creation of this document is proving to be a valuable process as we move forward creating opportunities from challenges rather than just managing change.

In conclusion it seems fitting to share one of the Lil’wat (First Nations) Principles of Learning ‘Cwelelep’ — Recognising the need to sometimes be in a place of dissonance and uncertainty, so as to be open to new learning (Williams 2008).