We have the privilege in our roles – as the Manager (Teresa) and the Development Adviser (Pauline) for the Catholic Education Office, Diocese of Palmerston North – to listen to diverse perspectives on many things in the education space. We do not propose to understand everything we are hearing but we understand this – the impact of Covid-19 in our school communities is significant.
It’s complex, and it has meant many of our wonderful principals and teachers are finding themselves stretched – personally, emotionally, spiritually and professionally in ways that are impacting considerably on their hauora – health and wellbeing.
There us more fragility in our tamariki, staff and whānau with ‘resiliency’ taking on a new meaning. Schools have had a continuous juggle of planning and then altering the school calendar as priorities change. Attendance is being closely monitored as tamariki and whānau grapple with growing uncertainties of Covid-19. Additional conversations have taken place about support for Attendance Due payments as priorities have changed in some families. Schools have supported families with food parcels when required, uniform purchasing, and general pastoral care for all.
What is helping?
What is helping, is our principals’ relentless focus on the wellbeing of their staff as well as our school Boards, as employers, keeping an eye on principal and staff wellbeing. This means being clear about priorities, being ‘OK’ to let some things slide, and providing wellbeing services such as counselling, supervision and mental-health support for staff and every decision being aligned to the schools’ shared Vision and Gospel values.
The amazing support of organisations, such as St Vincent de Paul who are a wonderful arm to our schools, helping schools and parish communities is also a great example of the Church in action.
Prayer and reflection time, taken for staff, with a focus on gratitude is very beneficial. The Ignatian Field Hospital Spiritual Exercises have been excellent for this (contact Murray Adams, Palmerston North Spiritual Director: [email protected]).
Also beneficial are educators knowing that their concerns for staff, students and families are being listened to, and appropriate responses and resources from the Ministry of Education and the Diocese being provided in a timely and competent manner.
What can others do to help?
In the Palmerston North Diocese – as with some of the other dioceses – we have scaled back our formation programme and review schedule. We are accompanying our schools, listening to and responding to their needs. Parishes and schools can reach out, listen and gently support each other. Parents and caregivers can be understanding about expectations of reporting progress and achievement, changes to the school calendar and continue to be the face of gratitude. Planned, national-education initiatives and timelines can be extended while schools navigate their way through this unprecedented point in time.
In our Catholic schools let the focus continue to be – now even more than before – that as Christians we bring peace to others. Not only peace, but also love, kindness, faithfulness and joy.
Amid the coronavirus trials, as Pope Francis says, ‘We must not let hope abandon us. Optimism disappoints, but hope does not.’