Welcome back!

Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020

Welcome back. I hope everyone has managed well in the circumstances and found ways to occupy time purposefully, remain calm or find ways to make the most of a life lived at a slower pace. I am sure you have also felt somewhat confused by the conflicting messages coming from various levels of government as to whether schools are fully open or partially open, although, not one to whinge, our leaders have done a great job. 

I want to give kudos to the teachers as so many of them have worked hard throughout the holidays to prepare. Collectively we all met during the break to work on ways in which we could enhance home-schooling and so many have been listening to webinars and / or reading and / or collaborating with colleagues to prepare themselves for the Term. I have spoken to so many of my fellow principals and one issue stands out - there is no ideal model of home-schooling that works! We are all having our successes and losses. (Please don’t compare a Yr 11 student with an infants child – there is no comparison.) The staff have been truly amazing and the community is reminded of the standards that they work to. I have a high level of consultation with our Jewish Heads of schools and we all acknowledge that the smaller the child, the greater the challenge!

Personally, I am so disengaged from reading about COVID-19 and have just about tuned out when listening to the news. How on earth will news outlets ever manage to run other stories? The complete bombardment of COVID-19 news stories and blanket coverage is certainly monstrously monotonous. The creative humorous videos and memes that were so widely circulated have become somewhat stale as we measure the full import of stand downs, the economic consequences and consider how we restart the economic engine. 

The monotony of the Corona stories made me pay particular attention to a different story about New Zealand journalist Claire Nelson. The full ABC story can be found here. I am taking a circuitous route here so I will revert back to the COVID-19 in some way - how can I not?

Nelson was a particularly experienced hiker who set out to hike through the Joshua Tree National Park in the US. Her experience may have been her Achille’s heel as she departed not really informing anyone of her whereabouts. She felt confident in the fact that she had plenty of experience as a hiker and could do this solo without so much preparation one would expect. A few hours into her hike, Nelson lost her footing and fell 8 metres, shattering her pelvis. She was wedged between rocks and in considerable pain unable to move. She had no phone service, only enough water for about a day and very little food — a bagel, a hard-boiled egg, and a chocolate bar. She had to contend with the possibility of coyotes and rattlesnakes as she lay there in the heat of the Californian desert. 

As she lay there, she had an epiphany - her solitary hike had been an extension of the self-isolation she had been living for some time. She had been isolating herself from people for too long and she vowed that if she were saved, she would do something about this. As she lay there, Nelson made some recordings on her phone (which thankfully did not break in the fall) so if anyone found her dead, there at least would be personal testimony to her last moments and inner thoughts. (She was eventually and miraculously found thanks to the efforts of curious friends). 

Fiercely independent and stubborn - qualities that she admits to being not so virtuous - she realised the disconnect to family and friends had to change. The video footage and recordings she made as she lay there in the desert are, to this day, reminders of what had to change. “There were definitely moments when I would think back to my life and think - did I live it well? And could I have done more? What would I have wished I had done differently?'" The answers to these questions mostly came down to human connections.

Prior to her accident, Nelson said she had spent a lot of time on social media pretending to connect to a vast number of people. She realised she had left herself as an isolated island. Since her recovery, she has turned those realisations into change. “I have learned to ask for help when I need it and to open up with people," Nelson said.

This story echoes the sentiments of many as we ponder some deeper questions at home. We may not experience such a drastic moment in our life to question a life worth living, but this period of time is testing our resolve and asking questions of us all. How will we emerge from this? Wiser? More cautious and more focussed on what really matters? More connected to family and friends? There have been so many articles / discussions / podcasts etc reflecting on what this period will mean to, or how it may shape the thinking of, people. 

Even Rabbi Sacks will soon launch the Together with The Forever Project - a unique digital project that will enable him to connect with people across the world in real-time - an online, interactive experience that will allow anyone ask questions and have a conversation with him from a mobile phone, tablet or computer, anytime, anywhere in the world.

He is looking for people to ask the deeper questions. “Perhaps you have questions about Jewish identity in the 21st century or about Judaism itself and its place in the modern world? Or about faith or spirituality, ethics or the relationship between religion and science, theology or morality? Or you are interested in Judaism’s approach to the environment, democracy, interfaith relations or Jewish history? Or perhaps you wish to know how best to live a good and meaningful life?”

Are these some of the questions that people will want to ask? Whether it be Nelson’s story or our own, perhaps many people will want to reset or realign the way they are living. It may be that the personal revelation will be not dissimilar to the same epiphany that Nelson experienced - we need to reconnect or reassess in ways that makes better sense to us. Albanese said recently although Australians are 1.5 metres apart, in many ways we have never been closer together. Historically, in times of crisis, people come together and put their ‘shoulder to the wheel’. Ironically, in this crisis, putting our shoulder to the wheel means staying at home away from others. 

However, the world is harnessing its collective good will to fight a common threat. And Peter FitzSimons (SMH 25 April) made a profoundly important comment when he wrote “can’t we use this model (of world unity) as an inspiration? Do we really have to go back to spending billions of dollars every year to buy more weaponry ... it just doesn’t make sense to spend that kind of money against possible threats when the genuine threat of climate change is killing all of our nations by centimetres at a time”. (Just today, the Guardian reports that 2020 is on track to be the hottest year on record!) Will we come out of this more focussed on these issues? I hope so. 

Of course, this could be a complete misread on my part and it may well be that the usual social and economic gravitational and centripetal forces that dictate the way we live will insidiously re-emerge as we succumb to the routines of life and nations will carry on spending grotesque sums of money on weapons. Some may not need to steer a different course - the course they are on may well be conducive to the good life however that is measured. Personally, I think it is possible people will find new insights (and am hopeful the majority will) but I recognise that many people will revert to what they know and feel comfortable back in the well-trodden groove. Of the many podcasts listened to and shows watched, one theme emerges – many families have enjoyed slowing down!

Whatever may result, I look forward to seeing the school re-open and function in the ways that it should. I look forward to teachers across the nation being appreciated more than they have. I look forward to the playground being filled with the voices of kids, the corridors being filled with the sounds of saxophones, trumpets and drums, the classrooms and breakout rooms filled with unique learning experiences that are directed by committed staff. I also look forward to seeing you all soon as per the schedule below.

Transition Back to School (Full message on Skoolbag)

Week 3: (Wk beginning 11 May) Return of all Prep, Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 2 children (permanent 5 day week return)

Week 4: (Wk beginning 18 May) Return of all Year 3 and 4 children (permanent 5 day week return)
Week 5: (Wk beginning 25 May) Return of all Year 5 and 6 children (permanent 5 day week return)

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