More than 5 years ago Canterbury was rudely shaken awake by the first of what was to be 2 major earthquakes. These events were to shape our focus as educators and re-shape our thinking for years to follow. There has been ample media attention on the disasters themselves, the tragic deaths and injuries, the brave emergency workers, and the unfortunate communities that have lost their local schools. There hasn’t however been an ongoing focus in the media on 2 things:
- The initial and ongoing care, support and energy of the teachers and support staff of children and their families following the earthquakes
- The emergence of the wide-ranging needs of earthquake toddlers and babies as New Entrants
As principal of a school that lost over 1,000 houses in our school zone to the Red Zone we were approached by Dr. Carol Mutch (along with 5 other schools) to participate in a study about the role of schools in the earthquake recovery process. As part of this study we were fortunate to have funding and support from UNESCO. Over many visits and questions we kept coming back to one thing, something that was not widely reported or acknowledged – the most important thing in the recovery of the children at school was the unwavering support of school staff. This was evident in the voice of the children, in the eyes of the parents and caregivers and in the grateful praise of school leaders. Teachers and support staff gave their attention and care to the children in their charge as they ensured their safety during the earthquakes, welcomed them back to school, listened to their stories and did all this while quietly putting to the side their own personal struggles. I was grateful of the opportunity afforded me in September by the University of Auckland to present a spotlight session at the British Educational Research Association (BERA) Conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland. During this presentation I told our story, but both Dr. Carol Mutch and I praised our teachers and support staff for the crucial role they played and, indeed, are still playing in the ongoing recovery of our school communities. While no medals or ceremonies were afforded to school staff their efforts, genuine care and selflessness is certainly recognised.
My second point above is an observation, no an obvious trend, which is charging into Canterbury Schools in great numbers and intensity. There are now many new entrants entering school with social, emotional and learning needs. These new entrants were toddlers or babies when the earthquakes hit. Now I am no psychologist or qualified behaviourist, however I am in my 20th year of principalship and in talking with other principals this is not isolated to my school. We have a greater percentage than ever of new entrants enrolling with high needs, including separation anxiety, high sensory reactions, and to put it bluntly throwing tantrums when they do not get their own way. My colleagues and I along with the RTLB service are sharing these observations with the Ministry of Education who are to their credit starting to realise the new tremors appearing across Canterbury schools. We now look forward to appropriate support for our new entrants and our staff.
In conclusion who are the unsung heroes of the ongoing earthquake recovery in Canterbury? It is the teachers and support staff who have continually been there for the children and families through the shakes, the emotions, the uncertainties and now the vast range of needs of children enrolling as new entrants. While outside Canterbury it may seem a long time since the horror of the earthquakes the recovery continues. Shaken but not stirred – hats off to our teachers and support staff, enjoy your well deserved break.