Like the doll in Michel Polnareff’s hit song from the 60s, I find myself saying no quite often as of late. It is not a position I enjoy being in. And to be honest, it is not exactly the image that I would like to project, but alas, needs must. I have to play the role of the grumpy principal who is always saying no. No, you can’t bring a birthday cake to school to share with classmates. No, you can’t play with your friend who is in a different cohort. No, you can’t come back to school right away even if you know that you are not really that sick. No, it’s not possible to join class remotely right away if you’re out sick, and the list goes on.

In short, I spend my days saying no, no, no, and believe me, I am not thrilled about it. Especially since—as you and I both know—with children, we should avoid using negative phrasing too much. That is why, for example, we ask them to walk in the hallway rather than yelling ‘don’t run!’ at them. Or why we try to avoid telling them that they are wrong by asking them to think again: “are you sure?”

A Positive Outlook

One of the difficulties of this rentrée is that—optimists that we are—we like to think that this new normal is just temporary. The future is just a few weeks ahead ‘when things will be better.’ This undoubtedly has made it indispensable to have a positive outlook based on solutions and alternatives. No, we can’t bring birthday cakes to school, but what can we do to celebrate this event that is so important to each child? No, we can’t systematically set up remote learning for a student the very morning that they are absent, but how can we ensure that they can fairly quickly have access to a comfortable, efficient and high-quality remote experience?

Having this kind of outlook is not that difficult in and of itself. However, it can be hard initially since it means that we have to, in a certain way, admit exactly what we would rather not admit. For example, I know that, personally, my family and I are avoiding talking about the winter break so that we don’t have to face the fact of what is becoming clearer every day: that we won’t be able to spend the holidays together.

These days at school—at all schools—we are quick to imagine having to close again and how that will change the ways we teach should that happen. (Moreover, The École is well-positioned on this topic with our detailed plan of action.) Preparing for that possibility is obviously necessary, but we also need to imagine another less dramatic and more mundane scenario—the possibility that the current situation will last for months and possibly even for the rest of the school year.

Rethinking How We Do Things

Therefore, we need to rethink the way we do things, from birthday cakes to access to remote learning, from moments for relaxing to how we structure our days. Since we can’t always say no to everything, we have to rethink how we can say yes. In doing this, we must, of course, keep the students safe, but we can also consider the uniqueness of this time that we are living through as an opportunity to become even better and to invent a new way of ‘doing school’, by taking another look at our usual ways of doing things in order to create new ways.

This is something that concerns all of us—no one is a parent in the same way this year as they were last year—and I am happy to be able to lead this endeavor surrounded by a team and a community that is so united and determined to give the best to the students for whom we are responsible.