Saying farewell to our boys as we moved to online learning was certainly not a time of celebration usually experienced at the conclusion of the school term. Gone was the satisfaction of knowing boys had worked hard and now deserved a break. Absent words of wishing each other a ‘good break’ and utterances promising to ‘see you next term’ reminds us all of the challenges ahead. The College certainly lacks soul without the boys and those still here miss the shouts and laughter at recess and lunch that makes working at Marist such a blessing. It is a strange place to arrive each day to know your only contact with students will be via a computer screen or through our learning management system.

Despite the inherent challenges of not meeting in person, the first few weeks of online learning has gone well, with students and teachers rallying together to continue their important work from their homes. I am incredibly grateful to our dedicated teachers for their flexibility, generosity, and resilience as they continue to educate, care for, and form our young men. I am equally thankful for our wonderful students who inspire us with their perseverance and their commitment to learning and to one another during these historically challenging times. Witnessing boys adapt to these changes and responding, largely with good grace, has been affirming. 

Our Marist teachers, aided by the expertise and tireless work of the school’s Information Technology team, have participated in thorough training sessions and prepared extensively in advance for this shift. Overnight our teaching staff have quickly adapted to new technologies, not the least Zoom, a video conferencing service, and many other remote learning tools. Our teachers have embarked on some marvellous innovations while their collaboration has resulted in innumerable creative resources. 

We have deliberately designed our online learning program to provide for both flexibility and structure. Every school's approach is different. Ours has been carefully considered and developed to be the most appropriate for our boys. We will continually reflect and invite feedback from parents and boys to improve our delivery as we journey together.

The College has received countless expressions of congratulation and thanks from parents and even boys for our smooth transition to online learning. Some boys have suggested they are working harder than ever! I remain confident that we are doing all we can to provide the required support and expert teaching to continue to uphold our standards of teaching and learning. 

If anything, government restrictions will tighten, not ease, as the need to control the spread of this virus continues. After time, the initial excitement of online learning may well diminish and our students will miss the social interaction that nourishes school life. We all know that nothing can replicate the classroom environment and the critical relationship that develops. It is important to realise the stress this may cause. I know House Deans, House Group leaders and Junior School teachers will make every effort to keep regular contact with their boys. 

We also need to recognise that it is not natural to stare at a screen for hours on end. Please continue to make contact with these staff if you have any concerns regarding the lack of engagement by your son(s). No boy can afford to miss a potentially long period of schooling and believe he can simply get up to speed on his return. 

In addition to participating in classes via Zoom, boys have leveraged technology to stay connected with one another. While unable to eat together, some groups of friends meet for lunch each day via FaceTime. It’s clear that the communal aspects of Marist, in addition to the academic work, will march on during this unique chapter in the school’s history. The College’s Mission team has been busy establishing connection in the development of the Forming Beyond portal page with contribution from staff and boys. I encourage boys and their families to visit this site.

Matthew Hutchison