How to Maintain School Culture and Traditions During a Pandemic

Andrew Robbin
Andrew Robbin
Primary school principal; 6th Year Certificate of Advanced Studies in Administration
Student on a video call smiling and waving to classmates.

Even though the school buildings may be closed or look drastically different, our mission and goal of supporting students need to carry forward. Schools are a community hub and the culture and traditions are needed to help establish and maintain past traditions. Last spring, when events such as musicals, sports seasons, proms, and concerts were cancelled or graduation celebrations occurred in a different manner, adults may have been disappointed in the necessary changes.

However, students and schools recognized the importance of being flexible and creative in order to revise past traditions that people highlight as they reflect on their own schooling. With schools continuing to operate under new circumstances, it is vital that each school considers how to keep these long-held events part of students’ lives.

Why it is Important to Maintain School Culture and Traditions during COVID-19?

We know that the world has been turned upside down by COVID-19. Everything is different — from the way we interact with each other, to the way business and schools operate. During this time, students are being asked to be flexible, learn new routines, and adjust more than ever. At the same time, students need predictability and routines to help to navigate our new environments while developing into young adults. Consequently, schools need to support students and families with their personal development by maintaining the cornerstones and heritage of what previously took place in schools.

Traditions and culture exist for a reason. While they may shift, they are tried and true practices that reinforce the core values, purpose, and direction for schools. These events create life-long memories that are shared and passed along from generation to generation. It becomes the fabric of communities that unites people around the positivity of childhood and shared responsibility to support one another. Celebrating together needs to happen but can be designed differently to meet public health requirements. Instead of turning away from these events, schools need to embrace and make revisions to maintain their cultures for students’ benefits.

Ways to Maintain Culture and Traditions in Your School

When thinking about how to adapt transition and events, here’s a checklist of steps to follow:

What is the event/tradition/opportunity? Think about one event at a time to handle making changes in manageable pieces.

Why is this event important? Consider how the event impacts the community and enriches students and/or the school culture.

What is the “essence” of the event? The event that needs to be adapted should have an essential value that carries the importance. It could simply be a tradition, a learning opportunity, or just good-natured enjoyment to build morale and spirit. Identifying the “essence” will allow you to figure out how to maintain that portion, as it is likely the foundation of the celebration.

What are the limitations due to COVID-19? With safety precautions such as masks, social distancing, limits of sharing, and limits on the amount of people, there is likely an impact that causes a redesign. Knowing the restrictions in place specific to the one event will help identify what needs to change.

Knowing all the information, what are ways to modify the event while maintaining the “essence”? Thinking about what makes the event special and having identified areas that need to change will now lead to clear areas that can be maintained and what needs to be different. Energies can then be focused upon the modifications to the structure of the event, rather than creating or redesigning the whole event.

Here’s an example of a process recently completed for a Veterans Day celebration at a primary school.

What is the event/tradition/opportunity? Every Nov. 11, the school invites Veterans into the building with the following activities:

  • The veterans speak to classrooms about their experiences
  • Veterans are celebrated at a school-wide event with selected classroom performances
  • Veterans attend a reception with the opportunity to socialize
  • Students create a “Hero Wall” honoring people close to them that have served in the military

Why is this event important? Veterans Day provides the students with the opportunity to learn about service, sacrifice and how the military operates. It’s an opportunity to learn about family and community members. For the veterans, it allows them to speak about their experiences and feel honored and celebrated by youngsters.

What is the “essence” of the event? Community and caring. Students learn about how veterans support our country. Veterans have the opportunity to impart their experiences to youngsters and feel honored and respected by students.

What are the limitations due to COVID-19? No visitors allowed in school. Classes must remain in their rooms and in their cohorts.

What are ways to modify the event while maintaining the “essence”?

  • Instead of coming into school, veterans are invited to participate via Zoom or Google Meets to speak about their experiences. The new set up allows more opportunities during the day since there is more time than in the past. In addition, more veterans can participate, as some are unable to travel.
  • Instead of a school-wide assembly, classes will make videos that are merged together to be shared with the school community and families.
  • Part of the video will focus upon the “Hero Wall”.

As you can see, this event continues the essence of celebrating and learning about Veterans Day. Parts of the program are enhanced with technology and the only part that can’t be replicated is the reception. However, overall the event still captures the intent of teaching students about service and honoring our veterans.

The importance of schools maintaining traditions and continuing to support the culture in place is essential during these times. With thoughtful reflection and planning, events can be modified to sustain past traditions with adjustments to the safety precautions required.

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