A community’s challenge

In describing the strengths and distinctiveness of Trinity College School, I frequently use our T.C.S. acronym to emphasize: Tradition, Community and Shared Values.

Who would have thought that a strong community could ever present as a possible challenge or disadvantage? Yet, here we are during these pandemic times with physical distancing and community gatherings seemingly at cross-purposes. All schools are under the watchful eyes of parents, neighbours, administrators, the media and health authorities as we carefully work to reconcile the two.

Let me reintroduce two metaphors, as proposed by two respected authorities (one a medical doctor, the other an internationally-recognized journalist and author), to provide some additional support of the decision to re-open schools and how we all can, and must, contribute to its success.

In his opinion piece, “When It Comes to Covid-19, Most of Us Have Risk Exactly Backward” (The New York Times, August 28, 2020), writer and pediatrician Aaron E. Carroll references the term “safety pile.” In short, his theory is that with every decision that we make, as individuals, to reduce the risk of spreading the virus (e.g. wearing a mask, washing hands, physically distancing) we are contributing to “the safety pile.” His is the idea that every little bit we add to the “pile” is beneficial. Meaning, in times when restrictions are being loosened, rather than thinking that we must all either take every possible precaution (i.e. stay inside, at home, every day) or no precautions (e.g. “Let’s all go to Disney World!”), Dr. Carroll encourages us all to “trade off” some activities.

As an aside, and a reminder, it is overwhelmingly the perspective of the medical community that kids should return to school for their learning and social and emotional well-being, provided protocols are in place to better secure their physical safety. Therefore, an example of trading off activities in support of the safety pile might mean that, as schools re-open, students avoid sleepovers at friends’ houses or stick to take-out rather than eating indoors at public restaurants.

Many will know Malcolm Gladwell as a Canadian-born journalist and author. He is also a phenomenal public speaker. In a recent webinar that I had the pleasure of listening to, Mr. Gladwell described our present COVID-19 times as a “weak link” dilemma. To better illustrate the difference between a “weak link” and a “strong link” scenario, he uses sport as an example. Specifically, he describes the difference between soccer as a “weak link sport” and basketball as a “strong link sport.”

Weak link sports are defined as a sport in which a team will only be as good as its weakest player. A strong link team will only be as good as its strongest players. Soccer teams rely on all 11 players to succeed; a team that has a weak player will be exploited mercilessly and will often lose. It is a weak link sport. Basketball teams, on the other hand, are only as good as their strongest player(s); usually, a team will only need one or two to frequently win games.

According to Gladwell, COVID-19 times are a weak link dilemma. It is not just a matter of how good our most well-behaved, mask-wearing, physically-distanced people are; the system, and our most vulnerable people, are subject to our worst-behaved citizens.

The lessons of these two perspectives are clear: we must all, as individuals, do our utmost to add to the safety pile and not be the weak link.

Our school community and our greater communities will depend upon it. Thank you for your continued efforts.

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