Open-hearted Responsiveness and Community During COVID-19
Sarah Twomey
Looking back over the last year I know that I have a new appreciation for the community we lost, that, perhaps, we took for granted. In 2020 our connectivity with others was severely limited, and although we were able to develop some virtual connections in compensation I know for me that this didn’t replace the beauty of interpersonal dynamics, the exciting exchanges of ideas, the contagious laughter of groups or even the joy of simply saying hello and hugging a friend. As a teacher education program, our relationship with our school partners has radically changed as well. There has been no road map on how to navigate the changes and the uncertainty that COVID brought to our understanding and experience of learning and classroom interaction. I want to thank our students, faculty, staff and school partners for their grace and flexibility during this very uncertain time.

However, COVID aside, the concepts of community and relationship are of particular importance to the mission of our program which is to facilitate the development of teachers who will be leaders in holistic education. Holistic education recognizes students “as relational beings who are in relation to other persons, other species, the environment, the cosmos and indeed existence” (Webster, 2013, p. 640). Not surprisingly, this understanding of personhood unfolding in the dynamics of relationship has been well articulated through Indigenous ways of knowing demonstrated in the cultural and kinship practices of Canada’s first peoples.

This concept is also critical to Catholic Education, in which the social teachings of the Church recognize the inherent dignity in personhood, in particular the principle of the common good: “A society that wishes and intends to remain at the service of the human being at every level is a society that has the common good – the good of all people and of the whole person.” (165 Compendium). The notion of the whole person is noteworthy in context of how teacher educators develop an open-hearted responsiveness (Miller) to their students and families. It is also a core foundation for the preferential option for the poor, which serves as a measure of all of our work; once again, reflecting the importance of relationship and the solidarity of community.

Much of my work as the Dean of Education at St. Mary’s University is centred on trying to animate that vision for our community. As mentioned, community has taken on a very different meaning this past year. Not surprisingly it has triggered my own thinking around the role of the Education project, in particular, the role of Catholic Education in facilitating a more just, humane and inclusive world. We have experienced a deep vulnerability as global citizens because of COVID-19. This vulnerability, I would suggest, provides an opportunity for us to live an open-hearted responsiveness, a signature of holistic education, in a very real way.

What does the absence of holistic education look like? When we concern ourselves with simply curricular outcomes and measurable evidence of student learning, we lose sight of the complexity of human experience and the need for every child to be seen and valued for their unique existence. This ontological preferencing in understanding the learning and teaching process enables possibilities that are indeterminate, but can expand our imaginations and our hearts. I invite you into this challenge as becoming a leader in holistic education is the mission of

St. Mary’s University Education program. I want to wish all of you a hopeful 2021 as we navigate the challenges ahead.

Dean and Professor
Sarah Twomey

Miller, R. (2001) Holistic Education and the emerging culture. In: Spirituality in Education Online

Webster (2013). Healing the physical/spiritual divide through a holistic and hermeneutic approach to education. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality, Vol. 18, No. 1, 62–73

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (2005). Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. London: Bloomsbury.