December 11, 2014
This past week Canadians are mourning the loss of Jean Béliveau. What has been remarkable has been the press coverage of his passing. There is talk of his hockey accomplishments of which there are many: 17 Stanley Cups as a player and as an executive, 13 all-star game appearances, and more than 1200 points in 1100 games. But this hockey icon is not being remembered for statistics or elegance or skill on the ice; he is being remembered for his character.
There was a quality of humility and humanity that transcended almost everything Jean Béliveau did, and for this he won the admiration of all hockey fans. He was a leader on and off of the ice. Several years ago during a hard fought playoff series with an American rival, some Montreal Canadien fans started to boo the American national anthem. At the very next home game Béliveau came on the arena screen and talked about respect. There was never another boo. No one would want to disappoint Jean Béliveau. He was never “too good” for anyone. Jean Béliveau understood his role as an athlete, and especially as a Montreal Canadien in Quebec. He never turned down an autograph, he regularly went out of his way to visit those that were sick, and he always carried himself with elegance and calm.
This past week his body has rested in state at the Bell Centre and his life was celebrated at a state funeral. His wife, daughter, and grandchildren have been at the Centre to shake hands with the tens of thousands of people who lined up to pay their respects. When they became exhausted, the doors were closed for a period of time to allow them to rest, no one objected. Every individual counted; as grand as Jean Béliveau was, he understood the importance of his impact on each person. Each individual counted. His family has carried on the tradition. Fans have understood and appreciated this.
On Tuesday night the Montreal Canadiens hockey club paid tribute to Jean Béliveau. His regular seat was empty, but draped in a number 4 sweater, his family sat beside the seat. This was the first time since the opening of the Bell Centre that there was not a sellout crowd – they were one seat short. In a touching moment, a puck cleared the ice and landed some distance from where the Béliveaus were seated. Quietly, the puck was passed from one fan to next, until it was respectfully handed to Mrs. Béliveau.
Thankfully the woeful tales of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson have been pushed to the back pages of the newspapers, to be replaced by a true sports icon who not only spoke about but lived the values of respect, integrity, compassion, courage, and responsibility.
There was only one Jean Béliveau – and this is too bad.
December 2, 2014
Yesterday I was reminded that 59 years ago Rosa Parks entered a bus in Montgomery, Alabama through the front door, instead of the back as mandated by city rules, and refused to move from her seat in the designated “whites only” section of the bus. When she finally agreed to exit, the doors were shut and she was left to walk home in the rain. She was later arrested for violating the segregation laws. And last night I heard of a story of two sisters on a crowded bus in India who were sitting quietly on their way to college, until two men started to harass them. In order to defend themselves they started punching and beating their harassers with a belt. No one on the bus tried to help them. Instead, other passengers told them to not provoke the men because they might attack them. At the end of the attack the sisters got off the bus and walked to school.
It is hard to believe that as a society we have travelled such a short distance in the past sixty years. The fundamental disregard for human dignity and the belief that such actions are beyond reproach is very hard for anyone to understand, especially at this time of the year.
We could focus on the negative, but it is more important for us to look at these stories from a different lens. They show us the power of courage, of the integrity of the individual, and the basic premise that all people are created equally. Rosa Parks’ courageous stand sparked the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was the genus of the civil rights movement in the United States. The treatment of the two women on the bus sparked a massive response on social media. People were indignant and applauded the sisters’ bravery. The culprits were arrested and the sisters will be honoured during India’s Republic Day celebrations in January.
Jim Collins in his book Good to Great said, “They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” Rosa Parks and the Indian sisters (#RohtakBravehearts) were ordinary people who modelled for us the value of equality. They were the right people on the bus, getting the wrong people off the bus so that we could enjoy the right seats.
It is possible for anyone of us to truly make a difference.
November 24, 2014
These past few weeks we have read articles and stories about the distressing and negative impact that can result when a lack of respect and a fundamental belief in the dignity of others is lacking: the House of Commons, Jian Ghomeshi, Bill Cosby, and horrifically Rinelle Harper.
There are several layers in all of these headlines that are particularly disturbing. It would be easy to toss the stories aside and say that we are dealing with a societal issue and that there is little we can do about them. As an elementary school it is our responsibility to try and break this cycle. We teach and model for our students values that are life-long: compassion, integrity, respect, responsibility, and courage. Not all of our students practice each of these values on a daily basis and there are clearly days when I am left shaking my head at the insensitivity of young people. But, as an elementary school, it is our role and responsibility to have students not only learn the words, but also understand them and practice them on a daily basis. It is hard to find any of these character values in the recent news stories.
In schools we speak a great deal about character education. These are programs that are deliberately integrated into our curriculums that teach essential values that are good for the individual and for society. Our weekly assemblies, the MPA Speakers’ Series, our beloved Peacemakers Program, Project Give Back, and the Me to We Club are a few examples of the ways in which we have imbedded values into the fabric of our school.
However, we tend to define character development through the qualities that we value, rather than focusing on self-reflection, sense of self, and our impact on others. Our virtual world seems to make this even more difficult. This is why it is vital to enrich our character education programs by providing children with opportunities to reflect and more deeply investigate the relationship between character values and themselves. This deeper discovery and development takes place when students have an opportunity to be guided by thoughtful and caring adults. Homeroom teachers, TAG leaders, ‘health classes’, sessions with our student coach, and the Strengths Speaker Series for Grade 7s all provide students with an opportunity to reflect and discover how values are part of their own unique experience and voice.
While we still have much to learn as a society and much to do, together we can make a difference so we will see stories of human dignity, reaching out, and sharing.
November 6, 2014
We are all aware of the Ebola tragedy that is striking the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea with close to 5,000 deaths and 13,000 reported cases.
The tragedy is not just in the number of people who have been inflicted and those that have died from this horrible disease. Equally disturbing is the response of the Western World – those that have the capability to profoundly alter the course of the disease. The headlines of papers across North America look something like this:
- A Maine elementary school teacher has been barred from school after visiting Dallas, Texas where Ebola patients have been treated – despite having had no contact with any suspected patients.
- A teacher was placed on mandatory 21 day leave after going to an educational conference and staying 10 miles away from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
- A rumour at a school in Mississippi was passed around that the Principal had, at one time, travelled to Nigeria. Swarms of parents removed their children from the school.
More recently states have imposed sanctions against health care workers – returning from helping those in the stricken countries. At odds with the World Health Organization, Canada has suspended the issuance of visas for residents and nationals of the West African countries. Permanent resident applications from the affected countries have been suspended.
A global tragedy has been wrapped in an abundance of politics and fear. It seems that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s comment, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself,” is most appropriate. Delivered at his inauguration in the midst of the Great Depression, Roosevelt went on to say, “Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for…We now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well.”
Our world is even more interconnected now than it was for any generation before us and we have the resources to give. The focus of our attention should be on helping countries by providing the expertise, resources, and commitment to stop the spread of the disease. When we have a flu bug that descends on schools we model for our students the care and support needed for those who are ill. Why have we reacted like this is a zombie apocalypse?
Our children would not be proud of us.
October 22, 2014
Last week people woke up to hear the wonderful news that Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi had jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for their promotion of children’s education. At 17 Malala is the youngest recipient of the award, and at 65 Kailash Satyarthi is one of the older recipients.
Malala’s receipt of the award is a triumph on so many levels. It is a triumph of the human spirit and courage. When we read newspapers today the focus seems to be so much on what are wrong, short-sighted decisions, and misguided directions of leaders. Reporters are very good at cutting people off at the knees but do not always provide support for those who follow their beliefs and passions. Taking on the Taliban in the first place was a courageous move; after being severely wounded by the Taliban, she refused to give in and continued her crusade as the voice for children. In schools we speak a great deal about values, courage, and integrity and we talk of developing the next generation of leaders. We heard of her award at the same time that many were involved in running the Terry Fox Run for cancer. What a time for young people to look at the profound impact of Terry Fox and Malala Yousafzai and know that they do not have to wait years to make a difference.
Kailash was almost 50 years older than Malala. There is no generational gap; there is no lack of understanding or communication, because both Nobel Peace Prize winners share a common language: the dignity of humans, and ultimately children’s ability to pursue their dreams. When we talk of passing the torch to the next generation we miss an exceptional opportunity. Malala and Kailash have had such a significant effect on the discussion of women’s rights because of the combined forces of youth, experience, optimism, and pragmatism. Kailash’s willingness to teach and Malala‘s willingness to learn weaves a fabric that is hard to destroy.
Schools do their very best at fostering leadership opportunities and providing students with the skills to make leadership decisions. Ultimately those who make the most significant difference are those that follow their passions and their values. It is our role as “adults” to teach, support, and get out of the way.
September 15, 2014
I read in the Globe and Mail last week that the President and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Tim Leiweke was answering questions at Ryerson University concerning the MLSE’s teams. He was asked about the recent emphasis on “analytics” in building successful teams. After answering this question he went on to say, “There are players we have in our organization today (Toronto Maple Leafs) whose numbers are off-the-chart good and whose character is just terrible. I don’t care how good your numbers are: if you have bad character, you are doomed for failure.”
How many times have we seen talented professional athletes who cannot achieve their true potential and likewise how many “underdogs” have we watched soar from obscurity? The elements of determination, a strong work ethic, a commitment to excellence and teammates are elements that would comprise “character.” These are some of the elements that coaches would like to see in their athletes as they work hard to foster character and teams.
And I read the rest of the paper, Ray Rice the talented running back for the Baltimore Ravens was suspended for the year for domestic abuse, Adrian Peterson, a perennial all-star was charged with youth battery for hitting his 4-year old with a stick. And finally, Oscar Pistorius, an Olympic icon in South Africa was convicted of culpable homicide.
Character is much more than determination, work ethic, and a commitment to excellence. Cultural historian Warren Susman has said that we have moved from a culture of character to a culture of personality and where we have moved from a notion of achievement to performance. The above athletes have performed at the highest level, but have they achieved?
As educators it is our responsibility to ensure our athletes understand that character is much more than just performance on the field, or rink, or arena. Character is a transferable trait; transferable to the classroom, to the home, to a social setting. The respect that athletes seek in the athletic arena is one that must flow from the athlete to their everyday life. It is our responsibility to ensure that our athletes understand and act in a manner that reflects the full definition of character.
September 9, 2014
During the next couple of weeks many schools will be opening their doors for curriculum night. Parents will be visiting schools to gain an understanding of the road ahead for their child. This event presents differently depending on the school; from following a student timetable and meeting each of the teachers, to meeting with the teachers en mass in divisions, to meeting each of the subject teachers by department. It is a chance to “put a face to a name” and gain an understanding of the curriculum objectives, protocols, and practices.
The beginning of the school year is a critical time. It is the most important time to lay the foundation of building a bridge between teachers, students, and parents. The way that we go about this is by developing a positive relationship and we do this by asking and listening.
- What do you see as your child’s greatest strengths?
- What is the story that you hope you child will tell you in June?
- What are your hopes and fears for this year?
- Is there anything that you would like to tell me that will allow me to help support your child?
I write this as both a parent and as an educator. What those questions tell me is that I care, I respect your individuality, and that, in partnership, we can provide the very best opportunities for our children. We all know that the road from September to June will have some potholes (hopefully not as many as the City of Toronto). If we communicate regularly, and appreciate the uniqueness of each family and their hopes and dreams for their children, then we are truly vested in their best interest.
If curriculum night is about starting a partnership, then we need to begin by listening to each other and listening sometimes to what is not said. Instead of teachers talking at curriculum nights, perhaps we should be just listening?
August 20, 2014
This summer my family enrolled in a Learn to Row program. It was a wonderful opportunity to do something together as a family, get some fresh air and exercise and, most importantly, learn something new.
We spent a few hours on land, watched a video and then headed out to the water under the watchful eye of two volunteers. Having watched Olympic and high school rowing and having spent a considerable amount of time in a canoe, I must admit that I was excited and confident about the next steps. After all, it was just putting in your oar and pushing water. I was placed in a single racing shell and within the first five minutes I was in the water; my first lesson was humility!
Since that first lesson we have rowed quite a number of times and we have learned a great deal. It is a sport that seems so simple, yet is very complex. The last time that I rowed I spent the entire time trying to figure out what to do with my hands. Our instructors have ranged in age from 15 to 85. They were all so encouraging, patient, and understanding as we gradually learned the technique of the sport.
What has been exciting for me is that I have learned much more than a new sport. I have come to appreciate more about learning. Learning takes time and patience; it is a journey that for some might come easily and for others there are bumps in the road. When you fall out of the boat it means that you are trying something new; it is just as important to get back into the boat right away and try again. The starting point of learning is identifying the gap between where you think you are and where reality exists. Having that knowledge allows you to become more self-directed in your learning and I believe that learning becomes more powerful. The relationship between teacher and student begins with understanding and communication. Both parties need to be invested and committed to ensure that progress and success may happen. And maybe, most importantly, it is never too late or early to learn or to teach. Finally our family has set a goal: a rowing race in early September. Whatever the result of the race, the journey has been challenging, fun, and rewarding; hopefully the same results will happen for your children this school year.
August 7, 2014
I returned about a week ago from my annual canoe trip to the Canadian Arctic with a group of friends. We have been paddling Arctic rivers for a number of years and always enjoy each others’ company, the majesty of the flora and fauna, and the knowledge that we are travelling in areas that very few Canadians have ever seen. We are completely out of contact and carry a satellite phone only for an emergency.
We had our usual challenges of significant white water, but through the years of working together, trusting each other, and talking through the roar of the cold water, we always get through unscathed. And we are willing to help each other across the portages, none of which are marked and are only lined with millions of mosquitoes. We understand that each member of the trip has strengths and weaknesses and through the support that we give each other we feel a sense of accomplishment.
As we were in the plane returning to Toronto and reading the newspapers, it seemed that the world had changed. The headlines screamed of the MH17 tragedy, fighting began in Gaza, and the escalation of the conflict in Syria.
I turned to one of our canoe party and said, “We should take all of the combatants, put them in a canoe, and tell them to paddle together for a week.” At the very least they would have to talk to one another, work together, understand perspective, and optimistically trust each other’s actions. Perhaps a naïve suggestion, but better than the chaos and human tragedy that we are now seeing.
July 29, 2014
Last week I saw the movie Boyhood, a remarkable movie that was filmed over 12 years; if you are looking to spur family conversation this movie will do it. It not only traces the growth of a young boy, Mason, from the age of 7 to 18, but also examines the sea changes that happen within his family and his world during this journey.
Boyhood is more than just a coming of age movie; it is appealing on a number of different levels. We watch as Mason literally grows up through movie transitions that are subtle, but profound. Forever he looks at life through an inquiring lens, but always his lens. From the innocence of his early years through the stumbles of pre-teen and teen, to the beginning of a new era as he enters university, Mason shows us the power of the individual coming to grips with his relationship with the world and others, and his own sense of self.
It is through the eyes of Mason that we see the strength and foibles of his older sister and how his mother and father struggle with relationships as they nurture, cajole, lecture, and sigh through the growth of their children. Their dreams of a stable and “normal” family are weighted with the reality of relationships and finances as they struggle to define themselves. As parents we sometimes ask ourselves, “When will our children grow up?” The film shares with us the organic nature of this growth and as the years pass, how precious they are for adults and momentary they are for adolescents.
This is a very human picture that acknowledges the imperfect journey of families and individuals, the strength of family ties, and the triumphant resiliency of human nature. In what is an ordinary story we see the extraordinary. If there is one movie that you see this summer I would recommend Boyhood – it is very difficult to stop thinking of this film.