Sunday, 26 January 2014

Making A Positive Difference - A Teacher's Legacy Revisited

Over the past few months our community has sadly said goodbye and observed the passing of several teachers. Such events are often bitter sweet, marked with sadness for the loss of community members sometimes taken too soon, but also with fond memories of who the person was, the lives they touched, and the tremendous contributions they made in the service of others.  For those who work with young people, leaving a legacy is inevitable, and as evidenced at recent memorial services, many make a tremendous positive difference. Having written on this theme before, I think its timely to revisit this topic in recognition of the educators who recently left us.

Henry Adams, an American historian and academic once stated that "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."  Because of this fact,  the best teachers consistently bring  enthusiasm and passion for learning to the classroom. Students respond to, and feed off the energy and attitude of the adults they encounter. This response becomes even more important as students reach the upper grades.   

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  in his book Talented Teenagers: The Roots of Success and Failure notes: "children are often singularly uninspired by the lives of most of the adults they know. They quickly note adults who are not interested in their jobs. They spend long hours in drudgery for the sake of earning a living, and wait for their weekend free time, which is in turn filled with activities that are passive, uninteresting and fleeting. The majority of teens worry about this situation... and wonder how they can avoid a similar fate"

 Csikszentmihalyi further suggests that it is little wonder that students are captivated by examples of star athletes and entertainers who seem to enjoy what they are doing and achieve fame and fortune along the way. What is more surprising is the ability of many teachers to find a permanent place in students' memories.
What intrigues students about these teachers is their enthusiasm for subjects that seemed boring and purposeless in other classes. Memorable teachers challenge students to expect more than just recognition or a paycheck from the work they choose". 

 Students remember best those teachers who model commitment and enthusiasm, who seem to genuinely care for and about students, and who genuinely like what they do and who they work with.  These teachers leave a real legacy as role models colleagues and friends. While the odds of most children to grow up to be rockstar celebrities are very slim, the existence and influence of great teachers is proof that everyone can grow up to be an interesting and vital adult!

Child pyschologist and educator Haim Ginott  wrote “I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in my classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”  

How we treat students inevitably shapes the people they become. That's the real legacy of an educator. It's an awesome responsibility and tremendous opportunity. As clearly evidenced in the lives of of those who recently passed on before us, these educators took their responsibilities seriously and we owe it to them, our students and ourselves to draw inspiration from examples of fine lives, well lived, to make the most the opportunities still before us. Doing so both honours them and helps us to make a positive difference.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Whatever the Weather, We're in This Together

We've had a week of wild weather. The deep freeze of winter was interrupted by chinook winds that knocked out power to thousands of homes and either polished road surfaces to slick glassy ice or softened them to the point of developing foot deep car swallowing ruts. The results for schools were that some were closed and others were hard to get to. Adult responses to the week varied.

Most people took the school closures in stride. No power = no school was an easy concept to grasp, even in the instance where a school had no power but much of its neighborhood catchment was powered up. Ground conditions were a different story. Several complaints arrived expressing concern, frustration and anger about icy roads, buses, playgrounds and parking situations around schools. Many of the complaints included the suggestion that providing more space would solve the issue.

These situations underscore a few inconvenient northern truths. Life here includes challenge. The weather is what it is, and we who live here generally adapt, deal and roll with it. We almost accept it as a badge of honor. Our northern resilience and coping attitude is a point of pride. We also live in a time of tremendous technology and convenience, and when circumstances interfere with expectations we want action and results. When roads aren't cleared, when parking is an issue, or playgrounds are slippery, dissatisfaction and frustration quickly follow.

The fact is, nothing can be done to control the weather. When its bad, municipal and school board resources are stretched to react promptly. Whether such efforts are adequate will always be a topic of hot debate. As for traffic around schools, the inconvenient truth is that the buildings were designed to facilitate people, not vehicles, and the time, money, space and manpower needed to clear or expand parking lots is simply not available. For this problem the solution lies in less, not more, for if we can't accommodate the traffic we have, then maybe, just maybe, the solution lies in creating less and/or redirecting traffic to other safer paths. 

Letting students walk, even a few blocks, to their schools seems to be a huge challenge for many families.  Issues of safety, weather, and convenience always arise.  Family routines may be well established and deep rooted. However, if we bring the same resilience and innovation to this issue that we seem to bring to coping with the weather, solutions can be found. Establishing safe drop off zones, erecting clear signage and identifying and enforcing car free bus and walk zones will help ease the congestion and safety issues near entrance ways. Duty schedules can be examined and parent groups mobilized to ensure adequate adult supervision is present. The city does its part in working hard to clear sidewalks around most schools. Everyone would love to be dropped right at the front door, but the benefits of even a few extra steps in terms of lessening traffic congestion, increasing student safety and fitness and role modelling good life habits in terms of fitness and courtesy are tremendous.

There's a northern saying that there's no such thing as too cold, just under dressed. Sending students out in the cold might seem harsh, and no one is advocating that we put children at risk of frostbite or injury, but being prepared with proper seasonal clothing just makes sense, regardless of where or how one is travelling. Getting students to and from school safely is a priority for this district in any season. Hopefully working together we can find solutions that work for everyone.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Under the Weather

One of the unpleasant challenges faced by schools every winter is coping with cold and flu season. Anytime large groups of people are brought together in close proximity for extended periods of time there is a risk that some members of the group will get sick and pass on their illnesses to others. It has always been important for staff and students to take precautions to keep themselves healthy and to defend against infections. With the flu back in the headlines, taking precautions is more important than ever.

The American based Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  offers excellent information and resources for persons looking to protect themselves from colds and flu. Key pieces of advice at their site include:
  • Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.  Throw the tissue away after use and wash your hands. If a tissue is not available, cover your mouth and nose with your sleeve, not your hand.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces or objects. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.

The decision to stay home seems to be the hardest call to make. Missing work, school or other activities is never convenient, and sick days always seem to come at the absolute worst times. The website offers an excellent checklist of conditions that if present, should lead to someone staying home. These include: diarrhea, vomiting, wet coughs producing mucous or phlegm, thick yellow nasal discharge and significant fever lasting more than 24 hours. Other conditions that may require someone to stay at home include the flu, ringworm, impetigo, pinkeye, head lice or ringworm. Some of these are more unpleasant than others, but all of them require prompt attention in order to effect a quick return to health and to prevent spreading the condition.

No one likes to be sick, but working through an illness can make a person tough to be around. While missing a day may seem difficult or inconvenient, a well placed day away could be just the ticket to a speedy recovery. It may be easier to say than do, but it remains important to take the appropriate measures and to take the longer view when dealing with one's health. So, whether working at staying healthy or at getting well, be sure to be kind to yourself this season.