Friday, March 15, 2013

Pride and Respect

Before taking a mini-break this past week, I had the pleasure of visiting two northern communities in two different provinces. My time in Terrace, British Columbia and Cross Lake, Manitoba provided some great learning for me and both visits were instances where I felt I received more than I provided. In both these situations my learning had a First Nations focus. I am indebted to the young “teachers” who reminded me of the brilliance that resides in all of our students – a brilliance that doesn’t always shine brightly but is evident once a student is given the chance to glow.

I visited Caledonia Secondary as part of a schools tour in advance of an evening presentation I was to give. I had hoped to gain a few insights to connect my session to local context. Within minutes of arriving at the school Vice-Principal Jane Arbuckle and I were talking and she was sharing the great successes of the work the school was doing with their First Nations students. Later she introduced me to Randal Wesley who she described as a talented artist. Her description was very accurate as I stared in awe at one of his nearly competed paintings. Rather than remaining open-mouthed, I took the step to ask him about his work. That’s all it took. He was so proud of his work and so appreciative of being asked to explain it, his thought process in creating it, and what each section meant, that he kept me engaged for the next five minutes. His depiction of the eagle and its personal connection were amazing to listen to. My limited time at the school was the only imposition on our time together.

I was hustling to get back to the main office and engage in some further conversations when Jane let me know that another student, Blake MacMillan, wanted me to see his painting. This was another one of those times where a student request was more pressing than my schedule and I was honored that he wanted me to see his work. Once again, the talent level of this young artist struck me as did his willingness to explain the personal connection the work held for him. When I asked why he chose the blue color for an aspect of the moon he explained that it just came to him and represented a personal context on a traditional portrayal. How we acknowledge this level of skill and capacity for personal connection along with the ability to effectively communicate that information may help to alter our traditional view of school success. The two artists have a clear path to a viable future that will see them enrich the lives of many.

I left Terrace and made the multi-stage flight to Cross Lake, arriving the following morning and being greeted by my very enthusiastic host, Connie McIvor. She was excited to share with me what her students and the students of the other two schools had done to welcome me and help to set the tone for the two days of work I had the pleasure of facilitating with the educators in the area. They had designed posters and narratives built on my theme of “The Heart of Education”. I took photos of all of their work and was so impressed by not only their levels of talent but also their thought processes. This was one of my favorites:

The students embraced the notion of role model, motivator, friend, and embracing differences as we build better schools. I was very touched by a number of the personal narratives including this one that spoke to the value and importance of education:

Some very powerful words shared by a middle school student who sees value in her education despite some of the familiar influences that might detract her from reaching her goals. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the significant role all educators play as leaders for positive change that can drastically improve the life chances of students. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Thanks For the GPS – I Hate My GPS

        Travelling to new places is an amazing aspect of the work I do. The only downside is that I’m terrible with directions and do not possess even a modicum of spatial awareness. (When I run in new places it’s always an out and back to void getting lost.) The best gift I received recently was a GPS. I know there was a reason behind why my wife got it for me. She grew weary of the calls as I was driving down some incorrect road trying to find the hotel I never stayed at previously. It has been a lifesaver, as I get into my rental car and just type in the desired address. I never question the directions “Mandy” provides, and that has become the problem. A recent trip highlighted my dependence. I was pulling into the small town of Santa Nella (population 1,380) and could see the bright sign of the Holiday Inn on my right as I was approaching the lights. Mandy said, “Left turn ahead”. So I turned left and proceeded down a dead-end street arriving at a truck lot. Mandy said, “You have reached your destination” and I’ll be darned if I didn’t think for a moment that I had! Fortunately, logic took over and I reversed my direction and went back to the hotel I initially saw (cursing Mandy all the way, as if that made a difference). A little reflection after getting settled in provided the following insights.

"Turn left….."

        I am not good at directions and need to work on that to get better – it is possible. My lack of comfort is remedied by investing in the directions provided by an authority – even a technology-based one. Since this authority is right more often than not, they get the benefit of the doubt even overriding logic and facts. I am prepared to deny the other senses. When this authority is wrong, it’s still not my fault, as “she” ought to know better (no matter how illogical that sounds). Mandy and I need to work out the kinks in our relationship, and I need to contribute more to it.

The translation to what we do in schools is clear to me. As new changes emerges, it is quickly followed by a request to “get us more information” or “tell us what to do”. We look for the comfort that comes with a defined plan and series of steps. Except when the steps appear to run counter to what we know is best, we run the risk of arriving at the wrong place and having our students also not get to their destination. The best plans are the ones we co-create and own. They are the plans achieved by listening to the wisdom of the ages, the addition of new practice, and the collaboration of brilliant individuals to achieve an even more brilliant collective.

I hate my GPS when it’s wrong, but I need to own the fact that I expected it to be right more than is logical. I need to understand that I’m better at directions than I give myself credit for and that I can override the suggestions by following my own intuition and obvious facts. I also know I can help colleagues overcome the stresses and fears about change and wanting security in things that also might not provide a guaranteed answer. I’m looking forward to my next road trip.

        Now, don’t get me started on my cellphone, which is directly responsible for my loss of ability to remember phone numbers!