Me to We

The anticipation built as Oct. 24th – WE Day – approached. At 4 a.m., the bus rolled up in front of the school. Despite the time, the energy was evident as we boarded the bus.

The speakers lived up to expectation: Molly Burke, Larry King, Liz Murray, Martin Sheen, Ashley Calllingbull, Spencer West and of course, Marc and Craig Kielburger themselves. I have been asked countless times for a highlight moment. It is difficult to choose. Larry King, king of interviews said, “I never learned anything while I was talking.” Liz Murray, in talking about her addict parents and not resenting them for her childhood of turmoil, said, “People can’t give you what they don’t have.” Simple, yet incredibly profound.

Were these my highlight moments? After some thought, I realized that for me, the highlights were the looks on the kids’ faces during the speeches and performances. As expected, different kids responded to different things. I saw eyes light up, tears well and ideas begin to formulate. I heard conversation about global issues that these students may not have even considered previously. I saw moments of empowerment.

Consider this: Do we allow the voices of our children to be heard? Do we believe our children have valuable insights to contribute? Do we believe they can make a difference in our world, not 20 years from now, but today? Do we believe our children can move from me to we? These questions were answered for me by 20 000 students in the Saddledome. Wish you were there to experience it!

I leave you with this thought: “Perhaps the most powerful people are those who empower others – with no strings attached.” (Author unknown.) Isn’t that what leadership is all about?


Strengthened by Adversity

She lived in a house where drugs were the norm. The environment was unstable, volatile, dangerous even. She was taken from her mother, placed in multiple foster families and eventually, returned to her mother. All before she reached the age of ten.

This is one story. How many other students in our midst have stories laced with similar tragedy? You know them. You work with them every day. Is it surprising that these students have difficulty focusing in class, forming relationships with their peers or feeling good about themselves?

Adversity comes in many forms: strained relationships, abuse, illness, poverty, the death of a loved one, job loss, divorce, rejection. Some of our students face significant adversity at such a tender age. Statistics tell us that some will fare well; others will turn to addiction and continue the only cycle they know. Though we have resilient kids in our midst, they rely on the hope and stability we provide.

When we are living through pain, loss and devastation, it can be difficult to find hope. And yet, adversity often provides the perspective we need to appreciate the life we have been given. “Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat.” Anais Nin

Be thankful today for those who surround you, for the blessings in your life and even for the adversity that has shaped the person that you are. And if you are not currently low on this roller coaster we call life, reach out to someone who is…


A Masterpiece

I’m envious of my mom this week: she’s in New York and I know her plans include the Met, the MOMA and the Guggenheim. Art galleries both calm and inspire me. The wall to wall Monet’s that take my breath away… the texture and vibrancy of the Van Gogh’s… the incredible detail of Bouguereau… the whimsey of Matisse.

Envision a piece of artwork to represent your life. Is it an abstract, a portrait, a landscape, a photograph? What colours, shapes and lines are prominent? What is the overall mood created by this piece of art? Is there an inherent sense of balance?

I venture to guess that Van Gogh was deliberate in his colour choice, the direction of the brush stroke, the placement on the canvas and ultimately how each of these would contribute to the finished piece. In Stephen Covey’s words, “Begin with the end in mind.” This proves to be true in artwork and in life.

When we interact with our family, our coworkers and our students are we proud of the exchanges? Do they contribute positively to our life masterpiece? When we make decisions about what needs to be done, do those decisions lead us closer to the end result? Do our choices lead to a balanced picture, honouring both family and work?

This week, I will simply have to imagine rounding the corner at the Museum of Modern Art, my eyes drawn immediately to Starry Night… the swirl of the sky above the steeple… the glow of the moon… the brilliance of the stars…


A dash of hope

Most kids who walk into our classrooms, will listen, behave respectfully and complete their work when we ask. There are a few though who will be more challenging. Even though they can tell us the difference between right and wrong and they can articulate what they know we want to hear, they still have difficulty complying or making appropriate choices. These kids usually face greater challenges than those immediately evident as they sit before us in the classroom. Often, they lack hope.

Last Thursday, our principal laced his Terry Fox runners, our students gathered in the field, and we set out to honour the memory of a Canadian hero. Two weeks before that, on a hectic Monday morning, we watched a short video of Terry Fox during assembly. I had been feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and perhaps a little self-pity. And then, as I watched the familiar hop-step, hop-step, hop-step, and remembered the journey and struggle of this young man, my problems suddenly seemed unimportant. My mood was transformed.

How can we convey this sense of hope to our students? How do we show our students – all of them – that we care? Those who most need hope in their lives are not those who are quickest to comply or easiest to like. Those who most need hope are those who challenge our patience, test our persistence and force us to use every trick up our sleeve.

Without hope, Terry Fox, couldn’t have set out on his arduous journey. Without hope, he couldn’t have inspired a nation. Without hope, some of our students may flounder.

Though not tangible, though not easily articulated, hope is an essential ingredient in our relationships with our students.