Twas the Night Before School….

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Here we are again – the night before the first day of school.  I’m excited about the upcoming year, and full of anticipation for all that is to come.  I’ve watched as my new students have walked through the doors to register – many are nervous and unsure of themselves, and I want to make sure that each and every one of them leaves at the end of the year confident and capable in their abilities.

But I know that this can be difficult.  While school is all about learning, mastery,  and achievement, and is designed to reward and celebrate those things, I also know for some of my students this year, in spite of having a great need for power,  they might not be able to satisfy that need easily.  How does someone feel a sense of accomplishment when they work hard and still fail that test?  Or when they are sitting in a class trying desperately to understand algebra, and it’s just not connecting for them?  If they are to leave feeling confident and capable, how can we create the conditions for this to happen?

So tonight, I’m thinking about ways that people can gain that sense of power in ways other than strictly academic achievement.  I want to ensure that there are leadership opportunities for them- so that even if academics are a challenge, that people still know that they are important to how our school functions and that their efforts really make a difference.  I want to ensure that my students learn that no one has all the answers all the time, but that they have figured out where to go and how to get the answers and help that they need when they inevitably hit a wall.  I want to teach them how to honestly reflect on their own progress, and to take pride in their own growth instead of focusing externally and comparing themselves to others.  I want them to know that when they have lent a helping hand to someone else, that they may have changed the course of another person’s life.  I want them to know that achievement and success come in many different ways.

What ways do you help to create opportunities for your students to fulfill their need for power?

Decision-Making Made Easy

i am a person who

I was stuck.  I didn’t know what I should do.  On one hand, there seemed a clear course of action that I should take.  I have always considered myself an advocate, and there was certainly an issue on the table that was worth fighting for.  Yet, on the other hand, there was something that didn’t feel right about this.  I had this nagging feeling that I might be doing more harm than good, and that perhaps there was another way of tackling this problem that might yield more effective results.

Or was that a cop-out?  Was I just rationalizing so that I could avoid a struggle?  After all, how many worthwhile causes were won without some personal sacrifice on the part of those fighting for the cause?  Was I just being a wimp?

But at the same time, I’ve seen people completely ignored and written off as crazy when they take on a battle only to have someone else come along and attack the same problem with a grace and skill that wins people over and achieves the desired outcome.

What to do?

I’m fortunate to have a very smart friend with whom I was sharing my woes who, instead of telling me what to do, asked me a question.

“What would a leader do in this situation?”

I didn’t even have to pause to answer this question.  My choice became crystal-clear.  And I haven’t had a moment of doubt since.

The problem was, I’d become hung up on a label that limited me.  Now, it’s not that being an advocate is a bad thing.  In fact, it’s still something I strive hard to be.  But when I got stuck, it was like being hit by a lightning bolt to try on another label that describes another characteristic that is part of the person I want to be.

This experience has made me think about how I might be able to support others in finding the answers to their own struggles by connecting them with the kind of person they want to be.

When someone is fighting because he wants to be strong, what would happen if I asked them what a kind person would do in this situation?

When someone is reacting because they want to be heard, what would happen if I asked them how a thoughtful person might respond?

What labels have you seen drive the behaviour of others that, while on one hand are very valid, on the other, are restricting their possibilities?

What labels may be doing this to you?

The Power of the Picture

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I fell in love with Wab Kinew after I had the chance to hear him speak.  He was smart, funny, and was able to challenge the audience’s thinking and assumptions about First Nations people in a spirit of true reconciliation.  I first remember him from his days working as a reporter for the CBC, and became a fan after watching the 8th Fire series.  So when his book, “The Reason You Walk”, was released, it became number one on my “must read” list.

His journey from a reserve in Northwestern Ontario to Member of the Legislative Assembly in Manitoba has been an interesting one, and the path has not always been easy.  One of the things that intrigues me is how someone can live through so many challenges and traumas to become such a strong and centered advocate, educator and leader.  So many people are not able to see themselves through the suffering they have faced.  I was curious to see if there was a hint in his memoir that could explain how he became the person that he is today.

I know that there is never one simple reason to explain how a person becomes who they are.  It’s a blend of experiences, opportunities, genetics, luck…. A million different factors influence our personal development.  However, there was one part of Wab’s story that fascinated me.

From the very beginning, he was told that he would grow up to lead his people.

I can’t help but think that the fact that he heard this throughout his life didn’t shape him.

It makes me think about some of the messages our kids hear.  From simple statements like “You just aren’t a math person” to more cutting remarks like “You’ll never amount to anything”, I do believe that the pathway someone takes in their life is greatly influenced by the messages that they hear that help to form the picture of what they see as possible.

Wab talks at the end of the book about how important it is to him that his own children have a picture of what it is to be a strong, proud indigenous person because this will help carry them through the difficult times in life.

Do your words and actions paint an image of strength and hope for the children in your life, or do they limit their possibilities?

Being Grateful for the Garbage

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With the end of the school year quickly approaching, I was reflecting with one of my students about all that she has gone through this year. It hasn’t been an easy road for her. There are many things she had to tackle that I wish had never happened. She’s had pain that no person should have to deal with. It would have been easy for her to become bitter, angry, and throw in the towel in the face of such adversity. It would actually be quite understandable.

If either of us had the power to change what happened, we certainly would. But as we talked, I realized there was another side to her experience. She didn’t give up; in fact, she has grown a lot this year, and not just academically. She’s learned a lot about relationships, coping strategies, leadership, and the skills and strength that she possesses. I do feel some sense of comfort as she leaves the walls of our little school and heads out into the big scary world that she is leaving with the knowledge that she has the ability to handle whatever the world throws at her.

I think about how often I get angry at the situations in my own life that I think are unfair. The difficult people that I have to deal with that frustrate me. The obstacles that get in my way. I don’t feel grateful for these experiences…. but maybe I should. I’m far from perfect, but navigating through these circumstances has taught me to be more patient, kind, and understanding. I’ve learned to be a better listener, and to be more collaborative in my work. I do think I’m a better person because of the tough times.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to muster gratitude the next time life kicks me in the teeth. It’s tough to see the positive when the negative is so overwhelming.

But I hope I can. I think I could find a little more peace in my corner of the world if I could remember that my life might be richer because it doesn’t always go the way I want.

Does Money Make The World Go Round?

I had the great pleasure of hearing Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band and the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation at a conference this week on the topic of Aboriginal education and business.  He passionately shared his experiences of the changes in his community that he has been a part of during the ten terms he has served as Chief.  His story is truly inspiring – the band proudly operates a vineyard, a winery, a golf course, a conference centre, among other things.  He has been central in creating economic prosperity that has benefited the community in many, many ways.

One of the statements he made was that when people talk about emotional, spiritual and physical health, that he thinks at the centre of that all should be a dollar sign.

At first, this statement shocked me a bit.  But then I realized, he wasn’t really saying money was all that was needed.  In fact, he argued that welfare is one of the worst things that ever happened to his people.  What he was talking about was the ways that economic prosperity can impact people.  He talked about the pride that he sees on the teenager’s faces when they earn their first paycheck.  He described the sense of purpose that the community has in creating something amazing that draws the world to it’s doorstep.  He talked about the ways these initiatives have brought people together.  He talked about the feeling of pride in being independent and self-sufficient.  In creating your own future and destiny.

He was talking about belonging.

Freedom.

Power.

Fun.

He was talking about how emotional, spiritual and physical health comes from people meeting their basic needs.

It made me reflect on the neediest students I have worked with.  Have I at times contributed to their feelings of inadequacy by doing too much for them in the name of “helping”?  Are there ways that I could instead have created opportunities for them to take control of their own lives, and feel pride in their achievements?  To feel that they are a part of a group that is doing something important together?   To become strong and independent people?

How can we do a better job of this with our students?

Shout Out To The Bus Drivers!

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Bus drivers are a hardy breed.  I don’t even like driving my husband’s truck because it’s so big – I can’t imagine maneuvering a vehicle the size of a bus.  Not to mention that fact that you are maneuvering it around small and unpredictable children.  And to top it off, while you accomplish this feat, you are also responsible for managing the behaviour of all the children already on the bus – with your back turned to them!

I had the pleasure of working with a great group of bus drivers from Evergreen School Division this month.  We had some amazing conversations, and wrangled with some difficult questions – and ran out of time!  So – this post is to fulfill my promise to them to continue our conversation, and hopefully to engage some other folks out there who can relate to the pressures faced by these dedicated professionals.

So often when we talk about using Restitution, it conjures up images for people of intense counselling-like sessions that help children understand the needs that drive their behaviour, and provide them the opportunity to think about how they could meet their needs in better ways.  I often hear classroom teachers lament that they don’t have time to work through problems with their students – so how on earth can you do this as a bus driver?!

I can tell you from talking with the bus drivers in Evergreen and elsewhere – there are people out there who are dedicated to using Restitution.  They have figured out that Restitution isn’t a formula that you must use to work through a problem.  All the tools and strategies that we teach are not the heart of Restitution – they just provide guidance that can help us navigate challenging situations.  At it’s core, Restitution is really about how you think about behaviour.

Do you feel that behaviour is either good or bad, or do you see it as a person’s best attempt to meet a need?

Do you see inappropriate behaviour as a bad thing, or an opportunity to teach?

Do you believe your role as the adult is to punish, or to help?

When you truly embrace the principles of Restitution, it’s not something that you “do”, it’s just who you are.  It’s not about needing a half-hour counselling session to work things out, it’s about connecting with kids.  It’s about letting them know that you care, and that you understand.  It’s about working together to figure out how we can make things work for everyone.

That doesn’t change the reality that our time and opportunities are limited.  It takes some creativity.  The little things count – greeting kids every morning by name, commenting on the score of the hockey game to the kid who is a big fan, giving a smile and a “see you tomorrow” as kids leave.  When issues arise, instead of yelling or punishing,  a quick 30 second intervention might serve to get things back on track.  These are some of my favorites:

Is what you are doing right now helping or hurting?

Is what you are doing ok?

What can I do to help you so you can….?

What’s you job right now?

What are you supposed to be doing?

Of course, there will be times when these quick questions aren’t enough to help kids reflect and adjust their behaviour.  I know some bus drivers who have called home in the evening to have a bigger conversation.  Or who have taken a few minutes before school starts to problem-solve with the child.  Or schools who have come up with collaborative ways to have principal, teacher, parent and drivers work together to support each other.

There’s no one right way to do it.  But at the end of the day, if our kids know that we care, and they are stronger for the intervention we have chosen, we can rest assured that we are on the right track!

Who Do You Think You Are?

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I spend a lot of my time in a car, and one of the ways I pass the time is to listen to the Freakonomics Podcast.  The tagline for the show is that they “explore the hidden side of everything”.  It’s funny and entertaining, but what I love the most is that it often presents research that challenges commonly held beliefs.

One episode, entitled “I Don’t Know What You’ve Done to My Husband But He’s A Changed Man” tackled the topic of crime.  They looked at programs that are addressing domestic violence in Britain, the rehabilitation of child soldiers from Liberia and the criminal activity of high risk youth from Chicago.  What they found won’t be a surprise to those of us who already practice Restitution.

They found that the way you think about yourself has a immense impact on behaviour.

If you see yourself as a criminal, you will behave as a criminal.  It’s not that people don’t know that what they are doing is wrong, it’s just that they see themselves negatively, and don’t believe that any other way of being is truly available to them.

And yet, we continue to label people negatively, thinking that doing so will motivate people to do better.  Instead of sharing your own story with a child about your own challenges with overcoming temptation, we call them a thief.  Instead of exploring the complicated social pressures of middle school, we point our finger and call the child a bully.

The podcast wraps up with the musings of a police officer who questions why, when the stated primary purpose of the police force is to prevent crime, was not ONE minute of his training about prevention?   Our society has become so focused on catching and punishing offenders, that we have ignored the fact that these efforts actually aren’t that effective in making our world safer.

But if you can help a child who has done wrong to see that they are strong and capable and that there is a positive future ahead of them, maybe, just maybe, we can start to change the world.

Click here if you’d like to check out this podcast for yourself!