Twas the Night Before School….


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?

First Things First

basic needs

There’s a reason why survival needs are placed in the centre of the needs circle in Restitution.  It seems obvious that if you can’t survive, nothing else much matters.  But it’s amazing how often this simple fact is overlooked.

I know I’m in a privileged position as a counsellor.  I often have information that classroom teachers don’t have.  I hear the stories about how the family got evicted and are currently homeless.  I know all about the fact that the cupboards are bare and everyone went to bed hungry last night.  I see the fear in the eyes of the person who was assaulted over the weekend who is scared that it’s going to happen again.

What the classroom teacher sees is that homework wasn’t done.  That the student fell asleep in class.  That they grunt two word answers to direct questions.

It’s not hard to understand how quickly such a situation can escalate.  For many of us, we don’t ever have to think about where our next meal is coming from, or where we are going to sleep.  We have the luxury of being able to focus on getting our other needs met, because survival comes easy for us.  So we forget that this is not the reality for everyone, and we try to get those students motivated with the things that motivate us.

We talk to them about keeping focused on graduation.  We talk to them about being kind to other people.  We talk to them about doing the things we love and having fun.

But when you are fighting to survive, those other things seem pretty unimportant.

So next time you see someone who seems not to care, consider that the truth may actually be that they do care very much – it just may not be about the same things you care about.

But He’s A Good Boy!


“But he’s a good boy”, I overheard a parent say.  Something about this bothered me, and it stuck with me all day.

I finally figured out why this statement was causing such a problem for me.  It wasn’t just that being a “good boy” was being used to excuse rude behaviour.  It was a deeper issue than that:  If this was a good boy, then what would a bad boy be?

The child I’d witnessed had certainly been engaging in bad behaviour.  And I would agree that this doesn’t make a child a bad person.  “Bad” behaviour is simply someone’s best attempt to meet their needs.  If someone could figure out a better way to meet their needs, they would.  The child who steals a toy does so because they don’t believe they will get to play with it if they “ask nicely” for it.  Almost every kid I know who has been caught stealing knows it’s wrong.  It’s just that they couldn’t figure out a better option.

The reason why calling a child “good” is so problematic for me is that I don’t believe that we can categorize people into good and bad.  There is good in everyone.  That’s what Restitution is all about.  Instead of coercing a child into “being good”, we understand that good already exists inside of every child, and we just need to provide the opportunity for reflection and self-evaluation so that kids can figure out a better way to meet their needs.  As Shel Silverstein so eloquently put it – the key is in helping children “to listen to the voice that speaks inside”.

In your interactions with others today, think about whether you are trying to coerce someone into engaging in a specific behaviour, or are you trying to help people to reflect and figure things out a better way for themselves?


Remember The Big Stuff

This time of year always makes me take a step-back and evaluate the big things in life. We take time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and instead of getting grumpy and annoyed with one another, we are thankful for the things that we have and the people in our lives.

It’s so easy to forget the big picture and get caught up in details.

I heard a story this week of a young girl who came home from school upset because of the comments of her teacher. They were doing an assignment about goals and dreams, and she had written in her assignment that one of her goals was to play hockey for Team Canada someday. Her teacher marked this wrong, and explained to her that the difference between goals and dreams is that goals are things that can actually happen, whereas dreams are things that aren’t realistic.

I don’t for a moment think that this teacher’s intention was to crush this student. But getting caught up in the small details of word definitions caused her to lose sight of what is really important.

This holiday season, please take the time to step back and pay attention to the things that really count! We can all be a little kinder to one another, and feel more fortunate when we remember the blessings we have.

Have a wonderful holiday!

The Good News: We Know A Lot About Good Teaching!


Imagine it was your job to teach a child addition.  What would you do?

First of all, you’d probably saturate the environment with numbers.  You’d put posters on the wall,  play card games and board games that gave practice with numbers, and sing songs about numbers.  You’d provide lots of repetition and you’d make it fun.

You’d probably set up situations for the child to see the usefulness of addition.  You’d teach them how they can use addition to make sure there are enough cookies for everyone.  You’d show them how they can count enough loonies to purchase the toy that they want.  You’d show them strategies like counting on your fingers, or using a number line so that they can figure out number problems for themselves.  You’d set up situations for them to practice this new skill, ensuring that the situation was manageable, and that they’d find success.

And when that child made a mistake, you’d encourage them.  You would expect that they weren’t going to get it correct the first time – or even the tenth time.  You’d know that these concepts take time to learn, and you’d be a patient teacher.

Imagine if we taught math the way we often teach behaviour!

We would start by not even mentioning numbers until the child was really needing to use them.  Then we’d simply tell the child what the answer is.  We’d say this once, and then get frustrated and angry if the child didn’t get it the first time.  We’d say “He knows this – I told him just yesterday!” and then we’d take away recess and computer time to punish the child for choosing to purposefully make mistakes, because we know that “he knows better”.

It strikes me as funny how we know so much about good teaching, yet how rarely we apply those principles when what we are trying to teach is behaviour.

And the really funny thing is, controlling one’s behaviour is a much more complicated task than is learning to add 2+2.

But the good news is that we know a lot about good teaching.  If we were only to apply what we already know to the realm of behaviour, we’d find a lot more success.

Want to start a conversation about this?  Click here to download a handout that you could use at a staff meeting, professional development session, or to simply leave out on the staff room table!