Looking Into Leadership:Creating a Home

I am very fortunate to be able to sing in our church choir, something which I really enjoy, even though I may not be opera voice quality. It’s fun to sing with a group and be a part of music ministry. Not long ago, our extraordinarily talented choir director talked to our group about his trip back to his ‘growing up’ parish to attend the funeral of a close family member. He spoke at length about how the beautifully historic church was full for the service, and how the priest’s words were both comforting and inspirational; how the voice of the choir, numbering over 60 people, was moving and uplifting.  But, as he spoke it became clear that he was describing more than all the ministries working in perfect concert at this celebration of life; he was talking about the experience of coming home. Of being in the place where memories are made, tears are shed, sibling rivalry and bickering are everyday life, and the place we all leave with a resolute determination to forge our own path, yet (hopefully) return to find a time to reconnect, to be thankful for the place of beginning again.

Our schools provide this same experience for ours students, and school staff understand that they play a critical role in creating this place of safety, tolerance, challenge and faith. They work relentlessly to create that kind of atmosphere. For some students, school is even more a home than their own home, sadly enough.

As leader, how does this environment become home for its staff? How does a leader take care of his/her staff so they can take care of the students? How does the leader create a place where challenge to embrace new teaching strategies is an expectation but not an overwhelming burden; where staff safety is guaranteed; where complacency is avoided by rigorous self-reflection; where the understanding that although the needs of the students come first is simply fundamental to the existence of the school, there will be support when teacher frustration raises its exhausted head because the needs are just too much. School staff is exceptionally good at creating the place of beginning again for their students. Leaders are tasked with the responsibility of creating the place of beginning again for staff. So, a few practical ideas just for starters…

  • Make a point of not only greeting people each morning, but take a tour around every day to touch base with your staff. Be interested in their stories – the caretaker who was up all night with his sick child, the teacher who has the NHL son living in the insanely competitive world of pro sport, the educational assistant who is taking care of elderly parents, the young teacher struggling to look like teaching is easy. Each staff person brings their lives to school with them, valiantly tries to leave them at the door, but still needs you to recognize that you know life is not just about work. While you’re all at work, it’s about the students, but your genuine interest in the stories of your staff outside of school will give both a greater sense of belonging to your school ‘home’.
  • Through your actions, recognize the fact that you work with good people – and keep encouraging and supporting those next steps. People who are challenged to step out of their comfort zone, who try new strategies, who challenge you as a leader to take stock of your own beliefs may be the most creative and innovative you’ll find. But – don’t be surprised when complications arise with/among these very same folks with big ideas. That’s ok. Your common ground is the same: your students. That understanding and the fact that you’ve established initial and ongoing connection with staff means you’ll have laid solid groundwork for working through issues if the going gets rough. Those difficult conversations are inevitable, but if they are rooted in relationship with staff and concern for students, you’ll be able to work to a successful end. (Most of the time. :))
  • Make ‘Thank you” a part of your daily vocabulary.Your home will be all the better for it.
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Looking Into Leadership 2 – Power, Pressure and the Leader’s Voice

Over the last number of years, my husband and I along with our friends have enjoyed annual summer motorbike trips to the US. Perhaps because we are on Harleys there seems this curiosity of American citizens to see what we weird creatures called Canadians are all about, This summer, with the US presidential election campaign creating a bizarre culture of chaos in the States, we found, in the western states anyhow, a great willingness to tell us about how one candidate known for outrageous statements is going to win this thing. According to one particular person, the candidate proclaimed that Canadians were ‘dying in the streets’ because our health care system is just so inefficient and far behind that people can’t receive the care they need.  We reassured this person that Canadians are fine, and although we may have health care issues that no, we are not dying in any street waiting for a surgery. Seriously, people.

What struck me was that the presidential candidate had put this out there – and the comment was not dissected, checked for facts, or completely dismissed. It was believed without question. Again, seriously, you people.

On a less judgemental note this encounter did get me thinking about the power of the leader’s voice and how critical it becomes as a leader to choose words carefully – to be the responsible spokesperson yet the passionate advocate with a big vision for the future. However, as a school leader, the pressure is on to have the answers and right now.  And, this the case on a daily basis. Your choices seem to be to barrel ahead and be good with off the cuff, or appear reluctant, tentative to take a stand. As a beginning administrator, what can you do? Some things that helped me out along the way:

Don’t be afraid to take a moment to think. Or maybe a day. When the pressure is on, people say all kinds of things that shouldn’t be said. I can very honestly say that the decisions I’ve come to regret are usually the ones made in the heat of the moment.

Refrain from thinking this is all on you. It isn’t. It’s all about your students, but you will be dealing with the most heightened of emotions from students, parents and teachers, and certainly not all groups will be pleased all the time. Sharpen your own toolkit when it comes to question technique and communication strategies, as you search for both fact and perception in tricky situations. Stick to the issue.  (I highly recommend the course Cognitive CoachingSMThe strategies within are a coaching model for working with teachers, but has tremendously helpful implications for every day interactions)

Find a mentor. Even though the pressure is on to be all things to all people, admin colleagues generally know this is an impossible expectation. So, reach out to a colleague for advice – someone you respect who will give you the straight goods, someone who will be on board with more professional conversations. Or, think of a few you might call, but do call. In my school division, I was so blessed to be a part of a smart, supportive groups of administrators, and I knew I could call any one of them at any time.

Then be a mentor. One of the best things that ever happened as a rookie was when a colleague called me up one day and asked my opinion on some district issue.  I couldn’t believe he was asking me anything – an experienced administrator asking the opinion of a rookie? Crazy. But so began a long collegial friendship which was a lifesaver, provided many opportunities for admin-type discussions, and gave me another side to my decision-making. Later on, it was my turn to call up a rookie and ask for an opinion, or to encourage the new kids to express themselves in admin meeting discussions. We all learn from each other.

Take time for reflection. A daily journal isn’t everybody’s thing, but I did keep a book going every year that included daily notes from phone calls, meetings, etc. and later on I began including some quick comments and questions on things I didn’t have time for at the moment but needed to look at later. This evolved into writing a little more, and changing my writing approach to reflect on human behaviour more than daily events. Write a few sentences each day – your reactions, your thoughts on the day. Keep writing.

Keep the feelers out there to gauge staff reactions and investment. Got a great new idea? As hard as it may be, welcome those who challenge you in an honest, forthright way. Sometimes the toughest things to hear are the most important. After all, do you really want your staff to follow blindly? Might sound idyllic but these smart people  have their own opinions, and expressing those opinions will keep you reflective and sharp if you let it. Question yourself: Does your idea need a recalibration? Are you moving too quickly? Who needs support? Being open to checks and balances will assure your staff that they are integral to moving forward successfully as a team.

Pray. ‘Nuf said.

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Looking into Leadership…Warts and All

Looking into Leadership….Know yourself, warts and all

As a young teacher, I was often simultaneously overwhelmed by the responsibility of teaching and overjoyed at the prospect of unlimited potential for creativity, challenge and fun in my classroom each day. And I thought the Grade 4 homeroom was the absolute best level to teach. However, after a number of classroom years I thought I should give school administration a try. Realistically I was blissfully unaware of all the challenges to come my way, but I had observed my principal, soaked up what I could, and was very lucky to work in a very collaborative school. (Back then we just knew we better be working together to pull off all the events we did!)

I am ever so thankful for the good folks in my first admin appointment who put up with a lot of missteps in those first years. I quickly noted that my safe place was still the teaching assignment, in pretty stark contrast to the minute by minute challenges of the admin world. The feeling that I was ‘on’ as soon as I walked through the door in the morning, and was needed to make decisions, lend a hand, advise, discipline, call parents, and find a second for lunch sometime during the day was another definition of overwhelming. I often wished I could just get my coat off before the first person rolled through the door. That was a dream.

I came to realize that this new side of the office door was going to be a ‘new’ busy place no matter what I wished for or wanted, and this is what I had signed up for. Well, maybe not this exactly, but no backing out now. I found that the decisions most important were not the ones involving things like timetable scheduling, event planning, or even budgeting. It was the emotional response I would have to situations that called for a cool head, a step back, a way to help others understand themselves and their actions; moreover, a way to help others work through situations while refraining from providing a one-sided quick fix. To do this I came to understand that while in the classroom I always strived to be the teacher the students wanted me to be; as administrator I was thinking about what my staff wanted me to be, how they would describe me to others, and how I would grow as an administrator. To do that  I knew I had to look inward and reflect on me as a person.

I needed to acknowledge the traits I admire in others, and those I aspired to be. That seemed easy. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a trusted, fair, collaborative, honest, kind yet firm when needed leader? But how would I communicate these traits consistently? How would my communication skills ensure that these traits be steadily apparent even in the most difficult of situations?

I needed to acknowledge the warts in myself that may influence my view of the school environment: those characteristics or habits of staff that I might view as problematic, or conversely they in me.  How would I respond constructively? What strategies and language would I use to be honest yet diplomatic to find the best in each person (teeth-gritting included)?

And, I needed to acknowledge that I did not have all the answers and likely never would, but knowing myself was a first step into leadership.

 

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The Feast That Nourishes Us All

I always feel blessed that I’ve had the opportunity in my school career to work with many kind and devoted teaching assistants. I know these fine people can feel under -appreciated, but they are truly invaluable! As Lent began this year, I found myself thinking about one lady and her story in particular. This lady worked as a teaching assistant, and was widely known for her compassion and kindness toward the students. As did the rest of the school community, I found her to be a lovely, generous and yet reserved person. She came to me one day with two requests: that she could provide lunch one day for the whole staff and that she be allowed to take the same day as a personal leave. Her offer to provide lunch for a staff of 20 was extraordinarily generous one, and I was even more surprised to find out that she had done this many times before. It always coincided with the date she requested every year for a personal leave day, and I wondered how this was going to happen. She assured me that she would bring all the lunch in before school, fully prepared, so it would be ready to be pulled out of the refrigerator at lunch time. She explained that the lunch was her way of thanking her friends, but wouldn’t be there to share it with us and simply smiled when I commented  on her generosity, but was a little puzzled by the gesture, and a reason for thanking us. With that smile but no further explanation, she went on her way, and sure enough, prepared a delicious lunch for everyone. And it was truly a feast of many dishes of her culture, appreciated by all. As we ate the story of how and why this gift came to be began to emerge. It seems that, a number of years prior, our lovely staff member had her life ripped apart in a a split seconds time. She and her family were travelling on a local secondary road, when another vehicle blasted through a stop sign and rammed her vehicle, taking her whole family from her. She was the only one left. I was stunned and saddened  at the story of such profound loss.

Such, then, is the meaning behind taking that particular day every year as personal leave. She attends Mass, and spends the day in prayer and reflection, devoting it to her family – and of course this is entirely understandable. What is a most humbling, though, is that through her own pain came this extraordinary gesture of giving to her friends, her way of thanking us for our continued friendship and support. We enjoyed a delicious lunch made all the more special because of the love in the gesture. We prayed together in thanksgiving for our friend, for solace for her wounds, and for her giving and humble spirit.

Our friend’s gesture gave us pause. As educators, we recognize the critical value of safety at school for our students, and throw all of our efforts into creating a challenging, nurturing, and safe learning environment for them. Although admirable, that common focus can blind us to our responsibility to take care of each other as adults.Not only the students come to school every day with a life story; our staff members have their own stories which are constantly put aside in the busyness of the day. We often have no idea what is happening outside school time in the lives of our colleagues. And in all honesty, its a rare move when one staff member thanks another simply for friendship and support.

All that can change.  Just a personal commitment to take a few minutes each day to be a friend to other staff members (especially the ones to whom a friendship seems unlikely). More than the perfunctory morning hello’s or the have a good night’s; more than assuming that the quiet staff member must be fine, or she’d say something. The recognition that we can only care for the students if we feel cared for ourselves will be the feast that nourishes us all.

 

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Courageous Leadership…Read the Whole Book

How does the commitment of a teacher to stay current in classroom teaching practices translate to school leadership? Why use precious and scarce time out of school to read more than catchy phrases and quick paragraphs on social media? Who has time for reflection, anyhow?

There was a day when the dreaded Book Report was an expectation of the Language Arts program. The traditional approach was deemed best: read the book, write the summary, present to class, maybe some personal art work to dress it up a bit. My classroom was no different – except that students had much more latitude in presentation strategies, and that helped the rather arduous task of listening to 24 book reports move along in a more interesting fashion. One day I was conferencing with students regarding their draft written book summaries, and had my conference – ee standing nervously beside me as I read his work. It was a well-written piece, summarized the theme of the book quite expertly, used surprisingly descriptive language, and was suspiciously professionally done. I commented to my now really sweating young man that the summary was quite amazing and asked to see the book. When he put the book down in front of me, you could almost hear his heart land on the floor with a thud. He had been busted –  copying the back cover of the book word for word, and handing it in as his own work. His explanation: what’s the point of doing all this reading and summarizing when it was all there on the back cover? After all, how could I write a better and more concise summary than that? (Suffice to say, we needed to review the purpose of the assignment, and yes, discussed plagiarism too.) We chatted further about how digging deeply means reading, reflecting, creating personal meaning from the material, and going forward with perhaps a different view. Off he went to try again.

Fast forward to today, where social media capitalizes on a busy teacher’s lack of time by simply writing the back cover of the book for us on every conceivable topic.  Actually overwhelming in its breadth, social media compels one to cruise through a few sites, some posts from conferences and talks, latch onto to some catchy phrases, then hope that professional development for the year has been addressed.  Will anything really authentically change in the classroom? Will anything change in the school? Relying on this approach means the book still exists largely unread; the missing piece of reflection leading to new paths really cannot occur in an honestly meaningful way. A genuine focus on one area for the year opens up the possibility for new growth as a teacher, excitement in the classroom, and an opportunity for courageous leadership on staff.

Be current, share knowledge,  and read the whole book.

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Psst….Your Leadership Skills are Showing….

In most schools in Southern Alberta, student teachers from our local university come and go quite regularly. I’m sure they all hope to be memorable, but the truth is, after so many of them come through, they kind of blend together into one eager (mostly), nervous (nearly always), smiling face. After they learn 1. the ropes of the staffroom: what’s in the fridge is not communal property, and don’t ever leave the coffee maker empty – and 2. the law of the parking lot: use the street to park and your life will be sooo much better – they generally get down to work with their supervising teacher and their students in the classrooms.  I did have a memorable conversation with one young man in the staff workroom one day. He was struggling with the photocopier and killing trees above all expectations. After we managed to save a forest by making some changes to his fervent copying, we began to chat about his experiences thus far at the school. Yes, he was enjoying his very first round as a student teacher, yes, the students were very welcoming and all was going well. As I turned to leave, he very casually remarked that while he would like to be a teacher, what he really wanted to be was a principal, and was my job very hard? I’m quite sure the only reply I could muster at first was a confused  ‘huh?’ look on my face. I think I sputtered something about him taking one step at a time, and having a long way to go before ever considering school administration. Or something like that. What’s even more strange is that this 24 year old kid seemed quite put out with my response, like I should have revealed the secrets of the galaxy in the workroom that day. He could then skip all those years of that pesky thing called teaching, and get right to the principal’s chair. He actually thought the principal was the most important person in the school.

There were two critical lessons this young man simply had to learn asap: 1. the most important people in the school are…..the students. That fact can never be overlooked or underestimated. If I decide to be a teacher I am bound to give my all to my students, no matter how difficult the day may be. And 2. teachers may not be working from a principal’s office, but they are leaders within the classroom and the school. Every single day.

I’ve worked with teachers who are truly brilliant – some who could (in my own opinion) be very successful in school administration. Some whose remarkable talent is best seen and served with their students.  The leadership all these teachers demonstrate each day is pure beauty, and these skills should be recognized.

I just might do that. Hey, that’s what blogging is for!

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The Things We Never Think We Have To Do….Are The Things We Must

There are likely many careers in which a person knows exactly what each day will bring but teaching is nothing like that. It’s a career in motion and, though it moves at different speeds, it is always full of surprising moments. Having said that, I remember that when my degree was all brand new I had some semblance of a plan for how my life as a teacher would lay out before me. I knew I had to be responsible to teach curricula, to maintain order in the classroom and to do it all with some sense of decorum. At least that’s what the university valiantly tried to tell me. At that point, though, I also figured there were things I just thought would never happen.

I never thought I’d have so much fun. After the first few nerve-wracking years, I settled in and let myself enjoy the characters I’d see every day. I’d come home with story after story of the things the students did or said – and thus became your typical teacher. We are all pretty guilty of that.

I never thought I’d have so much freedom to write, direct and get students of all ages excited about the arts. (Not that I ever learned to draw) I soon learned to appreciate the talent of the students around me and the crazy amount of time every staff was willing to add to their day to make sure Christmas concerts, drama nights, dinner theatres and all the rest – happened.

I never thought I’d love the freedom to celebrate faith in such a profound way. The number of school prayer services and Masses are too many to count but each one has been such a blessing. Being able to pray every day with students and talk about faith with honesty and reverence is a humbling gift. Together in faith, our joys and sorrows were shared on a daily basis. And because of that freedom, it made it so much easier to do the other things I never thought I’d have to do.

Like, I never thought I’d be asked by a Gr. 9 young man to pray with him after hearing the news his father had suffered a heart attack. I never thought I’d see a particularly troubled Jr. high student show up in my office one morning in tears after another awful night at home, and a night spent who-knows-where. And I never thought I’d be hearing the devastating news about a school in Taber in April 1999, just 20 minutes away, reeling from an unimaginable tragedy, changing the course of school communities forever.

As my years as a teacher moved along, I found myself saying a tearful good-bye to my first home – St. Catherine’s School in Picture Butte. Later on, saying farewell to St. Joseph’s in Coaldale and The Children of St. Martha’s Schools wasn’t any easier. I figured out I was just bad at this good-bye thing, although moving to SPFA was made so much easier with the warm welcome from the whole school community. In all, saying good-bye allowed me new experiences as a school administrator and the opportunity to get know four amazing school staffs and equally great colleagues on our Holy Spirit administrative team.

And as a young teacher with my newly polished degree and a long career ahead, I really never gave any thought to retirement. It was for old teachers and very, very far away. Yet, in the wink of an eye, here it is before me and I’m finding myself doing something else I never thought I’d have to – saying farewell to a profession that has been my heart and soul for many years. In a few weeks, I’ll hand in my keys and say good bye for the last time.  It has been a joyful, challenging and wonderful time and I wouldn’t change a thing. (Well, maybe a few things I wished I’d handled differently.) I pray that all of you – students, parents, teachers, support staff, admin colleagues, trustees – are richly blessed in your life journeys. With deep appreciation, I thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives.

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Being Alone Together

I once taught a Grade 5 class where the boys were truly obsessed with playing their own brand of field hockey. They would count the seconds until the recess bell rang, grab their hockey sticks and head outside almost before the bell stopped its ring. We even gave them a particular spot to play that was backstopped by the school garage, and they were there every single break of every single school day that year. They played through all kinds of weather, and wore out the grass in the spring. As teachers, we were a little baffled by such passion for the game (Canadian and all), because it wasn’t your regular field hockey at all. We would watch them play this kind of half-court-four- on- four-one- goalie- for- everybody game, and try to figure out their rules. The thing was, there was no referee, and yet the boys rarely ever stopped to argue over anything. They had designed the game, the rules, and the organization of all of it, and had committed to it full on. There was no need for teachers to help out, provide guidance, or heaven forbid – coach. Had we even tried to ‘improve’ things, we’d have interfered with a truly classic model of collaborative play, teamwork, skill development and sportsmanship that organized sport doesn’t always see. The boys just wanted to play. Their recess time was spent being intensely immersed in their game, totally present to one another. Amazingly, there was never more than a groan when the bell rang to come in, and they always left the game out there on the field for next time.

Those boys would be in their 30’s now; their hockey days at school happened long before everyone in general had smartphones and could text/video/upload/download material instantly. Their experience was one of cooperation and fun without distraction. Grade 5 students of 2015 have a much different life; one in which the technology –literate person can fire out information rapidly, receive data of all kinds from all over the world, and be with peers at the same time. The new age is one of ‘continuous partial attention’[1] a time where the activity commonly known as ‘multi-tasking’ becomes the daily accepted  norm for all ages, not the unfortunate consequence of really busy adults in a time crunch. Young people can become just as engrossed in their tech devices as my boys did in the hockey games, except in the obsessiveness of the newest best app the need for personal relationship is pushed aside in favor of a new ‘alone together’[2] interaction of technology.

There are effective uses for technology, of course, and it’s not like we can close our eyes and hope it goes away. But there is a time for everything, and that includes putting the devices away, and focusing on real conversation, collaboration, and good old play. Take in the sights and sounds of the world around us, in a meaningful way. Reflect on all the time that’s missed when Twitter or Facebook beckons, when the phone alarms constantly let us know some emergency has happened that really isn’t one at all. A time for living the philosophy that life is full, blessed, and the gift of time spent with family and friends is so much more than being alone together can be.  This Easter break, celebrate the glory of our Lord’s death and resurrection with your church family, and during the week relax with your friends. Talk. Play. Be together.

And that goes for you students, too.

[1] From Dr. Dennis Shirley, keynote speaker at ULead, Canadian School Leadership conference, Banff, 2015

[2] From Dr. Dennis Shirley, keynote speaker at ULead, Canadian School Leadership conference, Banff, 2015

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A Gift Hug

I figure that, over 31 years, I’ve been blessed with being in the lives of, well, let’s just say – lots – of students. And plenty of those have families of their own now, so when I can’t quite place the name of a former student’s smiling face that looks just so familiar, I’m ok knowing I just have to think about it for a few minutes. It’s often their eyes, or that smile – features that bring me back to the cute little 10 year old student I once taught. Then, the memories fall into place, and the reminiscing begins. It’s such a treat to see where life has taken ‘my kids’, a phrase every teacher fondly uses to describe every homeroom class throughout a teaching career. (The significance of which our non-teacher friends don’t really get.)
Not long ago, I was at an anniversary celebration when one of my former students approached me to chat. This one was easy to remember – Holly was one of the sweetest, kindest children I’d ever met, and even as a grown adult her dimples were still the giveaway. After a good hello hug, we settled into catching up with her life since Grade 4. She said she remembered giving me a ‘gift hug’ at the end of the year to say good bye, and recalled specifically where we were and our exchange at the time. I recall that ‘gift hug’ being a special moment, spontaneous and generous. She told me that a few weeks later in July I had sent her a post card from a conference I had attended, even quoted the words I wrote to her, and as she turned away, smiled and said she still had the card. I was shaken. After all, I had been a pretty green teacher when I taught Holly; still finding my way in my career. Loving it, yet overwhelmed by the expectations, all in one breath. Looking back I knew there were many rough patches, some things I did and said I cringe to think about now. And yet here was this young woman holding on to a card I sent her years ago.
In thinking about students I’ve taught over the years, I’m humbled by the incredible blessings I’ve received by being able to share in their lives every day. Some students like Holly, so easy to reach and teach. And then there were the most challenging students who were excruciatingly frustrating – yet taught me so much about myself, and brought me to the realization that the things we just don’t want to do as teachers are exactly the things we must do. Maybe it’s like a ‘gift hug’- rebel style.
The most we can hope for as teachers is that, at the end of their school years, our kids are ready to take their place in the world – to be their very best mom, dad, teacher, scientist, wherever life leads them. To be a faith-filled, kind, loving person and to make their corner of the world just that much better for being a part of it.
The anniversary celebration went on into the wee hours of the morning! Later on, as she was leaving, Holly found me again to say good bye. In that last hug, emotions washed over me, and all I could do was say, “Have a wonderful life.”
We parted with tears in our eyes and a flash of those dimples.

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What Makes a Person Special?

What makes a person special?

Our faith in God assures us that since we were all made in His image, we must be pretty blessed. But all of us  know someone who is particularly special: perhaps a family member, an old friend, a colleague – a person who is intriguing, interesting, and to whom there is some wonderful characteristic that simply sets that person apart from others in our circle.

Years ago, I met a couple who had moved to my parish when their little mission church had to close its doors. They joined our church choir, where I was a fledgling music director. They brought with them no bitterness about the closure of their much-loved church; and the grace they brought to our choir and congregation was unmistakable. I recall the man being very gracious in his offer to sing the lengthy and difficult Exultet at the Easter Vigil, while adding that if someone else may want to have the honor he would step back. When I heard him the first time, I was so moved with the way he gave himself to the words of the Exultet. He brought such a sense of joy and humility to this role, and in turn, I was so humbled to be in the celebration with him. The couple were the type of people you wanted to be near; they were special people. I look back and think about how very blessed I was to meet them.

How do our students know what makes a person special? It’s actually no surprise that, if presented with such a question, they not only describe such a person, they name those in their midst who fit the bill.  I remember an assignment I gave to a Grade 3 class once about identifying someone who was a hero. One boy wrote eloquently about his big brother David in Grade 6, a person who made his little brother always feel safe. This little guy willingly shared his work at a school assembly, and all the students were genuinely appreciative of his words. The Grade 6 students all agreed that their classmate David was indeed pretty special; far from ridiculing such openness, they were generous with their own praise, recognizing that their Grade 6 classroom was a safer place because of this young man. Interestingly enough, he was far from the physical type one might associate with this role. Rather, his character told his story: he was quiet, calm, and the others trusted him completely to be the supportive friend they needed him to be.

Every classroom has students like David, no matter where you go. In our daily classroom interactions, they are an indispensable source of common sense combined with compassion. They have an unshakable sense of what is right, and in what they believe. They don’t shout their opinions from the rooftops. In contrast, sometimes their views are not expressed mostly because they are just not interested initiating conflict for the sake of being right – unless it’s to help someone else.  When given these characteristics as a contextual setting, students will easily name those in their class who fulfill the description, and they willingly voice their admiration and respect. Of course, we encourage all children to be like David; but it’s equally important that each of us learns to recognize David in others.

February brings us a fun celebration of Valentine’s Day just prior to calling us to worship on Ash Wednesday. February events invite us to recognize someone special – the person we are drawn to and admire, and who somehow makes each of us better just by being who they are. Who is that person with the courage of conviction, who will stand up for us and support us when we fall – a truly special person? Who is David to you?

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