Our school was abuzz with energy last week: from WE Day, a student versus staff dodgeball game, a bake sale for the Stollery, hot lunch, crazy hair day, Josh Classen from CTV, in-school field trips. You name it, it seemed to be happening.
For days I heard talk of the dodgeball game, students bubbling over with stories about WE Day and students of all grades excited to watch the grade 5 classes on the news. The energy and excitement was palpable. These events could not and would not take place without dedicated staff members: leaders who care enough about our students to devote time to these so-called extras. Often it is these extras that create the buzz.
In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela relays a story from one of his childhood caregivers: “A leader, he said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”
Whose idea was the bake sale for the Stollery? The students. Where was the teacher? Leading from behind, empowering those in her charge to create a buzz all their own.
Imagine for a moment that you are six years old. Now imagine boarding an airplane, flying across the globe and entering a country where everyone and everything is new: the dress, the food, the cultural norms and perhaps most significantly, the language.
I am currently working with a little boy who recently moved from Africa. His experience is very much like the one described. Each day he comes to school where no one speaks his language, where he is continually engaged in a game of guess and point, where he struggles to communicate his needs and wants. I am amazed by his tenacity as he faces each day trying to decipher the words of his teacher and his peers, trying to fit into this foreign world.
As I teach this young boy the alphabet and how to speak and read English, he teaches me about courage and overcoming obstacles. Christopher Reeve has said, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
I think I’ve found a hero.
I recently finished reading Amanda Lindhout’s memoir, A House in the Sky. Since I turned the last page, the images and details from Amanda’s ordeal in Somalia, kidnapped and held hostage for 460 days, stay with me.
Those who held her captive were really just kids. Kids who did horrible, unspeakable things. What amazes me most about her story is that she is able to forgive them. She has come to realize that they are victims of circumstance.
Through this ordeal, Amanda has also come to value the power of education. “I’d spent so much time in captivity wondering about the boys who guarded me, specifically, whether they’d have been different – less entrenched in religious extremism and war – if they’d had more opportunities to go to school, and maybe more meaningfully, if they’d been raised in homes where their mothers and sisters had been able to attend school.”
On this Thanksgiving weekend, I am especially thankful that we have schools to go to, that our schools are not places of indoctrination and that education is valued and accessible in Canada. I am thankful for my freedom, for the ability to see the sky each day, for living in a country where I am not afraid to be alone on the street or in my home. I am thankful to be surrounded by loved ones.
Perhaps Meister Eckhart says it best, “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
This week our grade one classes engaged in an activity called “circle painting.” The students stood around a large sheet of paper, paint brushes in hand, and then added their own contributions to create a giant masterpiece. Throughout the process, they moved from place to place: “let’s trade spots.” They were considerate and complementary to those around them: “I like what you did there, Olivia.” They made suggestions to each other: “we need some yellow on this side of the paper.” And though the final project is beautiful, the process itself was more important. The idea was to add to what someone else had already created: to create something that couldn’t be done on one’s own.
Our grade one teachers used the word collaboration to describe the process to those six year olds who were quick to announce, “that’s like synergy!”
It’s exactly like synergy.
I feel blessed to be on a staff where staff meetings are not the drudgery of tedious agenda items. Our Thursday staff meetings echo the concept of circle painting: one person begins by sharing an idea and from there wonderful things emerge. An original idea becomes more effective and exciting when the entire team contributes. What emerges wouldn’t have the same depth or scope if it came from one mind.
Ultimately, we are better together.