Why do you always ask people their names?

Recently, I was on a family vacation in Mexico.  As always I would make a point of befriending staff and other guests of the resort. As a social person this is just the way I am.  I hadn’t really thought about it until my 12 year old step-daughter asked me, “why do you always ask people their names?”

I honestly had never really thought about it, but my quick response to her was that it makes our experience more enjoyable.  I continued to think about it that day and what I came to realize was that it was just another example of how relationships are at the core of any great experience or organization.  I started to notice that all of the staff members at our resort that I had introduced myself to paid a little bit more attention to us in the resort, whether it was Marina our housekeeper who would do the little extras in our room, or Eduardo our beach host who find us empty lounge chairs on the beach when we arrived too late to find any available.  I believe these staff members just felt a little more familiar with us because of the effort of a simple introduction and being able to address each other by name.  The multiplier in this relationship is that for the staff members the excellent service will likely result in a healthy tip from me as an acknowledgement of the extra effort that they provided to us which improved our vacation experience.

This is the same type of response that can be found in effective organizations such as schools. From my experience schools and organizations where leaders take the time to engage and build relationships with everyone on staff are the most successful.  When people are recognized and feel valued as a team member regardless of their role they are more inclined to value the work they do.  Leaders that are able to foster this type of environment tend to be more approachable, which gives everyone the confidence to share ideas that may improve the system, or create something new and innovative to benefit the overall organization.  Workers will also be more likely to make a personal investment into the organization which inevitably will help maintain a healthy environment to work and learn in.

I have always believed that relationships were at the centre of what I do as a professional and in my personal life. Whether it was coaching or education, or hanging out poolside at a Mexican resort, I always felt my strength was in my ability to build relationships.  I am glad my step-daughter asked me the question as it gave me time to reflect on the value I place on building relationships throughout all facets of my life.

When opportunity knocks…sometimes you have to answer the door

opportunity knocking

Every once in a while life presents you with an opportunity that will change the course of your life.  There has been a couple of significant times in my life when this has happened, in both instances I let the opportunity pass and carried on down the path I had envisioned for myself.  During the occasional reflective moment I wonder how different my life would be if I had actually taken advantage of the opportunities.  What if I took the coaching job in Regina?  What if I had joined my uncle in the pub business?  Both of these opportunities would have taken my life down significantly different paths.  Looking back though, I am very happy I chose to stay on the path I was travelling, I have had a great life and I have enjoyed my journey as an educator.

This past June opportunity knocked again…but this time I answered the door.  The position of Deputy Head of School at Coast Mountain Academy in Squamish was not something I had envisioned as I looked to the future.  I was pretty confident that I would continue on my path as a school administrator in the only school district I have ever known since I was in kindergarten myself.  But there was something different about this opportunity and the school.  There was a pull that I had not experienced before in my career, something was definitely drawing me into a new direction.  As June began I was wrapped up in Grad and Commencement events and everything that goes on at the end of the year in a high school. I wasn’t looking to disrupt my entire life and that of my family, but by the end of June it was clear I was about to embark on a new challenge.

The whole process took two weeks, started with dinner, then an interview and finally a contract signing.  It was all very surreal, I couldn’t believe that I had actually just accepted a job in Squamish.  Looking back now, it was a fantastic decision.  My life has been invigorated by the change, I feel a new sense of energy and purpose.  I have been given the opportunity to challenge myself daily in my work, be creative and innovative, all the while testing my leadership abilities.  I have felt very welcomed by the Squamish community and look forward to becoming a contributing member of the city.  I feel very fortunate to be given the opportunity to create, alongside the fabulous staff at CMA, a dynamic and engaging learning environment for all of our students.

Sometimes, it pays to answer the door when opportunity knocks…I am glad I did when Coast Mountain Academy came calling.

My Michaela, you are a shining star in my world

As I sit here a few hours removed from your High School Graduation ceremony, I find myself in a reflective mood.  I remember the day I met you like it was yesterday, May 14, 1996 just after 5am you burst into my world forever changing it.  At the time, I could have never imagined the journey that you would take me on over the next 17 years. As with most parents I was just relieved that you were a beautiful healthy little girl. I was young, nervous and uncertain about my ability to be a dad, but I did know that I loved you more thanMichaela and Mike young anything I had ever loved before in my life.  I remember watching you grow and eagerly awaiting you to reach the next milestone in your development.  When would you be able to roll over, sit up or walk?  What would be your first word, when would you say “Daddy’”? I was always so excited when the next thing happened and quickly anticipated the next step you would reach.  I was always so proud of you and would brag about you all the time to anyone who would listen.  It didn’t take long for you to show me that you were going to give me a whole lot more to be proud of.

You were a very precocious little girl, extremely articulate and charming beyond your years.  I remember fondly that first performance when you were two years old – an impromptu rendition of “O Canada” at Grampa Slinger’s retirement.  The crowd cheered and clapped for you and I believe a spark was lit inside of you.  Your next big thing was singing the anthem as a 3 year old at a sold out GM Place for a Grizzlies vs Raptors game (see it here). You proudly walked around the stadium the rest of the night soaking in all of the attention from those in attendance. I think this experience started a belief in you that when you perform, it makes people happy. That night an entertainer was born.

Your life wasn’t all about singing and performing milestones as you had many others – your first day at Kindergarten, your first soccer practice, your first swim meet, your first ballet class or how about your first day as a big sister.  Like all kids you were growing and developing and learning through each new experience. But it had also become obvious to me that you were born with some exceptional talents that most kids don’t have, or they develop at much older ages.  What made you extraordinary was that you weren’t just exceptional at one thing but so many things.  You were wise beyond your years or as Grandma Shan said on your very first day – “Michaela is an old soul”.  Your elementary school years were remarkable in so many ways – you were asked to skip grade 4, you performed with kids much older than you and earned the lead roles, you were an aggressive and effective soccer player and an exquisite dancer.  There wasn’t much you couldn’t excel at, however there is one moment that sticks out above the rest and blew me away.  As a 10 year old you performed at a packed Stanley Theatre at the invitation of Destino who had seen you perform a few weeks earlier.  They wanted you to sing “The Prayer” with them at their CD release party in front of all their fans. – you stole the show with that one song with what I think is one of your most remarkable performances that you have done (watch the performance and judge for yourself). I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of you on stage over the years, you have an ability to light up the room when you are on stage whether it be the living room at Gramma and Grampa Slinger’s or in front of 1500 people at the Centre for Performing Arts in Vancouver. 

I have also had the good fortune over the years to be able to coach you in swimming and soccer.  It is in this role where I was able to see you develop as a leader and a competitor.  Most people that know you first associate you with your musical and performing talents and have no idea about this other side of you.  On the field you were always attentive and willing to learn and try to get better.  In the pool I was able to push you to limits beyond what you thought you could do.  I always loved the conversations on the way home from a practice when I would ask if it was hard.  You were always honest and would say things like “yeah it was tough, but it really wasn’t that bad.” More or less asking for more to see if you could go even harder the next time.  I think this work ethic has allowed you to excel at your sports as well.  You have been a leader on every soccer team you played on, most recently as captain of the Storm you have helped our team achieve a great deal of success both on the field and off.  It is hard to believe that we have been able to keep this group of girls together since you were all U13 and had the successes that we have had at the level we have competed.  A good deal of that success comes from the fact that you and the others were able to maintain friendships and avoid the usual problems associated with competitive girls soccer teams. I attribute a great deal of that to your leadership style as a captain and it brings to mind a favourite quote from the movie Remember the Titans, “Attitude reflects leadership”.

When you moved to Middle School I had the good fortune of working as a Numeracy Support Teacher in your school and your classroom for both grade 6 and 7.  This was such an amazing opportunity for me as a parent; I can’t imagine many other parents get to work with their own child in a classroom over the course of a couple of years.  Many kids might find it awkward and be reluctant to have their own parent teach in their school and/or classroom.  You seemed to love it and welcomed me into your school world.  You let me tease you and tell stories about us in front of your classmates, you were ok with me going into the other classrooms and meeting all of your friends and maybe even embarrassing myself or you in front of them.  I was able Mike and Michaela at SFUto see how you interacted with your peers and teachers, and how they interacted with you.  You demonstrated the same drive and determination in the classroom as you did in the pool and on the soccer field, you were driven to be successful, a model student truthfully.  Since those days I have continued to get such positive feedback from all of the teachers who have had the chance to work with you, not just about your academics or work habits, but more about you, the person, and the wonderful qualities you bring to class and school on a daily basis.

Now that you have graduated from high school you are about to embark on a new chapter of your life. You are heading off to Quest University in Squamish which I believe is the only post-secondary school that you could attend that would be able to challenge you the way you want and deserve. Quest is as unique and dynamic a place as you are a person – I believe it is a perfect fit. I know you will take the school by storm and push your learning like you never have before. I knew you had found the place you were supposed to go when we went on the tour of the Quest last year and you turned to Leanne and I and said, “Dad, I think this place was made for me”. I am so excited for you to have this experience, and playing on the varsity soccer team will only enrich the experience and provide you with an instant network of friends. It will also give me an excuse to make the drive and watch your games so I can see you and have a visit.

Michaela, I am so fortunate to have you in my life.  I have no idea what I did to earn the privilege to be your dad but I am so thankful it happened.  Your name means “Gift from God” and I am pretty sure that you have lived up to that definition, I know you have surpassed it in my eyes.  You have a way about you that truly touches people’s hearts whether it is your beautiful singing voice, how you interact with people both young and old or just seeing your smile.  People’s lives are made better simply by knowing you and being around you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have taught me, the experiences we have shared and the love we have for each other.  I will miss you terribly when you move away to Quest, it used to be months away, but now I am counting down the days.  My little girl has grown up.

I love you Michaela!!

Dad

xoxo

Kindness Rocks – it really does!

I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity on February 27th to be at the Kindness Rocks concerts at Gleneagle Secondary. There were three concerts on this day with over 4000 students in grades 4-12 from 17 schools in our district attending. It was one of the many events across Canada celebrating Pink Shirt Day, raising awareness of anti-bullying initiatives.

Kindness Rocks is one of those events in a students schooling that will likely be forever burned into their memories. Years from now I am confident that you will be able to ask any of the students that were in attendance that day if they remember being there; their answer will undoubtedly be an emphatic YES! The show is so different from anything our students usually see in a school environment; it is a professional rock and roll show that truly captures their attention. This is what allows the messages of kindness to come through so strongly. The music and the performers are relevant to the students, which enables them to actually hear the messages and stories the performers shared with them.  There is no doubt the students were engaged during the show as this video clip of Dirty Radio performing demonstrates.

Dirty Radio engaging students while performing at Kindness Rocks!!

One of the stories from the show really stood out for me as an example of the full impact bullying can have.  The story was shared by Mark who played the keyboards for the musical   performances.  His story started back in elementary school where he was living the typical awkward existence of many boys that age. However, one of Mark’s classmates named Barry  decided that Mark was special, and began bullying him on an ongoing basis.  Barry bullied Mark all the way through elementary school and throughout high school as well.  All the typical bullying behaviours were present, name calling, public humiliation, it even got physical at times.  Although Mark had no idea why Barry was picking on him, he was fortunate that he did have a group of friends that stuck by him and a loving family that also supported him.  The bullying that Barry inflicted on Mark was completely unprovoked and unnecessary, Mark was no threat to Barry in any way.  Yet, for some reason Barry continued relentlessly until high school came to an end and they went their own ways.  Fortunately for Mark, he was finding his passion in music at the same time that Barry was trying to make him feel miserable.  Mark was able to move on in his life and never really thought about his high school tormentor again.  Mark chose to follow his passion of music after graduation which led to many great experiences, recording music, playing live shows and touring like a rock star – his life was good.

Mark never gave Barry a second thought after high school, until his 10 year reunion.  He wondered what it would be like this time if he ran into him – would he be the same bully or would he have matured?  Barry never showed up at that reunion for Mark to find out, but one of Barry’s friends was there and he had a message for Mark.  The friend told Mark that Barry was sorry that he couldn’t be there in person, then proceeded to give him a letter that Barry had written to Mark.  In the letter, Barry explained how he had been quite successful after high school, he had a wonderful wife and children, a great job – he was happy in his life. However, Barry also mentioned that he had one regret in life that had haunted him for many years and that was how he bullied Mark throughout their school years.  It turns out that Barry’s bullying impacted his own life, just like it did Mark’s except Mark was able to move on once he left school, while Barry was stuck with the guilt of what he had done to Mark all those years ago.

This type of behaviour has been going on for many years whether on the school ground, in the workplace or in the home.  It is not a problem that is isolated to the students of today.  The question is what can we do to start recognizing that this type of ongoing behaviour can really do damage to all of the people involved, whether it be the victim or those doing the intimidation or abuse.  I don’t have the answer, but I really liked what one of the young performers read out to the audience at the Kindness Rocks concerts.  Michaela referenced a letter to the editor that she had written to her peers in a local paper. Her ideas were quite simple, but I feel like they could be exceptionally powerful – “say hi to someone you don’t usually talk to. Smile more. Don’t be afraid to give a stranger a compliment. Create conversation based on ideas and thoughts, not off of the judgment of another person.”  I hope the students and adults in attendance will do what they can to try some of the suggestions.

Together maybe we can make the world a better place.  Thanks to all involved with Kindness Rocks for creating such a high energy and meaningful show.  Kindness Rocks – it really does!!

“Why School?” Here’s a reason…

The very nature of school and it’s purpose is changing. The traditions of the past are still very prevalent throughout the system, however the opportunities, technologies and thought processes of the future are knocking at the door, some might say the door has already been opened. Will Richardson has discussed this process of change very well in his book titled “Why School”, which is a must read for anyone that cares about education. While the future of the school experience undergoes the inevitable transformation in the 21st century, there is a fundamental purpose that remains unchanged over the years – creating community.

Over the Christmas holidays I was shocked to learn that the 4 year old son of one of our teachers was taken to the hospital with bad flu symptoms, and ended up being admitted to the hospital on New Year’s Eve for emergency surgery to remove a brain tumour. The surgery was successful and little Jaydon bounced back quickly. Now that the tumour had been removed and all of the painful headaches, earaches and nausea had subsided he was starting to act like his old self. Jaydon and his family then had to wait for word from the doctors about any follow up treatment that would be required. It turns out that cancer cells were present in the tumour and Jaydon would require a specialized type of radiation treatment to help ensure a long and healthy life. The difficult aspect of the treatment is that only three hospitals in North America are able to provide this treatment. So Jaydon and his family will now have to spend six weeks just outside of Los Angeles, where little Jaydon will undergo radiation treatment five days a week, for six weeks.

On February 1st, something very special happened at our school, Scott Creek Middle. We had planned a bottle drive to raise some funds for little Jaydon and his family to try and offset some of the costs of moving the family south for six weeks for Jaydon’s treatments. We were looking forward to a good response from students but what happened blew us away. By the time I got to the school about 7:45am the front entrance way of the school was already starting to fill up. As it got closer to the first bell at 8:35am we realized we had totally underestimated the response. It truly was overwhelming and emotional to see students, parents and staff walking up with bags and bags of cans and bottles in support of little Jaydon. Bottles even came in from other schools and former students. Our estimate is close to 20,000 pieces were dropped off at the school, not to mention the cash and cheques dropped off at the office. The energy in the school was palpable, created by a sense of purpose that was bigger than each of us. It was made extra special when little Jaydon showed up with his mom to check things out in person before going to visit his dad. Later in the day, after all the returns had been made, I had a chance to chat with little Jaydon’s dad and reflect on what had happened during the day. He was understandably speechless and humbled, and now wondering aloud why it happened that so much support was provided for him and his family.

cans for JaydonWhat we came to realize was that this day was bigger than little Jaydon, it was about community. We hear so many stories depicting a society that is too busy to know it’s neighbours, or awful stories about bullying and violence. But on this day, we witnessed a school and a community rally around a little boy, regardless if they even knew him or his family. It was a special moment, that should remind us that there is a lot of good in our neighbourhoods, and that our schools are at the centre of the community. If the collective we, including students, teachers, administrators, parents, business leaders, politicians and the community as a whole can remember little Jaydon’s story, we should have no problem supporting schools through these transformational times. Community has always been at the core of what school is about, now we need the community to support students and educators as we maneuver through a world and educational landscape that is changing faster than ever.

We are sending good vibes to you little Jaydon.

The Ted Factor…

As I progress through the years of life, I find myself becoming more reflective. I like to think about the moments – the good ones, the bad ones; the ones that change the course of life, the ones that dig a deeper rut; the ones when risks were taken, the ones when risks were avoided; and of course the ones that are happy, and the ones that are sad. It is amazing how many of these moments are accumulated over the years that have significant impact on what we do, what we believe, where we live and ultimately who we are. But in the end after replaying my life on fast forward, I realize that all of those moments are only significant because of the people and the relationships that are attached to them, or the relationships that resulted from them.

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That brings us to the ‘Ted Factor’ and the relationship I have had with him and the lessons I have learned.

Ted is one of the most inspiring people that I know, and I have been fortunate to develop a close relationship with him over the years. He is a devoted family man, a retired teacher with 33 years of wisdom, a coach of countless soccer, baseball and basketball teams, and an extremely generous volunteer. He is also the kindest and friendliest person you could ever meet, I know I can’t think of anyone else that I have met that is like him. Ted is one of those rare people that has lived his life smiling every day and saying hello to everyone that he comes across whether he has met them before or not. He has a knack for making people smile, he is a good man, one I feel privileged to know and learn from. He has been a mentor for so many people over the years.

I can’t remember a time when I have been out with Ted when I didn’t hear the words from some stranger “Did you teach, I think you taught me in 1972”. Then Ted comes back usually with some comment like, “yes I remember you, I taught your younger sister too.” I am usually blown away that either of them remember, let alone recognize each other, because some of the people that say hi are out with their teenaged grandchildren. As an educator myself, I wonder if the students I taught in my first few years will remember me in the year 2040?

One of Ted’s greatest traits is that he is blissfully ignorant when he wants to be, which allows him to be so positive and focused on the ‘moments’ he shares with all of the people in his life. He doesn’t worry, and he plays the cards he is dealt with a smile on his face. Recently, Ted has had some serious health issues. What has emerged from this difficult time is something that I don’t think Ted would ever have imagined. The number of people that have reached out to wish him well has been phenomenal. For the first time, I believe Ted is starting to realize the level of influence he has had on the lives of people he forged relationships with throughout the years. Old friends, new friends, former neighbours, his former students and his baseball players, members of local community groups, waiters and waitresses from his favourite restaurants, his mechanic, they have all been in touch to wish him well and comment on how he has influenced their lives. It has certainly energized Ted to get his health back so he can continue with his relationships and make many more new ones.

The single greatest life lesson I have learned from Ted is that when it comes right down to it, the relationships we have with people is what makes life worth living. The moments we have with family, friends, students, coworkers and acquaintances are made extra special and memorable if we spend time to care for the relationships. Ted has shown that a smile and hello can go a long way to having a lasting impact on people.

I am so fortunate that I can call Ted a friend, a mentor and a confidante. I love reflecting on the moments we have shared and the lessons I have learned over the years and I look forward to the ones we have yet to share.

However, what I am most thankful for in my relationship with Ted is that I get to call him Dad!

Love you Dad, thanks for being you.