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Tales From The Office
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According to Psychology Today Canada, “Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and soldier on.” I have always been a person who valued resilience. As a parent and as a teacher, I strive to share my view that resilience is a critical life skill. I feel it is my job - my mission - to encourage children to take mitigated risks - to be generally safe, but to step outside of their comfort zones and risk a lack of success. Failure is a wonderful teacher, and it turns out that you cannot actually achieve the quality of resilience without it. Nelson Mandela “Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Elizabeth Edwards “She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.” Eleanor Roosevelt “A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot  water.” I attended a leadership conference last year in Toronto. One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Alex Russell, who spoke on “Leadership in the Age of Bubble-wrapped Kids and Helicopter Parents.” For me, this talk was the one I anticipated most eagerly. My daily life as a Vice Principal at the time was filled with incidents in which children were not allowed to experience the natural consequences of their actions. Since they were not permitted to fall, they could not learn how to rise up again. It was all messing with my quest to teach the children resilience. I later found segments of Dr. Russell’s talk on Youtube, as a Ted talk: Ask any good parents what they want for their children, and, chances are, they will say, “I want my kids to be happy.” Let me ask you - does this mean that they need to be happy every single moment of the day? If that’s the case, then from where do the skills needed for conflict resolution, stress management and resilience come? Where do our children learn about hard work, perseverance and that feeling of accomplishment that only comes with overcoming tough challenges? I find myself relating to the words of Kathy Shalhoub:…/my-child-i-want-so-much-more-than-h… I have had many conversations with parents this week - every single one of them important to me. Positive or negative, I want them. I want those connections and that insight and that raw communication. At times, I must have looked somewhat shell-shocked - it was a gruelling, draining week. In the heat of the moment, it would probably not have been well received if I had suggested that parents, as Dr. Alex Russell describes, “stay seated on the park bench”. As I have reflected upon those conversations, though, I am reminded of a lesson I learned a few weeks ago. It was a busy day at the office. For once, I had not been outside at recess - the yard was well supervised, but it is different when you have someone consistently there at every break, aware of certain social situations, and watching for early triggers and escalations. There was a lineup to see me after a multitude of behaviours on the yard. I finally said to one group of boys, “I don’t have time to see you just yet, so I’m going to offer you a deal - go into the conference room here. If, between you, in five minutes, you can work this out so that this never happens again, I will not get involved. Parents will not be called. You will not be serving a consequence.” I checked on the group through the glass window a few minutes later - they were talking together, eac
Posted by seccleshall  On Oct 24, 2018 at 1:25 PM 27 Comments
There are times, for me, when time sleeps to slow - even cease altogether. Whether I’m in a crowd or alone, it’s as if all motion and all sound just stops, and I am outside of it. My mind then takes a picture - snap - and then it all goes back to normal. Several such moments occurred this week. On Thursday evening, we had our family Thanksgiving. Family and family-by-choice and friends of family all gathered around an enormous table, and there was food and laughter and noisy conversation. Then... it all just stopped. I was standing off to one side, and happened to glance back at the rest of the group. For just a second, they all seemed to freeze, and all of the sound turned to silence, and a little voice in my head said, “This moment will never come again.” I looked at the group and really listened to that voice. Over there were Mom and Dad, laughing with my sister and her husband. Dad is coming up to his 91st birthday, and Mom will be 90 in December. My sister and her husband head back to Tasmania this week, a parting which is ever more heartbreaking for them and us. Here were my brother and his wife and one of their two sons - recently here from B.C. - talking to my sons, home from school, on reading week. There were my long-missed cousins, my family-by-choice and my Dad’s new friend (who sometimes seemed lost in the noise of it). I had a moment of clarity - there is the very real possibility that this particular group will never be gathered here in this way again. My mind took the picture - snap - and then the silence disappeared and movement resumed and I rejoined the pandemonium. We had our family Thanksgiving on Thursday because my eldest son and I were in New York on Thanksgiving weekend. Every year, for Mother’s Day, he takes me to a Buddy Guy concert. (Buddy Guy is a wonderful old Blues guitarist and singer out of Chicago. Jack happened upon him one year because I love the Blues, and he was learning to play guitar.) At this year’s concert, in Toronto, we realized that eventually, we will probably have to find another person for our annual tradition - Buddy is in his 80s. The conversation turned to people we need to see before it’s too late. Eric Clapton’s name topped the list. Well, it turns out that the legendary guitarist is suffering from peripheral neuropathy, a disease that can cause numbness, shooting pain and loss of coordination. His concert playing days may soon be over. On a whim, I checked out upcoming dates - there were only two, both in New York. I texted Jack, asking if he would like to go, even if the only tickets we could afford would make Clapton a mere speck in the distance. My son, who often takes days to respond, replied with a “Yes!” within 30 seconds. So...we went. It was incredible. There was a point - most poignantly during the song “Tears in Heaven”, which Clapton sat and sang alone  - where time stopped. Again, my brain took a photo - snap - and recognized the moment as fleeting. Not just the artist, but my son and the entire experience with him, needed to be filed away to be pulled out and enjoyed again and again at a later date. This phenomenon happens quite often at school. Dark clouds roll overhead, and the last child has entered the building after recess, and I stop and look back in a rare moment of calm at the yard. Everything feels just as it should. Snap. Then a sweet voice, “I waited for you, Ms. Eccleshall,” brings me back, and I enter back into my world through a door thoughtfully held. Later, while moving through the hall during a rather tense meeting, a child runs out of class to read our little group a short book. This seems so small a deed, but the fact that the child has always proclaimed that he hates reading, and the obvious pride he has for his accomplishment, makes the moment stretch out - I carry in my mind the picture of the child’s uplifted face, the happiness in his teacher’s eyes, the feeling I had of the enormity of it, and the stunned and then delighted l
Posted by seccleshall  On Oct 14, 2018 at 8:34 AM 6 Comments
September 30 – the last day of the month, and therefore a great time to reflect on how we have done with this month's focus on respect and The Golden Rule – treating others as we would like to be treated. I have a friend who went to the dentist this week. He inadvertently set his phone calendar incorrectly, and showed up at 8:45 a.m. instead of for his scheduled 8:15 appointment. Being my friend – beyond thoughtful and always deeply considerate of people's time - he apologized profusely. The receptionists at the dentist's office were eager to help – in fact, one said, “Hey – it's going to be just fine. My daughter was scheduled to come in for the same procedure at 9:00 – you can have her appointment.” My friend, obviously, was delighted. And then it happened. When the receptionists phoned back to the people behind the scenes to explain the change, someone – I truly hope not the dentist – said, “No. He was late. We cannot change the appointment.” My friend offered to pay for the missed appointment, thinking that might be the issue. Nope. The anonymous naysayer appeared to be pretty focused on maintaining the principle of the thing. My friend left, painful tooth still painful, and thought generous thoughts – perhaps that person had had a bad day, perhaps someone had hurt him/her by being late? Who knows? I wondered, listening, how bad a day would it have to have been (by 9:00 a.m.) to prevent a person in a service industry from providing a much needed service when given the opportunity? Clearly, this anonymous person was not practicing The Golden Rule. My friend took comfort in the receptionists' reactions – disappointment in not being able to help, outrage at their perceived unfairness of it all, and their heartfelt desire to help someone in pain. His tooth still hurt, but he was warmed by their attempts. His is a generous heart. I get it. I truly get it. A few years ago, new to the role of Vice-Principal, I noticed that one family was constantly late to school. Of course, this does cause problems. There is extra work in the office, signing in late students, the class is disrupted when late students arrive, the teachers have to backtrack, repeating lessons so that the late students know what is going on. This is all time and energy that could be better spent on moving student learning forward. So...I met the children and their mother at the door. I asked why they were late again. I told them how disruptive it was. Great, huh? Yeah, not so much. I spoke to the mother later – thank goodness she had the courage to come and see me and speak directly to the issue. The kids weren't late through any fault of their own – the family was going through a difficult time. Had I responded positively to the truly monumental achievement that had occurred when those children showed up at school? No. I had basically yelled at them. (I didn't actually yell, but imagine how it must have looked from the perspective of those children.) That encounter, and the instructive conversation with that loving Mom that followed, taught me – no, reminded me - that children need to be welcomed, and celebrated and feel valued when they arrive at school, no matter when that is. This is why my favourite time of the day is at the beginning, when I stand at the Kiss and Drop and welcome children and their families in to a new school day. I know Mr. Rait feels the same, because he is there for the same reason when he comes. That is not his scheduled duty. He is practicing The Golden Rule. Looking back over the past month, I recall many, many examples of where individuals practiced The Golden Rule. Yes, there were some...shall we say... learning opportunities, as well. It is hard to say, but there were times when we, as a community, found it difficult to put aside our impatience, overtiredness, frustration or simply self-absorption to focus on making our words kinder, gentler and more loving, or to make that extra effort to help someone. We have to do better. Respect
Posted by seccleshall  On Sep 30, 2018 at 3:36 PM 1 Comment
I have been thinking about family a lot this week. My Mom and Dad are coming up to their 91st and 90th birthdays, respectively, my sister and her husband are visiting from Tasmania, my brother and his wife have called to check in on my progress in my new role, and my sons are quite happily settled into their 5th and 3rd years at university. At school, I was asked this week why we couldn’t move “that student” into another classroom. According to the child who asked, the other student was annoying and disruptive, and that student’s outbursts sometimes scared the other children. I didn’t mind being asked this question - it came from an honest perspective, from a very bright young student. It made sense to this little person that if something bothered you, you got rid of it. I asked that child to consider how she might feel if put into the other person’s shoes. Think about it - I was asking her to think about empathy, which is a difficult concept, even for adults. She said she’d understand completely - if she was being annoying, then she would understand if she were moved out. Perhaps that is true. In the thick of it, though, if she were the person being isolated, I wonder, would she feel the same? I then said that moving people out was not what we did. I didn’t talk about our Board’s Mission Statement, which specifically refers to inclusion. Inclusion is a very grand idea, with major repercussions to the school community. It sounds good, but to make it work, there have to be some very challenging concepts in place - patience, for instance, and empathy, resilience, resourcefulness, creativity, forgiveness and love. As a teacher, I usually had children with special needs - both visible and invisible - in my classes. Those children were my greatest triumph as a teacher - I learned more from them in terms of developing classroom management strategies and differentiating instruction than with any others. There was also, for me, an unexpected flip side. There were often children in my classes who did not represent ideal behaviour - they were often quite cruel and aggressive towards their peers. Here’s the thing, though - many of those students were completely different around the children with special needs. They demonstrated, for whatever reason, a kinder, more giving side that I had not previously seen. It made me step back and think, “There is something wonderful there. I can be more patient. I can be more resourceful.” I didn’t say any of that to the student who had asked me about removing a classmate. I said, instead, that moving people out was not what we did. I said that we were a family, and families don’t give up on one another. I think of my family. If I removed all of the members of my family who sometimes make mistakes or errors in judgement, who are sometimes cruel or judgemental, who disagree and state unwanted opinions, or who occasionally go a little crazy, there’d be no one left but the dog, and sometimes he rolls in dead things. We are a family at St. Mary’s - warts and all. It is easy to like (and be kind to) the people who are just like us. It is far more challenging to actively seek out the best qualities of those who are not like us. This past week was truly about family. The Grades 7s and 8s walked over to Vanier, for a Faith Retreat led by Pat Bullock, the retired chaplain from St. Theresa’s High School, in Midland. He’s known within the Board for being the real deal - he walks the talk and brings joy to his faith. He engaged the students in a wide variety of activities, all designed to have them think about their faith, trusting one another and being trustworthy. Here are what some students said that they learned (and these were not the answers I would have expected from the students I interviewed): “Think twice.”  “If you think something isn’t that bad in your mind, think again, because it could be disrespectful.” “Trust in people.” “Have faith in someone.” “I never knew how much peop
Posted by seccleshall  On Sep 23, 2018 at 12:47 PM 31 Comments
There is a scene in the 2004 movie Hidalgo (which stars actor Viggo Mortensen as an American cowboy who rides his mustang Hidalgo in a gruelling cross-desert race against Arab stallions) in which all the horses start the race at a gallop. Once out of sight of onlookers, the horses are reined in, and the real endurance race begins, with the horses being kept at a pace they can maintain for the 3000 mile (approx. 5000 kilometer) journey. So it is with the journey of the new school year. Last week was all about the excitement - the new classes, the new clothes, and the real joy that is possible at school. Well-rested after the summer, we were all the best versions of ourselves - the kinder, gentler, more patient us. This past week was the beginning of the longer vision. Students, not quite used to the routines, started to become overtired at the end of the day, and at the end of the first full week. Staff members, who invariably fall in love with their students within the first few months, began to have that, "this is a lot more difficult than herding cats" look. Office admin. staff were reeling after innumerable changes and new system glitches - none of which were their fault, but rather just the growing pains of change. Our Special Ed. Team - teachers and educational assistants - worked tirelessly to deliver and model our vision of inclusion. Mr. Whiteside, Mr. Stevenson and Ms. Hedderley valiantly cleaned and inspected and repaired our school, always with a smile. Mrs. Parent met with large groups of students in an effort to transform our bus environment, at the same time filling in the gaps for our Special Ed. Team, AND getting to know, as she says, the real stories of our students. The new Principal had a few lows - technical glitches, of course, and a few disappointments when our focus of the month - The Golden Rule - did not assert itself. It takes awareness, reflection and courage to change established behaviours. It is so much easier, sometimes, to just go with the crowd and mock someone who is different, or to talk ABOUT instead of TO someone. When we do not examine and take responsibility for our actions, we sometimes miss the sad repercussions. This week, in at least one instance, we failed. I look forward to the time when we don't just tolerate diversity - we celebrate it. There were many, many highs. Families joined us for our Terry Fox event, run by Ms. Lemanczyk, Mr. Forte and Mme Muise. Mrs. Strojny conducted the first Ecoschools/Green Team meeting of the year, and we dimmed the lights to save energy on Firefly Friday, thanks to Mrs. Carruthers. Mr. McKelvey held his first flag football practice. Mr. Forte, Ms. Ivan and Mrs. Leal got the Cross-Country team up and running. Mrs. Montgomery assembled her team for WE Day, and she and Ms. Fry booked (and booked, and booked again) buses for the event. Mrs. Feetham was recognized on our Board website as being an outstanding team member (her second time within a year). Father Gerard dropped in to plan Masses. Our JKs joined us for their first-ever week of school, with proud parents snapping photos. Old friendships were renewed, new friendships were made, and children were plucked off of the Buddy Bench by their peers, and invited to play. Our first Parent Council meeting was delightful, with many new faces and fresh ideas - all with an eye on building community. Ella, Luca and Sophia delivered the announcements and Taryn led the daily meditation - all, initially nervous, gaining confidence with each day. Speaking of announcements, Mrs. Murray had the office staff in stitches when she rocked a reminder about agendas with a pitch worthy of an Air Canada flight attendant. The highest, most delightful high for me this week occurred on Tuesday, with the first ever meeting of the Student Team Advising the Principal. Fifteen students, from a range of age groups, gathered to just ... talk. There were times, during that conversation, that I felt quite awestruck
Posted by seccleshall  On Sep 15, 2018 at 10:41 AM