How can Canadians Get Involved in Supporting our Brothers and Sisters in the Global South?

Usually, I write about education issues, but development assistance is something that I have cared deeply about for many years going back to trips I used to organize for students to the Dominican Republic.

Recent events in the United States and their unethical attacks on immigrants has propelled me to dive back into the complex issue of how best to lend assistance to people in the Global South.

We are a very wealthy nation with clear connections to poor countries around the world. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) is a unique organization that works actively to improve the lives of people in many poor countries. They are unique because they have always made a good effort to involve Canadians in their work. It is an organization that is faith-based, but more importantly, it reserves a role for Canadians to get involved in raising money and setting policy on how best to assist with development assistance. It has also always had a strong educational mission which is essential if we want to be involved in social change in the world.

Over the years, the organization has lost its way due to the influence of right-wing elements in the Catholic Church and its inability to sustain an organizational approach that allows for meaningful participation from ordinary Canadians.

Development and Peace needs to be refashioned to reach the grassroots in Canada. It needs to develop a structure that opens itself up for renewal and it needs to broaden its appeal beyond the narrow confines of the traditional Catholic Church.

What it needs is a manifesto for change.

So what are some of the pillars of a manifesto? I would suggest the following as a start.

Stewardship – the preservation of a forward-thinking, faith-based development community.

Participation – an inclusive organization that respects and encourages the diverse voice of Canadians. For all people in Canada that care about the plight of people in the Global South.

Respect for excellence in development policy that puts the empowerment of people in the Global South as its primary motivation. When organizational ineptitude gets in the way of good work a reboot is called for.

Human Dignity – everything that is done must place the dignity of all people first – people in the Global South for sure, but also fair-minded people in Canada who want to help others and who are willing to participate in a dialogue that includes more voices, opinions and mindsets.

What else is needed? How can a large institution be renewed? How can an organization that has been too exclusive become one that welcomes new voices?

I hope a dialogue can be started. There is too much to do in this troubled world to remain behind old barriers and prejudices.

Let’s move on and try to do something new and effective. Let’s work on development and involve as many Canadians as possible. Let’s think way outside the traditional box.

 

Facilitating Student Voice in the Classroom

 

finishing a podcasting session with Heather Swail’s Grade 7-8 class

I started out today watching a conversation between Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the Washington press corps. I shouldn’t really call it a conversation. The reporters asked on three separate occasions about the current US policy on separating children from their parents when they cross the border. There was no response, just a lot of avoidance and some pretty insulting retorts.

Nothing was resolved, no questions were answered, no problem was even acknowledged. Both sides scored points, but an injustice is still being done.

In contrast, I have spent the last week listening to grade 7-8 students talk about social justice. What a difference!

I  got involved at the end of a month-long process that saw students choose a social justice issue, research the issue, debate the issue with peers then finally develop a persuasive piece that they then blogged about.

Their blog posts are all attached to their teacher Heather Swail’s blog and can be found here.

I really encourage you to read a few of these great pieces. The topics range from residential schools in Canada to water issues in South Africa, child labour, gun violence and racial profiling.

Little did I know that Residential schools were a lot deeper of an issue than just boarding schools that were wrongful to a misjudged people. They literally destroyed Indigenous culture for generations to come, and what really surprised me was that even after everything we did them, Indigenous people are still being treated unfairly today.

excerpt from student blog Residential Schools Revisited

All the posts are well-considered and intelligent. What makes the real difference is that this was a facilitated process. Students did not simply strike off on an issue, they had to go through a deliberate process with identifiable steps.

This is a well-known process that starts with the head moves to the heart and finishes with the hands. What is the issue, how does it make you feel, what are you going to do about it? A version of Heather’s methodology can be found here.

We took one final step by doing a series of five podcasts where the students talked about their issues. You can hear one of these podcasts here more will be coming out on VoicEd Radio soon.

It is at times like these that I really wish I was back in the classroom! My visits to Room 201 and to the student blog posts were a refreshing break from the media wars that are going on everywhere right now. Well considered opinion, well expressed, backed by evidence and part of an intelligent thought process.

When I see the faces of these children and when I read their words, I do think there is hope for the future. When students learn how to think, research and write well thought out pieces I know there is still room for intelligent debate and discussion.

My hope for all of these students is that they carry these valuable lessons into the future.

 

 

Response to George Couros’ Post: We can’t ask teachers to be innovative in their practice while administrators do the same thing they have always done.

We can’t ask teachers to be innovative in their practice while administrators do the same thing they have always done.  I have noticed that the schools where teachers are doing incredible things have leadership that innovates inside the box. They do not just encourage different thinking and action, but they model it through their own process in supporting teachers within the constraints of the system.

I wrote this in response to a great post by George Couros today. Goerge does challenge and he asks questions that are difficult to answer. His post prompted me to respond on his blog. I have written an extended response below.

Hi George

Yes, your ideas make a great deal of sense. It seems to me that there is a creativity barrier in education. We want our teachers to be creative, we want them to empower students and we want an engaging learning environment.

However, when we pass over the Rubicon into administration, we mostly value compliance. You are now an ‘officer of the board’ whatever that means and what is most valued is your ability to do what the senior admin wants to be done, sometimes at the risk of suppressing the creativity of staff members.

Creativity can be a liability. In administrators, it is seldom valued and to remain creative is a risk that sometimes will lead to disapproval or even sanction.

This is a big problem in our education system, one that I don’t know how we will break out of.  How can a system that devalues innovation survive?

Every day I see creative work being done and shared by educators. But not from administrators. Their voice is more muted and their contributions often fall into the category of ‘cheerleading’. This is a shame because administrators can be innovative too.

Maybe they are at their best when as George Couros writes, they are supporting the innovative efforts of others. Is that the best that we can do?

There seems to be a great shift that that takes place when we become school administrators. We enter a world where compliance is the main value. To question and to innovate is not acceptable and is seen as risky.

Thanks to George Couros for writing this piece. It takes courage to question the status quo and I appreciate his efforts to do this. I really think we need more educators with the ability to call into question some of the failings of our public education system.

How can we ever have an honest public debate about the quality of public education if many of the main actors feel that they play no role in commenting and questioning how we are educating our children in 2018?

If not us, who are we leaving this to?

People Respond: Education Issues in the Ontario 2018 Election

 

We are heading into an election here in Ontario. I am always really interested in election debates, especially how the discussion circles around education issues.

So far, we seem to be talking about sex education and how we need to return to some other time when parents and the church were the arbitars of essential information.

Oh yes, and there is the old rallying cry – back to math basics!!

Can we do better than that? Are there other issues that we should be discussing?

Really, we only get a chance to do this every four years and public education is vital to the maintenance of democracy. Actually, we need democracy to flourish and we have to step up and declare how our schools can best do this. At its heart, that is what education is all about.

So, I am conducting my own little survey. What are the issues that are important to you? Especially if you are an educator, what should we be talking about as we lead up to June 7th?

We only get to do this once every four years so it would be great to weigh in and record your answer.

Let’s let this survey run and see what we come up with. I will summarize the answers in this blog.

Let’s use this time wisely – just so you know, you can fill this survey out as many times as you want!

After five days, people are beginning to respond. Here are some of the issues that people are writing about:

Why are we publically funding Catholic educational schools and no other religious educational schools?
Standardized testing.
Class sizes (especially kindergarten) and resulting violence and behaviour issues.
Mental health support
Violence in the classroom

On Twitter there are more comments

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

We need to see this kind of discussion, these are essential issues and it is really important that politicians listen and respond to these comments.

Each of these points deserves to be addressed, no matter how uncomfortable it makes politicians.

Publically funding only one religion in a publically funded school system is blatant discrimination and against the Human Rights Act of the Province of Ontario. Catholicism should not be promoted as the major religion in Ontario, and yet it continues to be provincially funded as such. Why?

The money spent on EQAO from start to finish, as well as release time for staff, could be put to better use in teacher training, lower PTR, resources and engaging families to support learning. There is little research backing the educational benefits of standardized tests. But they have to be replaced with what does work and in an equitable way.

My daughter was supposed to be entering JK in the Fall and we’ve chosen not to enrol her, because 36 kids stuffed into a play-based program with limited resources and objects being thrown at the teacher’s head is not my idea of a good learning environment for ANY child. It fills me with sadness that as a public school teacher I don’t feel safe enrolling my own child in my local public school.

Because students with and without learning disabilities, with and without strong home support, with and without basic math skills and reading skills….everyone may at some point in their school career need mental health support. Our part time counsellor is a former EA with little training. She is trained to support children with small grief issues, or those how need help with social interactions or managing their parent’s divorce. Instead, she is spending all of her time supporting kids with some really big mental health challenges. There isn’t anyone else who can support them at school. We need full time counsellors, even in elementary schools

Many occasions of violence towards other students and staff with no consequences

This is becoming a really long post, but it is important. There is a lot of excellent information here and I hope someone takes a look. All of these are issues that have caught the public’s eye in the past. Collectively, they are a call to take a hard look at our current system and seek out ways to make it better and more responsive to the concerns of parents and educators in our province.

We can do so much better than a few sound bites about ‘new math’.

Update – the responses to the survey continue – you can go to this summary to see what people are writing

Of all the issues what are the most important? You can have your say here

Growth Mindset Can Work – But Who Needs to Grow?

I was looking for some inspiration today for a post after listening to my wife debrief after another exasperating day working with a particularly rude and difficult child. It is very frustrating to hear about her bad days because she is a gifted teacher and does wonders with intermediate students. My natural inclination in these situations is to look for ways to mute destructive students like this so that their impact on their school surroundings is minimized.

I can no longer affect the outcome of these challenging situations, I am not longer a principal. So, I write.

I am reflecting on the unfairness of this situation. Why does one child have the ability to disrupt, frustrate and block efforts that are being made to help them get an education?

This is probably one of the most frustrating situations in education. Children who for a wide variety of reasons do their best to oppose those who are committed to helping.

Sometimes Twitter can help with a prompt to help reflect on these exasperating situations. Today I found something by Dr Stuart Shanker

As teachers, this is an imperative reframe:  “I wasn’t trained for this.” To:  “Where can I learn more?” I love hearing about real experiences with the “growth mindset” model – will you share yours?

The growth mindset here has to do with educators, not students. Many children are in no way prepared to change their mindset. Who knows what has caused the blockage that leads to disruptive and destructive behaviour? The change in mindset needs to come from the educator.

The challenges in the poster at the top of the post are instructive. What happens when we open our minds to vastly different ways of doing things to support a student who is really struggling?

Can we be flexible enough as a system to adapt to the needs of a struggling child?

I think in many cases if we are able to start this work early enough we can make a difference. We must be ready to throw out everything in order to do this. Rework the system to fit the child. Design a system that uses the talents and intelligence of committed educators to affect change.

I have seen this work. In my last school, we had a wonderful boy in grade 3 who really challenged the entire school. He started off with us one block a day and even that was a struggle for all of us.

We had to rework things to make things work for this child. He was held accountable, but he also became the focus of a group of very compassionate, talented educators. Gradually, over time, his day lengthened. There were still the outbursts, the anger and the foul words, but we persisted. We adapted. I would like to think that we grew. He flourished.

Unfortunately, we lost touch with the boy when he was moved to another city. I like to think that we had all turned a corner and that given more time he would survive and thrive.

I think at the worst moments, we have to think back to our stories of growth. Even in the most unlikely circumstances, good things can happen.

I am not fooled into believing that positive change happens all the time. It may only happen once in awhile and it may not be longterm. What is important is the belief that we can adapt our mindset to bring about success in some cases and this makes all the difference.

In the case of the student my wife is struggling with there is a long road ahead that will not be completed by the conclusion of this school year. Maybe in another place and time something will spark a difference.

In Ottawa, many of our high-needs schools work with an organization called Christie Lake Kids. Their mission is to transform children through recreation. They call it Transformative Recreation or T-REC.

Through participation in the T-Rec model, the children and youth we serve develop a greater capacity for self-regulation, self-efficacy, social skills, adult monitoring, and positive relationships.

T_REC Model Christie Lake Kids

I mention Christie Lake Kids here because I think that the mindset change we need to employ will involve others outside the education system.

Maybe the counter statement to ‘We don’t have enough resources’ should really be ‘But what resources, especially in the community are we not using to their full potential?’

We certainly can do a better job at thinking outside the box. We also need to take a moment and really applaud the teachers like my wife who go in every day to face the unending challenges of dealing with the students who challenge.

May we learn to support them better.

Climbing to Ausangate: Climb for Kids!

The road to Ausangate covers lots of ground. We are now 16 climbers and we have already raised $10,000 for Christie Lake Kids. So, the climb goes well.

We are into our sixth week of indoor training, hurling big balls full of sand, hauling heavy sledges laden with weights, doing deep knee bends. In a few days, we start training on trails, learning the mountain step and the cowboy walk.

The group will now start to move outside to get used to hiking together. Time to check out equipment too

It is pretty remarkable to see a group of people learn to work together. Last week, we held the first in a series of group fundraisers, this one at Fatboys Southern Smokehouse in the Ottawa Market. After the expenses were covered, the group made over $4200 in one night. Ticket sales were great and we had a terrific silent auction that really boosted the amount raised. Fatboys and The Clocktower came together to offer the best raffle prize – a keg of beer and a $100.00 gift certificate. It always amazes me how generous Ottawa businesses are when it comes to events like this.

We had a great silent auction, all sorts of interesting items from birdhouses, Star Wars original film to park benches!

There is so much that goes into these projects, most long before you ever set foot on the trail.

We have lots of fundraising to go. We will certainly beat our original fundraising goal and I think all the climbers will be able to reach their personal goals. We still have to start stair training and we need to learn how we trek together as a group.

Some people don’t really understand what we are doing. Does fundraising really have to involve so much work? I would argue that the best fundraising usually does. We have 16 committed people. We now have a great filmmaker, Garry Tutte who is going to add so much to this project. We have some sponsorship, but we really need more. We are training and learning to work together as a group. This is a lot of work, but it is so rewarding to meet a new group of people and then gather an even larger group to help you reach your fundraising goals.

A truly rich experience. So glad to have all of you with us!

The Terrible Gift

I am been listening to our latest interview on Voiced Radio. You can find it here.

Heather and I interviewed Marc Lafontaine, a great friend of ours. The title of this episode was Overcoming Adversity and there is lots to listen to carefully here.

Marc has seen his share of adversity. He is a businessman and has had many ups and downs. In the interview, he talks about the failure of one business and what he learned from this experience.

We all go through adversity at some point in our lives. Marc in this podcast does not focus on the failure, but what he learned through the whole experience. It is in the really tough times that we do the learning. You could say that this is the terrible gift.

We suffer and then we learn.

If we do not go through adversity and challenge how can we grow, how do we learn?

I would argue that we really don’t grow unless we challenge ourselves and learn to be in the moment, even the really bad ones. What we gain is the ability to love and the ability to become empathetic. Marc says this in our interview and there is tremendous wisdom in all this.

Marc is a great road biker and less than a year ago was almost killed in a terrible accident with a car. He broke most of the bones in his face and suffered a broken neck.

While he did recover from this, it has left its scars, not only on him but on his family as well.

He is still in recovery and probably will be in this process for a long time to come.

What he learned is that no matter what happens, there are no regrets, no looking back, there is only the renewed passion to live life. This is something hard for us to learn. We live in a society where bad experiences are to be avoided or masked. The dark is not to be visited it is to be hidden.

What we need to do instead is be in the moment. I know that sounds trite, but the dark times build us, they develop a stronger sense of what it means to be human. We just need to accept the bad times and have the patience to be instructed by the moment.

The best interviews we have done have been with people who have faced great adversity, Marc Lafontaine and certainly Chris Nihmey.

We have certainly been blessed that these strong people are out there telling their stories sharing their wisdom and living bravely.

Don’t reject adversity. Take on the terrible gift. Reach in deeply and learn. Then make the world better and your friends and family stronger.

Unwrap and share the terrible gift.

 

What Brings you Joy?

Driving back from Montreal on a beautiful afternoon. What brings you Joy?

It is important to always reflect on what brings you Joy. This was a particularly challenging work week, we all have them and these are the times to reflect on the positive. This may sound a bit trite, but that is how things need to go. Staying mired in the negativity engendered by some organizations doesn’t help you at all.

Look for the things in your work and life that give you joy. For me, this was a particularly wonderful interview we did for a radio broadcast we do on a regular basis. The show is called First Hand Stories and this interview was done with Chris Nihmey, a mental health advocate here in Ottawa.

Chris has an important message for all of us and he displays the courage to talk about his story to school children and the general public whenever he can. Radio is a great way to communicate ideas, sometimes stilted by email, Twitter, blogs and Facebook. It is a great creative endeavour that brings lots of joy. Our time with Chris was magical and we feel so privileged to have had some time with him to discuss such an important topic.

Here is the interview.

If you want to learn more about the work Chris is doing, you can check out his website here.

The interview is a very small part of the wonderful burst of creativity that comes out daily from Voiced Radio. I have written about Stephen Hurley and the wonderful collection of broadcasters he continues to collect under his banner. Stephen really has something going. He really gets Joy. We are totally dedicated to Voiced Radio, not just because it is an incredibly creative project, but because it is always such a positive experience.

There is no bureaucratic malaise here, no negativity, no limiting hand that slaps you down, just a positive creative pulse that sustains and provides inspiration.

What brings Joy?

Working with accepting people who appreciate your work and the time devoted to creative projects.

There are so many other organizations that really could learn a lesson from this. Do those you work with create Joy?

A photo with Chris Nihmey after our First Hand Stories interview.

 

Christie Lake Climb for Kids Takes Off!


So Climb for Kids is going to happen!

After months of planning, talking and promoting we have the 16 people we need to allow this project to take off.

Last week four more people signed on to the expedition and the entire group met for the first time at our house. This is a great group of positive people who are excited to take part in a great adventure and raise money for an organization that is actively working to change the lives of children living in poverty here in Ottawa.

All of our participants have their Canada Helps pages up and running and all have pledged to raise at least $1000.00 for Christie Lake Kids. I think they will all surpass this goal and some members have already done so.

We have group fundraisers coming up, the first one will take place on March 23 at Fatboys in the Ottawa Market. The second one will be in May.

We begin to train as a group this week and this is something that we will continue to work on together right up until the summer. This will be a tough trek at high altitude. All participants will need to be in excellent physical shape.

We are now looking into corporate sponsorship. There is a really important story to tell here and we need to have the means to do this. This will not just be the story of climbing to Ausangate, it will be the story about how Christie Lake Kids is actively engaged in changing the lives of children every day.

Rainy day ball hockey

There will be lots to write about here. It is wonderful to be working with such a positive organization that is truly committed to bringing about change in the lives of young people.

We really hope that Climb for Kids attracts donors, supporters and sponsors. Now we totally expect that this will be the first year in a project that will continue to support social transformation in the years to come.

During our first gathering, several people talked about places they would like to trek to in the years to come.

We are going to Peru this year. Where do you want to go after that?

Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself

I just listened to Joe Biden on CNN this morning. Really powerful interview. He is an intriguing person. A career politician and possibly a presidential candidate in 2020. Of course, he can get into the political fray just like any other politician, but there is something different about him and his recent political memoir, Promise Me Dad.

Grief changes you and he has had more than his fair share in life. In 1972, soon after being elected to the Senate, his wife and 13-month old daughter were killed in a car accident. In 2015, his oldest son, Beau, died of a brain tumour.

His interviews have a cut wretching honesty that we seldom hear. As a public figure, he is known as someone who reaches out to people who have gone through tragedy.  This is something he knows a great deal about.

There are some important lessons here. First, he talks a lot about his son. Beau was someone who was always positive. We hear how important this is all the time, but how many of us really live this? Beau’s relationship with his father was obviously something very special.  The title of the book comes from a conversation he had with his son where he urged his father to run for the presidency all at a time when he was dying from cancer.

Joe Biden with his sons Hunter left, and Beau, in the early 1970s.
Credit via Joe Biden

It seems to me that people who have gone through the strainer of personal grief or tragedy somehow can see life differently. There needs to be more to live for, especially when you are living with the reminder of your own story.

Today, Joe Biden responded to one of the interview questions with this line:

If you don’t believe in something bigger than yourself you will never be happy

Pretty powerful.
This helps to reflect on some of the interchanges I have had with people this past week.
It has been a big week. We have now started fundraising for our Climb for Kids! project and this is always a challenge. Asking people for money really opens you up in ways that can be uncomfortable. One person, for whom in the past we have done lots of volunteer work for asked not to receive any of my emails about the campaign because ‘it doesn’t involve me in any way’. Another person chose this week to call me out for a note I had sent him around the time of my father’s death. It wasn’t a note I am proud of, but I wasn’t really at my best.
I mention these interactions because the negative can have such a profound impact. Most times it would be much better to remain positive or just keep certain comments to one’s self. We all do better if we can get out of our own petty worlds and just believe in something bigger than ourselves.
So as the week went on I looked back on the comments of supporters from last year’s fundraising climb to Mt. Kilimanjaro. These notes are positive and so affirming and they celebrate the attempt to be something bigger. Sometimes when confronted with the negative it is so much better to seek out the positive.
I was really struck by Joe Biden’s interview today. I was taken by the way this man takes solace and strength from his family as I do. I was encouraged by his and his son’s determination to look to the positive.
A son’s affirmation of the father is a powerful message. I have that and those who can’t see beyond themselves will just have to take the back seat.