#nationaldayofwriting - You are You-er than You!

In honour of #nationaldayofwriting, I reflected on what I wanted to contribute as a learner to mark this important day. I have recently struggled to keep up with a regular schedule of writing. With my busy work schedule, balancing family life, kids’ activities and homework, I find myself caught in a whirlwind of events that often leave me too tired to devote the time needed to share a written expression of my thoughts.

So as I ponder the recent reflections of educators and students on #whyiwrite and #nationaldayofwriting, I am left thinking of my students who often share their difficulties in keeping up with the demands of writing prompts, writing certain types of texts and the overall rigid demands they often face at school. I often find myself sharing my own struggles with writing and how I try to overcome them.

Passion for me is of the utmost importance when writing. When faced with the task of writing a prescribed piece, where structure is rigid, I also lack motivation. So as I think of students and their struggles with writing, I see myself being the champion of voice and choice.  As much as we want to share the characteristics of certain texts, as much as we want them to have that perfect essay or newspaper article, my true goal is to have students who want to express themselves, who know how to formulate their ideas and who can communicate clearly.

Therefore, in honor of #nationaldayofwriting, I have decided to write with my passion in mind: education. In a recent post, I celebrated my own learning and shared a piece of my story. As an educator, I do not only shine, I don’t always have the most exemplary strategies and have the most engaged students and my class isn’t always a picture from a magazine. So as I write about my passion, I strive to continue sharing not only my successes, but to also share my struggles. Therefore, I feel compelled to write about my first teaching experience.

As teachers, we often think that our first life changing experience will be either during our practice-teaching placement or even the first day of school following our teacher’s certification. In Ontario, where I grew up, there was such a shortage of certified teachers that I began my first contract during my second year of university, while completing my honors in History and French literature.

At 20 years old, I was going to be in charge of arts and physical education for grade 4-8 students. I was excited because I wanted to get my career started as soon as possible. I was warned about one of my groups because I was going to be their fifth teacher in several months and they were known as an “active” group. Thinking back so many years, I didn’t know what I did today. I didn’t walk into my job thinking about building relationships and getting to know my students. I went into my classroom with the same mentality that I grew up with: I am the teacher, you owe me respect.

Picture this: I walk into the classroom on my first day, slam the door shut and begin by giving these 25 students a lecture on respect and how they would listen to me and because I was the teacher and authority figure. Thinking back to this moment, I am not proud. I cannot even believe that it was me. I mean, it is definitely no Ron Clark moment (yes he is my first EDUhero). To add insult to injury, when one student actually did act out (why am I not surprised), I made her copy a page from the dictionary.

So why do I share a story that most people would keep hidden? I could have, and honestly, until this post, I have never talked about this experience. I share it so others can realize that no matter where we currently are in our career, we have all had those not so good moments. Life isn’t perfect. If Twitter existed back then (yes I am old enough to say this), I don’t think I would have tweeted the moment, but I would have reached out to PLN for support. That is the difference.

So my challenge to all of you today: Don’t be afraid to share your story, your moments of weakness, your learning. That story will resonate for someone. Your lesson will help uplift someone going through a difficult time. Most of all, by sharing your story, you help support the idea that not being perfect is okay. Today may be #nationaldayofwriting, but I encourage every educator, every student and every learner to keep writing when passion strikes, keep writing every day. Find your voice, share your words, and no matter how imperfect things are, remember the words of Dr. Seuss:

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you. Shout aloud, I am glad to be what I am. Thank goodness I’m not a ham, or a clam, or a dusty old jar of gooseberry jam. I am what I am, what a great thing to be. If I say so myself, happy everyday to me!” 

“Dare to reach out your hand in darkness, to pull another hand into the light.”

– Norman B. Rice

In education, like many other professions, it is easy to be inundated with the daily grind of stress, pressure and negative feelings. As a student, teacher and administrator, often we find ourselves frustrated and doubting our abilities. In our schools, we emphasize the importance of building strong relationships, both with students and staff. It is through these relationships that we are not only able to build connections, we are setting the table to allow learning to happen. As in any relationship, we need to remember that time needs to be invested. Time to not only learn with someone but time to celebrate the learning that is happening.

If I (Roman) go back to my experience as a student, I can vividly remember my experiences as a learner. I listened in class, I studied, filled out the assessment and got back my corrected copy. Based on the amount of red ink on my paper, I was able to decipher whether I was good or not. When I needed to deepen my knowledge on a topic, I did what most teachers suggested: study more. As a teacher, I have lived similar experiences. When it is time to get assessed by my administration, I listen during meetings, I prepare, I teach my lesson and I get a copy of my assessment. Based on the amount of comments, I am able to decipher whether I was good or not. Reflecting on my experiences, learning with my professional learning network (PLN), I have come to discover that this isn’t the way I want to continue to experience learning.

Looking back on my career as a student, I (Joshua) worked incredibly hard for teachers who I felt cared about me, provided encouragement and celebrated success. My grades reflected my exact feeling toward a teacher. If my grade was good, it was likely because I respected the teacher and worked to get the respect and praise of that teacher. If my grade was poor, it was because I didn’t feel the teacher cared about me, therefore I didn’t provide the appropriate effort.  As a teacher and administrator, I continue to seek out people who are genuinely invested in my growth and who care about my well being.

Before we even talk about learning or assessments, we need to address the question of building relationships. Every person is unique and has amazing gifts and talents to share. As leaders, we need to make sure we get to know each person and to know all they have to offer. As we get to know them, we must also remember that we need to take the time to interact with them on a regular basis. Foundations for strong relationships are always created out of positive experiences. We must therefore learn to celebrate and uplift those around us in order to pave the way for more meaningful and ongoing conversations. We teach students that learning continues across a lifetime. We want teachers to acknowledge that they themselves are lifelong learners and that students and parents are great collaborators to their learning. What is most important, if we want our staff to believe in this, is that we as leaders must also be lifelong learners alongside our teachers. We are all in this together.

During a recent Twitter chat, we were asked how we coached, supported and gave feedback to under-performing teachers. This question also applies to students who are under-performing in our classrooms. As I (Roman) was reflecting on how to answer, I couldn’t help but go back to my own learning experiences shared earlier. I didn’t want to reflect the same old model that separated learning from relationships. Therefore my new conviction has become, “let me learn with you. Let’s see how amazing WE can make this.” If we truly want to celebrate learning, as leaders we must be willing to go in the trenches with teachers and students. Learning will not and should not happen alone. Let’s find the time to go on the journey with them. Let’s find the time to always lead with the positive!

What are some of the ways we can go on this learning journey and celebrate with teachers and students?

  1. Written Affirmation: When you see accomplishments, learning, good actions or progress, take the time to mail out a handwritten card. It can be done after your observations or in conjunction with various holidays throughout the year. Celebrate those around you as much as you can. Yes, it does take time and yes, it does involve a certain cost. Trust us, the impact is much greater than you think.
  2. Conversation: Take the time to simply pull someone aside and share your celebration with them. Help emphasize the positive that you saw in them. Share with them your pride in them for what they have accomplished. As leaders, we sometimes feel that sharing positive comments may seem overly sentimental; in reality these words have unimaginable positive effects.
  3. Gestures: If we really want to go out of our way to show appreciation, small gestures of kindness and appreciation have profound effects. It shows another person that they were important enough for us to invest time in them; it makes them feel special. So when we can, take that person out for a special lunch, buy them a surprise coffee in the morning, share a special book with them, bake them a small surprise, share a gift card with them, do a special activity with a student, give an extra planning period to a teacher and go teach that class yourself. A gesture does not have to be over the top, all we need to do is show that we care and we appreciate them.
  4. Involvement and Collaboration: Take the time to involve staff and students in decision-making and the transformation of school culture. When you want to find innovative ways to show appreciation and create new traditions at your school, ask them how they would like it to happen. As leaders, we sometimes feel like we must have all the answers. Involving and collaborating with staff and students goes a long way in continuing to build those strong foundational relationships.  

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We all lead busy lives and the school year goes by extremely fast. There are many challenges and emergencies that we must face on a daily basis. Let’s make it a promise, that no matter the obstacles, no matter the surprises in our daily routine, we must remember to always make room for the positive. Let’s make it a priority to celebrate others, to lift their spirits and to do our part in making the world a better place. After all, if we don’t lead the way, who will?

To those who inspire us, to those who lift us up and to those who support us: Thank you! It means the world. Let’s all be lights of hope and kindness to others. That is our pledge, that is our mission.

Edu-Leaders Emphasizing the Positive

Mark French / @PrincipalFrench
#GoodNewsCallOfTheDay

Mark’s #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay movement has had a sweeping impact on the educational world. On Twitter, you can see the hashtag being used by many schools as administrators are calling home to brag, celebrate, and uplift their students. Mark inspires us all to build relationships with our students by eating lunch with them, reading books to classes and celebrating kindness of others.

Based on several educational leaders’ impact and inspiration, such as Mark French’s #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay, my (Joshua’s) campus has adopted a system to reward positive behavior each day, which leads to a positive phone call home to let the student’s parents or guardian know how their child has made good choices. The practice of calling home and getting to know students who are making a positive impact on our campus has been uplifting and extremely rewarding for everyone involved. It’s fun and interesting to see each child come to the office with reservation until they find out they are being celebrated.

 

Todd Nesloney / @TechNinjaTodd)
#KidsDeserveIt

Todd is the co-founder of #KidsDeserveIt and he continues to find innovative ways to celebrate students and staff. At Todd’s campus, they celebrate students by writing students’ names on a chalk board wall, taking a picture of the student and tweeting the student with a campus hashtag. Todd also has large photographs of his students and staff throughout the school and staff family photos in the staff lounge to share a sense of belonging. For staff, Todd has also called the teacher’s parents to share all the positive things they are doing on a regular basis.

 

Sean Gaillard / @smgaillard
#TrendThePositive

Bethany Hill / @bethhill2829
#JoyfulLeaders

 

Sean and Bethany have continuously celebrated students, teachers and other educational leaders through the #TrendThePositive, #CelebrateMondays and #JoyfulLeaders hashtags. Both show how their teachers share inspiring notes to each other, use positive referrals, and validate students with positive notes and twitter selfies. Sean and Bethany create a positive culture though their strong leadership, actions and communication.

 

For more posts from Joshua, please go to his blog at joshstamper.blogspot.com joshuas

Through the looking glass

Posted: October 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

“When you look at a person, any person, remember that everyone has a story. Everyone has gone through something that has changed them.”  – unknown

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Sometimes, when we look at pictures of other teaching realities, especially on social media, we see such an awe inspiring view. A beautiful realm of decorations, colors, flexible seating, perfectly placed books and papers and well-behaved students. As I look at those images, I tell myself, who wouldn’t want to be a teacher? Now don’t get me wrong, we need goals, we need creativity and innovation, most of all, we need people to inspire us to be better; to reach for the stars, to shatter boundaries and to be the best that we could be.

With such ideals, the adverse effect can also be true. When we look through the looking glass shared by another, a surge of emotions can be felt. Many educators look to these posts and images and immediately feel inadequate. They feel like failures, they feel unworthy. Although we always hope to inspire teachers to try new things and to transform pedagogical practices, in the end, we sometimes push them to retreat into old habits, into isolation and we encourage a fixed mindset.

So how can we find that delicate balance between inspiration and reality?

What we must always strive to do, is to share our stories. We cannot only share the ideals and our successes. Whether good or bad, if we truly want to inspire others, we need to share our learning.

I, like many others, went into teaching in the hopes of making a difference. Isn’t that what we all strive for as educators, to be able to live those “aha moments”, to see the wonderment of learning, to support others? Although many look up to me as inspiring, I also need to share, that like many, I often look at myself and say: “I am surviving”.

As I reflect upon my experiences and let you peer into my looking glass, as you look at my pictures, as you look at my smiles, can you see me:

  • Being bullied during my first grade at school?
  • Being laughed at for the “no-name brand” clothes I wore because we had little money?
  • Eating almost a dozen muffins after school because I didn’t want my mom to to feel bad that no one chose the food she made for the potluck?
  • Feeling broken that I could never go to another kid’s birthday party because we couldn’t afford to buy presents?
  • Being ridiculed for being overweight?
  • Being the last one chosen on a team because you didn’t play sports because you couldn’t afford registration fees or equipment?
  • Feeling heartbroken at funerals for students following a car crash, an illness, a natural freak accident, a suicide?
  • Being told I was one of the last people a student talked to the night before he took his life and that I had no idea that those thoughts were even going through his head?
  • Witnessing breakups, family traumas and violent outburst?
  • Agonizing over students not getting their high school diploma, knowing the stumbling blocks they have faced, only to be faced with leaders telling me, that they are adults and they need to learn their lesson?
  • Being laughed at for being that first-year teacher (keener) who wanted to be on every club or committee?
  • Being told by veteran teachers to stop personalizing report card comments because it gave others unwanted pressure?
  • Being bullied by other educators because my “different” methods of teaching (according to them) weren’t preparing kids for the real world and didn’t match what others were doing?
  • Trying to survive, feeling hopeless, after the loss of both parents to cancer and losing a baby during pregnancy?
  • Feeling devastated after losing some of my closest friends?

There is no perfect life, there is no perfect teacher, there is no perfect classroom. No matter the ideals we want to share with others, we have to realize that we are role models and we set an example, not only for students, but for colleagues as well. I can choose to share those perfect moments, those picture-perfect scenes, or I can choose to share my life, through my looking glass. I can share my realities, no matter the ups nor the downs.  

So why share my story, the not so perfect moments and difficult challenges of my life? Because they have helped shape me into who I am today. How can I want students and teachers to open up and share their stories if I can’t do it myself?

So maybe you won’t always see pictures of my perfect decorations, my amazing bulletin boards, my amazing classroom activities. Maybe you won’t receive my 101 ideas for an amazing literacy activity or a creative math lesson. I can tell you that I look to so many educators and friends for inspiration and for ideas. What I do pledge is to always do my best, to share my positivity, my heart and my kindness with everyone. I truly believe that the world does need more of it.

But as you do look through my looking glass, as you read through my blogs, as you interact with me, I hope that you not only see what led me to experience the many highs I have had in education, but that just like any other person, I too have been broken. My story is not perfect and I often feel like it is not “Pinterest” worthy, but I hope to always share my story, to share the real me: a person who is flawed but who is also privileged to learn with the best educators out there.

A promise for my students!

Posted: July 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

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“I promise to develop their hearts, their skills and their voices so that they themselves may be empowered to live their dreams.”

As a teacher, I aspire to always give my best to my students.  I hope that their experience in my classroom and in their four years in our high school always remains positive. For anyone who knows me, relationships have always been of vital importance.

As an English teacher, I have reflected immensely at what my true mission is as an educator. What are the skills we want our students to learn? Do we put those skills above content? Do my students enjoy reading, writing and learning at the end of our semester?

With these questions in mind, I have made a promise both to myself and to my students. I promise that I would transform what my English class would look and feel like. This does not negate that learning was occurring in my classroom or that students lived meaningful and enriching learning experiences with me. However, as I continue to reflect and ask myself: “Is this best for students?” and “Are my students becoming creative and avid readers and writers?” I know that I must adopt certain changes.

For my students to truly enjoy reading they need to learn to become readers and I need to create the conditions to make this happen. First, they need to have autonomy in their choice of reading. Every student is at a different level of reading; they all enjoy different genres and styles. As a teacher, I need to ensure that they have access to a variety of literature. To do so, I myself, must share my own reading journeys with them. Students can learn from the literature I read to help make informed choices of their own. In my first year of teaching English, I organized reading circles where students were able to share their current reading material. It gave them a voice, a place to share their thoughts with their peers, it helped them learn how to formulate opinions and share them with efficacy. It also allowed my other students to see what reading possibilities existed beyond their scope of knowledge. I also promise to promote and celebrate diversity in reading material. Readers often want to feel connected to characters and their stories. It is essential that there is literature available to them that tell the stories of various people from different cultures, religions, countries, sexual orientations. In short, books that share the stories of many different people, so that students may learn about the world through the eyes of another.

Second, students also need to develop mastery in their reading. Students love challenges; I have never seen a child enjoy an easy video game. They often spend days and weeks trying to collect the items, reach the end game or replay games to uncover all of the secrets that exist. We need to look at reading through the same lens. As our students begin to read more for enjoyment, as they access a more diverse series of literature, we now need to challenge them as readers to experiment with different styles and genres. Literature can be superficial, meaningful and complex. As we build our relationships with our students and as we get know where they are as readers, through various discussions and conversations, we must suggest and challenge them with books about social justice, empowerment, history, emotions, stories of empathy and kindness. We want them to ponder, reflect, live the stories and share their own reading journey. In my class, I had an avid reader. His suggestions, thoughts and choices influenced me and many of his peers. When challenged to read, he embarked on the journey thereupon enriching his classmates’ views, choices and reading diversity. Is that not what we hope for?

Finally, students also need to have purpose when they read. We cannot solely create reading experiences for students based on literary analysis, literary cannon, or curriculum expectations. Although we may want to develop and deepen certain reading and literary skills, the most important mission we have is to create a genuine love for reading and writing. As a school, one of our missions was to create and live a reading period every day as a school community. Every teacher, every student, every staff member, participated in this special time dedicated to reading. No book was assigned to them, this was not a study period for class; this was a reserved time for everyone to read for pure enjoyment. Our administration and I even took the time to walk the halls as we were reading to show all students that everyone took part in this community time. Even the custodians knew that no work was to be done; administration knew that no appointments should be scheduled: for those twenty minutes, as a school, we all wanted to read.

So today, I make my promise. For my students, I promise to promote voice and choice for their reading. I also promise to help give them autonomy, mastery and purpose (thank you Dan Pink) in their reading. I hope to never have a student submit work only because I asked it of them. I believe, and I hope, that my students will truly enjoy their learning, that they will grow as learners and that they will help build each other up. A curriculum may be the guideline and map of expectations that we must follow as educators. However, for my students who embark on this journey with me, I promise to develop their hearts, their skills and their voices so that they themselves may be empowered to live their dreams.

 

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Reading with emotion

Posted: June 16, 2017 in Reading

books

Reading has always been an event for me. As a child, my mom instilled an importance to education, structure, rigour and the traditional 3 Rs (Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic). As I grew up, reading became a personal journey, an event where I could escape into a fictional realm, a different narrative and live something that might otherwise be impossible. I experienced various professions, trips around the world, exciting adventures and accounts of historical events. Books opened my eyes to a person I wasn’t or a life I couldn’t live at the time.

As I went through the education system, I learned about different books; the classics, fiction, non-fiction and so many more. Almost always, the books were chosen for me and as a conformist, I did as I was told. Luckily, in my personal time, I did enjoy reading and I was able to experience different emotions as I read the books I chose. Many years later, as I began as an educator, I adopted the same practices of prescribed readings, mundane questions and traditional literary analysis. The one thing I failed to remember: the importance of reading with emotion. The one quality that was so important in my personal reading journey didn’t translate into my teaching practice.

In the last while, I was able to regain and restructure my schedule to start reading more. As I already read a lot of pedagogical books, I wanted to regain my love for reading with emotions. I recently wrote about my experience after reading the book Wonder. Yesterday, I had the chance to read the book Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon from beginning to end. There are certain books that you love and there are certain books that give you that ultimate emotional experience, and this one hit me like a train, in a good way.

There is one passage that really spoke to me:

“I’ll have to think of all the hope I had. Of how I fooled myself into thinking that I was a miracle. Of how the world I wanted to be a part of so badly didn’t want me back.”

As I read these words, chills ran down my spine, goose bumps appeared on my skin, and tears ran down my eyes. I start remembering my years as a high school teacher, walking the halls, teaching classes, interacting with students and wonder: how many of my students feel like this on a daily basis? How as an educator, can I ensure that all kids see themselves as true miracles and to not feel excluded or unwanted? How do I, myself, remember this when I feel the same way and sense doubt in my life? When we talk about diversity, equity and inclusiveness, isn’t that what we want for everyone? It has been one day since I read this book and I can’t shake these thoughts from my mind.

As we plan our lessons, run our schools, prepare activities and field trips, promote our school, find creative ways to change our pedagogy we cannot lose sight of the only true mission we have. We must remind kids that they are miracles, that we love them, that we want them to learn and that we make time for them. If we put this into place…if we lead with the heart  and keep people’s emotions, feelings and values as drivers to our decisions, not only will our school flourish, our kids will become caring, empathetic and kind citizens and adults, who will take care of one another and transform the world with unimaginable beauty.

I encourage you to take the time to read this novel. Take the time to read with emotion. Take the time to feel vulnerable, to feel empathy and think of others. As educators, we are there for our kids and for our community. Make every single person you interact with know that they matter. Emotions are driving forces in helping our society grow; let us not suppress them, let us embrace them! Pick up a book, read it, feel it and most importantly, share it. Reading can change lives, reading can move mountains.

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“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometime you are meant to stick out. This is a statement I say to myself often. When you feel like you don’t fit in, you try to find ways to go about your day, to accomplish your objectives and to feel proud of whom you have become. It isn’t always easy; there are many obstacles you will encounter, but in the end, you have to have hope that being different is your purpose.

As a child, I never fit into the norm. Although I came from a traditional family, my mom and dad, my sister and myself, I found out quite quickly that I was not like everyone else. I had different interests as a boy: I liked reading, spending time with family, having game nights and watching movies. My weekly schedule was different as well. I was sent to a French school, a language I did not speak, I spent my Saturdays in a Polish school to enrich my culture and I did not play sports or go on play dates or to birthday parties, because financially we couldn’t afford it. I went to Church every Sunday and I was part of my church’s children’s choir. As I reflect back on my childhood, although I learned so much and grew up in a loving environment, I am not surprised that I didn’t fit into the regular crowd.

As a student, I wasn’t one to blend in either. I was left-handed, I was often the first to put up my hand to share the answer to a question, I excelled at the “game of school” from an early age and was an extreme perfectionist. I can still remember drawing in my art class. When I would want to make a change to a pencil drawing, I couldn’t simply erase my work because I knew there would be a mark left on the sheet; I would rip up the page with the mistake and start anew. Socially, I was more awkward. When you don’t spend your childhood in organized sports, you don’t learn the same skills as kids your age.  I was often the last kid picked in gym class, I often didn’t fit into the street hockey games at recess and I was chosen less often for group projects. That kid, who ate his lunch alone or would hide in the school to avoid recess, was me.

To this day, I don’t know if the teachers in my school knew the torment I felt in the halls. As an educator myself, I am assuming not, because I can’t imagine watching a child walk, feeling that little, and doing nothing. The whispers that came as I walked anywhere, the looks I got for being different, the teasing and taunting I endured were all part of my norm. These experiences, which for some would be characterized as “part of growing up” or “building character” or “building a tough skin”, were not always easy to get through.

Relationships and friendships have always been more difficult from me. I didn’t come from a social family. My lack of participation in traditional “western” events and ideologies did not contribute to the building of a positive self and the doubt created by an emotional school experience had a lasting impact. When you live a large part of your life in a deficit-based mindset rather than a strength-based mindset, your views change. The colours in the world that seem so obvious and vivid to some appear dull and lackluster to others.

There is no doubt that as an adult, I have been deeply shaped by the experiences I have lived. Where I once dreaded sticking out and preferred hiding, I now find strength and solace in being unique and different. My history has also given me a different perspective on education. I strive to find those colourful penguins who are different, who don’t fit in. I focus on building relationships and spending time with students. The time that I once hoped for with someone, the wish to be noticed, the relationships I once wanted as a child, are now the focus of my teaching career. Making a person feel noticed and important is the only way we can truly make a difference in someone’s life.

As I transpose this same celebratory mindset with adults, it is also both rewarding and challenging. It is a mission to help build people up, to help them reach new heights, to appreciate them, to celebrate them and to make them achieve more than they knew possible. After all, isn’t that one of the missions of a true leader? At the same time, like that seesaw in our childhood playground, as you push someone up, you often find yourself down. If you don’t find the balance in celebrating others and celebrating yourself, you can often encounter another challenge: finding your happiness and your accomplishment.

So what is the magic solution? There is none. No recipe exists to make the world a perfect place. But I do know one thing. If we all embrace being that colourful penguin who doesn’t mind sticking out in a crowd, if we all become conscientious of those around us, if we all take care of each other and treat one another with dignity…the world will be a more beautiful place.

So take the time to listen. Give the gift of your time. Reach out to those around you. Celebrate the uniqueness of every person around you. It is your heart that will make the real difference in someone’s life.

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Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life because we all overcometh the  world. – Auggie

In the past few weeks, I saw the trailer to the movie Wonder with Julia Roberts and it looked amazing. It is one of those trailers that when you see it, you automatically get goose bumps and chills. I told my wife immediately, when this movie comes out, we have to go see it. The English teacher in me also said, you must read the book before you see the movie. There is nothing better than visualizing the story through your eyes before you see someone else’s interpretation.  So I bought the book, and yesterday morning, while on the plane to a meeting, I started reading it. Less than 24 hours later, I made sure I finished it. The impact? Immense!

The amazing and touching story of Auggie, a boy who is different and unique, who is often mistreated for the way he looks. Many prevalent school and life-related themes and issues arise when reading this book: bullying, kindness, courage, friendship, love, judgement.  English teachers for many years have debated the “literature canon” and what should be taught in schools; when you read Wonder, the reflection suddenly turns to why are we not reading this in our schools.

Auggie’s journey and his experiences are both enriching and heart-braking. As I intently read every word, one passage ripped my heart out. One character, Auggie’s friend says:

“I can’t imagine looking in the mirror every day and seeing myself like that. It would be too awful. And getting stared at all the time.”

“and I really think…if I looked like him seriously, I think that I’d kill myself”.

As I read these words, I filled with emotions and tears rolled down my cheek. How many of our students and how many people around us walk around every day feeling this broken? To some, it is the way they look; comments about their hair, body type, facial features, etc. To others, it is comments about how they look on the inside; the choices they make, the friends they have or do not have, their religion or beliefs, etc. Everyone has a certain image or perception of themselves. This image is often thwarted or modified based on our relationships or on constant comments made from people around us.

This book needs to be read by everyone. A dialogue needs to be started. A reflection ought to take place. We can no longer hide behind ignorance, inaction, blame or traditions.  Kindness, love, compassion, empathy, these are all values we get to choose and they should be part of how we teach and how we build relationships.

You never know what is hiding behind someone’s smile. You never know what someone has lived that morning, in the past or the anguish they are going through. We all need to be more aware, more caring and better people. It is up to us to make the difference in someone’s life.

So as the end of the school year approaches or for some, has just concluded, reflect on how compassion and love will become regular priorities in your life, in your class and in your school. Do not judge, do not abandon, do not mock. Everyone has worth. It is up to us to make their worth shine, to nurture it and to protect it. If we don’t, the end result could be dangerous. So take the challenge! Be there for others, celebrate them, love them and build them up. For some, it may simply be an affirmation of self-worth, for others, it will define their existence.  Remember, everyone deserves a standing ovation once in their lifetime.