Before taking a mini-break this past week, I had the pleasure of visiting two northern communities in two different provinces. My time in Terrace, British Columbia and Cross Lake, Manitoba provided some great learning for me and both visits were instances where I felt I received more than I provided. In both these situations my learning had a First Nations focus. I am indebted to the young “teachers” who reminded me of the brilliance that resides in all of our students – a brilliance that doesn’t always shine brightly but is evident once a student is given the chance to glow.
I visited Caledonia Secondary as part of a schools tour in advance of an evening presentation I was to give. I had hoped to gain a few insights to connect my session to local context. Within minutes of arriving at the school Vice-Principal Jane Arbuckle and I were talking and she was sharing the great successes of the work the school was doing with their First Nations students. Later she introduced me to Randal Wesley who she described as a talented artist. Her description was very accurate as I stared in awe at one of his nearly competed paintings. Rather than remaining open-mouthed, I took the step to ask him about his work. That’s all it took. He was so proud of his work and so appreciative of being asked to explain it, his thought process in creating it, and what each section meant, that he kept me engaged for the next five minutes. His depiction of the eagle and its personal connection were amazing to listen to. My limited time at the school was the only imposition on our time together.
I was hustling to get back to the main office and engage in some further conversations when Jane let me know that another student, Blake MacMillan, wanted me to see his painting. This was another one of those times where a student request was more pressing than my schedule and I was honored that he wanted me to see his work. Once again, the talent level of this young artist struck me as did his willingness to explain the personal connection the work held for him. When I asked why he chose the blue color for an aspect of the moon he explained that it just came to him and represented a personal context on a traditional portrayal. How we acknowledge this level of skill and capacity for personal connection along with the ability to effectively communicate that information may help to alter our traditional view of school success. The two artists have a clear path to a viable future that will see them enrich the lives of many.
I left Terrace and made the multi-stage flight to Cross Lake, arriving the following morning and being greeted by my very enthusiastic host, Connie McIvor. She was excited to share with me what her students and the students of the other two schools had done to welcome me and help to set the tone for the two days of work I had the pleasure of facilitating with the educators in the area. They had designed posters and narratives built on my theme of “The Heart of Education”. I took photos of all of their work and was so impressed by not only their levels of talent but also their thought processes. This was one of my favorites:
The students embraced the notion of role model, motivator, friend, and embracing differences as we build better schools. I was very touched by a number of the personal narratives including this one that spoke to the value and importance of education:
Some very powerful words shared by a middle school student who sees value in her education despite some of the familiar influences that might detract her from reaching her goals. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the significant role all educators play as leaders for positive change that can drastically improve the life chances of students.