Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Monday, 27 October 2014

It's the Little Things...

          This past Friday I attended the "Connecting Leaders Symposium on Mental Health" which was jointly sponsored by the BC School Centred Mental Health Coalition (BCSCMHC) http://www.schoolmentalhealth.ca and the BC Principals and Vice-Principals Association (BCPVPA). The opening keynote by Dr. Connie Coniglio provided some eye opening statistics about the prevalence of mental health disorders amongst children and youth. As well, Bill Naughton, the Associate Deputy Representative for Children and Youth, outlined the enormously vulnerable status of children in care, and specifically some of our aboriginal youth. What became increasingly apparent as the day progressed, is the integral role that school communities play in supporting children and families who are coping with mental health issues.
          Regardless of the individual session or speaker, the essential message remained the same:
The more connected a child feels to their school, the better they do. 
In addition to larger scale provincial and district initiatives and programs, it became clear that in many cases it's the "little things" that can also make a significant difference in the life of a child. As essential as these larger initiatives are, it's the individual, personal relationships and connections that are formed with teachers, administrators, coaches, counsellors, janitorial and support staff that provide our most vulnerable students with the guidance, stability and support needed to overcome some of the obstacles that can be associated with mental illness. The culmination of numerous positive interactions with a caring adult can sometimes be far more impactful than a more formal program or workshop. As well, symposium presenters emphasized the need to foster resiliency and mental health in youth by taking an "asset based" approach that focuses on inner strengths rather than on apparent deficiencies.
          So while we have a responsibility to provide focussed, targeted programs to support children and youth who are struggling with mental health issues, educators can also provide invaluable support by consciously nurturing the numerous impactful relationships that are so essential in a vibrant and welcoming school community.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Exceeding Our Capacity

          I love the complexity of the English language, that a single word can have numerous connotations and nuances. "Capacity" is one such word. The dictionary provides several definitions for capacity, including:
  1. The maximum amount that something can contain.
  2. The amount that something can produce. 
  3. The innate potential for growth, development, or accomplishment.  
          With an ever expanding student population, it can certainly be argued that Sullivan Heights Secondary has reached its capacity. As a 'bricks and mortar' institution, there is quite literally no more room. Ever classroom, every common area, every portable and prep area is filled to the brim. Filled to capacity. And beyond. So that's definition #1 taken care of. 
          But here's the remarkable part. As we have reached the limits of the physical capacity of our building, the capacity of our staff has expanded exponentially. In the past several years, Sullivan Heights has undergone significant growth and transition. In an earlier blog post "Transforming Challenge into Innovation", I reflected on the remarkable resiliency of our school community to adapt and thrive despite challenging circumstances.  http://teachergarr.blogspot.ca/2014/04/transforming-challenge-into-innovation.html
          This year, with a student population of over 1400, our teaching staff has grown significantly as well. Fortunately, with the continued support of our administration, our Learning Partners department, which facilitates peer-mentoring, collaboration and teacher inquiry has also expanded this year. I am pleased to say that our team now consists of eighteen members, from ten different departments. Some of our members are veteran educators, moving through their last few years before retirement, whereas others are new to the profession, embarking on their first year of teaching. Our team also reflects an impressive range of skills sets and interests. And it is within this context that the last two definitions of capacity are key. Because our additional students require additional support. And in order to meet the diverse and complex social, emotional and educational needs of our students, our teachers also need support. 
          And so, despite reaching, even exceeding, the physical capacity of our building, the capacity of our teaching staff to support one another is seemingly limitless. Even with an enormously challenging start to the school year, these eighteen individuals have volunteered to make themselves available to their colleagues as mentors, collaborators and facilitators of teacher inquiry. I feel remarkably privileged to work alongside educational professionals who are dedicated to supporting their fellow teachers as they rise to the challenge of meeting the diverse educational needs of our ever expanding student population. 
          Without a doubt, Sullivan Heights has reached, even exceeded, its physical capacity. We are a school community that is experiencing tremendous growth, with all of its associated challenges: burgeoning classrooms, crowded hallways and stretched resources. But with the continued, combined support of our teachers, administrators, support staff, students, parents and community partners, I would argue that in fact the "capacity" of our school may indeed be, limitless.