What’s Right With Our Schools

I have a great job that I love. As a vice principal in a school with over 1300 students and 100 staff, each day is a unique and rich experience. To be honest, I never know exactly what to expect. On paper, my job is a blend of educational leadership and management tasks. In reality, it is much more.  Each day I get to be a teacher, a learner, a counsellor, a volunteer, a mentor, a mentee, an event planner, a facilitator, and a member of an exciting and thriving community. I get to see amazing teachers guide students through well-crafted lessons and I get to see students reach new milestones and accomplish learning goals. I get to walk through hallways that are bustling with vibrant culture celebrating arts, athletics, citizenship, and academics. I see students develop character, take responsibility and make positive contributions both in an out of school. I fall asleep at night knowing my own children are in great hands, and I understand why BC’s education system continually ranks as one of the very best in the world.  I am grateful for the vantage point I have though I don’t think we take enough time to tell others what is right with our schools. 

Think back to the last time you experienced poor customer service. How many people did you tell?  If you are like most, it is likely that you shared this poor experience with others, either because of your outrage or because you wanted to save your friends and family from going through what you went through.  As a society, we pay attention to negative experiences as they conflict with our value system and therefore arouse emotion.  When we turn on the evening news, or pick up  the morning paper, it is easy to feel depressed and wonder what the world is coming to as bad news stories seem to dominate the airtime and the front page. Unfortunately, bad news sells. To find the good news stories, we need wait until later in the news broadcast, or we need to flip the pages in the newspaper to discover what’s inside.

I am grateful that I get to flip those pages, and see what’s actually inside our BC public schools.  Through the eyes of the media, our schools are struggling.  Top stories include labour disputes, financial cuts, schools closures, lack of services or social issues such as bullying.  In no way do I mean to undermine these issues, as I am passionate about education and want what is best for our students and our staff.  These concerns need to be addressed though they need not shadow what is right with our schools.  Our  public schools have amazing strengths and successes that deserve just as much, if not more attention.

We have fabulous teachers.  I am inspired each day by the creativity, commitment and genuine love our teachers bring to their job.  Teachers volunteer time before and after school, take work home in the evening, continue to learn and grow as professionals and develop amazing lessons where our students get to learn and discover.  Our teachers do so much more than teach curriculum.  They embrace ‘teachable moments’ that cannot be planned, where circumstances of the day yield valuable lessons.   They care deeply for students and open up their hearts, their wallets and their time to create opportunities to enhance students’ experiences. They organize fieldtrips, create hampers for families in need, run extracurricular sports and clubs, offer tutorials, and serve as positive role models to our children.  They are compassionate, positive, and believe in the potential of each and every child.  I’m sure every one of us can think of a teacher who made a lasting positive impression in our life.

 As we move towards a personalized learning approach, parents and students have a variety of choices in education ranging from home schooling, online learning, private school, public school or a variety of blended models.  All models have their strengths, though it is important to recognize that public schools continue to yield amazing results.  Graduation rates continue to rise, and our students rank close to the top on both national and world wide scales.  At the school I work at, over half of our graduates in 2012 graduated with honours. Eighty six students earned provincial scholarships.  In the past two years our grads have won some of the most prestigious scholarships in the country such as the ‘Top 20 under 20’, ‘Loran Scholarship’ and ‘Terry Fox Humanitarian Award’.  Our school is not alone.  Each school has strengths worth recognizing.  Public schools have amazing kids capable of amazing things. 

About five years ago when I was counseling, I had a parent arrive to register her son.  Her family had moved to BC from another country and she had concerns about our school system. She then stated that “the problem with public schools is that we let everyone in”.  You can imagine my dismay.  As a parent and as an educator, I see this as one of our strengths.  Each unique student has a different gift.   Students go to school to learn curriculum but also to learn how to relate with others.  They develop character as they learn to appreciate each other, help one another and work collaboratively. Public school give students an opportunity to fit in with ‘the real world’.   As I watch our students graduate I am inspired and proud of who they have become.  They are socially responsible, creative, innovative, compassionate and ready to make a difference.  I am confident our future will be full of outstanding leaders and citizens. 

It seems that it is a natural phenomenon for each generation to worry about their successors.  Criticism of kids these days is nothing new.  In 400 BC, Socrates said “Children today are tyrants.  They contradict their successors, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.”  I hate to undermine Socrates, but perhaps it’s time we stop stereotyping children through a negative lens.

Next time bad news captures the front page of the paper, I encourage you flip through the pages and dig a little deeper to see what our kids are really about. The further you dig, the more inspired you will be.  Public school is a great place to learn and a great place to work. Let’s start talking about what’s right with our schools.

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