Kids These Days

It’s Sunday morning, the sun is shining, I just finished a run with a friend, I have Starbucks in hand and my kids are off on a weekend adventure with their grandparents so one would think that my head would be full of positive thoughts.  For the most part it is, yet there is this nagging topic I feel compelled to write about.  So, unlike most of my blog posts, this one may come across as more of a rant.

So – here’s what’s on my mind…  I have this little pet peeve, and I just can’t shake it.  Like my otherwise calm neighbour who becomes a different person when he’s on the road with ‘bad drivers’, I find I can feel my blood boil when a certain expression arises.  There is nothing that frustrates me more than the moment when you are mid conversation with other adults and someone says “Kids these days,” assuming everyone will nod in agreement supporting the notion that society is doomed with today’s youth.

To be fair, I understand why the general population may have a poor impression of youth.  I get it. Bad news sells and it is far more likely that criminal activity or social disruption will dominate the headlines.  This notion isn’t true just for teens, it’s true for all ages and an unfortunate reality of the way we allow media to be portrayed.  Believe me, if a newspaper or TV network decided to cover only positive news stories, or the triumph and heroes that emerge with each disaster I would be the first to subscribe.

I also get that I often find myself in conversation with my neighbours, who are truly wonderful people, but whose careers offer a different perspective.  I have re-named our street emergency row as our street would vacate quickly if our city had a crisis as each house seems to have either a fireman, police officer, paramedic or hazmat team member.  With these industries responding to crises, I understand that they are not able to get an accurate perception of average kids or teens.

I understand that my view is also limited in scope as I have not researched all trends in youth behaviour, however I can speak confidently about the type of kids I get to work with on a regular basis.  As a vice principal, part of my job includes the responsibility of student discipline. Yet, unlike the movies would suggest, discipline does not dominate the day.  Why?  Two reasons really.  First of all, we don’t have many kids misbehaving.  Second, when we do, we see it as an opportunity for the student to learn from the situation, repair relationships and leave the situation strengthened so they are unlikely to find themselves in the same situation again.  Our schools are not plagued by bad kids.  We have great kids, who just like adults make some mistakes.  More often than not, it is hurt kids who hurt other kids.  Getting to the root of what is driving their behaviour and helping them heal allows our kids to learn from their mistakes and move forward.

So, if my day is not spent dealing with rowdy teenagers reeking havoc, then what are our teens really like?  This year, I worked the first half of the school year at Dr. Charles Best in Coquitlam, and the second half of the year at Thomas Haney in Maple Ridge.  In June I was fortunate to be part of two graduation ceremonies recognizing the accomplishments of the amazing kids leaving school ready to embrace the world.

When I look at our graduates, here is what I see:  They are fun, they are polite, they are intelligent, they are curious and they embrace the world beyond high school with a sense of curiosity and composure unlike when I was in school.  Unlike the past, they understand that they will likely have multiple career paths and the job they make end up in may not even exist today.  They are technologically savvy, the understand that the questions are just as important as the answers, and they embrace that learning is a lifelong process, rather than a rite of passage they have now completed.  They love their friends, family and community.  They balance the challenges of social media and live with both the communication and connection benefits that it brings, but also the exposure and immediacy that it offers.  When I think back to my own teenage years I can only imagine how different things would have been if every one of my friends had a phone in their pocket with a built in camera and access to the internet.  Let’s just say I’m happy my close friends knew some things about me that we didn’t capture on film and share with the world! I’m sure most adults can relate!

If we look to statistics, the Mcleary Foundation confirms that youth today are far less likely to smoke than youth a decade ago, 84% are in good or excellent health, drug use is not on the rise, and pregnancy rates are stable at less than 2%.  Major injuries have declined and most injuries that occur happen during sports.  Statistics Canada confirms that crime rates continue to decline across Canada, reaching a new low matching levels not seen since 1972. BC has the second lowest youth crime rate in the country with rates falling since 1991.  A study conducted by the BC Ministry and Representative for Children and Youth concludes less than 2% of children regularly present intensive behaviour challenges in schools.  However, children who have been abused become twice as likely to commit crimes, again confirming the notion that kids who  act out may be doing so based on their own hurt.  When our schools and families teach social emotional learning as well as curriculum we can help all students flourish.  We truly have great kids.

Kids today have a sense of responsibility far greater in scope than when I graduated.   They are global citizens, care deeply about recycling, volunteering, taking care of the environment and giving back to the less fortunate.  The kids I worked with this year spent time giving back at local elementary schools, homeless shelters, seniors homes, community events, sporting events and hospitals.  Many have helped raise funds through organizations such as Me to We helping impoverished nations, and some have even travelled to developing countries to help build schools and improve the access to clean water.  They smile, use manners and open doors for people.

As an example of what kids are really like, I’ve included links to two student blogs.

Selin Jessa, a graduate from Dr. Charles Best, is making headway around the world with her scientific research and commitment to leaving the world in an even better place than she found it.  Her blog ‘Thinking Out Loud’ gives a glimpse at her impressive journey.

Miranda Tymoschuk, a grade 11 student at Thomas Haney has overcome more adversity than any child should have to face, yet she uses it as motivation to improve conditions for others.  Please click here to see her story and her current fundraising efforts. http://ilaughlovedream.blogspot.ca

While these two students are the outliers with phenomenal accomplishments, they are not alone.  During graduation ceremonies, the grads from Dr. Charles Best and Thomas Haney were recognized for their accomplishments in academics, athletics, the arts, and in service, earning an impressive scholarship total of over one million dollars.

I am humbled to work with today’s youth as I get to learn from them as much as they learn from us.  Our kids are great.  Canada continues to be ranked as one of the top three education systems in the world, and we continue to focus on educating both the mind and the heart.   Our schools, our parents, and our communities are doing a great job. Unfortunately, that’s the news that doesn’t always make the headlines.  However, this is the story we should be telling.   Next time you are mid-conversation and someone mutters the expression “Kids these days,” please do me a favour, and  respond by saying, “Yes, they are pretty amazing aren’t they!”

OK – enough of my rant.  I’m off to enjoy this amazing sunny Sunday.

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The Bullying Games: An Inspiring and Creative Approach

Imagine a world in the future, where bullying ceases to exist.  Where those who commit a bullying crime are brought before a panel for two purposes: first to understand their own past and why they acted out towards another, and second, to make things right and apologize for the hurt they have caused.  Imagine a society that cares not only about the bullied, but about the bullies, wanting both sides to heal from the hurt. Imagine a world where everyone plays a role, and helps support one another, so we can recognize the unique and wonderful qualities that exist in each of us.  Imagine.

Last night, for two hours, I had the pleasure of living in this world.  Like a great movie that transforms you from realty, The Bullying Games fast forwarded the audience into the future, into a world where bullying is dealt with effectively.  Built on the premise of The Hunger Games, competing teams spoke of their crimes and competed with one another for the ultimate prize. Compassion, teamwork, understanding and forgiveness moved teams forward as they resolved realistic bullying issues. For two amazing hours, the cast of The Bullying Games entertained and educated their audience, challenging each person to act as a positive force.  While last night was the last scheduled performance of this amazing youth production, their was a buzz in the air as the show concluded.  The standing ovation marked the closing, yet the voices of the crowd repeatedly suggested that this must be a beginning.

Personally, I feel The Bullying Games is the most positive, effective, creative and inspiring approach to bullying that I have seen.  There is a synergy that exists when people come together focused on making a positive difference.  This production is the result of an inspiring story, where students and adults work together to create magic.

The story began with an amazing teacher, Dean Whitson, who wanted to engage his leadership students in a real project where they could develop leadership skills while making a positive difference.  The students and teacher participated in We Day in Vancouver, and left feeling inspired to do something in their community.  They decided to tackle the issue of bullying and began to brainstorm ideas.  Together, they decided that pink T-shirts were not enough, and they decided that they wanted to focus on the positive rather than the ‘Anti’ in Anti-Bullying Day.  With passion and excitement, they crafted up an idea where they could engage an entire school district to work together to create a production of music, martial arts, dance and song with a motivating, thought-provoking and informative look at bullying from both sides.

To begin, the class created Love is Louder Than Bullying shirts.  The leadership students then travelled to schools in Port Moody, Port Coquitlam, and Coquitlam, mentoring other leadership students who took the lead selling the shirts at their schools.  Thousands of shirts were sold.  With the profit made from shirt sales, the students hired a production company, ABC Let’s Act, to write and direct a play on bullying.  However, in the spirit of inclusion and realism, the students took further steps, to interview middle and high school students around the district to share what bullying really looks like.  They then shared their research with the Director, Mandy Tulloch, who then created a meaningful script.  Mandy opened auditions to all SD43 students and selected a phenomenal cast ranging from age 11-18 from a variety of schools, showcasing the amazing talent of youth in the community.  The final product was an absolutely brilliant production, entertaining and educating the audience through music, song and martial arts.

I love The Bullying Games for so many reasons.  Here are a few:

  • It demonstrates the magic that can happen when we work together
  • It started as idea, and gained momentum involving schools from all levels
  • It celebrates the talent of youth in the community
  • It recognizes that bullies and the bullied are both the victims, and sends powerful messages to both sides
  • It began as an idea, motivated not by political campaigns but by the genuine passion of youth wanting to make a difference
  • It is research based, dealing with real issues that kids face
  • It educates and inspires change, through entertainment
  • It teaches leadership skills to youth in a fun, engaging format
  • It is preventative rather than reactive
  • It is age appropriate for students K-12

While last night was the final performance, I cannot help but wonder if the momentum will continue.  The Bullying Games is simply too good to be over.  It is something that every child in BC should see.  Hopefully, the stars will continue to align, and that will become a possibility.

Imagine a world in the future where bullying ceases to exist.  Imagine a society that cares not only about the bullied, but about the bullies, wanting both sides to heal from the hurt. Imagine a world where everyone plays a role, and helps support one another, so we can recognize the unique and wonderful qualities that exist in each of us.  Imagine.  How do we get there?  The Bullying Games is a fantastic start.

I offer my sincere congratulations to the students, staff and community members who worked together to create such a magical and inspiring project.  For more information on The Bullying Games, contact Dean Whitson (dwhitson@sd43.bc.ca) at Terry Fox Secondary.

Love Is Louder Than Bullying: Why I Believe in Restorative Justice

Mother Teresa once said “If you hold an anti-war rally, I shall not attend.  If you hold a peace-rally invite me.”  As we approach Anti-Bullying day, I am hopeful that we will use the day to reflect and think of our own actions, and what we can do to model appropriate behavior.  I wish that we could re-frame the day with a new label, focusing on the behaviors we want to see.

As an educator I am hesitant to say I don’t like the term anti-bullying because I worry others will misunderstand my intention.  In no way do I support bullying behavior, however I am an advocate for positive approaches to behavior where the goal is to repair harm rather than assign blame.   Why?  I think Todd Whitaker answers it best in this video clip “What Great Teachers Do Differently”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXCl2fMsdTU

Put simply, hurt kids will hurt other kids.  If we focus on punishing the child, we teach shame and the chance of that student hurting others rises.  When we label students as bullies we focus our efforts on determining who is guilty and who is innocent.  This stems from our criminal justice system so it is a natural way of thinking for most of us.  However, I challenge you to ask yourself this: Do you believe our criminal justice system strengthens individuals and helps improve their skills before reintegrating them into society? I’m assuming most of you will answer no.

Last Friday I had the privilege of presenting a workshop on Restorative Justice during a professional development conference.  As a teacher, counselor, parent and administrator I am a huge supporter or restorative approaches as a method of responding to behavior.  Restorative Justice is a model based on control theory, which centers around the belief that the only person’s behavior that we can truly control is our own.

To help explain the model, I will use a real example that I helped mediate between two students (though I will change the names).

Sally came to the office to report her wallet stolen from the school change room.  She hadn’t locked up her belongings and when she returned from PE her wallet was gone and her bus pass and money were missing.  After looking at the security cameras we developed a list of students who went in and out of the change room during that period.  Through conversation with Amy, a student who should not have been in the change room that block, we were able to determine that Amy had taken the wallet.

From a punitive perspective our goal would be to determine:

-What rule has been broken (respecting others property)

-Who is guilty? (Amy)

-What the consequence should be (likely a suspension)

From a restorative perspective our goal would be to determine:

-Who has been harmed? (Sally)

-What relationships have been damaged? (Sally and Amy’s, Amy and the school as trust has been broken, etc)

-How can relationships be repaired? (Amy taking responsibility, Amy accepting a related consequence, Amy understanding the impact her actions had on Sally and the school.

-How can Amy learn from this situation and return to the group strengthened?

In this particular situation, I will never forget the impact the mediation had.  Amy agreed to return the wallet, but had already spent the money.  She was in ministry care and struggled to come up with the funds.  Rather than having her re-pay Sally, the school offered to re-pay Sally while Amy volunteered time at the school to pay back the school.  Amy also met with our liaison officer to understand the severity of shoplifting or stealing from others.  However, the most powerful moment came when I brought the two girls together.  Amy was able to apologize for her actions, but also explain why she had made such a bad decision based on her financial situation.  Sally was able to accept the apology, but also explain to Amy that her family had struggled financially throughout her childhood.  She was able to explain the choices she had made rather than stealing.  Watching the girls talk openly, they were able to understand more about one another.  Sally got her money back and Amy was able to take responsibly and return to the group strengthened.  Amy did not steal from students again the rest of her days in high school.

Tomorrow is anti-bullying day.  I challenge you to see the day in a positive light. Remember that as adults, we are all teachers.  When we see bullying, let’s focus on the teachable moment to strengthen our children rather than focusing our energy on assigning blame.  As coined by the Coquitlam School District, “Love is Louder Than Bullying”.