What We Are Looking For?

“Many men go fishing all of their lives, without knowing it is not the fish they are after.” (Henry David Thoreau)
Hi, Everyone!

So it is the first week of February 2019; February 7th to be exact. Likely an obscure day on the calendar unless you are Teri Jackson of New Prospect Elementary School in Dryden; or possibly Darry Sittler fans of Toronto Maple Leaf fame!? The former captain of the NHL team setting a record on this date years ago when he scored 10 points in one game, a record probably never to be broken.

But, it also seemed to be an excellent time to send some thoughts out to all of you, as we head into the second weekend of February following two weeks of what some may consider the most brutal and harsh winter weather we have had in years. And of course, others might make the case…that several days in a row of pushing -50, followed by a foot of snow was good old fashioned Northern Ontario weather. Me, well I guess I see it both ways. Yes, it reminded me of growing up in Northern Ontario, on cold days when I would put my skates on at the house, actually skate down the middle of Gunne Crescent in Kenora to Pinecrest Rink (the old outdoor rink in my neighbourhood now gone having been replaced by a parking lot of all things) to wait for the inevitable signal to come home, the doorlight flicking by Dad. But not before of course freezing my face, and having tried to play hockey with the “big kids.”

And there last week as I was driving by Gordon Lake on the TransCanada highway between Kenora and Vermilion Bay on route to Thunder Bay, my temperature reading -51 on the screen of my truck, all I could think of was “This may be Northern Ontario, but this is cold; like insanely cold”. Hearing on the radio that Northwestern Ontario that day was, in fact, the coldest place on earth as both Antarctica and the North Pole were a balmy -30, did not me feel any better about where I was. The interesting thing though about these drives between our communities, which you have all done and which absolutely come with the territory in this job as DOE, also as I have said many times give pause to think about things. About many things I guess.

Wintertime with its cold days shortened by daylight can be tough for people for many reasons. It can be tough on equipment, it can be tough on energy levels, and it can be tough on our emotions. I see it when I go visit schools and staffs, and when I talk to people around the district. And you know what…it doesn’t matter who you are or what title and role you have, certainly not your income, and social status…we all face challenges. It’s just that this time of year can be really tough. Add to that, that many of you work in the most difficult of assignments, supporting kids and by extension their families in some of the most marginalized communities and environments, and it has the potential to be a recipe for overwhelming and possibly questioning your own optimism.

But here is where we come in, and by we I mean your colleagues, your system, your Senior Administration, and myself as Director.

It’s our job to find the light in the days and remind of you it; even when we may find it hard sometimes to do it for us personally. Frustration over progress not being made on certain things or wishing that specific projects were completed, and not held up; or…maybe even more simply making sure we check that the smallest irritating things which at the time may appear seemingly bigger than they are, are in fact quite small. Admittedly, I can do that myself on occasion; I know. But what prompted me to put these thoughts out to you at this time, was not a solicitation for feedback on the Strategic Plan or a statement on Kindergarten Registration Week (both very important though!!); but rather a recognition that even during the coldest and hardest months of the year, there is inspiration out there and motivation that should make you feel good about things. In the last three weeks, I have been able to read to several classes at Valleyview Public School, visit classrooms in Ignace and Upsala, catch some high school basketball, and probably the most enjoyable experience this last while, take part in the KPDSB first-ever systemwide book study. I like books, and those around me know I have a few of them (although I am sure they question whether I actually read them, or are they there for cosmetics?!). My problem is that I typically have several on the go at one time; yes Gorbachev is still “there”!

Sometimes the best things in your day, aren’t the detailed and planned-out meetings, or conference calls…(note: sarcasm); or even attending an event that celebrates the work you have been doing. Sometimes the best things I have found, are simply being around other people and listening to them and their stories, their experiences, their views. And sometimes, most times recently, these experiences have been inspiring to me. I didn’t sign up to be part of a book study because I was expecting to be inspired, but that is what is happening. You should hear your colleagues!!! I didn’t expect to meet students at the University of Toronto this year, who are attending courses on “educational leadership and change” who would inspire me, but that is precisely what has happened. And I didn’t know how a new Board of Trustees coming in could represent the kind motivation that this system can thrive from, with new ideas and views on Reconciliation and the future, but that is what is happening right before our eyes.

Thoreau’s quip at the beginning of my post is a favourite for me. Not because I love fishing, which I do; but because after being in this role in KPDSB for the past six years now, I realize that we are not just looking to teach and learn, but maybe, more importantly, we are looking to be inspired. The most memorable moments this year, and in years past weren’t looking at data, or spreadsheets, or even doing a mid-year check-in. They were watching people and listening to their stories. Thoreau kind of suggests that we spend our entire lives unsure of what we are looking for and maybe he was right. But on this February 7th, 2019, to me I think I have realized that we want to be inspired, to be better, to do better and to make the lives of those around us even more extraordinary. I don’t think anyone gets up in the morning intending on having the worst day they can; they want to see people smiling around them, and maybe, more importantly, they want to know they can make someone smile too. 😊

Please think about this and take note today that the sun is up a bit longer than yesterday, those days are stretching out, and you are one month away from March Break. And from me to you, inspire and be inspired!
Have a great day!

Sean

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