Connecting the Dots on Environmentalism #cisva

I feel I’ve been inundated for years with environmental messages about how my comfortable/decadent/wasteful lifestyle is contributing to the heating of the Earth and the gradual destruction of mankind.  While I have always known that I should be respectful of creation and a good steward of resources, I was always turned off by the radical nature of the stereotypical environmentalist and had a hard time signing on to that kind of movement.

A couple of years ago Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudatio Si helped to bring the issue of environmentalism into a context that I could relate to a little better.  Our school started a garden to help children get in touch with nature and sustainable food practices.  We began composting food waste at school.  We replaced inefficient windows with new ones.  All of this is well and good, but it still wasn’t personal.

It wasn’t until my amazing wife got me to watch a documentary on Netflix that I began to see how my own personal choices were having a real impact on the lives of ordinary people in the developing world.  The True Cost, a 2015 documentary by director Andrew Morgan, examines the fashion industry and how “fast fashion” has transformed how we shop, think of ourselves, and how our choices have a worldwide impact.  From the psychology of shopping to pesticides on cotton farms in India, this documentary connects the dots on human rights, environmentalism, and consumerism that lead directly back to me.  Our family has changed its shopping habits and as a result are living a slightly more peaceful, minimalist, and meaningful life.

I highly recommend this documentary to every family and high school Christian Education class.

Thanks for reading!

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The Root of Wisdom is Humility

I’ve been re-reading a book by Peter Kreeft entitled Philosophy 101 by Socrates.  As was the case the first time I read the book, I am surprised by the simplicity of Socrates teaching.  When I picture in my mind a “philosopher”, simplicity is not on my list of imagined attributes.  Nevertheless, Kreeft and Socrates make an amazing case for humility and simplicity being at the very heart of philosophy and ethics.

Lesson number one in the book is a famous line of reasoning by Socrates that goes something like “There are two types of people in the world; the foolish who think themselves wise and the wise who know that they are foolish.”  Socrates came to this understanding when a friend of his asked the Oracle of Delphi if anyone in the world had more wisdom than Socrates.  When the Oracle replied that there wasn’t, Socrates began his lifelong quest to discern the meaning of this riddle.  He knew many men far “wiser” than he so what could the Oracle possibly mean?

Socrates came to the conclusion that the beginning of wisdom is simply knowing that you do not know.  Letting go of your own presumed wisdom and arrogance opens one’s mind to realities that are right in front of our eyes but that we have always been too proud to see.  If this sounds familiar you may also have heard a similar message from Jesus Christ.  Like Socrates, Jesus’ teaching was simple.  Though he was the wisest and most knowledgeable man ever (all-knowing in fact), he never presumed to speak down to his friends.  Instead, through stories, questions, and personal example he prodded his followers to come to their own conclusion that is surrendering to humility and love that we gain access to true wisdom and freedom.

It is beautiful to consider how God has unveiled this simple but beautiful wisdom through the ages from Socrates, to Plato, to Aristotle, to Jesus, to Paul, to Thomas Aquinas and many many others throughout history.

Thanks for reading!  I hope to write many more blogs this summer!

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Why can’t kids get along? #cisva

My kids will sometimes ask me “Dad, why is there war in the world?  Why can’t people just get along?”  In response I say, “Why do you fight with your brother?  Why can’t you just get along?  If you can’t along with your brother whom you love and know personally, how can you expect strangers whose families and cultures have clashed for centuries to get along?”

The same is true in school.  Parents will often ask, “Why are kids so mean to each other?”  If we can’t relate to each other as parents, how can we possibly expect our children to be able to relate to each other?  I know first-hand just how difficult it can be.  One time one of my kids had an issue with friends at school.  I knew the right thing to do was to talk to the parents about it, but it was hard to pick up the phone.  I was so afraid of sounding judgemental, or being judged, that I was close to changing my mind.  I did end up making those calls and guess what?  The other parents were great!  They listened and we talked about the challenges of being a parent.  We didn’t necessarily fix everything for our kids, but at least we kept open our lines of communication and built empathy among each other.  What if that call hadn’t gone well?  It would have hurt my feelings and damaged my ego, but at least I’d know why our kids can’t get along and appreciate my child’s experience even more!

I often tell people that our children are a reflection of the very best, and the very worst, of us.  While I do see the mean behaviours at school sometimes, they are exponentially outnumbered by the good I see every day.  The overwhelming majority of our students are empathetic, understanding, compassionate, and kind most of the time.  Each day I witness acts of kindness and love between students that melt my heart.  God’s grace is active in our school and I see it alive in our students.

If your child has done something mean, or if something mean has been done to them; take heart.  There is compassion and understanding all around us if we look for it.  As long as we as parents can model empathy and communication, our children will be resilient and get through the hard times.  The challenges are just one small chapter in the story of their journey to sainthood.

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Moral Virtue and Parking Lot Safety #cisva

I had a really interesting conversation with the Grade 6 class today.  I asked them “Why should we do what is right?”

Their answers were great.  They included: “because God gave us free will and by doing what is right we are being who he has called us to be”, “because even if no one else knows we should do what is right”, and “because if you are a good person you should just want to do what is right”.  Aristotle would be pleased.   He defines moral virtue as a disposition to behave in the right manner.  In short, good people desire to do the right thing simply because they are good people.

At school, we try to instruct the children to do what is right because it is the right thing to do; the proper use of the gift of free will from God.  We also teach them that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.

When I was a child I would not have been able to give answers nearly as good as the students in Grade Six.  In Grade Two I learned the Act of Contrition which, at that time, was not simplified in children’s language.  One very memorable line states “I detest all my sins because of your just punishments.”  When I was a child, the main reason I did what was right was that I was literally scared to death to get in trouble!  This was an immature, albeit relatively effective, moral code.

Within the context of this discussion of moral virtue let us turn our attention to the epicentre of ethical dilemmas; our school parking lot.  Why should you drive slowly?  Why should you not double park?  Why should you drive in the right direction?  Why should you use the crosswalk?  The immature responses would include “so you don’t get in trouble from Miss Easterbrook” or “so nobody gets hurt.”  These reasons are limited but true and good.  Even better reasons would be “it contributes to safety and order” or “it sets a good example for the kids.”  The best answer would be “because it’s the right thing to do.”

Whatever the reason; fear of punishment, safety, or moral virtue, it is time to step up as a community be safe in the parking lot.  Please drive slowly.  Please only park in designated parking spots and do not double park.  If being good for the sake of being good is not reason enough, consider the little girl in Toronto who died in the school drop-off zone this week.  For every reason, being safe in the parking lot is the right thing to do.

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We More We Email, Tweet, and Blog, the Less We Seem to Connect #cisva

When I took the position as Principal at Cloverdale Catholic School almost nine years ago the school had a weekly newsletter and a website.  Today, we have a Facebook page, Twitter account, Google Calendar, modernized website, teacher blog pages, Mailchimp mailouts, Class Dojo, a Principal blog, and other forms of electronic communication.  Communications from the school to home have never been more frequent, but sometimes things feel “less connected” somehow.

Modern communications have a way of doing that.  Even though we communicate more often, we can be made to feel lonely and disconnected from each other.  I think part of the reason is the “surface level” nature of our communications.  An email or tweet doesn’t convey the body language or emotion of a real conversation.  Even a printed calendar from the “old days” carries more depth of meaning than a Google Calendar.  The printed word has tangible, visible, homey qualities that make it more meaningful and experiential.  You can show it to people, pin it to the wall, and hold it in your hand.  Modern communications offer little of that experience.

Maybe I’m just getting old.  Perhaps there are parents reading this who roll their eyes and are used to and like the way things are.  For now, I will endeavour to rekindle that old feeling of real communication while also staying on top of the latest in communications technology.  This is a period of change not just for our school, but for society.  We have to embrace the best of the modern world without losing touch with what makes us who we are as a community.  Let’s start by talking.  If you ever want to know something, have a concern, or just want to talk, please stop by the office to say hello!

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Crossing the “Trust Threshold” #cisva

I’m working on articulating a relationship theory I have called the “trust threshold.”  The trust threshold is the point at which one’s trust in another is greater than their skepticism and a person lets go of doubts and fears and is willing to work together despite challenges and setbacks.  Allow me to explain with an example.

Joan, a parent of a student in Grade Seven, had negative school experiences herself.  Her son has a learning disability and she has never felt he received the kind of instruction and support in school that he really needed.  She approaches the upcoming school year with skepticism and doubt about whether this year’s teacher will be any different.  To start the school year Joan is negative about homework, notes from the teacher, and stories from her child about the school day.  Over time, however, she sees positive results in her child’s attitude towards school and academic achievement.  Joan’s receptiveness towards the teacher and the school starts to change and she opens up to the same feedback she was receiving to start the year.  Occasionally there is critical feedback on student work or bad news from the teacher, but now that Joan has crossed the “trust threshold”, she sees these pieces of information in a new light.  She trusts the teacher more than she doubts him, and all feedback is accepted in a constructive light.

This scenario plays itself out in all areas of life including parenting, police/community relations, politics, church communities, even marriage.  Once we cross the trust threshold we can be more open, more creative, and more accepting of new and different ideas.  The important question is, how do we get across the trust threshold when often so much bad has happened that prevents us from doing so?

I believe the first step is listening with humility.  Usually in a relationship that lacks trust at least one side has been burned in the past and has their defences up.  In a school setting when encountering an upset parent, it would be easy for me as a Principal to think to myself, “Oh boy.  Here comes another angry parent!  These people drive me crazy!”  If that is my thought going into a conversation, I will not have the humility to really listen to what these people have to say and let down my defenses.  To build trust, at least one side has to let down their defenses and be humble enough to listen.  Even if the claims or demands of the other side seem unreasonable, they are very real and reasonable to them and based on experiences and emotions they really feel.  Listening with humility opens the door to trust.

The second step is building off of small successes.  We need to celebrate successes so we can join together in seeing that our efforts are making a difference.  If we only focus on negatives it will be difficult to cross the trust threshold.  When I say small successes I really mean it.  Even being able to look each other in the eye and greet one another kindly can be a start in some circumstances.  In other instances, living up to an agreed upon commitment may be an example of success.  Eventually we can look at results for successes, but if we do so too early we may see more negative than positive and move in the wrong direction.  Building a relationship of trust starts with the small things.

Once the trust threshold has been crossed, one can allow for mistakes and failures and they will not set us back too far.  We know that the other person is listening with humility.  We have experienced success together.  When setbacks do occur, they can be seen in the bigger picture of past success.

What will this look like in real life?  Once the police have crossed the threshold with their community, young people will not feel scared when approached.  Once a politician has crossed the trust threshold he or she can propose a policy without a revolt from his constituents.   Once a parent has crossed the threshold with their child’s teacher, they will not dread getting a note or email from the school.  Once a principal has crossed the threshold in his school community he doesn’t avoid certain people or situations.

It is my sincere belief that one of the most important reasons for the success and growth of Cloverdale Catholic School is that a great deal of our community has crossed the trust threshold with each other.  A great many of our students, parents and staff relate exceptionally well to one another and there is an overall atmosphere of trust.  If you feel like that’s not the case for you, please do stop by to talk in person as I’d love to hear from you and for us to make a fresh start.

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Social Media: The Modern Day Forbidden Fruit for Teens #cisva

As a Grade Seven teacher for ten years, a principal for eight years, and a parent of 3 (almost 4) teenagers, I have seen my share of online behaviour.  I can say with confidence that access to social media is one of the greatest sources of anxiety, temptation, and pressure there is for teens.  At this age kids are seeking (sometimes desperately) approval, acceptance, and affirmation.  They are often unsure of their identity (Who am I?  Why do I matter?  Where do I belong?) and will look anywhere for it.  Social Media sites and apps provide what appears to be the perfect forum to answering these questions.

Just as the apple in the story of Adam and Eve truly gave knowledge of good and evil, social media does indeed give knowledge to our kids.  Like Adam and Eve, however, it is not knowledge and access that they are ready for or meant to have.  In having it, they get exactly what they want but rather than bringing them fulfillment, confidence, and peace, they are left feeling empty, lost, and often abused.

As well-intentioned and involved as parents are, they are often the last to know about what their kids are really doing online.  It is not that trusting your kids is bad, but is just so EASY and so TEMPTING for kids to hide certain aspects of their online lives.  In many cases kids have not themselves done anything wrong, but they hide bad things they see because they don’t want their parents to get involved or become more diligent in their observation of their online activity.  In other cases kids are too ashamed or embarrassed to tell their parents what they have seen or done online.

This year the teachers and I want to take a much more positive and proactive approach to this problem.  In the coming weeks we will be sending home more information and a social media contract you can discuss and sign with your child.  Our hope is that, together, we can help our kids build their self-esteem and grow to be the confident, capable, and holy young men and women God wants them to be.

Thanks for your involvement and if you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave a comment below.  You can also check out this excellent website for more information https://www.commonsensemedia.org/social-media/age/tweens.

Thanks for reading!

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