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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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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.

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How a Catholic Worldview Inspires a Catholic School’s Special Education Policy #cisva

Below is the Principal’s Address I gave at our school’s Annual General Meeting from May 24th… 

First I would like to talk about what makes us special.  There all sorts of schools in the province.  There are public schools, private Christian schools, other religious school, private non-religious schools, and other Catholic schools.  What sets Catholic schools, specifically Cloverdale Catholic School, apart from the rest?  What is a worldview? What, specifically, is the Catholic worldview?

At it’s very essence, a Catholic Christian worldview is the worldview of Jesus Christ Himself.  The more we see the world and its inhabitants as Jesus does, the more we are aligned with Christ’s worldview.  How does this differ from the secular worldview?  After all, do we not share the values of the “secular” world; truth, beauty, science, making the world a better place, freedom of speech and tolerance?  First of all, part of the “Catholic intellectual tradition” is to define our terms.  What does a typical secular person mean by words like “truth” and “beauty”?  I’m fairly certain that the Catholic definition of these terms would differ from the secular one.  Nevertheless, let us assume for a moment that we do agree on the definition of these terms.  What then differentiates the “Catholic” worldview from the secular one?

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE VIDEO THAT INSPIRED THIS BLOG

I would argue the fundamental difference is why these things matter.  Beauty, truth, science, the environment etc… do not matter for their own sake.  They matter only insofar as they contribute to our eternal destiny.  Through knowledge of truth we understand the truth of God.  Through appreciation of beauty, we grow in our love of God our creator.  Through environmentalism, we share in God’s gift of creation by caring for our common home.  Through the lens of a Catholic worldview, all aspects shared with a secular reality take on an eternal purpose.  In believing that we are all destined for immortality, we erase the boundaries of class, race, religion, ability, and utility.  In a Catholic worldview we see all people as beautiful, good, and worthy of love not just based on their usefulness and achievement, but because they are children of the King, our creator.  If all ends in death and nothingness, there are human limitations to how far we will go.  With an eternal purpose in mind, or a Catholic Worldview, there are no limits to our love and care.  Not even death can stand against our eternal purpose; to know, love, and serve God and be happy with him in this world and the next.

As an example let me discuss how a Catholic Worldview has influenced how we approach Special Education at Cloverdale Catholic School.  At CCS each and every child is valued and treasured, not because of their potential as learners, athletes, musicians, or future workers, but because they are created in the image and likeness of God.  Therefore when we accept students into our school we do not consider how much their support will cost or how challenging certain behaviours may be.  We accept all children unconditionally.  I am proud of the progress we have made in the area of Special Education.  When I started here 8 years ago we had only a few Special Needs students and only 3 Educational Assistants on staff.  Now, we have 14 designated Special Needs students and 14 Educational Assistants on staff.  We have gained a reputation not necessarily for expertise in the area of Special Education, but in our willingness to love, accept, and support every child and their families unconditionally.

Let me conclude by answering the question that may be in the minds of some; that is great for kids with special needs, but how does it help my child?  First of all, I have seen countless examples of students growing in gentleness, compassion, and acceptance by working daily with kids with challenges.  But I think the real impact is far deeper than that.  What I want for my children is to know deep down that they are loved unconditionally not just by God, but by the adults in their lives who they admire.  What greater way for them to learn this than by seeing unconditional love at school every single day.  They can look around themselves in every single classroom in our school and see that unconditional love at work.  When my child fails a test, loses a game, or makes a stupid mistake they can know that like all the students in the school, without exception, they are loved and valued not because of what they can do, but simply because they are a child of God.

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Play Hard, Play Smart, and Play Together: Sports Philosophy at CCS #CISVA

Our school sports motto is “Play hard, play smart, and play together.”  This motto has served us well over the years and has helped to direct coaches and players in the choices they make.  Living up to this motto is often a challenge as we seek to balance competition with participation, teamwork with personal achievement, humility with confidence.  We are far from perfect, but having a vision of teamwork, thoughtfulness, and effort is helpful at every game and practice.

While I am so grateful for all the parents and staff members who have contributed as coaches over the years, I want to highlight the effort of one special coach in particular.  Tara has been coaching soccer at CCS for many years.  First with her son, then with her daughter, and sometimes when neither of her kids were on a team, Tara has been a consistent and expert coach.  She is always uplifting and constructive.  She never settles for less than everyone’s best effort, but also never stops building up every player’s confidence and self-esteem.  She builds confidence not through shallow or false praise, but through building skills that also translate into real success on the field.  She celebrates every accomplishment, whether it be a championship goal or just being in the right position while the ball is downfield.  Tara is in every way the epitome of what I want in the CCS sports program.

Tara’s commitment to the athletes of CCS is something I will always be grateful for.  I have learned so much from her about what it means to have a team play hard, play smart, and play together and I aspire to be a coach more like her.  Go United!

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Setting Expectations #cisva

A challenging part of being a principal is managing academic expectations.  When set too high, expectations cause frustration and disappointment.  When set too low, expectations can create a culture of mediocrity.  Two things are necessary when it comes to setting appropriate expectations: personalization and moderation.

For Aristotle, all virtues are to be understood as the mean (moderation) between vicious extremes.  Our goal is to be virtuous and avoid the two extremes. We must be diligent and create goals that challenge each learner to be their very best.  At the same time, we must not push too hard, setting expectations that are unrealistic and lead to low self-esteem, frustration, and a loss of the love for learning that is innate in every child.

When it comes to expectations for academic achievement, we can push too hard.  Each student is different and our expectations for each student need to be tailored to their own abilities and goals.  Each child develops differently.  While there are standardized math concepts, sight word lists, and expected “words read per minute” for each age level, these should be taken as rough guidelines and not held as absolute.  It is not much different from developmental milestones like rolling over, crawling, or walking.  Some kids develop later than others and a child that walks at ten months is not necessarily smarter or more athletic as an adult than a child that starts walking at 13 months.  As long as there is consistent improvement there is no need for concern.  The same is generally true for academic milestones.  To demand the impossible from students with challenges in their learning is unfair and disrespectful to them as learners.  We need to meet each child where they are at and tailor their programming and our expectations to their level.

The challenge as a principal is being the person that effectively holds the tension of expectations between the extremes and between all stakeholders.  Parents and teachers sometimes have different expectations based on their own hopes, experiences and knowledge of student development.  Setting expectations for each student that are challenging, fair, and respectful is key to working together as an effective school community.

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Opportunity for Positive Change in Education #cisva

Change is hard in any industry.  What motivates change in business is usually the need to adapt to new markets and technologies to keep up with the demands of consumers.  Some companies, Apple comes to mind, try to be constantly on the cutting edge of change, introducing new ideas before the competition and creating new sources of revenue.  No one knew they needed an iPad until Apple invented it, and now everyone thinks they need one.  However cool and interesting the innovations seem, change in the business world is really done to either hold on to the market share you have or create new ones to achieve one goal: make money.

Education is a different kind of business.  What motivates change in education?  There are conflicting sources to answer this question.  If we go back to Ancient Greece, Aristotle talked about what it meant to live the “good life” as a human being.  To him, the good life meant living the life of a fully developed intellect.  Humans were made to think and understand as fully as possible the transcendental realities of truth, beauty, and goodness.  To him the goal of learning is to develop your mind so that you can be logical, rational, and thoughtful.  To be fully human is to experience this life of the mind.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is an industrial view of education that sees schooling as an opportunity to train for the workplace.  In this view, children go to school to learn the skills and information they need to be productive and positive members of society.  In this view, education is a means to achieve economic prosperity for the individual and for the community.

What I see when I look at the world today is a world that needs a lot more of Aristotle’s view.  God created human beings for so much more than we are demonstrating right now.  One need only look at the U.S. presidential election to see the complete failure of the education system to develop thoughtful, rational voters with an eye for truth, goodness, and beauty.  At the same time, the system hasn’t created much in the way of hard working, resourceful, talented workers either.

If you listen to the BC government’s news releases about the new curriculum, it’s all about getting kids ready for the workforce.  They talk about “the jobs of tomorrow” and “the changing workplace”.  Hearing these words, one would expect that this was an industrial view of education, but really the changes to the curriculum are rooted more in Aristotle’s view than they sound.  The new focus on thinking, communicating, and responsibility has the potential to develop the life of the mind.  The new curriculum represents an opportunity unlike any I’ve seen in my 20 years in education.

As I said at the beginning, change is hard in any industry.  This may be most true in education.  Since we do not and adapt to pursue profits, we need to unite behind a common cause for change.  The new curriculum represents an opportunity to unite behind the pursuit of the life of the mind and developing students’ intellect.  As Catholic schools we can use this new curriculum to refocus on truth, beauty, and goodness.  It will not be a smooth and easy road, as we are all used to things being the way they are.  It will require thoughtfulness, patience, and goodwill from all stakeholders but it will be so worth it!

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Care for Our Common Home (and School) #cisva

The theme for Catholic schools this year is “Care for Our Common Home” based on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si.  The media’s emphasis has been primarily on the natural environmental aspects of Pope Francis’ teachings.  This is good, but Francis has a larger picture in mind.

What Pope Francis is trying to get people to do is to be more caring and mindful of how our actions effect others.  For example, when we pollute, we impact the lives of the poor around the world who are most vulnerable to environmental degradation.  On a very local level, however, we can consider so many of our actions and how they impact those around us in unintentional ways.

One example of how we can show care for our common home is by being safe and setting a good example for our children.  Sure, parking in the wrong direction or crossing not at the crosswalk may not result in immediate harm, but when a child sees an adult they respect do this they learn bad habits.  After seeing speeding drivers and jaywalkers they learn two things: 1) rules are subjective and 2) it’s okay to take risks.

Another seemingly small thing where we can show greater care is uniform policy.  It may seem like no big deal to wear a shirt without a crest or a pair of pants from Walmart, but in doing so you are effecting your child’s view of rules and lowering the standard for the entire school.  It’s not just the principal’s job to enforce rules.  It takes buy-in and cooperation from the entire community.

We can show care by welcoming new people into our community.  I know it can be awkward saying hi to some one you do not know, but think about how they feel?  We pride ourselves on being a welcoming community, yet I see new parents waiting alone after school.  We can show care by welcoming them and making them feel at home.

Pope Francis’ hope for the world is that we can be more mindful of how our actions, no matter how small, can impact the world around us.  We can think about greenhouse gasses and  oil spills, but we can also think of matters closer to home.  Let’s make this a great school year not by the grand things we do, but as St. Teresa of Calcutta said, by “doing small things with great love.”

Thanks for reading!

 

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