This one is difficult to write. As the title suggests, it is about community. The building of community – how by connecting with one another, relying on one another and supporting one another, we create interdependency. We depend on each other, learn from each other and work together. As Peter Block describes in his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, “We are a community of possibilities, not a community of problems. Community exists for the sake of belonging and takes its identity from the gifts, generosity, and accountability of its citizens. It is not defined by its fears, its isolation, or its penchant for retribution.” I think when I was growing up, I only understood community to be where I lived… the north side of the river in Fredericton, New Brunswick- the community called Devon. Through many experiences in the past several years, I have learned the true meaning of community. The coming together of people to create support, problem solve and often, as Block’s quote states, to create possibilities for others- maybe the “possibility of hope”, of better days to come. This is what we have experienced this past week as we learned about the devastating accident involving the Humboldt Broncos.
The Humboldt Broncos play as part of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (a league for players under the age of 20 years old) in Canada. On their way to play a game last Friday night, their bus collided with a transport truck and sixteen people have died. Humboldt is a small community (population 5800) and obviously, the news of this accident has devastated this town.
As we have seen over the past several years, when tragedy strikes cities the size of Las Vegas and Boston or even as small as Humboldt, a community of support builds. I know that the families of the deceased and the town of Humboldt are experiencing a sense that they are not alone in their grief. A vigil was held in the town last Sunday night with thousands attending including Prime Minister Trudeau. A GoFundMe campaign set up to benefit the players and families reached its goal of $4 million in two days and as of Friday night has totaled over $11 million from more than 126,000 donors. The National Hockey League sent Humboldt Bronco decals to all their teams to consider wearing on their helmets for their playoff games. The Pittsburgh Penguins were the first to state that they would definitely be wearing them and Sidney Crosby signed messages sent to all of the survivors. Many of the NHL teams honored the team in some way during their games last weekend. The New England Patriots sent flowers to a family of a victim when they heard he had been a Patriot fan. There are many, many other examples of overwhelming support and the one that really touches my heart is the “put your sticks out” campaign.
It all started with one person posting a picture of his porch light on and his hockey stick by the door. His posting said… “leaving it out on the porch tonight… the boys might need it.” During the past few days, hockey sticks have been seen all over Canada and United States, on snow-covered porches with candles, on balconies of high-rise buildings in sunny, warm states, in the poorest of neighborhoods and on wealthy estates. Olympic champions put their very special “winning” sticks out… no one seemed to care what might happen to them. It was all about being part of a community of support. The true meaning of community is alive and well in the most horrific of circumstances.
So, what does this have to do with school improvement, which is what this nineteenth blog is supposed to be about? When I work in schools, one of the most important roles that I have is to support the work of professional learning communities; teachers collaborating to create the highest levels of learning for students. Sometimes we have to stop and think about what the three words mean… professional, learning and community. A group of professionals working and learning together to positively impact student success. They put their heads together to understand what students need to know and be able to do, how they will know with quality common assessments, what the evidence of learning is from the assessments and most importantly, what they will do next for the students to support learning.
Sometimes, it feels that teachers are working through these steps out of compliance of having to work together and it often just takes time (well, and a lot of work) to get to the real sense of community that will authentically create the best possibilities for the students. The collective wisdom of the educators is needed at all steps of this process and then the benefits of community are realized. It doesn’t matter if the school is big or small or the number of teachers working together, it is about interdependence. Each person brings unique qualities, experiences and wisdom to their work and even though they can work independently with students, they are stronger as a collective community in meeting the needs of students. One hockey stick on the porch was impactful but a wave of support was created by “community” when many others did the same. Educators have this opportunity every day.
I started this blog by saying it is a difficult one for me to write. This is true for many reasons including the obvious overwhelming sadness felt for the families of the victims. This accident also brought back a wave of emotions for me and sent me right back to the school year 2007-2008 when, as a superintendent, I went to nineteen student funerals. The school year started off with a tragic accident involving four boys from one of the high schools in my district. I went to three of their funerals in one day. I remember thinking that no where in my education training did I learn how to do that. In January, a high school basketball team from another district (Bathurst High School, the Boys in Red, as they were so lovingly remembered) crashed after they had played a game in our district. Seven players and the wife of the coach were killed in that accident. And, just like Humboldt, “community” prevailed. Sadness, grief, loss and a desperate need to make sense of it all become part of our life but knowing others are with us can make a significant difference to those suffering.
I have learned many lessons over the years and the one that continues to amaze me is this notion of community… it might be where we live but it really is about collective hope and support and figuring things out together. Isn’t that what school improvement should be about? Educators working together to inspire and impact the lives of our students? Giving hope to one another when we are not sure what to do and supporting students on their learning journey? Of course, in schools, it doesn’t take a tragedy for us to work together. We can create “community” every day. Thanks for being here with me. See you next Saturday.