Growing up in Eastern Canada, our “home sport” was hockey. As in many Canadian homes, every Saturday night we all watched “Hockey Night in Canada”. It was a ritual. I don’t know if there were other options on the television because it didn’t matter. We watched hockey and then we discussed it all week. I remember my mom idolizing one player, Gump Worsley, a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens. She actually met him one day and to say that she was excited would be huge understatement! (Interesting that my brother and my daughter went on to be hockey goalies). Over the years, I have grown to love most sports and I entertain myself on the road with lots and lots of sports gazing. I have had to teach myself lots about the rules of American football (which I am slowly understanding) and I have fallen in love with watching basketball games. And, I idolize the players who play with heart- who demonstrate, time and time again, that they really care about others, they are on a mission to continually learn, they want to lead, they have tons of GRIT, they understand and overcome challenges and they just do not give up on themselves or others. This brings me to this week’s edition of this school improvement blog.
I have to tell you that I found this week to be a challenge. Not because of the three schools that I worked in (you know who you were) but because there were so many conversations about what we must do for the students who need teachers who “play with heart”. I am not talking about the teachers who I meet everyday who nurture and love their students; schools are full of these caring adults. I am talking about “tough love”, the teachers who have high expectations for learning with no excuses. To me, these are the teachers with “real heart.”
Who I am describing are the educators who create very positive cultures of learning in which failure is not an option; the kind of classroom where students clearly know what is expected and there is an attitude of “this is just how we work here”. Students can describe it to me and this is what one recently said: “Teacher X, in that classroom I have to learn. I have to do my work because it is important and I know what is expected. As soon as I go in that classroom I have to be on. I am not allowed to be late because we can’t waste time. There is no time to waste because I have to learn.” Unfortunately, students can also describe the classrooms where the opposite is happening. It doesn’t mean that the second teacher does not care or doesn’t work hard but the level of expectations for success is much lower.
I had the opportunity to reconnect with a friend this week who reminded me of his experience with a teacher with “real heart”. He grew up in a challenging community and I would say was a non-reader until the seventh grade. He happened upon a teacher who made it very clear to him what was expected in her classroom. He was going to read out loud, he was going to read often and he was going to do all the work necessary to be a reader. As he has described to me, this teacher changed his life. Now in his late 40’s, he is very successful with a challenging, rewarding career. He provides leadership to many, problem-solves at a very high, strategic level and has had many opportunities in his life that he knows, would have been impossible had he remained a non-reader. As he stated to me this week, “I wonder what would have happened to me, what path I would have followed if I had not learned to read.” He knows that he had fallen through the cracks until seventh grade and we know that there are students like him in our schools that need to be saved.
In my opinion, we can have no excuses. We must expect high levels of learning with all students. Students without confidence need us the most; they need the teachers who can create the “failure is not an option” mindset as part of their classroom culture. They need the teachers with “real heart”. I will leave you this week to pause and reflect on your current reality, are you leading or teaching with real heart? The kind that embraces high expectations, no excuses and creates confident learners? The kind that goes the extra mile to figure out the action plan for each student and sees it through? If your answer is no, what can you immediately change to save the life of a student? Thanks for reading and I look forward to being with you next Saturday.