I know it isn’t Saturday…yet. By the time Saturday comes, and it is time for my weekly blog, I hope to be in South Africa. I am leaving for a two-week vacation and so this blog is early. To say that I am a little excited is an enormous understatement. To my friends and family, thank you for your patience as I have been talking about taking this trip for at least twenty years. You see, I have a friend that I am on my way to meet; someone whom I have been in contact with for close to fifty years… but we have never met. Yes, you read that correct… we have been writing to each other for several decades.
Because of a “pen pal” exchange in our Brownie/Girl Guide troops we were matched up. Back then, it was through long letters that we corresponded. Letters that went in to those awesome “air mail” envelopes and took forever to get to each other. I will never forget waiting for her amazing letters to arrive. We moved to a time when we had MSN chat, email correspondence and then to Facebook and Skype. We have literally grown up together; knowing about each other siblings, parents and then children, husbands and jobs.
Imagine that a Canadian girl from the small province of New Brunswick is on her way to the country of South Africa to spend time with a ‘long-lost” friend. We are connected in ways difficult to explain to others and this is just something that we finally are going to do. Meet!
As you know, this blog is suppose to be about school improvement. I am sure that many of you are starting to ask how I will make this connection… my personal trip to South Africa to the subject of improving schools. Actually, I found a really great reason this week to include this trip in my blog. Here is why…
First of all, this is only happening because adults, in my life, knew enough about having an impact on a young girl from a family with limited resources. The fact that I was included in the pen pale exchange, opening my eyes to a world beyond the north side of the city of Fredericton, still amazes me. So many things happened to me when I was young, because someone at school, at church, at Brownies or in our community took the time to do something with me or for me. The truth is, adults believed in me. They saw my potential and they offered me ways to grow. And I wonder, as adults, do we understand the impact that our small (or not so small) gestures will have on others?
The teachers I worked with this week know what I am talking about. As I left the high school in Lafayette on Tuesday, I was struck by our last conversation about the impact that we have on our students. I truly understand that the teachers in the schools that I work in face very challenging times with students who come from difficult situations and how hard it is to really build confidence and stamina in these young adults. Sometimes, it feels hopeless. I understand. I was one of those children.
I can still recall each and every adult in my young life that had an impact on me. I grew up in a loving family but, as I said before, with very limited resources. I can tell you the exact time that one teacher invited me to be part of a group of students who were able to go to see the New Brunswick Symphony Orchestra perform. I don’t know why I was chosen but I remember every second of that concert, the seat I was in at the Fredericton Playhouse and I know for a fact, that has had a huge impact on my life. I love live music and artists of all kinds. And, this influenced a decision I made as a superintendent to bring the music program Sistema (www.sistemanb.ca) to our schools. I appreciate now how this program has grown and impacted thousands of students.
I can also still remember the moment that my South African friend, Felicity’s name and address were given to me. I remember going home and asking for the special air mail paper and envelopes so I could send a letter off to this girl. And, I will always remember seeing the envelopes in my mailbox- the impact of an adult decision felt over and over again. Now, I feel so blessed that we will meet this week and truly close the circle of friendship and love that we have shared over the years.
So, my message this week is short and simple; never undersell your impact as an adult/educator in the lives of your students. Every second you spend looking at their progress, thinking about their needs, understanding what you can do to support them and taking action is not wasted. If you are an administrator, it is making sure that your time is spent in the mindset of what is best for students. If you are a teacher, it is digging deep, even when it is tough to reach just one student. Saving lives, one student at a time is what your impact is truly about.
Students know about impact. They may not be able to articulate it until later in life, but they know. And, the students who you think might not appreciate it or notice because they come from less fortunate situations, do notice. They recognize support, they see the smile you give them, they know when someone has expectations of them and pushes them just a little further. It all adds up to very important and influential impact.
I will leave you with these reflective questions- Do you know your impact on a daily basis? Are you intentionally seeking opportunities to challenge, support, guide and build confident learners? Do you go home at night feeling comfortable with the relationship that you are developing at your school? And, most importantly, do your actions match what you know you should do?
If I could find my Brown Owl now, I would tell her about this amazing story of travel and the impact that she has had on me. If I could find my fifth grade teacher, I would thank her for taking me to the symphony. And, mostly, I would want to express my appreciation to every teacher who made me work hard and expected me to learn at high levels. Someone, someday, will want to find you to thank you for your impact. Trust me, they will. We just have to make it happen. I look forward to being back with you after a couple of weeks of vacation. Until then, create the opportunities for success. You do make a difference.