As January came to a close this week, many conversations were focused on the extreme cold and brutal winter weather in Canada and the United States. For those of us who are road warriors working with schools, these are the weeks we learn the most patience and stamina from. We have to prepare for canceled flights and school closures; heading out in case we can make it and actually can be on site in schools and districts that are open. We take clothes with us for all seasons and, if you are like me, you still don’t have what you really need to wear with you. I talked with many schools and districts this week that were closed because of the cold and many friends who were stranded from missed or canceled flights. Personally, I avoided it all as I am still recovering from my surgery (the silver lining?). And, because I was off, I had a great opportunity to learn more about an annual event in Canada.
On January 30, Bell Canada held its annual,”Bell Let’s Talk”. This initiative started in 2010 with the goal of increasing the conversations needed about mental health. Dedicated to moving mental health forward in Canada, Bell Let’s Talk promotes awareness and action with a strategy built on 4 key pillars: Fighting the stigma, improving access to care, supporting world-class research and leading by example in workplace mental health. For weeks leading up to the day, increased awareness is built through media sources, community initiatives and focused conversations about mental health. People courageously share their personal stories and encourage others to boldly seek the support that is needed. Nationally, this pulls Canadians together and we seem to become a small, close-knit community of 36.7 million people.
In 2015, I had the honor of co-chairing the writing of recommendations for a ten-year education plan in the province of New Brunswick. As I listened to the testimonials this week of adults and children struggling with the stigma of mental health, I was reminded of very important conversations that I had during the research for the recommendations that we had to write for the plan. During town hall meetings, focus groups and community events throughout my province, mental health found its way to almost every agenda. Needs were identified that included ensuring that schools had ample support to meet the mental health needs of students and their families. During many conversations, the struggles associated with poverty were closely aligned to the roadblocks of being able to seek support for mental health. And, over and over again, I heard the simple request for more conversations, connections, relationships in our schools.
As a school improvement coach/consultant, I am expected to bring effective practices to schools and districts. I work with educators to improve so every student is able to succeed. That is what my goal is each and every time that I leave home to go to work. The tricky part for me is just what I wrote about in the earlier paragraphs. How do I help with the overall mental health of the student? I am not on site long enough to really get to know students. I am not personally responsible for their education. I don’t really have an opportunity to build relationships with very many of them in the buildings that I am in. What I can do though, is encourage the adults in my care to care for the students in their care. You know, take care of the teachers and they will take care of the students. That kind of thinking…
So much is written about how we need connections and relationships in our lives. I recently read about a “young” lady who turned 102 years old. She talked about the one thing that matters the most to her… talking to someone every day. She said even if it is her mailman or a delivery person, she makes sure that she has a conversation or two with people, face to face, every day. She invites people to come and talk to her. She asks for what she needs. And, what might seem to be meaningless conversations about trivial things, these can be the most important time in someone else’s day. I know for a fact, that I get energy from other people. I need that in my life. I always will. And, I know that we have students and staff in our schools just like me. They need conversations, connections and relationships to stay mentally healthy.
Bell Let’s Talk really made me think about my life and my work. I appreciate this initiative and the opportunity that it gave me and others to openly consider our mental health. I know that I can share great educational practices with teachers and administrators but I cannot “make” them build relationships or have conversations. This has to come from a place of deep understanding of the impact that you can have on others. You may not know your immediate influence, but each conversation and relationship could be just what the student or teacher needs to get through their day. Because we really don’t know, we have to work from positive intent. Knowing that each of us has the ability to increase the mental health of others should be enough for us to do what’s right- to take the time to talk, to connect, to support.
This week, I challenge you to consider your conversations and connections. What can you do to increase the opportunities you have with others? Will you purposefully build and nurture a healthy relationship? How will you show that dialogue matters? As you stay warm by a cozy fire, know that others need you. And, perhaps you need them too. Have a great week.