The Good News For Teachers – Unity is Strength

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, the Ottawa Catholic School Board community annually gathers alongside the scenic Rideau Canal at the Shaw Centre, for Christian Community Day. On that day, the board’s 4000+ educators reconnect with each other, recharge, and are spiritually uplifted by music, words and images. It is a time of personal and professional reflection – an annual reminder to each of us how blessed we are to walk the educational journey with such inspirational companions. Each year as my colleagues and I enter the Shaw Centre, familiar faces are seen, hugs are exchanged and a myriad of questions are asked about family, teaching assignments and life in general. There, a feeling of joy and sense of belonging permeates the venue.

This year, as I walk into the centre, the song “This Little Light of Mine” resonates, and the sounds of the voices, guitars and banjo, lifts my step. By the time I reach my seat, some of my companions are already dancing and clapping to the music. As I sit down, I realize, “This is my tribe. I am where I belong.”

The OCSB annual theme, Sent to Be the Good News, is reflected in the messages of the day. The inspirational words shared at the event by Denise Andre, our Director of Education, and Elaine McMahon, Chairperson of the Board, build upon the Board’s theme about the need to serve others through our actions. Their words remind me that I am called to carry out Works of Mercy – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, help the disenfranchised and educate the ignorant. The greatest sin of all is to “not care”. That we must do what we can, with what we have, where we are.

The keynote speaker, Steve Pemberton, author of A Chance in the World, left an indelible mark on every person in the audience. Each ear, hung on every word he spoke. Steve’s gripping story, evoked strong emotions in each of us. Orphaned at an early age, he never came to find a permanent family. At one and a half years old, a caregiver commented that, “He had no chance in the world.” Coming through the American foster care system, he faced neglect and abuse.

Steve’s story is about overcoming adversity through the kindness of strangers, and their uplifting actions towards him. His  journey was not an easy one. He is fortunate to be where he is today.

Sitting there, I think that every one of us knows a child living the story Steve told.  I wish I had been that teacher to intervene sooner in the life of the young Steve Pemberton. I hope I am that teacher for my students.

Steve was the “receiver” of the Good News – the recipient of kind actions by strangers, neighbours and teachers. Individuals who entered his life and provided the companionship, and support needed to help him overcome the obstacles he faced. Steve’s story is testament to the effect of individuals to change the trajectory of another’s life, through sometimes unknown small gestures.

On this Autumn day, at Christian Community Day with my colleagues, and inspired by Steve Pemberton’s story, I think of the importance of team. As I do, I think about the two things that are certain in the Canadian Autumn – the magnificence of Fall colours and the return South of the Canadian geese. How geese flying in V-formation overhead are symbols of both the journey and the importance of the group dynamic. That like the geese, we count on the people in our tribe to uplift us. To reduce the drag and resistance of  flying alone.

I think about how each morning when I arrived to school last week, I was met with the loud squawking of flocks of geese flying overhead. How I always stopped and watched them pass. The magnificent model they are for how each of us is an integral member of our tribes.

On the Thursday morning yard duty, my student and I, watched as two Canadian geese flew one behind the other overhead. They were quite low in the gray sky, and we could see their long, white-collared necks. We watched them fly off into the distance.

A steady stream of questions came from my student: “Why are they alone? Where is their tribe? Why are they headed West, instead of South?”

Shortly after, two streams of V-formations flew in a different direction–Southward. As they flew out of sight, I recall the Seven Lessons Learned From Geese, first attributed to scientist, Dr Robert McNeish of Baltimore in 1972. These lessons focus on the importance of the team: how the movement of the team uplifts the rest of its members. How each takes an opportunity to lead and to accept support, and in doing so, each remains humble.

Standing in the school yard, I am reminded of Lesson #6: When a goose gets injured or cannot keep up with the group, two members of the group stay with it. They follow it down, staying with it until it dies or is able to fly again. When finished, they then fly off to re-join their tribe.

I realize that the two geese my student and I saw flying overhead, were the heroic soldiers, who have served their duty, and are returning to the formation. A tremendous honour they have served, sticking with their downed member and then seeking-out in the distance their formation again. Their mission has been completed.

The lesson here is about standing together in difficult times. That the members of our tribe need us most when faced with challenges. Like the geese, and like the people sent to be the Good News in Steve Pemberton’s life, we need to accept the call by supporting each other.

These stories are a reminder that when one of our tribe appears injured, or harmed, let’s seek them out, stay by their side until they are able to stand again. That is our mission as educators, but also as human beings concerned with the dignity of others. We must continue to build momentum, to increase the thrust and lessen the resistance of the whole group. In doing so, our jobs – our lives – become easier and more productive. In the service of others, as with the the geese in formation, we will become the soldiers whose duty has been fulfilled.

We is more powerful than Me. United, we are stronger.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the people who walk through life with me. Some accompany me on my whole journey. Others only walk beside me for a short time. All restore, replenish, uplift and enable me to soar in formation. Each of you is my Good News companion.

For this, I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.