|The Bloggings of Murray Peters
I've been enjoying a fascinating biography, Ron Chernow’s Pulitzer Prize winning George Washington - A Life. This lengthy work investigates the real man behind the typical two-dimensional Washington as legendary and stoic larger-than-life father of a nation. Of particular interest to me is the discussion of Washington's leadership style and how it was refined over the decades as he progressed from military colonel to plantation owner to colonial legislator to Commander-in-Chief of the continental army to President. Washington's amazing achievements were in large part due to some effective leadership qualities that would be well utilized by those in leadership positions today. Allow me to share some thoughts:
Build a small network of trusted colleagues: Although Washington was usually reserved and distant toward those under his command, he made a point of building an inner circle of confidantes, those with whom he could discuss openly issues and concerns. He was often over-whelmed with the problems of raising and commanding a rag-tag colonial army and found relief and support in letting his guard down with a few trusted high-ranking officers.
Be open to dissenting opinions and criticisms: Washington was often headstrong and resolute in his opinions and beliefs about how things should operate. Yet he never ducked when criticism or alternative viewpoints were directed his way. At the core of this was a genuine humility whereby he did not assume he had all the answers. He collaborated with other leaders and on more than one occasion changed his plans based on the helpful feedback of others. As President one of his signature moves was ensuring that his Cabinet included individuals like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton who would hold different perspectives than his own.
Show courage: Washington is to be admired for the courage he showed in battle and in making tough decisions. Throughout the Revolutionary War he was often seen sitting tall on his white horse at or near the front lines of battle, urging on his troops. His outstanding leadership in the most dangerous of circumstances prompted one soldier to declare, "I shall never forget what I felt ... when I saw him brave all the dangers of the field and his important life hanging as it were be a single hair with a thousand deaths flying around him. Believe me, I thought not of myself." (p. 282) Washington’s ability to be a leader who was present, hands-on, and emotionally involved provided great inspiration to those he led and resulted in amazing achievements.
Share the glory: Washington’s reputation reached enormous heights during the Revolutionary War. Arguably no American leader has ever been revered to the degree that he did as he led the way to defeat over the British military. Yet Washington consciously and eloquently deflected the praise away from himself to those he led. His published messages, even following some serious military defeats, often pointed out the courage and bravery of his men. He was fair-minded in admitting to mistakes he himself made and was never one to cast unfair blame on others.
Much can be learned from the example of great leaders like George Washington. Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, a close study of Washington can equal the reading of a thousand articles on leadership.
An article by Jason Fried, A mistake is a moment in time
, shares some interesting perspectives on making mistakes. His discovery of errors in the patterning of Navajo rugs leads to thoughts about why these mistakes were left in the rug and never corrected by the weaver. "The Navajo saw mistakes as moments in time. And since you can’t change time, why try to change a mistake that already happened? The mistake is already woven into the fabric of time. It’s good to be reminded of it when you look back." Similarly Fried reflects on the task of climbing a mountain, how it is fraught with many missteps but how the climber keeps climbing with the summit in mind. Once at the top, the small mistakes along the way are forgotten and the journey is considered a success.
All of us are on a journey. Our jobs, raising a family, renovating our house, dealing with a crisis ... these are all the journeys of life. Indeed, life as a whole is a journey! If I can make the assumption that everyone of us makes mistakes along the way (a safe assumption methinks!), I wonder how often we get bogged down with these missteps. Do we stop our climbing, sit down, and fret over the inevitable missteps we have made? Do we backtrack in an attempt to correct mistakes, only to turn away from the big purpose of reaching our goals? Do we allow our accomplishments to be tainted by obsession about mistakes we made along the way?
I like the Navajo perspective. Although a mistake is made, keep moving forward. Put the mistake in perspective by thinking, "Yes, I made a mistake. But we all do. I'll go forward and if I remember the mistake, I will draw a lesson from it".
One last thought. A healthy perspective on mistakes is made a lot easier when those closest to us forgive our mistakes. Grace from others helps us reduces the friction and gravity as climb the mountains of our lives. Grace from others helps us to have grace toward ourselves when we make mistakes. Put another way, it's a lot easier to skate on ice than it is on carpet!
Over the last year public education in BC has taken some serious body blows. There was massive media coverage of teacher job action and the accompanying contract negotiations and other political controversy with the Ministry of Education. More recently was the tragic suicide death of Amanda Todd and the inevitable mud slinging at the public school system and its apparent failings in dealing with bullying. If people were to base their knowledge of the BC school system only on what they hear in the media they would undoubtedly have a very negative view.
Having the privilege to work in the public school system gives me an entirely different perspective. On a daily basis I see the quality teaching and learning that happens. I see students reach new levels of learning and engagement. I get to know children who are in general very happy with their experiences at school. I am of course biased, for I am a zealous advocate of public education.
There is hard information available to the public that supports the good work we are doing in BC schools. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) does extensive testing of school children in 65 countries around the world. The test, known as PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) measures children's skills in reading, mathematics, and science. Did you know that in the latest results (2009) for secondary students Canada ranked 6th, 10th, and 8th in Reading, Math, and Science respectively? By comparison the USA was 17th, 31st, and 23rd. The United Kingdon was 26th, 28th, and 16th. Germany was 19th, 16th, and 14th. In Reading and Science Canada outperformed all European countries except for Finland. You can find out more at http://ourtimes.wordpress.com/2008/04/10/oecd-education-rankings/ and http://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisaproducts/pisa2009/47034256.pdf
Once in a while you will hear talk in the media that our school system is broken down, in a state of disrepair, etc, etc. This is simply not the case. Are we perfect? No. Are there areas for improvement and innovation? Yes! But most of the criticism in the Canadian mass media is not warranted. Come and spend some time in the public schools of today and you will see how schools are safe places for kids, how expectations for learning are set high, and how educators are engaging and teaching students in meaningful ways. Our kids are doing well by international standards. As Canadian education expert Ben Levin says, "anyone who worries about the youth of today hasn't spend enough time with them".
On a recent trip up the Oregon coast my family and I enjoyed visiting several of the lighthouses along the way. My kids especially likes ascending and descending the narrow spiraling staircases and ladders inside of them. The volunteers who man (and "woman") these historic structures were full of interesting facts and stories about the lighthouses and I found myself captured by the romance and significance of the lighthouse and its role in seafaring and coastal life.
I found myself connecting the concept of a lighthouse to that of a public school. Allow me to share some perspectives: Lighthouses served two primary roles for the safety of ships and boats at sea. First, lighthouses were always constructed on shore line sites that represented the gravest danger to sea going vessels. These were typically capes or other protruding headlands that in foggy weather would easily become a place where vessels traveling along the coastline could easily crash. Many shipwrecks occurred along our west coast in locales where no marker or lighthouse was positioned to emit its warning flashes. In the same way our schools serve to warn students of hazards that are potentially harmful or even disastrous. Our schools also strive to educate students in practices of safe and healthy living. In today's sea of media messages, many of which are harmful or confusing, children of today need the help of their schools to provide them with a clear, informed message about what to avoid and steer away from.
Secondly, many lighthouses were positioned next to a harbour or inlet which some ships would need to access even in the worst of sea conditions. A lighthouse's beacon represented a welcoming and guiding light that would warn a captain of a dangerous coastline but also would indicate that an entrance to safe harbour was nearby. Today's schools, like a lighthouse, must be a welcoming place that guide children in to a safe harbour of learning and developing. Many children today are in uncertain family and social situations such that home is not always an inviting place to be. Schools must always be welcoming and safe, places where children or teens are confident that they will be cared for, educated, challenged, and encouraged along in their life journey. Like the lighthouse's flashing beacon that reaches out through the fog and storm to reliably guide a ship to safety, so must the school of today be one that reaches out to our learners and delivers on a promise of safe, quality learning.
My assumptions about the life a lighthouse keeper were challenged by what I learned. I had always imagined the life of a lighthouse keeper to be rather idyllic, one involving solitude, the rather simple task of lighting a lamp every evening and tending it throughout the night, the opportunity to live on water front property! Instead, I learned that the keeper's life was extremely demanding. Keepers were held to extremely high standards of cleanliness and received regular inspections by their superiors. In particular the intricate lenses (manufactured in France and often weighing several tons) were expected to be kept spotlessly clean so that their beam would project well over 20 miles out to sea. The windows surrounding the lens would take the brunt of the weather and keepers would precariously climb up their ladders to give the windows a daily thorough cleaning. I was also surprised to learn that as many as three keepers were assigned to a lighthouse. Maintaining the intricate fuel mechanisms, lenses, and other equipment was a 24/7 job that required more than a solitary keeper. These keepers would have to coordinate their work and be dependable for each other so that in the absence or illness of one, the other would be available and willing to meet the responsibilities of keeping the beacon shining; lives at sea depended on the teamwork of the lighthouse staff. And finally, the lighthouse keeper's responsibilities included one of growing food, maintaining cattle, and building and maintaining a home. At Cape Blanco's lighthouse I saw several photographs of the keeper's wife milking cows and I learned that in the event of a keeper's illness and simultaneous absence of the other keeper's that his wife and children would have to man the lighthouse! I learned that the US Lighthouse Service would provide food and provisions for the keeper but that if he was accompanied by a family it was his responsibility to provide food, clothing, and shelter for them, a lighthouse keeper often had the additional role of being a subsistence farmer!
Like the lighthouse of yesteryear, the school of today also requires teamwork, hard work, and resourcefulness by those who work in it. Schools are complex institutions held to high standards by the families and communities that they serve. Properly functioning schools can only exist when the staff collaborates and cooperates with each other, when each and every membery knows they can rely on others. Schools of today do not always have needed resources automatically provided. So, educators must be good stewards of what they do get and be ingenious in acquiring what students need in order to be properly educated.
Another year comes to an end, another group of bright eyed 10 and 11 year olds finishes their elementary school years and heads off to middle school in two months.
Below is my address to them at our Grade 5 Leaving Ceremony:
Grade 5 Leaving Ceremony
As I think about you leaving elementary and going on to middle school I have an image in my mind of our Gr 4/5 Relay team running around Como Lake this past spring.
First, although you practiced running around and around the gravel field, this was just practice for the real thing, the one lap you do around the lake. That one lap is all you get, you have to put everything into it. Life is like that… you get only one chance to run your race, to live your life. And just like running a lap around the lake, we hope you will give it all you got. You only get one shot at it!
Another thing about the run around the lake. I noticed that every student ran a different race. Some started fast then slowed down, others started slow then sped up, while others kept the same pace the whole way around. Life is like that. You each run your own unique race. Nobody is exactly like you. Be true to yourself. At some point you and your friends may decide to run life a bit differently. That’s okay, don’t expect your friends to be exactly like you. And you may decide to join up with other groups of runners along the way. Make good choices about who you run with. Try to choose friends who are going the same direction you are, even if they do things at a different pace than you do.
One more observation: along the track around the lake there were parents, your parents. They were supervising you, making sure you were safe (and didn’t accidentally fall into the lake). They were also encouraging you along. Never forget that your parents are a big part of your life journey. Look to them to keep you safe and to encourage you along in the right direction. Their advice and yes, their rules, will help you run the best race you can.
Most of you have a parent here today. Please take a moment today to thank them for supporting you through your elementary years. Same with your teachers. Many of you have 6 or more teachers in this gym today that have taught you along the way. Before you leave school today thank them for being part of your life.
And as you continue your journey through life, including the next step to middle school, long may you run.
I would like to quote a song that your parents and teachers will know, a song by Neil Young called “Long May You Run”.
"Long May You Run"
by Neil Young
We've been through
Some things together
With trunks of memories
Still to come
We found things to do
In stormy weather
Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes
With your chrome heart shining
In the sun
Long may you run.
One of the books I am currently reading (I usually have several on the go) is Steve Jobs, the biography of the founder of Apple and arguably the most influential person in personal computing history. This is a fascinating read as the author, Walter Isaacson, takes the reader deep into Jobs’ psyche, exposing both his brilliance and volatility.
Jobs pioneered the idea of the personal computer and infused his genius for design, elegance, and user-friendly interface, culminating in the Mac computer, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. But his business life was heavily corrupted by his extreme misuse and abuse of the people who worked for him. He was prone to massive eruptions of anger toward his employees, many of whom worked tirelessly to make his vision of personal computing a reality. Even his most trusted allies experienced his unpredictable mood swings and extreme micromanagement.
In many ways Jobs is the “anti-example” of the model 21st Century learner. The 21st century learner, by definition, is the individual who must acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills, technological fluency, excellence in problem-solving abilities, and social intelligence. Business leaders are demanding that the school system produces individuals who possess a combination of technical skill and the soft “people” skills of empathy and interpersonal communications.
Jobs possessed very little in the way of people skills and seemed to lack any understanding of how to work with people and motivate them. Indeed, it appears that Jobs’ most loyal employees were those who were continuously mesmerized by his ability to enthral and almost hypnotize his audience with his enthusiastic vision and presentation skills. He was renowned (and ridiculed) among his peers for his tendency to defy or ignore hard fact and perceive the world according to his own wishes. This was widely known as the Steve Job "reality distortion field".
Jobs was truly an anomaly. The vast majority of successful business people are those who combine technical skill with an ability to work with people and collaborate successfully. Jobs possessed no ability to listen to others’ ideas nor compromise his views.
It is essential that in our school system we continue to embrace both the domain of academic skills and knowledge as well as social responsibility and communication skills. If we want our students to get jobs (and not be Jobs) then people skill must be valued in the curriculum we provide.
There are few parents, students, or school staff members who don't look forward to the start of another school year. Everyone has at least one thing they look forward to, whether it's the return to regular routines, being reunited with friends or colleagues, or best of all the opportunity to learn something new.
I always feel excited this time of year about the prospects of a brand new school year ahead. But I have to admit that my own enthusiasm cannot quite compare to that of my daughter, who starts Kindergarten this fall. Her excitement about starting school began building in July. As the summer wore on I found myself envying her unbridled enthusiasm for the approach of September. I finally asked her to list the things she is looking forward to. She announced three things:
1. “I get to paint”
2. “I can drink water and eat my lunch”
3. “I get to play on the monkey bars”
Ah, the simple things! My immediate thought was, “I can do these things too!”. So I have now added these items to my own list of what I look forward to as the school year begins. In no particular order, I enthusiastically anticipate:
· The hum of busy classrooms in which students are engaged and enjoy learning
· The look of satisfaction on the face of a teacher who has reached a child
· Noisy laughter and chatter of children playing outside at recess and lunch
· The smiles of parents in the hallways
· Special events like musical performances and recognition assemblies
· Pride on the faces of students who accomplish a particular task for the first time
· Colourful and intriguing displays of student work on bulletin boards
· School-wide events that are pulled off by great teamwork among the staff
· The squeak of running shoes in the gym accompanied by the singing voices drifting out of the music room
· Painting with the Kindergarten students
· Drinking water while I eat my lunch
· Playing on the monkey bars… well sometimes
I invite you to reflect on what you anticipate in the school year ahead. Have a great year!
What generation are you?! A quick Google search produced the following terms for different generations that are currently alive:
Traditionalists, 66 years old and older
Baby Boomers, 47-65 years old
Generation X (aka the Me Generation), 31-46
Generation Y (aka Echo Boomers, Millenials), 14-30
Generation Z (Zippies), 13 and under (Source: http://unlockthemysteries.com/factsgenxy.aspx)
Apparently the members of Generation X don’t like the term “Me Generation” (I wonder why!). However, as a member of this group I have to admit that members of my generation have been, in general, very focused on their own personal gratification, rights, needs, and “self-actualization”, often to the detriment of the needs and rights of others around them! Many aspects of our society reflect the self-centred views of the Gen Xers, such as the demands for instant gratification and high levels of personal choice; Starbucks comes to mind!
Our current generation of children, the Zippies, has a very different outlook on life than previous generations. Sure, they are very good at knowing what they want and how to get it. (I wonder who they learned that from?!). But today’s children also show an encouraging and inspiring interest in addressing the needs of others. They also show a willingness to sacrifice some of their own interests to help out others. In the last several years of my career I have seen many examples of students involved in exciting humanitarian projects, the likes of which my generation never would have dreamed of. I am truly inspired by today’s children and their awareness of global issues and their desire to make a difference for others.
Our recent Jump Rope for Heart fundraising campaign was an excellent example of students’ enthusiasm to make a difference. The fundraising was a huge success in that we raised over $9000 for the Heart & Stroke Foundation! What impressed me most was the effort that many of our students went to in order to raise funds. I heard a number of stories of children who approached not just friends and family members but also folks in their neighbourhoods. Yes, there were incentive prizes that students could earn for raising money. But I know of some students who will donate their prizes to children in the community who are less fortunate and could use some new sporting goods. Way to go!
Being an educator to the current generation of children is a great privilege. Their potential to positively impact the world is very real; it’s our responsibility to nurture and encourage this!
A school is truly a community of learners. This was very evident at CRE on Friday, Feb. 11th during our Multi-Age Valentine Activity. This event involved students from Grades K—5. They met in their colour teams throughout the school to create their own large Valentine’s card for their family. Our Grade 4 and 5 students took the role of leader by first creating a Valentine template for every child in the school earlier in the week. Then on the Friday they helped younger primary students understand the task and then assisted them in creating their Valentine. Teachers were assigned to each team to supervise, encourage, and
guide the children through the activity. This speaks to me of community for the following reasons: Students were working with each other and forming friendships with children from other classes and grade levels.
Older students were acting as leaders and role models (a theme that I addressed with Grade 4 and 5 students during class visits the previous week). Younger children felt very important working with the older ones. All students produced a card of which they were proud and eager to share with their family. Teachers
interacted with and got to know the children in other classes. Thank you to Ms. Oliver and Ms. von Unruh for organizing this event. I hope that when you walk through the doors of CRE you get a sense of our community spirit, where every child is accepted and supported and where relationships are built on mutual respect and a common pursuit of learning. Speaking personally, I appreciate the friendly and supportive words and actions of our parents as they are around the building. I see lots of smiles from children and adults on a daily basis; that says a lot about our community!
I am excited to now be part of the Coquitlam River learning community. As the new Principal I look forward to getting to know the students, parents, and staff in the coming weeks. I can especially relate these days to those kids who start at a brand new school part way through the school year. Relationships and routines are already established; one wonders how they fit in and what their experience at this new school will be like! I am confident that I will greatly enjoy the coming months and years as I serve CRE in my role. I am deeply committed to fostering the learning of all students and I invite you to join me on this mission
Here is some background information about me. I began my teaching career, in Coquitlam, in 1991. I taught elementary classroom and resource room for seven years before teaching middle school student services for the next five year. From 2002 to 2007 I was a district Student Services Coordinator (Gifted Education & Assistive Technology). I then was Vice Principal at Hillcrest Middle from July 2007 until December 2009 and Acting Principal at Harbour View Elementary from Jan to Dec 2010. I have my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Simon Fraser University. Prior to my university undergrad program I had completed Marketing Management at BCIT.
I live in Coquitlam and my wife and I have two children, ages 4 and 6. I enjoy playing and watching hockey, reading, and having fun with my kids.