President's Message - ET Summer 2015

A Trustee Tool Kit for Changing Students' Lives

In January, we held our 2015 Public Education Symposium. Among all the inspiring and energetic events at PES, a very clear highlight was hearing Peter Mansbridge speak eloquently, and with deep sincerity, of his vision of "our" Canada. For a great many of us, Peter is the voice of Canada, speaking through our TV screens every night. We recognize the unprecedented perspective Mansbridge has when he speaks so stirringly about the diversity of Canada and the very idea of Canada, not just for those of us who live here but for all people around the world who have experienced Canada and Canadians. 

In his keynote address, he engaged with us in a lively dialogue and responded to our questions, including one from Cathy Abraham, chair of the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board. She asked what advice he would give to students currently enrolled in a media/journalism course. His answer inspired me.

Mansbridge related how his break into the media business resulted not from a particular education program but from the actions of a single individual. Having left school, he was working in a small Manitoba airport as a baggage handler. One day, he was called on as an emergency fill-in to announce the next flight. His now-famous voice filled the small space. He was heard by the producer of a local radio station, who offered him a job on the spot to host the late-night radio show. As they say, the rest is history. His career was launched by happenstance, coinciding with the sharp intuition and recognition of a single person.

I was struck by the parallels of this story to our publicly funded education system. How many of us can attribute our own life story to the actions of a single person: a teacher, a mentor, a coach, a parent or family member? I know I can, so when I travel across the province, I listen to the many stories I hear of people who have experienced a moment of inspiration, or chance, and parlayed that opportunity into lasting success.

Like many of my trustee colleagues, I believe that participating in the dynamic that leads to positively influencing the lives of young people is one of the primary reasons that draw us to serve. As the only publicly elected individuals in the province with the sole responsibility for education and a single-minded focus on it, we dedicate ourselves to creating that life-changing opportunity for our students. Even if we may not be recognized as that one individual who has changed a life story, we can be sure that our advocacy for communities, programs, supports and outreach does touch every student. Our advocacy has created programs that have changed lives - and that is a contribution to be proud of. We may never see the results, but our leadership is about building for today and for the future, and about recognizing our traditions. As Nelson Henderson, a 19th-century Manitoba farmer, put it, "The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit."

When I was asked  what resources trustees might need in their tool kit, I thought, "That's a big tool kit!" I am pleased to share my answer with you.

  1. A package of licorice allsorts, so we may be forever reminded that our system is diverse and that every child is welcomed and, more important, wanted.
  2. A big picture window, so we may be reminded that we must always be able to see the broad, strategic and community-wide view.
  3. A crystal ball, so we may always have help with our responsibility to plan for the future, even when we oppose those who think they know best.
  4. A big anchor, so that we don't lose sight of who we represent and of the fact that, unlike other self-appointed critics of public education, we have a constituency, responsibility and accountability.
  5. A steel rod, so we can attach it to our backbones to strengthen our resolve when faced with criticism and anger.
  6. A package of Fisherman's Friend throat lozenges, so we never lose our voice advocating for our students, our families and our community.
  7. A GPS device, so we can navigate the system, know where we are going and never lose our way.
  8. A new teensy, tiny leather change purse, so we can guard the few farthings that are given to us to give us incentive and encourage us.
  9. A copy of the 1951 film A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim (the black and white version), so that we remember the past, know today, fear the future  watch out for the future ? and never lose the spirit of Education and remember how to live it to its fullest.
  10. A package of fairy dust, so that we can always continue to create magic for our children. And perhaps if there is a little left over, we can sprinkle some on ourselves to help us when we are vilified, disrespected, ignored and taken for granted.
  11. A yellow brick road, so that we conquer our fears, are grounded to our homes, seek higher learning and always look for our hearts.
  12. Lastly, a mirror, so we are always reminded that as individuals we are public servants, that our egos are not the priority, that our service should be for others and not for ourselves, and that we reflect our communities with deep respect.

We are public education, and we make a difference in children's lives and in their life stories.

Michael Barrett