Trump’s USA

It is hard not to reflect on Trump’s U.S.A.   I drove back over the border to Canada and could hardly stifle doing a happy dance.   Is a decidedly different U.S.A. with Trump at the helm.  The promise and hope that accompanied Obama’s election has been obliterated and the despair and fear is palpable.   We entered the United States at the Peace Arch crossing and were promptly subjected to a “random” comprehensive search, along with many other people, most whom did not have white skin or spoke another language.  We were herded along with others receiving various degrees of scrutiny by American officials.  The long lines and indifference to making people wait is apparently here to stay.  Traffic was gridlocked around most cities en route to the Sierra Nevadas along the I-5 and then to L.A. with road work “to serve us better”, too many cars and a lack of infrastructure to provide public transit.

True to our reputation, we are friendly Canadians, and friendly Americans gravitated towards us.  We had fun times with neighbours at the Silver Lake cabin in the Sierra Nevadas.  Shared camaraderie in Ernie’s tackle shop and in the Sierra Inn in June Lake.  Talked “education shop” with a hiker (aka teacher from Oakland) en route to Gem Lake.  Had a blast in the mountains with my older sister’s family as we navigated through our #GrantFire crisis that threatened possible evacuation from our family cabin.  Talked books with the librarian in the Gull Lake Library.  Dashed down to L.A. to visit with more family.  Learned more about my Dad’s life.  Navigated waves in Malibu with our younger nephews.  Had great conversation in the hot tub in Medford.  Yet the news, coffee shop conversations, bumper stickers, billboards and ways people treat each other show a dark underlying current of self-serving interests and unkindness.

One billboard read “REAL” Christians follow the teachings of Jesus.  The love, kindness and a lack of a judgemental stance forming my understanding of Jesus was not the vibe coming off this massive and somewhat threatening sign with the link to “fire and brimstone” rules to follow on the internet or else. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), the civil rights organization formed in 1909, issued the first ever travel advisory and warns of “looming danger” for people of colour traveling through Missouri after Trump’s buddy, Governor Greitens, passed Senate Bill 43 – accurately hailed as a Jim Crow Bill, rolling back human rights and facilitating legal discrimination.  Deadly, race- fueled clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia unfold and Trump is unable to condemn neo-Nazis, skinheads and members of the Ku Klux Klan protesters for their hate propaganda instigating death, racial hatred and mayhem.  People joke and sport bumper stickers saying “Black lives matter to who?’ or disrespect the people who work for them with talk of building a wall or questioning which children are entitled to health care or education.  Trump stickers have dollar signs on either side of his name.  What are the lessons American children are taking from this?  Who do they want to be in the world?  What do they want it to look like.  It is quite telling that the white supremacist group Vanguard America target a university campus to recruit. This seems the polar opposite of the open mindedness and lofy ideals that we expect higher education to inspire.

The basis of the Trump election platform was vilifying “the other” and framing blatant lies as “alternative truth”.  When your quest for power is fueled by racism, misogyny, hate, greed, fear mongering and lies, then that is the basis for your term in office.  For any student of history, this is quite disturbing and comparisons to WWII Germany are not out of line.  Hitler’s speech in the early 1920’s was titled “Why Are We Anti-Semitic?”  People knew exactly who they were voting for and facilitated his actions.  By the end of WWII, 6 million Jews had been killed in Nazi Germany.  This was far too many people to have been killed by the SS.  A population was catalysed to view their Jewish neighbours as sub-human by government leaders with hate discourse, legislation and propaganda.  History has already taught us this lesson.  Our job is to not let history repeat itself.

How we act and what we say defines who we are.  Honesty matters.  Respect matters.  Tolerance is not enough.  Tolerance indicates we are enduring something or someone who is a pain in the neck.  It leaves the “tolerant” one feeling put upon and the recipient of her benevolence feeling embarrassed and insecure. It is true that change and differences and honesty can cause a degree of stress in our lives.  However when we choose to learn from a different perspectives and ways of being, tell the truth, admit mistakes, ask for forgiveness and look for commonalities of our humanity, we open up the opportunity to grow and learn.  When we choose to care about people’s feelings, forgive mistakes and give rather than take, we open our hearts and minds and allow love, respect and reciprocity to be the outcome.  Yes, I’m talking about living in harmony and with generosity towards our families, our neighbours, our fellow citizens and within the global community.  It seems like we should have evolved enough to embrace this by now.

Trump’s latest strategy seems to be uniting the masses by going after an outside target – Kim Jong Un – after all he’s been is a movie and is recognizable by even the uneducated.  It is something we have seen before.  Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were proven not to exist but the propaganda united Americans to the point that some Americans still believe.  As CIA Director Mike Pompeo has clearly stated, there is no imminent threat from North Korea, in direct contradiction to Trump’s war mongering.  It seems “making America great again,” boils down to waving a big stick.  It feels like haunting foreshadowing of a dark time in global history that we’ll be trying to understand long after the fact.

Many elementary school students will tell you that bullying through violence, humiliation and exclusion is wrong.  They will also tell you that lying to create a reality more to your liking and creating “alternative truths” are both the same thing.  They will be able to explain strategies for solving problems.  They can tell you why the United Nations Universal Declaration of Rights and Freedoms was written and signed in 1959 by so many nations striving to avoid a repeat of past wrongs.  I’m looking forward to going back to school and talking to children about who they want to be in the world and what they want our world to look like.  I want to talk about the ideals of honesty, generosity, integrity and inclusiveness.  It gives me hope.

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Why Do I Lead?

imageIt is a hectic time of year but pretty much every month in the school year is shrouded in busyness.  Getting back to school, meeting reporting deadlines, getting ready of special assemblies, celebrations and project presentations with the overarching goal of meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of our students.  In administration, you add yet another layer to the busyness.   During our recent career day sponsored by the Spirit Committee, one of the students chose “Vice Principal” as their dream job.  Of course, it begged the question.  Why?  The response was true enough: I smile a lot and laugh at my own jokes.  I spend most of the days just talking to kids and teachers and parents and people who fix stuff in the school.  I get to play everyday.  I have a whistle and lots of keys.  I get to do fun things like building the playground and garden boxes. I make rules and get to talk on the PA. What more could you want in a dream job?

I recently became part of the School Administrators Virtual Mentor Program (#SAVMP).  George Couros suggested the blog topic:  Why Do I Lead?  It has pushed me to reflect on the various types of leadership that I have experienced as a student, a teacher, a parent and an administrator.  My first memory of  leadership was in Grade 7 at David Lloyd George Elementary School in Vancouver, British Columbia.  I was running to be team captain.   I was nervous beyond belief to be up on the stage giving a speech and facing the possibility of a humiliating defeat.  My eyes flickered up from my shaking cue cards to see the front rows of primary students cheering.  Those little people believed I could be their leader.    Getting elected was thrilling but the biggest takeaway for me as a kid was that big people and little people believed my ideas mattered and wanted to talk about them with me.  My takeaway as an adult is that I want everyone in our school communities to have that experience.

Subsequent activities that I have chosen, or been co-oped to lead, have been things I have been heavily invested in, such as social justice, my children, my students and professional development.  Leaderships skills were not a precursor to assuming the leadership roles for me but were more of a by-product of the experiences themselves. Every leadership role has been a risk taking venture.  The learning has come with the grand successes or the abysmal failures or the things to consider for a later date.  Each leadership opportunity has connected me with people who pushed my thinking, made me laugh, tried my patience and allowed me to see things from a different perspective.  Each opportunity helped me to grow personally and professionally.

There are many opportunities for leadership when you work in a school.  Throughout my career, I assumed a variety of leadership roles in sports, BC teacher Federation PSA, LSA’s, professional associations and committees while teaching at the elementary school, middle school and university level.  When I was seconded to Simon Fraser University as a faculty associate, my realm of leadership possibilities broadened.  In the Faculty Associate role, I worked in several school districts with student teachers in a Kindergarten to Grade 12 module.  It provided the opportunity to engage in conversations with many administrators about their role and experience many school cultures.  The multifaceted challenges in the role of the administrator in developing a learning community was intriguing.

I have been fortunate to work with a number of strong school administrators who challenged the status quo and supported teachers with innovative teaching practices. What they all had in common was the willingness to support and trust the initiatives proposed by staff members.   We are fortunate in British Columbia to have a strong public school system.  We are also in a time of unprecedented change that requires that educators have the confidence and support structures in place to cope with the advances in technology and shifts in parenting, society and curricular expectations.  School administrators play an integral role in creating and envisioning an environment that supports the intellectual, human, and social and career development of all students.    This requires their personal investment identifying the possibilities open to us as educators.   It is inspiring to work in community to develop the background knowledge and skills required to provide the scaffolding for school communities to meet with success in the challenges of change.  Richard Gerver (2014) highlights the work of Professor Guy Claxton (2002) and his definition of the 4 R’s of Learning Power as Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reflectiveness and Reciprocity.  I lead because I want to be part of a network that supports teachers, support staff, parents and community partners in providing the very best kick at the can for our students to graduate with the background knowledge, skills, creativity, and confidence to fearlessly embrace the possibilities in their future.