"...We Make a Life by What We Give"
April 11, 2019

It’s Volunteer Week in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In an educational environment, we are hard-pressed to go through the day without having it touched in some way by a person who is giving of themselves -  their time, their effort, their talent, or their expertise. The K-12 public education system in Newfoundland and Labrador is undoubtedly one of the largest recipients of volunteer value, with parents, grandparents, friends, family, and community members helping to enhance the programs and services offered throughout our schools. This includes those who volunteer for the breakfast programs, lunch programs, as well as all the co-curricular and extracurricular activities that help our students develop academically, socially, and as citizens who will grow to conduct their lives with integrity and respect for others. To each of you, I take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of every student whose day you have enhanced, and for every school your efforts have helped.

For volunteers, this value is not a one-way street. The people I have encountered handing out breakfasts to students; helping our teachers supervise field trips, or coaching a school team, tell me this every day. For those who have first-hand knowledge, to give of yourself and your experience to benefit others is more rewarding than anything you could pull from your wallet or pantry. Because the value is reciprocal. Yes, you may give of your valuable time and effort, but what you get back just can’t be measured. In many instances, the educators and staff in our schools are leading by example by volunteering in their community. I know many of our students follow this example by donating their time and energy to support worthwhile projects close to home as well as nationally and internationally. It’s about learning to be part of a community - whether that be large or small. It’s about caring for others. It’s about citizenship, one of the six core competencies of deep learning.

Volunteerism is very much a part of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School Board’s day-to-day existence. The District is guided by a volunteer, elected Board of Trustees; 17 diverse and unique individuals who volunteer a great deal of time to providing oversight and guidance to all aspects of our organization. We thank them for their commitment to students and to the betterment of education in our province.

Take to heart a quote, sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill, although its origin is not authenticated:  "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

I encourage everyone to take time this week to thank those around you who selflessly give of themselves to benefit others. I’m sure it would do them good to hear it.

A Time to Reflect on the Values We Share
February 15, 2019

We are midway through February and while Mother Nature continues to hurl adverse winter weather our way, the days are getting slightly longer and we dare to hope that spring will one day come.

February is also a busy time for the education system, and a time to reflect on some of the important values we share. February 8-15 was Teacher-Staff Appreciation Week in Canada. In this province, we joined with the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils (which spearheads the event in this province each year) and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to acknowledge the contributions of all District staff who support the education of children. That includes staff in our regional offices who keep the back office functions moving; senior management, program specialists, administrative support, administrators, teachers, guidance counsellors, teaching and learning assistants, school secretaries, student assistants, maintenance personnel, bus drivers and more. I take this opportunity to sincerely thank our employees for their commitment and dedication to our students, and for the countless times they go above and beyond to meet their needs, and enable them to succeed in a safe and inclusive learning environment. While there are always challenges to address and overcome, we will continue to focus on “students first” and do everything within our ability and authority to enrich our students’ educational experience.

February will also see schools throughout the District celebrating Pink Shirt Day on February 27. It is a time for schools and the District to reiterate and reinforce the message that we will not tolerate bullying and harassment in our schools - whether that be verbal, physical, via technology, or in any way whatsoever. We have made great strides in this area and, supported through Provincial Government policy and legislation, I believe we are getting closer to educating students, and creating school environments, where acceptance and inclusion are just part of our everyday reality. There will be exceptions and negative incidents - but maintaining a strong, consistent approach to unacceptable behaviours is critical to addressing these issues.

We are also preparing to join the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association in celebrating Education Week (March 3-9), which is a time to highlight the many exciting and innovative things that are happening in our schools, led by some of the most highly-educated teachers in the country. I look forward to seeing how individual schools choose to highlight and celebrate their successes that week.

On a final note, we sometimes forget how fortunate we are to live in a society that supports and values public education for all children. It is easy to take that access for granted. So I encourage parents, guardians and students to recognize the enormous privilege we have to live in a part of the world where K-12 education is a fundamental right. I also encourage students to exercise that right every day, by attending classes and participating fully in their own learning experience.

A Second "Fresh Start"
January 8, 2019

Those of us involved in education differentiate school years from calendar years. September opens a whole new chapter for students and teachers alike, but January offers an opportunity to refocus after relaxing and regenerating over the Christmas holiday. More than half the 180-plus school days remain in the 2018-2019 school year, leaving plenty of time to achieve the goals we set a few months ago. There is ample time for us to challenge, motivate, inspire, and/or intervene. For students, there will many opportunities to engage, invigorate, and give a best effort to demonstrate their learning and to achieve their full potential.

Reflecting back on my own early experience as a classroom teacher, I can say that despite knowing over half a school year remained for students who had fallen behind, it was quite daunting to envision turning things around. I needed to cast aside preconceived notions based on what went on between September and December to truly appreciate the fact that my students and I could collaborate to allow them to learn new content or skills, or develop new attitudes. Would viewing January as a ‘fresh screen’ have helped? Maybe I could have found less conventional ways for students to demonstrate their learning.

I would like to think that if I was back in the classroom today, I would look at January as another fresh start. Perhaps I could find a way to focus on what students know, and find new ways for them to demonstrate it through activities that engage them. Maybe I would have the confidence and the freedom to enable them to achieve a better result.

What has occurred in the school year so far is important. It has laid the foundation for success in this latter portion of the school year. But we are not limited by what has occurred during the fall. The new year affords an opportunity for ‘fresh eyes’. Every day, teachers in our school system are enabling students to demonstrate evidence of learning, in formal or informal settings, because they believe and insist that their students can gain new knowledge, skills and attitudes that will ultimately result in a successful year.

For our administrators, teachers and support staff, as well as our students and families, it is my hope that you approach this new year with a clear vision of all the exciting opportunities to learn and to succeed. I look forward to pursuing these opportunities together.

All the best in 2019!

A Personal Remembrance
November 5, 2018

I am writing this blog immediately after returning to the office from a Remembrance Week school assembly at All Hallow’s Elementary in North River, with all the beauty and emotion of the event still reverberating in my heart. The Principal, Dr. Kevin Giles, presided over a solemn and thoughtful, yet at the same time inspirational and uplifting event.

A portrait of Corporal Jamie Brendan Murphy was unveiled in the presence of Jamie’s sister and niece, and witnessed by the entire school community, which included students, staff, parents, representatives from the Canadian Forces, the Royal Canadian Legion, clergy and community groups.

It was especially poignant for me. Jamie was my student at Roncalli Central High School in Avondale decades ago. I recall a fun-loving little guy who I could not possibly imagine would transform into a robust young soldier just a few years later. In January 2004, Jamie was serving with the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, in Kabul, Afghanistan to do his part to establish peace and security in that war-torn part of the globe, when he was killed in action by a suicide bomber. He was 26 years old.

I had recently arrived in Kabul when I got the news. Jamie was the first soldier from this province to lose his life during the Afghanistan War. It was a huge shock to everyone at home, and to me personally. Every time last post is played, or a toast to fallen comrades is made at an event, I say a silent prayer in his memory. Jamie played an important role in nation building and will always be a part of history. I know I will never forget him, and it gives me great comfort to know that All Hallow’s Elementary will never forget him or his sacrifice, having dedicated its playground, and now its display case of prestigious awards, in his memory.

Assemblies will be held throughout the District during this Remembrance Week. This year, 2018, is the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice which concluded the First World War. I am very proud to be the Director of a District where the levels of participation, preparation, and dedication that go into Remembrance Week observance by students, staff, and community are, I believe, unequal to anywhere else in this great country. Part of remembering is also ensuring that the efforts of those who served their country to establish and maintain peace and security are never forgotten, and that their stories are promoted at home and abroad.

We can all remember best by being peacemakers, and peacekeepers, in our own schools and communities. We can emulate what Canadian Forces soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen have done and continue to do around the world - stand up to bullies, build confidence in others, and always show respect and kindness to others, both in actions and in words.

Lest we forget.

P.S. I would encourage all schools to participate in the Royal Canadian Legion’s “Youth Remembrance Contests”. The link to the contest page can be found here.

Tony Stack
CEO/Director of Education

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95 Elizabeth Avenue
St. John's, NL · Canada · A1B 1R6
Tel: (709) 758-2372 · Fax: (709) 758-2706

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