This past week we hosted our annual Heritage Fair, where students choose topics they are interested in and passionate about, and present their research in a display board and speech in front of judges. It’s a big deal and no small feat.
As we gathered in the gym that morning, our VP talked to the kids about the importance of knowing Canada’s history and heritage. About not understanding our present until we know our past. Of celebrating the good things about who we are as a country and learning lessons from the things we’ve done wrong.
But he started by asking, “Who here is nervous about today?”
Just about every hand went up.
And he let them know that that’s okay. That it means you care about what you’re doing. And that we’d be worried if they didn’t feel that way.
I came across a tweet by author/speaker Brett Bartholomew that had the same sentiment: I still get anxious every time before I speak at a large conference. Used to think it was a weakness, the truth is I’m anxious because I care enough about wanting to do a good job. Never take one moment for granted, and learn to use your emotions to focus your work.
It’s also one of many lessons I’ve taken away from Brene Brown:
Are vulnerable experiences easy? No.
Can they make us feel anxious and uncertain? Yes.
Do they make us want to self-protect? Always.
Does showing up for these experiences with a whole heart and no armor require courage? Absolutely.
I was really proud of all of our students, and knowing the whole journey of how they got there made it even more impressive for some kids. That two days before, I had students asking me to stand beside them for support as they did a dress rehearsal in front of the class. That one student absolutely froze and was convinced she was going to faint. That a display board was literally unassembled a day before, not because the parts weren’t all there, but because this student has some roadblocks getting work to completion.
The day arrived.
I didn’t have to stand beside anyone as they presented. That student didn’t faint, and in fact, came to tell me how well her speech had gone. And the board came together, with the help a big sister and a confidence boost from home the night before.
It’s not often that we ask students to be so vulnerable. It’s scary.
Even more so for the kids who had two RCMP officers in uniform sitting in front of them as judges!
Brene Brown writes that “Choosing our own comfort over hard conversations is the epitome of privilege.” I was also proud of the students who chose tough topics, ones that challenge our narratives and call attention to colonial practices. Residential Schools. Highway of Tears and MMIW. The Sixties Scoop. LGBTQ Pride Awareness. A student who chose John A. Macdonald as a topic and didn’t ignore his racist policies. A student researching the Canadian Pacific Railway WITH HER SOLE FOCUS ON THEIR COLONIAL PRACTICES AND THEIR HARMFUL EFFECTS ON CHINESE AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLE. Wow. I sometimes forget these kids are 12 years old.
They give me hope.
The Canadian Pacific Railway was finished on November 7, 1885. The last spike was pounded in by Donald A. Smith in Eagle Pass, British Columbia. It was a huge success for Canada. All that was seen at the time was the railway, a sign of unity, power and a quickly developing country. What wasn’t significant in the minds of Canada – or the rest of the world – was the price that others had paid for their benefit. The Chinese and what could almost have been called slavery. Half of the population being called upon to hand over resources and money to a cause that had nothing to do with them. First Nations being forced off their land by white settlers that had just come to Canada and still were favoured over the people native to the country. Those are the things that nobody sees. And sometimes, they are the things that matter most. Some people look only at the good history, the things that Canada has done well and done fairly. But to get a true picture of Canada’s history and who we really are, I believe that we need to look deeper. The only way to learn is to learn from our mistakes. And I believe that the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway is an opportunity to do just that.
When we care, and make ourselves vulnerable, disappointment can be soul-crushing. And because we are only allowed to send six projects out of our 53 to the next level of competition, I had a lot of disappointed kids.
And for different reasons, none of the examples I mentioned above were chosen by the judges to move on. There was a range of reactions to that disappointment: some were angry, some wanting to place blame, and some literally already planning for next year.
It was a good teachable moment, made even more poignant when a student asked, “Well if we didn’t move on, what was the point of it all?”
We asked “why” so often through the process, I never anticipated we would be asking it at the end.
So we answered that together too.
Like I said, they give me hope.
It’s difficult for me to write essays and present information to you, because like most of you I’m scared to be judged. Today I’m talking about LGBTQ+ movement. This topic needs to be discussed more. Yes, gay marriage has been legalized and yet there are people who still don’t understand the community. There are parts of the world where being gay will get you killed. I believe most people understand and accept our community and yet sometimes that’s all they see when they look at gay people – they forget we are human beings. Our gender and/or sexuality is not all of who we are. It does not define who we are, just like your gender and sexuality are not what you are…I hope you will have gone home with a little more knowledge than before. Remember that no matter who we are or what we do, we are all equal. One day I hope sexuality isn’t what people think define us all. I hope we accept everyone for who they are. And remember, ‘open your mind to wonder instead of closing it with beliefs.’
Till next week, tervetuloa, tawâw, welcome.
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