Jun 02

Chris Smeaton

Stakeholder Engagement

The following article was written for and published in the Lethbridge Herald on May 31, 2017.

One of the four strategic priorities for our division is, “Stakeholders will be well engaged in the educational system.” We would like to believe that school newsletters, blogs or other social media options, press releases and school council meetings would serve the purpose and allow us to “put a check in that box.” While all of these communication strategies may be effective in delivering messages and information, they generally lack the ability to truly hear from stakeholders. We recognize the importance of teacher feedback to students yet, especially in the past, have been more reticent to open ourselves up to honest and constructive feedback from our stakeholders.

Open houses still have a place in gathering feedback, especially from our parents, and public consultations can bring together diverse voices in the community. However, in a very busy world, it is difficult for many of our stakeholders to free their schedules to participate in-person. In our division, with both urban and rural school populations, this issue is further exacerbated. Recognizing this challenge, Holy Spirit Catholic School Division has utilized an online solution called ThoughtExchange that provides our Board, senior administration and school leaders with tremendous feedback and ensures both government accountability and public assurance.

The ThoughtExchange process is simple and allows for parents, staff, students and community members to contribute. The result is that key ideas emerge that either affirm our work or indicate a need for course correction. To begin with, we ask three open ended questions:

  1. What aspects of our school life best demonstrate that we are authentically Catholic schools?
  2. What are some ways our division and school can strengthen our Catholic identity?
  3. What are some ways we might better prepare our students for a changing future?

Participants are asked to share their answers to these questions during the “Share” phase of the process. This year, a total of 1,474 distinct thoughts were generated by 778 participants. Almost 75% of these respondents were parents.

The second phase allows participants to add stars to the thoughts shared by others. Each thought can receive between one to five stars, depending on the individual’s belief in the importance of a particular thought. Over 42,500 stars were assigned during this year’s process. This “Star” phase allows the division and each school to easily see what is most important to their stakeholders. The software analyzes the starring patterns and reveals areas of interest and concern.

Final results can be viewed from both the division and individual school levels. At the public Board meeting held in May, these results were presented to the Board of Trustees. They have also been shared with our schools with an expectation that they will be reviewed at school council meetings. But, to increase the level of transparency, the final “Discover” phase, makes all of the results public and accessible through this link.

ThoughtExchange has been a tremendous resource for obtaining open and honest feedback from our stakeholders. It has allowed us to move forward, confident that our stakeholders are well engaged and supportive of the priorities of our school division.

May 14

Chris Smeaton

Take the road less travelled- St. Michael’s Pincher Creek Graduation Address

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen and a warm welcome to our St. Michael’s Graduates of 2017.

I always enjoy bringing greetings on behalf of the school division to all of our graduating classes, and today marks the first two of our four high school graduations in the division. In both of these graduations here at St. Michael’s and earlier this morning at CCH, their principals will make their final principal address. At the end of this school year, we will say good bye to Mr. Kuchison as principal of St. Michael’s. I would be hard pressed to find a stronger advocate for students than Mr. K. He cares deeply for his students and consistently strives to build positive relationships with them. This is one of his greatest gifts. And so before I bring my remarks, I offer my sincere congratulations and best wishes to Mr. Kuchison.

Take the road less travelled is a powerful grad theme and an excellent model of how to take on life. It does provide a dilemma though since often it is easier to follow the road more travelled. It is easier to go along with the crowd, to be silent when you should be heard and to step away instead of stepping forward. In other words, the road most travelled is safe!

It is not that your parents or your educators want you to be unsafe and reckless, but they did not raise you or educate you and God certainly didn’t create you to live a mundane existence. There has always been a challenge to you to go beyond and push yourself. We all want you to be the best versions of yourselves and that cannot come about by taking the road most travelled.

But taking the road less travelled does not mean going forward with your eyes closed in reckless abandon. It is not without thought or practice, but it is always with action. And it is this action rather than any word you speak that will demonstrate you are on the road less travelled.

The road less travelled is not about fame or fortune, an award you want or a position you covet. It is much simpler than that but also much more difficult in today’s society because the road less travelled is counter cultural. It is about making big changes in our world with small gestures; the gestures of friendship, of kindness, of compassion and of forgiveness; the giving of time and of one’s self; the act of standing up for the marginalized and lifting up the downtrodden. While we would like to believe that is common in our world, the fact is, it is a lonely road where few travel often.

In Catholic Education we are fortunate to acknowledge that Jesus is our best example of taking the road less travelled. He consistently spoke against injustice and intolerance and lived with faith and passion. And he calls us each and every day to come along on that road.

When you walk out of the doors of St. Michael’s for the last time this year, commit to taking the road less travelled. Challenge yourself to go against the flow; to speak when it is easier to be silent; to stand up when it is easier to sit down; and to give when it is easier to take. Be open and proud of your faith because that is a road less travelled! In the end, live your life so that you are a shining example for your parents, your peers and your future generations! Take the road less travelled because it is always the right road to the right destination.

On behalf of the entire school division, I wish you congratulations and God’s blessings! Thank you!

 

May 14

Chris Smeaton

Super Human Gifts- Catholic Central High School Graduation Address

Oki, Bonjour Mesdames et Monsieurs and Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen and especially to our CCH Graduates of 2017.

I always enjoy bringing greetings on behalf of the school division to all of our graduating classes, and today marks the first of four high school graduations in our division and the first of two which are held today, one in Lethbridge and one in Pincher Creek. And in both of these graduations here at Catholic Central and later this afternoon at St. Michael’s, their principals will make their last principal address. At the end of this school year, we will say good bye to Mrs. Koran as principal of CCH. She is extremely bright, has a sly sense of humour and one of the best instructional leaders that I have ever worked with. Mrs. Koran is one of the greatest advocates for CCH and to say that she bleeds Cougar blue and white would be an understatement. And so on behalf of the entire school division, I would offer my sincere congratulations and best wishes to Mrs. Koran.

Super Human Gifts is your grad theme this year. At first glance, with all of the super hero and science fiction movies out there, one might equate super human gifts to supernatural powers. But we all know that none of us have x-ray vision, can fly unassisted or simply disappear. There are no Green Lanterns, Wonder Woman or Silver Surfers around…they don’t exist. And while those are all fiction, super human gifts are quite real and live in each of us. What makes them super is our ability to use them to the fullest. In my address I want to focus on three gifts that we have inside of us, the gift to learn, the gift to love and the gift of faith.

All of us were given the gift to learn albeit at different rates and through various ways and methods. Some are book smart, some are street smart, while others can build or design and others can dream, imagine and create. We are all unique. The gift to learn does not come to an end since you are graduating high school, or once you finished post-secondary. It is a life gift and it becomes super when you use it to become the best version of yourself, be it single or married, parent or not, novice or elder. Be a learner forever in all things.

The gift of love as super human is best described in 1 Corinthians, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Make love a super human gift, by sharing your compassion, showing mercy and building relationships.

And finally, you have been given the super human gift of faith. This may be the hardest to understand at your age and it will continue to be the most difficult to live in our secular culture. Faith in one God or Creator, belief in a higher power and acceptance that the Holy Spirit lives within you will be your greatest ally in life. Your ability to have faith will be a game changer. Your desire to live a faith filled life even through all your struggles and disappointments is a super human gift that will always protect you and lead you home.  

Take your grad theme to heart. These gifts are not supernatural; they live within you and so find your own super human gifts and grow and share them.

On behalf of the school division, I wish you the best of luck in your future and wish you God’s blessings. Thank you!

May 07

Chris Smeaton

Let the celebrations begin!

Last week’s From the Desk of the Superintendent had an almost exclusive focus on Catholic Education. The threat is still very real but after returning from another successful Blueprints Retreat, there is renewed hope because of the quality of Catholic educators throughout the province. It doesn’t hurt to spend some quality time with David Wells, who always lifts your spirits. He will be with us here in Holy Spirit to start off our 2017-18 school year and for those who have not had the pleasure to hear him, you are in for a real treat.

What I neglected in my last post, I want to address today and it centers on celebration. While we have ample opportunities to celebrate throughout the year, it seems that from the month of May forward, we ramp it up! On Monday we begin with our traditional First Nations Feather Blessing and Metis Sash Presentation Ceremony at Catholic Central High School. It is always a highlight for me to share in this tremendous honor with our aboriginal students and families. We are so blessed in our Division to have the guidance of Elder Peter Strikes With A Gun who leads this special ceremony.

Image result for peter strikes with a gun

The Feather Blessing and Metis Sash Presentation Ceremony lead into our first two high school graduations of the year. Both Catholic Central High School in Lethbridge and St. Michael’s School in Pincher Creek host their graduation masses, ceremonies and banquets this weekend. It is a little bit of driving to attend both but, so important for me to be able to bring greetings and celebrate with our graduating students and families. Please keep our students and their families in your prayers this coming week.

Last week we honored our latest Excellence in Catholic Education Award winner, Lorelie Lenaour and this week we celebrate our Edwin Parr Award nominee at a banquet in Taber. The Edwin Parr Award recognizes outstanding first year teaching. This year, Holy Spirit Catholic School Division is pleased to support Caitlyn Kasprick as our representative. Ms. Kasprick, a teacher at Father Leonard Van Tighem School  will be the toast of the evening along with other nominees from Zone 6.

On Tuesday evening, the Board of Trustees host their annual Long Service Awards. The evening begins with a mass (our Catholic tradition), followed by the awards and concludes with a social. Beginning at the 5-year mark, all staff are recognized for continuous service on five year intervals. In my travels, I’ve not witnessed a more robust long service program and so I want to congratulate the Board for their commitment to this recognition. I highlight this fact because often we believe that our norm (how we do things in Holy Spirit) is “the norm” around the province and country. I understand that not all recipients are able to attend and so for those who won’t be there I just want to thank you for your years of service and commitment to Holy Spirit Catholic School Division.

Finally, the last celebration I want to acknowledge is Mother’s Day. To my own mom, to my wife, the mother of our two grown children and to all the mothers in our communities, I want to wish you the very best. There is nothing closer to God’s unconditional love than that of the love of a mother. And so from all the daughters and sons out there we ask for God’s blessing on our mothers. May we always love them deeply, cherish their life and honor their memory.

Image result for God's blessing for mothers

May 01

Chris Smeaton

From the Desk of the Superintendent- May 2017

Blueprints starts on Tuesday evening but today and tomorrow morning, Catholic senior administrators are attending our regular meeting. We always begin with mass and today we were honoured to have Bishop McGrattan celebrate the Eucharist with us. He then joined us in our meeting to give all of us a better understanding of his leadership and direction for Catholic Education. While his approaches may be categorically different from his predecessor Bishop Henry, his commitment and support of Catholic Education is similarly, unwavering.

So let’s begin with a conversation about Catholic Education as it certainly has dominated the news of late. The rhetoric of only one publicly funded system is again becoming popular. The news out of Theodore, Saskatchewan where non-Catholic students will not be funded if attending Catholic schools beginning in 2018 adds fuel to the fire. But let us not push the panic button just this yet. The Theodore case has been in the courts for 12 years and already the Saskatchewan government is arguing it. Appeals are probable and so the question of non-Catholic families needing to leave Catholic schools is premature to say the least.

But with Catholic Education under such scrutiny, merely applying the “wait and see” strategy is likely ill-advised. Lawyers will be involved, so let them handle the legal dilemma and quite honestly we need to let the politicians deal in that arena. Our role, for those of us in the system, is simply to do what we should be doing all the time- offering the highest quality of Catholic Education in our schools each and every day! Demonstrate our uniqueness! Showcase how our faith is permeated in all that we do! Find the face of Christ in every child we serve, and in every parent and adult we meet. Be proud of how Catholic schools are fabrics of our communities and how all of us in Catholic Education play a part in God’s plan. This is not a wait and see approach but rather an intentional practice to solidify not just our constitutional right but more importantly our responsibility to the children entrusted to our care. If there is ever a time for our Catholic community to come together, it is now!

I’ve served in Catholic Education since I began my career in 1985 and there has always been a perceived threat. Maybe this threat is the same as always or maybe it is more intense. Regardless, all of us in Catholic Education, regardless of denomination need to be prepared to stand up if required. I’ve long argued that Alberta has one of the best education systems in the world in part because of publicly funded school choice and because of that, it is worth protecting!

Enjoy some spring weather and have a great May!

 

Apr 19

Chris Smeaton

Foundational Knowledge of First Nations, Métis and Inuit

The following article was published in the Lethbridge Herald on April 19, 2017.

In the coming months, new standards will be unveiled for teachers, as well as school and system leaders. The current Teaching Quality Standard came into effect in 1997 and, although it has served the education system well, it certainly requires an update. Principals have been governed by the Principal Quality Practice and superintendents have operated under the CASS Practice Standard. The new legislated quality standards will be described in terms of competencies and indicators and should further enhance the professional practice of all. All Alberta teachers, and school and system leaders will be expected to meet their unique quality standard throughout their careers.

An area that has been added to all three standards is foundational knowledge about First Nations, Métis and Inuit people for the benefit of all students. Teachers will be required to develop and apply this foundational knowledge, principals will support the school community in acquiring and applying this knowledge, and superintendents will establish structures and provide necessary resources. A key understanding is that this foundational knowledge is for the benefit of all Alberta students. It is not localized to areas where a high population of indigenous people exist. Regardless of the numbers of self-identified First Nations, Métis or Inuit students, this is the common standard.

Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary this year and there is no better time to fundamentally shift our thinking and attitudes towards our aboriginal people. The treatment of our indigenous people has left a black mark on our Canadian history and unfortunately most of us have little knowledge about the origin of that treatment. Would any of us agree with our own children being forcibly removed from our homes? Would we accept having our language, culture, and traditions eliminated? Would we tolerate the prevalent attitude of former government officials like Duncan Campbell Scott, head of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 – 1932, when he suggested, “I want to get rid of the Indian problem.”

It is an ugly truth that should be no longer hidden from our students or simply glossed over. The new standards will provide our Alberta students with an opportunity to accurately reflect and demonstrate the strength and diversity of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people. Societal change can only occur through a true understanding of the historical, social, economic, and political implications of the treaties and agreements with First Nations, the legislation and agreements negotiated with Métis, and of residential schools and their legacy.

School systems have the task of ensuring we move in the right direction; toward reconciliation, truth and understanding. We can no longer accept lagging achievement results. It is time to raise the bar and close the gap. We must stop making excuses and start finding solutions to build capacity amongst our First Nations, Métis and Inuit students. Without confronting some of our brutal history, we will not achieve the societal change required to make Canada truly great and, as in most cases, it needs to start with education.

Apr 03

Chris Smeaton

From the Desk of the Superintendent- April 2017

I’m writing this message as I’m on my flight to Halifax to attend my biannual Education Development, Research and Innovation (ERDI) Conference. For those unaware of ERDI, the conference brings together 50 superintendents from across Canada to meet with corporate companies and review new innovations. Beyond the obvious advantage of connecting with senior educational leaders from across the country, I’m able to bring back to Holy Spirit some innovative ideas and solutions that support the work in our division. The national exposure for Holy Spirit is also beneficial as large corporate organizations know who and where we are and desire to partner with us because of our ability to implement quickly and respond rapidly.

Speaking of work, we just completed our third Continuous Improvement Plan Reviews in our schools. This review was characterized by senior educators visiting classrooms, observing instructional practices and then meeting with school administration to discuss successes and challenges on realizing our three priorities of faith development, literacy and numeracy and First Nations, Metis and Inuit learning. We know from research the importance of senior administration being in schools and in particular in classrooms to keep current and provide support. Getting out of my office, into schools and classrooms and visiting with staff and students is still the highlight of my job.

If you’ve been keeping up with our Here in Spirit newsletter, you’ll know that we are beginning to see the face of our leaders changing. Over the next 3-5 years, we will experience considerable change around the Learning Leadership Team table. This is not unique to Holy Spirit as many divisions across the province are facing similar challenges. I think we are well positioned in many ways because of the strength of our associate principal pool and Catholic leadership program but, I would be naïve to believe that we will be able to fill all of our senior and school administration positions (potentially 22 in the next 5-8 years) internally. I’m always on the lookout for leaders and if you are considering a transition into formal leadership, I would invite you to set up a meeting with me to discuss your future plans. My door is always open!

Minister of Education David Eggen was in town on Friday to meet with the Board of Trustees. As part of his visit he toured our newest school, St. Teresa of Calcutta since he was unable to attend the grand opening back in October. The innovative design and creative learning space of the school has caught the attention of Alberta Infrastructure and is currently being highlighted. Capital projects continue to be a priority in the division. St. Michael’s School in Pincher Creek modernization will be completed for September 2017. We are close to tendering our St. Patrick’s Taber modernization which is expected to be completed for September 2018. The Board continues to be hopeful that a new elementary school for west Lethbridge is announced next budget cycle and continues to advocate for the modernization of St. Francis. The complete capital plan which was passed at the March Board meeting can be found here. For more details about the March Board meeting, please check out the Board Briefs.   

We were blessed again this year with a wonderful Spiritual Development Day and a big thanks to Joann Bartley and the entire planning committee. Fr. Cristino set the tone with a great message around prayer in his opening keynote and I certainly appreciated his willingness to provide two Q & A sessions. Not many of us have the confidence or conviction to just stand up in front of a crowd and take questions, especially when those questions revolve around controversial issues. I knew Fr. Cristino when he was a student in Medicine Hat and his faith was great back then and so my admiration for him continues. Spiritual Development Day provided all of us some great faith development during this time of Lent. Now, with Easter just around the corner, we bear down in our preparation for the death and resurrection of Christ.

And so as I close off this message, I want to wish all a very blessed Easter. May the hope of the resurrection and the passion of our Lord be in your heart! God Bless!

Mar 25

Chris Smeaton

Let’s Innovate!

Let’s innovate! We need an education system that provides us with students who are innovative and creative. To be successful in the future, students need to be adaptable and flexible. They need to be great communicators, collaborators and let’s throw in that they can get along with everybody they meet! That is exactly what our division, province/state or country really needs from the education system. We need students who are globally competitive! Sound familiar?

Oh, did I forget to mention that we need all of those skills and competencies developed but let’s not really change anything. Instead of doing what is best for students, we should continue to listen to a very loud minority who complain excessively about the current system but heaven forbid, reject any sort of change. They still want letter grades, percentages, rankings, back to the basics and anything that was the norm when they went to school because you know… it worked for them. To be honest, I’m not sure it worked for them when I listen to some of their rhetoric!!!

If we want to create a system of education that engages students, prepares them for a future that we can only imagine, then don’t shackle educators with arbitrary or worse ancient and irrelevant rules. Allow education to move away from only an accountability system to an assurance model where stakeholders understand the difference between high quality learning and compliant testing. That doesn’t mean we don’t need standardized tests to maintain and check on standards but let’s look for assessments that can illustrate the competencies learned by our students and not evaluations that simply require a regurgitation of knowledge. Let’s look for ways where students can demonstrate their learning beyond a paper and pencil test because most of us, as I’ve said before, are evaluated on our performance and not simply our test taking skills. Employers have little use for employees who know their stuff but can’t apply it!

A couple of weeks ago I met with my C21 Canada Leadership Academy colleagues. We are a group of K-12 leaders from across the country focused on setting national direction so Canada doesn’t just remain good in the world but transforms to great. Each of us has examples of greatness in our own systems and when I engage with my colleagues I learn a tremendous amount. I gain multiple perspectives, I witness various strategies and I come back to my division ready to share my learning. But I also am affirmed in those visits with colleagues and from tours of their schools. I see so many examples of high quality learning and innovative practice that I also witness in our own division. Learn and affirm are required to move us away from the status quo and to shake off those naysayers who want us to go back to the “good old days.” Whether I write this as a superintendent, a dad or now a grandpa, I can’t ever imagine believing that the status quo is good enough! The education system that every child deserves moves forward, challenges what school ought to be and pushes the boundaries outward.

So just because the system worked for “them” doesn’t mean it will or can work for the students in our classrooms today. The world is too different, too complex to “do it like we’ve always done it and expect different results.” Bold leaders in government, (not those who pander to loud minorities), collaborative and forward thinking system and school leaders (not those who rule with an iron fist) and, fearless and passionate teachers (not those who make excuses) are required. Building better systems that can engage young minds and activate a love of learning intrinsically cannot ever be accomplished by doing more of the same. It is time to break the mold of what school was and create what school needs to be. Our students deserve it and our society needs it!

Mar 13

Chris Smeaton

Spiritual Development Day- March 13, 2017

I want to provide you with my opening address from this morning but before I do, I just want to reflect briefly on the day. Maybe I’m a little bias because I’m the superintendent, but I thought today was phenomenal. Fr. Cristino hit it out of the park with his keynote and the simple message of how to ensure we pray: (1) Schedule it, (2) Make a plan, (3) Be realistic and (4) Be consistent. But what was even more impressive to me was his willingness to answer tough questions about morality, controversial issues and spirituality. Some may not have agreed with his Catholic responses but all should admire his willingness to be upfront and open about our faith. In the world of being politically correct it was refreshing just to hear the raw voice!

I attended both of his sessions but I know that throughout the day, we had tremendous presentations from our own staff and others. I’m so very proud of all our staff who were willing to present on various topics. It is never easy to present to your peers and even more taxing when it is about something as personal as faith. Well done and thank you to all who presented.

Finally, what an honor to have our new Bishop of Calgary lead our Eucharistic Celebration. I had the chance to visit with him during lunch and into the afternoon and if my first impressions are correct, Bishop McGrattan is truly a gift for our school division. I’m looking forward to getting to know him better, working with him and forging a strong relationship. We were very blessed that only two weeks into the job, he is in our school division. Big thanks to Fr. Kevin!

And now my opening address.

Good morning! Before I begin, I want to first thank all who have been involved in today. Joann and the Division Religious Education Committee and of course Becky in the background, have put together a fabulous day of faith development. Regardless of where any of us are on our own faith journey, today has something for everyone to be able to nurture and grow in one’s faith.

I would like to say that my opening comments are my own but the truth is, like a good teacher, I borrow or steal others’ thoughts or practices and that is what I’ve done today. Credit goes to the book, “Being Catholic” from the course Catholicism which many of us are currently studying and our own Fr. Kevin.

Let me start with this passage from “Being Catholic.”

Christians are not distinguishable from others either by nationality, language, or custom. They don’t inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect. With regard to dress, food, and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in.” pg 153

If someone was to walk in to this gymnasium right now, beyond the symbols of our faith, they would not see anything different. We dress similar, look similar; we are a microcosm of the world, a multicultural community.

But we are different or should be different in our values, our priorities and our actions. As Catholics, as Christians, our values differ from many of those out there in this secular world. We are counter-cultural, just as Jesus was some 2000 years ago. And if we are true to our values, our priorities, our faith, then we should just be a little out of step with the rest of the world. Not easy to be out of step but our faith calls us to be that way.

 Unfortunately we can’t just be out of step in our words or in the silence of our homes. We need to live it outwardly and role model it in our community, to our students, and to each other. Living it, does not mean judging or condemning the person who has been seduced by this secular world but rather correcting the action. As Father Kevin said last night, we never have the right to judge but we always have a duty to correct.

Correction is difficult especially in the faith area because we often don’t really know what the Church teaches. And that is why our faith plan, “Rooted in Christ” where we follow Jesus in the weekly Gospels and days like today where we really dig in to our faith, allows us better ability to correct and not judge.

Today, people are more concerned with how they look as opposed to how they pray. They measure success with how much you get instead of how much you give. And they like rules as long as they don’t infringe on their own rights. Being people of faith, we understand it is not easy to be different. Yet, if we are not different in our words and our actions then we risk becoming numb to the indifferences in our world, to accepting the Godlessness and ultimately being consumed by secular values.

I pray that today will continue to form your faith as you journey in Holy Spirit Catholic Schools. Thank you and God Bless!

 

 

Mar 10

Chris Smeaton

Adverse Childhood Experiences

The following blog post was printed in the Lethbridge Herald on March 8, 2017

Last week, as part of our ongoing professional learning, school and system leaders watched the documentary, “Paper Tigers.” It is a story about an alternative high school in the state of Washington and its turnaround due to a focus and understanding of brain development and the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Holy Spirit leaders have committed to learning more about brain development in order to better support all of our students.

We know that childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have an impact of the development of a child. While we often believe that stress is about negative experiences, we need to understand that not all stress is bad. Positive stress, like meeting new people or starting the first day of school, is actually helpful. With adult support even some tough and stressful situations can assist children in preparing their brains and bodies for future challenges. Resiliency is developed over time through supportive adults teaching coping skills, as opposed to simply eliminating stressful situations all together.

On the other end of the spectrum of positive and tolerable stress is what is most concerning to the development of the child’s brain. Toxic stress is severe and ongoing and often caused by abuse, neglect and addiction. Research is showing that this type of stress, without any buffering from supportive adults, has impacts throughout school into adulthood.  Toxic stress is an adverse childhood experience.

Adverse Childhood Experiences are reported through the lenses of abuse, neglect and family/household challenges. A simple questionnaire of 10 questions provides an ACE score (http://www.ncjfcj.org/sites/default/files/Finding%20Your%20ACE%20Score.pdf). The long term effect of a high ACE score is staggering with increases in risks of future violence as well as negative impacts to health and opportunity. For example, a person with an ACE score of 4 or more is 7 times more likely to go to prison and 12 times more likely to attempt suicide.  Unfortunately, even in the best neighbourhoods and within the highest socioeconomic status, all children can experience toxic stress in their first 18 years of life.

There are many strategies within education to mitigate the impact of these negative experiences. Strong early learning programs with a focus on growth through play and interaction are key. Ensuring that every student has at least one significant adult in his/her school life is essential. And finally, understanding that a child’s severe misbehaviour is often due to a lack of skill and not a lack of desire, and that responding with empathy is vital. Educators and especially those in leadership positions must continue to build their knowledge on brain development to ensure that we are able to support students to develop the skills they require to become healthy, contributing and resilient adults.

But our greatest chance of success towards building better brains and decreasing negative childhood experiences must come from society as a whole. It cannot rest solely in the educational realm. Parents, grandparents and other caregivers are key participants, but so are politicians, business and industry leaders and the general public. The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (http://www.albertafamilywellness.org/) provides some excellent user friendly videos and resources. We now have the research on brain development to make great strides in the lives of all citizens and the time is now to make it happen!

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