The importance of play!

This past week I visited one of our Pre-Kindergarten classrooms to observe their Science Fair. Imagine that! Four year olds with their parents engaged in neat experiments, laughing and learning through play. When I reflect on the activities I witnessed, two main messages come through loud and clear.

The first message is targeted at parents. It is very unfortunate that our societal norm leaves us with little family time. Working parents are coming home after long hours, exhausted, often forced just to stay afloat. But as difficult as it is, our children require our attention to simply play. What was occurring in this early learning class were “experiments” that were easy to do and fully engaging. This “play” time was not only a positive bonding experience but also a learning opportunity for the children. I would never speak ill of technology but active play is critical for a child’s development. There was such great learning that occurred in the past when children helped parents cook and bake, played hide and seek or explored the wonders of the local park together. Too often we get caught up in “doing homework” instead of losing ourselves in a good book or watching another video instead of playing outside.

The second message goes out to our primary educators. Many years ago, there was a premium when students sat quietly in straight rows of desks and worked independently. That was an example of good classroom management. And while classroom management is important, the true role of school needs to focus on learning. In today’s schools, learning cannot be optimized in straight rows of desks with quiet students. In fact, primary rooms (K-3) should have at the minimum, desks in pods (if desks at all), tables and learning centres where students are actively (which means not quiet) engaged. I will take it one step farther and say that in K-3 classes, play (intellectual and social) should be an integral part of the learning structure.    

For most of the its history, education has been a compliance activity. Those students who sat up, listened, worked independently generally did well based on how we measured success. Today however, we need to move students from being compliant to becoming committed. Learning needs to become a commitment for our students and one way to facilitate that change is to welcome play into your home and your classroom.

Living and Learning

This weekend I provided messages to the graduation classes of Catholic Central High School in Lethbridge and St. Michael’s School in Pincher Creek. With both convocations being on the same day, it was a mad dash to finish up with CCH in the morning and then drive  the 1 hour to arrive in time for the ceremony in Pincher Creek.  Although another member of my senior administration could have provided the address, I believe that whenever possible, it is my responsibility to be present and celebrate our graduates. Guest speakers have the right to have a longer speech but I’m of the thought that my remarks should be fairly concise and carry a message that is linked to the graduation theme. Therefore, here is one of my addresses this past weekend. Enjoy!

Oki! Bonjour mesdames et messieurs and good morning ladies and gentlemen, honoured guests and graduates of 2012. It is my pleasure to bring greetings on behalf of the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division.

This past week I have been present at two traditions of CCH graduations, the Feather Blessing Ceremony & Metis Sash presentation on Monday and our graduation mass last night. Traditions like these speak to who we are and more importantly who we want to become. Traditions like these also speak to your theme of Living and Learning.

Living is not only about today or this week (as we parents sigh in relief). It is about yesterday and the many days to come. Living is not about getting what you want but receiving what you need. It is not about giving because you have to it is about giving because you want to. And finally, living is not a gift for yourself but rather a gift to share with others.  Our Catholic background, our Christian faith calls us to live a life of service and I would suggest that through your parents and families guidance and the entire school system, you have developed an exceptional response especially in the area of social justice. In fact, you are part of today’s youth who have a far better understanding of injustice, intolerance and prejudice than any generation previous. It is you, the youth of today who, often through social media have changed political landscapes, brought awareness to economic travesties and alerted the world to war criminals like Joseph Kony. You have said this is not right, this is not acceptable, what can we do to change it and then began to change it. That is not a life for self, it is a life for others. Continue to embrace this life!

Unfortunately learning has been defined in today’s world simply as results. Learning is a process that all of us should be engaged in during our entire life. While a result is final, learning is continual. Learning is less about natural ability and skill and far more about effort. It is about having a mindset that is focused on growth and development and less about the end result. In today’s world we need learners. Learners want to improve, they want to get better and be better. Our world needs learners who are creative and innovative, who want to ask why before how. We need people like you who embrace struggle, who risk take, who fail forward and who understand learning, especially deep learning causes us to be stretched and somewhat uncomfortable. You can be satisfied with a result but never stop your desire to learn more.

Living and learning is not just a graduation theme, it is a way of life. And this way of life has been influenced by many. Please do not forget to give thanks to all those that have helped you live and learn throughout these past years. Thank the teachers and staff members in your schools, your friends and families, your parents and especially as we celebrate this Mother’s Day weekend, thank your mothers. God’s love is often compared to a mother’s love- unconditional and forever. Don’t forget your moms!  

As you leave your high school experience, remember to live fully, love deeply and learn always! On behalf of the division, I wish each and every one of you God’s blessings. Thank you!

From the Desk of the Superintendent- May 2012

Last night I returned from spending a week in beautiful Kananaskis, Alberta. The purpose for being out of the office for a week was twofold. First, I met for two days with other Catholic superintendents around the province. This is an excellent opportunity to share our experiences, mentor one another, further develop our faith and finally, discuss issues regarding Catholic Education. We meet four times a year and this meeting is held in Kananaskis due to the Blueprints conference which follows. Blueprints is an annual conference hosted by the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association (ACSTA) with a targeted audience of Catholic administrators, trustees and clergy. This year, Holy Spirit had 11 administrators, 1 trustee and 2 parish priests attend. Blueprints and its sister conference Spice, for teachers and support staff, are powerful faith development events that generally leave participants physically exhausted but spiritually renewed. This year, as conference chair, I was part of an outstanding committee who were able to bring in Reverend Raymond Carey from Portland, Oregon. Over a three day period, he challenged us with the theme of “Shalom: Seeking Wholeness and Balance in Catholic Leadership.” We really are blessed to have Catholic education in our province and conferences devoted to nurturing our faith and spirituality are instrumental in our continued success.  

The regular April board meeting began with the introduction and recognition of Ms. Nicole Parkin, a teacher at St. Michael’s School in Pincher Creek. Ms. Parkin has been selected as the Edwin Parr Award nominee for Holy Spirit. The Edwin Parr Award recognizes excellence in first year teaching. On May 9th, a banquet will be held to honor all of the nominees from neighbouring school divisions and one will be chosen to represent Zone 6. With the election over, the Board requested that letters of congratulations be sent to our new Premier and our local MLA’s. Other action items included the approval of a number of Locally Developed Courses, items for discussion with the Council of School Council Chairs and continued support of “A Public Education” campaign.  The Board also reviewed and amended Policy 18: Board Governance and Policy 20: Fiscal Stewardship. For a complete review of the April meeting check out Board Meeting Briefs.

We continue to plan for the coming school year as we prepare our budget that supports our strategic priorities of (1) Catholic Identity, (2) Success for Every Student and (3) Generative Governance. A generative governance structure requires multiple stakeholder feedback loops. The Board of Trustees and Senior Administration have made a conscious effort to increase two-way communication throughout their term, with public consultations, transformation conversations and face to face meetings. This month the Board of Trustees will meet for the third time this school year with the Council of School Council Chairs (COSC). To enhance this dialogue, the Board Chair and/or myself will sit with the group to answer any pressing questions. This will ensure that the meeting agenda will focus on rich discussion and fruitful dialogue on topics that impact our entire system. A great example of this was the rich dialogue held on Provincial Achievement Tests at the last COSC meeting.  Another important method of gaining stakeholder feedback is through our Schollie Surveys. The data we gather is crucial and therefore I am requesting that you (staff, parents and students) provide your insights. To assist you, we have made all of the surveys available online until May 11th. Please check them out here.

The school year is coming to a close and that means high school graduations. This coming weekend I will be bringing greetings to the graduates of Catholic Central High School in Lethbridge and St. Michael’s School in Pincher Creek. I always look forward to addressing our graduating students. They are our future and they represent the collective effort of their parents, our schools and our parishes. Regardless of the graduation theme, I always try and leave them with a reminder of the importance of faith in their life, purpose in their work and love in their heart. It really is a simple formula to find joy. And so, I close my May message with a blessing for our graduates and a wish that they find Shalom in their lives… perfect balance. God Bless!

 

Mythical barriers to transformation

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve either read or been told that Provincial Achievement Tests (PAT’s) and some other standardized tests are barriers for teachers and systems to transform. I’ve made my beliefs about Provincial Achievement Tests well known to our administrators. I had hoped that this message was also firmly established within our staff and community but alas, assuming is never a good idea. When I hear that PAT’s cause us to teach to the test and not be creative or innovative in the classroom, well… my blood boils and my blood pressure soars!

In Alberta, individual teachers are not evaluated or ranked on PAT results. In fact, I have never heard of a teacher in my travels being terminated for low PAT results.  It doesn’t happen, it is a myth! The only person that can truly be “fired” for low PAT results is me, the superintendent. And so, if it is my neck on the line, and I’ve communicated my belief on PAT’s, why do we continue to allow this mythical barrier? There is some merit that schools may be driven to push PAT results given that they are ranked by external organizations. I find this practice reprehensible because school learning environments have far more depth than just test results and most often the comparisons from school to school are very unfair.  Both schools and divisions are provided an Accountability Pillar report card by the government that highlights test results as well. These color-coded reports can cause some angst when there is more red and orange than blue and green. However, I am a staunch believer that a focus on excellent teaching will lead to excellent results, no matter matter how it is measured. The research is still very clear that the number one contributor to student learning is the quality of the teacher in front of the students!

At our recent AISI School Team planning session, I spoke about measures in general and for our upcoming focus on student engagement. I truly believe that the more intellectually engaged our students are, the more student learning will occur. I’m all about student learning!  We need to be able to measure where students are currently (benchmark) and where they need to get to (outcome). We need to measure improvement. We need to measure learning on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis and we need to celebrate that learning. There is no possible way that PAT’s written every three years can measure the learning we need to measure in education. We need our teachers to recognize and eliminate mythical barriers and provide them with freedom to explore opportunities.

I recognize there are real barriers in education. Our Alberta curriculum with the vast number of outcomes is certainly a barrier. However, the current work within the department on Curriculum Redesign is exciting and should result in creating increased opportunities for our students. Regardless, real barriers must not stifle our move to meeting the needs of every child. We cannot afford to stop the great work of transformation because of real or mythical barriers. Student learning has to be the constant in our classrooms, our schools and our divisions. The parameters currently established may be more restrictive than we wish but within that structure we must maximize flexibility, innovation and creativity. One of our first steps is to eliminate our fear, tolerance and acceptance of mythical barriers. Our students deserve that!

A message to the government

Tomorrow, Albertans go to the polls. This provincial election has been one of the most intriguing in many years as there appears to be no clear cut majority. However, that decision will be left up to all of the people who cast their votes for the candidate and party of their choice. My blog today is not meant to be leading but rather, I want to express a message to the government regarding education regardless of the winning party. Education is on the cusp of greatness and therefore as a passionate educator, I desire that our government and for that matter any government provides an ear to the right people to continue this massive transformation. So here goes…

Board of Trustees– Trustees are the elected officials in our system and responsible to the community. They provide an excellent context and focus on what is best for students. They are typically under-appreciated and that is disheartening. They certainly don’t provide their leadership because of the pittance of pay they receive. They do this often 24/7 job because they care about providing high quality education to students and want the best for the community they serve. Trustees understand they are required to make tough decisions to be good financial stewards but don’t throw them under the bus. Listen to their ideas, dreams and hopes… they will assist greatly in the transformation of education.

Senior Administration– These education (CASS) or business (ASBOA) officials are a great source of information. They have typically come to these positions with a wide range of experiences. Superintendents have been classroom teachers and school principals and so their expertise is vast. They are also leaders and leadership is required to make a difference for all children in education today. Senior administrators view the system from the balcony and the dance floor simultaneously and live in both the political and non-political world. Their insights are crucial in leading a transformative culture.  

Teachers– Improvement of any system must include collaboration with those who work “in the trenches.” Teachers provide the expertise of the here and now. They understand pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. They are charged with the implementation of transforming education at the classroom level and therefore must be part of the conversation. They are able to create opportunities for growth and remove many barriers to guide success. When research suggests that the number one contributor to student success is the quality of the teacher, they cannot be ignored in the conversation.

Parents– We’ve typically liked parents who support us in education and criticized those that don’t. Parents are partners in the education of their children and in reality are their first teachers. There is a need to listen to parents who are satisfied without becoming ecstatic as well as parents who are dissatisfied without being critical. The engagement of parents has never been more important, as they can and will lead the paradigm shifts in thinking required by our communities. Engage them and the system will receive the necessary boost!

Students– “Children should be seen not heard” was probably not acceptable in the past but certainly is not acceptable now! In fact, student voice is essentiall if we truly want to move education forward. Education is not something that we do to our students but what we do with our students. And the only way to truly education with, is to listen to. Students need to be recognized as an important part of the solution. We cannot continue to ignore their dreams, their input and their ideas. There is no one group that has the market on ideas. Student voice is required and we must be open to hear and ultimately confront their sometimes brutal facts!

Tomorrow a government will be elected and soon after a Minister of Education will be named. While there are many others who will provide you expert advice on education, please don’t forget to listen to and engage with the above groups! They will lead Alberta through transformation!

Dissatisfied not critical

Last week, I read the LeadershipFreak blog, “Being Dissatisfied without Becoming Critical.” I’m a great fan of the Leadership Freak but this post has haunted me ever since I read it. A leader, a teacher, even a parent has that same challenge. We are all dissatisfied with something or somebody, but the key point is to turn that dissatisfaction into a positive change rather than viewing it as destructive criticism and failing miserably. It is my belief that true transformation of the education system is being thwarted because we often see dissatisfaction as simply being critical and therefore, our fight or flight reactions take over.

Educators are typically either thin skinned or thick headed, and for many right reasons. The thin skinned comes from everybody and their dog telling educators what they need to do, to be better. Most of these “suggestions” come from non-educators whose only “expertise” comes from being a student, usually a long time ago, and comparing it to a business model that seldom works in “real” school. Don’t get me wrong, we need outside lenses but not everyone should be negative. The second reason we tend to be thin skinned is that every ill in society is either blamed on schools or at the very least, the cures are expected to be accomplished at school. For example, childhood obesity is not a school problem. Most often we deal with the symptoms of the problem but we do not create the problem. Finally, thin skinned comes from a lack of respect of the importance of educators in our North American society. “Those who can do, those who can’t, teach!” is not very complimentary. Not every educator deserves respect but there are far more that do than don’t. I can understand thin skinned but I have no tolerance for thick headed! “Been there! Done that!” or “This too shall pass!” are expressions we should never hear from our educators. In fact, those engaged either through actions or words in that sort of mentality should not be in education any longer. Systems, schools, the profession and students don’t need anymore ROAD (Retired On Active Duty) Warriors or CAVE (Continuously Against Virtually Everything) Dwellers.

Now the question is, “Have I expressed dissatisfaction or have I become critical?” Probably a little of both! And that is why leadership especially in a culture of change is so daunting. Relationships are so essential in moving change forward that often leaders want to “sugar coat” their real feelings of dissatisfaction so that it is not perceived as being critical. We need to acknowledge the great things occurring in our systems and celebrate. We also need to accept that we are not perfect and allow ourselves, without becoming defensive, that there will always be things to improve upon, hence dissatisfaction. Leaders need to applaud efforts in making changes happen even when they are dismal failures. And then, recognize dissatisfaction to ensure that we try and get it right the next time or the next time after that.

I’m very proud of the system that I lead. I believe that we have some of the greatest teachers, administrators, staff and students anywhere. Although I continually “brag” about the work being done in our system, I am still not satisfied. I’m hungry for more! I want all of our students being successful! I want all of our students to be engaged, safe, included and always feeling loved and supported. Truly, should any of us feel satisfied until that dream is realized? A number of years ago, my dissatisfaction cost my family and I greatly. In my position, I can understand the impact on me, but I will never accept the negative impact on my family. While some may argue that I had become critical, the truth depends on your point of view. I know that I entered this profession to make a positive difference in the lives of students and until I can achieve that, for all students, I will be dissatisfied. I may be able to better communicate my dissatisfaction today but…

Change requires us to be dissatisfied! And dissatisfaction needs to be viewed as a positive, a precursor to making things better. It needs to be embraced and enhanced. So the next time you have to share your dissatisfaction, communicate it thoughtfully with respect and when you hear dissatisfaction, respond to it positively with respect too.

Silence is golden!

Silence is golden! But unfortunately, in today’s society it is becoming a lost practice. We have become so plugged in and so activity-based that the gift of silence is neither appreciated nor valued. While I love my apps, listening to my country music and the busyness of my life, I would be lost without some silence. Silence provides an opportunity for prayer, reflection and communication.

This past week Christians around the world celebrated Easter. No matter what tradition you follow, Christian or not, prayer is an important part of our rituals. And prayer in silence is crucial in our connecting with our God. I don’t mean to squelch oral prayer but that silent conversation held between you and your God is required for your spiritual well-being. For me, it comes at the beginning of the day. Over the last number of years, it has become such a regular practice before I begin my work day that when I miss it… I really miss it! Whether it be five or fifteen minutes, that silence brings about a sense of peace and calm as I begin my day.

Silence is also required when we need to reflect or engage in deep thinking. There are times when we need to unplug and just sit quietly and think! The world is so noisy that we are unaccustomed to that silence and therefore this is a skill that must be taught at both home and school. Close your eyes, listen to your breathing and relax are usually substituted in our world for hurry up, quit stalling and give me the answer. We need to promote silence as one of the many ways in which we can reflect and ultimately learn. Collaboration, group work and engaging conversations should still be the norm in our classrooms but silence must also be allowed and encouraged.

Finally, silence is needed for true communication. Conversation involves talking and listening. Have you ever been at one of those large family functions where everybody was talking all at once? There’s a lot of noise but not much communication… unless you’re the loudest! The ability to listen comes from the ability to be silent. Communication is a 21st century competency that we must focus upon and it requires us to be silent. It is sometimes in our silence that we speak the loudest words!

We need to teach our children the importance of silence. We need to teach our children about the power of silent prayer and silent thought. Children need to be able to embrace both noise and silence and not fear either. There needs to be a comfort in quiet times. When you go home today or enter the classroom tomorrow, how are you going to teach the importance of silence? Children, and I would suggest that most of us adults, need to learn and remember that “Silence is golden!”

Autism Awareness Day 2012

Yesterday I headed out to our elementary school in Taber, St. Patrick, and visited our pre-kindergarten program, “Playful Spirits.” I was invited by our Pre-K leader, Mrs. Lastuka, to participate in her room’s celebration of Austism Awareness Day. I knew I was in for a treat when I was told to wear blue and be prepared to play. Mrs. Lastuka had partnered with the grade 4/5 class and together the “bigs” and “littles” played in blue sand, painted, colored eggs, decorated blue puzzle pieces and read books. Tucking my tie into my shirt, I had a great time “playing” with the children. As a superintendent, it is these times, around the children, that I miss the most!!!

However, there were a couple of things that made that morning a very powerful learning experience for me. The first was when we all gathered on the carpet and listened to a mother of an autistic child speak about autism.  She spoke of some symptoms and  challenges that faced the autistic child in simple language that was clearly understood by all of the students. It was about him, about their family and about all of us! Why do I say about us? Well, the statistics are alarming as autism affects 1 in 88 children and in particular 1 in 54 boys. And so, learning the signs and creating a better understanding is crucial.  This is especially critical for our schools so that we can give the gift of doing and witness the gift of being. The understanding and the ability to work and play together is what community is all about.  

And that leads me to my second powerful learning of the day, the importance of COMMUNITY. When I wasn’t coloring eggs or painting a puzzle piece I stood back and just observed. What did I see? Children, as young as three and as old as ten, interacting together without any barriers. There was no ‘we’ and ‘they,’ only a collective ‘us.’ There was only community, where everyone was accepted and welcomed. Yesterday’s event may have been the finest example of inclusion that you are going to find. Inclusion is not about space, but about community. Community is that relationship where ALL childrens’ gifts are recognized and celebrated.

The 1/2 hour drive back to Lethbridge allowed me to reflect on the morning. We’ve come a long way since the days when I began teaching high school in the mid 80’s. Back then, we really didn’t spend much time or effort, as regular classroom teachers, on diverse learning needs. In fact, when the student didn’t “get it,” or just acted differently, we just sent them to another place or into a different stream. We still have miles to go on our journey, but it is promising when we now focus on the assets of the children and what they can do instead of the deficits and what they can’t do. Our children, and ultimately our society, will be far better off when we can experience that type of community in our classrooms. Because that community will build a world of acceptance and support for ALL!

From the Desk of the Superintendent- April 2012

April 1st  means that there is less than three months remaining in this 2011-12 school year and that, is no April Fools joke. With only three months left in the school year, many plans are already well underway for next year. Our budget assumptions were presented at the March board meeting. These assumptions are based on what senior administration believes will impact the budget in the coming year.  Having completed our public consultations and hearing from staff, parents, students and community members in various forums, the 2012-13 strategic priorities have also been passed by the board. The Division will continue to focus on ways to build upon (1) Catholic Identity, (2) Success for Every Student and (3) Generative Governance.

The March board meeting dealt with numerous recommendations in preparations for the coming school year. The 2013-16 Capital Plan was passed and submitted to the government with a continuation of our previous year’s priorities: (1) Modernization of St. Michael School- Pincher Creek, (2) Modernization of St. Patrick- Taber and (3) New construction elementary school- North Lethbridge.  Another significant motion passed was the re-location of the CARE Campus from the McNally Community Centre to the Fr. Keon wing at Catholic Central High School. This decision was made after significant input from our staff and administration and provides for increased safety and transitioning options for our students. Finally, the board approved the recommendations set out in the West Lethbridge Public Consultation Report. The majority of these recommendations will come into effect for the 2012-13 school year and I believe address the concerns and issues heard from our community. For more information on our board meeting, please check out our Board Meeting Briefs.

Holy Spirit Catholic Schools, in partnership with Lethbridge Public and ASBA are promoting two Day in Education election forums on April 3rd and 4th. Lethbridge West candidates will be hosted on April 3rd at Chinook High Media Centre beginning at 7:00 PM, while Lethbridge East candidates will be part of a forum on April 4th at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute. All candidates will be asked to address Bill 2: Education Act and their views on provincial vs. local bargaining in their opening statements. Following those statements, questions from the floor will be responded to by all candidates. I’m hopeful that questions from the floor will revolve around educational topics that include: Catholic education, inclusion, funding, transformation, provincial achievement tests and diploma exams, curriculum and facilities. Please try and come out to listen to all of the candidates in Lethbridge. We are hoping that a similar format will be organized for our rural ridings as well.  

Transformation continues to be a topic of discussion around the division. I recently picked up on a conversation with some junior high Language Arts teachers as they discussed the topic of ensuring that assessment criteria really focused on the learning of the student. It was a powerful conversation that needs to be furthered in all schools and all homes. The new research out on motivation suggests that marks or grades in themselves do not provide for the development of intrinsic motivation for most students and certainly do not forward learning. I related the following coaching example at last week’s transformation conversation in Taber. “Telling your player that she is shooting 63% from the foul line does not improve her performance on the foul line. However, providing feedback on technique, concentration, etc can and will improve her foul shooting.” Specific feedback counts!

I continue to be proud with the many great things happening in our division each day. I am reminded of this when our Board of Trustees presents the Board of Education Leadership Recognition Awards at each school. These awards recognize the high achievement and significant improvement in each of our schools. I also recognize and applaud the commitment of our staffs as they engage in professional learning and dialogue at grade-level meetings and through social media like Twitter. Since joining Twitter (@cdsmeaton) I have been amazed at the professional growth opportunities it provides. It also allows us to share our own expertise to educators around the world like this video on 21st Century Literacy. Check out our own Holy Spirit YouTube channel for some other great video links.

Finally, this week marks the beginning of Holy Week. In our Catholic tradition, it is the most important time of our liturgical calendar. Through Lent, we have tried to live a life that more closely resembles and embodies Christ. Today at our Palm Sunday mass, I was again reminded of the passion of Christ and the compassion of God. In a world that has become far too focused on wealth and material possessions, our Church reminds us to reflect on what is most important in our lives. And so, on behalf of the Board of Trustees and Senior Administration, I wish each of you a blessed Easter with the continued understanding of God’s unconditional love for all.

Words we should never hear in school!

Schools should always try to be safe havens for all students. Even with all the bully-proofing programs offered and the multitude of strategies that school employ, we will never create that panacea. But I believe as educators, we can do something relatively simple that will assist in ensuring that all students, regardless of background, religion, color, creed, ability, etc, can feel the positive effect of a safe and caring environment. That simple task is our attention to and elimination of words that should never be heard in a school!

I first started thinking about writing this blog post last year when a group of parents from our Parents Inclusive Education Roundtable brought a powerful video for our educators to view. Since then, the R-Word: Spread the Word to End the Word campaign has gained international notoriety. Listening to these passionate parents talk about the word “retard or retarded” and how it made them and their children feel caused me to flinch and be overcome with a great sense of embarrassment and sadness. I know that I had used it before and I never addressed it in my educational life. Fortunately, I had a very patient mom explained to me why the R-word was so wrong. Simply put, the R-word is like any other minority slur.  Unacceptable!  

So, I call on all educators, to think of words that are commonplace in our schools and communities and then, quite simply, don’t allow them. Address it with your students and colleagues and teach them why they are unacceptable. Each of those words are minority slurs and schools should not tolerate them. Beginning in the younger grades, don’t allow name calling and as students get older don’t allow any word that may inflict hurt on another.

Here’s a short list that I’ve started and I hope that you will add to it: Racial slurs, Religious slurs, vulgarity, retarded, fag, gay, homo, geek, nerd…

Our world, beginning in our schools, needs to be more kind and gentle. Those attributes can only be accomplished when we say NO to unacceptable language in our buildings, our homes and our communities. Take a stand and be ALL IN and stop the words we should never hear in school!