This week, the video of the father’s talk with the son about Paris terror went viral. The boy’s innocent evaluation of the events and then his absolute trust in his father’s reassurance were moving. The son’s final “Oui” was powerfully beautiful – I can picture their eyes locked and want to hold on to that image of trust and love. But it was the father’s amazingly quick ability to refocus his worries on to the flowers that most moved me. How did he even think of that? Wasn’t it amazing to see the boy ponder this idea and then smile? In that moment, the world witnessed what the best teachers aspire to do on a regular basis – they touch the soul.
I am fortunate to have witnessed two other such moments this week at Shawnigan Lake School’s accreditation review.
On Monday night, our team split up and visited the nine boarding houses. I observed a regular Strathcona House meeting that included usual items like curfew, thank yous, congratulations and reminders. Then the house parent announced something that would normally make my eyes roll, especially since it is only November – Christmas door decorations. But there was no room for my cynical scrooge feelings, because the room of girls immediately erupted with excitement. It was infectious. When I met with the house parent afterwards, she admitted that she shared my lack of enthusiasm for decking the halls in November, but she reminded me that this time of year can be stressful for students. She intentionally created this opportunity for joy, and I can only imagine how it will continue when the wrapping paper, tape and ribbons land in the hands of 50 teenage girls.
The second moment this week was in chapel. Shawnigan has a tradition of non-denominational chapel service that can include a sermon and/or prayers, and singing. (I am pretty sure I have explained before that I am a sucker for students singing? Well I could probably go so far as to argue that the second most distinguishing trait of the world’s best teachers is that they sing with their students!)
For a moment think of the typical image of today’s teenagers – disengaged, anxious, obsessed with their phones… Singing is not part of that stereotype. So you may have to work hard to imagine a group of enthusiastic singers. But please do. The boys behind me belted out Amazing Grace in my ear, and their singing was no louder than the rest. And now picture this – David Robertson, the Headmaster of 23 years, approached the podium and did what great teachers do. He said he knew they could do better and could they please sing the last verse again, but with more enthusiasm. I couldn’t believe it! The organist started up again and the impossible happened – the 450 high school students sang with more zeal, and I nearly cried. If anyone ever questions their faith in today’s youth, they need to attend chapel at Shawnigan. In fact, visit any number of our CAIS schools if you want to witness amazing teens. I couldn’t sense it, but David Robertson knew that a second round would solidify that feeling of profound joy in the students.
Hanna Rosin explores youth anxiety in this month’s article in The Atlantic on The Silicon Valley Suicides and there are a number of important strategies. Even adults struggle to make sense of the complexities. All the more reason for great teachers – including great fathers, house parents and Heads – to help today’s youth navigate an increasingly complex and stressful world. This week reminded me of the powerful gift teachers give when they know and understand the needs of children and then respond to that need. That kind of love and joy is what our world needs most.
p.s. Here is the view of Shawnigan Lake School while walking to Strathcona House on Monday evening. The campus updates are spectacular!