Monday, January 3, 2011

Things I have learned from my friend

For the past several months, a very close friend of mine has been waging a battle with cancer.  He continues to fight, and though sometimes it seems like things are not going his way, he remains positive, upbeat and strong.  That is who he is, and always has been.  I met him about ten years ago, when he was appointed as the Vice-Principal at the school I was working at as a teacher.  Two weeks into the school year, his Vice-principal partner left the school for a position in a nearby district, and I got the opportunity of a lifetime... learning a new job next to a man who, though I didn't know it at the time, embodies so many of the key elements to being a successful educator.  Last year, he was successful in his application to become a Principal, and was set to assume the role in July, but due to the discovery of his illness, he has not yet had the opportunity to sit in the chair.  He is, however, still leading the school through the work he has done throughout his career, and how he has impacted so many of the staff members and students currently in the building.

What have I learned from him?  It is not easy to put into words, since so much of what has always impressed me about him is just how he carries himself, but in the education profession, there are many principles that are so obviously at his core, that you can not help but notice them, even if he never speaks of them.  They include, but are not limited to:

Compassion and patience:  While working together as Vice-Principals, we were sometimes seen as soft on misbehaviour (and who among us has not been accused of this at some point...), but he would constantly remind me that these were kids, and we should expect them to make some mistakes.  We only wanted to help them learn from those mistakes, and it would be difficult to ensure they were learning if we were really hard on them with consequences, or asked them to leave the school after repeated transgressions.  He didn't come up with the saying, but we used to repeat it to one another frequently, "If we are going to make a mistake with a student, we would rather it be we gave him/her one chance too many, not one chance too few." 

Loyalty and Respect:  I have never heard him say a disparaging word about a colleague, even if it were someone he did not agree with.  He is a consummate professional, respecting other people and their desires to be seen as competent at what they do.  If he feels there is something that needs to be addressed, he can do so in a way that leaves people feeling respected, yet aware of things they may need to consider, and he is more than willing to help in this area.  As a result, not only have I never heard him speak ill of someone else, I have never met anyone with anything negative to say about his character.

Caring and sharing:  He has long been involved in supporting various causes around the world and within his community.  We used to team-teach a Leadership 11/12 class, and had the students organize Tsunami relief fundraisers, elementary school support groups, Christmas stocking events to name only a few.  He has also been inclusive of many at-risk students and their families, welcoming them to the school through friendly conversation, even making the effort to go to their homes in attempts to make them feel comfortable.  His caring for others has long been evident in how he goes about his work, and sets a stellar, tangible example for students to follow.

Leading and contributing:  He has always been about setting examples and professionally developing with others.  He has started teacher study groups, been a sponsor for a co-hort of teachers working on their Masters degrees, and is a contributor to a Pro-D newsletter that our district publishes monthly.  He has not yet had the opportunity to start his own blog or create a Twitter account, but was aware of the power of sharing ideas and engaging in stimulating conversation beyond the walls of a school years before social media made it so much easier.

Humor and optimism: He has always been quick to lighten any situation with some self-deprecating humor.  It makes him human, puts his colleagues a little more at-ease, and makes life more enjoyable.  Also, he looks at the bright side of things.  We can all get carried away with despair or concern over how things seem difficult or not working out, but as he would often remind me, "and you're so hard done-by?"  No matter what we face, we can and will do something to make it better.  We always have, and are getting better at doing so all the time.

Asking why (or why not):  He is quick to ask the question, "Why?", because he understands there is an explanation for something, and taking the time to understand it will likely help in coming up with a resolution that is palatable for all involved.  Similarly, he also likes to use the phrase, "Why not?", as if giving permission to people to try something new.  He has never been afraid of looking for different ways, and although not a risk-taker by nature, he is willing to move outside of his comfort zone in pursuing better ways of doing what we do.

Connecting and inspiring:  He always seeks opportunities to get to know students outside of the classroom and let them see who he is and what he believes.  He is always willing to help a group by coaching or sponsoring a team or club, recognizing that these are arenas where students get new opportunities to shine and show some of their otherwise unknown skills, talents and passions.  He is willing to nurture and inspire what he sees through these connections, and that time is appreciated by all those who have had the pleasure of working with him.

In short, he is the kind of person I would want my children to be in the care of during the school day...and isn't that the highest praise we can give to any educator? 

I wanted to write this not as a tribute to him (because it is not a eulogy-he is still fighting hard), but as a reminder of how we need to go about our business.  It is the most important business in the world, but we must not treat it as business.  It involves people and relationships and caring and helping and inspiring.  These are all the things that Lorne Bodin stands for and has for his entire career.  He continues to remind me about the importance of these things and showed me how to do the job using these principles as guidelines.  I think it is incumbent upon all of us to remind others in education about what really matters.

Hang in there, buddy.  Thinking about you everyday.  I am sure you have seen this ad before (since as an avid cyclist, Lance Armstrong is a personal hero of yours), but it applies to you....


  1. Jason,
    Thank you for sharing this post. You've written a powerful reminder about the most important parts of our work, which few do as well as Lorne. Mr. Bodin has touched the lives of many in ways that you most ably describe. I think about him often when I try to be more compassionate in my dealings with others and I'm a better person for it.

  2. Thanks, Terry. He is someone who has set an example of how to be a great educator and human being, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to work with him closely.

  3. A beautiful post Jason

    I got to know Lorne, briefly, through Linda Moran in my one year at Burnett. What I remember vividly from him and use quite frequently in my discussions with staff, students and parents, is that although we have rules, although there is a 'black and a white,' never forget that everything in this world, the world of teenagers, is 'grey'. Every issue with a student should be contextualized - what may seem fit in terms of action or discipline for one child may not be fit for another.

    I also learned that you can connect with those "edgier" kids if you view the Code of Conduct as a learning tool.

    It all may seem redundant now but as a 1st year VP, Lorne showed me that I could actually be a "firmly empathic" administrator and draw strength from this incarnation.

  4. Well done Jay. I too have learned so much from him and you have put it so articulately. Just before Christmas I spent a couple of hours with him and it was really good. One thing that one can tell about a man is the people that he surrounds himself with. He has surrounded himself with people like you and more than that people like Jan and Kerri..two of the stronger people I have had the opportunity to meet.


  5. Thanks, Kent. Good to hear from you. He is a good man who has impacted many lives in a positive way. Take care.

  6. Thanks, Gino. He was a great person to learn the job beside. He will be in our thoughts and actions as we deal with others in the future, trying to emulate his compassion.