Learning to Watch and Listen Carefully


There were two important events this past week which helped move me forward as a leader in my school. When they happened, I wasn’t aware of their importance; it was only later that I understood what they meant to our school, the children, and their families.

The first seemingly insignificant event was when several very small “baby fish” appeared in the tank outside our office. Although they were very tiny, smaller than a grain of rice, word spread around the school like wildfire that there were babies in the tank and soon there were little faces pressed up against the glass for a closer look. Everyone stopped by to see, from moms and tots in our Strong Start center, to parent visitors, teachers, EAs and of course all the children. Word was coming back from parents I met outside on bus duty too. “… came home all excited yesterday that there were baby fish in the tank.  I haven’t seen him that excited about anything in a long time”.

I’ve noticed a change in myself too when it comes to our fish. It’s the first thing I do in the morning when I get to school, I see how they are and give them a pinch of food. Tending to the fish feels like an important job, as our whole community cares about them and how they are doing. And now that the “school of fish” is growing, it’s another place where we extend our caring and demonstrate our compassion and love for other beings.  Thanks to my dear friend, colleague and neighbor Margaret Ross for inspiring me to get a tank for the school and introducing our school to the joys of fish.

The second event took place at the ski hill, where we were wrapping up our 6th day of our Winter Program at Whitewater. As we near the end of this program, the staff are beginning to discuss various elements of it, and consider changes for next year to make it better. In addition, we’re tackling “big picture” issues; why do we do this program, how does it fit into the grander scheme of what we’re trying to do at Winlaw School?

What I’ve seen at the hill, over the last few weeks, is the effect this program has on our youngest students and their families. For example, most of the Kindergarten students and their families have been participating, and for many of them this has been their first experience skiing. As I’ve watched them over the past few weeks, I’ve witnessed a transformation from pure novices to capable and competent skiers and boarders who’ve opened up a new Healthy Living option for their lives. This transformation happens for some of the parents too; as they watch their child grow and learn in a new milieu, they’re incredibly grateful for the opportunity the school has provided their family.

Both of these experiences, the fish and the skiing, are indeed related. And both have been very instructive to me. Our school is the place where these children and their families encountered new experiences which have expanded their worlds and enriched their lives. For me, as a leader, they’ve challenged me to look past the minutae of hill bookings, bus and lesson logistics, fish tank chemistry, and the like.  Instead, keep your eye on the prize, and watch and listen carefully to the children and families as they move through these experiences. This will be the guiding force that moves you forward into newer and better opportunities.

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About Ron Sherman

I am the principal of Salmo Elementary/Secondary School, a small rural K-12 school in the Kootenay Lake School District. Happy to be part of the Grand Conversation, moving learning forward and joining with great people every day. Runner, triathlete, skier, blogger, loving husband and father of 2 great boys
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