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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 4, January/February 2007

On being well
Wellness is the passion of a Prince Rupert educator

by Julia Johnson

On December 5, 2006, CBC television, on their program SEVEN with host Mark Kelley, featured Roosevelt Park Elementary School in Prince Rupert. This documentary was made at the request of principal Steve Riley, in response to the report by the Fraser Institute, whose forumla for ranking schools in reading, writing, and numeracy claimed that Roosevelt Park Elementary had the lowest scores in BC.

"The Fraser Institute was founded in 1974 to redirect attention to the role markets can play in providing for the economic and social well-being of Canadians." Specific to the field of education, the Fraser Institute views the "educational market [as one where] parents choose their children’s schools and schools compete more freely for students, [thus producing] better educational results for students" (www.fraserinstitute.ca). With this perspective, the news release from the Fraser Institute delivers a message that Roosevelt Park Elementary is the worst school in BC, as was the case in the opening remarks made by Peter Mansbridge of The National when he introduced Mark Kelley’s SEVEN.

What this documentary showed was even though Roosevelt Park is ranked last in the province using the FSA data, their teachers are not the cause for this low ranking. Many variables affect a student’s ability to be successful, including how students are viewed. What this documentary subtly demonstrated was that the teachers of Roosevelt Park had empathy and compassion for their students; they gently encouraged and celebrated each student’s success, aware that the slightest negative tone could paralyze a student to inactivity and put in peril their fragile self-esteem. What this documentary brought to light was that this school struggles daily with the worst of society’s problems, namely poverty and First Nations issues. With 60 out of 210 students requiring additional support to become successful learners, this documentary revealed that the teachers in this school were passionate about their teaching, and their passion creates a safe place for children to be. When almost one-third of a school population is at risk, the passion of an educator is the school’s saving grace.

An educator with passion has an "abiding belief that every human life is sacred and no task is more important than nourishing and developing the extraordinary potential in all students" (Bolman & Deal, 2002, Leading with Soul and Spirit). It was evident in this documentary that Roosevelt Park Elementary has passionate teachers who care deeply about their work and are endeavouring to make a difference in the lives of their students.

From a wellness perspective, passion is the fire in our bellies and the wind in our sails that set us on a course of action. Research in this field suggests that passion is as necessary to our health as earth, air, and water and without passion our life becomes meaningless. We begin to sweat the small stuff and before long, accumulated stress brings us to a grinding halt, commonly known as burn-out.

Wayne Dyer in his book Wisdom of the Ages states: "I have found that people who have a passion, or a strong will for what they want to achieve, and who do not allow others to smear or sully their inner pictures of what they want to manifest, always seem to get what they desire in their lives." Elsewhere, Dyer suggests that people who are passionate about something should share their passion because "a shared joy is a doubled joy."

This documentary provided a venue for the educators of Prince Rupert to share their passion for teaching with us and in doing so, the Fraser Institute’s rankings become less credible and the teaching profession more valued. Being a Prince Rupert educator is not for the feint of heart, but for those who, like Mike Kelley, will learn to see a hungry child as a survivor and who will have a passion for helping disadvantaged students to not only survive, but to thrive.

On behalf of all who teach, I wish to thank the passionate educators of Prince Rupert for this valuable lesson on teaching and demonstrating what it means to "walk the talk" of finding joy in the workplace. We especially thank you for the fire in your belly that gave you the courage to invite the world into your school to illustrate that teaching and learning is more than achieving high scores on standardized tests.

Julia Johnson, a retired learning resource teacher in Quesnel, is a BCTF PD wellness associate and a member of the Teacher Newsmagazine Advisory Board. livingjewels@shaw.ca, (250-747-3650)

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