With Reflection and In Remembrance

Good Morning, Wacheya!

In these roles that some of us have with additional responsibility, we can at times subject ourselves to forgetting we are not immune from the personal impact of life and the interactions of others. As I get older and chalk up more and more lived experiences, being grounded by others becomes more and more humbling. Indeed, on two different occasions these past few weeks, being humbled and honoured would not be strong enough sentiments to appropriately describe my experiences. Trust me, adhering to the very sage advice that both as a supervisor and colleague I have often given others (for me personally over the past decade) is unquestionably humbling. I think perhaps upon reflection, it isn’t so much a question of acknowledging that, as much as it is a question of whether we are willing to see it? And perhaps even more importantly, showing ourselves to be a bit vulnerable and allowing others to see that we are human too, regardless of title and position.

But when it is you, yourself, facing directly into the mirror and having to abide by the very same offering of guidance, it is very different. That is when you tell folks that they need to put “Family First” before they put all else. Usually this is within the construct of work, or professional responsibilities. Sometimes it occurs when we are facing professional commitments that we may feel compromised, because we also might have something pulling on us at home, in our personal lives and within our very own family. To be very candid, there were two different occasions in the past few weeks when I had to say to two of my Senior Admin team members that they had to put themselves and their families first; and they did of course as they were advised. But it felt very different two weeks ago last Sunday, when I received a call myself from my parents telling me that my own Dad was having some serious pains in his stomach and they thought it might be a “good idea to go into the hospital and get looked at.” At the time and in that moment, it was both weird and also not a big deal (or so it seemed) because nothing is ever wrong with Dad. He is not even 70 years old yet, walks about 10 miles a day, and was out moose hunting only a week before, so what could be wrong??!! In fact, we have on occasion been confused for being brothers and not father/son…which doesn’t say much for how his only boy is aging does it?!

Even when I was told on that Sunday evening Dad was going into emergency surgery to have his appendix removed did I actually sense that it could remotely serious. Except it wasn’t his appendix, it was something else that led into a very bad surgical experience. Two days later after masking my concern through a Board meeting, and then again with my Senior Admin team, and continuing to try and convince myself that he would be fine, I finally relented. To be fair, his condition had caught all of us off guard; nobody was expecting this. I really didn’t want to have to go back to see what was going on because I was convinced he was fine; and besides I had so many commitments that Friday and weekend. I mean I had a staff meeting at Bayside Secondary with the staff there later in the morning on November 1st that I was looking forward to. I had been invited and was really looking forward to meeting and speaking with all of our CUPE folks and connecting with them before that even. Later in the afternoon I had been invited to Prince Charles Public School in Trenton to share some work that I had done on FASD. And to round out the day and over the weekend, I was supposed to teach the Supervisory Officer’s Qualification Program (SOQP) course at the Education Centre with candidates from around the region coming to Belleville. So it was really not a good time for Dad to get sick all of sudden and out of the blue.

But here is the thing, by Wednesday afternoon it had become clear that Dad was not doing well, and that his initial surgery was rendering his condition very grave, as in very, very serious. I was actually visiting Prince Charles School in Belleville when I took a call and was told how serious it was. The principal clearly knew something was up from my facial expression I guess, and so when I explained only a fraction of what was going on, she turned and looked at me and said something that I have on literally thousands of occasions myself imparted to others: “Family First Sean, I know what I would be doing.” I called my Senior Team together and told them I needed to make it back to be with Dad who was deteriorating. Shockingly you know what they told me: “Go, you need to go and be with your Dad.” I called the Chair of the Board and explained with some level guilt, and she said the same thing “Family First, be with your Dad.” I called schools I was to visit and CUPE representatives…and all gave the identical response. The SOQP folks: Family was the priority, not them. It wasn’t hard hearing the message “Family First.” I’ve been saying that to others for years, and will continue to. But faced with actually accepting that and living that myself; well, that was a lesson that no course, or book on leadership, or procedure could ever teach me. Not a religious person, but admittedly more a spiritual person of the Indigenous perspective, I even asked for a higher power to intervene on that Saturday night and give us a few more years of fishing and hunting trips, and even a few more baseball and football games. Dad’s recovery will be a very long time and I believe he will recover; but in the meantime, he has given cause for his (at times) stubborn son to realize that we all have to reflect and consider what is really important and what is “just” important. Judging by the emails from so many of you about your own family experiences and those of your parents, many have learned this firsthand, and so with gratitude I want to say thank you.

If there is a time that Family and loved ones makes us reflect and remember, it is usually around significant events or personal dates. Most commonly these are birthdays, anniversaries, holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving, and one that has always had special meaning for many….Remembrance Day. It is always a day that has had prominent meaning for me, being the grandson of a Veteran of WWII, and still able to recall with clarity and vivid detail attending the cenotaph. I like many of you likely recall seeing Veterans and the “stories” on their faces, and impression of pride, honour, valour, and remembering. So it was with some level of enthusiasm that I accepted to go to Trenton High School for their Remembrance Day Ceremony at the school auditorium this past Monday. In fact, I think excitement to actually go to Trenton for Remembrance Day for this northern boy might be more appropriate as a description. The service, jointly presented and coordinated by staff and students was exceptional, and stirring. Pictures of Veterans both far and near, and with some of their loved ones and family members actually from the community or even the school in the auditorium, at times made the atmosphere virtually palpable. But without question, and unlike anything I have ever experienced came towards the end of the service when the student emcees shared that we would “now have the song Highway of Heros by the Trews played for the audience.”

What happened after that, I will never forget in my life. The song is well-known, it’s symbolic meaning for this area and the community of Trenton and CFB Trenton, its families, our families, our students and our staff undeniable. And something that many people including myself have only ever seen on television, the actual honouring on the Highway of Heroes. But as the song started to play…the entire student body, I mean every single student, stood and sang the song together, right on cue. I suspect the students of Trenton High School are like many other teenagers attending high school around the Board, and across the province trying to navigate that increasingly complex teenage world. I also suspect that many of the kids that attend Trenton High School have challenges and face situations that most kids elsewhere do not; and I also will speculate that the staff of Trenton High School are very well-aware of many of these challenges their kids face…both in school and at home. But for those brief four minutes while that song played and those kids sang, all I could I think of was how proud they should be of themselves, how proud their teachers and staff were, how proud their principal must have felt. The Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board was made proud by the kids of THS, and I’ll tell you what…on November 11, 2019 I had to have been the proudest Director of Education in Ontario because there was nowhere else I wanted to be than in that auditorium, that morning. I know that in every single one of schools and in communities extraordinary staff were doing equally extraordinary things with our kids, and I promise you we will celebrate them all!

We might find ourselves at times getting caught up with the “busy-ness” of our work and also our personal lives, but these past few weeks have driven home in a very visceral way the importance of Family, remembrance, reflection, and stopping to realize life’s lessons if we only are willing to stop and smell the roses. I thank you out there who have been motivated to share with me your thoughts for the future and your hopes, and I encourage you to keep them coming,. We are now well into the beginning of a great journey and one where we will all learn and grow together.

Miiweh, take care, and have a great weekend.



To Be Thankful

Good Morning, Everyone!

As we head into a long weekend and one we generally consider as Thanksgiving, I want to offer my own “Thanks” to all of you.

At this point, and as you read this to start your Friday, schools and classrooms have hopefully settled into a routine of learning and provocation. As we close the second week of October we hope our kids have adjusted to new learning environments, a new grade and one with enhanced expectations and outcomes.

And as staff, my hope for you as you begin a well-deserved long weekend, is that you are feeling confident and reassured that your employer, our HPEDSB Family, is headed in the right direction. I also hope you are feeling enthusiasm emanating from our Trustees and your Senior Administration. For myself, and still as the “New Guy” for a bit longer (like maybe a couple more weeks:)), I know I certainly am.

So what to be thankful for???

Well, I suggest we should be thankful for good health; sometimes we don’t have a choice in that and have to accept the hand we are dealt. But if you are in good health, perhaps we need to be thankful for that. If someone close to you is not in good health….be thankful you are and that you are there for them. If you are struggling, personally, be thankful that you need not be alone; your colleagues and your system, you friends are here for you. WE, are here for you.

I offer we should be thankful for Family, who see in us the good and the bad; and cause us to re-calibrate about what is important, and perhaps what is not so important. I would suggest that we are thankful for where we live. I can tell you bringing an experienced perspective from another beautiful part of the province, where we live here in Hastings County, Prince Edward County, and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory…we are blessed to live in one of the most stunning and gorgeous areas of the country hands-down. I think we should be thankful that in spite of sometimes feeling the day to day struggles and lives of working with and in service of young people, we also work in a first class organization. You work for an organization committed to getting better, and doing better by everyone who entrusts in us their most important asset, their children.

For myself as I head into a long weekend, hopefully spent at camp by a fire and good book, or out on a few remote bush roads looking for birds and maybe even something bigger, I will be reflecting and giving my own thanks.

I am thankful for being here.

There have been many days (in fact almost virtually all of them!) where I have come to work, the office, where I feel like I have won the lottery and am the luckiest guy in the world. I am privileged to be the Director of Education for the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board, and after having made it to just over half of our schools already, can tell you without reservation…I have first-class staff in schools and offices anywhere. I am thankful for my staff and the families here who believe in us and believe in a bright future, unrestricted in optimism. I am thankful that you have welcomed me and have energized me to agitate new ideas and opportunities. I don’t care how hard the work is ahead, or how intimidating the challenges we face, I am not going anywhere and we as an organization, are going to take them on.

I could go on and on (and for those unfortunately around me this weekend, I will!), but from myself to all of you I want to say “Thank You.” Now having been here for 3 months, I feel we are into something very cool, very big, and very energizing. I encourage you to share laughs with family and friends this weekend, and some good food and maybe even a ginger ale; but I also encourage you to think about the work we have done and are now about to do. And I offer to you, that you all are going to be part of a new beginning and a journey of change. In this journey, I will need everyone to be strong and brave and unafraid of changes, but assured that there are steady hands at the wheel. My Senior Team are poised for the future, and motivated to work very hard for you and our students; and we will not stop until the job is done. If it is ever actually done.

Yes, there is to be much to be thankful for.

So maybe the best way to sign off, is to say simply that, which one can never say too much of…Thank You.

Take care, and have a safe and terrific Thanksgiving Weekend.


Hi, Good Morning and Welcome Back!

Sean wavingThis first post was a message shared with all HPEDSB employees on the first day of school—and his first ‘first day’ at HPEDSB.

Hi, Good Morning and Welcome Back!

I have often found myself drawn to and inspired by famous leaders, agents of change and agitators of the status quo. Consequently, I find myself looking explicitly at their words, and more so trying to interpret the words “between the lines.” John F. Kennedy is one of my favorites, and I suppose for many reasons. He was human, and like most of us in the human condition, he had his faults and was not perfect. But he also saw a greater world ahead, and one that equalized the field between those that benefitted by having much, and those that went without. He did, although arguably stumbling out of the blocks initially, strive for a balancing of rights between cultures and ethnicities, specifically race. In other words, differences in culture, background, and colour were and always would be non-factors in advancing the opportunities for all citizens.

His famous assertion during a speech at Rice University, early September in 1962 (the start of a new school year): “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard” is my second favorite of all his sentiments. JFK of course in that moment was laying out a vision for his country that would put a human being on the moon and return them back safely to Earth. At the time, the notion was viewed with skepticism, under-ridden with a belief that such a goal was simply impossible. By the end of the decade his country achieved this act, a feat arguably not matched since and one that required a fundamental principle that people from all facets of life, business, beliefs, culture, and role and privilege had to work together to accomplish a common outcome. Please keep this in mind as you read through my introductory message to all of you as you start a new year.

I want to acknowledge the work of all of you in advance: to the teachers about to make the lives of our students extraordinary, to the support staff, early childhood educators and education assistants who work tirelessly with children who have special needs, or are coming to school for the first time in Kindergarten, I say thank you. I want to acknowledge the custodians and maintenance staff who have worked over the summer so that we may enter sparkling buildings on the first day of a new school year; and I want to acknowledge the principals and vice-principals who lead our work in our communities, often going above and beyond to improve the trajectory of our kids and consequentially their families too. I wish to acknowledge our Trustees who have entrusted in their new Director of Education the responsibility to lead an agenda that embarks on change and builds on the belief that hope is both a dangerous and wonderful thing, because when you have it, anything is possible. I want to acknowledge the Senior Team, whose skills and assets quite simply outweigh their evolving experience (“green-ness”, I believe was how it was framed to me recently) that I can see already! And to the staff who work in the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board Education Centre, thank you to all of you, for enabling the system to focus its energies on young people because barriers are removed at the central level.

Lastly, I acknowledge my predecessor Mandy Savery-Whiteway who served the HPEDSB with integrity and a commitment to making the tough decisions and within such limitations, that any educator might have grown weary.

So, as I send this initial commentary to all HPEDSB staff, I offer that there is much to be thankful for; however, here now remains even more work. I came to HPEDSB not because I knew the work would be easy and predictable, but because I knew it would be hard and prolonged. I am excited beyond words to work hard for all of you, our communities, our families, and most importantly our students. They deserve the best, they will get the best, and we will commit to them that our energies to improve their shot at hope and a future are unwavering and unrelenting. I ask you to consider as well, what kind of organization do you want to work for, and want us to be in the region, even in the province?

As you start this first day of school, be you in your last year, mid-career or just starting out, roll up your sleeves because we are just getting started, and I promise you my team and I will be right beside you every step of the way!

And . . . my favorite JFK expression of all time: “It is time for a new generation of leadership, for there is a new world to be won.” Compelling, yes. Inspiring, absolutely. Appropriately telling—just wait!

I wish you the best, and assure all of you, that we believe in you and in your work every day.

Take care, Che-Miigwech


Last updated: November 15, 2019 at 1:17 pm