It was under the direction and friendship of Mr. Dolan and Mr. Valleau that Kaitlyn and her wonderful friend Ashley, had the seeds of journalism sprinkled on them. They learned to write news articles, eventually becoming regular contributors to their school newspaper. They were introduced to broadcast, becoming co-anchors on the closed-circuit school television show, LTV. Each morning the school news was broadcast in-house, to all students and faculty, via televisions in their classrooms, with Kaitlyn and Ashley at the co-host desk.
Along with the journalism skills the girls honed throughout their years at the school, they also found a place of belonging. In a school of more than fifteen hundred students, it would have been easy to make themselves invisible, blending into the throngs of students. Instead, they were encouraged to find their voices, and use their talents to add to the diverse extra-curricular program at the school.
So much did these two teachers and this program impact Kaitlyn and Ashley, they both followed their dream of journalism to the prestigious Ryerson School of Journalism. Kaitlyn and Ashley were not the only students impacted by these teachers. Over the more than twenty-year span of this locally created journalism program at the high school, many, many students were gifted with the time of these two mentors. One student, Jodie Martinsen was part of a team who won an Emmy for their documentary, Ghana: A Digital Dumping Ground.
After Mr. Dolan’s funeral, Kaitlyn had the opportunity to meet his daughter and to tell her of the impact her father had. Kaitlyn told her that during one of her moves overseas, she had mis-placed and eventually lost her treasured copies of the Scarlett Fever, the school newspaper, covering the three years of her high school life.
Mr. Dolan’s daughter said that while going through her dad’s belongings, she had come across the bound copies of the school’s newspapers from Kaitlyn’s three years! She offered them to Kaitlyn, who was touched beyond measure. They organized to meet in order that Kaitlyn could receive the copies.
I haven’t seen the papers since Kaitlyn received them. If I did see them, it would be very unlikely I would recall any of the activities being reported on, nor would I recognize most of the names associated with the articles. I don’t know if Kaitlyn remembers the details of the activities either. What I do believe she remembers is the feeling she had being part of the writing and editing team.
I think she remembers the feeling of knowing that she was being counted on to show up. I think she remembers that she mattered. I think she remembers that she was required to do her best. And I think she remembers that because she was in the ‘public’ eye, she made herself courageous enough to help others feel like they had a sense of belonging too.
This week, I was driving over to Kaitlyn’s house early one morning to watch little Benjamin as his mom and dad headed back to school for another year of teaching. I offered to watch him this week because his regular care-giver is away on a long-planned family holiday. Winding my way through their neighbourhood, I stopped to let a young boy, perhaps eight years old, and his mother, cross the street. They had their arms pretty tightly linked together. I can’t say what they were talking about with one hundred percent certainty, but considering it was the first day of school, and based on their body language and the worry in their eyes, I am imagining that they were each having their own struggles with their thoughts about this upcoming school year.
I couldn’t help but make a wish for that little boy. I wished that he could be welcomed into the classroom of a teacher like Mr. Dolan. I wished that he might learn wonderful things. Even more importantly, I wished he could find a sense of belonging; of feeling that his presence was important, of knowing that he was being counted on to bring something special to his classroom, of believing that he mattered. In twenty or so years, it is possible that he might not even recall the name of his teacher. But if that teacher has done her or his job well, that little boy will be passing those same gifts on in this world.
After teaching at the same school for a number of years, Kaitlyn started at a new school this year. She had the usual jitters of being a new teacher to a school. While I sympathized with her and understood her worries, I really couldn’t help but feel completely at ease inside myself. I know that she carries some of Mr. Dolan’s magic with her. I know she has the most wonderful ways of creating lessons and units that engage students and give them a place of belonging. I know she requires students to do their best and I know she creates a space where they can be courageous.
I think the timing of her receiving the bound books containing the old newspapers was serendipitous. It was a perfect reminder that all any of us really wants is to know we are welcome, that we bring unique talents and that we belong.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘How am I creating belonging?’
Elizabeth is a certified, professional Life and Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership and personal coaching for individuals and teams. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. Contact Elizabeth to learn how create belonging.