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This Man Inspired Me

By Colleen Saunders

In the early 2000′s I read an article in Readers Digest about a gentleman, Chris Spence, Principal of a middle school in an inner-city community in Toronto.   I found the article so inspiring that I kept this article for 5 years and re-read it on a number of occasions.  Mr. Spence had a direct impact on the students from turning habitual absenteeism and poor attitudes into a place of learning and hope.  He developed resources for the students to overcome adversity and develop the ability to persevere in school in spite of their circumstances.

Having worked with juvenile offenders, Mr. Spence wanted to help children without strong support systems that were subjected to racism, poverty, bullying and social despair to lead a good life through improving student learning, motivation and attitude towards school and make sure they didn’t end up in the juvenile courts. While principal at this school, he wrote a book “On Time! On Task! On a Mission” and wrote about creating schools that bring out the best in each and every child and providing all children with the opportunity to acquire the skills, values and knowledge they need to be productive, responsible members of society.  He wrote about the ‘emotional intelligence’ of the students and teachers, the capacity to create positive outcomes in our relationships with others and ourselves.  He discussed the competencies required for effective leadership including self-awareness, self-control, motivation, persistence, empathy and social skills.

He not only wrote about these wonderful, necessary qualities to succeed in life, he lived them and the children learned by example and he was their role model.  It takes passion, purpose and vision and people who place the interests of the students before all others to keep the students on the road to success.

How amazing would it be if all our children had a innovative leader like Chris Spence as a Vice-Principal or Principal during their education.  To encourage and deepen their learning, to learn respect for themselves and others, to become accountable, to fight for lost causes and understand the power of hope as a resource for strength and change.

As opposed to Chris Spence being fired or resigning from his position of Director of Education for the Toronto District School Board for plagiatism in speeches, columns, blog postings and possibly his doctoral thesis, shouldn’t someone find out what happened and take a look at the root causes?  Why would someone in his position plagiarize apparantly a number of items?  Was he just too busy and the information was exactly what he would have said?  Is our message to our students and community that if you make a mistake, admit that mistake, make a formal apology and take steps to never do it again that you are still beyond redemption?  Does that mean that it is better not to accept responsibility for your mistake, to lie, cover up, hide the truth because you are doomed by telling the truth?  That we are a tough society without empathy or forgiveness and whatever good you did in the past is immaterial because you messed up and you are finished?

I certainly hope that this is not what we are teaching our children.  I do not know Mr. Spence but I do know that almost 12 years ago, I read an article that had such a huge impact on me that I had great admiration for this selfless man that changed the lives of so many people in such a positive way.

I have always had a passion to work with youth at risk or underachievers, to make some difference in a child/teen’s life to bring out the best in them, for them to see their true value and want to excel, for them to see the opportunities and to dream big and Mr. Spence was one of my role models.  Maybe there is a lot more to this story but I think the tough questions should be asked and we should understand and learn from the mistakes made.

What do you think?


Colleen Saunders is a 20-year veteran in the mortgage industry, serving Oakville, Mississauga, Burlington, and Toronto and offering all mortgage related services such as debt consolidation, 1st & 2nd mortgages and more. To contact Colleen, please call 416-459-2406 or visit her website:  www.mortgagesbycolleen.ca

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