October 28th, 2020

Freedom and responsibility

By Submitted Article on November 6, 2019.

With Remembrance Day this coming Monday, it is a good time to reflect on two things. First, the gratitude all Canadians should have for the men and women who served, and continue to serve, our country to preserve the democratic freedom we enjoy. Thank you! Second, what it means to be a good citizen and contribute to building strong communities.

All too often taken for granted, we collectively and individually have access to freedom. The privileges that come with freedom are difficult to measure – choice, freedom of expression, freedom of movement and association, freedom of religion, and rights that are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Thank you to schools and staff who ensure that Remembrance Day is honoured through assemblies and instruction that helps youth and children understand the contributions and sacrifices that were made in order for us to be free.

Given the good fortune we enjoy as citizens in a free country, I believe that we have a responsibility to instil the attributes that characterize good citizens in our children, and be role models who contribute to community whenever and wherever we can. Living in a strong community that is networked, collaborative, interdependent and jointly supportive can be attributed to citizens working hard to make things work for everyone. I believe Lethbridge and surrounding communities across southern Alberta are these kinds of communities.

This is not to say that we do not face some very real challenges. Sometimes challenge can test us. It tests our compassion, our resiliency and our ability to be collectively responsive and proactive.

Lethbridge is fortunate to be a growing and thriving community. We have business and industry that is diversified, proactive and innovative. We have two post-secondary institutions that serve youth in Lethbridge and beyond. We have incredible health-care services and strong support structures with service clubs, faith-based institutions, and a breadth of cultural opportunities. We have growth in schools with increasing diversity. Growth and increasing diversity in schools is truly something to celebrate, but is also comes with challenges. The reality of growing complexity in our classrooms means that teachers increasingly invest time and energy to apply their expertise in different ways to meet all learning needs. The global complexity that our children are growing up in also demands change in pedagogy to educate students with life-long competencies, such as critical thinking, and the kind of growth mindset they will need to exercise the freedom, agency and gifts they have to offer the world. We are also faced with the realities of difficult fiscal times which translates into fewer staff members in schools, larger class sizes and stretched services. As we navigate the challenges that are specific to school, my thoughts gravitate toward the importance of strong communities.

First, we have to look within, and contribute where we can to building strong families, whatever that may look like. We have many children and families who are experiencing, or have experienced, trauma. Many families have trauma associated with addictions, trauma associated with residential schools and trauma associated with living in a context of violence and oppression before coming to Canada. We can all contribute to strong families in different ways with thoughts, expression of ideas, and actions that are supportive.

For schools, the reality is this: When children are able to come to school free of adverse conditions, and ready to learn, challenges in classrooms are reduced. We also need to look among ourselves with open minds and a problem-solving perspective, and find ways to build strong schools, to build strong support institutions, and sustain growth in business and industry as part of a healthy community. In a community, even the smallest act as a contributing citizen matters. This is the power of community – small acts collectively make a big difference.

Cheryl Gilmore is the superintendent of Lethbridge School Division

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