Lessons in kindness: How two teachers found WE Schools and inspired the next generation of compassionate change-makers.
By Jesse Mintz
All images courtesy of Lake City Secondary
It all started over a friendly conversation during a weekly faculty hockey game.
The scene was familiar, teachers and principals from across the Cariboo region school district in British Columbia chit-chatting, while unlacing their skates in the locker room. Eventually, banter turned to shop talk with Mike Wilson leading the discussion.
A teacher at the Columneetza Campus at Lake City Secondary, Mike always had something impressive to report. This week, it was about the latest WE Schools campaign his students were heading and the impact their action would have on the community.
For Kevin McLennan—a new teacher—listening to Mike’s story was a revelation.
“My ears perked right up,” he recalls. Having just started his own leadership group at Mile 108 Elementary School, Kevin was extra attentive while listening to Mike speak about how the WE Schools program had empowered his students to create change. “I heard what Mike was doing, and I thought, ‘that sounds perfect.’”
Not long after, Mike became Kevin’s WE mentor, and Kevin joined a network of teachers from coast to coast working to build caring and compassionate communities—at home and abroad. They talked for hours about social activism, shared ideas to stir student involvement and dreamt up joint projects. As Kevin recalls, “I was hooked, I loved the mindset.”
The passion the WE movement can spark is nothing new for Mike. In fact, he turned to WE during a period in his school’s history when both students and faculty needed a positive boost.
After the last teachers’ strike in British Columbia, the mood in his school was dark. Introducing WE Schools to Lake City Secondary infused the halls with inspiration and gave everyone an added sense of purpose. “We’ve definitely raised the moral in the school,” asserts Mike.
The change came gradually, beginning with 10 students in the newly minted WE club. The club’s first impact was an act of kindness; handing out survival kits to teachers. “We passed out cards, chocolate bars and bags of marbles with [a] note, saying, ‘here’s some marbles in case you lose yours,’” Mike recalls happily.
Today, more than 50 students belong to the club, and like their numbers, their impacts have grown, exponentially, too. Each month marks a new WE Schools campaign with students tackling issues including mental health, reconciliation, hunger and the environment.
As the person who brought WE Schools to Lake City Secondary’s Columneetza Campus, Mike isn’t surprised by the club and its campaigns popularity; the way he sees it, its appeal is inherent. “It’s so easy to buy into. People have this innate desire to help others and kids jump at the chance.
Kevin put Mike’s hypothesis to test recently, when he organized a WE Day X event to bring together Lake City Secondary with his school, Mile 108 Elementary School. Just as Mike had inspired Kevin to join the WE Movement, the educator hoped listening to change-makers from Mike’s WE club share their stories of impact would motivate Mile 108 students to get involved.
After a hour-long bus ride, Mike and 26 WE club members arrived at the elementary school, and the WE Day X event began. The Lake City Secondary students all shared different stories with their audience. Some spoke about leading green initiatives to protect the environment, others shared their thoughts on participating in Orange Shirt Day to raise awareness around Indigenous issues and advance reconciliation. Then there were those that gave tips on organizing effective WE Schools campaigns like, WE Are Silent and WE Scare Hunger. A few students even opened up and told personal stories about overcoming bullying and dealing with mental health.
The conversation had started and possibility was in the air. “The main thing we wanted everyone to take away from the day is there’s no act of kindness too small,” says Mike. “Building bridges is really important for our community and for our country. Building bridges even between our two towns is something we can work on together.”
Kevin is a WE rookie, Mike is a seasoned WE veteran. Like teachers across the country, both are getting students involved in WE’s Canada 150 program to build a more caring and compassionate country and world. Eager to glean some of Mike’s expert knowledge on the WE Schools program, Kevin posed a few questions to Mike about what it means to bring WE into the classroom and how to make it work. Read on to learn more about Mike experience with WE Schools.
Inside the WE Schools program with educators Mike Wilson of Lake City Secondary’s Columneetza Campus & Kevin McLennan of Mile 108 Elementary School:
Kevin (K): What’s been the biggest change you’ve noticed since starting the WE Schools program?
Mike (M): Awareness. Students are aware of issues: hunger, poverty, child marriage, child labor, and environmental issues due to campaigns such as WE Scare Hunger, WE Are Silent, and WE Take Charge. And, through our club, we have shown the school solutions to these problems! I also feel we’ve made our school a kinder place to be [with] random acts of kindness, throughout the year. I think it sets an example that others can follow!
K: Outside of the campaigns, what’s the most important lesson your students have picked up from being a part of the WE club?
M: Many students have told me that they really see all of the needs around them now—[needs] they didn’t notice before. They see the student [that is] bullied, they see the student that walks the halls alone and they see hunger and poverty in the community around them. But, they don’t just see the need, they see the opportunities to help fix these problems and change lives in the process. This is also the biggest lesson I have learned personally.
K: We have our training wheels on right now as a WE group; what do you recommend for us to take it to the next level?
M: Just take it one challenge at a time, one campaign at a time. We’ve always tried to focus on one challenge and do it to the best of our abilities, before moving on to the next one. But, dream big! Our biggest successes have come when we have taken the biggest risks. I had no idea if anyone would even join me when we held our first trick-or-treating food drive. We went from nine to 16 to nearly 30 students taking part this past year! If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.
K: How can we get more teachers in Cariboo involved?
M: Once teachers and youth workers begin the WE Schools program, they immediately see the value of the program. We are then so excited to share our successes with others and that success becomes contagious! Recently, I was contacted by a youth worker in Alkali [Lake] that wants to initiate the program with First Nations youth in her community.
K: What can we do to help students continue on as active change-makers, once they leave our schools for higher grades?
M: I think it’s important that we help them realize that showing kindness is not just something that is done as part of a club. Living WE is something that we should incorporate into our everyday life. Ideally, there will be clubs for them to join, as they move through high school, but if there isn’t a club, it shouldn’t limit their impact on the community. [My former student] Ryanne Jones is a perfect example of this. When she moved on to grade 10, she tried to start a WE Schools club, but couldn’t find a teacher to run the club. So, she decided to do all of the challenges on her own, enlisting the help of her club and leadership team to assist her! With practice, living WE will become second nature!
K: Now the big question: What are your goals for next year?
M: I want our club to be so big that we need to find a bigger room in the school to fit everyone in! We’re already sitting on the floor of my classroom!
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