Guiding students toward citizenship

Have you ever asked yourself: what is my greatest accomplishment? For me, that’s an easy question to answer; it’s my family. Next year, I will celebrate 25 years of marriage and, if all goes as planned, my son will receive his engineering degree from McGill University. In those two occasions alone, I have much to be grateful for.
I am sure I have plenty of company in our TFS community in naming family as my most precious accomplishment. But have you ever considered what it takes to make a happy and healthy family? In addition to love, many would say that being a good and reliable partner or parent takes time, commitment, consistency and a lot of hard work.

Parents know the importance of providing a safe and secure environment for their children. Part of that means establishing and enforcing boundaries and limits. We are first and foremost parents to our children, not their friends. As such, we ask our children to follow certain guidelines and rules like observing bedtimes or curfews, eating vegetables, and meeting their obligations and commitments. We do these things not to be mean or unpopular, but to help our children become responsible, healthy and respectful. We know these qualities will serve our children well in life.

When my son was small, there came a time when I had to insist he stick with his French, piano and skating lessons until he gained sufficient mastery. Had I let him decide in that moment, he would have dropped them as being too difficult or boring. As a parent, I had to see beyond the immediate and look at future benefits. Fast forward to today, as a young man, French, music and hockey continue to play an important role in his life. In many ways, they help define him. He could not and would not want to imagine his world without them.

Like a thoughtful parent, TFS’ academic and student life programming contain elements our students would rather avoid. When we insist that students be punctual, wear their uniform properly, or complete their assignments on time, we are helping them become responsible citizens. We do so out of a sense of caring and concern for their future. Trust me when I say that it would be easier to ignore a student who shows up late for class, out of uniform or unprepared to work. It takes a lot more energy to challenge the student, explain the need for them to adjust habits or behaviours, and ensure that they abide by what’s being asked. Indifference is effortless; caring takes work.

We recognize that part of our new citizenship program has meant insisting on higher community standards for all students. From time to time, I’m sure you hear your children grumble to you about the latest imposition made by the school, about this rule or that expectation. I know I do. That’s why we thought it was the right moment to create a new resource, to help guide a conversation with our students about the need and importance of good habits and common courtesies.

As a result, we are working on a book of citizenship for students that we hope will unite our community behind our common set of values and expected behaviours. This resource will help our students better understand the purpose behind school expectations on a range of day-to-day matters. We hope that it will spark meaningful reflection in classes, mentorship sessions, assemblies and at home.

Using illustrative examples, we explain why certain rules, protocols and behaviours matter. These include the importance of attending every class and arriving on time at all kind of events, as this shows our ethical sense of responsibility, as well as our consideration for our classmates and the person leading the lesson or meeting. Another example might be to help students understand the need to greet people, as we acknowledge the presence of other human beings and demonstrate our willingness to engage with them. Or for specific occasions, such as mealtime and the vital role it plays as a social gathering, we discuss why we observe good manners, like putting our phones away in order to engage in proper conversation with the people around us.

These examples may appear as small or incidental things, but they form the foundation for a respectful and cohesive society. At TFS, we think it important to be explicit in teaching values and relaying that they be respected by our student body.

For some, it seems counter-intuitive that, when we insist upon our students living up to the school’s expectations, they actually become more connected and happier in the long run. In the short few years since we launched our new citizenship program, I have witnessed positive changes in our student body that I could not fully imagine prior. TFS students are participating in a record number of activities and sports. Recently, we had an overwhelming Level III response to our Projet Ulysse and the corresponding Society offerings. Within 10 minutes of online registration opening, students had made all their selections.

The evening of our Community Day barbecue and home opener, I left TFS with a smile on my face. In addition to basking in the warm glow of a great community gathering, I took enormous satisfaction from the school home opener soccer game. While it was nice to see our senior boys team win against our neighbour school Crescent, for me, there was a more important victory that night. I was heartened by the record number of TFS students who came out and stayed for the entire game to cheer on our team. That is school spirit borne of a sense of belonging. And like a proud parent, I went home that night happy in knowing that I had witnessed something special. And for that, I am truly grateful.   

Michael Burke
Deputy Head, Citizenship and Community Engagement