Teachers Can Be ‘Difference Makers’

All Canadians were celebrating when Alexandre Bilodeau won Canada’s first Olympic gold medal on “home soil” in the Men’s Freestyle Moguls. TV replays demonstrated Alexandre’s skills at speeding through the “bumps” and his aerial prowess. However, it was the celebration and cheering of his family, and in particular his older brother Frédéric, who suffers from cerebral palsy, that had a particular impact on me. In fact, it was the following 3:22 minute video vignette, hosted by Rick Hansen as part of his 17 segment “Difference Makers”, which clearly demonstrated the motivation behind Alexandre Bilodeau. I urge you to view this inspirational video:

Difference Makers with Rick Hansen – Alexandre Bilodeau

I’m sure that by now many readers have viewed either Alexandre’s original gold medal run or the replays that have been aired on TV or as videos on various Olympic news websites. Following Alexandre’s instant popularity, Rick Hansen’s “Difference Makers” video vignette, showcasing Alexandre’s “special needs” brother Frédéric, also received much more air time. The question remains, why would these two video opportunities inspire me to write about “difference makers” in education?

Initially, when first viewing the crowd in the gallery awaiting Alexandre’s gold medal run, I was impressed with the unconditional enthusiasm and cheer-leading that Alexandre’s brother Frédéric demonstrated. I thought of the many dedicated teachers that I know who have worked tirelessly with “special needs” students to help them reach, what may have first seemed like, unattainable goals.

However, after seeing Rick Hansen’s “Difference Makers” vignette, I began shifting the “special” adjective, that I had first associated with “students” to the cheer-leading “teachers”, I have known. True, some teachers  have “special needs” students in their class, but all teachers have the potential to be “special” in the eyes of their students and to be a “difference maker”. For as Alexandre’s message, in the above video, states … “Where’s the limit for each of us?”

As an educator, do you remember a favourite teacher that helped you? Do you remember what topics s/he taught you? What lasting impact did this person have on your life? Do you consider such a teacher as a role model and did s/he influence you to choose teaching as a career?

Your students will not remember what you taught them … but they will remember forever the way you make them feel.

I am very fortunate to know teachers who I consider to be real “difference makers”. Such caring educators welcome all students into their classes. Their classrooms are safe and supportive environments where all students feel that they are part of a caring family of learners. Such difference making teachers are champions and advocates on behalf of each of their students. In the eyes of some younger students, such teachers are viewed as “heroes”. With the fostered support of the teacher and classmates, individual students are encouraged to risk take, learn through engaging activities, collaboration and constructive criticism by peers. Perhaps most important, student self-concepts are raised and confidence is enhanced. Students are taught respect and such teachers set high, but realistic, attainable goals for all students.  These teachers practice “inclusion” and should a student with “special needs” be added to their class, these “difference makers” welcome the opportunity willingly, because they know that such “special” children can influence and teach the rest of the class important life-long aspects including empathy, understanding and values that one does not normally find in traditional lesson plans or textbooks.

Although I have described many important attributes that I have observed in “master teachers”, I have purposely left the curriculum reference to the end. Certainly such teachers do teach subjects such as English, Mathematics, Music, Physical Education, and Science but “curriculum focus” does not diminish how these teachers relate to their individual students. Perhaps Pam Welter said it best when she stated, “Your students will not remember what you taught them … but they will remember forever the way you make them feel.”

I’m so proud to say that many of my best friends are role models for educational “difference makers”. In my mind, they too stand at the top of the podium as gold medal winners.

Take care & keep smiling 🙂

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