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Wayne Davies

Teaching for positive change

Get culture right, the rest will follow, says Homecoming keynote speaker

September 19, 2016 — 

Education Homecoming’s keynote speaker says that teaching is about more than imparting facts and knowledge, it’s about inspiring positive change.

To Wayne Davies, creating positive change boils down to one thing: “The culture of your school is the foundation. It is the bedrock. If you don’t get the culture right, you don’t get everybody pulling in the right direction, you’re not going to get very far with everything else.”

Davies, best known as the founder of the Guitar Works B.O.S.S. program, saw students at Ecole Selkirk Junior High build guitars, get them signed by celebrities and auction them off, raising $175,000 to 65 charities from 2010 to 2013.

The initiative also saw the former principal named by Toronto’s Learning Partnership as one of Canada’s top 40 Principals in 2014,receive the University of Manitoba Distinguished Alumni Award for Community Service in 2015, and a Selkirk Rotary International vocational service award in 2012.

Ironically Davies, who now serves as vice-principal at Steinbach Regional Secondary School, says the BOSS program arose out of a low point in his career.

In 2010, Ecole Selkirk Junior High was making national headlines for two critical incidents.

“The kids came to me because they were upset about how the school was being portrayed in the media. … My response was, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ ” Davies said, insisting the students had to be part of the solution.

“Being a kid who had walked in their shoes—I had grown up in that school—I knew how they felt.”

Industrial arts teacher Kris Hancock and Grade 8 social studies teacher Scott Sampson offered to teach students how to build guitars. At first, 17 students showed up but every year, the program grew.

“Staff jumped onboard, students got part-time jobs out of it. They developed skills in the shop, developed connections to the school. And then we asked: How do we involve all of the kids in the school?”

Eventually, 300 students created posters and centrepieces for the auctions, helped to set up the facilities, almost every teacher and staff member was volunteering, changing the culture of the school.

“Our attendance was up, our suspensions were down… we had way fewer disruptions. We had more kids connected. We found kids who were artistic who didn’t know they were. We found kids who were musical who didn’t know they were. We found kids who connected with the school, who otherwise would have drifted for three years,” Davies said, citing Selkirk City Coun. Kelly Cook, who said at the time: If you were from Selkirk, you have to rethink Selkirk Junior High. And, if you were from Winnipeg, you had to rethink Selkirk.

Davies calls culture-changing initiatives like this “front-loading the future,” where students attitudes are changed toward school with the intention that they’ll pass that onto their children.

“What I am hoping is that 10, 20 years from now, you’re going to have a bunch of kids who roll into Selkirk Junior High who say, “My mom and dad thought that this place rocked, and I do, too.”

Although most well known for his achievements at Ecole Selkirk Junior High, Davies also boosted parental involvement and volunteerism at Selkirk’s Robert Smith School, raising the number of volunteers to 125 from four.

“We really began to celebrate the culture of the school, and make it one that people really wanted to get involved with. We had more people than we knew what to do with,” Davies said, adding that the parent councils became functioning, well-attended, meaningful instruments of discussion about what mattered to the students’ education.

“All of these different things were happening because we got the culture right. We built the foundation for good things to happen and then kids started to believe, ‘Hey, I am at a great school.’ ”

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