Be That One Person

You can change a life trajectory.

It is a powerful message, and it’s one I have heard often throughout the last month.

Richard Wagamese, storyteller and Canada Reads Peoples’ Choice author, spoke to educators in Thunder Bay about the one person who rescued him from a desperate life path.  It’s a remarkable story that began with a simple kindness to a homeless native teenager in southern Ontario.

It ended with Richard reminding us that we have the power to be the one person who makes a difference in the life of another.  As educators, we have no idea where our influence and impact will end.

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Richard Wagamese, speaking to educators at the NAN Education Conference in Thunder Bay, March 30/31, 2016


Recently, I have been studying the impact of childhood trauma on long term life outcomes, including school success.  The CBC Ideas 3-part Podcast, All In the Family, examines the ACE Study – Adverse Childhood Events.

trama podcast
CBC Ideas Podcast: All in the Family Part 2:

With traumatized kids, “executive function” becomes derailed.  In other words, their control over their behaviour is damaged.

A “code of conduct” is about punishment for behaviour without addressing the root cause.

How does a Code of Conduct negatively impact our most vulnerable kids, and amplify their inability to cope?

“Traumatized kids have a “fragmented” executive function”.

“The single greatest predictor of academic success that exists is the emotional stability of the home, it’s not the classroom.  And if you really wanted to do education reform, you would start with the home, darn it, you wouldn’t start with the classroom, because it is the greatest predictor.”

(John Medina, CBC Ideas Podcast, All in the Family, Part 2: 34: 01)

At #uLead15, Pasi Sahlberg talked about the “invisible factors” that impact school success.

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Pasi Sahlberg, uLead 15 slides:
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Pasi Sahlberg, uLead 15 slides:


At #uLead16, he spoke about the importance of small data – understanding individual children and the causes of what we observe.

And about equity – the idea that genetics and geography should not impact your life chances because the school system is an equalizer, not a separator/filter.

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The Globe and Mail, April 23, 2016


We cannot continue to believe that test scores matter, that sorting children is what schools are for, that code of conduct thinking is best for kids.  These stances perpetuate inequity.

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Pasi Sahlberg, uLead 16 slides:


And here is the thing:

“Resilience studies show that if just one person is looking out for a vulnerable child, that can mitigate trauma.”

(CBC Ideas Podcast, All in the Family, Part 3: 35:35)

One person, can change a trajectory.

Teaching is the most important job in the world because every single day we are handed the opportunity to change the trajectory of a child’s life.

Just by caring.


Mind/Shift Podcast:

Overcoming Childhood Trauma: How Parents and Schools Work to Stop the Cycle


Pasi Sahlberg – presentation slides uLead16

Pasi Sahlberg – presentation slides uLead15

The How And Why of Trauma-Informed Teaching (Edutopia 2018)


A substantial resource list is available on the CBC Podcast site here: –

Related websites:

Reading List: 

Paul Tough, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. New  York: Houghton Mifflin, 2012.

Bessel Van der Kolk, MD, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Books, New York. 2014.

Heather Forbes, Help for Billy: A beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom. Boulder, CO.: Beyond Consequences Institute, 2012.

Charlotte Silver, Can Childhood Trauma Shorten Your Life? Alternet, 24 Dec. 2013.

Martin H. Teicher, Scars that Won’t Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse, Scientific American, March, 2002

David Bornstein, Teaching Children to Calm Themselves

Rebecca Ruiz, How Childhood Trauma Could Be Mistaken for ADHD. The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 07 July 2014.

Kenneth R. Ginsburg, and Martha M. Jablow. Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving  Kids Roots and Wings. Elk Grove Village: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011.

John Medina, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle Washington Pear, 2008.

John Medina, Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five. Seattle, Washington, Pear, 2010.

Daniel Siegel, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. New York: Bantam,  2010.

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