Six years ago, I found a picture of Sheldon Kennedy and his abuser while doing some research before implementing the Respect in School program. Unfortunately, I became drawn to that picture. I really try hard not to use Sheldon’s abuser name when discussing and implementing the program or “Swift Current”.
Discussing sexual abuse and maltreatment with 15-year-olds in a classroom setting is very difficult. A few days before the start of the program or movie, I always invite our guidance counselors in to discuss their role in the school and some of the issues they deal with on a daily basis.
The main reason and end goal for bringing in the counselors is to ensure students feel comfortable sharing or open to sharing their past or current experiences with school personnel.
With everything set in place I start to tell the students about Sheldon Kennedy’s story meanwhile keeping the picture question in the back of my mind.
When I look at that picture I see a young kid, a great hockey player, but a kid that needed someone to help him, a trusted adult to step in and talk to him.
That’s the foundation I use when getting myself ready to deliver the curriculum to my students. I get very emotional discussing Sheldon Kennedy’s story because I reflect on my own experience in the game. My hockey experience was completely different to that of Sheldon’s, my journey in the game was truly amazing.
I had a coach and mentor who saw something in me at the age of 7. He identified me at a Fall power skating clinic and the rest is history. He coached me for the rest of my playing days with exception of one season. His professionalism, class and dignity has certainly left a lasting impression.
I talk about my former coach and mentor frequently in class and emphasize how he impacted my life both on and off the ice.
I’m deeply saddened sharing Sheldon’s journey through the game of hockey. In no way am I comparing myself to Sheldon Kennedy as a hockey player, I just wish Sheldon would have shared the same experience I had growing up in the game.
The reason that I’m so driven and relentless in implementing the Respect in School program and showcasing “Swift Current” in my classroom is based solely on these two pictures. Preventing abuse, bullying and maltreatment in our society should be of vital importance.
Meeting and interviewing Sheldon in 2015 inspired me not only as a broadcaster, but more importantly as a teacher and person.
Implementing the program first to Grade 9 and 10 students then to our entire staff was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my twenty-year career.
Providing young men and women with the skills necessary to identify, report and how to handle a disclosure of suspected abuse is truly empowering.
As teachers we need to empower the bystander, we need to be a voice for the invisible. Students need to feel comfortable approaching us. We need to create an open and safe environment for students to share and discuss heavy subject areas like abuse, mental health, addiction or anything that might be troubling to them. Unfortunately, young teenagers will often talk amongst their peer group before approaching a trusted adult.
As teachers we need to change the question from why to what. Why is the student acting this way to what has happened to the student to act this way? We need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of abuse at all times.
That’s the reason why, I’m so passionate about teaching Personal Development and Career Planning and implementing the Respect in School Program and viewing Swift Current in the classroom