Educators conference theme was almost divine
By LAUREEN McMAHON
The hand of the Lord is sometimes so visible there is great joy in being
one of His servants, said Catholic Educators Conference chairwoman Suzanne
Dinwoodie, as she reflected on the event at St. John Brebeuf Regional
This year’s conference theme, Compassion Poured Out, said Dinwoodie,
became a vivid example of how God’s voice can be heard by His people.
“When we met with the school principals and the pastors last year to pick
a new conference theme, we never could have foreseen how our choice would
take on a whole new meaning after 9/11,” Dinwoodie told The B.C. Catholic.
Archbishop Adam Exner, OMI, agreed, calling the theme “a powerful and
fitting one for our present times, especially as the world continues to reel
under the impact of the acts of terrorism and hatred of last Sept. 11 and
the ensuing war.”
Hearts pouring out compassion for others, said the archbishop, hearts
that can forgive and accept forgiveness, hearts modelled after the heart of
Jesus, Whose compassion saved all humanity, is what all must strive for now.
Educators, he said, in a particularly important way, help form the
compassionate hearts of a new generation.
Said Dinwoodie, “We all agreed we wanted to teach our students that, as
members of the mystical Body of Christ, we are responsible for the human
family and called to share what we have been given. We called our concept
‘no one in need.’”
After Sept. 11 many schools, said Dinwoodie, picked up on the Compassion
Poured Out theme by getting involved with social justice initiatives and
looking for ways to reach out to the poor and suffering in their midst. Some
schools arranged for students to become pen pals with students in New York
so they could express their compassion to those directly involved in the
The conference theme naturally influenced the choice of speakers, said
Many of the general session and break-out speakers, she said, were
experts on the challenges which educators face in carrying out their mission
in a spirit of compassion.
The opening keynote address speaker, Dr. Richard Lavoie, is a frequent
guest at educational conferences across North America because of his
expertise as a consultant to agencies and organizations on learning
differences. He is particularly well versed on issues affecting children who
struggle in school, said Dinwoodie.
“We learned from the teachers’ evaluations that his strategies for
integrating special needs kids was a real highlight. He touched the hearts
of many, as did Father Lucien Larre’s humorous yet profound address on
today’s ‘busy-ness’ of kids and how it interferes with their development.
“Father Larre said that many children with problems like Attention
Deficit Disorder are handed drugs rather than helped to overcome their
problems,” said Dinwoodie.
Father Larre, who gave the closing keynote address, is a psychologist who
has counselled children, adolescents, and families for many years. He has
received the Order of Canada for his work.
Society, he said, suffers from a decided lack of compassion for those
with cognitive and developmental problems. The terrorist events and also the
recent spate of school shootings, he said, should encourage everyone to look
deeper to discover how a lack of love and compassion affect children who are
different, who have difficulty following the normal path.
Children who challenge their teachers and families to pour out
compassion, he said, are really “a gift.”
Vancouver psychologist Dr. Denis Boyd talked about helping kids cope with
crises such as the 9-11 attacks in a talk called Helping Kids Cope with
Loss, Stress, and War.
Death, said Dr. Boyd, whether of a fellow student, a family member, or a
school staff member, even in a community outside the school environment,
provides an opportunity for the school community to come together to pray
and share their feelings.
“It is important that the first class the students attend (after such an
event),” said Dr. Boyd, “provides the opportunity for everyone to discuss
what has happened.”
Praying for those directly affected, he said, is extremely important, and
gives children the opportunity to express their shock, grief, and compassion
“Stress levels will be high after a traumatic event,” said Dr. Boyd. Some
children will act out (their feelings) more than others and allowances
should be made. Students and staff who are already under high levels of
stress, or who are grieving other losses, may be at greater risk than the
general school population, he said.
Symptoms of stress in children, as in adults, are irritability,
outbursts, withdrawal, sleep disturbances, eating problems, stomach aches,
headaches, randomized body pains, crying easily, nail biting, separation
anxiety, and clingy behaviour.
Teachers can help kids deal with stress after crises by listening and
inviting dialogue, playing games where children can express emotions,
encouraging the writing of thoughts and feelings, and using art. Music and
reading are also valuable, he said, in helping children express themselves.
Dr. Boyd described factors which determine how a particular child will
interpret death or loss, according to their age group, individual
personality, life experience, etc.
Depending on how open a child is at expressing his or her emotions, he
said, each one responds to death or crisis in an individual way. Age plays a
factor, as does a child’s life experiences up to that point.
Twenty-five year certificates were presented to Pauline Teglasi of
Blessed Sacrament School, Adele Coady of Little Flower Academy, Shirley
Colwell of St. Francis de Sales School, and Brenda Lockhart of St. Francis
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