Thursday, June 17, 2010

YOUCAN Graduation- transforming lives

Today, I had the privilege of attending the graduation ceremony at YOUCAN for the two programs they offer. YOUCAN is set up for youth, aged 16-21, who have fallen through the cracks for a variety of reasons. Over the past year, I have developed a growing appreciation for the incredible work that is happening there (it operates out of Westmount School). They run two programs, one called Peacebuilders, which trains youth in conflict resolution. Once trained, the youth go out into schools to share their knowledge. The other program is called Verto and helps youth who have been involved in the Justice system learn the necessary skills to enter the workforce or continue their education. In both programs, the youth are paid to participate in the 16 week program.

At the graduation ceremony, each youth delivered a short speech outlining what the program had meant to their lives. Their stories were very powerful.

Here's some of what I heard about their lives before YOUCAN:

Before I came to YOUCAN, I was homeless, living out of my car... and it was winter. Really cold. 
I was fighting with my Mom all the time and I didn't like that.
I got kicked out of my group home and then I got kicked out of school.
I was a drug addict and drinking every day. I was going nowhere. And I had no motivation. 
I was stealing, breaking into people's homes and selling drugs. I never thought I would be anyone.

Here's what they said about how YOUCAN had changed their lives:

This program taught me so much. I learned how to respond instead of react.
I learned about how to resolve conflicts without using violence.
I love the circles. Everyone should use circles.
I learned how to write a good cover letter and a resume and now I'm ready to apply for some jobs.
I got my first aid.
I am going back to school and I've got a job.
I will succeed and I want to be a good father to my son, a good person and a taxpayer.
I have been sober for three months and I feel good about myself.
I haven't had any problems with the law.
The people here have treated me like a friend and they have helped me so much.
(One of the YOUCAN staff) here helped me through some really bad times, because he knows what it feels like. He was a gang-involved youth, too, like me.  He doesn't need to look in a book about it... he knows. 

One graduate said:
Before I came to YOUCAN, I couldn't read much. Maybe a paragraph. Yesterday, I finished my first book.

It was completely remarkable to me.. that so much growth can happen in only 16 short weeks. How does it work? How can they transform lives in such a short timeframe, when so many others have failed?  Part of the credit goes to the youth, who are truly ready to make changes in their lives. But clearly, a good part of the success comes from the incredibly dedicated and skilled staff who work at YOUCAN. In their words, they are engaged in "relentless youthwork": they just refuse to give up on these kids. They treat them with respect and engage in egalitarian problem-solving, active listening  and open dialogue through the use of circles. They spend the time to understand, to listen, to be honest with the youth and with each other. What I felt in the room was genuine warmth and caring, between the staff and the youth and amongst the youth themselves. It was like family. It was love.

I think the work at YOUCAN is truly outstanding.  I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more to contact the director Kyle Dube. I also encourage you to find out when the next graduation will happen. Do yourself a huge favour and plan to attend. It will open your eyes.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bee in my bonnet re: suits, hair & leadership

It's funny how one thing builds on another and you start to see connections everywhere. This morning, I had coffee with two trustee candidates, both women. I mentioned the upcoming "Equal Voice" workshop on supporting women in the election (see previous blog). Conversation naturally flowed to the ASBA Trustee Candidate School recently in Red Deer and what had been shared and learned. I was, I admit it, appalled to hear about the session on how to dress. Granted, I didn't hear the entire lecture, so I may be taking things out of context and this is all second-hand information--- so feel free to contradict or correct me-- but here's what was relayed to me:

Advice on how to dress- with jackets being the preferred dresscode down to cardigans as being "acceptable".
How to do you hair- someone asked if they should cut their long hair and the advice was to close your eyes and picture someone who is in power, "What does their hair look like?"  The answer: "Short, just like yours."

A young woman asked if conforming strictly to business clothing and appearances can sometimes alienate people and make politicians feel less approachable or "real". The answer: "Well, I'm not trying to change the world." In other words, play by the existing rules and you will fare better. It's important to look the part and fit the mold, not to question it.

What a sad, sad message. Should we be perpetuating the exisiting power structures or working to improve them (revolutionize them if necessary), in order to make them more accessible and open to all? Are we that shallow in our thinking that we can't imagine a different dress/hair length/style/cultural clothing being equally as valid and acceptable in an elected official?

Perhaps the question is wrong: rather than think of people in power, we should reflect on inspirational, courageous leaders. With this question, I think of a man in a loin cloth, a mother with a special needs child, an Aboriginal man with a beautiful long braids, a folksinger with a guitar, a child raising money to build wells. There is no "one image" that comes to mind because of course, these are internal qualities: character, courage, generosity, conviction--- and they have nothing to do with hair length or business apparel.

I certainly don't want to see women feel they need to become men in order to assume political positions. I don't want Aboriginal men or women feel the need to become white to join the table.

If I had been at that session, I would have been vibrating out of my seat. This is the wrong message entirely to send to new trustee candidates who are considering assuming a leadership role in their community. Leadership is not how to you look; leadership is being courageous and authentically YOU.  If that means a suit, great. If not, please don't lose who you are to try and fit someone else's mold.

"To thine ownself be true."

And, as a public, we must look beyond the suit and deep into the hearts of our leaders and elect those who are authentic and genuine, not just the ones playing the part well.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Support for Women Seeking Election


On June 23, I will be one of the panelists for the Equal Voice BE HER OR SUPPORT HER workshop- an evening "covering campaign fundamentals for women considering running for municipal council or school board trustee (or anyone interested in volunteering on a woman's campaign."  Check in 6:30, Program 7-9:30 PM. U of A Faculty of Extension, Enterprise Square, 10230 Jasper Ave. Room 2-167.

Other panelists include a representative from the Office of the City Clerk, former Edmonton Councillor Janice Melnychuk, former Ward 4 campaign manager Sarah Crummy.  Moderator is Dr. Jane Arscott co-author of Still Counting: Women in Politics Across Canada,  a lively and accessible examination of women's involvement in Canadian politics. Practical tips, support and advice.

A national public opinion poll conducted in 2008 showed that 85% of Canadians support "efforts to increase the number of women elected in this country."  In addition to this workshop, Equal Voice also has an on-line campaign school for women called "Getting to the Gate."

Register for this free event:
Volunteer by contacting: Ashley Casovan
Learn more about Equal Voice;

Media contact: Janet Buckmaster- 780-472-9052

Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Multicultural resources & connections

Yesterday, at the Centre for Education (aka The Blue Building), tables were set up to diplay many multi-cultural organizations and services.  I enjoyed looking through the displays and chatting with the community leaders. Supporting and celebrating diversity in our community is a core belief of mine. I encourage you to play an active role in ensuring that everyone feels welcome, included and supported.  Diversity in nature is a source of strength and sustainability-- it is the same in our schools, communities and our province.

Here are some of the resources I picked up. Feel free to contact the organizations for more information.

Big Brothers, Big Sisters: "One hour each week" Kids need positive role models. It's just that simple. Nearly 1000 children and youth in the Edmonton area are waiting for a mentor. or call: 780-424-8181.

ASSIST Community Services Centre: offering children and family programs for Chinese families, especially targetting children aged 0-5. Programs available in both Cantonese and Mandarin (parents group, raising children through songs & stories, moms' chatroom, family-based group activities.)  location: 9649-105A Ave., Edmonton 780424-7837.  Glen Wong, Senior Manager.

SMART CHOICES (Recognizing Problem Gambling); supported by ASSIST and Alberta Health Services Addictions and Mental Health.  Educates children grades K-12 to recognize problem gambling and teaches them how to avoid becoming a problem gambler. Drama presentation, Workshops, Picture & Poetry contest.
For more info contact: Dereje Berenda (DJ) 780-429-3111 ext 306,
If someone you care about is suffering from a gambling problem call: 1-866-332-2322 (Alberta Health)

Centre for Race and Culture. "Eliminate racial discrimination, Increase cultural understanding."
Resources, workshops, research, challenges and programs for teachers, youth, employers, parents, schools and others.  Programming for all grades. Documentary and user-manuals available.
Programming includes:
    Keshoutu Leadership Academy (leadership training for African-Canadian youth, 14-18 yrs,  using the performing arts. Junetta Jamerson coordinator.
    Bamboo Shield (skills for Adolescence with Aboriginal, Immigrant and Refugee youth and parents)
    Aboriginal Attendance Circle (Traditional Aboriginal processes to help youth stay in school)
Centre location: #4- 10865- 96 Street, Edmonton, Email: Phone: 780-425-4644.
website:     Richardo Carlos, Program Manager:

The Family Centre: "Everyone can succeed. For over 65 years, the Family Centre has been helping Alberta families, communities and workplaces make positive choices that lead to successful outcomes. Our mission is to foster healthy individuals, healthy homes, schools & workplaces, healthy communities and neighbourhoods." Services include: counselling, play therapy, anger management for children and teens, postpartum depression support group, in home parenting support, parenting education courses, specialized homes,  couselling for couples, marriage preparation, groups for working through divorce/separation, courses for step-parenting, mediation, worksite team building, in home senior support, language interpretation and translation, employee assistance programs, support for parents of sexually abused children, support for children who have witnessed violence, critical incident stress debriefing. 
Office: #20, 9912-106 St, Edmonton. 780-423-2831. website: 
All inquiries and client discussions are held in strict confidence.

Islamic Family and Social Services Association
#85, 4003 98 Street. 780-462-9770
Jordanna Aboughoche, Fostering Health Families Program Coordinator,
"Established in 1992, Islamic Family and Social Services Association (IFSSA), is a non-profit registered charity dedicated to providing services in response to the social needs of the Edmonton community within an Islamic context."
Services include:
Fostering Healthy Families Program

Counselling Services
Resources for Newcomers
Foodbank, Clothing and Household Items
Youth Development and Parent Education Program

Welcome Centre for Immigrants
#335, Tower II, Millbourne Market Mall
7609 38 Ave, Edmonton

Multi-cultural Health Brokers
Multicultural Health Brokers Co-operative Ltd.

Phone: (780) 423-1973 Fax: (780) 428-2748 Email:
10867 – 97 Street, Edmonton, AB T5H 2M6
"Connecting families and communities to resources for health and well being. Our Mandate:
To support immigrant and refugee individuals and families in attaining optimum health through relevant health education, community development and advocacy."
The MCHB Co-op is committed to:
Direct Responsiveness and Accountability: We are responsible and accountable to the families and communities we serve.
Equity and Social Justice: We strive to work for equitable access for those who are marginalized from resources and opportunities in society.
Democratic Governance We participate fully in the operations and decision-making of the organization.

Who is a Multicultural Health Broker?

A bilingual and bicultural member of the community who:
-Provides linguistic interpretation and cultural clarification
-Helps families access services and resources within the health and social service system
-Connects families to cultural community groups and resources
-Supports community development

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bravo! Generative Governance! Encore!

I'm sure you've felt this before: you are listening to a keynote speaker and practically every sentence makes you smile with recognition and wonder.  Finally, you think, someone is speaking my truth. It's a remarkable thing to hear your jumbled, disconnected thoughts drawn together in an eloquent and clear manner. You find yourself wanting to yell out or clap or run up and kiss the speaker. (Well, maybe that's just me!) At long last, your soul cries out, at long last: "Validation!"

This is how I felt listening to Keith Seel from Mount Royal College, speaking in Red Deer today to a room full of public school board trustees from all across Alberta about generative governance. (As noted in my previous blog, "generative governance" is one of the new catch phrases in the Inspiring Education report).

Here's a couple of pithy quotes from the session to wet your appetite:
"We are not travelling the same road, in the same vehicle and merely switching out drivers." (re: governance)
"Accountability is rooted in the community which it is historically committed to serve."
If you see your duty as governors strictly in financial or fiduciary terms, "accountability to community may be compromised."
"Silence, I would suggest, is not a leadership quality."

There are 35 different definitions of governance, so it's no wonder that trustees come together on new boards and find that they are operating under different definitions. This "difference" can be seen as an opportunity to create something new or it can be seen as a huge problem to be "fixed." It can, in some cases, rip boards apart, says Mr. Seel.

The three types of governance (fiduciary, strategic and generative) work together in concert. How much time to boards typically allocate to each type?  80-85% fiduciary, 5% strategic (usually once a year at a retreat), 0% generative. Creating appropriate time allocations for each type is an important first step. We won't be much good at generative governance at first, so we'll need to allow time to learn how to do it well.

Generative Governance moves trustees from a management role clearly into a leadership role.
What's the difference?

Here are words to describe leadership:
Authenticity, inspirational, risk-taking, visionary, caring/feeling, bold, intuitive, unbounded

Here are words to describe management:
Process-oriented, systematic, definitions/rules, protective, corrective, contol, orderly, bounded

I would respectfully suggest that most school boards are stuck in a management approach/role.

Mr. Seel went on to elaborate that generative governance is about "bringing something new into being". It is means accepting that the future is uncertain and that issues may be ambiguous and often contested.  Meaning matters, with generative governance, and things are decided based on evidence not personal desire.  It requires trustees (or "governors", as we were repeatedly called today) to be reflective learners, able to discern problems, engage in sense making, frame problems and ask the key questions.

Mr. Seel said, "It requires character." I would agree. This is not for the weak-of-heart.  This is meaty, visceral, challenging, brain-taxing work which is also energizing, revitalizing, meaningful and exciting.

The types of activities that you would engage in:
Looking for deeper meaning. (Asking 'what does this mean' or what is the real issue behind all the "static" or white noise?)
Being willing to wrestle with complexity, not simply firing off quick and decisive answers.
Being willing to focus or frame the important issues- you can't focus on everything, so what is the most important thing to look at?
Allowing your full experience to come into the discussion- not denying or disregarding your community experience or other roles/hats you may wear. (I would add not cutting off the many aspects of your being, including emotional, etc.)
Allocating real time to invest in this type of thoughtful work. (It can't be item 34 on a packed agenda!)
Willingness to embrace the opportunities, challenges and messiness of this approach.

One final thing I heard:
"You must have chaos inside you to give birth to a dancing star."   Wow, a quote from Nietsche in a talk on governance. I didn't see THAT coming!

So, all signs indicate that this willl be a key component of the future role for boards. Time will tell how easily and readily it is adopted. It is certainly a mind-shift.

Link to Mr. Seel's slide show here:

My musing: Will generative governance also find its way into the Legislature? Will MLAs and Cabinet Ministers embrace complexity, uncertainty, risk-taking, inspirational leadership and bold creativity? How comfortable would they be with "the chaos inside"? For that matter, how comfortable would they be with giving birth to a dancing star??    :)  It makes me smile to consider the possibilities.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The future of boards- Inspiring Education

People are talking about the Inspiring Education Report (launched yesterday by Minister Hancock) and what it will mean for the future of education and school boards (go to and enter #inspiringed into the search box to see all the chatter!) Minister Hancock confirmed that boards will continue but they will change. Some people are worried, some are suspicious, some are quietly optimistic, some are wondering why it has taken so long!

My reaction?  I'm excited, especially when I see generative governance cited in the document (around p. 35). I've been reading some excellent summaries on the topic of generative governance and will be learning more about it this weekend, when I attend the Public School Board Association of Alberta's conference in Red Deer.

I'm certainly no expert, but here's my limited understanding of generative governance, based on the work of Chait, Ryan & Taylor (Book:  "Governance as Leadership" ) There are three types of governance explained in the book- fiduciary, strategic and generative.
Fudiciary Governance focuses on control mechanisms like financial oversight, legal responsibilities, supervision through one employee (CEO) . It asks: "What's wrong?" and focuses on facts, figures and reports.
Strategic Governance focuses on direction setting, policy making and strategic planning.  It asks: "What's the plan?" and focuses on strategic indicators, looking to solve problems through empirical and logical discussion.
Generative Governance focuses on making sense, creating a fresh understanding of complex and ambiguous situations. It is characterized by noticing clues, looking at an issue from different perspectives, reorganizing data into patterns and "recognizing the organization's compelling stories and history".  It asks: "What is the question?" and is more informal and creative.

To me, Generative Governance sounds like a whole lot more fun!!!

But, some may see it as a loss of power and a precarious venture into something vague and uncertain.

An excellent article by David O. Renz, Ph.D, called "Reframing Governance" was handed to me this week. This article suggests that the evolution of governance will include the need for different voices at the table and those voices will need to be seen as equals. Often, multiple organizations or agencies will need to work together in a collaborative fashion to solve complex issues. As with all truly collaborative ventures, the lines of authority become blurry as a more responsive, flexible, inclusive structure is developed. With a shared power-dynamic, those who can build bridges of understanding and shared purpose will be the most influential, not necessarily the typical, "one annoited leader". In fact, leaders will shift and change with time and projects. This will not be a top-down, hierarchical model of governance, instead it will be network based and therefore it will require different skills, knowledge and abilities. For more on this, order this excellent summary

So, my humble reaction to the thought of school boards being restructured to include more voices from the community, to strengthen the relationship with the community and to engage in a power-sharing model with the community?

"Yes, please."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sector Reviews- info for you

First things first, West 1 is having a sector review community consultation THIS SATURDAY, June 5 at Ross Shep High School, 13546 111 Avenue. Unfortunately, I cannot attend, because I will be at the Public School Board Association of Alberta conference in Red Deer. I understand the one held last weekend in South Central drew about 80 people. (I think we can do better!) Please feel free to send me an email after you've attended to let me know what you thought.

On the website ( you can now find the agenda for the meeting in the Library section:  (check under "Community Consultations").

Also contained in this Link above are:
Fillable workbook (will be accepted until June 18- have you done yours yet?)
The workbook translated in Mandarin
Questions and Answers (from the public at the June 1 meeting)
Evaluation reports (from the June 1, Public Engagement 101 sessions)
International Association for Public  Participation- Spectrum, Code of Ethics and Values. As I stated before EPSB is committed to the INVOLVE level on the Spectrum. (not beyond, that is, NOT COLLABORATE or EMPOWER.)

Ciao for now,

Tuesday, June 1, 2010