Seeing the Trees

February 12, 2019 - 4 minutes read

On a recent sunny winter afternoon my family embarked on a short hike on the trails above the British Properties in search of “Hollyburn Fir”. For those not familiar with “Hollyburn Fir”, it is a massive 1,100 year old first growth fir tree that stands among the extraordinary forest of trees that we often take for granted as the back drop of our west coast environment.

The trail took us above the snow line as we had recently received a blanket of snow on the local mountains. Due to the condition of the trail our eyes were mostly cast downward as we needed to be mindful of our footing, only looking up from time to time to locate the next trail marker secured to a tree, and then to scan the forest in search of “Hollyburn Fir”.

Becoming concerned that we were on the wrong trail and on the verge of deciding to turn back, we stopped to consider our options. I looked to the left and had to catch my breath, as I found myself standing right beside “Hollyburn Fir”, having failed to observe the enormity of the tree right beside me.

We are all familiar with the adage of “not being able to see the forest for the trees”.  At that moment I realized I had “not been able to see the tree for the forest”.

After a “photo op” with “Hollyburn Fir” we started our hike back through the forest and it dawned on me that there was a parallel between my experience of finding “Hollyburn Fir” and the day to day challenges that are part of high school leadership.  I asked myself, how often do I become focused solely on the regular tasks and demands that constitute my daily “hike through the forest”, while failing to properly notice and appreciate the many individual accomplishments and successes of the students at Rockridge Secondary?

In particular, I thought of the Grade 9 students who traditionally have a collective reputation of being ‘difficult’.  I speak from experience as I taught Grade 9 students at Hillside Secondary School back in the day and even then, the mention of Grade 9s caused eyes to roll!  I liken Grade 9s to ‘middle children’, often feeling that they are between a rock and a hard place. These adolescents are trying to fit in, while navigating puberty, peer pressures and so much more.  And let’s not forget their brains are still developing!

But Grade 9s have some very endearing qualities, including being helpful, open-minded, and hardworking. Just recently I marveled at the fact that thirty Grade 9 students had signed up for the Waterloo Math Contest.  Many take leadership roles in our school clubs and participate with great enthusiasm in our junior concert band.  And how about the Grade 9 students who volunteer so readily to tour new students around the school and jump in without hesitation to set up tables in the gym for parent-teacher conferences? 

Our Grade 9 boys’ basketball team was a hardworking, cohesive group who showed great effort and sportsmanship throughout their season.  I was proud of them every time I watched them play.  And let’s not forget the Grade 9 hike up Grouse Mountain earlier this year where the students demonstrated great determination and stamina.

I realized that each student, including those in Grade 9, is a “tree” in our “forest” and I resolved to make a conscious effort to do my best to avoid not seeing the tree for the forest.