From the Teacher’s Desk ~ The Essence of Teaching and Learning


By Leonard Quilty

Strip away the noise. Only two things matter in life: what you’re becoming; and who you’re helping.

~ Robin Sharma

On Friday, June 5, we had the annual graduation ceremony at our school. Students and their families came from all over Alberta to join in the festivities. This year’s ceremonies were similar to previous ones – the ecumenical service at the church, the graduates’ cap toss outside the church, the grand march at the community center, and the dinner and dance.

But there was something a little extra special about this year’s event. That specialness can be summed up in two words – gratitude and community.

Throughout the day, there were many parents and students who came up to me to express their thankfulness in being part of such a momentous occasion. They were also very grateful for the hard work that our graduation committee had put in to prepare for the event.

On that evening, while sharing the banquet meal with the graduates and their families, and watching them enjoy themselves on the dance floor, I felt a strong community connection. It was almost like I was a guest at a family get together.

On the topic of community, I have just finished reading an excellent book called The Courage to Teach. One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was when the author, Parker J. Palmer, wrote about a community of truth. In a chapter titled “Knowing in Community,” the author gives a beautiful definition of the craft of teaching. “To teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced.”

To support his point, Mr. Palmer included a motto from Cowell College in Santa Cruz, California – “The pursuit of truth in the company of friends.” I like that! I believe that’s what the essence of teaching and learning should be.

When I consider the graduating class at our school this year, one of the truths about this community of learners is that they are part of a small minority of students in the province (about 1% I’m told) who have received their schooling, or at least part of it, via distributed learning – online education. Essentially, they have been educated in the comfort of their home.

During our evening banquet, one of the grade twelve students gave the customary toast to the teachers. His words were very edifying as he thanked the teachers for playing such a huge role in his, and his fellow graduates, education.

When the student finished speaking, it was my job to respond to this toast. The gist of my brief speech was that it was very important for the students, as they make their way in the world beyond high school, to find their passion and then pursue it with vigor.

I like Robin Sharma’s words (quoted above) relative to the two things that matter in life – what you’re becoming and who you’re helping. If I had read those words before my speech to the graduates, I would certainly have referenced them.

It’s not only the graduates, but all of us, at whatever life stage we’re currently enjoying, who need to actualize Mr. Sharma’s words. I think Robin Sharma is being very direct in his words. But if he was being a little more pointed I believe he would ask this question as well. Do you have a plan to move you further along the continuum of self-improvement?

And for the part about helping others – well, that’s directly tied to your self-development plan. As author Wallace D. Wattles once said, “The very best thing you can do for the whole world is to make the most of yourself.”

Leonard Quilty is a guidance counsellor with the Centre for Learning@Home in Okotoks, Alberta. He can be reached by e-mail at