The Appreciative Inquiry methodology was first introduced to the Southridge community by Jim Lord, a celebrated author and acknowledged expert in its use. In 2003, as a lead up to the strategic planning process, he led us through a process whereby three guiding principles were extracted from the stories told by members of our school community during appreciative inquiry interviews. A number of selected volunteer adults from our community were trained to carry out these interviews with teachers, parents, staff, students, alumni, alumni parents, and alumni faculty. The stories originated from the personal experiences of these many individuals. They were documented in order to help us identify those essential and defining elements that allowed our success during the first decade with a view to utilizing these to build an even brighter future.
During follow-up sessions, Mr. Lord led the community through the analysis of those stories to draw from them a set of Guiding Principles which could then be used to shape our approach to the future. As they have in the past, these guiding principles will serve and support us as we move toward our preferred future.
The following are the three principles; the details that support each principle; and the stories that illustrate that the principle lives in the Southridge community.
- FIRST PRINCIPLE: As members of the Southridge community, each of us has both the privilege and responsibility to choose how we influence our community and the world.
- SECOND PRINCIPLE: We commit to the power of community.
- THIRD PRINCIPLE: Contribution is at the heart of what we inherit and what we pass on.
Shaping our relationships are the values of truth, tolerance, respect, and compassion. We act, knowing our children are watching. Our behaviour influences all; every member is a role model for everyone in the school community and society.
Below are stories from the First Principle:
“When I arrived as a new teacher to Southridge, I was very impressed that within the first couple of days one of the Grade 11 students sought me out. He introduced himself and welcomed me to Southridge. I was very moved that he would show such maturity, confidence, and caring. It made me feel very good about myself and the new school that I had come to.”
“I was returning chairs from the Senior School gym to the Great Hall. I was behind (and unnoticed by) two students, a boy and a girl, each of whom was also returning chairs. The boy said to the girl, “I see you got sucked into carrying chairs too”. “No, I didn’t get sucked in, I want to help out.” It was meaningful to me that she took the opportunity to stand up for what she believed in, rather than simply agree to the sentiment expressed by the boy.”
“The number of tragedies that have happened recently at the school – one of our family’s house burning down, the death of one of our parents, the tragic and sudden death of a student. I was touched and impressed by the support of the Southridge community in all three of these instances. Teachers, students, and parents all supported the children and the families. There is a sense that we’ve got to do what is “right.” As a member of the community it gives me a sense of security in knowing that if some tragedy were to strike my family, I know there would be support and that we would be cared for.”
“Sometimes parents come up to me to compliment me on the job I am doing maintaining the school grounds. Some of the teachers introduce me to their classes and explain what I do. This helps to make me feel like I am part of the community. A graduating student from last year gave me a card and present at Christmas. I didn’t even know the student, and was overwhelmed to be recognized in that way. The most meaningful compliments have come from Bill Jones (because he is so busy and I feel the significance of his thoughtfulness).”
“Last year a student came to me and told me about his aunt who had gone to Tanzania to help build an orphanage. The student wanted to help in some way. I agreed, but decided this was an opportunity to develop this student as a leader. The class got behind the project and over the coming months the class had collected 12 huge boxes of needed items for the orphanage. Just as we were about to send the boxes off we found out from the student’s aunt that the orphanage was a hoax, and that the aunt had only just found this out. I was devastated by the news and was trying to figure out the best way to tell the kids.
It was very painful for me and for them as I told them the story that morning. I was crying and many of them started to cry as well. It was a time though where I felt we really bonded and it was a learning moment.
By chance I told a friend, and she told me about an orphanage in Haiti that needed help. I told the kids about it and waited for their reaction. I knew that it needed to come from the kids. As they began to think about it, I could see their faces lighting up with the idea of helping a new orphanage. I then received an email from Haiti saying that they had been praying on angel’s wings. The kids felt powerful again.
We made contact and letters and photos came back. There were kids from babies to age 12. Our original idea had now grown into a Haiti project. We raised $1,400 for the orphanage and sent it to Haiti. With the money, they purchased property and built a building. At the end of this year, our students are going on to Grade 8 and every kid except two are taking this initiative to the high school as the Haiti Club, and they will continue to work for the orphanage in Haiti.”
The foundation of our school is having a community that shares and lives our values. The students, parents, teachers, staff, alumni, and alumni parents and grandparents create a supportive, safe, and loving environment through their positive, caring relationships. By providing a lighthearted place of serious purpose, one where our students can take risks in finding their potential, they find joy. With commitment to our shared vision and highest aspirations, we have the power to make a positive difference in the world.
Below are stories from the Second Principle:
“The intermediate musical...I was so impressed with the quality of the production, the way the students managed themselves and in particular, one of our students who played a lead role. This student is usually a very introverted, shy person who stays pretty much on the sidelines. The student displayed a side I didn’t know they were capable of in this role. The student was very animated, knew their lines cold, and said them with such dramatic flair that my son and I found ourselves repeating them exactly the same way after the performance. I admired the student tremendously for taking the risk that was necessary, especially in front of peers.”
“The Grand Opening of the Senior School...Present were parents, students, faculty, and many outsiders including city dignitaries. It was such a “big” moment for Southridge. Such a “coming of age.” We had worked for so long to get to this very moment. It was very exciting, and there was a shared sense of triumph. It was kind of neat that some of the dignitaries hadn’t been particularly supportive early on, but now wanted to be part of it. It took so many different skills, so many different kinds of people contributing what they had to bring. It could only have been accomplished through community. Everyone felt so proud. There was a real sense of team spirit. We had all done this together."
“Attending the Spring Fair this year. I just started teaching at Southridge in January and never been to the Fair before. I didn’t volunteer to work at the Fair because I wanted to bring my mother, who had never been to the Fair, to see it. When I drove up I was blown away by the magnitude of it. I had no idea. I couldn’t believe I was part of a place like this. I felt so proud. During the day, walking around with my mom, many of my students came up to me to say hi!
The day was a very emotional experience for me. The fact that all these people – students, teachers, and parents – were here willingly on a Saturday, having fun putting on this huge event - it seemed like this was far more than a school. It was more like a home. Like a family. And I felt part of it.
In my last school, no one seemed to care. At Southridge people really seem to care. When someone asks you how you are, they are really interested in knowing how you are. People seem very genuine here. There’s also a real feeling of love here. And a real sense of energy.”
“It was a Volleyball game with a team of Grade 6 girls I was coaching. There was one particular girl who had never made a serve over the net the whole year. It was the last game of the year. It was game point and it was her serve. She served the ball and it went over the net. Everybody went crazy. Her teammates were cheering. It was so awesome to see the growth of this child and the growth of the team in general. They were such a community, celebrating each other. It was so great to see the growth of the school as well. At that time our athletics were really just getting going, and this was the first game we won.”
“Before the Country Fair my mother and daughter (K student), made some crafts. During the year, the volunteer parent in charge of the crafts kept in touch with my mother (a grandparent) and encouraged them to continue and be involved again with the crafts this year. My mother felt very included and valued as a member of the community. She began to feel a relationship with the school and the Fair. My daughter was so proud on Fair Day, not only of the crafts that she had made with her grandmother, but just to be part of it. They made glass plates with our motto, let every spirit soar. She bought back the items she made to give as gifts. I was struck by how inclusive the Country Fair is and by how proud my daughter was to be part of it and to have her grandmother part of it as well.”
“The official opening ceremony in October of 1995...The specific moment was when the students sang the school song. None of the parents knew that we had a school song and I still suspect that they kept a good secret so that they could surprise all of us. It was a celebratory moment because everybody was there and it was our first opportunity as a community to celebrate our school. When the students sang the song, the magnitude of the accomplishment hit everyone there. Many (most) people there had tears in their eyes by the end of the song, me included. It was the culmination of our hard work and the realization of a dream.”
“What immediately came to mind was from my final year. The graduating class had planned to have a camping experience on the backfield of the school grounds. We set up the equipment, made a campfire, and sat around talking, teasing, joking, reminiscing about our time at the school. What struck me about this experience was the uniqueness of my time at Southridge as compared to what it might have been had I attended public school. I was struck by the great people I had met and spent the previous few years with. In the morning, we all marched into the school, still in our pajamas (in order to get a rise out of Mr. Brown…which we achieved with remarkable success). It had been our intention to wear the pajamas to assembly, but Mr. Brown had other ideas and corrected our misunderstanding about being able to do so.”
“Every spirit soaring” is made possible by the contributions and the passionate and compassionate selflessness of everyone, from a small kindness to investing one’s life in the greater good. Membership in the Southridge community has always called us to shift our emphasis to “we” from “me”.
Below are stories from Third Principle:
“Before the school was actually a school...My wife and I wanted a good school for our daughter, so when we heard about the possibility of Southridge, we were very excited and interested. We went to every meeting there was, even though we decided to sign up after the first one. At that first meeting, the prospective parents were asked for donations as there were many expenses being incurred. I passed the organizers a cheque for $500. After I got home, my wife and I started to think about all of the expenses that a start up school would be facing. We had been planning and saving for a family holiday for a number of years. Our dream vacation was to take our daughter to Yellowstone National Park. We had saved $5,000 for the trip. I went to Wayne Camire and asked him if he still had my $500 cheque, because I wanted it back. He told me that he had just deposited it, but he would understand if I had changed my mind about the school and that he would give me my money back. I told him I didn’t want my money back, I just wanted to replace the cheque with a $5,000 one. We had decided that Southridge was more important than our holiday. We felt so good that day about our contribution to help build Southridge. We trusted Mr. Brown and the parents working with him to get the school going. This was a meaningful way for us to make a contribution. Now when I drive here every day I am very proud of our contribution and I am also proud of all the great things the school is doing for those outside the school.”
“I brought the idea of forming a relationship with Semiahmoo House to a class of Grade 9’s...I described the opportunity to them – what interaction they would have, what kind of people they would meet, etc. and after 5 minutes every student in the room raised their hand to say that they would like to participate. My eyes welled up with tears. I felt that I was able to relay my passion to them in an open and honest way and they responded to that. The other class of Grade 9’s reacted the same way and in the end there are about 40 students who are involved with Semiahmoo House. I feel that with such a small community and the close contact with the students, passion spreads quickly, and it is much easier for the teachers to build rapport with their students.”
“I remember Rowena Raber, Jennifer Camulli, and Jane Fenwick, saying to ourselves here we go off to a new future with no plans and not quite knowing how it was all going to come together. The building wasn’t finished yet, nothing was set up, no posters on the walls, no bulletin boards, desks weren’t organized, there was no life in the building, no spirit, no real purpose. It was an empty shell waiting for us to breathe life into it – it seemed like we were beginning an adventure similar to Dorothy leaving to follow the yellow brick road.
Once we arrived at the school Yvonna Camire and Alice McQuade served hot chocolate to all, then asked “what do you need us to do, how can we help?” The students were so excited, motivated, ready for anything, and also willing to help. They were eager and excited to be a part of this new adventure, and excited about being in a new school. There was a lot to do, the children and the parents really rallied around and helped out. They were the ones that got the class set up.”
“The first public meeting that we had to see how many families might be interested in beginning a school...The meeting was held at Ocean Park Community Hall and people came forward to contribute money towards the dissemination of information to the general public regarding the concept of a school. I was overwhelmed by the generosity displayed and by the interest in the concept of a school. I began to realize we had a real chance of having our school become a reality. The experience of watching people open wallets and hand money over made me realize how badly people wanted a school such as Southridge was to become.”
“The whole drive to get permission to establish a school was historic and remarkable. Whenever I think of this school my thoughts go back to the time well before there were students. I love the fact of the 10,000 signature petition obtained from the citizens of Surrey, most knowing they could never send their children to the school, nevertheless supported it."