Relationships that Change Lives

Relationships that Change Lives

Sixty administrators, over eight hundred teachers and over twelve thousand students—this is Glenford Duffus’ [MTS 2000] sphere of influence as Superintendent of the Northwest 2 family of schools in Toronto.

Northwest 2 includes twenty-one elementary schools and three secondary schools, one of which includes an extended adult education school. The area, bordered by Islington Avenue, Steeles Avenue, Keele Street and Sheppard Avenue, encompasses many cultures and ethnicities, including Caucasian, East and South Asian, African, Caribbean, Spanish, Italian and Aboriginal.

Glenford taught school and served as a vice-principal in his native Jamaica before coming to Canada in 1988. He started teaching the unusual combination of math and English, and then moved through various positions before being appointed superintendent in January 2009.

How does one person relate to this many people from this many cultures in this many schools? “Communication,” says Glenford. He often visits all the Northwest 2 schools. “Kids call me by name because I’ve been there so regularly.” He learns their names so as to build good relationships with as many children as possible.

He also gets to know their parents. “I espouse the belief that kids are not educated in a vacuum so I also have to connect with the parents.” Glenford does this at parent workshops, school celebrations and a parent conference every May. To continue to build relationships, Glenford sometimes joins students in playing cards or rolling dice. He asks them what they are studying and feigns ignorance when they go into details about their subjects. He learned the power of asking questions a long time ago.

Smiling at the memory, Glenford tells about one disengaged student he met as a vice-principal. “He caused everybody to pull out hair—whatever hair they had. We had a lengthy discussion and developed a relationship where we were strategizing how he could focus and be perceived in a certain way.” The relationship continued and Glenford has remained a sounding board for the young man, who is now a PhD candidate. Glenford has continued to walk with him through every major decision in his life.

More recently, while visiting a school, he met another disengaged student who was waiting to see the principal. When Glenford asked why he was there the boy answered, “You don’t want to know. I did something really bad today.” When he heard what the boy had done, Glenford told him he hoped he would never repeat it. “Then I asked him if he minded if I kept talking to him when I visited the school.” On one of those visits the boy came to Glenford to tell him that he was graduating.

Glenford asks administrators in the schools he supervises to connect with one child who might be at risk. “For some children, connections with significant adults are of high value, particularly in Northwest 2,” says Glenford. “When these connections are made there are less conflicts, problems and behavioural issues.” He has also noticed that when teachers connect with students outside of the classroom it improves the all round behaviour of students.

Of course, educators need to ask questions and listen to the answers. “Over the years I’ve learned to have different conversations,” says Glenford. He has faced angry parents who have even threatened to bring a lawyer. If people feel they are valued and heard the problem often dissipates.

Glenford has learned to listen to the cultures represented in his schools. “I came from a country that is really diverse—I had to learn a lot of things though,” says Glenford. In a Northwest 2 classroom the world can be represented. One Chinese student chose to make a presentation on the book The Joy Luck Club. She later told Glenford that he didn’t know how much it meant to her to study something she could identify with. “I developed units and curriculum based on different cultures,” says Glenford. “People feel free to talk about their experience and the kids are learning from each other.” In developing curriculum he’s had to think about how a female Muslim student wearing a hijab can have a safe experience in a lab or another educationally rich experience.

Glenford, who graduated in 2000 with an MTS from Tyndale, sees his ministry and vocation converging in this one simple principle: Treat others as you would like to be treated. His relationship with God means he’s bound to represent the unrepresented. “As a classroom teacher I only had influence over thirty kids at a time. That’s what drove me into administration, to have a wider influence.”

Glenford’s influence is becoming even wider. As of August 2012, he is a member of the Teacher Education Advisory Committee (TEAC) of Tyndale’s Bachelor of Education program. The TEAC’s role is to help ensure that the program remains current with the educational priorities and trends in the Province of Ontario—priorities that Glenford knows well and, with God’s help, may even be able to influence.