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Titles and sand castles

In my 40 years as an educator, 25 years of which were in senior leadership positions, I always maintained that titles are like sandcastles, easily blown in the wind. 

And reporting lines are like sand bridges in those castles – there one day and gone the next. 

Someone who reports to you today could be your boss tomorrow; someone who needs you today could hold your fate the next; a student you teach today could be the paramedic who saves your life tomorrow. 

So I consistently advised anyone who asked to be mentored to heed these simple lessons and to remember that it is not your title that defines who you are but your actions.

Just like many others have done, I have helped dozens of talented, educated, qualified people access wonderful, secure jobs and promotions by mentoring them, opening doors for them, pointing them in the right direction, providing introductions, just listening to them, coaching, advising and encouraging them. 

We don’t do these things expecting pay back. 

But we do expect that they will pay it forward and do the same down the road for struggling students, new immigrants desperately looking for a pathway in a new country or simply for a stranger who turns to them for help. 

As a title bearer in an organization one has to be firm, fair, transparent and rule-abiding. 

But, as a person, the ability to be kind, caring, compassionate and empathetic go a long way in life’s other journey, the one not tied to your job.

While we have jobs millions of us donate money to causes that we consider worthy – be they children’s charities, wildlife, humane efforts, non-profit organizations and so on. 

But when monetary donations become difficult to give, it is the gift of personality, the will to help, the belief in karma or simply the humanity in us that turn our attention away from ourselves to alleviate another’s hardship in whatever small way we can.

My journey would not have been the one it has been had it not been for kind, caring, empathetic people along the way. 

As early as primary school the teachers who taught us in crumbling non-white schools in South Africa, listened to us and most importantly, helped the children for whom school was a struggle both economic and consequently academic. 

Almost all of us remember one or two remarkable teachers who stay in our minds and hearts decades after they taught us and for some of us decades after they have passed on. 

My parents who scraped together fees for higher education reminded us to strive for the top and it is for them that we lift others as we climb. 

And then for the fortunate ones there is university or college – wow – that place that shapes so many of our lives, our psyches, our careers, our friendships and the rest of our lives! 

Had it not been for those few professors who took the time to counsel us where would we be and what journey would we have traversed?

I often think of the people who helped me and those whom I have helped and would love to hear your stories about the quiet forces who shaped your journeys. 


• Dr Vicki Bismilla is a retired Superintendent of Schools and retired college Vice-President, Academic, and Chief Learning Officer.

Posted: Aug 2, 2018

December 2018



Centennial College



Immigration Peel Canada



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