Centering Community: Nelson Lew

Our #FeatureFriday Series serves to honour educators and stakeholders of education in their ongoing hard work. Creating a more mindful, trauma-informed practice through an anti-oppression framework is not easy, but the work IS being done. Every day folk are not getting the recognition they deserve, so inevitably, we feel isolated in our grind. Our hope is that this series can be a reminder to you that we are NOT alone. Let’s connect and do this together.

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Nelson and I worked together years ago when I signed my very first permanent contract. I was this weirdo new teacher who didn’t quite know how to carve out a place for myself at my new school, and he was stuck with me as his new grade partner. He must have warmed up to me though, and to his credit, quickly and easily. That’s just the kind of person he is: open-minded, willing to see the best in people, and accepting of folks for who they are (unless, of course, you’re a world-class douchebag – my words, not his).

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Nelson’s Work

Nelson’s kindness was central in the way he was with our students (yes, even the not-so-kind ones). Our most challenging students have declared without skipping a beat that “Mr. Lew is like the nicest guy ever!” So when Nelson’s bio included “Nelson is also a father, husband, uncle, brother, son, and overall good dude 😁”, I chuckled at this cheeky line, but did not hesitate at all to include it. Because it’s true.

Our grade team back in the mid 2010s dressed as LMFAO for Halloween. Nelson’s the robot in the middle lol…

As one of the best music teachers I’ve ever worked with, Nelson champions the way of meeting student needs through the arts and creativity. Year after year, he prioritizes building a strong, supportive learning community that values human integrity above all else. I remember when he voluntarily put in hours after school to run a highly successful band. Kids from all walks of life participated in numerous competitions. Sometimes they lost, most of the time they won. Regardless of the outcome, the kids always felt like they were part of a team, and they always thrived in some way from being a part of Nelson’s band. There was one particular competition at our local amusement park stage, and Nelson always advocated and negotiated with school administration to make sure his band members were given time after their performance to enjoy themselves at the park for the day in celebration of their hard work. The kids appreciated his recognition.

Nelson is also a realistic teacher. He understands that he can only do what he can, and he extends that grace to his students. During the 2020-2021 virtual school year, he worked hard to remain attuned to student needs, even through computer screens. When he and I signed up to teach virtually that year, and were discussing our classroom set-up and curriculum, he always circled back to how we could keep student mental health in check. He knew there was potential for that year to be particularly isolating, and was realistic about how that would impact student ability to focus on academics. He wanted to create the same kind of community that he always did within his classroom walls to help students fight off loneliness above all else. And he did. As a result, Nelson’s students came eager to learn, engaged with their classmates, and again it was a space where they could put their worries aside with the understanding that they were cared for.

I’ve always been astonished at Nelson’s ability to create connection and community anywhere he goes, and I’m so glad that our education system has someone like him to support our students. Thank you Nelson for your dedication. Thank you also for believing in the community here with the Educator’s Coaching Network, and for being one of our very first panelists! After a year of hybrid teaching, enjoy your well-deserved summer.

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Stay tuned for more #FeatureFridays! Our next panelists for Discussion Panel #2 are next!

Until then, don’t forget to join our mailing list for updates, as well as RSVP to our next Discussion Panel in August!

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