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Thursday, 01 June 2017 14:23

Colony educators get inspired at conference in southeast Alta.

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Chris Koch spoke in Medicine Hat. Chris Koch spoke in Medicine Hat.

The Alberta Colony Educators’ Conference hosted by Prairie Rose School Division this year in Medicine Hat May 26-27 was a chance for educators to “Get Inspired.”

That’s just how the two-day conference started out with a special video featuring students from Jenner Colony sharing some of the unique projects and work they do in their classroom and on the colony, especially around literacy and wellness.
Prairie Rose central office officials brought greetings and encouraged those in attendance to continue the important networking that takes place at the conference every two years, and extend that into the months to come.
Then it was more inspiration with keynote speaker Chris Koch starting off the day, before participants went their own ways to take part in various sessions.
Koch, who spends his time between Santa Monica in the U.S. and Nanton, where he farms, was born with no arms or legs. He has embraced his circumstances so much so that six years ago he decided to forgo the use of artificial prosthetics finding he was more proficient at “living” by using the limbs with which he was born.
Koch’s key message is based on “If I Can ...”, sharing stories about the many tasks and adventures he can do. His premise: If he can do it with no limbs, what is everyone else’s excuse?
One of the ways Koch has found success in life is to make use of humour. He had the educators in attendance laughing at his stories, while they soaked in his serious messages.
When Koch was born, his grandmother was told her son Bruce and her daughter-in-law had had a boy, but he wasn’t all there. Her reply was that Bruce never did finish anything he started. That’s the humourous approach to life that Koch was brought into, and what he has maintained for the past 38 years.
He credits his parents to their approach to his upbringing for the independence he enjoys to this day.
“I don’t think I even realized I was missing arms and legs,” he pointed out.
He is often asked what it is like not to have these important limbs. He says it’s normal because it is all he has ever known. Then he likes to ask others what it’s like to have two arms and two legs.
“I think we take life far too seriously. I think if we can slow down and think things through and try to find the funny (in the situation), it helps us get over it a lot quicker,” said Koch.
“For me that sense of humour was so crucial. My brother refers to me as his half brother,” he added, to more laughs from the crowd.
He also credits his parents for their hands-off approach when it came to helping him do everyday tasks.
“I was stubbornly independent when I was growing up. I want to prove to myself that I can do it and to show others that I am capable of doing anything.”
Koch finds it easiest to get around on a longboard and demonstrated for the crowd how he can do the same things on a cellphone as anyone else, thanks to a good sense of balance.
“Sometimes I do it differently, it takes a longer and I definitely use more energy, but anything you can do, I can do.”
The positive Koch says he loves his life and believes he wouldn’t have the opportunities he does or have been able to do what he does if he had been born with arms and legs. He has traveled to five of seven continents and met many people through his public speaking engagements.
Although positive and happy for the most part, Koch isn’t immune to negative feelings.
“Where life does get difficult is when the six inches of space in between the ears gets in the way,” he adds. “Those days when things just aren’t going your way, try to remember, every day may not be great, but there’s something great in every day.”
He encouraged those in the room to take control of their circumstances and not let life just happen. He hoped they could instill that in the students they are teaching on the colonies and also the importance of self-worth and not letting judgments of others stop the successful achievement of goals.
“If you’re worried about how you look, you’re cheating yourself out of opportunity,” he said. “I’m confident in my own skin. I’m proud of who I am and I’m comfortable with who I am.
“You have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference (as educators). You’re setting these kids up with the tools to be really successful in this life.”
He encouraged the audience to be accepting of themselves and others and to radiate positivity, gratitude and kindness as it will come back tenfold, as well as to be brave enough to get out of life’s comfort zone and take on new challenges.
“It’s about accepting who we are and what we are and making the most of that ... I’m far more afraid of regret than I am of failure.
“Each and every day is a gift and I challenge you to make the most of it.”
The other keynote speaker for the conference was Ronald Morrish who spoke the Saturday morning. The educator and behaviour specialist from Ontario focused on his area of expertise around discipline and classroom management.
Prairie Rose colonies, of which there are 16 were well represented for the weekend with display boards of photos from each colony school, as well as student-created placemats on the tables around the conference theme of Get Inspired — Creating a dynamic colony classroom. Tables also featured baskets filled with goods made by people on the Hutterite colonies. Those items were distributed to individuals at the end of the conference.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor