Last Saturday morning, entering our local Loblaws supermarket, my wife and I were confronted by an adorable and entirely engaging boy of about 8 years of age dressed in a Boy Scout uniform. He handed us a plastic bag and explained in a most earnest and obviously practiced speech that they were collecting for the Food Bank and we were invited to fill the bag during our shopping. He was polite, articulate, sincere and clear, both about the process and ultimate destination of the donations. In short, he was utterly irresistible, and we would have been convinced even if his cause had not been so worthy.
As he was speaking, I hadn’t really noticed the gentleman standing behind him, dressed in a version of the same uniform, who now spoke up and greeted me by name. I recognized Bill Racz, my former Professor of Pharmacology, who had taught me many years ago about adrenergically active medications and the evils of pharmaceutical advertising. I’ve continued to encounter Bill around campus over the years in contexts ranging from teaching and committee work to our mutual incompetence at noontime basketball at the gym. In talking to Bill that morning, I learned for the first time that he’s been involved in the Boy Scouts movement for over 35 years.
On the way home, I couldn’t help reflecting on the tremendous generosity of spirit that motivates an accomplished and highly respected academic to donate time and energy to such a community cause and, more importantly, to modeling those values to young people in the most powerful way possible, by actually living the experience. It’s easy to imagine that young boy one day taking on the same role and passing those lessons on to another generation.
The powerful influence of role modeling in medical education is well appreciated. Medical graduates invariably recall particular teacher/mentors as much more influential to their eventual development than any curricular element or teaching methodology. At a medical leadership symposium I attended recently, panelists were invited to individually list key components of effective leadership. Common to every list was some variation on “lead by example”. An extensive body of research is emerging on the “Hidden Curriculum”, a term used to refer to all the factors that influence learner development but are outside planned curriculum, arising as a result of observed behaviors and attitudes expressed unintentionally. What’s becoming clear in the education world, and has always been clear to good parents, is that what we do is much more powerful that what we profess. Good teachers and good leaders know this and therefore strive to “walk the walk”.
By “walking the walk” that Saturday morning, Bill Racz was providing an invaluable example and living lesson to a group of young boys. He continues to teach and inspire me.