Meeting up with Dorothy Karlson for coffee was a highlight of my week.
Although Dorothy may feel she is just an ordinary woman, mom, and community member her impact on local youth in Cochrane is inspiring.
Dorothy has called Cochrane home for 17 years, and although she anticipated she would return to her Saskatchewan roots, she wouldn't have it any other way. "I love Cochrane, I love the atmosphere, I love that it's not Calgary, I love the fact that people are friendly here, amazing people, it's small town. It's family, friends, people, and it's home."
It won't take you long to understand the impact Dorothy has had on the Cochrane community. Pioneering one of the first leadership programs, Karlson and her team have created the culture that is seen at Bow Valley High School and emulated throughout the division. "I have been involved with some remarkable people who have such a strong vision of what leadership can be in the high school and beyond, I am very lucky. When you give the kids the chance to succeed and an opportunity to be great kids, they will always take it. Sometimes we don't always think they're going to so we don't give them that opportunity but you know presented with it, they do phenomenal things."
Dorothy has been able to witness some amazing transformations over her career. "Each student in each year is so different. Getting them in grade 9 and getting them to go 'okay this is new, this is different, and I think I have a place and I want to be part of that'; then they really flourish with it in grades 10,11, and 12 and I think that is the greatest overall piece. There are so many kids who have surpassed what they think they could do...and how great is that?!"
Leadership stretches far beyond being a good volunteer and lending a helping hand; Dorothy has been able to teach many life skills, confidence, and show students that leadership is not about being the loudest and front person but instead showing them they make an impact and difference in whatever capacity they choose. "It's been really rewarding to watch those kids (behind the scenes) find their place. It's more than stacking those chairs; it's about the building blocks that we're leaving these kids with, it's so transformational and I don't think I realized that."
Besides transforming the lives of many students, success for Dorothy is watching her own kids succeed. "My husband and I have raised what we think are two unique kids, they are good people. I think as a parent that is what you want; for your kids to have watched, learned from you, and then when you get to watch them now doing their own thing.. that is really rewarding as a mom."
In the happiest of times, can come the saddest of times; this fall Dorothy will close the chapter on her career as she knows it, and will begin a new journey. Retiring after first term, Dorothy will end one era and begin another, with an ending unknown. "I am going to continue with the Rocky View Leadership Academy, I'll sub, and I am going to take my gap year. I think something will find me, or I will find something...I don't know what it is, but I am not scared of it."
In her 32 years of teaching, Dorothy has discussed the importance of leaving behind a great legacy with her students. I only hope Dorothy realizes how many students she has impacted over the years.
'Like the wings of a butterfly, however small our movements, we do impact the winds, and those winds can sweep across faraway lands.'