(remembering Lloyd Denis, by helen dolik

Two years ago, one of Canada’s leading educators came in to talk to Sandi Bisset’s Grade 1 class at Regent Park PS in Orillia. Lloyd Dennis brought a huge treasure chest and held the group of six-year-olds spellbound for an hour as he pulled out childhood toys, a collar from his dog, Jumbo, an old grenade and his parachute.

“He was able to hold their attention for an hour, no problem at all,” says Bisset, OCT. “He was one of kind. He was my friend, my mentor, my confidant, my adviser, but mostly, he was my inspiration. He was about the real-life part of teaching. It’s connecting to the children.”

Dennis, an Officer of the Order of Canada and Order of Ontario recipient, passed away March 7 at age 88 at his home in Orillia. He was a highly respected educator, author and member of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. He’s best remembered for the 1968 landmark report that shaped the future of education in Ontario — Living and Learning: The Report of the Provincial Committee on Aims and Objectives of Education in the Schools of Ontario, known as the Hall-Dennis Report. Dennis was committee co-chair with Justice Emmett Hall.

The report, the result of provincial, national and international research, had 258 recommendations for educational reform in the pro­vince. It advocated for child-centred, inquiry-based learning, abolish­ing corporal punishment, de-emphasizing rote learning, and recommended a self-regulatory body for the teaching profession. The report symbolized a philosophy of teaching and learning that honours the student and individual.

Dennis was a teacher, principal, consultant and a director of education during his educational career. He continued to touch many lives by writing, speaking and visiting classrooms with his treasure box. He wrote several books, including The Learning Circus, an autobiography.

In 2009, Lakehead University’s Orillia campus honoured Dennis with its annual Civitas Award for his profound influence on the development of the campus. Dean Kim Fedderson says Dennis spent countless hours with him, department heads and frequently gave talks to students, including a presentation to the fourth-year students in the concurrent education program in January. The Lloyd Dennis archive, consisting of his books and other published materials, are housed in the campus library.

For him, teachers had the noble calling of helping each of us discover the gifts we brought to the table.

Fedderson remembers the first time he met Dennis. “It was like meeting one of my intellectual heroes. For him, teachers had the noble calling of helping each of us discover the gifts we brought to the table, and by assisting us in developing these gifts, enable both ourselves and our societies to flourish,” he says.

At Dennis’s funeral, Fedderson chatted with a man sitting in the pew in front of him. The man had been a student of Dennis’s at his first school. “He was devoted to Lloyd. He’d come to the funeral to honour his teacher. That’s a pretty amazing tribute.”

Dennis was the principal at Deer Park PS in Toronto when Heather Birchall, OCT, was a Grade 7 student. Now, she’s a principal in Collingwood. “To me,” she says, “he really cared about what he did. He loved his work. He had the courage of his convictions.”

Ernie Checkeris, a member of the Provincial Committee on Aims and Objectives of Education in the Schools of Ontario and a former College Council member, describes Dennis as a top-notch educator. “He said there was more to teaching than just reading, writing and arithmetic,” says Checkeris, of Sudbury, an Order of Ontario recipient. “A teacher had to understand the child, and respect the differences, because kids come from various homes.”

Déirdre Smith, OCT, the College’s Manager of Standards of Practice and Education, enjoys a special connection to Dennis. Her father was a lithographer and his company printed the Hall-Dennis Report.

“For me, it is a very significant document,” says Smith. “I have a copy on my desk. It symbolizes learner-centred education and it shaped who I became as a teacher and a leader, and even as a parent.”