A marathon gets used in analogies a lot, and for good reason. A marathon is 42kms, not a short distance for a drive, let alone to complete on your own two feet.
I have no idea what percentage of people will finish a marathon in their life, but it won’t be many. That’s also when I frequently take stock of how amazing it was that Terry Fox ran a MARATHON EVERY DAY THAT HE WAS RUNNING ACROSS CANADA.
When the marathon analogy plays out, whether we are talking about making it to the end of this COVID time, or getting through to the end of a school year with +32 weather in the forecast, or trying to do both of those things simultaneously (hello Monday, here’s looking at you!) the basic understanding is that it’s friggen hard.
Often we think of the middle as the most difficult part of the run. In the beginning, you have lots of energy and are feeling good. By the end, you can see the finish line. You can power through because you the end is in sight. The middle is usually the tough part: muscles cramping, breath hitching, pace slowing.
The middle is hard, no doubt. But there is a rhythm in the middle too. It’s a one-foot-after-the-other mentality that can take the focus off of the other pains…you just settle in and do it. You get slower and everything feels harder, but you’re still moving forward.
The end might be easier in terms of seeing the goal, but the problem is that you’ve got nothing left to give. Nothing physically. Nothing mentally. Hopefully you’re still moving, but at this point, sometimes it’s just too much and you feel like you might quit.
Last week, I had a terrible run.
I stopped with a kilometer to go to make some adjustments to my shoes. Started up. I stopped again. Adjusted some more. Started up.
Nothing that I did worked, and so the last 300 meters were walking.
With my shoes off.
In my sock feet.
On a gravel road.
It was deflating and frustrating, for sure. It was not the ending to the run that I wanted. But I made it home, and it was the farthest that I have ever gone. Ever!
I’ve problem solved my running issues for the last month. Talking to people, tying the laces differently, getting metatarsal arches, new shoes, annnnnnnd although each gives a slight reprieve, I finally needed to admit that I needed help and made an appointment with a podiatrist.
As I was walking in my socks, I thought about how it was a perfect metaphor for our first full-time COVID school year. We are all in our sock feet by now. We’ve stopped a few times and now we’re walking. We can see the end, and we are still moving forward. But it’s taken a toll and we are definitely going to feel this later when we have a chance to ice that foot and roll out the sore muscles.
Everyone I know has worked so hard problem-solving all the issues this year presented: heavy decisions that had to be made for safety, learning new ways of connecting with our students both online and in the room together, and so much, much, much more.
The May long weekend is often the last signpost of a school year, interspersed with track meets and year end activities, that show we are almost there. Although we don’t have those events, the muscle memory in our bodies knows that is where we are. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m tired.
So if you’re down to your sock feet like me, make sure to connect with your colleagues and others around you for support over these next few weeks. Ask for help if you need it. Most importantly, take time to take care of yourself…and we’ll see this through to the end together!
Have a great week everyone! Stay cool!!
Patrik Laine is in a slump.
If you follow hockey, you will know who Patrik Laine is. He was drafted 2nd overall in 2016, with Auston Matthews going number one. He helped Finland win gold in the World Juniors and then played with the men’s team that same year, winning tournament MVP. He was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets and played there until he was traded to the Blue Jackets in January.
He is a very good player. A great player.
But he is in a scoring drought.
“I try to hide it as much as I can, but sometimes you just absolutely can’t. When you’re a player who’s used to scoring goals, getting points, expecting a lot from yourself, it’s the worst situation you can have when you’re not producing. So, it’s tough, but at the same time, you know, you’ve just got to work the same way (and) even harder to get out of it.”
Yesterday I posted on facebook that I had gone for a run.
The run wasn’t unusual in and of itself, except it was the first one in two weeks where I didn’t have to stop and walk a bit.
Where I didn’t stress about the slow pace.
The crappy distance.
Where I didn’t fixate on what the slow pace and crappy distance were doing to my running averages on my app.
Now I’m no Patrik Laine, but I feel that. I have been in a huuuuuge running slump for a couple of weeks and despite my best efforts to will or wish it away, it stuck around. Again, not Patrik Laine over here, but I have set some running goals and the struggle was very much real.
The worst part is that my running time is my thinking time, yet all I was thinking about was how bad each run went. I didn’t notice the animal tracks that are always a part of my route. I didn’t see the subtle greening that was happening in the trees and pastures around me. I didn’t even stop to visit with the cows. (Okay, usually I accidentally startle the cows which makes a mini-stampede that startles me, and it’s mostly me telling myself out loud that WE ARE ALL FINE.)
The worst WORST part was that I paid no attention to the sunsets.
I live for those sunsets.
Perhaps in a serendipitous twist, the app didn’t turn off after Friday night’s run. When I pulled it up the next day, it said it took me 13 hours and 22 minutes to go 7km.
Thirteen hours and twenty-two loooooong minutes.
I deleted it, of course, because it would kill my app averages, although I’m no Olympic athlete and really, what does it matter??? But it was also oddly freeing. I had lost sight of the myriad reasons that I was out there, none of which had anything to do with the run statistics on that app.
I had lost sight of my why.
When I was out there Saturday night, looking at the beautiful sunset, listening to the cows talk, and getting into a running rhythm, I caught a glimpse of that ‘why’ again. And it had nothing to do with distances or pace or total time.
So many times in education, the focus is on those final numbers, not on the experience and what we took away from it. Honestly, as I was deleting that run from my phone, I suddenly could relate to how kids feel if they bomb an exam in a class that averages marks, or get a zero in something and then see what it does to their final grade.
It decimates it.
For me, I just deleted the run. But what recourses do our students have? How do we determine their overall success? What part do they have in setting their own goals and determining what success looks like for themselves?
As we begin our last semester of this year, it’s a good reminder for me to keep that ‘why’ front and center. And Patrik Laine, I hope you remember yours and find the net again…hopefully in time for playoffs!
This past week, I got my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Like many others, I put my post-vac pic on social media.
Like many others, I was surprised at how happy and thankful and emotional I was.
What I didn’t post, was that I also felt very guilty.
It was a series of fortunate events that allowed for me to get vaccinated on the first day I was eligible: That morning, I had posted a picture of a pin my daughter had given me in support of front-line workers during COVID. Someone from town commented that there was a clinic in Delisle that day with a wish that all teachers could get vaccinated. I knew there wouldn’t be appointments but went quickly after work to put my name on a list in case there were extras at the end of the day. I had forgotten to ask what the “end of the day” meant for them (it was imminent) and when I walked back in to ask, I was ushered in to get a vaccine.
It was doubly fortunate that when they asked who lived locally and could find a few other last-minute eligible people for vaccines, only two of us shot up our hands. I knew that Barb, a fellow teacher, and Kirk, my principal, were still around. They were both able to get vaccinated on the spot too.
And yet the guilt.
I saw three posts from people who said they felt grateful to be vaccinated, but being able to work from home, had publicly wished that a teacher or other vulnerable worker could have gotten their dose first.
Even though I’m at school every day surrounded by students, I still felt that. Throughout Saskatchewan, there are classrooms that are physically smaller than mine, crowded with more students than mine, and staff that are immuno-compromised and at higher risk. Plus, it's hard to navigate advocating for teachers without dismissing all the other front-line workers who also should be vaccinated. Two RCMP officers got their last-minute vaccines right behind me. And they should.
Yet a myriad of reasons that, despite my own risks, I felt bad that I now had a layer of protection that few of my colleagues have.
The next morning I woke to the news on Twitter that Victor Thunderchild, an educator from Prince Albert had died from COVID. So many people on my fb or Twitter knew Victor personally. I did not. We only followed each other here, and I only knew him in the cursory way you get to know what people believe in from reading their posts.
I had liked his last post a few weeks ago. It said: Thank you @PremierScottMoe for not thinking we’re essential workers, as I sit in the @PAHealthDept Vic hospital recovering from Covid-19. Get my fellow teachers vaccinated, before this happens to anyone else.
It stood out for two reasons.
First, I hadn’t seen many other Saskatchewan teachers posting about having COVID and definitely not about being hospitalized it. By this point, I’ve known multiple teachers that have had it, but his was the first that hit my timeline to bring the gravity of this virus home again.
Second, he straight-up called out Premier Moe for not considering teachers as front line workers. It was one day later that Moe gave a speech to an energy crowd reiterating that prioritizing front line workers would slow down their vaccination plan, yet in the next breath said they would be looking at some workers and larger worksites in “this industry (energy) and other industries” with no mention of teachers.
“Get my fellow teachers vaccinated, before this happens to anyone else.”
The tributes to Victor speak to what an amazing educator he was, and it shows the breadth and depth of his impact across generations and cultures, and in so many educational spheres. What a tremendous loss this is for all of Saskatchewan.
All so pointless. Needless. Unnecessary.
And if we do not prioritize vaccinating teachers and school staff, his will not be the only death that we will collectively mourn.
Staff and students have all done amazing to mitigate the effects of COVID in our schools so far, and it is something I will remember long after I leave the teaching profession and this virus is but a memory. That's part of the reason I write these every week for myself - to remember.
But our successes will not last.
These variants are different in their contagion and impact on younger people, yet somehow that is being lost. Over a year later, I can’t even put a number to how many times a day I have to remind students to pull up their mask or wear it properly. What makes it especially frightening is when you know they have not been following SHA advice, and that their reckless decisions put us all one domino-effect virus-spread away from hundreds of people put at grave risk.
Every. Single. Day. That. We. Delay.
Tomorrow morning, teachers, EAs, office staff, janitors, bus drivers, and students will all come into contact with each other. They may also be coming into contact with COVID. We cannot wait for the ages to drop. By the time it reaches our youngest teachers, it may be too late. This virus doesn’t care if you are 24 or 42, and the recent statistics on COVID deaths bears that truth out.
Vaccinate all school staff now.
And to Victor, although we did not know each other, thank you for your dedication and your lifetime of service to children. It will not be forgotten. #ApplesForVictor
I have been here before.
The sudden click and hum of the electric razor. The thin bone and pink skin exposed as the hair falls away. I stroke her fur. She hasn’t even flinched. I know that it’s bad.
I stroke her fur.
“Will it be like a dog? When their body releases the breath in their lungs?” That scared me the first time. I’m mentally bracing myself.
The vet pauses. “No. It won’t.”
I have been here before. Putting down four big dogs in my adult lifetime has prepared me for this, and yet every time, I am unprepared. She is my first cat. It is the same, but it is different.
I stroke her fur.
“I’ll administer it now. If you are ready.”
I nod. Whisper. “Yes.”
The sedation is clear. The solution is white. I’d never noticed that.
I have been here before. Holding paws. Telling them how much they are loved. Why is it always so hard?
Because they were loved. Because they are family.
I know she is gone. The vet listens for a heartbeat. Touches her little eye. I know she is gone.
I stroke her fur.
When the vet was delayed, I had extra time. Time to hold her. Time to let the tears flow. Time to savor those last bits of time. I wasn’t sure she was even breathing at points. There were a few guttural purrs as I clutched her to my chest, but slow and labored, like the strings on a guitar that had been loosened too much. Of them all, she was always the cuddler. The rest were always on alert, like outdoor cats tend to be for their survival. Skittish. Squirmy.
But not Peanut.
It’s so hard to know when it’s time. There are lots of signs and signals, and at seventeen years old, the decline was progressive but slow. Last Wednesday night when I got home from work, I knew it.
If you’ve heard any of my animal stories, we always seem to have weird pets. Peanut was no exception. She was the very first cat we ever got, from a student who was a neighbor at the time. He told us she was a male cat. I don’t know why, but we never questioned that. She was big. Lanky. Kind of lazy. Seemed like the tomcats I’d had on the farm growing up.
Right up to the point when this tomcat got really fat and had babies.
We got her fixed right after that and all the cats that we got afterward. We made sure to check! Quite a few of those cats never made it. Probably killed by coyotes. Picked off by owls. Peanut was the only cat to have such longevity, and in large part because she never strayed far from the house. She wasn’t a mouser. She didn’t chase birds. She was content just to live a sheltered cat life on the front deck. My husband said she was useless as a cat, but I kind of always admired that. Plus, like I said, she was my only cuddler. That made her my favorite.
That night, I brought her inside the house for the first time ever. I have loved cats my whole life but am terribly allergic. Many times I was almost swayed to change my mind from the pleas of two small children, but I could never fully relent.
I laid her on a towel and leaned her against the porch step. We facetimed there for two hours with my daughter in Calgary. Peanut was her cat. She hadn’t even started Kindergarten when we got her, so there was a shared lifetime of stories to tell. Then the time came to go.
We stroked her fur. Told her how much she was loved.
Because she was family.
I turn on Twitter and see Don Cherry is trending.
Oh boy. I know what is there.
I joined a bookclub at the last minute this week, and I’m so glad that I did. It is being facilitated by Amanda Nelson, our amazing Sector Facilitator for Indigenous Perspectives, Partnerships and Outcomes. We are reading How to be an Antiracist by Ibram S. Kendi. There’s a part in the opening chapters that says:
Racist and antiracist are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing in each moment. These are not permanent tattoos. No one becomes a racist or antiracist. We can only strive to be one or the other. We can unknowingly strive to be a racist. We can knowingly strive to be an antiracist. Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.
Last week I had written that we need to shine a light on our own beliefs and question why we’ve come to believe it. Then I stole the words of my Director of Education, Lori Jeschke, and added: Let it propel you to act.
As educators, we have a duty to shine that light not only on ourselves and our implicit biases, but to help shine it on students to help them grow as well. We need to feel propelled to act. Every. Time.
“Call it out” seems like harsh wording, and I understand why we use that phrase. We cannot allow blatant racist, misogynistic, or homophobic words and actions in our classrooms. They need to be safe spaces for all students.
But they are also spaces where we want children to grow, and so although it is subtle, ‘shining a light’ is connotatively more useful wording as we help students to recognize, empathize, and hopefully change those words and actions.
Do I always know what to say? Am I always saying the right thing?
No. And no. I’m sure that I am not.
But I always say something.
My goal is not to convince.
My goal is to shine a light on their thinking.
Overheard in a span of one day:
“That’s so gay.”
Just when I think that maybe this has gone away, there it is. How do I shine a light on this? Kids know this one, so usually something short, like “There are 300,000 words in the English language. If you mean stupid, say it’s stupid. Saying it is gay is hurtful and mean.”
“If she beats me again (in a video game) I’m gonna…” I can’t even type what was said. It was not good.
And although only one in the group of boys was saying it, the misogyny needed to be pointed out for them all. “Are you mad because you lost or because you lost to a girl?”
Definitely because she was a girl. Okay, that narrowed it down.
“If we all have the capacity to be good at something, male or female, why does it matter that it’s a girl that you lose to? Or does it have something to do with being socially conditioned to think that men are just better at things than women? So that when you lose to a girl, you respond with shame and anger? How much of that anger do you think she gets online, just trying to do something that she’s good at?”
That one was a longer conversation, but also not long enough.
We were using jamboards (interactive sticky-notes you do together online) as conversation starters in ELA. It’s new. Kids play around a bit. Two kids keep throwing up memes.
Except that all the meme faces are black. Or women. Or black women. None of them witty or complimentary.
Before I get mad and completely pull the plug on the activity, I decide to shine the light.
This time I addressed the whole class. Yes, that’s for a laugh. But whose faces are you choosing? Why are you only choosing those faces? Do you realize it has only been black people or women or black women that you’ve chosen for a laugh? Do we consider that racism and misogyny are often ingrained in our worldview and we don’t always see it? My point wasn't to shut down gifs, but for them to hopefully consider what ones they always use and why.
(Coming from someone who was raised in a household that never used profanity or racial slurs but easily said the n-word when we chose who was “it” for tag using eeny meeny miny moe…there are layers of unconscious bias and racism in all of our actions.)
Before you worry that I am living in a glass house, let me assure you I am not.
Like students, there is a level of discomfort when someone shines a light on my own actions too. Sometimes it is something I already know I need to work on. Sometimes it is something I hadn’t even remotely considered that I was doing.
It never feels good. But it’s only in working through the dissonance that you can grow and try to be better.
I started with a quote from Ibram Kendi. Let me finish with one more.
"Racist” is not…the worst word in the English language; it is not the equivalent of a slur. It is descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to constantly identify and describe it – and then dismantle it.
Thanks for reading today.
<MARCH 21/2021 POST>
With the release of reports from two independent agencies citing the RCMP's discriminatory actions surrounding Colten Boushie's death, I decided to share the post I wrote the night of the verdict. It's just as true today: the comments under the articles this week are evidence of that - both predictable and perennial - despite the fact that the RCMP has accepted most of the findings, in stark contrast to an initial internal investigation that completely exonerated them of any wrongdoing.
Three years have passed and the cognitive dissonance and racism still run deep here in Saskatchewan. If we hope for any change to come, we have to continue to do our part, particularly in schools. As the ConnectR site states, "grow what you know, encourage a shared future, and generate change." If you're not sure what to do, they are a good place to start. www.beaconnectr.org
<APRIL 21/2018 POST>
I wrote this on February 9. At that point, I hadn’t even thought about starting a blog. I literally hadn’t written anything in years. And I truly didn’t anticipate the impact that the ‘not guilty’ verdict in the Colten Boushie shooting that night would have on me.
I was gutted – I sat at the computer until 1am and wrote and wrote. Eventually, it turned into the piece below. I sent it to one friend and one stranger, then set it aside. In the moment, that was enough. It was written out of despair, not a place I like to dwell, let alone share with others. But this weekend, I had a change of heart.
Moving our daughter home from Calgary gave me the chance to pore through two books as we drove: Three Day Road and The Inconvenient Indian, A Curious Account of Native People in North America. I can’t believe I hadn’t read Three Day Road yet, a gripping story about two Indigenous soldiers in WWI. The Inconvenient Indian was informative and insightful, while dismantling the legends we tell ourselves about First Nation people.
They both reminded me that my way of seeing the world is precisely just that. But it was a line in the latter book, written in 2012, that made me pull my original piece back out: “In spite of such impediments, Native people in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have begun to find moments of success within the legal systems of North America. Perhaps, after all this time, the laws of the land will finally ride to the rescue and we will all live happily ever after.”
It doesn’t. We aren’t.
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore, and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” (Fanon, 1952)
I know there’s a diverse group that reads this blog. For some of you, this will not be a comfortable read. But please do read it, question it, reflect on it, put perspective to it…but mostly shine a light onto what you believe and why you’ve come to believe it. “Perhaps it is unfair to judge the past by the present, but it is also necessary.” (Thomas King)
<FEBRUARY 9, 2018>
There’s a crisis moment in Lord of the Rings on the eve of battle, where defeat seems imminent. Elrond says, “I give hope to men” and Aragorn replies, “But I keep none for myself.” That sums up how I’m feeling tonight. That, and despondent. I work with youth, and I know that there are many times that I am the only hope in their difficult lives. Yet tonight, I keep none of that hope for myself. All the little steps we have taken toward treaty education, reconciliation, heck even just a little bit of patience and understanding and empathy, all seems for naught.
Like most white people over the age of 40, I never learned anything in school about Indigenous people; never even heard the term ‘residential school’ until I was in university circa 1990. I knew our own settler story and was proud of it. I still am. It’s quite a feat. But it wasn’t until I had two Metis babies that I learned there was another side to that story: one that included residential schools, abuse, and intergenerational trauma. Yep, neighbors, that’s a real thing. And only because of other family supports, it has a there-but-for-the-grace-of-god ending.
So I’ve thought a lot about the youth I’ve encountered over twenty years, the majority of them white. In those years, how many local kids have gone drinking at bare-ass beach and then booze cruised the back roads? Dealt drugs, vandalized buildings, rummaged through cars in town? Ripped doughnuts in a freshly seeded field? Gotten stuck? Rolled a car? Needed help? If you’re not sure what the answer is, it’s lots. LOTS. Heck, every other week the Facebook discussion page for town has complaints of kids ripping around (*there was another one posted just today*) and vehicles being broken into. Are they yelled at, chased away, had the cops called on them? Absolutely. But I’ll guarantee that not once has any one of those white kids had a hammer smash their windshield, a gun pulled on them, warning shots fired ‘straight up in the air,’ or got a magical-JFK-style bullet in the back of their head.
I was in my twenties, driving to Lloydminster, in a blizzard. I had to come a long way, so to be fair, it wasn’t bad when I started out, but the black ice and visibility had the RCMP closing the road with me still out there on it. I was only 10kms from the city when I finally saw yard lights and pulled in. I grew up on a farm, and really wasn’t too worried. But when an older lady opened the door, I could see in her face that she wasn’t going to let me in. I don’t remember what I said, but she relented and I waited out the storm for several hours, looking at the quilts she was making and having a cup of coffee. I honestly wonder, twenty years later, if my brown-skinned, hazel-eyed daughter would have gotten the same courtesy?
I know that so many people in my community want to say it isn’t about race, but that’s what you feel and say, when you don’t know what ‘race’ actually feels like. Like one comment I read tonight, “This injustice is common for us.” I guess 150+ years of systematic starvation, pass and permit systems, and stolen children makes you well practiced for a decision like this. Me? I was naïve enough to be shocked.
Acclaimed educator Penny Kittle writes, “Nothing without joy.” And although her words are meant for students and reading, it’s a universal sentiment. I also believe "Nothing without hope." I won’t give up hope completely, and although I may have none for myself right now, I know that in the days ahead, I will draw strength from the First Nation leaders and others who speak of dialogue, partnership, and reconciliation. I can’t allow myself to despair. I know that I still need to hope, and to bring hope to others. I just have to find it again.
As my third year blog-o-versary lands on today, it’s a perfect time to re-post my very first one! Not sure anyone reading this will have been there since the beginning, so here’s the Coles notes version.
1. Still love my metaphors and analogies.
2. Still not as funny as I think I am. Just ask my children.
3. Still too much a private person. There’s probably been more soul-bearing that I anticipated, but not as much as I yearn to.
4. Still mostly written sans editing. And at times long-winded. (Is meandering verbosity a craft move??)
5. Still mostly for me. Still the best reflective practice I can do. But writers need audiences, and I’m always glad to know when my words have reached someone’s heart or mind. If you are reading this, thank you.
One more thing: when I decided to jump right in three years ago (full-send it, as the kids say) I decided to call my blog Rocks and Willows. I grew up in a small Finnish collection of farms called Rock Point, and my maiden name was Pajunen, which translates to little willow. Both words have shaped me.
But it also works as rock, sand, willows.
There is a Finnish construct called sisu. It’s a quiet determination (stubbornness?) and strength to keep going, despite adversity. The rock inside us.
Sometimes the self-doubts and imposters in our head make us feel like we are on shifting sand, trying to find our footing. Let the sand sift its way through to settle as a base: the journey may have struggle, but it will make us stronger.
There are few trees more pliable than a willow, bending but rarely breaking. It reminds us to be flexible - to lean in when needed but be malleable to others as well. Here in Saskatchewan, wild willows never grow in isolation, their root systems expansive and strong. That’s something for us to remember too: together, we are stronger.
Thanks for being part of the journey with me.
First one...Ensimmäinen. 3/7/2018
So technically, this isn't the first entry. It's not even the second, as I've been writing to myself in Word for a little bit. And although I'm an amazing audience, I decided to take a leap and publish some of my thoughts online. It might be an audience of one, plus two more. I have dedicated friends lol.
I'm a pretty private person, so there won't be a lot of soul-bearing here, but I think a lot. And I like to write. Actually, I'd forgotten how much I liked to write until very recently. I signed up for an Aspiring Leadership group through our Prairie Spirit School Division, and one of the things they had us do at our first meeting was to create an "I Am From" poem. To say it was cathartic doesn't do it justice. It was like a small stone starting an avalanche for me. (This site is called Rocks and Willows....there's going to be a lot of metaphors haha.) The second reason I started writing might have been before that even. I'll have to get the calendar out to check! But it's a story for another entry.
So I thought I'd share my "I Am From" poem with you, sans edits. If you think this sucks and you're never coming back to read anything I've written again, then blame the Superintendent running the session that day as he put us on a timer! Just kidding. There may be sarcasm at some points in this blog. If you think that sucks and you're never coming back to read anything I've written, then I'm okay with that too. This is for me. You can come along for the journey if you want to.
I am from Rock Point, right on the edge
many nights and mornings at the kitchen window
scanning miles and patterns of fields beyond the Coteau Hills.
I am from stoic Finlanders and Irish tempers
and a landed-in-Dunblane-where-the-tracks-ended-with-25cents-in-his-pocket
I am from childhood coffee time and the lilting
of words not understood
Of kahvia and kiitos and hauska syntymäpäivää!
I am from a two seater airplane, its pilot
with a grade 8 education, a product of time and circumstances
but of trust and exhilaration and
I am from farming and freedoms
Of middle child mixups and a family
of siblings with alliterations as names.
I am my mom, and that makes me proud. And happy.
I am from Miss Carney and Kindergarten
and dreams that came to fruition.
I am from detours through music, and full circle again.
I am partnered with contrast.
Of half-breed written on a birth certificate, residential schools,
abuse and abandonment.
But of resilience and hope and our
beautiful brown-eyed family which
makes his story forever also mine.
I am from peace
and good fortune.
Yesterday, the water pump in our well quit. Died. Crapped out. Over 18 hours later, we have no running water and since it is Sunday, there is no end in sight.
If you follow this blog, you’ll likely know that we heat our house with a fireplace, which means that I am chopping wood and splitting kindling every day. We wake up to 13 degree Celsius mornings throughout winter, and there is a pail of snow gathered last evening for emergency water that didn’t even melt overnight.
In other words, I am one power-outage away from living an authentic Saskatchewan-in-1952 life. If I wear an apron to work tomorrow and have cooked my own supper, someone had better come for an intervention.
Sometimes things end very abruptly. We don’t see it coming, can’t prepare, and after an initial shock of emotions, work our way through the aftermath.
Life before COVID, that’s totally you.
Sometimes things don’t end in any concrete way. They slowly disintegrate, fade, or morph their way into non-existence. I think of waking every morning for weeks last year, trying to decide when it was the day to put our old family dog down. The end was never clear to me, even when the day arrived.
I also suspect that is how COVID will end…not in an armistice day to remember, but an overlapping of life with restrictions and life without, until at one point everything has resumed.
Maybe not as before, but resumed nonetheless.
In visual art, students have been researching an artist as an inquiry project, and realizing that art styles do not have a hard and fast existence. Artists do not appear out of nowhere. Musicians, scientists, architects, writers…all are shaped by what is happening around them, and build on the work of those who have come before.
I was fortunate to listen to an amazing educator, Linda Rief, present this week, and I was thinking about this as she guided us through quick writes with mentor texts. When I was younger, my own writing voice parroted that of Stephen King. I was a huuuuge Stephen King fan and read his books voraciously. It wasn’t until my English teacher in grade 9 had covered one of my pieces with “SF” all over it in red pen, that I learned what it meant. He explained sentence fragments to me, and when I protested (which I often did when given advice I didn’t agree with lol) by telling him that Stephen King used sentence fragments all the time, his response to me was this:
You aren’t Stephen King.
It’s a good thing that he was the best English teacher that I had, or would ever have, as I didn’t hold his criticism against him.
But I think of it often.
When I asked students to respond to the questions, “What criteria can we use to ‘judge’ artwork? What things would you consider important? What does creativity, craftsmanship, and complexity mean for an artwork?” this was one Grade 10 student’s answer:
Linda Rief gave us many multi-modal examples. Let us not be the limiting beliefs on our own students’ creativity as they convey messages of their own.
So this is where an unstructured blog can go wrong lol.
I really WAS thinking about endings. Thinking about how I’ve written this blog for three years as of next week, and maybe it was time to wind it down. Thinking about the end of this quint semester on Wednesday, and reflecting on changes that I need to do to improve the experience for students next time. Thinking about starting my week un-showered and about bringing my toothbrush to work.
But writing, particularly writing quickly like I do with this every week, can go in directions I hadn’t anticipated. To steal a quote from Donald Murray that Linda used in her presentation, “Write fast - write badly - so you will write what you don’t yet know you knew, and so you will outrun the censor within us all.”
Maybe this doesn’t feel like the end quite yet.
Have a great week everyone.
This past week I took a belaying course. It was kind of important. If you don’t take the course and pass it, you aren’t allowed to belay. And I want to be able to do that!
So what is belaying, you might be wondering?
When you are rock climbing, the belayer is the person on the ground. As your partner climbs, you are moving the rope through the belay device to get rid of the slack. You also control the brake so that if they slip, they won’t fall very far…ie. plummet to the ground.
Thankfully, my nephew graciously signed up with me to avoid having to partner with a stranger in COVID times. I was fairly confident that he would be a good student and not let the above example happen!
It’s always good to have a reminder of what it is like being on the student-side of things: to remember that learning something new is not easy. At one point, I had asked so many questions that I apologized to the instructor, saying that as a teacher I should be a better student. But I was actually being a great student:
The 2.5 hours were all hands-on with a 3:1 student to instructor ratio lol.
And it was STILL hard.
I can’t imagine how much I would have taken away from the course if it had been us sitting in a room, with the instructor just telling us about the knots to tie. No rope. No demonstrations. No climbing.
Answer? Not much.
As it was, we practised every skill that a belayer needs. The most fun, of course, was the falling - that millisecond of exhilaration as you are near the top…and just let go.
At first, we would tell our partner that we were going to fall, so that they could mentally and physically prepare for what needed to happen.( KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE BRAKE ROPE!) After a bit, we practised unannounced falls, because I can tell you from experience, you don’t always know in advance that you are going down!
The most important skill, though, is likely communication. Verbally, there are a few universal commands to learn, to confirm with your partner what is happening or what you want to happen. But there is also non-verbal communication, keeping your eyes on them and being aware of what is happening.
Like with most things, as I was on the wall or belaying my nephew, I had school-connections running through my head! Here’s three things we could transfer to our classrooms:
1. Let kids fall off the wall more often. Purposeful falls. Accidental falls. I didn’t practise belaying for ‘if’ someone is going to fall, but ‘when.’ (You will fall!) We need to let kids know that learning happens when we take risks and push ourselves; and we learn when mistakes happen because we are learning from those mistakes.
2. Communicate and watch. I was really thinking about triangulation of data as we went through the night. We spent a lot of time in observation and conversation. We watched the other pair as they climbed, listening to the instructor’s feedback. We watched each other go through the intricate steps of knot tying; sometimes I helped my nephew and he helped me, but more often it was just talking and working through the steps together. I think in our classrooms, that is another important lesson: it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to talk it through with someone. It’s okay to listen in when the teacher is working with someone else. Learning is not done in isolation.
3. I’ll repeat that once more: learning is not done in isolation. When there is a climber and a belayer, you are a team. We depend on each other to be safe and have a successful climb. We have different responsibilities in each role, and we need to understand them both because we will do both. In the classroom, I am a learner as much as I am a teacher. And I want our students to be teachers as much as they are learners.
(Something happened in Visual Art before the break that was so cool: one student had learned a technique, promptly showed it to another student, who in turn taught it to another student lol. When a fourth student asked me about it, I sent them to the last student who had learned it so they could teach it too.)
And for the “BUT IN REAL LIFE!” counterargument, the interesting thing about the night was that it was all practice. Just feedback and learning. When we are ready, we will go back for a ‘test’ to show them our skills. We will try until we’ve demonstrated that we know what we are doing.
And then…climb on!
Hope everyone enjoyed a short break. Have a great week!
Hmmm. Close, but that feels too random.
Sort of, although that’s only part of it.
But that doesn’t quite have the energy in the word that I’m looking for either. I need something that captures the essence of all three of those things together!
This week is staff appreciation week in Saskatchewan, and I am feeling very <lucky-privileged-AND-fortunate> to work with the amazing people that I do. This week is about them.
When I even look back on the last week, without exception I saw adults learning everywhere: talking about the professional books they were reading; furthering their learning through workshops in areas of content, assessment, and leadership; contributing to groups on staff wellbeing, and brainstorming fun ideas for us to stay healthy together; talking to each other and seeking input and advice.
Innovating and taking risks.
Continually growing in their craft.
That’s a lot of -ing words, and I didn’t write it in past tense on purpose because it is a continual process: the people in our building are learners, and are modeling themselves as learners.
But that’s not all.
I am also so <lucky-privileged-AND-fortunate> to be working in my other position with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. They are also incredibly modest and would deflect the compliment, but it is true. The best learning happens in relationship and collaboration with other people, whether that is virtual or with someone across the hallway. It happens when we consider the experiences of other grade levels and subjects. It happens with feedback from mentors. It happens with critical self-reflection and goal setting.
And to my collegial friends that are a bit farther away, or virtual educators that I will never meet, I learn from you as well. Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences. When we are honest and vulnerable (including on the internet!) it can leave us open to judgement or criticism, but it also allows others to learn and grow with us.
I don’t know how many times in a week that the weight and scale and complexity of what we do as educators can feel crushing, but it is through the amazing teachers, EAs, teacher candidates, division-office leaders, administrators, substitutes…all of us together…that we continue to serve our students best.
So on Staff Appreciation week, I am sending my appreciation out to each of you!
What we do is important.
YOU are important.
Thank you for all that you do.
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