File this under ‘things I read but don’t remember where.’ Again!
Usually I try hard to bookmark or cite articles that stand out to me. I didn’t with this one, mostly because I read it, dismissed the idea, and kept scrolling..
The gist of it was this: All learning feels inauthentic at first.
Not just ‘some’ learning. ALL learning.
Pfffft. I doubt that!
It's why I have had the same quote at the top of this blog for over two years: You see, some things I can teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well, you have to see and feel."
So I think I rejected it outright because if that was true, then trying to provide students with real-life learning experiences and tangible opportunities to practice was no more authentic than slapping down a worksheet and calling it a day.
And there is no way that is true.
So I scrolled on.
But it stuck in my head, and the idea rolled around until I came to the conclusion that it was right…all learning does feel inauthentic when you are starting out!
(That worksheet? Sorry, that tends to be more like compliance so we can set that aside.)
But actually learning something?
I started to think back on the big things I’ve learned to do over the past few years: snowboarding, playing the fiddle, and trying rock climbing. Did any of those things feel authentic when I first tried them?
No. No. Annnnnd no.
Strapping both feet into a board was frighteningly vulnerable, with the urge to get a foot down for balance, stripped away.
Tucking the fiddle under my chin while simultaneously placing my fingers in very specific places, at very specific angles, and at very specific times was awkward and forced.
And gripping rock with frozen fingers while one toe bore my entire weight and kept me from plummeting off the rock face…uhhhh…yah. Nothing innate about that.
So even though I was in completely authentic learning situations, the beginning stages of learning something new did not feel authentic in itself.
And that’s when I realized that the concept was right.
There was nothing about learning those things that felt natural or familiar. No muscle memory to fall back on. No prior experiences to tell my brain that it was going to be alright.
We know how this goes: the more that you do the thing, the better you will get at it, regardless of what the thing is. I remember hearing once, that it is physically impossible to try harder at something and get worse at it. I believe that.
Because as time has gone on, my snowboarding skills improved.
As the weeks passed by, I actually got better at playing the fiddle.
And even after just two climbs-worth of experience, I had a better understanding of what to do and how to overcome climbing obstacles because I had done it.
But what about new learning situations that are LITERALLY less authentic scenarios than those examples? What about learning MLA formatting and essay structure? Reading your first chapter book? Crafting and punctuating dialogue in a fictional story you’ve written?
We need students to know that we are always learning, and that our ability to learn something isn’t predetermined.
We need students to understand why that growth mindset is important.
And we need students to understand that all learning will feel inauthentic at first. The first attempt at any of those tasks is not going to feel easy. Or intuitive.
I know that we operate within the confines of many things, not the least of which is now COVID, and that not every learning experience will be as tangible as the skills I was learning. I will continue to try and find as many 'authentic' experiences as I can for my students. But if we embrace that all learning will be messy and frustrating and maybe even feel contrived at first?
We will get better.
And that, I don't doubt.
My cell phone is broken.
It’s almost comical, if it wasn’t so tragic lol. The bottom 1/3 of the screen is completely whited out, which means that I am literally pressing random parts of the screen, hoping for the correct response.
I have had a few panicked moments when I am trying to exit a page, only to find myself opening random posts or making sure I haven’t inadvertently ‘liked’ something that I most certainly do not like.
So my solution has been to draw on my screen. With marker.
But that isn’t ideal either, as every app has their buttons in different, but overlapping, places. It’s a mess of markings and, like I said, would be comical if not so frustrating!
And that sums up my mood. If anyone’s social media feed looks like mine, it’s probably best that I give my phone a break, because I’m definitely not laughing.
It’s also making it difficult to write tonight.
So, as a bit of a cheat, I titled this with the name of the song that I’m listening to, pulled a few of my favorite books off the shelf, and scanned for some passages that resonated.
They are a bit random, which matches what my mind is doing too. (And computer. 23 tabs are literally open.) I sometimes tell the kids that I play connect the dots with my thoughts, but there’s no big picture to reveal at the end tonight. Just a short found poem with some beautiful words from the writers below.
Hang in there this week! I’m thinking of you.
“In today’s world, we are hyper-exposed to other people for practically all our waking hours. We pick up on our coworkers’ stressed-out energy all day in our open-plan offices. We constantly absorb depressing or anxiety-provoking news articles, or nasty or negative comments on social media.
We viscerally feel the tense, urgent body language of people on subways, buses, and planes. These forces are inevitable and unescapable in our modern world. This is why it is crucial to not only find Positive Influencers to surround yourself with but also to DEFEND against the inevitable negative influences in your environment.
And unfortunately, there are more of them today than ever. Our news is heavily skewed negative. Our stressors at work and school are at historic levels. Depression and anxiety rates have risen dramatically.
Moreover, it takes only a single negative in our life to imbalance the entire system… “roughly 90 percent of anxiety at work is created by 5 percent of one’s network - the people who sap energy. And Harvard Business School research shows that a single toxic person has a much greater impact than a superstar on a team.” Big Potential by Shawn Achor
“Ethical fading (engaging in unethical behavior while believing that we are still acting in line with our own moral code) is a people problem. And counterintuitive though it may seem, we need people - not paperwork, not training, not certifications - to fix people problems.
The best antidote - and inoculation - against ethical fading is an infinite mindset. Leaders who give their people a Just Cause to advance and give them an opportunity to work with a Trusting Team to advance it, will build a culture in which their people can work toward the short-term goals while also considering the morality, ethics and wider impact of the decisions they make to meet those goals.
Not because they are told to. Not because there is a checklist that requires it. Not because they took the company’s online course on ‘acting ethically.’ They did so because it’s the natural thing to do. We act ethically because we don’t want to do anything that would do damage to the advancement of the Just Cause. When we feel a part of a Trusting Team, we don’t want to let down our teammates. We feel accountable to our team and the reputation of the organization, not just to ourselves and our personal ambitions.
When we feel part of a group that care about us, we want to do right by that group and make our leaders proud.” The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
“We normally think of hope as something individuals hold in their heads and in their hearts. But people can build hope together. By creating a shared identity, individuals can form a group that has a past and a brighter future.
‘Some people say if there’s life, there’s hope…But for us, it was the opposite: If there’s hope, there’s life.’
Of course, hope by itself isn’t enough. Many of the passengers had hope yet still lost their lives. But hope keeps people from giving in to despair. Researchers find that hope springs up and persists when ‘communities of people generate new images of possibility.’
Believing in new possibilities helps people fight back against the idea of permanence and propels them to seek out new options; they find the will and the way to move forward. Psychologists call this ‘grounded hope’ - the understanding that if you take action you can make things better.” Option B by Sandberg and Grant
“I am a human being, meant to be in perpetual becoming. If I am living bravely, my entire life will become a million deaths and rebirths. My goal is not to remain the same but to live in such a way that each day, year, moment, relationship, conversation, and crisis is the material I use to become a truer, more beautiful version of myself. The goal is to surrender, constantly, who I just was in order to become who this next moment calls me to be.
I will not hold on to a single existing idea, opinion, identity, story, or relationship that keeps me from emerging new. I cannot hold too tightly to any riverbank. I must let go of the shore in order to travel deeper and see farther. Again and again and then again.” Untamed by Glennon Doyle
“Being unsure about how to proceed is the most natural feeling in the world. I feel that way all the time. Asking for input is not a sign of weakness but often the first step to finding a path forward.” Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
These forces are inevitable
in our modern world.
The best antidote - and inoculation -
when communities of people
generate new images
I will not hold on to
a single existing idea,
that keeps me from emerging new…
the first step
to finding a path
Today I was so honored to receive one of 68 Minister of Veterans Affairs commendations. What started as sharing Grandpa’s story of serving in WWI (a Lewis machine gunner who survived Passchendaele and Mons) turned into many wonderful memories with Veterans and colleagues and students, as we learned more together over the years.
And it was definitely done together. The ten years of Legion Teas will always hold a special place in my heart, especially the one with Danny Artnsen’s poetry and the last one with Bob Mason’s writing. Having a new cast of students re-do the performance for Bob in his hometown of Perdue last year will be something I will never forget. Val and I taught WWI and WWII classics to grade 4 students for well over a decade, and it was always heartwarming to see them remember the lyrics and sing along even when they were in high school. Who couldn’t love K-K-Katy and Tipperary! An amazing group of colleagues puts together a phenomenal service each year; Barb, Sandra, Pat, Miranda, Cheryl. I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone. As we go virtual with it this week, I’ll really miss visiting with the Color Party and having tea in the library afterward! Ken at the RM Review has published our student writing each November for so long, I’ve lost count. This year was the first that we weren’t deadline ready - darn COVID - but it’ll be back.
As a teacher, we are fortunate there are so many resources out there to support bringing Remembrance to students: Veterans Affairs bookmarks, posters, and publications at all grade levels; the Legion poem, essay, and poster contests; and Discovery boxes from the Canadian War Museum that lets students touch and wear artifacts and uniforms. Having the opportunity to stand on Juno Beach and to see the gravesite of my Great-Uncle Chester Cunningham who is buried with 2000 other Canadians at Villiers Station Cemetery just outside of Vimy, was a life-changer. If we ever get to travel again, the EF student tour of Canada and the World Wars is something to put on your list.
I was really humbled today, seeing the amazing work of just six of the other recipients. As Minister MacAulay said (paraphrasing here, it went by really fast lol) that these things aren’t done for recognition, but by recognizing individuals, it will inspire more people to do something as well. That is so true. Let us all do whatever we can, in whatever way we are able, to keep Remembrance alive. I am continually learning myself, especially in the important roles that Indigenous soldiers played and the discrimination they faced upon return. For me, the work we do with students is vital, because what we understand and learn as children, we will remember as adults. And in the tumultuous world we live in, the importance of understanding and remembering can’t be overstated.
One last plug: both levels of government announced funding for struggling Veterans groups today, but if you are looking for a way to help on a personal level, the Legion website now sells a variety of items from bunnyhugs to beautiful beaded poppies, or you can make a donation through mypoppy.ca and make a virtual poppy in remembrance of someone.
Or, just take those two minutes at 11am tomorrow to say a silent thank you for the Canadians who have served, and who continue to serve, to preserve the many freedoms we enjoy.
As most readers of this blog are also avid social media consumers, I’m sure you are all aware of upstream thinking. I’ve heard it in slightly different variations, but the gist of the lesson is this:
Two people are standing by a river. A child passes by them, drowning, so they jump in to pull them out. But then another child needs rescuing, and another.
At some point they have to decide: do we keep rescuing the children or do we go upstream to see why they keep ending up in the water?
That is the basic premise of upstream thinking: how can we move from just responding to things that are happening around us, and proactively act to prevent some of these bad things from occurring in the first place?
And therein lies the difficulty. No one wants to abandon a drowning child. Or to stop trying to put out a raging fire. Or to change directions on handling a pandemic.
Because all of those things are important.
I keep quoting Maya Angelou, but she nailed it when she said: if we always do what we’ve always done, we will always get what we’ve always gotten. How long do we keep going into the river before we decide to go see what is causing the problem?
I remember hearing the phrase ‘social determinants of health’ when my daughter started nursing classes at university. For the first time, she was realizing how health issues were much more complex than simply treating a disease. In education, I think we understand this premise well. For as many factors as we can control in a school setting, there are untold more that students arrive with everyday that affect their ability to learn.
Mental health issues.
Lack of safety.
Lack of sleep.
I could go on, but it’s an endless and extensive list, and COVID has served to exasperate these issues for many children and families. The role of the school is ever-changing as we support students with so much more than their academic needs. Upstream thinking will require all levels and multiple governmental departments to collaborate and cooperate…all of which is way beyond my understanding and control.
Or is it?
Whose job is it to do the upstream thinking anyway?
<all of us>
I am still reflecting on the quint-semester that just finished, and looking ahead to the next one. Part of that process is gathering feedback from students, and I’ll share some of that below.
But the big piece for me is constantly being aware that *I* am responsible for upstream thinking in my classroom.
This is where portfolios come in. I’ve learned a lot (with a long way to go) but thankfully there is great work in this area by Sandra Herbst, Anne Davies, Brenda Augusta, and more.
Because despite multiple upstream efforts, some still fell in. There is more to be done, but the feedback is encouraging, so I’ll be presenting portfolios as an option with this semester’s group too. For now, I’ll leave you with a few of the student thoughts from this semester. Have a great week!
Do you prefer having grades/marks provided throughout the term, or were you okay with a gradeless approach?
How did you like having a personal portfolio instead of required assignments?
What level of feedback or assistance did you feel you received throughout the portfolio process?
What aspect of the portfolio was easiest for you or did you enjoy the most?
What aspect of the portfolio was most challenging or you did not enjoy?
How do you feel about the 2.5hr block class?
This week, Google Music ceased existence. Although it let me transfer my playlist over to YouTube music, all of the podcasts I listened to on my trip to Calgary have disappeared. So unfortunately, that means the paper scrawled full with quotes and ideas isn’t citeable, and without the list to look at, I wouldn’t even know where to start.
Consequently, I apologize that I don’t know who said this, but it’s totally true:
“Every system is perfectly designed to get the result it gets.”
I thought on that for a long time. It runs parallel to the idea that, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” I’d cite that too, but the internet is undecided on who actually said it lol.
So what do we want for our kids?
To be creative? Critical thinkers? Innovators? Problem-solvers? Relentless passion-pursuers?
And when they aren’t as creative or innovative or passionate as we hope they would be AND we are doing what we’ve always done, is the system getting the exact result it was designed for? Hmmmmm.
This fall, so much was new.
With the quint-semesters, everything was compressed into 2.5hr classes and 35 days.
Masks. Seating plans. Movement restrictions. Nothing felt the same.
But also a perfect opportunity to clean-slate it. So with our focus on social issues as seen through a media lens, we began.
In the first few days, the students and I (muddled) our way through the curricular outcomes to come up with individualized portfolio plans. They chose how they would meet each outcome on their own, or in a collaboration with others.
We took the 2.5hrs and broke it into small chunks. We kept the workshop model and the things we value in ELA at our school: booktalks, daily reading, quickwrites, student table talk, mentor media pieces, daily writing.
We went completely gradeless with a focus on learning. We side-by-sided it everyday. We built community with thinking classroom activities and language-based games.
We learned Google Classroom, flexing between whole-class instruction and Google Slide lessons referenced individually as needed. We equally valued product and process, creating a reflective artist statement on every piece.
We shared ideas and put up examples from our classmates as people completed their work. We brainstormed what “good” infographics, photography, writing, visual art, oral presentations, etc. looked like. We had flexible schedules, some working straight through and taking their break at the end, with others needing their 10 minutes mid-morning to squeeze in a game or two of “Among Us.” (Google it lol.)
I know that’s just a list, and not a reflection. We aren’t quite done yet, and I’m still getting my head around what differences those changes are actually tied to.
But I can tell you this much.
Attendance has been a challenge for many of these students in the past. They were there almost every single day.
Physically getting words written down, is also not easy for some. Instead of a handful of sentences, they used the Google Voice Typing feature and regularly got 450-500 words in their reflective pieces. Another student used Screencastify to record his voice and walk me through what he was thinking for his writing work.
Student choice was huge for some, difficult for others. Some had a singular social issue that they were passionate about, and they weaved it through all of their portfolio pieces. Others had different topics for each.
Juggling multiple tasks at once had its own challenges. From the beginning, I likened it to cooking a meal. You can’t just cook one thing at a time, it’ll take forever and things will get cold. You have to multi-task and it all has to come together at the end to eat. (Midway through the month, we watched a great TED talk on procrastination to help some of us stay on track!)
There is a huge range of ability: some of the most beautiful poetry that I may have ever seen; raw writing on Period Poverty, abuse, BLM; and a narrative on a pizza pop that I’m not 100% sure I want to know the ending to. But they are engaged and interested and I have been impressed every day watching them work.
We aren’t quite there yet. It’s hard to switch to a mindset of learning, and more than once a student wouldn’t see the value of games or activities that day, wanting to work on the portfolio to ‘get it done.’
We have a final assessment this week that is outcome-based, with a series of tasks (comprehension, composition, reflection) to complete in their 3hrs. They are given a job for the United Nations and need to create a presentation (PowerPoint and either a persuasive speech or narrative) suitable for middle years students on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It’s not a secret. They’ve seen the ‘test’ already and know what lays ahead. Then we will have individual interviews to go through their portfolio pieces and reflections, determining an overall final grade together.
That’s really nice, you’re probably thinking. But what do the students think? If the idea was to have more engaged, innovative, and thoughtful students, is that what has happened?
I’ll know more this week as I ask them.
But this was in a student’s writing notebook this week, and although there are definitely things that can be improved, it gives me hope (and some relief lol) that a system meant for student voice, choice, thinking, and creativity will get the results it is designed for too.
When school first started and we were in the classes, I was a little disappointed. All my friends were in the other class and I wasn’t necessarily that close with K<name> although we were lowkey friends. Also I saw all the boys in this class last year get kicked out every day so I’m like this class is going to suck. We started our projects and K and I vibed some more and I really enjoyed this. I normally don’t like having that much option for projects and what to do in class. I normally just like to be told exactly what to do like with our essays and not having to be creative at all, but I really enjoyed everything we did this year.
Did anyone else tape their broken crayons together when they were little? It was probably done in the spirit of not throwing anything useful away, and I'd actually forgotten about it until I was cleaning old craft supplies this summer and came across a handful of them.
I was thinking of them again this week as we did a writing activity using pieces from a game called Paint Chip Poetry. Students partnered up and used a handful of paint chip pieces with descriptive names (just like the crayons) to create their own poems.
It was actually a lot of fun! The level of engagement was crazy high, but what really surprised me was that a student stayed afterward to write her own piece. She left it on my computer over lunch, saying that it was the best writing she had ever done. Okay, wow. That small nudge from a handful of paint chips turned into an avalanche for her!
So here we go. I'm fairly confident in my ability to string words together in a coherent fashion when it comes to this blog every week, but poetry? I haven't written poetry for a very long time. It's a whole different thing lol. But in the spirit of living the vulnerability that I like to talk about so much, I pulled out the taped-up crayons as my own pre-thinking inspiration and wrote this: Broken Crayons, all.
Broken crayons, all.
cerulean blue bits
and burnt sienna shrapnel.
perfect cylindrical tubes of mass-produced David’s
for the pint-size Michelangelo
to scrawl the pièce-de-resistance-de-jour
proudly perched on the fridge.
snapped off in fits of dysregulated
or simply the resultant pressure of
pushing too hard
to get it
(but it was wrong anyway.)
Paper covers peeled off in various stages of
disarray and dismemberment,
no regard for the Crayola name
even though it should have given
some semblance of safety
when thrust roughly into the box of 64
*complete with sharpener*
when it had only known the snug security of
12 simple primary and secondary companions.
There was no plain yellow here
amongst the diente de lion and pissenlit
even if they called themselves
Waxy residue left in full view
of the other broken pieces
like a black hole smudged by fingers
Bandaged up with ragged rounds of masking tape
(rounds and rounds and rounds and rounds and rounds and)
that will simply not be
concealed by shimmering slips of metallic pink,
the bulge in the middle
giving it away every damn time.
What would you say to that
robin’s egg blue if you could?
I mean, I know that you can’t.
Because this is just pretend
and this is just crayons.
We are broken crayons, all
and a tape-weld is better than remnant-life
and much easier to hold
even if it is half-green-half-yellow,
and even if the pieces
I don’t have a bucket list. I really don’t. I’ve been fortunate to travel and fulfill many dreams, so when I tell kids that I want to jump out of an airplane before I’m fifty, I’m half-joking.
And half not.
I love trying new things. Seeing if I can do it. And before anyone screams that those are classic mid-life crisis symptoms, this isn't new. Learning to skate and joining a hockey team when you are 35? Not easy lol.
But this weekend’s exploits were BY FAR the hardest thing that I have pushed myself to do, both physically and mentally: rock climbing.
It’s a bit of a story, so here we go.
My daughter, Eliisa, has university finals and wasn’t able to come home for Thanksgiving, so I loaded up with podcast recommendations and drove to see her. Her boyfriend, Corbin, is a seasoned climber and Eliisa has taken up the sport too.
Mom, do you want to try?
The first night we did bouldering at a local climbing gym. Climbing paths are clearly marked out, as the hand and feet ‘rocks’ are brightly colored and the difficulty level labelled. The highest the walls go are 14 feet, and most people jump directly down onto the floor of giant mats from the top.
I was a little too timid for that, not trusting old joints to land in alignment, so I climbed my way back down too. It was fun, and aside from blisters forming on my hands, was a good introduction to climbing.
Next morning? Mountains.
-2C and cold!
We drove to Kananaskis and hiked 10 minutes up a rocky path into the wilderness. When we stopped, the grade was so steep that I had to place my backpack and shoes carefully so that they didn’t roll down into the crevasse.
Corbin went first, scaling the rock and setting up the top rope. That made me nervous to watch. Essentially the rope goes from the ground, through hooks at the top, and back down. The person on the ground belays, holding the rope for the climber and keeping them safe.
There are bolts (hooks) in the rock that he feeds the rope through, attaching them with carabiners, so that if you fall, you are only falling to the carabiner below. Once I got my head around the fact that I was safe, the nerves went away, replaced by the hard work of getting up the rock.
You look for a hole to grab or a little jutting rock to put your toe on. With climbing shoes, it’s amazing how the tiniest of surfaces can be useful.
Get my foot higher. Toe on a rock edge.
Push myself to standing.
Get my hand over that rock and grab.
Slow, hard work.
For the first time, I was feeling Brene Brown’s “there is no courage without vulnerability” on a literal level.
The most difficult sections were the smooth rock where there were no hand-holds at all, and there was one point in each of the climbs where I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I could finish. Part of my brain telling me not to quit, that I’ll be forever mad at myself if I don’t do it! But another part of the brain is in survival mode, and the body is telling a different story. They call it ‘Elvis leg,’ an uncontrolled shaking and I can’t make my left leg stop doing it.
I don’t see any way up or left or right and as much as I lean my body into the wall like the two of them are encouraging me, I feel like an action movie character clinging to a cliff before they fall.
The first time it was unexpected, trying to get through a difficult section, my foot sideways on a rock (not the toe, my mistake) a small slip and…
…an andrenaline rush, for starters!
But then a wave of relief and the confirmation that I was perfectly safe.
The second time, I knew it was coming. Against the smooth wall, I had tried several different ways to move but couldn’t see the crack for my left foot that the kids could see, and the only other option was one at chest-height. I’m not flexible enough to do that standing on solid ground, let alone perched with one foot on an inch-wide ledge and the other on the tiniest of protrusions, so that wasn’t going to happen.
“I can’t hold this. I’m going to fall!”
And I did.
It was scary for a split second, but the rope went taut and I jerked to a stop. I slammed into the wall, likely where the ugly bruise on my leg is from. But it gave me a second to rest and breathe, and when I got my foot back onto the small rock, I could see the crack they had suggested and pushed my way up and through.
The benefit of having other eyes on the ground is that they coached me all the way. They saw spots that I couldn’t, encouraging me to reach juuuuust a bit farther when I said I couldn’t.
“Awesome! You’re through the hard section now!”
I swear to god, they said that for every section, but it was the encouragement I needed to make it through each one.
It seems to be a theme of my writing these past few weeks: that even though we know the end goal of our journey, you make it through by focusing on what is in front of you. One section at a time.
And then you’re at the top.
The view is amazing, of course, but you can stand anywhere in the mountains and have an amazing view.
What made this one special, was hanging in a harness off the edge of the mountain. Legs dangling. Hands not holding on.
I’m not afraid of heights, so looking down didn’t bother me. Although I did have a vice-grip on my phone as I took a few minutes to take some pictures!
The way down wasn’t nearly as challenging but was just as exciting. The first time, it was like an amusement park ride as the kids controlled my descent (I went quickly lol) but the second I rappelled down myself. It was like a weird horizontal walk, as you keep your feet flat against the wall, legs straight, your hands on the rope as the brake.
It was - hands down - one of the most exciting and challenging things that I’ve ever done. And I loved it.
Of course, there was ample time to think about how the adventure applies to our lives. Although my own takeaways on perseverance were obvious, I was mostly struck by the differences between the two days of climbing.
In the first, everything was laid out. Simple. Straightforward. Differentiated to your ability. Soft mats to catch you.
In the second, the path was barely clear. You had to find your own way through. The obstacles were plenty, and the rocks were very much real. They scratched and bruised. There was a rope and hooks for backup, but a fall was still abrupt and jarring.
At first, it reminded me of how some of our paths through life are paved with supports and safety; others with challenge after challenge after challenge to overcome. It made me think about the gradual release of responsibility model, as the two kids modelled and guided me the first day and then coached me on the second day as I did it myself.
As I thought about which day I enjoyed more, it was definitely the latter.
Why? I began to think of the lawnmowering approach to raising children, removing every hindrance and hardship to save them heartbreak and disappointment. Except that by doing that, we also remove their ability to struggle through challenges, to learn lessons about persevering, and to feel the pride in achieving a goal.
Robert Frost was right: “I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I — I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Be forewarned. I’m a whole lot tired and a little bit grumpy.
I’ve just finished watching the clip of Trump with only a fabric mask on, contagious with COVID, driving around in his sealed SUV and exposing Secret Service agents for a photo op.
Like that wasn’t bad enough, he releases a video saying: “I learned a lot about COVID. I learned it by really going to school. This is the REAL school. This isn’t the ‘let’s read a book’ school. And I get it.”
We don’t always “get” something until it happens to us, but COME ON. Scientists have been telling us about COVID since February, and there are some things that we should TOTALLY learn from books and not experience, and getting a viral infection that can kill you is one of them.
So I’m not letting DJT off the hook. But today is a day where I feel a huge amount of guilt for not really “getting” the tragedy of cancer until my closest cousin died of it just over a year ago.
Of course, we have had cancer in our family like almost every other family out there, but it was random and not rampant. So when Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer and had treatment, I assumed that like so many other women, that she would survive it.
She did not. Just short of her 49th birthday, the world lost a teacher, mother, colleague, mentor, athlete, friend….a list just doesn’t do it justice. Today, I ran 10km for her in the CIBC Run for a Cure. As the paper pinny says, “I am always running for Lisa.”
Do I get what cancer does to families now? I sure do.
Do I pay more attention to the challenges and suffering of people in other ways I’m not affected by? I sure try.
So what is it about human nature that makes us only pay attention to things when it impacts us directly? Why do we struggle to empathize or look from another point of view?
I know there is research on this. I know there are scientific reasons. But my Trump rant has put me over the word count already, so let me get in one more story instead.
This week in ELA, one of students brought up the topic of demonstrators tearing down statues in the USA. John A. Macdonald’s name also came up. As did arguments for keeping him right where he is in parks all across Canada.
This was my response.
Over my many years at our school, several students have passed away. I don’t know when it quite started, but each time our community was struck by tragedy, a mural was painted on the hallway walls. Each one was meaningful, and no doubt an important part of the healing process for the students who created them.
So when our school underwent a large renovation a few years ago, there was some backlash to the murals being painted over.
I could empathize with the alumni artists. Their pain was literally painted on the cinderblock. But they had graduated and moved on. They were not walking the halls every day as many of us continued to do.
Whenever I walked by one, I vividly remembered the night of the accident. Driving back from the city, it was only 2kms from our house and we detoured backroads to get home.
As I walked by another, I would think of the last conversation we had on a Friday afternoon, as best I remember, we were talking about band.
Yet another, the memories of teaching their sibling, every conversation a conscious effort to not say the wrong name, so striking were their similarities.
Those murals were a daily, painful reminder of those young lives lost.
And it was daily.
They were never just pictures painted on a wall for me as they were for all the students who came afterward, with no knowledge of those teens. And I don't think that the alumni artists had any idea of the effect it had on those of us left behind.
I still think of those students. Absolutely. I won't ever forget them.
But it is far less painful without daily visual reminders.
So although I really only associate John A. Macdonald with the ten dollar bill, the first PM and being an alcoholic, his infamous legacy is so much more particularly to Indigenous people. As much as I could walk by a statue of him and perhaps not even recognize his likeness, that is the privilege of not having felt the impact of his decisions impacting my existence to this day. And as he stands in a park somewhere, he is a painful daily visual reminder as well.
I hope that every lesson isn’t one that we have to experience ourselves. That we can learn lessons from books. From science.
From each other.
That we can see and acknowledge the concerns and suffering of people and support them. Be there for them.
I wish I could still be there for you coz. I’ll be running here for you instead. Miss you.
As I sat down to write tonight’s blog, I had a split-second of indecision…it’s already so late and I’m not convinced I have anything to write about…but then I knew that I had to.
There really is something to be said for sticking to a task, and like missing a day or two of exercise, it only makes the next one harder.
So let’s see what comes through the keyboard with a little bit of pressure!
It’s not the worst thing in the world either. I’m not sure if it’s just teachers, but so many times I think we forget the saying, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Especially now in the time of COVID, when we are working in previously unknown conditions, prepping courses in previously untried ways, there are some things that we just have to let go.
I read an article earlier tonight called, “What My Sled Dogs Taught Me About Planning for the Unknown.” TBH, I was mostly drawn to the picture of the huskies first, the title second.
If you read this blog, you’ll know that we had to put down our 14 year old husky Luka this spring. And from the stories I’ve told, I hope that you have gleaned that huskies can be…ummm…difficult. They are fiercely independent, and as I often said about Luka, the GPS in his head never functioned.
He would run and run and run.
If you have a few minutes, read the whole article! But because I know that time is of the essence and if you’re actually here reading this, that might be as far as you get. So these are some of the parts that stood out most for me:
“Here’s the thing about sled dogs: They never know how far they’re going to run…but each time my dogs hit the trail, they run hard - they give it everything they’ve got. That’s fine if we’re going 10 miles, or 30, distances they can cover easily in a few hours….But what if we’re going a hundred miles, or a thousand? Asking sled dogs to pace themselves, to slow it down, is like asking a retriever to only fetch one ball out of three: It goes against their very instinct.”
Hmmm. I know people like this.
“Having a plan made me feel confident and safe. And then I got into long-distance dog sledding and I discovered that the only thing worse than not having a plan was the stress of having one and constantly breaking it. Working with dogs in the wilderness means negotiating countless shifting variables: snow and wind, wild animals, open water, broken equipment, each dog’s needs and changing mood.”
Countless shifting variables. 2020 in a nutshell.
“I learned that plans, when I made them, were nothing but a sketch; the only thing I needed to count on was that the dogs and I would make decisions along the way. So how do you throw yourself into the unknown - and better yet, feel OK about it? How do you settle into an endurance challenge with no idea when it will end?”
Ah, there’s the rub.
And the author gives some great advice: rest. In particular, front-loading rest.
(The irony of writing this at 11pm and not going to bed is not lost on me haha.)
“It’s far easier to prevent fatigue than to recover from it later. But resting early, anticipating your dogs’ needs, does something even more than that: It builds trust. A sled dog learns that by the time she’s hungry, her musher has already prepared a meal; by the time she’s tired, she has a warm bed…And it’s this security, this trust, that lets her pour herself into the journey, give the trail everything she has without worrying about what comes next.”
I watched a group of students excitedly peering in their microscopes the other day, waving me over to show their discoveries. Masks on. Engaged. Pouring themselves into their learning journey. Trusting us.
“Because if you don’t know how far you’re going, you need to act like you’re going forever.”
I read a pandemic dystopian novel this weekend. I know that we hope for a vaccine and think of a return to normality. In the book, there was no end game. Normal never returned. It’s a bit of a depressing read, I’ll be honest! But there were ways where life…living…continued. In fact, a recurring line was “survival isn’t sufficient.”
“Planning for forever is essentially impossible, which can actually be freeing: It brings you back into the present…what matters is that, to the degree you can, you make your own life sustainable every day.”
*Makes mental note*
“Sled dogs can run farther, in a shorter time, than almost any other animal. But they only think as far ahead as they can see, hear, and smell..It is, in its way, that simple.”
That makes me think of Terry Fox, and what I wrote about last week…how he ran to the next curve, to the next hill, etc. And those small pieces added up to a marathon, each and every day.
Just like the dogs, we need to take care of ourselves in case we are in a long stretch, and since we can't see too far ahead, just truly make the best of where we are at this moment.
And it doesn’t have to be perfect either.
“What My Sled Dogs Taught Me About Planning for the Unknown” by Blair Braverman https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/23/sports/sled-dogs-mushing-unknowns-planning.html
It’s hard to believe that it has been 40 years since Terry Fox ran 5,373 kilometers across Canada in his Marathon of Hope.
This year’s run was held virtually, where everyone was encouraged to take part wherever you were and in whatever capacity you were able.
“One day, your way.”
For me, I ran 12km yesterday and another 3km today. I like to run, but there is no way that I will ever complete a half-marathon, let alone a full marathon, in my life. Terry ran a marathon. Every. Single. Day. And not always in beautiful fall 26C weather. A lot of the early clips are from snowy, cold Atlantic Canada. In so many ways, it is beyond anything that most of us can fathom.
Despite everything, he persevered until the very end, and then only wished that Canadians would carry on: “Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.” And in schools and communities across the world, it has.
There are so many lessons that Terry and his legacy continue to teach us.
One that sticks with me was his approach to running each day. You would think that he would focus on the marathon distance of the day. That it would be tempting to count the kilometers off. My app does that. One kilometer. Two. Three.
But Terry didn’t do that. He didn’t think about running the whole 42kms.
He thought about getting to the top of the hill.
Then the curve in the road.
Then the next signpost.
…as each of these small goals were achieved, the kilometers added up, the marathon distance completed. Until 4am the next morning when he would begin again.
I’m sure that Terry never lost sight of his overall goal, to cross Canada and return home to British Columbia, but each grueling day passed by accomplishing many small goals along the way.
It’s a good way to look at a lot of things in life.
As we are now at the six month mark of pandemic living, much of it has been passed by making it through one day at a time. There’s not much point in looking too far down the road, because we can’t see it clearly and conditions are constantly changing anyway.
The school year is similar.
We are trying to prepare for so many scenarios, and depending on what happens in each of our communities in terms of COVID spread, any number of things could happen.
So although year plans are made, we are mostly looking at the road right in front of us.
When I run, it’s literally navigating the washboard gravel roads and the deep hoof prints from horses on the prairie trail, trying not to sprain an ankle. At school, it’s gauging how to pace a quint-semester and to keep consistent and meaningful contact with students who aren’t in the classroom.
But it’s also taking time to look around: the deep, warm fall colors changing almost before my eyes, and the herd of deer sprinting across the road, so effortlessly leaping the fences before they disappear into the forest. It’s also taking time in the classroom: despite feeling pressure, to not rush, letting students delve into their books, to flush out ideas, and to let conversations continue when students are digging deeper into a topic.
I hope that forty years from now, Canadians still remember Terry Fox. Still walk or run as they are able. Still carry Terry’s optimism and hope for a cure for cancer. Maybe we will even be using this day to celebrate cancer's cure.
And to really embrace this idea: one day, your way.
Every day. For as long as we are given.
Just like Terry.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy...okay website template!