The title written on the cover of the journal beside me is “Be Brave.”
Dr. Jody always says, “We are wired to do hard things.”
Glennon Doye writes, “I say to myself every few minutes: This is hard. We can do hard things. And then I do them.”
Oh, but it’s hard.
What am I agonizing over? A facebook post, of all things. I know that I need to reply. I know the feeling that I want to express.
It’s the words that won’t come.
I can’t remember who said, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.” Maybe it was Dr. Tam, in one of her COVID updates, which would be appropriate since that has been my mantra to get through the pandemic so far.
But this post requires me to be more than ‘good’ and I’m sure it could never come close to being perfect.
Because the post I need to write is for a high school classmate, who just let everyone on his social media know that he is dying.
If you haven’t read Infinite Mindset by Simon Sinek, he talks about the idea of a ‘worthy rival.’ Sorta like a growth mindset version of your nemesis! My friend above? In high school he was my worthy rival.
I’m a fairly competitive person, just ask my family when we play crib. But in school, particularly in the time period where marks were on everything and everything was marked, that meant EVERYTHING was a competition between the two of us.
When those pink, handwritten, carbon-copy report cards came out? The sleuthing began.
“SOOOO, what did YOU get?”
When you were burning to know if you had the top mark or not, there was no time for subtle reconnaissance lol.
We either had the same marks, or were off by just one percent, but if he beat me? Ohhhhhhhh, I would be mad, and determined to make sure the next time, it would be ME with the highest grade.
Super healthy behaviour, I know….and I pity teachers for the searing interrogations I must have put them through to explain to me where that 1% went missing!
We know that grades are not a motivator for most students, and in fact, are de-motivating for learning to happen. I just listened to a Project Based Learning Webinar facilitated by A.J. Juliani. One of the lines that resonated with me was this: Assessing says “I want to help you” while grading says “I want to judge you.” We went (almost) completely gradeless in grade 7 this year, aside from a mark that we co-constructed for the January progress report. Not in high school, you say? In ELA 30 we didn’t enter any marks until October 1, and a vast majority of our assignments utilized the 1-4 scale. I want our students to care about and learn for the sheer joy of learning. The emotion I felt most was not that of joy, but antagonism and rivalry.
Most definitely, not the same thing.
But marks aside, this boy did make me better.
He was by far the smartest kid in our grade.
He was by far the best male writer I knew.
And I worked my ass off to just stay in the same league as him.
We lost touch, and are friends only in the distant facebook way where social media only superficially semi-connects us. I don’t know what happened to his own dream of being a writer.
But I hope he still writes.
I hope that he will still write.
I hope that some miracle can stop the rare virus that is attacking his brain and that, as he says, is going to kill him within months.
I hope that I can find the words to write on that facebook post.
This is hard. We can do hard things. And then I do them.
Today is my dad’s birthday. It won’t matter that I announce it here, partly because he doesn’t read this, but mostly because as a 77 year old farmer in the middle of seeding, he likely won’t stop to celebrate it.
But I am going to do that because my dad is one of the most amazing people.
He grew up a bilingual second generation immigrant, translating for his dad, fluent in both Finnish and English. Even with few opportunities to speak it anymore, he hasn’t lost the language at all.
He attended the one room school just north of the farm, riding horses, and raising cattle and chickens. Even through decades of technological change, he is still full-time farming.
When he was young, in the wintertime he worked construction for the Gardiner Dam. He peeled potatoes the first year, too young to wield any equipment. But after that, ran trucks behind the mole. He can drive and fix anything that moves.
He was an RM counsellor for many years. He’s still a volunteer on the board for the museum in town.
He and mom taught social dancing in the schools, and were members of the Scandinavian Club in Saskatoon, enjoying the dances there. He can still cut a rug with the best of them.
He was a pilot, getting his licence in 1967 and flying all the way until 2000, at times volunteering with search and rescue. Tracking flights and online flight simulators still keep him occupied when there’s no curling on the tv.
He’s owned every kind of vintage truck and car around, and his yellow Karmann Ghia was a staple with the Volkswagen people every year at Cruise Night. All car questions still go straight to dad.
He’s kind and caring and a crokinole phenom. There’s so much more to list, but you get the idea: my dad is hands-down one of the smartest, hard-working, and handiest people I know.
And, like so many men of his generation, he has accomplished all of this with a grade 8 education when he left school to work full-time on the farm.
Dad has never placed limits on what he could do, what he could learn, or what he could achieve. When we talk in education about growth mindsets and lifelong learners, that’s him, and no doubt a generation of people just like my dad. Learning did not stop when their schooling did.
There’s a lot of internet chatter from education folks all over North America about disengaged students during the pandemic. Article after article, the reasons are detailed, suggestions provided, all of them totally valid.
Absolutely, it is difficult to compare today’s children to my dad’s time, or even to my own childhood. There’s an expression: an idle mind will seek a toy. I was used to being bored and having to find my own things to do on the farm, with only my siblings around. “Bored” has never been a large part of modern kids’ highly-scheduled lives. For us, the party line on the telephone still existed, so technology overload, let alone technology disparities, didn’t exist. We had to use our imaginations to make our own fun and no matter the season, we did: chasing snakes and finding kittens in the spring, dingy races and play-forts in the summer, making straw-houses in the fields after the combine had gone through in the fall, and cross country skiing and shinny on the slough in the winter. Self-isolation was our way of life.
I just finished Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed and although it is about the social conditioning and societal expectations of women, there are many lessons in there. This part about boredom caught my attention. “When we are bored, we ask ourselves: What do I want to do with myself? We are guided toward certain things: a pen and paper, a guitar, the forest in the backyard, a soccer ball, a spatula. The moment after we don’t know what to do with ourselves is the moment we find ourselves. Right after itchy boredom is self-discovery. But we have to hang in there long enough without bailing.”
There were many great ideas in the book that made me draw parallels to education. In fact, she begins the book with a story about a tamed cheetah called Tabitha.
Day after day this wild animal chases dirty pink bunnies down the well-worn, narrow path they cleared for her. Never looking left or right. Never catching that damn bunny, settling instead for a store-bought steak and the distracted approval of sweaty strangers. Obeying the zookeeper’s every command, just like Minnie, the Lab she’s been trained to believe she is. Unaware that if she remembered her wildness - just for a moment - she could tear those zookeepers to shreds.”
A little girl asks if Tabitha misses the wild?
The zookeeper smiled and said, “No. Tabitha was born here. She doesn’t know any different. She’s never even seen the wild.”
But if she could ask Tabitha what she is feeling?
I knew what she’d tell me. She’d say, “Something’s off about my life. I feel restless and frustrated. I have this hunch that everything was supposed to be more beautiful than this. I imagine fenceless, wide-open savannas. I want to run and hunt and kill. I want to sleep under an ink-black, silent sky filled with stars. It’s all so real I can taste it.
Then she’d look back at the cage, the only home she’s ever known. She’d look at the smiling zookeepers, the bored spectators, and her panting, bouncing, begging best friend, the Lab.
Every time I read that part, it makes me think deeper.
Coincidentally, this quote by Stephen Downes popped across my timeline through George Couros this morning. This was, and more than ever still is, the goal: “We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves.”
At some point we will move beyond this emergency-teaching, and a new normal will begin. It will not be the same, at least not for a long time, so examining student engagement will be a priority.
But let’s say it all ended today. That my grade 7s never set foot in a classroom again, not dissimilar to my dad’s experience.
Would they take part in local government?
Would they learn to keep a business going?
Would they learn to fix things that break?
Would they learn to fly (literally or figuratively)?
Would they know they were a cheetah and meant for the wild?
Or would they stay in the cage of what they believe education is, not looking away from the pink bunny or running off the path?
When we started this alternate learning months ago, our Director of Education Lori Jeschke emphasized that Learning Is Everywhere.
That’s a lesson I learned from my dad, and one that I hope our students are taking to heart as they learn at home too.
Oh, and if mom hands you this to read when you come in from the field tonight dad, Happy Birthday!!!
There was a song called “Magic Penny” that we used to sing in Sunday School. It went like this:
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.
It’s just like a magic penny. Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many, they’ll roll all over the floor.
In our staff book club this last week, I was thinking of this song. I even brought it up, but apparently it was a niche melody from a rural protestant church, because no one else had heard of it! As a kid, the whole paradox of the lyrics blew my mind. How can you spend something and get more? How can you hold something tight and not have it?
Like most people, except the truly introverted who are completely at peace with this, I have had ups and downs over the past 8 weeks.
I try not to think about all the people I’m missing. All the things that I am missing, or missing out on. I try to check myself once in a while, knowing that I am enduring this with a giant amount of privilege. But I also let myself be sad sometimes, and it doesn’t matter if you are 7 or 17 or 70 (or going on 79 days without seeing your daughter) comparing pain is moot. As Dr. Jody says, “If you’re old enough to love, you’re old enough to grieve.”
So when I feel that I have spent too much time in that place, the best way to get out of it, is to do something for someone else.
The Magic Penny song nailed that concept in the 1970s.
Think literally about that magic penny. Hold it tight and you won’t have any. Well technically, you’ll have one, and that’s it. But lend it and spend it, and it will come back to you over and over again, sometimes with interest. I’m sure this is an actual economic strategy that CERB and other stimulus packages around the world are based on, presently trying to keep local businesses afloat.
As a simile, love is like a magic penny works too. If I hoard emotion away, it’s all there inside me. Full of love but not giving it to anyone else? Well, that’s kinda lonely. Full of anxiety and stress and resentment? Well, that’ll just eat you up when you tuck it away.
But lend that love to someone who needs it? Be that listening ear?
Spend that love? Spread appreciation around like confetti? Forgive?
There’s lots of research on how you benefit more in giving, than the recipient receives in getting. The whole premise of servant leadership is predicated on giving to others.
I know that when I cause joy for someone, I feel more joyful.
That when I bring some happiness through a small surprise, I feel happier.
Jeesh, even when I crack really cheesy jokes in our class time online, and I hear a little giggle, I feel a small glimmer of connection that I’ve missed so much. And knowing that I made someone laugh makes me feel better.
As Dr. Jody Carrington writes in her book, “Anxiety or depression cannot live in a relaxed body. Slow it down as many times a day as you can muster. It’s magic.”
A virtual colleague tagged me in an article this week. It was on teacher burnout in the pandemic. I loved this part:
“While no one has the answers, I’m starting to feel the best thing I can do is help students manage and cope with their uncomfortable feelings…Instead of quickly assuring them that things will be over soon, I ask them, ‘What can you do right now that will make this hardship feel a little easier?’”
It reminds me of Dr. Jody’s questions: Tell me more. What am I missing? What is the hardest part?
If feelings of failure and frustration can’t co-exist with success and confidence, then I need to do things that ease someone else’s hardship, or make someone else’s day, and in the process will feel better too.
I know it’s true.
I’ll share one. Some of you will know that I live stream a half hour of piano music every day, hoping to reach shut-in seniors or care homes.
There were literally dozens of reasons that I gave myself for NOT doing it. The top ones included not wanting to see myself on the internet, knowing I am not the best piano player out there, and actively avoiding the embarrassment of making mistakes on a live stream (which would just reinforce that I’m not the best piano player out there, and round and round we go in a vicious circle lol.)
You know what?
None of that mattered.
On days that just a handful of people tune in (my mom, my grade 4 teacher, and my friend Lisa are my faithful listeners) I know that they are there because they want to be. They don’t care what my hair looks like, or that my phone goes off, or about any of my mistakes. They don’t care that my piano is out of tune, is missing some key tops, and that the Db in the left hand doesn’t play at all.
You know what they notice?
That I played their favorite polka.
That they were enjoying the music as they reorganized their recipe binder over lunch.
That their mom had sewed special dresses for the square dance club they had in grade 9 called the Belles and Beaus.
When I come back the next day to record again, sometimes twenty people have watched it and sometimes two hundred. All of them have seen my hair just pulled back in a ponytail. Heard the mistakes. Watched the music fall off the piano mid-song.
And you know what?
They don’t care either.
“One of my favorites.”
“Makes me want to dance.”
“Thank you for sharing.”
Love is something if you give it away folks. You end up having more.
The world is full of mixed messages.
It’s not like it wasn’t before Covid19, but it certainly is now that we are in the thick of it. I feel inundated by both of these truths:
This is an unprecedented time to accomplish all of the things you ever wanted.
This is an unprecedented time and it is enough to simply survive.
On Saturday, I signed up for a virtual conference with Dave and Rachel Hollis. I have a notebook full of takeaways, but like the mixed messages above, there were things I loved and things that made me uncomfortable. This one bit of Dave’s speech did both:
“You do not yet have the skills for the life you say you want five years from now, because none of us have yet what it takes to be there….”
Um, okay. That’s a slap of reality. All the work that a person can put into their development as a human, isn’t enough? Won’t ever be enough? Then why are we even trying, if we are perpetually unqualified for what we want to do? <collapse in puddle on floor now>
But he finishes with this.
“…and the beauty of confidence is that it’s something that is built in the *journey to there* as long as we are willing to go into a position of trying and failing and learning.”
And there it is.
It’s everything that I have learned about courage and vulnerability and resilience and innovation over the past few years, and I know that I am reading and listening to the right people. I feel like I’ve always had a growth mindset, whether it was learning to play hockey at 33 or going back to school at 42. I love to learn. My mom was telling me stories recently that reminded me that I was always this way, part of it in my genes and part of it formed in the freedom (and isolation) of farm living in the 1970s.
But is that something that can be learned? Fostered? Encouraged?
Of course. That’s the whole point of a growth mindset! I know that. And I am quick to reinforce students when they get stuck in the “I can’t” fixed mindset to redirect that to a “I can’t YET.”
But what can I actually DO to provide more support to others?
It was John Maxwell (I think…my notes are pretty harried) that said something that really hit home.
I need to be a courage companion.
I love that.
I often think of the quote that floats around the internet, “People who feel appreciated will always do more than you expected.” Part of me hates that wording, that by appreciating people, you are subliminally hoping to get more out of them. Because that’s selfish and self-serving.
I wish it read, “People who feel appreciated will always be more than they expected.”
I know that is true for me. When I feel valued and encouraged, I am more confident. More confidence makes me feel capable. And when I feel capable, I am more willing to be vulnerable, and in turn, courageous, which leads to risk-taking and innovation and....well, you get the idea.
In our book club, we discussed this week’s chapters from Dr. Jody Carrington’s Kids These Days, in particular her Five Keys to Reconnection. This is what a courage companion looks like to me.
1. Show interest in things they care about. Real interest.
2. Get down to their level.
3. Say their name. Look in their eyes.
4. Food and drink. Regulating strategies, not rewards.
5. Proximity. Don’t leave them, especially when they tell you to.
I need to be the person who fills other people up with the courage they need.
I need to be the person that is a listener, not their problem-solver.
I need to model what courage looks like, sounds like, and feels like.
Connection before direction. Also Dr. Jody’s words.
Somewhere in my notes, I wrote this: “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision. Leadership is courage. You’ve got to embrace it first before you ask anyone else to do it. It is no one else’s job to carry your fear.”
I get that. But I also know from reading Dr. Jody Carrington’s work, that if the ‘people holding our babies aren’t okay, then they aren’t okay.’ And if the people holding all the rest of us (politicians and senior health officials included) aren’t okay, then we aren’t okay either.
Which is why, sometimes we need to set our egos and fears and hypothetical worst-case scenarios down, and just ask: Are you okay? *Tell me more. (*Again, Dr. Jody lol.)
Because if you’re nervous about getting it wrong, then you’re making it about you. (My notes are bad, but that one for sure was from Rachel Hollis.)
Since I’ve spent this whole blog post stringing together quotes from other people, let me finish with one more. Definitely John Maxwell. “Courage is not something you store up. Courage is something you use up.”
As we enter another week of our altered lives managing the mixed messaging we are surrounded with, and managing both successes and struggles of work and home, be courageous.
But most of all, be you. In both crazy and non-pandemic times, that’s more than enough!
Take care everyone.
This was Friday.
8:15am listened to Dr. Jody Carrington’s morning live session on Facebook. Have coffee, visit with my cats. Perfectly normal stuff.
10am listened to Shelly Moore @fivemooreminutes on Instagram live as she is doing a book club on Dr. Jody’s book, Kids These Days. Awesome.
By 2pm, I’d settled down for several hours to watch the Phantom of the Opera musical streamed from London, courtesy of Andrew Lloyd Webber. (Every Friday, a new musical!)
Had a quick zoom drink with a colleague, and in the evening, a friend invited me to my first ‘watch party’ where Ryan McMahon, a musician from BC, entertained online for two and a half hours.
Add in other social media surfing, and I don’t think I’d ever had such a busy day.
And I still felt totally isolated.
Dr. Jody talks about kids who are attention-seeking, and says that we need to reframe that to say they are connection seeking.
That works for adults too.
And I think that’s where I’m at right now. I feel like I’m looking for things to do, things to fill my time, to keep busy….to feel connected.
I think we underestimate the amount of connections we have at school. The hundreds of students and thousands of interactions. Every. Single. Day. It’s why I often came home and needed a nap!
Now, without that, I feel an enormous amount of restless energy. Pent up. Like a lid on a pop bottle with a mentos.
Actually, more like Emperor Palpatine…like fricken lightning bolts are going to come shooting out of my fingers IF I DON’T DO SOMETHING!!!
And yet, all of the ‘things’ that usually bring me some joy, just aren’t.
Of the pile of books that I threw into my car on that last day, I have managed to read just one.
With the same amount of time in the summer, I would have finished a dozen by now. But I can’t do it. Why read about a dystopian survivalist, when that’s what it feels like I am living?
Don’t get me wrong. We are not suffering here. In fact, we could not be spending self-isolation in any more privileged position. Reading an article about my mom’s 93 year old cousin in Prince Albert, who walks 2km to see his wife in a nursing home, not just once a day, but two to three times a day EVERYDAY makes me want to take my bag of coronavirus complaints and sit quietly in shame with it for a long, long time.
But I think it’s important not to discount how each one of us is feeling.
How each one of us is dealing with this crazy situation.
What may seem trite to one person, might be the linchpin to someone else’s sanity.
I came across a quote today by Dr. Mike Goddard that I’m going to try and remember when this starts to feel a bit overwhelming, “Worry is an accelerant to anxiety, anxiousness and health issues. Worry is mostly about things out of our control. Choose to be a Warrior and not a Worrier - controlling that which you control and not allowing worry to control you over the rest.”
I get that, but I think the missing piece is that we can’t be a warrior on our own. Like every imaginable historical situation, there is strength in numbers.
There is strength to be drawn from others when our worries overtake us.
There is strength inside us to be shared with others. (Yes there is, even if your brain wants to argue that point with you!)
So hang on to the people you have.
Just hang in there.
I never really liked the saying, “You do you.”
It often felt like being brushed off. Like ‘go ahead, but that sounds stupid to me.’
But then I started to see it in a different way. An empowered way. One where I really only needed to concern myself with one person’s opinion on whatever it happened to be…my own.
That was a good reminder this last week as I was planning what direction I wanted to go with our learning as it moves online. I spent a lot of time thinking. Reading articles. Scanning tweets.
What should this look like?
How do we achieve balance?
What is most important and why?
It wasn’t that I was looking for the “right” answer, or any answer per se. It was a matter of not seeing the forest for the trees, I guess.
There were a few sleepless nights.
And then it came to me. I needed to “you do you” this.
So my guiding questions then included things like:
How can I continue to be true to my beliefs about teaching and learning as we move online?
How can I keep connections with my students going, with a variety of access points?
How do I create meaningful but flexible learning options to meet various levels of commitments?
And how do I reassure both students and families that whatever happens in the next three months, that whatever they choose, that it is going to be okay? That their child will be okay?
As educators, we were given several gifts. First, the gift of a “pause” for a week: to wrap our heads around the enormity of the task ahead, to get our own personal houses/families in order, and to essentially process the grief of what was being lost, personally and educationally.
Second, our division gave us, and our school families, the gift of flexibility. One only has to do a quick scroll through Twitter to realize that many areas of North America, and the world, that is not the case. The Supplemental Learning Plan reinforced the health, wellbeing, importance, and connections amongst all of us in learning: schools, staff, parents and caregivers, and students.
What is going to happen in with my students may not look the same as elsewhere.
And that’s okay.
It didn’t necessarily look the same before.
And that’s okay.
But especially now when we are in crisis mode, it’s so important that people stay true to themselves and what works for them.
You do you.
And that’s definitely okay.
We are truly in unchartered waters, like a lighthouse keeper trying to communicate with a boat at sea in rough waters. All I can do is flash the light and give guidance to the person at the helm. I can’t steer it for them. But I take solace in knowing that it will (should?) be my students there at the wheel, and not their parent. Why? Because I have already tried to instill in them the joy of exploring and learning for its own sake, through a no-mark classroom, embedded student choice in all things, and an authentic and games-based approach to learning.
That was the hope, anyway.
Only time will tell if they took that heart, and can get themselves to shore safely.
I believe they can.
I believe they will.
But I’m still going to flash as many lights and sound as many fog horns as possible!!
Stay safe everyone!
p.s. I was actually just going to write about how I structured their learning for the next bit, but will try to just get that out there in a tweet. If anyone actually reads this and wants to know, I’d be happy to share it…just be sure to “you do you” with it lol.
My cats are driving me crazy.
Don’t get me wrong, now that many people are working from home, I love all the posts that encourage people to replace “pet” or “child” with “co-worker.” This is one of the first tweets I saw, but the threads (with over 2500 replies) are hilarious:
‘My co-worker asked for yogurt and is now crying because I gave her yogurt.’ @ShannonDingle
‘My coworker pitched a fit about subtracting 2 from a number because they prefer adding 2. "It makes more sense," they said.’ @wickedsmartface
‘I happened upon my co-worker scooping fistfuls of butter into his mouth.’ @lauramcw
Those are just the tame ones lol.
As for my own co-workers, they follow me around incessantly when I am outside. They don’t really want anything. They have food and water. They don’t want to be petted. They definitely don’t want to be picked up.
Except today, when the Siamese cat decided to come up behind me…jump onto my shoulder…from the ground…when I was standing completely upright…
The claw marks showed she grabbed on mid-shoulder but really dug her hind claws into my lower back.
Oh, did I mention that I’m highly allergic to cats??
What I’ve decided that they want most, is just to be with me.
To paraphrase Dr. Jody Carrington, my co-workers aren’t attention-seeking, they are connection-seeking.
It’s a feeling that I can relate to. I found that I was much more functional this past week now that our new reality settled in a bit more, but it was still hard. I miss being at school, being around the kids, seeing co-workers. (The human ones.)
I missed the connections.
I tried to make a phone call every day, just to hear a real voice on the other end. For those who follow this blog regularly, yes, my son is still home. And yes, he is in the basement a lot. He's just not overly loquacious! I shouldn’t poke fun at him - we had a great week playing games and visiting, but I miss “work” talk. For me, and so many of my colleagues, teaching and learning are our passions. It’s something that we are always trying to read more about, improve on, and do better for our students, and so much of that happens in discussions with each other.
It’s not that it can’t happen anymore. It’s just going to look different.
The week to “pause” was a gift for our physical and mental selves, both for us and for our students. The week(s) ahead now are going to be full of challenges, but are also an opportunity to learn. For all of us.
I have a whole other train of thought on how this pandemic is exacerbating and laying bare the societal divisions and disparate social order that previously existed, and of which most people are in denial about, and that layers of privilege are buffering me from any real degree of suffering at this moment. But because I’m trying to focus on positives for the week ahead, I’m going to come back and think about that later (and because that privilege provides me with the space to do that) I promise you there are more thoughts to come. *Although the government could absolutely be doing something right friggen now about helping our students who are aging out of care in the foster system and being cut off from all supports in the middle of a goddam pandemic.* Like I said, more to come.
In the week ahead, stay safe and stay connected!
The most dreadful times you face
are the only opportunities you will ever get
to prove to yourself
exactly what you’re made of.
J. Warren Welch
I never let kids title things, "Untitled." There is always a better descriptor out there, something to let us know what is coming, plus it feels like a cop-out. But this week? Yah, this is untitled.
There’s only one thing to write about.
It’s all that we talk about. Think about.
Live our lives around.
And it has only been a week and a half, really, since things started to change. Remember when hockey just up and stopped?? Yah, it feels like sooooo much longer.
Like everyone else, we are self-isolating at our house. For those that don’t know me personally, we are fortunate to live on 40 acres of forest in between Pike Lake and Delisle. With both of our children at university this fall, I’ve written a lot about empty-nesting, so self-isolation isn’t that much of a change for me. I talk to my cats, hang laundry out on the line, split wood, go for a run on the grid roads that don’t have loose dogs, and sit by the fire and read a lot. I literally have nothing to complain about. The only real social interactions I have are with my colleagues and my school ‘kids.’ Volleyball, my yearbook duo, handbells, the super-chatty 7s and my go-getter 8s. And I can tell you, I’m already missing that A LOT.
To people with a busy social schedule, that probably sounds like a sad existence. But as someone who is an extroverted-introvert, it’s the perfect mix. I can relax and be myself with my students at work, and then relax and not be with people outside of work lol.
But this is different.
I tend to be an overthinker at the best of times, so a global pandemic can throw that into hyperdrive. And without bemoaning how I am handling the fact that our daughter has chosen to stay with her bf in the thick of the infection in Calgary, I’ll just say that it has not been easy.
As my son said, “Mom, we’re worriers.” Yep. Although thankfully he packed up and came home this week, as I’d be substantially more worried if it was him still there.
I know everyone has to find what works for them, but there’s two things that I have tried to do to manage feeling overwhelmed.
First, I’ve been alternating a couch-day (with no expectations of even moving), with a day to get something done (even if it’s something simple like doing loads of wash.) When the province gave educators a week to “pause” it was the best possible idea. This ‘new normal’ is going to be THE normal for a long time, and that has taken a huge mental adjustment. I still catch myself thinking about going to work, or thinking about something for a class, and realize that won’t happen…or at least not the way it was before…AND FOR A FEW MINUTES I JUST CAN’T FATHOM IT. I envision that one part of my brain is arguing with the other side, like the little angel and devil on the shoulders of cartoon characters growing up. Eventually it sorts itself out, and I focus back on what I was doing.
Which is the second thing I have been doing to feel less overwhelmed: thinking at a micro level. It was a few years ago when someone first mentioned the phrase “micro-ambitious” to me, and I loved it. What are small, tangible things that I can be doing to manage my own anxieties and fears at this time? But even more so, in this period of social-isolation when everyone is feeling stressed, what can I be doing to reach out to help others?
Recently, I had read a short article by Bill Taylor called, “Great Leaders Understand Why Small Gestures Matter.”
What if we took just a moment to think a little smaller, to act a lot more humbly, to elevate the person-to-person interactions that lead to more meaningful relationships? Sure, successful companies and leaders think differently from everyone else. But they also care more than everyone else—about customers, about colleagues, about how the whole organization conducts itself when there are so many opportunities to cut corners and compromise on values. In a world being utterly reshaped (and often disfigured) by technology, people are hungrier than ever for a deeper and more authentic sense of humanity.
The last week and a half have really shown which companies and leaders care.
And which ones don’t.
By looking at snapshots from around the world on Twitter, if nothing else, this pandemic has forced people to simplify, stop and look around, and reach out to their neighbors. Whether it was singing from balconies in Italy, people coming out in Toronto to celebrate a little boy’s birthday as he rode his bike down the middle of the street, or 7pm nightly clapping in Vancouver to honor health care providers everywhere.
As the spread of the virus lays bare, something doesn’t have to be big to make a giant impact.
But it can be a positive too: “Small gestures…can send big signals about who we are, what we care about, and why we do what we do.”
This is the first post about our new normal, and it won’t be the last. Remembering that it is a marathon and not a sprint is a good way to remind ourselves to slow down, pause, and in small ways find the positives in each day we spend alone, but together.
It was two years ago yesterday, that I started writing this blog. And aside from holidays, there have been only rare Sunday nights when I haven’t posted. Last week was #75. It’s hard to believe that I have had enough things to write about for 75 pieces! So this is a perfect time to do my best Academy Award thank you speech, but without the jokes and probably a lot shorter than the ones on tv.
It’s a tradeoff lol.
So, this blog started because of a confluence of three things.
First, Innovator’s Mindset from George Couros. As educators, if you haven’t read it, you need to. It was a monumental shift for me that built on the beliefs I had on teaching and learning that began with Jay Wilson and Rick Schwier in my ETAD master’s program at the U of S.
Second, I had signed up for the Aspiring Administrators program with Prairie Spirit. In our first session with Tracey Young and Jon Yellowlees, they modelled an “I Am From” poem. It was the first thing I had written in years and it was a big deal. As I wrote in that first post, “To say it was cathartic doesn't do it justice. It was like a small stone starting an avalanche for me.”
And the third thing that got me started was support from an administrator at the time, Brett Kirk. Although it was the answer he often gave when I would run ideas by him, when I said I was thinking about starting a blog, his response was, “Do it.”
So I did.
I've had people ask me what I write about every week. Where do I get ideas?
Well, there are times that I have drawn ideas from the books that I am reading. I love to read a lot, and have gotten into the bad habit of juggling several books at the same time, which just means that I’m not finished any of them! My to-be-read pile is pretty ridiculous right now too.
The book I’m working my way through now is called Deep Learning and it is talking about many educational practices and beliefs that I feel really strongly about. Literally the last line that I read today was about cultivating collaborative cultures. Besides being a really sweet alliteration, the feeling of working together for a common goal is one of the most powerful things you can have in education.
“Cultivating collaborative cultures works in tandem with focusing direction to develop a nonjudgmental culture of growth that fosters the capacity and processes for change. Innovation requires an environment that allows mistakes as long as the group is learning from them. Collaboration becomes not just collegiality but the cultivation of expertise so that everyone is focused on the collective purpose. This collaborative expertise is a powerful change strategy as leaders use the group to change the group.”
Like I wrote last week, I get a lot of ideas from the people I follow on social media. Brene Brown will change your life. Start with her TED talks and then get the books! Twitter is also fantastic if you don't get sucked into the comments. There are so many amazing educators out there, especially here in Prairie Spirit, that I am continually inspired by.
There are so many times that I have drawn ideas from the people around me. I can’t even list how many ideas from the first year of blogging were totally ripped off from conversations with Brett. (I guess I’ll see if he still reads this anymore lol.) As our VP, he challenged us in many ways to not just rethink our approaches, but to create a vision of what education and learning could be. Of course, if you ever tried to give him credit (like I’m doing here) he always said it’s not about him…it’s about ‘us’ as a collective, and that’s a lesson I try to bring to classroom as well. I hardly ever even think about it as me ‘teaching’ anymore - it is all of us just learning together. You might wonder how that’s even different, but it is. And that’ll have to wait for another post…this is starting to feel like it is Academy length!
Thankfully they don’t follow me on social media, as I have drawn a lot of ideas from my own children. In the span of two years, our daughter has moved to Calgary on her own, managed to survive Biology and Pharmacology classes, massively improved her snowboarding skills, and now is seriously learning rock climbing. There was no shortage of texts, phone calls, and many tears from both of us as we navigated those unchartered waters together. Our son finished high school, which marked the end of my kids carpooling and being my company every day for literally 20 years. I wrote about the joy of his provincial football win and the crushing defeat in the provincial hockey final. And then he left for Calgary too, and I have had many thoughts about empty-nesting and the true grief that comes from actually feeling alone for the first time.
Now I just draw ideas from the two of them living together. And bickering. Like one of the texts I got yesterday, “Mom, he’s being an actual ass.”
Ah, good times.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that even as adults, these two will still provide me with things to ponder and write about.
And of course, I have drawn many ideas from the other kids in my life, the ever-changing students in my classroom. Without getting too sappy, I couldn’t imagine wanting to do anything other than work with young people. Plus I’ve been at this long enough that there is a predictability to their unpredictable teen dispositions! But still, there is something every week that I can reflect on, and know that I’ve learned something new from them too.
900 words! Pretty quick they’ll be playing the “Get Off The Stage Your Thank You Speech Is Too Long” music. So one last shout out. It’s to the music recommendations that I get. Not only have they made it into the content of quite a few blog posts, it’s what’s playing in my ears every Sunday night as I try to focus and write. Some inspire me. Some make me sad. But they all help me think.
So that’s it for this week. Always hoping I’ll be here to write again next Sunday. Maybe even for 75 more lol. Have a good one!
A lot of stuff going on this past week. Feeling like a rollercoaster and couldn’t really put anything together in a cohesive way, so pulled the plug on that idea after a while and decided to just include a few recent posts from some of my favorite books and Twitter follows. And since March has come in like a lion, here’s to it going out like a lamb!
On twitter check out: @gcouros @matthaig1 @najwazebian and on Insta j.warren.welch
“Finding happiness isn’t a matter of creating a perfectly even-keeled experience of the world, where no sadness ever intrudes. Instead it means riding the waves of joy, and trying to find our way back upward when we’ve been knocked down. In renewal we find a kind of resilience, an ability to bounce back from difficulty by reigniting the optimism and hope that rises within us when we believe that joy will return.” Ingrid Fetell Lee
“…it doesn’t mean tough times will not happen again, or you won’t fall back into a negative mentality. Falling back is a reality. It is about not getting stuck. I love this little shift in thinking from Marc and Angel: ‘Being positive does not mean ignoring the negative. Being positive means overcoming the negative. There is a big difference between the two.’ There can always be a reason not to move forward. But there can still be a reason to keep going. I try to focus on this simple mantra when I struggle: Go through it or grow through it. #MindsetMatters” George Couros
“You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at a baby’s face as she lies asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view from a high place and not assess the likelihood of dying from falling. There are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra-large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late-night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere.” Matt Haig
“Here’s the thing about people with good hearts. They give you excuses when you don’t explain yourself. They accept apologies you don’t give. They see the best in you when you don’t need them to. At your worst, they lift you up, even if it means putting their priorities aside. The word ‘busy’ does not exist in their dictionary. They make time, even when you don’t. And you wonder why they’re the most sensitive people. You wonder why they’re the most caring people. You wonder why they are willing to give so much of themselves with no expectation in return. You wonder why their existence is not so essential to your well-being. It’s because they don’t make you work hard for the attention they give you. They accept the love they think they’ve earned, and you accept the love you think you’re entitled to. Let me tell you something. Fear the day when a good heart gives up on you. Our skies don’t become gray out of nowhere. Our sunshine does not allow the darkness to take over for no reason. A heart does not turn cold unless it’s been treated with coldness for a while.” Najwa Zebian
“In the darkest days
it becomes even more
that you find
you may possess
and shine it
as brightly as you can,
not just so you can see
but so those around you
can find their way
J. Warren Welch
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