When our two kids were younger, they participated in the Kids of Steel triathlon each year. It seems like a crazy idea, little six year olds swimming and biking and running! And it kind of is, when you consider there is even a 5-and-under category (although they don’t do the swim.) We never forced them to do it. They were just outdoorsy kids and spent a lot of time biking and running, so those two sections were an easy fit. Our daughter was always a competitor and just loved to participate. Our son, two years younger, did it for the little bag of gummy candies that they got at the finish line…and that worked as motivation for more years than it legitimately should have lol.
We encouraged our kids to try their best, to swim hard, bike fast, and run! But one lesson was always clear: it’s not about first, it’s about finishing.
It might be a shrunken down version of a triathlon, but it is NOT easy. The eight year olds swim 100m, bike for 5km, and then finish with a 1.5km run. I would suspect that a good portion of the adult population might even struggle at those distances! I always forgot to take pictures before the event, which was unfortunate since the ones afterwards always had exhausted and (frequently) tear-stained faces. But there was a sense of accomplishment amongst the physical pain. They never placed first, but not once in seven years did either of our kids give up and not cross the finish line.
I’m thinking of triathlon today because my legs hurt. Like the I-can’t-bend-down-to-put-my-shoes-on hurt. I have gone to a few crossfit sessions at a fantastic new gym in town, and it’s totally my own fault that I am out of shape and have sore muscles. (The rowing machine was a killer.) We work through stations as hard as we can, as quickly as we can. The best word that comes to mind is RIGOROUS.
It’s a funny word, rigorous. I googled it. Merriam Webster’s top definitions are ‘a harsh inflexibility…unyielding…strictness…severity…cruelty...a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable.’ Yeah, it’s got a negative connotation to it, FOR SURE. Rigorous training. Rigorous obstacles. Rigorous landscapes. So why does rigour keep showing up in things I read about education? Why would we want learning to be harsh, unyielding, or severe?
That’s a good question, and a more complex answer than one post to do it justice. But more unfortunate is that when we try to make things more rigorous, it usually just means adding more questions to the assignment, making the test longer, extending the word count on that essay. I admit it. I’ve done those things, thinking that it was making it more challenging for students. But if the level of thinking isn’t increasing, and all those questions never get past the most basic regurgitation of facts, it’s simply more repetitive, not more rigorous.
I saw this on Twitter recently, and it really stuck. “Most people think of rigor as simply meaning harder. It’s not harder; it’s deeper thinking.” Dr. Bill Daggett
This week, we were given a goal-setting task at our staff meeting. I was challenged to push my own thinking past getting the easy answers. I can tell you, I didn’t like it. Not one bit. And my administrator can attest to the fact that I was likely a bit pouty about it. It was frustrating and it was difficult, and when I was ready to quit the response was, “You’re not allowed. You said that it was important, so you have to challenge yourself to stick with it.” Dammit. Rigour.
I’m pretty sure my kids felt the same way many times in those triathlons. As a parent, when they were struggling, I cheered a lot. I ran beside them when needed. I reminded them that they just had to finish. As teachers and administrators, we do those same things in our schools too. Our students need us to, especially when things get tough, when their thought processes are challenged, when the easy answer isn't allowed. For me, getting those goals written so that they were both significant and meaningful was a rigorous process, and a deeper one, and it was one that I appreciated when it was done, just like the pride of crossing the finish line.
p.s. There were no tears, I swear, but Mr. Kirk, I’ll be looking for my bag of gummy candies on Monday morning!
In preparation for a project, we are reusing old tri-fold boards for our displays, so that involves recycling the old information and leaving a paper shrapnel trail to the blue bin! (I’m sure the janitor can’t wait until we are done!) But the other day, staying after the noon bell had rung, I saw two students looking at the pile that they had just ripped off and discussing it. Try to picture it: two 12 year olds sifting through a Biology 20 project on the ethics of parental selection in genetic modification in their children. Not easy concepts!
As I was listening in, they asked me to clarify a chart. Knowing that it was completely on its own and taken out of context, we gave it shot. Essentially, the statistics listed the traits that parents felt were ethically acceptable to genetically change in their child, and the ones that they felt were not. Interestingly, intelligence and health made the top of both lists, so that took a bit of mental wrangling to explain, even on my part! Near the bottom of the ethically UNACCEPTABLE list was kindness, and that’s when they came up with something absolutely mind-blowing.
It went somewhat like this: Actually, I think if I could change one thing, I’d change kindness. Because if your child is kind, then it affects all the other ones. If you are kind, then you see people for who they are, and not just their attractiveness. You don’t worry about weight, because you know that everyone is different. And if you are kind, you value intelligence and work hard. Kindness affects everything except health.
While over half of these surveyed parents would make their kids smarter or healthier, this student took the least-chosen trait and made a compelling argument on how it would be most beneficial to that child’s life. And she’s right. I don’t have to scan far in my twitter feed to find a plethora of information, research, and straight-up-inspirational quotes that address the importance of kindness.
I think this last one speaks to me the most. I’m pretty self-aware of who I am and my teaching and learning styles, and being kind and treating people in an honest and respectful manner is NOT a weakness. In fact, when people use their voice to insult and humiliate, that speaks to their weaknesses and insecurities, not mine. But I admit, it took me much too long to get there.
So as I spent the next day really pondering their response, I think they were wrong in one respect: kindness absolutely affects your health too. The old adage ‘it’s better to give than receive’ has scientifically been proven. It’s the reason for the success of the WE Day movement. And that’s why I try to get my students involved in small projects whenever they pop up throughout the year, because it feels good to do good. The flip side is that when you don’t choose kindness, you default to a myriad of negative responses like resentment, hostility, and bitterness. Without a doubt, they take their toll. “’You’re saying that the way you talk or don’t talk affects your body? It could kill you?’ The short answer is yes. The longer answer suggests that the negative feelings we hold in, the emotional pain we suffer, and the constant battering we endure as we stumble our way through unhealthy conversations slowly eat away at our health.” (Crucial Conversations) It took me too long to get there too.
Since this whole post has been other people’s thoughts, I’ll end with one more from Danny Steele: “We all need to vent from time to time…including me. But I hope my venting never turns into a pattern of complaining. I hope I’m never responsible for bringing negative energy into the school. I hope I never wallow in self-pity. I hope I always keep things in perspective.”
I hope that for me too.
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
(BTW, great coaching quotes on Twitter @CoachMotto)
As a kid, I skated for hours on our slough, dodging the tips of cattails poking through the bumpy ice, pretending I was a hockey player. Stick handling, shooting, scoring, on my own or battling it out with one of my two sisters. Back then, being a hockey player wasn’t even a dream for me. I was totally oblivious to the fact that women didn’t play hockey in the 1970s and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. We were on a farm far from town, and not even my older brother played. But every chance we had, we were out there.
I guess the idea never really went away, and as the times changed so did the plausibility of actually getting to play. For real, I mean. The year I turned 33, I decided to take ‘hockey basics for women’ at the Gemini arena. I put hockey skates on for the first time. I bought myself a stick. And I was hooked. To make a long story short, I joined our local women’s team and played for five years. I sucked. Like, I was really, really not very good. There is no doubt that I probably looked like a slightly less animated version of poor Bambi when he first steps onto the ice, with a gangly baby giraffe style of skating, and eternally grateful there is no video evidence of my foray onto the ice. But when I am old and grey, these will be some of my favorite memories, hands-down.
I think there are a lot of connections to learning there: student choice, engagement, resilience, passion, lifelong learning…but this post wasn’t going to be about me lol. Getting back on track here!
Last night I was watching my son play in a Midget (16 to 18 year olds) playoff game. I was trying to pay attention to the action, but I found myself distracted by the opposition coach yelling at the referee. Canadian hockey. What a shocker, right? He yelled “Offside!” every time the puck crossed the blue line. Every. Single. Time. I learned enough in those five years of playing to understand the infractions and penalties; sometimes it was offside and was called, and sometimes it wasn’t, but he yelled regardless. He yelled about slashing, and tripping, and every time there was a body check. At one point, if I could have found a pen in my purse, I was tempted to keep track of every criticism he yelled onto the ice. Because it struck me that he was spending so much time looking for, and calling for penalties, that he was doing very little to no coaching.
As we have been working through our heritage fair projects in grade seven, I’ve tried to be cognizant about doing exponentially more coaching than critiquing with students. If I am only concerned about pointing out what is wrong with the project’s writing or design or spelling, then I’m a copy editor and not much different than that coach. But if I am thinking LIKE a coach, then there is side-by-side learning…I am asking questions, giving feedback, helping students to identify their own errors, and encouraging, encouraging, encouraging. One of the things that I really like about the structure of our progress report comments, is that it asks me as a teacher to identify student strengths, area(s) for improvement, and THE NEXT STEPS to get there. When I was learning how to skate again at 33, I didn’t have a lot of strengths and there was a giant list of things I needed to improve. The crash course I took was fantastic, but it was my teammates whose continual on-the-spot, on-the-ice advice helped me with the next steps which really allowed me to grow. "Stay along the boards and be ready for the pass...when the puck drops, drop it back...skate in at an angle for the check...get in front of the net and keep your stick on the ice!" With another playoff game tonight, I’ll be cheering for my son and hoping for a win, but I’ll likely also be drawn to watching whether the coaches coach, or just criticize, too. Go Bruins!
"It's amazing how a life can turn around with some encouragement, some support, and someone willing to say, 'I believe you CAN do what you've set your mind on doing.'" Michael Oher
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
I’ve been pulling more late-nighters in the past week than I have since my children were babies or I was at university in the 1990’s. Writing comments for progress reports? Nope. The flu virus invade our house? Nope. Binge-watching the second season of Riverdale on Netflix? Tempting, but that’s not it either.
It’s the Olympics. Normally, I love watching the Olympics, and the winter Olympics in particular, but this time there is a corresponding fourteen hour time difference between Saskatchewan and Pyeongchang, South Korea. Not great for sleep patterns, but it’s now February break and I can stay up as late as I want to! Last night as I was watching the final two runs of the men’s bobsled - spoiler alert, our Canadian guys win gold – I got stuck on one point that the announcer made. Not the part where she repeatedly compared it to four guys crammed into a bathtub. That just got annoying. It was the part where she said that any errors happening in the top part of the track are tripled in their effect as the sled hurtles toward the finish line. Tripled! And she was right. As a sled bumped against the side in the first turn, that .01 second error translated into a larger and larger time difference at each interval, and in a sport measured in hundreds of seconds, every single point matters.
Of course, it made me think of education and our students. Early childhood interventions. Reading to your preschooler. Interacting with your toddler. Not drinking during pregnancy. Or even before that, taking folic acid in anticipation of even having a baby. All of these attempts are like the bobsledder trying to keep the line through that first turn…and when we bump the side, the effect down the road is likewise magnified.
Those are my darkest times as an educator: when you feel like so many factors have come together before you ever even see a student, and wonder if anything you do THIS ENTIRE YEAR will have a positive effect. In that way, it’s not like an exciting sporting event at all. It’s like an earthquake causing a tsunami and the inevitability that the wave will come and nothing will dissipate it and destruction is unavoidable and certain. That’s more accurate. I have mostly taught in the middle years and high school, and it can feel like there is nothing to try, or that hasn’t already been tried, with a student. Nothing that can fix those errors from the top of the track, nothing that will get us through the next curve, nothing that will help to make up lost time.
I had a conversation the other day that not only brought me some solace, but actually gave me hope. The gist of it was this: you owe each student a year of learning. You don’t have to take a student and get them from a grade 3 reading level to a grade 9 reading level in one year, but you should take that student from a grade 3 to a grade 4 in that year. It’s tempting to look at where a student SHOULD be, instead of where they ARE, and I get that. But it’s not constructive. The bobsled driver knows every turn of that track and where she needs to go. But in that moment, she focuses on one thing. Where. She. Is.
As a teacher, there is no doubt that you will use many interventions and adaptations and adjustments in that year together. That’s what the bobsledders do too. I mean, there really isn’t an option to quit when your sled is hurtling along at 140km/h…you could pull the brake, but science says that’s a bad idea. I could throw up my hands and make excuses as to why that student isn’t learning, but educationally that’s a bad idea too. If I owe students a year of learning, then I need to be like that driver. When I make an error, try to correct it. Work even harder at keeping the line through that next bend. Drive smooth. Navigate the curve. And in the really tough days, just keep it on the ice.
p.s. the Paralympics are just starting now, and no March break here. Late nights, here we come again!!
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
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, it's 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.
Happy and proud.
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 birth certificates, 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.
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
kahvia: coffee, the life force of Finlanders
hauska syntymäpäivää: happy birthday, and aside from counting to ten, about the only Finnish words I used an a regular basis. Okay, like twice a year when Mummu and Poppa had their birthdays, but I practiced over and over till I had it right!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy...okay website template!