“What did you get to do today?”
I’m not sure if Lori Jeschke, our former Director of Education was the first person to ask this question. But she was the first person that I heard ask that question.
Not, what did you DO today?
Not, what did you HAVE to do today?
But what did you GET to do today?
What a difference that one simple word makes.
Growth mindset is something that we talk about a lot: that the way we think about things or frame them when we talk to ourselves is important.
I’m partway through watching “The Last Dance” that details Michael Jordan and the Bulls quest for six championships. (I don’t know what happens! No one tell me!!) But in a plot twist, after his dad dies, Michael retires from basketball to be a rookie in professional baseball.
But as he says in the documentary, being away from basketball gave him a chance to adjust to a life without his dad.
*here’s the growth mindset and resiliency part*
He says, “I gotta play catch-up, but I’m gonna do it.”
When we face adversity in our lives, how we look at it and how we frame it to ourselves is crucial. There is a delicate balance to not tip into toxic positivity, but it’s clear that having a positive outlook is imperative to weathering tough times. And the last 18 months has been tough.
A social media post caught my attention this weekend and puts it more succinctly: “There’s a reason you feel like absolute sh*t right now.”
“The psychological reason for this has something to do with ‘surge capacity.’ Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems - mental and physical - that humans draw on for shirt-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters. The issue is that our surge capacity only allows us to adapt to major disasters if they are temporary. However with the pandemic, the disaster stretches out indefinitely. The emergency phase has now become chronic. So because this is going on, and on, and on….your surge capacity is depleted and it needs to be renewed.”
I spend too much time on Twitter following COVID charts and forecasts already and have heard a lot about surge capacity and system failures. If I didn’t feel like sh*t before I read that little tidbit, I do now.
Ahhh, but here’s the list of things we can do to feel better.
“Accept that life is different right now. Expect less from yourself. Recognize the different aspects of grief. Look for activities, new and old, that continue to fulfill you. Focus on maintaining and strengthening important relationships.”
Yes! So important!
“Build regular practices into your life that promote resilience such as better sleep, good nutrition, exercise, meditation, self-compassion and saying no.”
Okay…also important! Going to try harder with these ones.
Right now, everyone is tired. I didn’t write this blog last week and was determined not to let it go two weeks in a row. But I am tired too. COVID has sapped our mental and physical systems. There is no doubt.
But I have also seen resilience. Growth mindset. Looking for the positives in crappy situations. Extra-curr starting back up. Masks back on. Excitement to be back in classrooms, and a fervent hope that we can stay there.
And always the important growth mindset question: What do I get to do today?
This summer we went to visit a 93 year old relative in Prince Albert. The conversations we had are worth a blog post of its own! So many amazing stories (his memory is astonishing!) from a life well-lived.
But that’s not what this is about.
This is about a McDonald’s coffee stop on our way home. Not the coffee per se, but the cashier.
It was a young man at the till, and he was wearing a button. It said, simply: I’m new and I’m trying.
I told him that I was starting a new role this fall, and that if he was able to get a new button, could I have his to wear?
He shrugged, said “Sure!” and handed it to me.
I wore that button very proudly for my first days at work last week.
I got quite a few laughs, one person that said my subliminal messaging was making them crave fries, and there was one sincere question wondering if I was also manager at McDonald’s now.
It gave me a bit of cover as I was fielding questions and learning all sorts of new tasks. On more than one occasion, I just pointed to the button and smiled.
But it also gave me a chance to remind the people that noticed it, that we are all learners…
…that when you learn something new, you won’t be good at it…that you won’t know everything that you need to know right away…that learning something new requires struggle, vulnerability, and courage.
Or like the meme that passed my timeline today so eloquently said: Be brave enough to suck at something new!
I love learning. I love challenges. I love that learning comes with challenges. But it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves, and others, that challenges in learning are not only okay, but part of a growth mindset we should try to maintain.
It doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves that we are going to mess up along the way.
That we should grant ourselves some grace when we do, and extend that grace to others when they mess up too.
One thing I always stress to students on the first day is that if you get to the end of the year without having made any mistakes, then you haven’t learned anything, so make a lot of them!
I’m not wearing the button anymore but I’m keeping the lesson in my head and in my heart:
I’m new and I’m trying!
This week, let’s remember that in some way, everyone we encounter is doing the same.
Have a great one!!
Well, this feels like old times.
10pm on a Sunday night, and just starting to think about writing something! But since it’s the last weekend of the school-year-we-won’t-soon-forget, I’ve got some thoughts I need to get down on paper.
My favorite saying for quite a while now comes from Brene Brown: “There is no courage without vulnerability.”
We are asking students to be vulnerable all the time: in everything that they say, do, create….everything. Learning something new requires them to put themselves out there. To be brave. I think that as adults, we get competent, then complacent, in our daily routines and forget just how exposed that can feel.
Or we don’t allow ourselves to show those vulnerabilities to others.
We should remind ourselves once in a while.
This past Friday, I went golfing. I have only golfed twice in my life, so although I understand the gist of the game, I have zero skills! Zero.
And that is not a hyperbole.
Thankfully, I don’t get perturbed easily by looking silly. But I do get frustrated when my understanding of what to do doesn’t match with my ability to actually do it! I forget that learning something new is hard. It takes time.
Then today, I did something that required me to be EXTREMELY vulnerable.
I jumped out of an airplane.
Technically, I didn’t jump. I was attached to my tandem partner and he somersaulted us out into the atmosphere at 11,000 feet, where we were in free-fall for 6000 feet before he pulled the parachute and we soared the rest of the way to the ground.
It. Was. Something. Else.
(And it’s a whole other blog post of how amazing the whole experience was!)
But the weird thing was, the golfing was the harder thing to do.
I borrowed a set of miscellaneous clubs from the P.E. room, asked some questions, and smashed at the balls the best that I could. I had no idea what I was doing.
For the sky dive, the instructor talked me through everything that was going to happen before we even left the hangar. At the plane on the ground, I got in and practised the exact motions that I needed to do. Once we were in the air, he kept me appraised as to our altitude and repeated the instructions once more. Then, we did the tandem jump literally tied together. He was in control, but let me guide our steering at points.
Sure, the risks to sky diving were immeasurably higher, but at no point did I feel like I didn’t understand what was happening. The golfing was just for fun so there wasn’t a lot of pressure, but I still made a ton of self-deprecating jokes to cover up how clueless I was.
This year COVID put us all in new situations. Sometimes it probably felt like my golf experience with shifting SHA goalposts and many, many questions.
But then it also felt like sky diving too.
No, not the earth-plunging in a free-falling feeling.
The one where we harnessed ourselves to each other. Where we did the best we could to talk each other through it. Where we rode it out to the end together, landing on our butts in a bumpy pasture airstrip.
I mean. . . where we made it to June 30!!!
We don’t know what September will bring. And right now, I’m okay with that. There is no courage without vulnerability, and this fall will need us to vulnerable in new ways again as we (hopefully) transition out of COVID and find our way again.
I hope that everyone has a great last few days to finish off 2020-2021, and a relaxing and wonderful summer ahead.
I didn’t need to look up the etymology of the word “milestone” to guess that they were originally, quite literally, stones placed to mark miles along a road. (But I did. They were lol.)
I hit a milestone last Saturday when it was my 50th birthday, but it was only yesterday that someone used that word to mark the event. It physically takes you back a bit….not like a jolt of electricity, more like an awkward pause as your brain wrestles with a problem.
Fifty? I’m fifty?
That can’t be right.
There is no possible way that is correct.
I don’t know what age my brain thinks that I am, but it most definitely does not start with a five!
That brain hiccup happened once more, this time on the actual day. We were standing in the kitchen when my mom pulled out a 50 candle. I’m not usually a slow processor, but there were several long blinks as I stared at the number.
Oh my god, I’m fifty.
I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.
It doesn’t matter what age you are, there is always someone who is going to say, “Oh I wish I was still <that age>” and someone who is simultaneously thanking their lucky stars that they aren’t <that age> yet.
I think the best comment I got was from a colleague who said, “Didn’t you turn 50 two years ago already?” I’ll be honest, that one did hit like a jolt of electricity!
For the most part, I don’t put a lot of stock in these milestone ages, or obsessively count any age for that matter. There were multiple years in my 30’s that I’d have to do the math to remember how old I was! I think age is a social construct that was invented at some point to celebrate the rare accomplishment of growing old. It’s just a number and doesn’t define who I am or what I am capable of doing.
I have not taken the number for granted either. My cousin Lisa, who I have written about a lot here, is never far from my thoughts or the fact that she did not get to see her 49th birthday, let alone her 50th.
So I make short work of any commiseration I might be feeling about the number and carry on.
I’ve also written frequently here about running. It’s a flexible metaphor that can apply to a lot of topics! The first time I told someone about my goal of running a half-marathon was four years ago. It was scary to say it out loud, but sharing that made it seem more believable. But it seemed like every time I would get closer to pursuing it, I’d end up with a different injury that sidelined it.
Or a global pandemic would hit and throw everything off track…
This past year, the goal of running a half-marathon became something I was ABSOLUTELY going to do before I turned 50. Because I can guarantee that each year that passed where it didn’t happen, it was only going to get harder and harder.
Even up to a few weeks ago, despite having signed up months in advance and committed myself to the distance, I wasn’t sure I could do it. The same chronic injuries were popping up and creating new ones in their wake.
If you know me at all, I am a bit stubborn. I don’t like to quit. And although I am getting better at it, I sometimes find it difficult to admit when I need help. . .but I did. . . two different chiropractors, a podiatrist, and a couple visits to Brainsport for shoe advice later.
Sunday morning, the day after my birthday, I got up and ate breakfast at 4:30am. I tried to sleep a little more on the couch, but finally gave up and got dressed. There’s not much to write about the run itself. It’s one foot in front of the other. Repeat.
Because I’d gotten help (and did the damn stretching exercises) I was almost pain-free. I didn’t have to walk. I didn’t quit.
I did have to do the last 7km right into a 30km/h wind and it felt like I wasn’t moving at all, but I was!
Two hours and fourteen minutes, and 21.1km later, I had done it.
Running a half-marathon was a milestone that happened because I had set a goal, committed to it, made a plan to achieve it, problem-solved my way through obstacles and injuries, and then slowly built up my stamina to being able to complete the distance.
Fifty was a milestone that happened because a certain amount of time had passed. A half-century’s worth of rotating around the sun.
They were very different.
And they were both important.
I hope I do get a half-century more. I’m starting a new list of milestones to hit.
And finishing a full year of teaching in a pandemic is top of the list. Hang in there everyone!
I grew up on a farm. We didn’t have a cabin or a lake to travel to, so May long weekend plans always involved putting in the huge garden that fed our family of six. And even though the years of hilling potatoes, shelling peas, and weeding out the carrots gave me plenty of practice at it, it did not give me a passion for it.
I’ll do it, but I don’t really like it.
The same is true for the rest of the yard too. I mainly grow perennials, as they are pretty low maintenance and they just magically pop out of the ground every year! Voila! Hello, lilies! I buy a couple of flower planters to put in some pots out front, and that’s about it. Low maintenance.
Except if you garden at all, you know that low-maintenance doesn’t mean no-maintenance.
So here are a couple of gardening tasks I did today and what it made me think about…because there’s nothing to do but think when you start pulling quack grass out of EVERYWHERE!!!
1. Let’s start with that. Quack grass. I don’t think there is a more invasive weed in our yard. You can pull out one clump and the root system that comes with it can be a foot long. No exaggeration. And if any roots are left, more of it will grow. It is sooooo hard to get rid of. (What are some things or ideas that I am continually trying to purge? What are the root causes?)
2. I had to cut back raspberry branches. I’m not sure if there was winter-kill or if that just happens after awhile to raspberries, but there were obviously dead branches with a ton of fresh growth at the base. (What are some things I need to prune away to give new ideas a chance? Ineffective practices? Outdated classics?)
3. Vines go where they want to go! They’ll also climb up almost anything, especially the dried vines from the year before. I transplanted and redirected some vines that were going wonky. (What are some things that have been successful that we can build on? What foundations have been set, that we just need to redirect and refocus?)
4. I got an apple tree from my son for Mother’s Day and since there is no frost in the forecast anymore, I planted it. (Apparently the tree did not come with the manual labor to get it in the ground!) The hole had to be 2x the width of the pot and 1.5x the depth, and the instructions literally told me to massage the roots before planting. (What am I doing to prepare students for new skills or content? Am I boxing students in, or am I creating flexible enough conditions for growth to happen?)
5. I admit it - I buy seed tape when I can! If you’re not familiar with it, instead of buying seeds in a packet, you can get some “tape” where seeds are stuck to it and evenly spaced out. It makes it much easier to plant and lessens the amount of thinning you have to do later. (Am I providing adaptations and supports so that all students find success? Am I willing to accept feedback and support myself?)
6. And I did a lot of raking. Of cat poop. Because even if you have 40 acres of land for your cats to do their business in, they will do it right behind the house, in the small raised bed area for gardening. (Not sure this one needs any analogy…)
As much as none of these things brought me joy today, I know that the results will bear fruit (literally and figuratively) later this summer. And so it is with learning and education as well. It’s why we do the hard work day after day, year after year.
If you were at a lake this weekend, I hope that you enjoyed the chance to have a few beverages and relax. If you were planting your own garden, or building that deck, or catching up on that book you’ve been wanting to read, I hope that the fresh air and sunshine did you some good too! Last week of May ahead…next up…June.
p.s. It just started raining for the first time this spring. Now I’m smiling. Let it all grow!!
A marathon gets used in analogies a lot, and for good reason. A marathon is 42kms, not a short distance for a drive, let alone to complete on your own two feet.
I have no idea what percentage of people will finish a marathon in their life, but it won’t be many. That’s also when I frequently take stock of how amazing it was that Terry Fox ran a MARATHON EVERY DAY THAT HE WAS RUNNING ACROSS CANADA.
When the marathon analogy plays out, whether we are talking about making it to the end of this COVID time, or getting through to the end of a school year with +32 weather in the forecast, or trying to do both of those things simultaneously (hello Monday, here’s looking at you!) the basic understanding is that it’s friggen hard.
Often we think of the middle as the most difficult part of the run. In the beginning, you have lots of energy and are feeling good. By the end, you can see the finish line. You can power through because you the end is in sight. The middle is usually the tough part: muscles cramping, breath hitching, pace slowing.
The middle is hard, no doubt. But there is a rhythm in the middle too. It’s a one-foot-after-the-other mentality that can take the focus off of the other pains…you just settle in and do it. You get slower and everything feels harder, but you’re still moving forward.
The end might be easier in terms of seeing the goal, but the problem is that you’ve got nothing left to give. Nothing physically. Nothing mentally. Hopefully you’re still moving, but at this point, sometimes it’s just too much and you feel like you might quit.
Last week, I had a terrible run.
I stopped with a kilometer to go to make some adjustments to my shoes. Started up. I stopped again. Adjusted some more. Started up.
Nothing that I did worked, and so the last 300 meters were walking.
With my shoes off.
In my sock feet.
On a gravel road.
It was deflating and frustrating, for sure. It was not the ending to the run that I wanted. But I made it home, and it was the farthest that I have ever gone. Ever!
I’ve problem solved my running issues for the last month. Talking to people, tying the laces differently, getting metatarsal arches, new shoes, annnnnnnd although each gives a slight reprieve, I finally needed to admit that I needed help and made an appointment with a podiatrist.
As I was walking in my socks, I thought about how it was a perfect metaphor for our first full-time COVID school year. We are all in our sock feet by now. We’ve stopped a few times and now we’re walking. We can see the end, and we are still moving forward. But it’s taken a toll and we are definitely going to feel this later when we have a chance to ice that foot and roll out the sore muscles.
Everyone I know has worked so hard problem-solving all the issues this year presented: heavy decisions that had to be made for safety, learning new ways of connecting with our students both online and in the room together, and so much, much, much more.
The May long weekend is often the last signpost of a school year, interspersed with track meets and year end activities, that show we are almost there. Although we don’t have those events, the muscle memory in our bodies knows that is where we are. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m tired.
So if you’re down to your sock feet like me, make sure to connect with your colleagues and others around you for support over these next few weeks. Ask for help if you need it. Most importantly, take time to take care of yourself…and we’ll see this through to the end together!
Have a great week everyone! Stay cool!!
Patrik Laine is in a slump.
If you follow hockey, you will know who Patrik Laine is. He was drafted 2nd overall in 2016, with Auston Matthews going number one. He helped Finland win gold in the World Juniors and then played with the men’s team that same year, winning tournament MVP. He was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets and played there until he was traded to the Blue Jackets in January.
He is a very good player. A great player.
But he is in a scoring drought.
“I try to hide it as much as I can, but sometimes you just absolutely can’t. When you’re a player who’s used to scoring goals, getting points, expecting a lot from yourself, it’s the worst situation you can have when you’re not producing. So, it’s tough, but at the same time, you know, you’ve just got to work the same way (and) even harder to get out of it.”
Yesterday I posted on facebook that I had gone for a run.
The run wasn’t unusual in and of itself, except it was the first one in two weeks where I didn’t have to stop and walk a bit.
Where I didn’t stress about the slow pace.
The crappy distance.
Where I didn’t fixate on what the slow pace and crappy distance were doing to my running averages on my app.
Now I’m no Patrik Laine, but I feel that. I have been in a huuuuuge running slump for a couple of weeks and despite my best efforts to will or wish it away, it stuck around. Again, not Patrik Laine over here, but I have set some running goals and the struggle was very much real.
The worst part is that my running time is my thinking time, yet all I was thinking about was how bad each run went. I didn’t notice the animal tracks that are always a part of my route. I didn’t see the subtle greening that was happening in the trees and pastures around me. I didn’t even stop to visit with the cows. (Okay, usually I accidentally startle the cows which makes a mini-stampede that startles me, and it’s mostly me telling myself out loud that WE ARE ALL FINE.)
The worst WORST part was that I paid no attention to the sunsets.
I live for those sunsets.
Perhaps in a serendipitous twist, the app didn’t turn off after Friday night’s run. When I pulled it up the next day, it said it took me 13 hours and 22 minutes to go 7km.
Thirteen hours and twenty-two loooooong minutes.
I deleted it, of course, because it would kill my app averages, although I’m no Olympic athlete and really, what does it matter??? But it was also oddly freeing. I had lost sight of the myriad reasons that I was out there, none of which had anything to do with the run statistics on that app.
I had lost sight of my why.
When I was out there Saturday night, looking at the beautiful sunset, listening to the cows talk, and getting into a running rhythm, I caught a glimpse of that ‘why’ again. And it had nothing to do with distances or pace or total time.
So many times in education, the focus is on those final numbers, not on the experience and what we took away from it. Honestly, as I was deleting that run from my phone, I suddenly could relate to how kids feel if they bomb an exam in a class that averages marks, or get a zero in something and then see what it does to their final grade.
It decimates it.
For me, I just deleted the run. But what recourses do our students have? How do we determine their overall success? What part do they have in setting their own goals and determining what success looks like for themselves?
As we begin our last semester of this year, it’s a good reminder for me to keep that ‘why’ front and center. And Patrik Laine, I hope you remember yours and find the net again…hopefully in time for playoffs!
This past week, I got my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Like many others, I put my post-vac pic on social media.
Like many others, I was surprised at how happy and thankful and emotional I was.
What I didn’t post, was that I also felt very guilty.
It was a series of fortunate events that allowed for me to get vaccinated on the first day I was eligible: That morning, I had posted a picture of a pin my daughter had given me in support of front-line workers during COVID. Someone from town commented that there was a clinic in Delisle that day with a wish that all teachers could get vaccinated. I knew there wouldn’t be appointments but went quickly after work to put my name on a list in case there were extras at the end of the day. I had forgotten to ask what the “end of the day” meant for them (it was imminent) and when I walked back in to ask, I was ushered in to get a vaccine.
It was doubly fortunate that when they asked who lived locally and could find a few other last-minute eligible people for vaccines, only two of us shot up our hands. I knew that Barb, a fellow teacher, and Kirk, my principal, were still around. They were both able to get vaccinated on the spot too.
And yet the guilt.
I saw three posts from people who said they felt grateful to be vaccinated, but being able to work from home, had publicly wished that a teacher or other vulnerable worker could have gotten their dose first.
Even though I’m at school every day surrounded by students, I still felt that. Throughout Saskatchewan, there are classrooms that are physically smaller than mine, crowded with more students than mine, and staff that are immuno-compromised and at higher risk. Plus, it's hard to navigate advocating for teachers without dismissing all the other front-line workers who also should be vaccinated. Two RCMP officers got their last-minute vaccines right behind me. And they should.
Yet a myriad of reasons that, despite my own risks, I felt bad that I now had a layer of protection that few of my colleagues have.
The next morning I woke to the news on Twitter that Victor Thunderchild, an educator from Prince Albert had died from COVID. So many people on my fb or Twitter knew Victor personally. I did not. We only followed each other here, and I only knew him in the cursory way you get to know what people believe in from reading their posts.
I had liked his last post a few weeks ago. It said: Thank you @PremierScottMoe for not thinking we’re essential workers, as I sit in the @PAHealthDept Vic hospital recovering from Covid-19. Get my fellow teachers vaccinated, before this happens to anyone else.
It stood out for two reasons.
First, I hadn’t seen many other Saskatchewan teachers posting about having COVID and definitely not about being hospitalized it. By this point, I’ve known multiple teachers that have had it, but his was the first that hit my timeline to bring the gravity of this virus home again.
Second, he straight-up called out Premier Moe for not considering teachers as front line workers. It was one day later that Moe gave a speech to an energy crowd reiterating that prioritizing front line workers would slow down their vaccination plan, yet in the next breath said they would be looking at some workers and larger worksites in “this industry (energy) and other industries” with no mention of teachers.
“Get my fellow teachers vaccinated, before this happens to anyone else.”
The tributes to Victor speak to what an amazing educator he was, and it shows the breadth and depth of his impact across generations and cultures, and in so many educational spheres. What a tremendous loss this is for all of Saskatchewan.
All so pointless. Needless. Unnecessary.
And if we do not prioritize vaccinating teachers and school staff, his will not be the only death that we will collectively mourn.
Staff and students have all done amazing to mitigate the effects of COVID in our schools so far, and it is something I will remember long after I leave the teaching profession and this virus is but a memory. That's part of the reason I write these every week for myself - to remember.
But our successes will not last.
These variants are different in their contagion and impact on younger people, yet somehow that is being lost. Over a year later, I can’t even put a number to how many times a day I have to remind students to pull up their mask or wear it properly. What makes it especially frightening is when you know they have not been following SHA advice, and that their reckless decisions put us all one domino-effect virus-spread away from hundreds of people put at grave risk.
Every. Single. Day. That. We. Delay.
Tomorrow morning, teachers, EAs, office staff, janitors, bus drivers, and students will all come into contact with each other. They may also be coming into contact with COVID. We cannot wait for the ages to drop. By the time it reaches our youngest teachers, it may be too late. This virus doesn’t care if you are 24 or 42, and the recent statistics on COVID deaths bears that truth out.
Vaccinate all school staff now.
And to Victor, although we did not know each other, thank you for your dedication and your lifetime of service to children. It will not be forgotten. #ApplesForVictor
I have been here before.
The sudden click and hum of the electric razor. The thin bone and pink skin exposed as the hair falls away. I stroke her fur. She hasn’t even flinched. I know that it’s bad.
I stroke her fur.
“Will it be like a dog? When their body releases the breath in their lungs?” That scared me the first time. I’m mentally bracing myself.
The vet pauses. “No. It won’t.”
I have been here before. Putting down four big dogs in my adult lifetime has prepared me for this, and yet every time, I am unprepared. She is my first cat. It is the same, but it is different.
I stroke her fur.
“I’ll administer it now. If you are ready.”
I nod. Whisper. “Yes.”
The sedation is clear. The solution is white. I’d never noticed that.
I have been here before. Holding paws. Telling them how much they are loved. Why is it always so hard?
Because they were loved. Because they are family.
I know she is gone. The vet listens for a heartbeat. Touches her little eye. I know she is gone.
I stroke her fur.
When the vet was delayed, I had extra time. Time to hold her. Time to let the tears flow. Time to savor those last bits of time. I wasn’t sure she was even breathing at points. There were a few guttural purrs as I clutched her to my chest, but slow and labored, like the strings on a guitar that had been loosened too much. Of them all, she was always the cuddler. The rest were always on alert, like outdoor cats tend to be for their survival. Skittish. Squirmy.
But not Peanut.
It’s so hard to know when it’s time. There are lots of signs and signals, and at seventeen years old, the decline was progressive but slow. Last Wednesday night when I got home from work, I knew it.
If you’ve heard any of my animal stories, we always seem to have weird pets. Peanut was no exception. She was the very first cat we ever got, from a student who was a neighbor at the time. He told us she was a male cat. I don’t know why, but we never questioned that. She was big. Lanky. Kind of lazy. Seemed like the tomcats I’d had on the farm growing up.
Right up to the point when this tomcat got really fat and had babies.
We got her fixed right after that and all the cats that we got afterward. We made sure to check! Quite a few of those cats never made it. Probably killed by coyotes. Picked off by owls. Peanut was the only cat to have such longevity, and in large part because she never strayed far from the house. She wasn’t a mouser. She didn’t chase birds. She was content just to live a sheltered cat life on the front deck. My husband said she was useless as a cat, but I kind of always admired that. Plus, like I said, she was my only cuddler. That made her my favorite.
That night, I brought her inside the house for the first time ever. I have loved cats my whole life but am terribly allergic. Many times I was almost swayed to change my mind from the pleas of two small children, but I could never fully relent.
I laid her on a towel and leaned her against the porch step. We facetimed there for two hours with my daughter in Calgary. Peanut was her cat. She hadn’t even started Kindergarten when we got her, so there was a shared lifetime of stories to tell. Then the time came to go.
We stroked her fur. Told her how much she was loved.
Because she was family.
I turn on Twitter and see Don Cherry is trending.
Oh boy. I know what is there.
I joined a bookclub at the last minute this week, and I’m so glad that I did. It is being facilitated by Amanda Nelson, our amazing Sector Facilitator for Indigenous Perspectives, Partnerships and Outcomes. We are reading How to be an Antiracist by Ibram S. Kendi. There’s a part in the opening chapters that says:
Racist and antiracist are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing in each moment. These are not permanent tattoos. No one becomes a racist or antiracist. We can only strive to be one or the other. We can unknowingly strive to be a racist. We can knowingly strive to be an antiracist. Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.
Last week I had written that we need to shine a light on our own beliefs and question why we’ve come to believe it. Then I stole the words of my Director of Education, Lori Jeschke, and added: Let it propel you to act.
As educators, we have a duty to shine that light not only on ourselves and our implicit biases, but to help shine it on students to help them grow as well. We need to feel propelled to act. Every. Time.
“Call it out” seems like harsh wording, and I understand why we use that phrase. We cannot allow blatant racist, misogynistic, or homophobic words and actions in our classrooms. They need to be safe spaces for all students.
But they are also spaces where we want children to grow, and so although it is subtle, ‘shining a light’ is connotatively more useful wording as we help students to recognize, empathize, and hopefully change those words and actions.
Do I always know what to say? Am I always saying the right thing?
No. And no. I’m sure that I am not.
But I always say something.
My goal is not to convince.
My goal is to shine a light on their thinking.
Overheard in a span of one day:
“That’s so gay.”
Just when I think that maybe this has gone away, there it is. How do I shine a light on this? Kids know this one, so usually something short, like “There are 300,000 words in the English language. If you mean stupid, say it’s stupid. Saying it is gay is hurtful and mean.”
“If she beats me again (in a video game) I’m gonna…” I can’t even type what was said. It was not good.
And although only one in the group of boys was saying it, the misogyny needed to be pointed out for them all. “Are you mad because you lost or because you lost to a girl?”
Definitely because she was a girl. Okay, that narrowed it down.
“If we all have the capacity to be good at something, male or female, why does it matter that it’s a girl that you lose to? Or does it have something to do with being socially conditioned to think that men are just better at things than women? So that when you lose to a girl, you respond with shame and anger? How much of that anger do you think she gets online, just trying to do something that she’s good at?”
That one was a longer conversation, but also not long enough.
We were using jamboards (interactive sticky-notes you do together online) as conversation starters in ELA. It’s new. Kids play around a bit. Two kids keep throwing up memes.
Except that all the meme faces are black. Or women. Or black women. None of them witty or complimentary.
Before I get mad and completely pull the plug on the activity, I decide to shine the light.
This time I addressed the whole class. Yes, that’s for a laugh. But whose faces are you choosing? Why are you only choosing those faces? Do you realize it has only been black people or women or black women that you’ve chosen for a laugh? Do we consider that racism and misogyny are often ingrained in our worldview and we don’t always see it? My point wasn't to shut down gifs, but for them to hopefully consider what ones they always use and why.
(Coming from someone who was raised in a household that never used profanity or racial slurs but easily said the n-word when we chose who was “it” for tag using eeny meeny miny moe…there are layers of unconscious bias and racism in all of our actions.)
Before you worry that I am living in a glass house, let me assure you I am not.
Like students, there is a level of discomfort when someone shines a light on my own actions too. Sometimes it is something I already know I need to work on. Sometimes it is something I hadn’t even remotely considered that I was doing.
It never feels good. But it’s only in working through the dissonance that you can grow and try to be better.
I started with a quote from Ibram Kendi. Let me finish with one more.
"Racist” is not…the worst word in the English language; it is not the equivalent of a slur. It is descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to constantly identify and describe it – and then dismantle it.
Thanks for reading today.
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