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
Sorry. I’m sick tonight so this will be short. But I didn’t write last week with the holiday, and it’s a rare stretch when I’ve missed two posts in a row!
We managed to make a quick visit to our two kids in Calgary, and because they were off on reading week, we got to spend a few days together. Of course, that always comes with a price. My son is now madly finishing a 10 page essay that is due at midnight. As kid #2 has just realized, “Why are they giving big assignments over reading break? Isn’t it supposed to be a break??”
So I’m not feeling too bad about a short, late blog post.
I do feel a bit bad that we take up some of that valuable homework time, but since I haven’t seen them since Christmas, I’ll allow myself to be a bit selfish lol.
We did one day of skiing and snowboarding at Lake Louise. The kids left me for a bit when they were headed for more adventurous runs, but came back and insisted I go with them. “Mom, you can do these!” And I did. I’m not usually one to shirk away from a challenge, but from the bottom of a mountain, it can look pretty damn scary.
Okay, from the top of the mountain, it can look pretty damn scary too!
We also took in a Calgary Flames hockey game as they played the Bruins. It was a great game even if they didn’t win.
But as we were watching, my son points out where he was sitting for the last game. Nice seats. Center. Close.
Kid 2: “Last game I was sitting down there. MRU was selling single tickets for cheap.”
Me: “That’s okay. You’re a big boy. You won’t care if you’re by yourself.”
Kid 2: “No, but remember when you sent me to the Rush final playoff game by myself?”
Kid 1: “Yah, and remember when you sent me to Justin Bieber by myself? I think I was 12.”
Kid 2: “Remember when…”
Uh oh. I could feel a pile-on coming. A list of times where I was a really crappy parent and threw my children to the figurative wolves of life! Next, they’ll be reminiscing how I left the little one at daycare and had headed for home before I remembered. Or when we ALMOST lost the older one at Disneyworld and only realized we didn’t have her when we had an extra ticket and one less child.
But it wasn’t like that at all. The conversation was actually about meeting other people at those events. Talking to them. Being sociable. Having fun.
An article passed my social media feed this week. I’ve seen it before, but it’s a good reminder. It was called, “How and Why We Should Let Our Kids Fail” by Jennifer Gonzalez. (If you don’t follow @cultofpedagogy you really need to!)
“If we make life too easy for our kids, if we rescue them from every fail, they will never learn the important lessons that will carry them through life. And this is most effective when the stakes are relatively low.”
Okay, okay. You could argue that throwing a 12 year old into her first concert (The Wiggles didn’t count) isn’t exactly low stakes. But I also know my kid.
Plus, she really wanted to go but only decided that waaaay after tickets had gone on sale, and a single seat bought off Kijiji at the last minute meant that she was highly motivated to be brave too.
Sometimes I don’t push kids as hard as they might need to be pushed. Personally, I much prefer a gentle nudge and a whole lot of encouragement. But the sentiment is true. Just watching grade 7s trying yoga before the break is a great example.
We had already had a big talk about vulnerability and courage. How you need to try new things no matter how old you are. How we aren’t going to be great at something the first time we try it.
You get the picture.
Even with all of that, quite a few were pretty resistant participators.
One flat out refused.
And once the stretching and positions got a bit more challenging, at least 1/3 had packed it in.
Our yoga instructor was amazing. She talked them all the way through it and was very encouraging. She gave them great feedback and got most of them back on track, or at least giving it a bit more effort.
One thing she said to them stuck with me: “If this isn’t a stretch you do often, it’s going to feel uncomfortable. You need to lean into it. Don’t be afraid of feeling it.”
It sounds like advice I would hear frequently from a friend: sometimes you have to lean into the suck.
Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t comfortable. Life is full of sucky things that are going to happen.
Sometimes you will be on your own, and that is good for us too.
As Kristin Armstrong says, “I want to get more comfortable being uncomfortable. I want to get more confident being uncertain. I don't want to shrink back just because something isn't easy. I want to push back, and make more room in the area between I can't and I can.”
Hope everyone has a great cold-and-virus-free week. Because it’s sucky too.
A Brené Brown quote is painted on a 4’ wooden sign at the front of my room that reads:
“There is no courage without vulnerability.”
I say it multiple times in a week. Try to model it. Explicitly point it out to kids when I’m trying to model it! Then encourage them to do the same.
It’s almost to the point where I’m expecting a student to one day say, “Enough about vulnerability!!!”
But they haven’t.
And I think it’s because it’s a message that rings true: we all need encouragement to keep us going on a regular basis, but when do you need it MOST? When you’re stepping outside your comfort zone.
When you’re putting yourself out there.
Where vulnerability happens.
Last week I tweeted out how I invited seniors from our community into our ELA30 classroom, not as guests, but to be side-by-side with students. To do everything that we did. Read. Write. Discuss. It was risky on paper and so maybe I was marginally relieved that, despite my best recruiting efforts, I only had one person agree to come back to school.
What’s one extra person in a class of 30? Lol.
Oh, but the reality was much different. The first day that Herb came into my room, I wasn’t just feeling vulnerable, I was scared sh*tless. It’s one thing to have a lesson go sideways with just the kids there. They’re usually forgiving, and I’m pretty honest when something hasn’t worked. It’s another thing to have a lesson not work with another educator or administrator in the room. But I work with some supportive colleagues, and I know that they are there for feedback, not judgement, so I don’t stress when people walk in and out of my room.
But a grown-up-non-educator-adult in the classroom is a WHOLE other thing.
In the end, the experience was amazing. As Brené Brown says, “I am a traveler, not a mapmaker. I’m going down this path same as and with you.” There were days that Herb probably wished he hadn’t come on this path! But he never said so. In fact, he contributed to discussions, shared his writing, and modeled vulnerability every week, just by stepping into a packed room of teenagers.
The kids appreciated his perspective, as did I. One of my hopes was that we would learn from each other, and when I wrote Herb to thank him for his time with us, his reply affirmed that for me.
I really appreciated the invitation to participate in your ELA30 class. I am pleased to hear that my presence was a positive thing for your students. It was certainly a positive learning experience for me. I enjoyed preparing and presenting the TED talk, and would have enjoyed hearing the TED talks done by your class. I have no doubt that they were excellent. Also, my compliments to you on your creative teaching style. English class is certainly different than it was in my day.
That's not there as a humble-brag. It really is how modelling vulnerability comes home to roost. As Herb demonstrated first, we did TED-style talks on social issues (with a personal connection if they were comfortable) and positive lessons to share with their audience.
Almost without exception, they spoke from their hearts.
Handling bad news. Disease. Divorce. Alcoholism. Death of sibling. Death of parent. Teen fatherhood. Childhood trauma. Helicopter parenting. Social Media dangers. Overcoming fears. Car accident. Truck accident. School bus accident. Losing our pets. Poverty. Suicide.
Lessons learned from grandpa. Civil rights movements. Dangers of artificial intelligence. Industrial society and the future. Animal habitat loss. Hunting changes affecting families. Fishing bringing us together. How the world has gone to crap but here’s why it’s not all bad.
It really ran the gamut of experiences.
And then this.
I had expected a speech on the impact of technology. But he made a last-minute change, and when he got in front of his classmates, he instead talked about his years in foster care. How many homes he had been in. How his mom had died, and how he hadn’t been allowed to go to the funeral. How he was estranged from his father aside from a single hospital visit. And how, just the day before, he had a phone call from an uncle he’s never met telling him that his dad had died. He spoke of how he didn’t know what to do, or how to feel.
He shared that with us all.
It was without exception, the most courageous thing I have ever seen a student do.
I shed a few tears right there, and struggled finding my voice and wrestling with what words to say to the class.
I thanked him.
At the end, for the umpteenth time, we spoke again of courage and vulnerability, about the things we learned from our classmates (and about our classmates) that we didn’t know, despite having been together for years and years. For my part, I acknowledged that this might have been good to do earlier in the semester, but we also wouldn’t have been ready for it. In Brené Brown’s words again, “We can’t expect people to be brave and risk failure if they’re not prepped for hard landings.”
That trust was built slowly. Using the words repeatedly was important for students to understand and take them to heart. Adults modeling them was even more important. But most important was the strength and support that they took from each other…as each student made themselves vulnerable, those who were wavering had the courage to do the same.
After this experience, I have a new Brené Brown sign to make now. It’s one that my students can probably relate to, after finding meaning in their experiences and having the vulnerability to share what they’ve learned with others:
“When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending.”
Well, my entire weekend was spent marking final exams and assignments, and so I really don’t have the brain capacity to actually string a blog post together! However, it was mid-afternoon that I started to pick up on the thoughtful responses to one small question on an exam. It was really a non-descript question, just one of a series of response questions on one page, but it actually yielded some of the most reflective moments of the assessment.
And they were short enough to type here!
In no particular order, here’s some of their thinking about social issues and personal responsibility:
“Because I was born in Canada, and born a white boy, I automatically have privilege. Even though I don’t feel like I have it, I do.”
“The fear to admit your privilege has been created by society, who have conditioned us to believe that saying this is essentially admitting that we are ‘better’ than everyone else. That is, however, not the case. Admitting privilege shows that you understand your advantages. How you use these advantages reflects what kind of person you are. You can be ignorant and snotty, abusing your privilege, or you can choose to be a good person and use your privilege for good.”
“The courage to do something is often the hardest part to overcome, as the fear of being vulnerable can take over our plans.”
“My privilege stems from my birth and my luck.”
“You cripple and burden yourself with what you’ve been told is true and you become as toxic to yourself as anyone on the outside is.”
“Now this is a quote that we’ve heard a lot in this class. ‘There is no courage without vulnerability.’ In terms of social justice, I believe that this means we could end many social issues if we were all open with ne another and vulnerable, we wouldn’t feel as much aggression towards each other. In my experience being vulnerable towards someone highly decreases the chances of them being mean or judgemental.”
“Growing up in our town has shaped my perspective greatly. Racism, sexism, and homophobia is very common out here, and its easy to become desensitized to that kind of thing.”
“The privilege of being white is something that gives me an advantage in everyday life. I won’t be judged in public for being a criminal or lazy. Nothing like that. Eyes will pass over me like normal.”
“When you try and help people, then you deserve those privileges. It still is a shame that some don’t get privileges at all.”
“I know it’s small, but I’m trying my best to get my family to be fully accepting. I think it’s better to do something small instead of nothing at all.”
“Lots of people first need to realize that they are racist or have biases before they can change for the better.”
“I know being a white male alone is a privilege. No one will be staring at you and no one will question you.”
“I have tried to be less racist. I never have intentions of being vocally racist but after this class I realize I may have been without even knowing. I had a warped perception on Black Lives Matter movements, but as I learn I see that I didn’t even know, what I didn’t know.”
“I always make sure to try to find the most neutral source to get facts from. This definitely made me reconsider the struggles of inner city American youth.”
“Willful ignorance is the backbone of polarization. People refuse to listen to people they disagree with, and just label them as villains. This has led to a rise in extremism, such as white nationalism. People need to be more openminded.”
“Make sure you know the person before you make a judgement. Go and seek that information out. I was like that before the class.”
“I used to not be so accepting towards transgender people, but now that I know someone going through that I am much more accepting now that I know more about it.”
“Well I’m in this social issues ELA class and it has definitely made me open my eyes on First Nations and their community, and I learned more in depth and what they go through, so though there are differences, I’d say this made me view them more positively.”
“I’ve learned a lot more about sexism, I used to think it was just how things were. Now I realize that sexism is wrong because everyone has equal rights in everything.”
“Since dealing with addiction personally, I understand that addiction isn’t a ‘choice.’ I used to blame my dad for choosing drugs over me before I seen how powerful they can be.”
“Dealing with mental health made me learn more about it and now I look at it from a different point of view.”
“I have also been taking Native Studies and well, I didn’t realize how poorly they have been treated over the years. Deep down there is a lot of false information out there about them.”
“Gender equality - I’ve learned more about this and now actually see it as an issue for people.”
“Probably homelessness. I didn’t know about any of that before. I know now that a lot of those people that are in that, it’s not their fault.”
“This is hard to say, I don’t think it’s a good thing to completely shift my opinion but I feel there are things I see with more understanding.”
“That’s one of the biggest problems is racism that our society sees today. The fact that I otherwise would not have know that they go through copious amounts of racism and potential danger every single day, and a lot of people have no idea that it’s going on. That doesn’t even make sense and is almost unbelievable when you see the platforms we have (social media) to be able to spread this awareness.”
“I haven’t really learned about social issues until I took this class. I think about gender identity, because many things have changed for the people.”
“I stopped being racist or making racist jokes with my friends. I see racism way worse than I did before, after hearing that girl speak is when I saw it differently.”
“What I have done personally, is that I have done my best to keep an open mind when talking to others. There is no specific issue I have considered differently, it is mostly just myself trying to live among these different issues rather than live against them.”
Whew. This semester was a roller coaster, not going to lie. A lot to reflect on, but after going through these final assessments, I have a greater understanding of things myself.
And I think, if nothing else, the kids have a greater understanding of themselves.
Here’s one last thing to leave you with this week. It came off Instagram and I can’t find where! I’ll keep looking. But here is the story:
“The thing with villages like ours is for us, we are an entire universe. For us, nothing exists outside our universe. Politics, religion, global affairs. Nothing.
The last thing he wrote on the village board was ‘A star first then a part of a constellation.’
The last evening we sat in his courtyard, he seemed to have aged a thousand years but his eyes still looked like they carried stars in them. That evening, we heard him for the last time. ‘All my life I was taught to be kind to people. to not shout at them, to forgive them for their mistakes, to love them for who they are.
When I look around myself, I don’t see people who are cruel to others. I see people who are so harsh on themselves that they end up turning cruel to others. School and everyone around us have forgotten to teach us the most important lesson.
So, I want you to place a hand on your heart and learn to love it every day. I want you to look in the mirror and not see your flaws but the beautiful smile that is the reason for someone’s happiness. I hope you learn to build up a good relationship with yourself first.
Learn how to shine and then worry about all the constellations you are a part of.’”
I ended last week's blog plotting, I mean planning, some tomfoolery.
Since scattering confetti was definitely out, I went with balloons. Here’s the thing, though. I have self-diagnosed globophobia. I HATE BALLOONS. The squeakiness, the popping, the fear…all of it. My kids were blowing up balloons for their own birthday parties since they were three, that’s how much I hate them.
So here’s what happened Monday morning.
I bring a bag of balloons into the room before class.
“Does anyone want to blow up some balloons for me?”
“It’s to put in Mr. Hindmarsh’s office.”
“Is it his birthday?”
“Is this a prank?”
“Nope. Well, not really. It’s a joyful surprise.”
“To bring some joy. And it’s a surprise.”
Another kid walks in. “Hey, is it someone’s birthday?”
“Then what are the balloons for?”
Fast forward that same conversation at least seven more times, plus me giving a GIANT WARNING ABOUT NOT POPPING THE BALLOONS OR I MIGHT HAVE A HEART ATTACK and the kids were blowing up balloons faster than I could gather them up.
Six garbage bags later, I unceremoniously dumped the bags of balloons in Josh’s office. It didn’t exactly fill the room, but it did pretty much cover the surface area of the floor.
So, did it work?
Well, it was definitely fun for the kids blowing them up and batting them around. There’s something about the relative weightlessness of a balloon that is different than a ball, like it’s defying the laws of gravity.
For the kids, even the big ones, who were in Josh’s office for a variety of reasons that morning? “Mr. Hindmarsh, is it your birthday?”
A trip to the office is often a stressful experience, even if you aren’t in trouble lol, but he said it absolutely diffused tension for every person he saw that morning.
Like all great ideas that cross my mind, however, this one had a couple of pitfalls. It’s like a sauna in Josh’s office, and so some of the overfilled balloons expanded and popped. I think our Admin Assistant might need a day or two off now. Out of sheer coincidence, the RCMP visited the school that day, and were in the office beside Josh’s when the popping started.
I only heard about this at the end of the day when I went with a pair of scissors and all the bravery I could muster to forcibly deflate the balloons that were left. It brought laughter to people, even in the retelling of the day’s events, so it succeeded in the surprise part, and the emotions mostly seemed to be joyful.
So the book was right on that point, and it’s really got me thinking of ways to continue to incorporate joy without having to involve those air-filled latex demons.
I've written before how we always have Games Day on Fridays, with the focus on human-to-human contact (no tech allowed) and social emotional development. It’s always a joy-filled time as kids get excited and the noise level raises. We try to stick to language games like Scrabble or thinking games like Blokus, but this week a boy walked in with two ping pong paddles, a ball, and a retractable net.
“Mrs. Landry, do you think we can play this today in games time?”
I started to explain that it didn’t exactly fit the purpose of games day, and then stopped. Why bookmark tweets about the importance of play, and read books that suggest ways to infuse joy in our lives, and then say no to a (pretty cool) student suggestion?
Well, you hedge your bets is what you do, and agree to try it this time and then see what happens for future Fridays lol.
It couldn’t have been more awesome.
Some kids chose to play board games as usual. But the ones who gathered around our improvised table had so much fun. They set up their own rules to play and how to take turns. They created a list on the board for fairness. And they laughed and laughed and laughed as they played. Even our EAs got in on the action, and the stakes went higher to see who could beat Mrs. Starling.
Adults modelling fun. It was fantastic.
I even went next door and had Mr. Hindmarsh poke his head in.
“That’s what joy looks like,” I said. Super cheesy, I know. But it’s true. And I’m starting to realize more and more how important it is to name the things that we are seeing and doing. And especially naming them in front of our students.
[I have a huge thread on vulnerability that’s coming soon that speaks volumes to modelling, vocalizing, and reinforcing these big ideas simply by saying the words out loud.]
There’s a lot more about bringing joy into our classrooms that is going through my head right now, and will probably keep writing about, but this post is already too long. So I’ll wrap this one up with a quote from Joyful:
“If we rarely laugh or play, if we never have glimpses of magic or flashes of transcendence or bursts of celebration, then no matter how well fed and comfortable we are, we are not truly alive.” (Ingrid Fetell Lee)
As we come off a week of unbelievably ridiculous cold temperatures, I actually feel like the glass is half-full when I look at the pictures from #snowmageddon coming out of Newfoundland! I’ll take frigid cold over not being able to find my vehicle under 7 feet of snow. No question.
So it was a perfect time to read my new book Joyful: the Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. Coincidentally, she talks about hedonic adaptation. Up until some reading I did last week, I had never heard of it before! And it pops up again!?
The universe is speaking and I’m doing my best to pay attention.
This is a pretty good summation from Lukas Havranek: “The thing is we are terrible at predicting what will make us happy. One of the problems causing this is called hedonic adaptation - standing for our tendency to consider anything new as a standard quickly and therefore losing the joy coming out of it. If not recognized and tamed it may result in increasingly expensive purchases in desperate attempt to get more pleasure - hedonic treadmill. It is similar to junkies trying to get the same level of satisfaction by increasing doses of drugs that they are getting used to. If we understand hedonic adaptation that reduces the excitement of reaching one's goals or making purchases, we can focus on more important stuff that will give us fulfillment - relationships, meaningful work or developing our strengths.”
Happiness junkies. That’s essentially what we are.
So here’s a small section to share from Joyful. She is talking about our obsession with material things but it absolutely applies elsewhere.
“All children live in a world rich with surprises. Each new thing, no matter how ordinary, inspires a sense of wonder and delight. But novelty naturally declines with age, and our surroundings begin to dull with familiarity…hedonic adaptation is often known as the hedonic treadmill, because the cycle can repeat endlessly without bringing us any closer to happiness.”
“By restoring a sense of whimsy and unpredictability to our surroundings, small bursts of surprise also change our relationship to the world as a whole. Surprise destabilizes us a little, just enough to introduce a new idea or different perspective. It brings back a bit of that childlike freshness. By snapping us out of our habitual thought patterns, a small surprise can reset our joy meters and allow us to see with new eyes.”
It’s kind of funny in hindsight.
It was a halfway-through-September blog where I was starting to lose faith in the approach I take in my classroom. The 12s were bucking me on a lot of things.
Like the fact that I had tables. (How do you collaborate in separate rows?)
That the tables weren’t giving them much room. (It was more room than a single-person desk!)
That they had a seating plan. (Even though I had a valid reason for it, and switched it up everyday.)
Oh, they had a lot of complaints and didn’t seem to feel surprised or inspired by the change.
But here it comes. This week I lined my tables up in two long rows for an activity with the 7s. Because I see the 12s in the middle of my two grade 7 groups, I didn’t switch it back. And what did I hear?
“This isn’t going to stay this way, is it?”
It was actually a refreshing change for me, and for all the groups. It meant a brief return to a more linear, structured approach to the room…and it was just enough to ‘destabilize’ us and keep things fresh.
The idea of surprise is one that I need to remember to incorporate. Even now, I’m brainstorming ideas for tomorrow…and I’m thinking our new VP is due for some shenanigans. Tomfoolery? Is there a plural form for Hullabaloo?
On an unrelated note, anyone have some confetti lying around? Amphibians? Even a whoopie cushion?
It’s warming up, so have a great week everyone! I hope there are a few surprises in there to add some joy to your days too.
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