It’s felt like 2020 hasn’t had a great start. Even before the horrific plane crash this week, a World War 3 hashtag was trending, Australia was/is burning with estimates of a half-billion animals dead, and somehow I keep reading posts that think because we have an extended cold snap ahead, that this disproves climate change.
It seems fitting that tomorrow is Blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year.
Even for the most optimistic person, January can be a rough time. So I was intrigued by a news article I read this week titled, “Glass half full? The world is getting better, says U of S philosophy professor.”
His name is Professor Dwayne Moore, and he makes a lot of good points.
We live longer and are more literate, infant mortality is down, and fewer people live in extreme poverty. We have more leisure time and technological advances continue to make our lives easier.
The caveat for me in his research, was that he was comparing our present lives to those who lived in the late 1800s-early 1900s.
What about what’s happened in the past generation? Decade? Even five years? Right now at this very moment in other parts of the world??
And this isn’t just for global social issues either. It’s about the kids we see everyday. Because as much as kids are, in some ways, so much farther ahead than we were at their age, in other ways they are also farther behind.
I re-watched Simon Sinek’s talk on “Millenials in the Workplace” from three years ago. It is a frank assessment of young people today, and on what has shaped them.
The four big areas he talks about are parenting, technology, impatience, and their environment.
If you’ve never seen it, it’s definitely worth a watch.
As we worked through generating topics for a personal TEDx talk in class this week, a surprising amount of kids admitted that they didn’t have anything that they felt strongly about. Not world events. Not local events. Nothing in their own lives that they felt passionate about: not angry, not sad, just nothing.
Which is a whole different thing…like the glass isn’t even there to contemplate.
So why do we feel this way?
Professor Moore says that as humans, we come with a negativity bias. "We tend to zero in on dangerous or negative things because it could affect our survival. And when a good piece of news comes, we brush it off.“ The second reason, he says is a “hedonic adaptation trait….the tendency when a major life event happens, for good or for bad, we immediately react. But then six months later we've reverted back to normal.”
That seems like a sad paradox.
The good doesn’t last.
But neither does the bad.
Another researcher, Sonja Lyubomirsky, has found that ”50 percent of our happiness set-point is due to genetics, 10 percent is affected primarily by circumstances like where we were born and to whom. This leaves 40 percent that is subject to our influence.”
So the glass really is half-empty, or half-full, depending on how you see it.
More emphasis is being placed on ideas of mindfulness and positive well-being, for students and staff, and that’s a good thing. On a personal level, I find that I need to work on this more deliberately now, more than at any other point in my life. That empty-nest-syndrome can feel pretty real some days!
As we head into this cold week, and the Monday-of-all-Monday’s, I’m going to focus on little gratitudes: good hot cups of coffee, a warm house, a dependable car, and time.
That’s always the one I seem to forget the most!
Stay warm everyone!!
Haha, well I did get new glasses over the break, but I couldn't resist the easy laugh. Happy New Year everyone! Hyvää Uutta Vuotta!
I’ve taken my Finnish hockey jersey off now, still a bit disappointed that they didn’t win the bronze medal against their arch-rival Sweden, but it simply wasn’t a strong game for them today. Sometimes, it just doesn’t happen.
And then sometimes, like the Canadians against Russia, it does! Especially when the TSN camera saves you a crucial penalty, and a Russian player doesn’t drop a broken stick. Crazy!
This holiday was a pretty good one for our family. I was able to spend a few days just with my two sisters and my mom, celebrating my MUCH older sister’s 50th birthday. Our children were home from university in Calgary, and we went snowboarding at Table Mountain. It was just my second time ever, and I still really suck.
Like, really, really suck.
I mostly have to heel it down the hill (like going with the brakes on) and apparently I am good at riding switch. This mostly just means that I can’t decide which foot should go down the hill first…the board is set up for my left foot, but I kept going down right foot forward! Always making it more difficult than it needs to be…
The biggest problem is that I can’t do the S curves that you see snowboarders doing. Mine is more like a Harry Potter lightning bolt.
Get going too fast and heel it to slow down.
Go the other direction.
Get going too fast and heel it again.
Wait. Make that fall down. And stop.
My son got a taste of what it’s like to be a teacher. He did a fabulous job modelling and explaining. Going step by step. Painstakingly waiting for me to gather up enough core muscles to push myself up after I fall down trying. And then start demonstrating what to do again, BUT THIS TIME LOUDER. BECAUSE IF YOU SHOUT INSTRUCTIONS AT YOUR MOTHER, SHE IS SURE TO GET IT PERFECTLY THIS TIME, RIGHT??
Riiiight. (He’s not going to be a teacher lol.)
I finally had to fake taking a break in the chalet so they would leave me, and go have some fun by themselves. Despite the fact I have to explain all of this to my physiotherapist tomorrow morning at 7am, it was a ton of fun.
And I will get better! It’s just slow progess at my age. Darn kids make it look so easy and it’s not.
The only other event we took in (besides turkey dinners) was the new Star Wars movie. We have always been huge Star Wars fans, and couldn’t miss this last installment.
So in that vein, here are a few Star Wars quotes that I’m going to try and take into the new year as inspiration!
Like Yoda, I’m going to try and be more chill. Relax. Think. And tell that doubting voice in my head to stuff it. “Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?”
Yoda also said, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” I want to continue to grow as an educator because I know that I can be better. Sometimes that means letting go of what is familiar and getting uncomfortable.
And when something is for the good of the group, set ego aside and work together for our common success. Lando Calrissian, good-guy scoundrel, says it well: “I don’t like it, I don’t agree with it, but I accept it.”
If you follow Star Wars at all, there is a lot of teacher-learner scenarios: Qui Gon and Obi Wan, Obi Wan and Anakin, Yoda and Luke; and then with the Sith, there is always only two. A master and an apprentice. As Darth Vader faces his old teacher Obi Wan, “When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.” Which is sort of true, except that over and over, the master learns lessons from the padawan too. Lifelong learning in Star Wars and not hampered by titles.
Okay, something inspirational….well, I quote thoughts about hope from the work of Dr. Sharon Roset a lot, but here’s a similar sentiment from Vice Admiral Holdo: “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you see it, you’ll never make it through the night.” A solid piece of advice I remind myself of: things always look better in the morning.
And some final thoughts from a newer character, Maz Kanata: “The belonging you seek is not behind you…it is ahead.”
Have a great week everyone! Happy New Year!
This week George Couros tweeted out a line from a blog post by Brad Gustafson. It said, “Starting new things is too easy. Stopping takes discipline. And dialoguing about what to stop might be one of the most powerful conversations your team could have.”
It was one of those lines that stops you in your tracks, because we often think the opposite: that starting new things is difficult, but quitting something is easy.
I don’t like to quit on anything. It’s just not in my nature to admit defeat. I can see it in some kids too, particularly when we play a strategy game like Blokus. When there is absolutely NO POSSIBLE move left to make, some kids won’t admit it. It could be that they don’t want to admit that they’ve lost, but I think for some of them, they just can’t accept that there are no moves left to make.
Shouldn’t there always be another move?
For problem-solvers, it’s a tough pill to swallow.
Because in our everyday life, there often is another solution. Or a compromise. Or some way to keep moving. There has to be, or else every setback or roadblock we encounter would be debilitating to us and we would quit every single time.
This is something that we want for our children: to be resilient human beings. To pick themselves up when they fall down. To keep going when the going gets tough. These are all admirable traits. But there are times that we absolutely should quit and I don’t think we talk about that enough.
Najwa Zebian is one of my favorite writers. Both of these popped up on social media this week:
“Stop making excuses for them not giving you the attention or respect you deserve. If you treat them with kindness but you accept them treating you as if you’re a burden, you’re only hurting yourself for someone who doesn’t deserve it. You need to end this. Whatever it is.”
“The best way to deal with a toxic situation is to walk away. No, run. As fast as you can. Then heal all the wounds. Then learn what a healthy situation looks like. And don’t accept less than that.”
I thought of her words a few different times this week: the domestic murder-suicide in Kindersley, more hockey players coming forward with abusive situations, and this tweet from a teacher that I follow @gromit1996.
“This is one of the most difficult groups I have ever worked with. I feel completely useless as their teacher. I’m sure they feel the same about me. I am sorry, and sad. Nothing I do seems to work.”
There were supportive comments, and a lot of “I’ve been there…not easy…take care of yourself.”
I agree. We’ve all been there.
And while the comments this garnered were positive, many times over the years when I’ve admitted that I was struggling with a student or group, I received less than constructive advice from people. A personal favorite: “Oh, they’re not like that with me...”
The more experienced I got, the more I realized that you will never be all things to all people. (And that the people claiming they had no problems, absolutely did. Just not always in the same way as me.)
That is a given when working with kids. Sometimes no matter what you do, it’s a struggle. In those times, it’s easy to throw a pity-party and believe that it is just you. Trust me, it’s not.
What’s serendipitous is that as I’m writing this blog (and checking my social media lol, I’m a multi-procrastinator) is that one of the most respected educators on Twitter @pernilleripp just posted this: “Working through heavy emotions tonight as I look forward to Monday, wondering out loud and would love your thoughts; is it ever possible enough to build thick enough skin to not care what students say about you?”
I am very good at what I do. I know and believe that. So when I am struggling with a class or a student, I don’t take it personally. Just like with the Blokus game, I try to problem solve my way through it: reach out for trusted advice, try different strategies, and always ALWAYS try to build relationship. I don’t usually respond to tweets, but tonight I did: “It hurts because we care. One thing that has really helped me is Dr. Jody Carrington’s ‘mad is just sad’s bodyguard.’ The words may be about me, but it generally really isn’t at its core.”
I truly believe that.
Many times that works.
But I am learning that there are also times that I need to know when to quit.
If I take Hattie’s ‘know thy impact’ to heart, and keep what is best for students in the forefront, I need to assess my own effectiveness. Where will my presence and approaches to learning make the most difference? Can I stop, reflect, and (putting ego aside) know that someone else may be a better fit?
As the Couros tweet says, starting something is easy. Stopping something takes discipline.
Yep, it sure does.
Oh, one more thing to take with you from Najwa Zebian; in the last week craziness that inevitably happens before holidays, “You were given the gift of a soft heart. Do not lose it.”
Well, another week of being sick. I’m sure people are tired of hearing about it…I guarantee you that my husband is! At one point last week between Thursday night and Saturday morning, I’d slept 26 hours, and then didn’t even wake up feeling rested. When I wrote last week that I was feeling better?
But finally. Finally! I was back at the doctor this week, got antibiotics, and felt stronger yesterday.
Hallelujah! The miracle of science.
I’m hoping that I haven’t jinxed it again, and that I am actually on the mend this time. I’m so far behind on life, that I need to prioritize what needs to be done first, and yet not overdo it! (How many days to Christmas dinner, which we are hosting this year??)
So although I’m still not 100%, I can function and had my first nap-free day in literally weeks. I totally understand why doctors are reticent to prescribe antibiotics. I can’t imagine going back to a world where you can die of an infected tooth, as a relative of ours did in that pre-penicillin time. Scary stuff.
And I did try everything possible. Rest. Tea. Tea with honey. Throat lozenges. Gargle with salt water. Vicks on my feet and wear socks to bed. Humidifier. Rest. Extra vitamin C. More rest.
And although some of those brought reprieve, they didn’t solve the problem.
But this made me think of working with kids. How many times are we trying everything we can? Meet them where they are? Encourage student voice? Student choice? Set up conditions for learning? For collaboration? Work side-by-side? Provide books that reflect and mirror? Nurture empathy? Encourage critical thinking? Allow for creativity in assessments? Authentic learning experiences? Foster social and emotional learning? Listen to their stories? Know them?
Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.
Okay, let me rephrase that. It’s not that these approaches don’t work, it’s that for some kids they aren’t enough.
And that is tough.
When you work in a school, you are a problem solver. From opening locks to locating missing binders, sometimes there are easy fixes. Figuring out who hasn’t had breakfast or why someone is having a head-down, hood-up type of morning? Requires some perception and discretion. And then there are things that there is just absolutely nothing I can do to make better. To make right.
I don’t have the answers.
And maybe that is the answer. That it isn’t always about a strategy to try or an adaptation to make, but for me to be humble enough to recognize that it isn’t about me or how I try to affect change.
That what works for one student won’t work for all.
That what has worked in the past, won’t necessarily work for the future.
That best intentions and efforts are not a guarantee for best results.
That we are humans working with small humans, all within the frailties of our own humanity.
That all I can do is keep searching for, and be open to solutions, however and whenever they may come.
And if they don’t, to keep believing in the value of what we do, and to just keep trying.
The book sitting beside me tonight…Embers by Richard Wagamese:
Me: What does it mean to believe?
Old Woman: It means to trust with your whole heart, to have faith. It means to have courage to act out of your belief.
Me: How do I do that?
Old Woman: You have to be honest.
Me: What do you mean?
Old Woman: You have to live your belief every day. To believe in something and not live it is dishonest.
And the song that was playing in my ears a few minutes ago…“For You” by the Barenaked Ladies:
There is nowhere else I would rather be
But I just can't be right here.
An enigma wrapped in a mystery
Or a fool consumed by fear.
And for every useless reason I know,
There's reason not to care.
If I hide myself wherever I go
Am I ever really there?
Here’s to a week of not hiding! Of being courageous, being vulnerable, being present, being honest, believing, and living those beliefs!
Sorry that I missed writing last week! (Mom, I know you will have noticed lol.) By last weekend, I finally admitted that I was sick and had to go to the doctor. Today was the first day in a looooong time that I was starting to feel like myself again!
So there were a lot of things that I was thinking about, but in the end, I decided to do some writing of my own. I have used this style of poem in class before, but wasn’t sure how difficult it would be to craft one. (It was!) It isn’t perfect, but it got me thinking about how things aren’t always as they first appear.
Read from top to bottom, then rewritten in reverse.
This meme making the rounds this week: “Just because someone carries it well, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.”
I’m getting better at showing vulnerability. With teaching, it’s easy to model, and I make lots of mistakes throughout the day. I try to show my thinking out loud, which probably explains the semi-permanent arched brow and deep creases in my forehead! I should also count how many dozens of times a day that I say, “I don’t know…that’s a great question!” Usually someone quick on the Google will move us down the path toward an answer, or lead us into another question lol.
Like these actual questions from Friday: Do you think that the cover of a book weighs more than its pages? How much of its weight comes from the ink? What is the average age that girls get their period? Why is it different for everyone? Do you think that it depends on when your mom got hers? When there are two mice plugged into the computer how does it know which one to use?
As a bonus, the day before I got to watch a noon hour dramatic production of a boy giving his Old Spice deodorant stick the most realistic CPR, followed by a bloodcurdling “NOOOOO!” and then asking, “Where will we bury him? In my armpit, of course!” I don’t say it enough: god, I love grade 7s.
But for me, actually admitting that things are hard is different. As opposed to saying, “It’s all good. No problem!” but letting people know that something took an exorbitant amount of time and energy? Very difficult. The problem with making something look easy, is that people believe that it’s true.
Like the poem above, not everything is as it seems.
It’s something to remember for our students too. For as many kids that will talk about difficulties they may be having, so many others carry on without letting on at all. The other day in health, we were having table discussions about positive ways to deal with feelings of anxiety. There were two boys that weren’t really very focused, so I pulled the classic teacher move and sat at their table to redirect them back on task. It took less than a minute of me modelling vulnerability, talking about when I feel anxious or stressed out, and how that sometimes shows up in overthinking things, replaying conversations in my head/thinking of things I should have said, or taking something small and snowballing it until it feels overwhelming. Suddenly the two of them were talking about times when they experience anxiety, with one boy even offering up that he had seen a therapist when he was younger, and started listing strategies that he still used. To say I was stunned was an understatement.
It also made me think about Dr. Jody Carrington’s statement that ‘mad is just sad’s bodyguard.’ I think we throw up a lot of emotions as bodyguards to protect us from other people really seeing what we are truly feeling. Adults too.
I get my best reminders through memes. As we ramp up toward Christmas and holidays, and knowing that there is a lot of stress and anxiety for many kids, the picture below is printed and ready to be taped to my computer. Be gentle with each other this week, and have a great one!
I’m not a huge believer in karma. That is, until it boomerangs back and hits me when I’m not expecting it!
Earlier this fall, I was a little boastful about never getting sick. It’s true, though, as I haven’t had a cold in at least two years. Honestly, not so much as a sniffle.
Because when I do get sick, I get REALLY sick. And for the past two weeks, I have been really sick.
It’s my own doing too. Not getting enough sleep. Over-committed. No down-time. Still working through an injury with physio, so not running or getting to the gym. There is a lot of talk recently about the importance of self-care and prioritizing, and it's not that I disagree, but I’ll just say this: it’s not always easy. Because saying no to opportunities for kids is, well, saying no to opportunities for kids.
This weekend I did manage a bit of time on my own, and finally finished Jody Carrington’s book, “Kids These Days.” Ironically, that might not have happened if it wasn’t overdue from the division office library, with a nice email reminder to bring it back!
I loved hearing Dr. Jody speak at Warman last month. Passionate, invigorating, and compelling. Reading the book was just like being there all over again! She references one of my other favorite writers, Brene Brown, quite frequently and covers a phenomenal amount of topics in such a short space. But the one that stuck this week was right at the end of the book: taking care of ourselves. As she said in Warman, “Kids are only as okay as the people who hold them.”
So here’s her main points, and my goals this week!
Know whose opinions count. Those few people who you want to make proud. “In the big moments, only their opinions matter. The rest don’t score.” As Brene Brown says too: “Get clear on whose opinions of you matter.” She also says to beware of the invisible army (of WE) and nostalgia (HAVE ALWAYS DONE IT THAT WAY.) Sometimes it’s easy to feel like you can’t win for trying, or get sucked into excuses instead of action. This week, I need to touch base with the people I trust and stay focused on what I know is best.
Choose joy. “Leaning into joy, for me, means slowing down long enough to notice the little things. And believe me, they’re everywhere.” I like to think that I am a joyful person. A hopeful one. But the truth is that it’s sometimes a foreboding joy, as Brene Brown puts it. We don’t celebrate or get too excited because we’re not quite there yet. There’s more to do. It didn’t go as well as it should have. Why don’t we let joy in? “Because joy is the most vulnerable emotion we feel.” I’m a stop-and-look-at-sunrises person, but I need to stop and look more! I also need to truly accept a compliment and to celebrate the feeling of accomplishment too. We are surrounded by many small, good things. This week, I need to notice those more.
Gratitude and intention. Dr. Jody talks about practising gratitude and bringing focus through making intentions. I’m not always organized enough for daily routines (outside of coffee lol) but I do like these lines: “Stopping for a moment to slow down the crazy can change everything. When you do that, you come back to yourself. Ever so slightly. And that is where your best version of yourself resides…Anxiety or depression cannot live in a relaxed body. Slow it down as many times a day as you can muster.” For me, I’ve literally been forced to slow down due to injury, which sucks, and have been obligated to carve time out of my day for stretching and physio. This week I won’t cheat, because I know I won’t get better if I don’t do them!
Practice forgiveness. “I know I needed to repair it. I know it would work. I know he needs it. And I know it wouldn’t be hard. But I didn’t want to do it.” Oh, this is a hard concept for me and I totally feel that last line. As someone who sets high standards for myself, I am sometimes frustrated with other people when I feel they have let me down. As Brene Brown says, I need to “shift my mindset from wanting to be right, to wanting to get it right.” But maybe it’s a meme that shows up on the internet every once in a while that really reminds me why forgiveness is important: “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” This week, I need to feel this message.
Collective Effervescence. “We are wired to do hard things, but we do those things so much easier when we remember we’re wired for connection.” This coming together as a community is something that often happens when the worst happens. But it really should be the way that it is. Every day. And that’s challenging. “It’s so much easier to assume that our differences mean we’re right and they’re wrong…Just like with kids, the hardest ones to give it to are the ones who need it the most…How do we create that sense of ‘we are in this together’?...It’s empathy - suspending judgement for just a moment and stepping into another’s shoes - that will always, always get you there the quickest.” This one shows up on the internet frequently too: “we are all fighting battles no one knows about.” This week, I need to do my part to foster those connections and let those around me know they are important people doing important work.
Lean in. We need you. As her last piece of advice, Dr. Jody writes, “This is not the time to be humble my sweet ones. I’m going to need you to get uncomfortable. To lean in to your true power for the lives you influence and have influenced.” Brene Brown says it this way: “Let yourself be seen. Love with your whole heart. Practice gratitude. Lean into joy. Believe you are enough.” It’s been a hard two weeks being sick. When your body is run down, your spirit goes with it. Everything requires so much more energy to do. And of course, those last two weeks just happened to be the busiest of the school year yet.
But it’s funny what a difference focusing on a few positive moments can make. Some time with a book. A nice email. Visit with a friend. A string of texts from my son, even if it’s just to complain about the Riders disappointing him every year. And Cam Talbot. The Flames sucked tonight too.
Dr. Jody’s parting words in “Kids These Days” were this: “What you do is holy work. You are wired to do this. And with all my heart I know this to be true: You are exactly where you need to be.”
As I go into this week, still sick but getting better, the words that really stick with me most are from a colleague, Brett Kirk: “I know that none of this will make the problems we are facing disappear. I’m not that naïve. But it might just give us the strength we need to tackle them.”
And that’s the truth.
It’s November 9, and we are driving to Calgary to visit our two kids. We are in the middle-of-nowhere section past Hanna and a long way from the next turnoff. There’s not a lot to do. I’ve read one book and accidentally packed my marking in the back of the vehicle.
And for once, social media is pretty quiet. Maybe it’s the long weekend or something, but for a virtual place like Twitter that’s all about stirring the pot, there’s not much stirring out there.
*Note: I jinxed it! I’m finishing this on our way home, and thanks to Don Cherry, my timeline is now an angry mess.*
So I did what every person who has ever been stuck in a car, desperate and bored, would do: I looked out the window.
A lot of pasture. A few pumpjacks pumping. A cool herd of buffalo by the Drumheller turnoff. But that’s about it. Then I saw them in the distance - birds. Hundreds of them.
I was struck immediately by three thoughts. One, Alfred Hitchcock and “The Birds.” Traumatizing movie and probably why birds freak me out a bit. Two, what the heck are they still doing here? Shouldn’t they have headed south like all the non-procrastinating birds did a month ago? And three, how do they self-organize from a black mass of bird bodies into sleek straight lines?
It was nothing short of mesmerizing.
I remember in my first years of teaching, that a principal talked about geese. How they lift one another up as they fly. How they take turns at the front. How they don’t leave each other behind. It’s the most amazing example of collaboration and teamwork.
So then I think about people. Not just little people at school, although the grade 7s do walk to the library like a noisy mass of bodies too, but also adults. How often do we get on the same page, totally going the same direction with the same impetus? At work? At home? Over a post on the internet?
Yah. Not very often. Again, Don Cherry.
It also makes me think of the senior ELA class that I have right now, as we learn through a social justice lens. As we have discussed the ideas of privilege, oppression, and just about every social issue that you can think of, there has never been a day where we were like the birds. Maybe it’s naivete, but I really thought there would be at least one or two areas that we could all settle on. Things that, to me, are simply cut-and-dried-one-hundred-percent-not-up-for-negotiation issues.
I read a book recently called Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice. Here’s a few of my takeaways:
- Generally, students have already learned to make sense of the world through particular lenses, and they, often unconsciously, feel comfortable learning only things that map onto this worldview. That is, students often use lenses that reinforce the status quo. That makes sense. We stick with what is familiar and comfortable, and tend to reinforce the ideas that we want to be true. Adults are still debating politics on my Facebook timeline like the election is still on. It isn’t.
- “If students are not experiencing crisis, they likely are not learning things that challenge the knowledge they have already learned that supports the status quo, which means that they likely are not learning to recognize and challenge the oppression that plays out daily in their lives.” Trying to develop empathy and putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, whether through a character in a novel or a clip from the news, is sometimes the closest we will get in our relatively homogeneous community to recognize that oppression. Whether I like it or not, those messy conversations are where learning takes place.
- “In fact, ‘good’ teaching often means that crisis is averted, that lessons are doable and comfortable, that problems are solved, that learning results in feeling better, that knowledge is a good thing.” In this case, ‘the more you know’ doesn’t mean much if what we are learning is keeping with the status quo. We have to start somewhere, and that means including diverse voices and perspectives. It also means modelling, modelling, modelling. I wish I could remember where I heard this: but we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
- “So, the task for teachers is not merely to add to the curriculum more information about different groups in society. The task is to ask questions about the political implications of the underlying story being told by whatever is included.” It’s not just checking a box. It’s checking the privilege in each situation. I can’t remember where they came from either (sorry!) but I have these questions on a bulletin board in my room: What message is being said? What message is not being said? Whose voice is being heard? Whose voice is not?
One of the biggest hurdles for me does involve language. When we have disagreements, often it’s a semantic issue. And someone may say that it’s just words…that it doesn’t really matter. To me, it does. When we say people should be equal, the assumption is that by giving everyone the same thing, everyone will get the same out of it. Of course that doesn’t work, because we all have differing individual needs and are coming to the table with differing circumstances.
So then we say there should be equity, which is a great idea. Give everyone what they need to succeed, and if that looks differently for people, that’s okay. Except that this is still not a long-term solution, as we aren’t taking into consideration how each of us got there in the first place.
What we really need to be working toward is systemic equity. We need to look at the root causes for why some people are advantaged or disadvantaged. And it’s totally doable! Because even the biggest systems, like education, are still just made up of people. What dozens of decisions are made every hour that raise people up or keep people down?
To me, it’s the things that we choose to do everyday in our classrooms that shapes the system. It’s choosing to hang inclusive signage on our room walls. It’s choosing to seat kids in table groups and with people outside their direct peer group. It’s choosing to focus on what we are learning, and not just on what we are doing. It’s talking about graduation rates in class and recognizing that 1 in 4 Saskatchewan students live in poverty. It’s breaking that number down to realize that potentially 50 kids in our own school of 200 students are coming to class hungry, or with financial instability at home. It’s that lightbulb moment and resulting silence, when we realize that this happens in real time to real people.
One more thing: we visited with my great-uncle and aunt in Calgary too. He is 94 and was in the Canadian Air Force in WWII. He told my mom this story: Their plane had been hit and they had to parachute out but for some unknown reason, one parachute was filled with socks. Socks! The guy wanted to just jump and hang on with another jumper, but he was a heavyset man so they said no. As a group they decided to crash-land and take their chances. And that’s what happened. They didn’t jump and leave him behind. They crashed, everyone survived, and the French underground hid them in a cellar. They were smuggled back into England and a week later, were up flying again.
In a world that is becoming more split and more partisan about almost every issue, I still hope that we can be like birds. Or those soldiers. That despite the problems that are placed in front of us, that we can come together and work towards solutions.
That we lift each other up, acknowledge the privilege we simply have, and to use it to help shoulder the load with others.
I’ve been writing this blog for 21 months now. 61 posts. This is the stellar start to number 62!
I wasn’t actually setting out to count, because I knew I wasn’t at a significant, take-stock moment in my writing, although at some point I should probably be brave enough to use the word “blogger” instead of telling someone that “I write a blog.” But that’s a whole other issue lol.
I was looking back, because I occasionally find myself with an idea and then wonder if I’ve already written about it.
Case in point: sisu.
And yes, I had.
But it’s a good time to bring it up again, because I don’t often see sisu in action. Actually, it’s not so much something that you can literally see. It’s something to be felt.
Here’s what I wrote before:
The Finns have a word called sisu. It’s often loosely defined as persistence…pushing through adversity or never ever giving up. I’ve heard it described as the Finns fighting and losing a dozen wars to Russia, but never surrendering. That’s the way I have always understood sisu, as a physical, mental, and spiritual toughness, but as I’ve done more reading about it, I’m understanding that it is more than that. I find that Emilia Lahti explains it best: "Sisu denotes extraordinary determination, courage and resoluteness in the face of extreme adversity. It relates to an action mindset that enables individuals to take action against very slim odds and reach beyond the observed limitations of their present moment. Sisu begins where grit and perseverance end. As a construct, it is an integral part of the Finnish culture but it is also a universal capacity of humans all across the word.”
I was thinking about sisu at (of all places) junior boys volleyball playoffs yesterday. I gave our staff the long play-by-play version, but here’s the Cole’s notes version.
To me, that’s sisu. And the boys felt it.
All day long they talked about how proud they were of just getting to the final day. How proud they were to beat Osler. And VCA. And to make semis. And then the finals. And when we lost, they kept that same attitude. They were devastated, absolutely, tears welled. But the smiles came back out for pictures and they talked about being proud to be second in the league and looking forward to next year.
There are so many amazing lessons our students learn through sports. And so many that we, as adults, learn from the kids in the process.
I love that we can stand on the sidelines and coach in real-time. When a mistake is made, or a miscommunication happens, it is instantly a teachable moment. And then because another serve happens, we get to try it again. We get to build connections outside of the classroom, and like yesterday, when a kid accidentally calls you ‘mom’ it’s a compliment to that relationship. We also spend a lot of time reflecting: in timeouts, in between sets, after a game. What's working and what isn't?
Besides skills, we had to work a lot on teamwork concepts this fall. We knew how to be good losers from last year’s season…we lost a lot…but had to learn to be gracious winners when we found success this year. That wasn’t easy. We also learned some hard lessons about respect: for people’s property and people’s dignity. At one point in the season when we were on a win streak, I said to them: “How we do here today isn’t in question; how people go home and talk about our team definitely is.” When the last player out of the classroom yesterday asked me for a broom to sweep the room before we left, I realized that some of those lessons might have stuck.
Last night as we waited for other matches to wrap up, one of the boys commented on being worried about the final game. “I’m nervous, but it’s an excited nervous!” Which lead to a big conversation about, of all things, the importance of a positive attitude and growth mindset. After that surprising bit of philosophy, the boys had a conversation about whether just the winners get medals, or if the second place team gets anything, and someone even went to find out the answer from the Colonsay host. (We got a plaque lol.) They also decided that we weren’t underdogs like last year, but more like “mediocre-dogs.” Haha. And just before he got up to go start warming up, one of the other boys added, “No matter what happens, I’m just really proud of what we’ve done.”
Me too, kids. Me too.
“A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” Jim Watkins
A former student has his own clothing design company: Howard & Lloyd. I was scrolling Instagram today and saw one of his past t-shirt slogans: “Move forward. Stay Weird.”
I love that.
It’s like it should be the two mantras of my life.
Whether we like it or not, life is always moving forward. I’m sitting in an empty house right now. Trust me, I’m pretty aware that life is marching its steady pace, and even if I’ve thrown myself in front to slow it down, it feels like I’m presently getting trampled by the entire tuba section.
I didn’t get a chance to see my kids much over Thanksgiving. They had their reading break and were actually here for the whole week. I only had one night where there wasn’t a meeting, or practice, or travelling for sports. We hosted a tournament on their last day here, and then they were gone. They won’t be back until Christmas.
It was typical of how this fall has gone, as I’ve had one-day weekends for the past five weeks. I get that math isn’t my strong point, but it works out to two things for sure:
One. I’m tired. Literally, not just in the post-election sense.
And two. One day isn’t enough for catching up. Right now I’m failing on about every imaginable metric there is. As much as I convince myself that it doesn’t matter - because most of it really doesn’t - it doesn’t mean that I have to like it!
But we keep moving forward. This past week I had two opportunities to rejuvenate my thinking. The first was PD on Reconciliation. There are many, many times that I feel absolutely discouraged and disheartened. It’s Saskatchewan. The list would be long and depressing. But the opportunity to come together with other educators to learn, and support each other in our learning, gives me hope to continue this important work in any way I can.
The second PD was listening to Dr. Jody Carrington and her “ReConnection Revolution” message on relationship building in our communities. She is a truly amazing speaker, and her message that ‘kids are only as okay as the people holding them’ hit pretty close to the mark. When I know I’m overextended, the housework can definitely wait. The piles of clean laundry on my floor are a testament to that. It’s only two weeks until I will head out to Calgary and see the kids. And if this is another week where this isn’t my finest writing, well, I guess I can live with that too.
Staying weird isn’t a problem.
For the right price, I could dig out all my middle and high school pictures. There’d be no doubt about it.
At every opportunity, I try to model that and to encourage kids to be themselves. I haven’t written about author Matt Haig for a while, but he’s a touchstone when I need a shot of authenticity. This week he wrote: If you aim to be something you’re not, you’ll always fail. Aim to be you. Aim to look and act and think like you. So long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, embrace that you-ness. Be you to the power of you. You2.
So in the spirit of taking care of myself so I can be there for our kids and colleagues, I’m cutting this short. Again. And then calling it a night.
Have a great week everyone, and wish us luck as volleyball season wraps up this week with playoffs!
So today is the national day of writing. I had borrowed my mom's old typewriter to show my students, but thought it would be fun to do my blog post for the week on it.
Already realizing that the apostrophe isn't where it is supposed to be.
That there is not an ENTER button or text-wrap or backspace key that I can fix my typos with.
That if I go too fast, the metal arms with the letters on them will overlap and get stuck.
And that my hand and arm muscles are already sore from having to press, aka pound, the keys down.
But this is where I started to write. I think I was 8 when I asked Santa for a typewriter for Christmas. I got a kid's one and typed so many stories and poems on it. (OMG I just realized there isn't an exclamation mark on this keyboard. On my laptop, it's one of the most worn out keys haha.)
That typewriter made me feel like a writer. Or I should say, i was a writer with my typewriter. I submitted and had work published in the kids' section of the Western Producer. I even remember my pen name: Tytto, which means 'girl' in Finn.
In grade 5, our SRC sponsored a poetry contest for the school. I wrote one about a Rubik's cube. (It was the 1980s...)
I won $15 and bought myself a clock radio. Giant swaths of my life, I don't remember, but that sticks.
I loved writing.
Correction: I love writing.
When I feel like I have words bursting out of me, I write. When I'm sad or frustrated or just having feelings like human beings do, I write.
Sometimes there are even other human beings on the receiving end of those words. And sometimes, there is not. Sometimes I just keep them for me.
Some words are not meant to be shared. They are meant to be saved.
And sometimes they are just sat on. Waiting. In that in between space where I'm trying to decide if they are just for me, or if they are meant to go out into the universe.
A lot of my blog ideas reside in that space. (Again, where is that exclamation point???)
We talk frequently about the power of words in class. The power to hurt, or heal. How really strong writing will take us to places we will never go, or to feel things that we may not have yet felt. The power to explain, describe, persuade, and to go beyond its power to empower. To let others know they are not alone.
To share my writing and not feel so alone myself.
I can't see where the bottom of the page is, but I know it is near...happy writing day everyone. And have a great Education Week. (Don't doubt the important work we do. Again, where is that exclamation point when you need it lol.)
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy...okay website template!