When I was in my second year in the music program at university, a guest clinician came to campus. His name was Roger Behrend, and he was the principal euphonium player for the U.S. Navy Band. A big deal.
Cool. I played euphonium.
Had I heard of him?
That was likely forgivable, considering I was coming from a pretty sheltered band experience in my rural school. But when I was given the amazing experience of a private lesson with him and he asked what professional euphonium players I listened to, I couldn’t name one.
*Up until the previous moment, not even him.*
I don’t remember his exact words, but the gist of it was this: how do you know what a euphonium should sound like, if you have never heard it played skillfully?
That my friends, was a great friggen question.
One that I didn’t have an answer for either.
It’s a good thing that Mr. Behrend was a great, down-to-earth guy, who probably took a bit of pity on me. The lesson was phenomenal. I learned more about my instrument that day than I had in the whole of it before. He gave me a copy of his CD too lol.
But it’s stuck with me.
I muddled my way through years on my instrument without ever having heard its beauty. Its tone. Its capabilities. (It’s not suitable to repeat what the tuba player beside me said when he first played for us…but wow…the man hit notes I hadn’t known existed.)
Hearing him play was inspiring and suddenly I had a new understanding of what I could also do.
If we don’t provide exemplars for our students, how will they know what is possible too? And yes, I’m thinking of writing, but it is no different for empathy, patience, and resilience. Generosity, humility, and kindness. No matter our age, we all need (and can be) important examples.
Sorry this is another short one! New courses, so there was a lot of prep work this weekend. Pretty tired lol. And if you’re feeling it too, you’re probably glad I didn’t ramble on and then have to pretend that you read it when in fact, you didn’t. <raised eyebrow looking at you haha>
Have a great week ahead! Really looking forward to having everyone back together again tomorrow.
No blog this weekend. Well, technically, I guess this is one. But with our daughter heading back to Calgary in two days, the weekend was spent with her and the blog post will wait.
Our first week back.
It was amazing to see people again. It was great to be back with such amazing people again too.
And that’s about enough to write for now, although I have a COVID-test experience that will be detailed at some point lol. Plus I have probably saved a hundred bookmarks and dozens of quotes over the past months. Soooo many things to think about and soooo many questions about how the next few weeks will play out.
But of all the things I have saved, this one keeps coming to mind.
For as excited as I am to see what the fall brings there are a lot of mixed emotions, especially with our daughter leaving (and that’s when there isn’t a pandemic raging in the province next door.) So if you’re feeling conflicted this fall for whatever reason, it’s okay. As the poet below says, there are a lot of feelings being brutally blended together right now. It’s not easy, and that’s alright to admit.
Till next week (when I promise I’ll have something better to say lol) stay safe.
i said to the sun
you are so lucky
to have a sky
but she looked
and she sighed
as she said
in the end
just drift by
and all birds
then leave me
as the sky
in my light
turn their heads
i have mastered
in the end
love and loss
is a duo
By ‘what goes unsaid’ via Instagram
You know it’s been a long pandemic when Nascar is being a beacon for civil and human rights issues.
If you follow it at all, you will know that this is not generally the image and demographic that they cater to. To be fair, our family is the opposite of that, yet have been Nascar fans since our kids were little. I honestly don’t know how it started, but we’ve seen a race at Daytona, our daughter still has an email with Jeff Gordon’s name in it, and our son only wore orange clothes until he was in upper elementary school because his favorite driver Tony Stewart drove the orange Home Depot car.
I swear they even talked with southern accents for a time in their early development, having listened to the announcers week after week. Don’t judge! Lol.
To see Nascar support their only Black driver, Bubba Wallace, and the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as banning the Confederate flag at races, were welcome but surprise moments.
So why write about Nascar on this, the eve before we return to schools after five months away due to COVID 19?
Because we actually have a lot in common.
When Nascar started back with racing, they tried to keep things as normal as possible, but implemented many restrictions at the track. They use a condensed schedule, have strict track access, no fans allowed in the beginning, and only 16 people on the track per team.
Despite all their precautions, one of their most-winningest drivers, Jimmie Johnson, tested positive early on with the virus. (He got 3rd today though, so he’s all good!)
The biggest change though, is that they have eliminated practice and qualifying sessions. Usually the teams would get a chance to drive the track, make changes to the cars, and have a fairly predictable set up before the race. Now, drivers only get to check out the track when they climb in the windows of their cars right before they drop the flag for the actual race.
So how do they adjust? Are they stuck with a set-up that doesn’t work with track conditions?
It’s actually kind of ingenious.
They run a few laps of the race, then there is a new optional pit stop called a “competition caution” where teams pull in and make adjustments on-the-fly.
As always, the communication between the crew chief and the driver in the moment is crucial. The driver gives feedback on how the car is handling and the crew chief and pit crew do the best they can to sort it out, in the shortest amount of time possible.
Any of this starting to sound familiar? Lol.
No matter how we start out, we will continually be making changes. Communication amongst staff, admin, parents, and students will be of utmost importance. We will try, and fail, but we will also learn as we go. Although our experience won’t literally have crashes as they do on the track.
As driver Brad Keselowski said, “You hope everybody is smart and that they take chances…you have to take chances to learn. But by the same token, you hope they don’t take chances that are potentially lethal to everyone else’s day and causes big wrecks. Everybody has different motivations, challenges, goals, and they all kind of get thrown into this big pot (at Talledaga) with no practice. We’ll see what happens.”
I love how he says “you have to take chances to learn.” I heard something similar from an announcer in today’s race: “They’ll be learning every single lap. Let’s see who learns the quickest.” That should be a Sask Health Authority slogan because I'm pretty sure that's what they have been doing since March.
For Nascar teams and drivers, the end goal is a win.
For us, it will be providing a safe place for learning in uncertain times.
But regardless, this African proverb seems to work for both: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Welcome back everyone! I won’t say that we’ve got this…I’m not at that level of confidence lol…but we can do this.
Yep, we can.
See you tomorrow peeps! It’s been five months - I can hardly wait one more night!!
A lot of tears in our house yesterday as we said goodbye to Luka. He was part of our family for 14 ½ years. And no matter what stories I tell in the next few sentences, he was a good dog. He was kind and gentle. He was amazing with the kids. Didn’t bark. Didn’t jump up on people. Never harassed the cats, at least not in his later years lol.
We loved that dog.
But if you are a co-worker or have been Facebook friends with me for any length of time, you will have heard Luka stories. Because Luka had one character flaw and it was Shakespearean in size: he was a runner. Add to that, the GPS in his head never functioned, and that meant that I spent a good portion of my adult life looking out the kitchen window to make sure the dog was still there.
I am going to be looking for a while still. Old habits are hard to break.
Luka never did break his running habit. When he was only six months old, he ended up with a bullet lodged in his left hip, probably the consequence of running in someone’s pasture. When he ran with the neighbor dog, at least once he ended up at a co-worker’s house towards Swanson. We live between Pike Lake and Delisle, for reference. Nowhere close! When you live in the country, a mortal sin is letting your dog run loose so we knew we had to do something. For everyone thinking we should have just got him fixed, we did. It didn’t help lol.
Another neighbor suggested tying 2x4s so that he had to drag something around. We opted for a tire instead. People often laughed when I’d say that he was like a car: he had both winter and summer tires, larger ones in the winter because there was no friction to slow him down! When that didn’t work (he would navigate the corner at the end of our lane like a tractor trailer unit, swinging wide and again ending up at the neighbor’s) we had to put a 14ft tree across the road. What a colossal pain in the ass, having to move a giant log every time we came in and out of our yard! Typical Luka, there were times that he STILL managed to get past that, running with enough speed to ramp that tire right up and over, and he was off. When he’d get stuck in the trees off one of our trails, he would never bark. My tracking skills got pretty strong over the years, and I’d find him, patiently smiling at me like:
“I knew you’d find me mom.”
On multiple occasions, either the rope or his collar would break and he would be gone. Like I said, the GPS never worked! When he stopped running, he would just make himself at home with whoever he met. One time someone found him after a couple weeks lost, wearing a black leather collar, where he had left with a blue nylon one. He was so, so fickle and it would be easy to think of him as disloyal, but really Luka just loved anyone and everyone. On his farthest journey, he was 62kms away in under 24hours. I found him through Facebook, way out by the Harris game preserve. The rope eventually was replaced with chain, and you had to be sure not the take it across the ankles when he decided to run by you. I had literal chain marks many times when I didn’t jump fast enough.
In case you think we didn’t try, I can assure you we did! We even have a useless dog training certificate to show for it. It really wasn’t his fault - it’s what huskies are meant to do. Even today, as we sat in the car waiting to get called into the vet, Luka wanted to sniff out the window but couldn’t really move to get closer. I opened up his door and sure enough he was giving it his best effort to make a break for it! It was only a year ago when we were away travelling, our daughter Eliisa decided that Luka was too old to run away anymore. Nope. He was not, haha.
His running did have some advantages though, like pulling the kids on their GT racers when they were little. They had to be sure not to fall off, or Luka would take off with the sled! He used to go ski-joring with me, but he generally only pulled until he decided he was done, and then I would have to try to cross country ski without poles back PLUS pull a less than cooperative dog along with me. He was so strong, even in his old age. A co-worker said that’s because he did cross-fit with the tire all day long!
But that wasn’t his only idiosyncrasy. Eliisa remembers that she cranked him in the head with a bocce ball once (she throws like I do) but I’m sure it wasn’t the reason why! He just always had his own unique personality. Luka always ate chokecherries right off the trees, putting a branch in his mouth and stripping the berries off. Never Saskatoons! Just chokecherries. He had more than one encounter with skunks and the tomato juice bath always left him a little orange for a while. He did traumatize the cats when they were all younger, but as they got older, they became best buds hanging out together on the “dog deck” where Luka spent his nights.
Yesterday, we sat together in the back of the SUV with the vet beside him. I held his head in my hands and stroked his thick coat. He was only starting to lose his winter hair, small tufts of fresh white sticking out here and there. When they put the needle in and he was going to sleep, I was ready for the last breath. We’ve said goodbye to two other dogs, and I remember how that scared me the first time. I know it’s just air leaving like a deflating balloon, but it feels like their spirit is being released back into the world again. But Luka did something different first. His front legs started to run. Not spasm. Run. Just for a second or two, but it was running. I’d told the veterinary assistant earlier about how Luka was a runner, and she quietly said it was fitting that he ran his way across the rainbow bridge to the other side.
Yes, it was.
Luka, you brought equal amounts of love and stress to our lives, but that was who you were. I’m so glad that you were part of our family for so long. I’ll miss you puppy.
Sometimes it’s hard to gauge when something is over.
Not tax season, of course.
Or the end of a movie.
Or the end of a game.
Or even the end of a trip.
There are very clear signals that each one of those things is finished. Canada Revenue starts calling you, the lights in the theater come up, the buzzer sounds, and the GPS throws up a checkered flag with a “you’ve arrived” message on your phone.
Okay, so maybe most of the things in our lives do have clearly delineated beginnings and endings.
But sometimes, it’s not clear. Like, do we have actual seasons in Saskatchewan? It’s confusing, considering they overlap like a bad Venn diagram: snow in spring, below zero in summer, heat wave in fall, and balmy Chinook-filled days of winter.
For me, in this moment, I am not in an enviable place as I try to gauge when the life of my 14.5 year old dog is over.
The signs are all there. They are getting clearer by the day. But because I can’t ask him if he’s okay to spend a few more days or weeks laying in the sunshine, even if I have to carry him to get there, I can’t truly know when it should be the end.
How much simpler it would be if he could just tell me. As Brene Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” I wish it was clear.
God, do I wish it was clear.
But to be honest, people aren’t always much better. Kevin Kusch (Deputy Director of Learning at Lloydminster Catholic Division) said something at the Principal’s Short Course a few years ago that has totally stuck with me: people may not always tell you what they need, but people always project what they need.
Their actions are telling you. Being astute enough to listen is the hard part.
I’m only partway through “Option B” by Sheryl Sandberg, a top executive at Facebook. She writes: “Growing up, I was taught to follow the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. But when someone is suffering, instead of following the Golden Rule, we need to follow the Platinum Rule: treat others as they want to be treated. Take a cue from the person in distress and respond with understanding - or better yet, action.”
Sandberg goes on to say, “I was suffering from so many insecurities that I almost started a People Afraid of Inconveniencing Others support group, until I realized that all the members would be afraid of imposing on one another and no one would show up.”
That Nike commercial was right all along - just do it. Or more fittingly, the Particip-Action commercial from the 1980s - don’t just think about it, do it, do it, do it.
One of the things that I continue to work on is to be a better listener. To be a better observer. To think beyond my own perception of a situation and to examine the biases I bring to it - our ‘bias blindspots.’ These past few weeks in the world have given me plenty of time to reflect on that too.
So this week, I hope to be more astute.
To listen for what my students may need in our last week together.
To move from the Golden Rule to the Platinum one - to treat and give people not what I would want, but to treat and give people what they are telling me they need.
To watch what my dog is projecting, and hopefully letting me understand what he wants too.
And most of all, when it's obvious that something is over, to have the grace to accept it.
So it’s almost Sunday night. I’m tired today and the window on having an afternoon nap closed at least 3 hours ago, so this is going to be short! And a cheat lol, because I wrote this for my birthday on Friday and posted it to my facebook. Anyway, here it is.
Ten years ago as I was nearing my 39th birthday, I remember a conversation with Reverend Jordan Cantwell. The details are fuzzy but the gist of it was Jordan saying her 40s were her best decade yet - that that’s when you’re just getting started. At that point she was just an intern minister, before going on to become Moderator (head) of the entire United Church of Canada…just getting started was an understatement!
When you are still in your 30s that sounds hard to believe. But she was right. After focusing solely on my kids, my 40s were a time to find myself again. The hard part is that sometimes you don’t recognize yourself anymore, which makes the finding much more difficult.
Ironically though, finding your own way isn’t a ‘me’ journey, but a ‘we’ journey.
Had a former colleague of mine, Teresa Lalonde, not been taking Educational Technology and Design at the time, I might never have gone back to get my Masters. Or met Jay Wilson. Or Rick Schweir. Or a multitude of amazing educators.
Had Brett Kirk never come to our school as an administrator, I might never have pursued courses in admin leadership or started my blog. Brett’s reply to every hair-brained idea I had was “Go for it.” He may be the best example of a servant leader out there, and is still the most valuable mentor I have.
Had I not started to write this weekly Sunday night ramble, and sustained it for over two years now, I wouldn’t have remembered how much I loved and missed putting words out into the world. Hitting publish on the first one was by far the hardest; I remember it was the “I am from” poem that Tracey Young and Jon Yellowlees modelled for our aspiring administrators group. Rocksandwillows.ca came from that first line: I am from Rock Point…
Had I not gotten used to taking risks (and trying to keep up with my then-teenaged children) I might never have learned to snowboard or wakeboard. “One more run” always meant several more, until I literally couldn’t pull/get myself up. I drank a lot of Lake Diefenbaker and had the most colorful bruises from those two endeavors, but <finally> got it.
Had I not met Kim at Craven Sport Services, I might have let injury keep me sidelined. Last fall, it was at the point where I had to lift my leg into the vehicle and I was really feeling like that might be it for sports. A friend had recommended Kim, and without her helping me with physio, I might never have continued my running or finished a 10km run yesterday. Was it way slower than four years ago? Yep. But like I used to say to my own kids when they would compete: it’s not about first. It’s about finishing.
Had I not practiced what I preach, including my favorite saying, “There is no courage without vulnerability” I might never have started playing piano for strangers on the internet, complete with bloopers, for 46 days in a row now. It’s quite a thing. People have checked in from BC, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and even overseas. It’s been 22.5 hours of Anne Murray, wartime hits, the Tennessee Waltz and old time dance music…and actually a lot of fun.
Had I not lost my closest cousin in August, just short of her own 49th birthday, I might have gotten lost in the existential midlife crisis exasperated by an empty nest, or lost sight of how much I still want to do and what I want to accomplish. I think of Lisa almost every day.
We don’t know what each day, or year, will bring. But I am still always trying to learn and grow. This fall I have a new opportunity as a Sector Facilitator for HS ELA in our division working half-time with other teachers, half-time in the school. I’m so excited to work with the amazing educators we have in Prairie Spirit. Like, soooooooo excited!!!!
There’s still a half-marathon on my list, although I’m not sure all the physio in the world will ever get me there anymore. But with my daughter Eliisa doing mountain climbing now, maybe there are other unknown adventures in this last year of my 40s too.
Two shoutouts: Mom, thanks for being my number one supporter, reading every blog and listening to every note. I know you’ll see this one too.
To my birthday twin, kindred spirit, fellow teacher, and friend Lisa Horsman (who also regularly reads the blog and for some unknown reason tunes in to listen to all those piano songs from 1937) this last decade was ours.
But so is the next one.
Nope, finding your own way isn’t a ‘me’ journey, but a ‘we’ journey. Thanks to everyone, literally or virtually lol, for being there with me. Here’s to another journey around the sun! Next stop 50.
There’s really only one thing to write about today, and it would be thoughtless to just ignore everything that is happening in the United States right now.
So let me start by saying: I don’t know anything.
I have been following things on Twitter, reading articles, watching impassioned speeches.
But as a white person with the privilege that comes with it, I can’t ever fully understand.
Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, my classmates were a homogeneous group. When I look at our grade 1 picture, it’s twenty little white faces and one little girl who is not. I don’t like naming people when they don’t know I’m writing about them, but just so it is clear, my unnamed school friend, is black. As a kid, I never noticed. That is the god honest truth. No one was uttering racial epithets in our home, no swearing or derogatory language was used, and the message at home and church was always ‘love one another.’ In fact, her mom was my Sunday School teacher for many years.
It wasn’t until I was in grade 10 that she moved to attend school at LCBI, just down the road in Outlook. I don’t remember who asked it, except that it was an adult, but their exact words stuck in my head:
“I wonder how she will make out there being black?”
For the first time in my life, I saw my friend through a different lens.
Omg. She is black! How ridiculous that must sound, I know. It was something no one had talked about, and in hindsight, how absolutely stupid of me not to notice. <facepalm>
But for a long time, I felt an odd bit of pride in thinking that I’d known my school friend for over a decade without noticing, so that obviously showed that I didn’t pay attention to race, so that obviously meant that I wasn’t racist, right?
Except here it is. Race matters.
Ignoring it, or not noticing it at all, is another sign of the privilege that being white has given me. Ignoring it, or not noticing it at all, lets me pass over history and pay attention only to the (aptly-named) whitewashed version that is comfortable to me. Ignoring it, or not noticing it at all, lets me off the hook in understanding what her lived experience has been, especially here in Saskatchewan.
So although I grew up in a home where racism was not tolerated, the whole premise of systemic racism is that it’s everywhere and in everything, “a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not.” (Scott Woods) And it sure is. This is what I learned elsewhere:
At school, the little kid’s chant, “Eeeny meeny miny moe, catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollers, let him go. Eeeny meeny miny moe.” That’s the version my daughter learned, but the word we used wasn’t tigers.
At the convenience store for treats, we knew the names of the black candies and it wasn’t licorice babies. (And why do these even still exist??)
Driving in Saskatoon, hit a certain neighborhood, and you’d press your door lock down. Look the other way or don’t make eye contact with that person.
Books and tv shows all filled with white faces and characters, any diversity was for comic effect and little more.
Schools run by white people. Government run by white people. ‘Important’ jobs all filled by white people.
The list could go on and on. So many subtle ways that we learn to be racist.
Is it better? Again, this is not my experience to speak to. From my privileged vantage point, it’s sure easy to look around and point out examples of change. But we also know that in 2020 more children’s books are written with animal protagonists (27%) than with black characters (10%). That Indigenous children are still disproportionately affected in areas of poverty, lack of healthcare, and foster care, and that Indigenous people are incarcerated and murdered at much higher rates. That the reality of taking a walk with a headscarf on is much different than walking with a toque. But those things happen elsewhere, to people we don’t know, so we are quick to think we are immune from racism in our own small towns, right?
Well then, I have a story about a Grade 6 girl who came into our senior ELA classroom this year to talk about being called the n-word.
In our community.
While playing hockey.
By another kid.
And this happened to her
More than once.
So hang onto that not-in-my-backyard thought, and press a little harder to figure out where that word is coming from: where it’s said out loud, and where it is practised and repeated, before it is spat out at little girls in hockey rinks.
That’s just the part we can see and hear. There’s so much more to racism. This is where it gets tough for white people to understand.
“Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe…it is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.” (Scott Woods)
There is so much to unpack that it can be overwhelming, but it has to be done. As a friend and former colleague, Tracy Woodward, posted: “We can all learn what it means to be actively anti-racist and start to dismantle the systems that are in place and inequitable. It’s on each of us to pursue this intentionally.”
For me, as the clashes and violence continue, that means to stop writing. Right now. I don’t know anything and I can’t fully understand. But I can keep listening to the voices that are fighting not to be silenced.
And then listen some more.
Here is the full passage from Scott Woods:
The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people's expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn't care if you are a white person who likes black people; it's still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don't look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It's not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It's a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.
The title written on the cover of the journal beside me is “Be Brave.”
Dr. Jody always says, “We are wired to do hard things.”
Glennon Doye writes, “I say to myself every few minutes: This is hard. We can do hard things. And then I do them.”
Oh, but it’s hard.
What am I agonizing over? A facebook post, of all things. I know that I need to reply. I know the feeling that I want to express.
It’s the words that won’t come.
I can’t remember who said, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.” Maybe it was Dr. Tam, in one of her COVID updates, which would be appropriate since that has been my mantra to get through the pandemic so far.
But this post requires me to be more than ‘good’ and I’m sure it could never come close to being perfect.
Because the post I need to write is for a high school classmate, who just let everyone on his social media know that he is dying.
If you haven’t read Infinite Mindset by Simon Sinek, he talks about the idea of a ‘worthy rival.’ Sorta like a growth mindset version of your nemesis! My friend above? In high school he was my worthy rival.
I’m a fairly competitive person, just ask my family when we play crib. But in school, particularly in the time period where marks were on everything and everything was marked, that meant EVERYTHING was a competition between the two of us.
When those pink, handwritten, carbon-copy report cards came out? The sleuthing began.
“SOOOO, what did YOU get?”
When you were burning to know if you had the top mark or not, there was no time for subtle reconnaissance lol.
We either had the same marks, or were off by just one percent, but if he beat me? Ohhhhhhhh, I would be mad, and determined to make sure the next time, it would be ME with the highest grade.
Super healthy behaviour, I know….and I pity teachers for the searing interrogations I must have put them through to explain to me where that 1% went missing!
We know that grades are not a motivator for most students, and in fact, are de-motivating for learning to happen. I just listened to a Project Based Learning Webinar facilitated by A.J. Juliani. One of the lines that resonated with me was this: Assessing says “I want to help you” while grading says “I want to judge you.” We went (almost) completely gradeless in grade 7 this year, aside from a mark that we co-constructed for the January progress report. Not in high school, you say? In ELA 30 we didn’t enter any marks until October 1, and a vast majority of our assignments utilized the 1-4 scale. I want our students to care about and learn for the sheer joy of learning. The emotion I felt most was not that of joy, but antagonism and rivalry.
Most definitely, not the same thing.
But marks aside, this boy did make me better.
He was by far the smartest kid in our grade.
He was by far the best male writer I knew.
And I worked my ass off to just stay in the same league as him.
We lost touch, and are friends only in the distant facebook way where social media only superficially semi-connects us. I don’t know what happened to his own dream of being a writer.
But I hope he still writes.
I hope that he will still write.
I hope that some miracle can stop the rare virus that is attacking his brain and that, as he says, is going to kill him within months.
I hope that I can find the words to write on that facebook post.
This is hard. We can do hard things. And then I do them.
Today is my dad’s birthday. It won’t matter that I announce it here, partly because he doesn’t read this, but mostly because as a 77 year old farmer in the middle of seeding, he likely won’t stop to celebrate it.
But I am going to do that because my dad is one of the most amazing people.
He grew up a bilingual second generation immigrant, translating for his dad, fluent in both Finnish and English. Even with few opportunities to speak it anymore, he hasn’t lost the language at all.
He attended the one room school just north of the farm, riding horses, and raising cattle and chickens. Even through decades of technological change, he is still full-time farming.
When he was young, in the wintertime he worked construction for the Gardiner Dam. He peeled potatoes the first year, too young to wield any equipment. But after that, ran trucks behind the mole. He can drive and fix anything that moves.
He was an RM counsellor for many years. He’s still a volunteer on the board for the museum in town.
He and mom taught social dancing in the schools, and were members of the Scandinavian Club in Saskatoon, enjoying the dances there. He can still cut a rug with the best of them.
He was a pilot, getting his licence in 1967 and flying all the way until 2000, at times volunteering with search and rescue. Tracking flights and online flight simulators still keep him occupied when there’s no curling on the tv.
He’s owned every kind of vintage truck and car around, and his yellow Karmann Ghia was a staple with the Volkswagen people every year at Cruise Night. All car questions still go straight to dad.
He’s kind and caring and a crokinole phenom. There’s so much more to list, but you get the idea: my dad is hands-down one of the smartest, hard-working, and handiest people I know.
And, like so many men of his generation, he has accomplished all of this with a grade 8 education when he left school to work full-time on the farm.
Dad has never placed limits on what he could do, what he could learn, or what he could achieve. When we talk in education about growth mindsets and lifelong learners, that’s him, and no doubt a generation of people just like my dad. Learning did not stop when their schooling did.
There’s a lot of internet chatter from education folks all over North America about disengaged students during the pandemic. Article after article, the reasons are detailed, suggestions provided, all of them totally valid.
Absolutely, it is difficult to compare today’s children to my dad’s time, or even to my own childhood. There’s an expression: an idle mind will seek a toy. I was used to being bored and having to find my own things to do on the farm, with only my siblings around. “Bored” has never been a large part of modern kids’ highly-scheduled lives. For us, the party line on the telephone still existed, so technology overload, let alone technology disparities, didn’t exist. We had to use our imaginations to make our own fun and no matter the season, we did: chasing snakes and finding kittens in the spring, dingy races and play-forts in the summer, making straw-houses in the fields after the combine had gone through in the fall, and cross country skiing and shinny on the slough in the winter. Self-isolation was our way of life.
I just finished Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed and although it is about the social conditioning and societal expectations of women, there are many lessons in there. This part about boredom caught my attention. “When we are bored, we ask ourselves: What do I want to do with myself? We are guided toward certain things: a pen and paper, a guitar, the forest in the backyard, a soccer ball, a spatula. The moment after we don’t know what to do with ourselves is the moment we find ourselves. Right after itchy boredom is self-discovery. But we have to hang in there long enough without bailing.”
There were many great ideas in the book that made me draw parallels to education. In fact, she begins the book with a story about a tamed cheetah called Tabitha.
Day after day this wild animal chases dirty pink bunnies down the well-worn, narrow path they cleared for her. Never looking left or right. Never catching that damn bunny, settling instead for a store-bought steak and the distracted approval of sweaty strangers. Obeying the zookeeper’s every command, just like Minnie, the Lab she’s been trained to believe she is. Unaware that if she remembered her wildness - just for a moment - she could tear those zookeepers to shreds.”
A little girl asks if Tabitha misses the wild?
The zookeeper smiled and said, “No. Tabitha was born here. She doesn’t know any different. She’s never even seen the wild.”
But if she could ask Tabitha what she is feeling?
I knew what she’d tell me. She’d say, “Something’s off about my life. I feel restless and frustrated. I have this hunch that everything was supposed to be more beautiful than this. I imagine fenceless, wide-open savannas. I want to run and hunt and kill. I want to sleep under an ink-black, silent sky filled with stars. It’s all so real I can taste it.
Then she’d look back at the cage, the only home she’s ever known. She’d look at the smiling zookeepers, the bored spectators, and her panting, bouncing, begging best friend, the Lab.
Every time I read that part, it makes me think deeper.
Coincidentally, this quote by Stephen Downes popped across my timeline through George Couros this morning. This was, and more than ever still is, the goal: “We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves.”
At some point we will move beyond this emergency-teaching, and a new normal will begin. It will not be the same, at least not for a long time, so examining student engagement will be a priority.
But let’s say it all ended today. That my grade 7s never set foot in a classroom again, not dissimilar to my dad’s experience.
Would they take part in local government?
Would they learn to keep a business going?
Would they learn to fix things that break?
Would they learn to fly (literally or figuratively)?
Would they know they were a cheetah and meant for the wild?
Or would they stay in the cage of what they believe education is, not looking away from the pink bunny or running off the path?
When we started this alternate learning months ago, our Director of Education Lori Jeschke emphasized that Learning Is Everywhere.
That’s a lesson I learned from my dad, and one that I hope our students are taking to heart as they learn at home too.
Oh, and if mom hands you this to read when you come in from the field tonight dad, Happy Birthday!!!
There was a song called “Magic Penny” that we used to sing in Sunday School. It went like this:
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.
It’s just like a magic penny. Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many, they’ll roll all over the floor.
In our staff book club this last week, I was thinking of this song. I even brought it up, but apparently it was a niche melody from a rural protestant church, because no one else had heard of it! As a kid, the whole paradox of the lyrics blew my mind. How can you spend something and get more? How can you hold something tight and not have it?
Like most people, except the truly introverted who are completely at peace with this, I have had ups and downs over the past 8 weeks.
I try not to think about all the people I’m missing. All the things that I am missing, or missing out on. I try to check myself once in a while, knowing that I am enduring this with a giant amount of privilege. But I also let myself be sad sometimes, and it doesn’t matter if you are 7 or 17 or 70 (or going on 79 days without seeing your daughter) comparing pain is moot. As Dr. Jody says, “If you’re old enough to love, you’re old enough to grieve.”
So when I feel that I have spent too much time in that place, the best way to get out of it, is to do something for someone else.
The Magic Penny song nailed that concept in the 1970s.
Think literally about that magic penny. Hold it tight and you won’t have any. Well technically, you’ll have one, and that’s it. But lend it and spend it, and it will come back to you over and over again, sometimes with interest. I’m sure this is an actual economic strategy that CERB and other stimulus packages around the world are based on, presently trying to keep local businesses afloat.
As a simile, love is like a magic penny works too. If I hoard emotion away, it’s all there inside me. Full of love but not giving it to anyone else? Well, that’s kinda lonely. Full of anxiety and stress and resentment? Well, that’ll just eat you up when you tuck it away.
But lend that love to someone who needs it? Be that listening ear?
Spend that love? Spread appreciation around like confetti? Forgive?
There’s lots of research on how you benefit more in giving, than the recipient receives in getting. The whole premise of servant leadership is predicated on giving to others.
I know that when I cause joy for someone, I feel more joyful.
That when I bring some happiness through a small surprise, I feel happier.
Jeesh, even when I crack really cheesy jokes in our class time online, and I hear a little giggle, I feel a small glimmer of connection that I’ve missed so much. And knowing that I made someone laugh makes me feel better.
As Dr. Jody Carrington writes in her book, “Anxiety or depression cannot live in a relaxed body. Slow it down as many times a day as you can muster. It’s magic.”
A virtual colleague tagged me in an article this week. It was on teacher burnout in the pandemic. I loved this part:
“While no one has the answers, I’m starting to feel the best thing I can do is help students manage and cope with their uncomfortable feelings…Instead of quickly assuring them that things will be over soon, I ask them, ‘What can you do right now that will make this hardship feel a little easier?’”
It reminds me of Dr. Jody’s questions: Tell me more. What am I missing? What is the hardest part?
If feelings of failure and frustration can’t co-exist with success and confidence, then I need to do things that ease someone else’s hardship, or make someone else’s day, and in the process will feel better too.
I know it’s true.
I’ll share one. Some of you will know that I live stream a half hour of piano music every day, hoping to reach shut-in seniors or care homes.
There were literally dozens of reasons that I gave myself for NOT doing it. The top ones included not wanting to see myself on the internet, knowing I am not the best piano player out there, and actively avoiding the embarrassment of making mistakes on a live stream (which would just reinforce that I’m not the best piano player out there, and round and round we go in a vicious circle lol.)
You know what?
None of that mattered.
On days that just a handful of people tune in (my mom, my grade 4 teacher, and my friend Lisa are my faithful listeners) I know that they are there because they want to be. They don’t care what my hair looks like, or that my phone goes off, or about any of my mistakes. They don’t care that my piano is out of tune, is missing some key tops, and that the Db in the left hand doesn’t play at all.
You know what they notice?
That I played their favorite polka.
That they were enjoying the music as they reorganized their recipe binder over lunch.
That their mom had sewed special dresses for the square dance club they had in grade 9 called the Belles and Beaus.
When I come back the next day to record again, sometimes twenty people have watched it and sometimes two hundred. All of them have seen my hair just pulled back in a ponytail. Heard the mistakes. Watched the music fall off the piano mid-song.
And you know what?
They don’t care either.
“One of my favorites.”
“Makes me want to dance.”
“Thank you for sharing.”
Love is something if you give it away folks. You end up having more.
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