So after I missed writing last week, it was surprisingly easy to convince myself that I could skip another week and just pick it up once or twice before the end of June. It’s crazy busy and I didn’t think anyone would a) notice and b) fault me for skipping out. But then….two things happened…I saw Bruce’s tweet about pride and joy at work, and I found a page I’d copied from Mind Platter as I packed my school bag for tomorrow. Both of them gave me the nudge I needed. So to model a quickwrite, I’m setting my timer for ten minutes, excuse the rambling, and here we go.
I’m often proud of things at work. Just this week, the NHL hockey playoffs wrapped up. I was totally pulling for Vegas, but alas, the Cinderella season came up just short. But it also meant that our Grade 7 hockey draft was done! I never managed to get any farther than 11th place even though I totally had picked Fleury as goalie, and Haula and Karllson because they are two Finnlanders. What can I say, I have random strategies sometimes lol. It was a girl in grade 7, Nyah, who actually won it. I was proud of the work they did. The kids wrote letters for donations as a prize package, since all of the entry fees were going to be donated. They walked them to different businesses, and in the end, we had a nice prize from the local Co-op. It was great to see the kids have to go out and talk to real people! We donated the money to KidSport in honor of the Humboldt Broncos, and with help from the SRC, it came to $500. Very proud of that too.
I’m returning the guitars that we borrowed from the division office tomorrow, and so we had our wrapup ‘concerts’ where the kids presented the songs that they learned. On Friday. Last period. In June. I don’t know what I was thinking! But it went well, and I was really proud of them for getting up in front of their peers and trying! And I make a point of telling them all along, that’s one of our main goals. Not even how well the song ends up going, but in the shaky clammy hands, the fast flutter of your heartbeat, feeling like you have to go to the bathroom. Again. It’s all part of performing and it’s awesome. A few groups had to start over. It happens. I was proud of them to pick it back up and keep going, and I made sure to say those words out loud.
This week is our Education Celebration, and it’s a chance to remind ourselves of all the great work kids are doing. I’ve been working all weekend on a video for the end of the evening and it’s given me a chance to look back through all the tweets and see the amazing things that we have accomplished as individuals and collectively in the past ten months. We’ve had some setbacks to be sure, but sooooo many more exciting initiatives and innovative ideas to keep us moving forward too. I’m proud of the little things that my grade 7s have been a part of. From the Remembrance Day writing, to presents for the cancer kids to give to their families, to the Telemiracle skateathon, to the hockey draft donation. They are all small ventures but they had big social lessons for us to learn, and it made me proud to see how excited the kids were about each of them too. (The timer is going off!!! And I haven’t even gotten to the joy part yet! *Five more minutes*)
At a school level, I’m most proud of our school-wide reading. There’s always a reason, or two, or three, why something isn’t going to work. We’ve tried it before. The kids won’t buy in. But our administration wasn’t fazed. We just started it and it worked. Now, I’m pretty sure not all changes are so smoothly implemented, but this one was. And now we are all reading for 25 more minutes a day than we were before. That makes me happy, and really really proud.
So that’s a good segue into joy, haha. This is me thinking really fast, and it might not make sense, but I think that joy isn’t as much something that you get from something, but something that you give. I think there is joy in every situation, if I bring it. I guess it’s like I tell my own kids, your day (or work) will be as enjoyable as you allow it to be. If you want it to miserable, it will be. If you want it to be fun, it will be. But you make that decision. You make that happen. So to me, there is joy in everything from the minute I walk in the building to when I leave it. There’s joy in talking to students, saying hi, having conversations about really random things, or mentally connecting the plot dots of a story that’s gotten longwinded and seems to have no end! There’s joy in sitting side by side and playing music. Sooooo much joy. Or even playing floor hockey with grade 8s despite getting a stick accidentally in the eye. But even then, it’s made for more interesting conversations with people too. Like the one where someone legitimately mistook my black eye, and thought I was wearing dark purple eyeshadow. If you know me, that’s NOT me.
Ahhhh the timer is going off again. And I haven’t even talked about the Mind Platter quote that I found. Or about the amazing day that I had at the Walk Alongside conference in Saskatoon, or visiting the Ronald McDonald house, or listening to the teachers who work with hospitalized kids. I guess I’ll attach it as a picture and table the other ideas for another time. As an aside, I hadn’t realized that the ‘pride and joy’ aspect had been added to our PSSD work until I saw it on twitter on Friday. I loved it and know that we will be delving more into that. And thanks Bruce for posting your blog faithfully…without knowing it, you helped me not fall too far off the blogging wagon!
It’s a crazy busy week ahead, but I’m going to consicously be looking for the pride and bringing the joy. Have a great one!
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
You can tell that summer is coming and things are winding down, not the least of which is that hockey will finally be over with the Stanley Cup final starting tomorrow night – go Vegas!! But I’m thinking more about the dance recitals, swimming competitions, band festivals, and my own two nieces kicking butt and winning awards in Karate Nationals in Ottawa recently. I have seen gold plaques, gold medals, and lots of proud social media posts by parents, directors, and coaches in the last week. Award season is most definitely in full swing!
So inevitably I started thinking about why we give awards...what the purpose is…how we determine the criteria…who we give awards to…who we are leaving out.
And there it is.
I really didn’t know what I was going to write about this week, until someone suggested that we had been discussing how to honor more students at our annual Education Celebration and recognize the hard work that they are doing. When I looked back at the posts that I had saved this week, I could see the trend was there all along.
1. “What is real, what is true, what is of value? Then how do we teach that and how do we recognise it, as you say? Then remunerate for that.” Mandy Ross @eskicatepillar
2. “What sense does an honor roll make if a student who didn’t have to work extremely hard to their grades got A’s and B’s, yet a student that works extremely hard and surpasses expectations to get C’s gets no recognition?” Brad Weinstein @WeinsteinEdu
3. “I wish I had a way of noticing every time a stronger kid stands up for a weaker kid. That kind of character deserves some sort of special medal. I’ll take that over ‘honor roll’ any day of the week.” Danny Steele @SteeleThoughts
4. “Fleury: ‘It’s still fun to come to practice, it’s not hard to get up for it.’ The attitude of a guy who just loves to play hockey.” Vegas Golden Knights @GoldenKnights
5. “I’ve had my share of disappointments…it doesn’t mean I wasn’t good enough…it just means I wasn’t my best that day…or maybe someone else was just better than me…no matter how good you are there is always someone better…as I have matured I’ve realized that I care less about accolades, recognition or prizes and that the only one I am in competition with is myself…the goal is to be a better person today than I was yesterday…disappointments…I’ve had a few…it builds character and character breeds respect…it starts with you…be love and be loved…ekosi.” Rodger W. Ross
That’s why I love twitter. It always makes me think.
Each year, celebrating the great students in our building and the amazing things that they are doing is a work in progress, and there is no doubt that it’s an imperfect vehicle for student recognition. But I also believe that each year we make changes to improve it, and this one is no exception! Since I borrowed words from lots of people to make up this week’s post, I’ll finish with words someone lent me today: “In the end, creating a learning-focused culture requires an organization to answer this question: Are we here to ensure students are taught, or are we here to ensure that our students learn?...Is our work about building walls and documenting who climbs over them, or making sure all our learners have the tools and supports to get over any wall life places in front of them?” (Katie White @KatieWhite426) As we make award decisions in the near future, these are good questions for us all, not just about student learning but in recognizing student learning.
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
Looking at social media posts, everyone has had a fabulous long weekend! Or I guess I should say, it looks like everyone has had a fabulous long weekend.
That’s the rub with social media – we create the story we want to tell and craft it carefully. I suppose that’s how it always has been; even pre-internet, people were only privy to the information you offered, so private matters often stayed that way. Now, many young people have separate lives on display as they run two Instagram accounts, for example; one for your larger group of friends, and one that is much more intimate and confidential for people close to you. Two completely different online identities. As we share more and more online, we shape those social media personas to an extent not seen before.
But does it really matter what we show the world? Not long ago, someone following me on twitter said that it looked like I was having a great school year. My response was that it had been a great one! And it has. But I did admit that someday I should share all the moments that didn’t go as planned, like a ‘real lives of’ reality show. To a certain extent, I think there is some value to an honest and transparent sharing of struggles online. I follow people like Matt Haig and Tyson Williams, who are very frank about their personal issues and they have valuable lessons to share. When dealing with teens, there is a lot that doesn’t go the way you think it should, and there sure wouldn’t be a shortage of reality...but publishing it for what purpose?
None of us live perfect lives, so why hide when we're not at our best? Well, for starters, pride. This week, my teenage son almost missed an important school field trip, because he didn’t pay attention to crucial details like what time they were leaving. It was only because his teacher texted me to make sure he was coming that he made it there. (Thanks Erin!) I didn’t post it because it was embarrassing; I hadn’t personally paid attention to the specifics and it was not my proudest parenting moment. But I also don’t like the idea of publicly shaming our children when they mess up. You can’t learn lessons in a place where humiliation and reproach also reside. (If the irony of me now posting that story here is apparent, it’s mostly because very few people read this blog lol. And I asked my son’s permission!)
As a teacher, I absolutely have days when I feel lacking. When a student hates reading. When they say they’re bored. When I inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings. When someone lets me down. When a parent is upset with me. When I haven’t been heard. When I haven’t listened. When a student lies to me. When they need help and refuse it. When they needed help and I didn’t realize it. There are many failings in any given day. These are sometimes hard to acknowledge, let alone publicly declare, and I carry them nonetheless. So if, in the telling of it, it helps to set some of the weight down, that’s a good thing. But I am always aware that the message I am sending is still a positive one: that although there may be disappointment or discontent in the details, the story still needs to model hope.
Because that’s important.
A book I read this weekend by Harold R. Johnson speaks both to the importance of story, and setting that positive tone for others. “We also learned how to pay attention. If we came from a family with grandparents and parents who carried themselves with dignity, who behaved morally and ethically, we learned to be good people. If we lived in a good story, if all around us everyone behaved in a good way, we developed our own personal story to match the stories of everyone around us.” Although Johnson’s lessons are not about Facebook and Twitter, I think they are applicable. By telling positive social media stories, our individual stories may develop accordingly, or at least it may help us aspire to work for more.
As for all those long weekend Facebook posts? I hope that even if there were parts that you didn’t share with the world, parts that weren’t picture-perfect, that you had time to relax, recharge, and come back refreshed. Have a great week ahead!
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
As an aside, if you’re not familiar with Kendal Netmaker of Neechie Gear, listen to some of his podcasts. “If I can share this story with you, I really hope it inspires you to do the same…tell your story to take you from where you are to where you want to be.” https://www.kendalnetmaker.com/podcast/netmaker-show/driven-episode-5-using-power-story-staying-positive/
Harold R. Johnson's book is called Firewater: How Alcohol Is Killing My People (And Yours) and here’s one more excerpt: “This is what I think we must do and we must do it now. We have to change the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves and about alcohol…but changing the story doesn’t mean stopping, or censoring, the story that’s out there; it means telling a new story, a better story…Perhaps we will get to the point where we will see truth-telling about alcohol, and perhaps this too is a way to change the story about alcohol. The next time one of our relatives gets run over by a drunk driver, or stabbed to death in a drunken brawl, instead of offering condolences, we will speak instead of how our cousin was murdered by alcohol. This will be the new Facebook status update until the story changes.” It's a powerful book.
“Late Arrival: You just got here, you're not entitled to have us explain the entire plot to you up to this point. Unless we're feeling generous, that is.” Clipd.com
I don’t watch a lot of movies (no spoiler alerts here) so I have to admit that the hype around Avengers: Infinity War was lost on me. I know that I saw Iron Man eons ago and I liked the first Thor, but I tend to get lost in sequels with sudden character changes and completely different tones to the movies. We won’t even talk about what Pixar did to the Cars franchise. In this one, they apparently weave a decade worth of movies together while simultaneously dropping cliffhangers for the next one.
It grossed a billion dollars in a week and a half. There’ll be a next one lol.
For anyone who was only coming into the franchise at this movie? Well, there wasn’t much point unless you did some binge-watching for homework, or you have a very patient friend who will answer all the questions you blurt out in the theater. Really, it’s no different than someone jumping in to read the script of Romeo and Juliet in Act 5 and wondering what an apothecary is, why a quarantined monk with a letter is so important, and what possessed Romeo to kill Paris. (Oh, and Juliet’s not actually dead?) Of course, if you watch the Zefferelli movie version, all of those plot events are left out anyway and it’s debatable whether you’ll be more or less confused!
I started thinking about this when I was scrolling on my phone and this meme popped up: Don’t judge a student’s story by the chapter you walk in on. Most of the people criticizing the new Avenger movie were ones who simply weren’t familiar with the characters and plot lines. Many people outright dismiss Shakespeare when they’ve never seen it performed or considered the deep themes of humanity it expresses and the universal truths it carries 400 years later.
In the same way, I really feel for parents as their child moves through the school system. We don’t have the background knowledge of that student that their parent does, and like the binge-watching movie fan, we have a lot of catching up to do. I can only imagine how frustrating that must feel, like a looping ‘groundhog day’ scenario of repeating your child’s story – their strengths and their needs – over and over, year after year.
Constantly advocating. I know that’s hard.
Although we have transition meetings between schools and pass along student portfolios with exemplars of their work, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The work of Dr. Debbie Pushor and the Walk Alongside parent forum happening in a few weeks, will be a good starting point in addressing that piece. As their vision states: “Together we will work to interrupt the taken for grantedness of schooling to create a landscape on which parent knowledge is honoured and used alongside teacher knowledge to shape curriculum, teaching, and learning.” We are coming partway into a student’s story. Parents have been there since word one.
To state the obvious, as a teacher it’s so important to know your students. Not just in their reading and writing skills, but as people. For the most part, I feel that I do. Besides visiting with the kids and hearing about their sports, when you live in the community you tend to hear about more events that they’re involved in, or see their parents post updates on social media. So when we did our visible goal setting at the end of March, one of mine was to do individual check-ins with students. I knew it was significant, but I didn’t anticipate hearing much from them that I didn’t already know. Boy, was I wrong.
Sitting and talking one-on-one with students, a few were ‘all good, everything’s good’ conversations, maybe a bit guarded. But more were not. I just listened. I didn’t write notes. But they added pages to their stories that I never knew before that conversation.
Unfortunately, because our system is linear, I’m going to feel like I’m walking into the middle with every student, every year. Having said that, it’s far better to walk in at chapter 10 then to never consider their story at all. Playing catch-up is simply a reality. So as we head into this last month of school, I’ll be thinking of other ways to help pass that knowledge on to the next year, even if it means being that annoying friend at the movie theater. “Why would they cast Woody Harrelson in the new Star Wars? That doesn't even make sense. And is this a prequel? Does it fit between the 2nd and 3rd installments, or the 3rd and 4th? There was a boom mic hanging there. Did you see it? That’s totally not what happened in the book. In the book…”
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
Haha. This happens a lot. Just this last week even! I take it as a compliment every time, although I wasn't quite sure when someone called me grandma once lol. Happy Mother's Day!
The other morning before school started, our principal’s four year old son was sitting at his dad’s desk waiting to head off to playschool. He was in front of the computer, busily writing on post-it notes and sticking them down! It was the cutest thing, watching him work so seriously, trying to be just like his dad.
We know that kids watch us, that they pick up everything from the world around them, and that being a strong role model as a parent is paramount. When our daughter was born, mom gave me a bookmark with the poem “Children Learn What They Live” on it, and it hung on our fridge for years. I remember when our kids were very little, they would occasionally say or do something that would be out of the ordinary in our household and I’d wonder, “Where did they learn (or see or hear) that??” My husband and I had two very different childhood experiences, and that purposefully shaped our parenting decisions. An important one for us was that we consciously didn’t yell or swear in our house, because we didn’t want our kids to yell or swear back. It’s not a judgement thing – we all choose what works for us. But once in a while I’ll think of this when I’m out shopping. A kid is having a meltdown in a store and a parent is yelling at them to stop yelling. Ah, the irony. And when our kids came home from the babysitter or school with ‘new vocabulary’ there was a teaching moment in there too. Modelling doesn’t always work, I get that. My teenage son will not eat a single vegetable, and it wasn’t for lack of exposure or modelling, so it’s a strategy but not an infallible one!
In our school division, I often hear the expression “You cannot not model.” I can’t even credit where it came from, as I’ve heard it from many different people, but it is so true. When I used to teach band, modelling was the primary mode of instruction. I play. Now you play. Listen. Did it match? Try again. I play. You play. I’ll never forget trying to get brass players to match a pitch, when it’s possible for them to hit MULTIPLE notes depending on how tightly they buzz their lips. And those poor French horn players have it even harder. If you know a band teacher, they need lots of hugs and Tylenol in that first month with beginners!
So if you learn to play music by playing music, and my role in modelling is crucial, the same is true in other subjects. Recently I had the chance to facilitate PD sessions for fellow ELA teachers with two amazing educators, Michelle Lockinger and Charmain Laroque. Michelle modelled quick writes during a video and Charmain modelled ‘reading as a writer’ by annotating text. Some of the most positive feedback about the sessions were these modelled activities. As a teacher, it’s helpful not only to see strategies modelled in action, but it’s also good to remind ourselves what it feels like to be a student. Plus, if we are expecting students to do something, are we actually doing it ourselves?
And that is the most important modelling of all. If we are asking our students to take risks, we need to take risks. If we are asking them to be kind and respectful in their language and actions to others, we need to do the same. And if we are asking them to use a growth mindset and not say “I can’t” then we need to remove those two words from our vocabulary too. Or change it to “I can’t YET.”
This week we did some video-making in ELA where students were doing on-camera interviews. Some of them were very reluctant despite knowing that it wouldn’t be shown outside of the classroom. I haaaate being on camera too, but I partnered up with a student and we made our video. That was hard. I’m going to cringe inwardly when we watch it in class, but I’ll refrain from making self-deprecating remarks even though I’ll be thinking them…positive modelling…because I wouldn’t allow a student to put themselves down, so I can’t do the same to myself. In music class, I sing. It’s not amazing (and I’m always mindful that there are no cellphones or kids putting me in their snapchat stories) but if I have grade 8 boys that are willing to sing and perform, then I need to be modelling that same confidence.
This last week I was also fortunate to shadow an amazing administrator and observe some fantastic teachers at Rosthern Elementary. (It’s been busy lol.) One of those classes was a math class. As I sat and talked with different students, I had to remind myself not to say “I’m not good at math, or I don’t do math.” What message does that send if an adult doesn’t do math? And really, what adult doesn’t use math in some capacity? So I was cognizant to phrase it this way: “I’m not a math teacher, but I remember fractions. I actually use them all the time when I bake. Can you explain what they are asking you to do here?” And off the student would go, giving me a mini-lesson (sometimes complete with drawings) of fractions and decimals. And when they have the answer…So how do you know that’s an equivalent fraction? How do you know ¼ is smaller than ½? *How*do*you*know?* And off they go again, explaining their thinking.
So how do I know that modelling is important? I look at our school division’s leadership and know that they are models of lifelong learners. At meetings, workshops, and in their online presence, they walk the talk. I look at our school administration and think of the initiatives they have lead this year like instituting school-wide reading. It’s not just the realm of ELA teachers to talk about books or think about reading comprehension. We are now ALL reading role models. And I look at my own kids. I know I’m biased, but they have grown into good humans. Mostly lol.
As we start another week, it’s vitally important to model, give feedback, encourage, model some more. But it’s also important for us to be consciously making an effort in our ‘role modelling’ as well. Children learn what they live. They absolutely do.
p.s. I started with a quote by Jimmy Casas. I’ve just started reading his book Culturize and it’s awesome. I know I’ll be writing about that later!
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
“A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” Jim Watkins
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. And ten.
I’m not a math teacher, but it’s pretty obvious that ten isn’t a huge number. Yet, here it is. My tenth blog entry. Like most endeavors, it’s not easy when we first begin: every journey begins with a single step (Maya Angelou), If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all (Bambi), just do it (Nike), if you are going through hell, keep going (Winston Churchill), and just keep swimming (Dory). All fine words of advice, and here I am with ten more pieces of writing than I would have had, had I not started the first one. So chalk one up for persistence!
If you’re here reading this, you might have wondered why I have a picture of rocks on a blog that’s mostly about education. It’s actually a photo of the sauna stove in our basement. As the rust shows, it’s well loved. I grew up in a small collection of Finnish farms and everyone had a sauna. In fact, most of those early settlers, like my grandparents, built their sauna first and their house second. Wednesday and Saturday nights like clockwork were (and still are) sauna night. Saunas aren’t a luxury - they are as integral to Finns as breath. There’s so much to write about saunas! Another lifetime ago, I actually wrote a sauna book, sauna poetry, and a sauna play…which was even performed…just in towels. Ha ha. A VHS copy still exists but is stored in a top-secret hiding spot to protect the actors from internet infamy if it ever got out!
The power in a sauna’s heat is the rocks. My dad says the darker the rock, the better the steam. And for some unknown reason, we don’t tell someone to throw water on the rocks, but tell them to ‘throw some steam.’ Likely lost in translation somewhere! But rocks aren’t indestructible and last summer I had to replace some. Many were split, and even more were reduced to colorful mineralized dust at the bottom. Just like a river will slowly break rocks apart through time and repetition, so does water and heat. Ahhh science.
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. More locally, it’s kind of personified by Toronto Maple Leafs fans, still trying for their first cup win since 1967. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) 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 started to think about sisu this week after reading an article about mediocrity. In fact, it was called “In Praise of Mediocre Kids.” Hardly similar concepts on the surface. But as I read through it, the two ideas connected.
"What’s so wrong with wanting our kids to succeed, anyway? Nothing, technically, but nearly half of all college students are struggling with anxiety and depression in pursuit of perfection, Hutchinson tells me: 'They’re incredibly driven…but not all that happy.' While she says there’s no direct causal link, she definitely thinks this 'high-performance, high-productivity culture' is contributing to their fragile states of mind. Kids nowadays have worked so hard to get to where they are that they’re burned out by the time they reach college. Rather than thriving, they’re merely surviving…Hutchinson points to teenagers’ lack of resilience—the ability to face and overcome challenges. The issue is that “we’re not allowing our kids to make mistakes and learn from them.”
Lahti talks about an action mindset, and to me it seems very similar to the growth mindset concept in education. Essentially, we need to see taking risks as a way that we learn; to see failure as feedback needed to grow; to see that effort and attitude shape your results; to see challenges as opportunities, not setbacks. Practice. Perseverance. Persistence. Sisu.
Or as Lahti also says, “It’s about not seeing a silver lining in the clouds, and yet jumping into the storm anyways.” Have a great week everyone.
p.s. Tervetuloa! Welcome! Our sauna is always hot…come over anytime!
**I wrote this on February 9. At that point, I hadn’t even thought about starting a blog. I literally hadn’t written anything in years. And I truly didn’t anticipate the impact that the ‘not guilty’ verdict in the Colten Boushie shooting that night would have on me. I was gutted – I sat at the computer until 1am and wrote and wrote. Eventually, it turned into the piece below. I sent it to one friend and one stranger, then set it aside. In the moment, that was enough. It was written out of despair, not a place I like to dwell, let alone share with others. But this weekend, I had a change of heart.
Moving our daughter home from Calgary gave me the chance to pore through two books as we drove: Three Day Road and The Inconvenient Indian, A Curious Account of Native People in North America. I can’t believe I hadn’t read Three Day Road yet, a gripping story about two indigenous soldiers in WWI. The Inconvenient Indian was informative and insightful, while dismantling the legends we tell ourselves about First Nation people. They both reminded me that my way of seeing the world is precisely just that. But it was a line in the latter book, written in 2012, that made me pull my original piece back out: “In spite of such impediments, Native people in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have begun to find moments of success within the legal systems of North America. Perhaps, after all this time, the laws of the land will finally ride to the rescue and we will all live happily ever after.” It doesn’t. We aren’t.
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore, and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” (Fanon, 1952) I know there’s a diverse group that reads this blog. For some of you, this will not be a comfortable read. But please do read it, question it, reflect on it, put perspective to it…but mostly shine a light onto what you believe and why you’ve come to believe it. “Perhaps it is unfair to judge the past by the present, but it is also necessary.” (Thomas King)
'This injustice is common for us'
There’s a crisis moment in Lord of the Rings on the eve of battle, where defeat seems imminent. Elrond says, “I give hope to men” and Aragorn replies, “But I keep none for myself.” That sums up how I’m feeling tonight. That, and despondent. I work with youth, and I know that there are many times that I am the only hope in their difficult lives. Yet tonight, I keep none of that hope for myself. All the little steps we have taken toward treaty education, reconciliation, heck even just a little bit of patience and understanding and empathy, all seems for nought.
Like most white people over the age of 40, I never learned anything in school about indigenous people; never even heard the term ‘residential school’ until I was in university circa 1990. I knew our own settler story and was proud of it. I still am. It’s quite a feat. But it wasn’t until I had two Metis babies that I learned there was another side to that story: one that included residential schools, abuse, and intergenerational trauma. Yep, neighbors, that’s a real thing. And only because of other family supports, it has a there-but-for-the-grace-of-god ending.
So I’ve thought a lot about the youth I’ve encountered over twenty years, the majority of them white. The only brown kids we have mainly come from foster homes, but that’s a story for another time. In those years, how many local kids have gone drinking at bare-ass beach and then booze cruised the back roads? Dealt drugs, vandalized buildings, rummaged through cars in town? Ripped doughnuts in a freshly seeded field? Gotten stuck? Rolled a car? Needed help? If you’re not sure what the answer is, it’s lots. LOTS. Heck, every other week the Facebook discussion page for town has complaints of kids ripping around (*there was another one posted just today*) and vehicles being broken into. Are they yelled at, chased away, had the cops called on them? Absolutely. But I’ll guarantee that not once has any one of those white kids had a hammer smash their windshield, a gun pulled on them, warning shots fired ‘straight up in the air,’ or got a magical-JFK-style bullet in the back of their head.
I was in my twenties, driving to Lloydminster, in a blizzard. I had to come a long way, so to be fair, it wasn’t bad when I started out, but the black ice and visibility had the RCMP closing the road with me still out there on it. I was only 10kms from the city when I finally saw yard lights and pulled in. I grew up on a farm, and really wasn’t too worried. But when an older lady opened the door, I could see in her face that she wasn’t going to let me in. I don’t remember what I said, but she relented and I waited out the storm for several hours, looking at the quilts she was making and having a cup of coffee. I honestly wonder, twenty years later, if my brown-skinned, hazel-eyed daughter would have gotten the same courtesy?
I know that so many people in my community want to say it isn’t about race, but that’s what you feel and say, when you don’t know what ‘race’ actually feels like. Like one comment I read tonight, “This injustice is common for us.” I guess 150+ years of systematic starvation, pass and permit systems, and stolen children makes you well practiced for a decision like this. Me? I was naïve enough to be shocked.
Acclaimed educator Penny Kittle writes, “Nothing without joy.” And although her words are meant for students and reading, it’s a universal sentiment. I also believe "Nothing without hope." I won’t give up hope completely, and although I may have none for myself right now, I know that in the days ahead, I will draw strength from the First Nation leaders and others who speak of dialogue, partnership, and reconciliation. I can’t allow myself to despair. I know that I still need to hope, and to bring hope to others. I just have to find it again.
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
This was a week, and a weekend in particular, where I just couldn’t stay ahead of the curve. And although it was tempting to not post at all, someone brought a phrase to my attention today: micro-ambitious. I love it. So I’m being micro-ambitious with this post…it’s going to be short, and it’s just passages from some books that I finished reading…okay, so it's definitely more micro than ambitious haha. By the way, I loved both of these books – definitely worth reading.
From The Humans by Matt Haig:
In every life there is a moment. A crisis. One that says: what I believe is wrong. It happens to everyone, the only difference is how that knowledge changes them. In most cases, it is simply a case of burying that knowledge and pretending it isn’t there. That is how humans grow old. That is ultimately what creases their faces and curves their backs and shrinks their moths and ambitions. The weight of that denial. The stress of it. This is not unique to humans. The single biggest act of bravery or madness anyone can do is the act of change.
I was something. And now I am something else.
I was a monster and now I am a different type of monster. One that will die, and feel pain, but one that will also live, and maybe even find happiness one day. Because happiness is possible for me now. It exists on the other side of the hurt.
From Mind Platter by Najwa Zebian:
“Follow Your Soul”
No one knows what you need to do more than you do. Cry when you need to. It’s relieving. Laugh when you need to. It’s healing. Sit alone when you need to. It’s necessary. Surround yourself with strangers when you need to. It’s eye-opening. Living by your needs is not easy. No one said it was. But a fact that you should always remember is this: You are more worthy of being taken care of than anyone around you. And I don’t mean the superficial kind of care. I mean the care that your soul needs. Everyone around you is struggling somehow. Everyone around you is trying to reach a goal, a destination, or a dream. Just as you might not expose your worries to the world, no one else has to. Remember that you are a work in progress. You are not perfect. You are not expected to be. Do not allow the fear of falling to stop you from jumping. Do not allow the fear of responsibility to stop you from committing. Do not allow the fear of exposure to stop you from shining.
“The Power of Words”
Your words can be more healing than any kind of medicine. They can be more toxic than any kind of poison. They can ease a mind of its nagging questions. They can relieve a heart from its doubts. They can free a heart from the chains that keep it holding on and that make it fear letting go. They can spring hope into a deserted heart. They can shatter a soul barely holding on to the pieces that make it strong. They can be a shelter for the broken and a canon of motivation for those who need confidence. They can build mountains of confidence and build stairs to those dreams that hide above the clouds. They can dig holes into the darkest and deepest of scars. They can strike happiness into the souls in most need of it, and they can strike sadness into the souls of those most far away from it. So, before you speak, ask yourself if your words are true. If they are not, then you are fooling the hopeless into hope that won’t last. You are breaking down walls temporarily that will be built even higher afterward. Say what the truth and genuineness in your heart need to say. Say no more.
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
Retirement! We think that when we get to that next place or next stage, we’ll be happy. When we get married, then we’ll be happy. When we have kids, then we’ll be happy. When we retire…. As hundreds of memes and a quick google search will tell you, happiness is a journey not a destination. But it was a pre-internet age, and this was the first time I had even considered the idea of happiness, let alone embracing it where and when you are. It was a profound moment, and without sounding too clichéd, I kept Maureen’s story close to my heart and used it as a touchstone as I grew (aged?) through life. As I look back, the best I can say is, I’ve really tried.
It’s not a new concept, I know. Carpe diem. Stop and smell the roses. Yolo. (Oh it was a momentous day when kids stopped saying that word!) When someone does something selfless or generous or life-altering, people often lament, “Why can’t we be like that everyday?” Ummmm. You can. But you have to make a conscious decision to try. Same thing with happiness. I think that at some level we all understand the idea, but we lose sight of it in doing household chores, driving kids to practices, and nagging. The minutia of everyday life. In our North American culture, it’s also easy to mistake materialism with happiness, to get hung up on ‘stuff.’ It’s a hard habit to break, but I digress.
As much as none of us need anything, I still believe in the sentiment of gift-giving, so at Christmastime, I gave my mom a mug. I knew she would like it as it was a Finnish brand, iitala, plus I wanted to support a local store that an intern at our school co-owned. My only condition was YOU HAVE TO USE IT. I didn’t want it put on a shelf as a decoration. (Granted, it is lovely. The Finns are design masters.) But when I went home at Easter, there was the mug. On a shelf. As a decoration. Mom!!
I’ve heard the word ‘nudge’ get used a lot recently. I like it. It’s a subtle thing. Like the little tap on a student’s shoulder as a redirect, or the kazillion messages a little eye contact can convey. So I gave my mom a nudge with a tweet I saw: “Don’t ever save anything for a special occasion. Being alive is the special occasion.” It’s like that scientific law that says an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion. UNLESS it gets nudged lol. Mom called me back to say she was having coffee in her new mug.
Yes, there are things that should be kept for special occasions. If everything is special, then nothing is. I get that too. But if I am truly embracing happiness in each moment, then I give as much as I can and tuck away as little as possible. That goes for our teaching selves too.
It’s not always easy. This past week has been a tough one. I had a huge to-do list of work and home stuff to accomplish with my holiday week, but ended up catching a cold at Easter and almost none of it got done. So frustrating. Now the list waits until summer, and with our temperature still at -16 this morning, that feels eons away. But in finding some happiness in each moment, I managed to read a few books as I was relegated to the couch. That was a good thing, as there’s never enough time to read!
Then on Friday night, like all of Saskatchewan, I was absolutely shaken by the news about the Humboldt Broncos bus accident that killed fifteen people and injured fourteen more. As the names and details continue to come out, each story personalizes and compounds the tragedy even more. Unthinkable. Heart-breaking. As Scott Moir wrote, “The death of young people will never make sense.” No. It never does. There is no happiness here, but in true prairie spirit, there is resolve and resilience in things like blood drives, donations, Stars and EMT support, organ donation awareness, candlelight vigils, and many many people hugging their kids a little tighter. A little longer. It is a random, senseless, gut-wrenching reminder and one I wish we didn’t get in this way: that being alive truly is the special occasion.
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
This weekend marks the Easter holiday and the beginning of a week break from school. Instead of springtime temperatures though, we have been plunged back into a never-ending deepfreeze. Winter blues are in abundance, even for me. I’m tired. Making it through the last few days of school, while keeping up a positive persona, took a lot of energy. The seasonal daytime high for our area is +5 Celsius, yet as I write, the temperature is a balmy -20 with a -28 windchill. Niiiiice. And although we collectively understand that warmer times will inevitably arrive, there is some frustration in enduring the here-and-now.
I suppose that is a metaphor for the Easter season as well. In the truly Christian sense, the dark events of Good Friday lead to the good news and resurrection of Easter Sunday, and the message that no matter how desperate and desolate the present may be, there is hope and forgiveness for all people. In a secular sense, the spring equinox is the short, equal balance of light and dark, a tipping point where we move toward longer days and shorter nights. Spring brings new life from the earth, water out of ice, and change is everywhere in abundance. (Eventually!)
I was thinking about change earlier in the week, as I had the opportunity to talk to some education students at the university. It was an impromptu appearance, nothing major, as I just fielded questions about the job, like ‘what do you love most about teaching?’ Pffft. That’s easy. The kids. 100%. (And if that’s not the #1 answer for people, you may want to think about why we are here.) Another question was ‘what do you find most interesting about teaching?’ Now this is where the first thought that popped into my mind was: change. Every day is different. Every. Single. Day. Heck, no two consecutive hours, even if you attempt to teach the same lesson in the same course at the same grade level, will ever be replicated. The change factor? Students.
I love change. Change provides us with the opportunity to begin again. Leave behind the past and start fresh. That works for students just as much as it does for adults. Personally, I couldn’t imagine working at a job where everything is predictable, an assembly-line monotony that would crush my spirit in mere minutes. Of course, change on a personal level is much more difficult, particularly when I don’t agree that the change is necessary. (Sorry, but only two cups of coffee a day is NOT a reasonable amount!) So there are times when I need to acknowledge that I am eagerly accepting of change because I am the harbinger of it, and times I need to remember the feeling of having change imposed on me.
There is a lot of educational writing on understanding the dynamics of change. I love how Michael Fullan captures this paradox. “I’ve said that the marks of a change agent are relentless commitment to a cause and flexibility in how to serve that cause. To combine the two, you need to become simultaneously assertive and sensitive, demanding and understanding, confident while doubting, local and big picture, essential at the beginning and dispensable at the end.” To state the obvious, implementing change is hard. After the Easter break, our school is making a change to our weekly learning hour, and adding in time for school-wide literacy. Our admin brought the idea to the staff for feedback, communicated the research and reasoning with parents, and facilitated classroom discussions to hear student perspectives. Even with this transparency, change makes people uncomfortable; like the quote at the top says, "Change is never easy, but always possible." (Barack Obama)
Change is obviously a core tenet of education and the multi-faceted aspects of it are truly ever-changing. New classes. New curricula. New students. New seating plans. Changes in policy. Changes in assessment. Changes in staffing. Transformational change. With so many pieces in flux, where do you even start? I like a quote by Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” And for us in education, that begins with asking: What is best for our students? What is best for our school? As we come back next week, we will start a new month, with a new schedule, and with a clear goal: "that these changes will significantly impact the learning of all DCS students in a positive and meaningful way." Just like spring, I can't wait!
Happy Easter! Hyvää Pääsiäistä!
Kiitos - Hiy Hiy - Thanks for reading!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy...okay website template!