One of my guiding quotes for life is by Maya Angelou: Do the best you can until you know better. When you know better, do better. But what I’ve been stuck thinking about lately is, if I am doing the right thing, do the reasons why I’m doing it matter?
This week I was able to take a few students to a leadership workshop put on by the WE Day group. In it, they talked about the difference between simply taking on an awareness or fundraising project, and learning WHY the project is important. Essentially, that context is crucial for empathy, understanding, and long term changes in attitude.
For most of us, it’s not that hard to do the right thing. And usually, the right thing is pretty apparent. What is more difficult is getting to that WHY part.
I’m a self-professed rule-follower. A lot of the time I am doing what I’m supposed to, well, because I’m supposed to do it. For our students, we have a multitude of expectations in terms of behavior and work habits. So does the world. Most kids will follow these out of compliance. Most adults will too. But is that good enough? Is it good enough that you are following the norms if you don’t understand why we expect the courtesy of not interrupting? Is it good enough if you can’t translate that into another space and place? (*rink behavior anyone?*)
Consequences work, but should we do the right thing simply out of fear? I don’t need the RCMP to be at every construction zone running radar for me to not speed through them, and my heart rate jumps a bit when I see them, even though I’m not doing anything wrong! But do I slow down for the speed cameras in the city? I sure do. I don’t want to pay a ticket any more than the next person. Does it make lasting changes to my driving habits? That’s more debatable. In my classroom, I’m not big on using rules, and try to reframe them as ‘courtesies’ instead, with one exception. If a substitute teacher takes the time to leave your name for misbehaviour, it’s an automatic detention. The expectation is clear. Yet knowing full-well there is a consequence, why are there always names on that list?
I don’t think we can underestimate the power of obligation either. Maybe this is more for adults, but even though there are worthwhile endeavors, both in and out of school, I find myself committing to things out of guilt. Feeling that I need to do it, because no one else can. Doing things because you know it will make it easier for another person, even if not for yourself. For our students, even when given a lot of student voice, choice, and ownership of their learning, it can still feel obligatory. They will do things for a myriad of reasons, but not the main reason we want them to: because they care deeply about it.
For the most part, I try to do the right thing because I try to be a good person. But there’s a line somewhere where the things we love become chores. Where the passion plummets.
Rekindling that desire isn’t easy, but it’s doable.
But what really scares me is seeing kids who don’t care about anything. Not issues. Not people. Not the world they live in. And definitely not the world beyond themselves.
Doing the right thing is infinitely harder if you don’t value anything. What happens when you know better, but don’t choose to do better?
Last week, I felt really bad, and I don’t feel that way very often. I try to be cognizant of other people’s feelings, mostly because I feel really guilty when I hurt someone, even inadvertently. But this wasn’t just a guilty-bad. Nope, it was more than that. And I didn’t like that feeling. At all.
For the first time in a long time, I truly thought about the power of restoration. It was a feeling so strong that I knew I would do whatever I could to put things right.
And maybe that’s what is missing in those times we don’t choose to do the right thing, or we do the right thing, but not for the right reasons…the restorative aspect. The “why.” Looking someone in the face and seeing them as a person. Looking beyond what was happening to consider why it happened. Looking beyond my own perspective. Not just saying sorry because its expected, or because you feel guilty, or because you should… but because you understand why you should. Like I was reminded at the leadership conference, understanding how/why your behaviour impacts others is an empathetic response that leads to long term change.
“Emotional regulation isn’t instinctive, it’s learned.” Which is why we make our own children say sorry when they are little. Excuse me, when they bump into someone. Please. And thank you. We need to continue to do the same thing with them as they grow, but with the additional understanding of who they affected and why.
I’ve ordered a book by Maynard and Weinstein that talks about working with students around the values of: respect, relationships, responsibility, repairing the harm, and reintegrating back into routine. “Holding students directly and personally responsible for their behavior is what sparks intrinsic change. Mediations give students insight into the real impact of their behavior. Combine them with restorative practices and you have the formula for empathy, positive culture, and lasting change.”
If I am doing the right thing, does it really matter my reasons why I’m doing it? Yep. Yep, it does.
Hang in there everybody! Tervetuloa. Tawâw.
Sports are hard on the heart. And I mean that in both the literal and figurative sense. Hands clenched and teeth gritted. Blood pressure definitely up. But also that dull ache in your heart itself when you watch a game start to slip away. Emotions running high. Penalties. Bad passes. Goals. But not ours.
Last week I wrote about being on a bus trip for game one of the Provincial Northern Final in hockey. Our boys had a 5-0 lead that disappeared in the final handful of minutes in the third period. They still came away with a two goal advantage in a two-game, total-point series. But it weighed on our minds that it could have been an almost insurmountable five.
The return series was last night in our home rink. I texted my daughter and some friends the play by play. Here’s my half of the convos:
Omg I shouldn’t feel so nervous!!
Dewey already in box. Like a minute in…
And now they have a 5 on 3.
Whew killed them off.
2 more penalties. Frick.
1-0 for them
2-2 back to square one lol
3-2 us. Finally.
4-2. Feels like we are rolling.
4-4 uh oh. That one was on the D.
Starting the 3rd w a penalty.
Wait they just called that back.
Momentum is not on our side rn.
5-4 for them.
5 mins left.
Gram is so nervous. Me too.
Going to provincials!!!
But just as interesting were the supportive texts I got back as the game went back and forth:
Hang in there!!!
Just remember u have no control mom.
The boys will find a way.
Nail biter time. Keep it simple boys, keep it simple.
Nothing gets behind the D!!
Step it up boys
Oh my stressful! It must be a full barn!
Fantastic! Tell the boys congrats.
What a roller coaster. In the end, we won the series 9 goals to 8, and so our kids are headed to the provincial final! These next two weeks are not going to get any easier lol.
I read something on twitter this week along the same lines. I couldn’t find it again, but here’s the gist:
Working with student behavior and emotion is like a roller coaster. As teachers, it’s our job to stay on the platform, not get in the car with them.
Well, that’s easier said than done.
When we are watching our kids play sports, it’s hard not to be personally invested even if I’m not out there on the ice. With our students, it’s the same. To see them hurting. Struggling. So much of that I can’t control, anymore than I can control what’s happening out on the ice. But I feel it just the same.
Teacher and staff wellness has become a more prominent issue on social media recently. As it should be. As educator Kelly Gallagher wrote, “Today I feel more like a social worker than a teacher. Of course, we are social workers every day, but I have these moments where I feel a bit overwhelmed by the trauma my students are experiencing. Today is one of those days.” So true.
One tweet by a Saskatchewan educator/writer got a lot of traction this week. She was tweeting a thought from a keynote speaker at a conference she was at, and it read, “Administrators: Your number one job is to be in a great mood. Your staff takes on your mood.” Well, there was definitely some pushback on that, and I think she spent a lot of time clarifying that it was just one quote without its larger context.
I understand the sentiment. It’s similar to one I heard this summer from Davin Hildebrand and Cory Rideout: the school looks like the principal. Administrators help to shape the culture, model language and behaviors, and generally set the expectations of the school. In a similar way, teachers do the same thing in our classrooms. Do we start with a good morning and sharing or just start the lesson? Do we talk to kids in those in-between spaces and places in your day? Do the words we choose show that we value and care about them?
But here’s the rub. Teachers and administrators…we are all human too. There is no way that we can come to work every single day in a great mood.
We ride our own roller coasters too.
So I like the response by a Regina educator, Kelly Christopherson. “But I’ll push back – this evokes the superhero image of being beyond human, able to bury all life’s happenings to be in a good mood. Maybe, let’s share leadership, humanize the position, so that when the principal isn’t in a good mood, others can empathize and step in…As I look at the retweets and likes of this one tweet, I wonder about the message that is being emphasized and the effect it has on people especially those in admin positions. If things don’t work out, and everyone isn’t happy, it’s a burden one carries for a long time…It’s a good conversation. The complexities of teaching are increasing in ways no one imagined. This exponential change requires different approaches to teaching and leading that embrace the complexity while celebrating the very human side of what teachers do.”
We don’t need to jump into the roller coaster car with kids. We can’t ride that ride for them. But we need to recognize that being on the platform isn’t easy either. We need to take care of ourselves and be aware of the emotional toil that watching them on their journey has on us too.
Because what we do is hard on the heart. And I mean that in both the literal and figurative sense too. Just like the friends who were talking me down through their texts, we need to support each other in the difficult work we do. To help us remember that for all the times the dull ache of disappointment is there, that there is also the heart-pumping joy of small successes and victories. That no matter what happens, no matter the result, we are all in this together.
And.........GO DELISLE BRUINS!!
As we head into this week, everyone is welcome…cheer loud! Tervetuloa! Tawâw!
This past week I read an article called, “The Breath-taking, Life-altering Power of Being a Dork” by Jennifer Gonzalez.
It’s like she was looking across the table, pointedly staring me in the eye. And that’s okay. It’s who I am. There are days even my husband tells me I’m being a dork, although I’m not always sure that is meant quite as complimentary lol.
In her story, she recalls a boy from high school, a trombone player. Instead of jamming out to a song with a little air guitar, this guy fully committed to an air-trombone solo. Just being a dork.
Jeez. I even played the trombone in band.
I don’t know if I realized how dorky I was growing up. Being in band. Playing the piano. Always having my nose in a book. Being a total nerd about school.
Not sure what other criteria there was, but pretty sure I met it. But so did everyone else in my family, and in the farms around us, so maybe I just didn’t know any differently.
Not to say that I wasn’t aware of the social hierarchies, even in our small town school. Oh, I was. But when I hit university in the music department, well, I found my home. So many like-minded people who just did their thing. And were totally cool about it. My fellow dorks, I still love you all.
This past week, I signed out two books out of the STF library. I read a lot, so really this isn’t worth mentioning. But this time they were Master’s and Doctoral dissertations on ‘Hope and the Instructional Leader.’ Even people who I book-swap and book-talk education with thought this was dorky…okay, they didn’t say that exactly….but I’m pretty good at inferencing.
Especially when their actual response was:
Yep, I know. And that’s okay.
Gonzalez says dorkiness means to ‘embrace your real passions without apology.’ I love to read and I love to learn. No apology from me there.
But to walk my dorkiness back a little bit, these weren’t random dissertations I was looking for. One of the most amazing teachers and human beings EVER, Dr. Sharon Roset, taught at the elementary school beside us for many years. Despite her vast education, she never left the classroom and used her immense knowledge to help decades of students.
Not unsurprisingly, her studies focused on hope.
And if there is anything I believe more passionately for our students, it’s that we should be harbingers of hope, not the destroyers of it.
I’m only halfway through the first book, but I’m realizing that in 1999, how much ahead of her research is applicable in our classrooms today. Here’s just a couple of snippets:
Gonzalez says dorks are inspiring people. They love learning. They ‘free the dork in others’ by going first. And they put a dent in the status quo. “The world becomes more interesting when brave people put themselves out there.”
I think they are also hopeful people. In order to act, you have to hope and believe in the outcome.
Right now I am riding in a bus full of over fifty hopeful people, travelling almost four hours to our destination halfway across Saskatchewan: provincial hockey semi-finals. I always have hopes before games. Mine are usually more about no one getting hurt, and my son playing his best. But now that it is playoffs, like everyone else, I’m hopeful for a win.
I’m also hoping there will be some wi-fi there so I can get this blog post out to you too. This week, it was one year of blogging for me…I’m thankful for the personal growth it has given me, and hopeful that I’ll continue to find things to share too.
Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome.
Bare with me. This post is a bit different than most.
We are just home from a Celebration of Life for our next door neighbor, who passed away this week at a much-too-young age of 63. There were cowboy hats and boots on a lot of people there, alongside shirts from the Sturgis motorbike rally, and Bruins hockey jerseys. There were laughs, tears, and even some occasional swearing in the speeches. It was a unique service for a unique man.
His daughters played a duet of an Aria, and a niece played Beethoven’s Fur Elise on the piano, a song from his favorite movie The Man from Snowy River. Beside them, his Harley Davidson gear. A display of his many awards from marathon horse races.
His boots. His hat. His saddle.
Behind us, before the service started, I overheard a man say he had no idea how many worlds a person exists in without the others knowing. As we looked around, there were people from our own distinct worlds that we saw and wondered, ‘How did they know Jerald?’
He was a true modern Renaissance man.
As his family detailed in many stories, he lived his life fast and furious, determined through setbacks, creating opportunities where there were none, and always seeing the positive in every situation. And there were multiple cow situations as examples!
A man whose kindness in helping an elderly gentleman with his bag on an airplane turned into receiving a phone call from Bobby Orr wishing him a happy birthday.
A man who was an imaginative child with made-up Batman adventures complete with costumes, who loved to draw and create, and who read Tolkien to his own children growing up.
A man with a Harley. A cowboy through and through. An avid reader.
A man who loved learning his whole life, but didn’t love school because “it told him what to learn.”
In today’s educational jargon, Jerald was a true lifelong learner with the ultimate growth mindset. The educational system we went through in the 70s and 80s wasn’t set up with these ideas in mind. Quite the opposite. Compliance. Submission. If you didn’t fit that mold, or eventually mold to the mold, school was a rough ride.
And not every person has this internal passion and drive. This resilience. How many young people’s dreams and aspirations were quashed by that mindset? How many paths through life were altered and tamped down?
On the drive home, I saw an article on Twitter than caught my attention, partly because it talked about the Finnish education system but partly because the words “Progressive methods don’t work. Simple.” jumped off my screen. It proceeded to make claims from a Finnish/Asia correspondent that essentially touted Asian success for these reasons: they “start their education earlier, work harder, and work longer.” That “Finland’s education system lowers the bar accordingly to match a student’s talent and skill set.” That in Finland, “open competitiveness is less socially acceptable” and that when Finland “strives to make learning fun and creative” it sacrifices “long-term educational gains if success is always measured on a student’s instant gratification.” (bigthink.com)
I just don’t even know where to start on this one, and don’t think I could possible disagree any more vehemently.
To the article’s credit, it did give a cursory look at the other side of those issues at the end, and acknowledged that there is a short-term gain to the Asian ‘uncompromising schedules and test-driven milieu’ and that any takeaways from the Finnish education system should “harmonize with an understanding of Finland’s culture, its history, and a wider range of evidence.”
When I see how excited students are to choose their own topics for Heritage Fair, how they self-advocate and start talking about making a movie for it, or sketching out how they want their display to look, I can’t help but be excited with them. I don’t want kids to hate school because it told them what they could learn and how to learn it. The service today was proof of a life well-lived when you never quit learning, or loving learning. Full stop.
The family talked a lot today about Jerald’s ability to tell stories and to get to know other people’s stories. Even in a trip to the bathroom! We shared a lot of our own stories about our neighbor today, and realized how fast twenty years has gone. In lieu of a guest book, the family asked people to share pictures and thoughts in a memory book for Jerald. Sometimes words just don’t suffice:
There are few people that come to mind as connected to the land as Jerald. With his horses and his dogs…with his not-locking-the-front-door style of country living…with J’s castle and zipline…his love and pride for his family was obvious. Jerald was our go-to neighbor when we had questions and needed help, and he was always gracious and generous with both. We will miss him very much, and our rural life of stray animals and snowstorms, of seasons and sunsets, will always be connected to thoughts of him as well.
His wife finished the tribute by challenging us all to visit with a stranger we didn’t know, and to get to know their story. Just like Jerald would have.
As we head into this week, everyone is welcome. Tervetuloa. Tawâw.
Perpetual amateur. Lifelong learner. Vice-Principal. Teacher. Musician. Mom. Annnnd if you're reading this, then I'm still a blogger.