My cats are driving me crazy.
Don’t get me wrong, now that many people are working from home, I love all the posts that encourage people to replace “pet” or “child” with “co-worker.” This is one of the first tweets I saw, but the threads (with over 2500 replies) are hilarious:
‘My co-worker asked for yogurt and is now crying because I gave her yogurt.’ @ShannonDingle
‘My coworker pitched a fit about subtracting 2 from a number because they prefer adding 2. "It makes more sense," they said.’ @wickedsmartface
‘I happened upon my co-worker scooping fistfuls of butter into his mouth.’ @lauramcw
Those are just the tame ones lol.
As for my own co-workers, they follow me around incessantly when I am outside. They don’t really want anything. They have food and water. They don’t want to be petted. They definitely don’t want to be picked up.
Except today, when the Siamese cat decided to come up behind me…jump onto my shoulder…from the ground…when I was standing completely upright…
The claw marks showed she grabbed on mid-shoulder but really dug her hind claws into my lower back.
Oh, did I mention that I’m highly allergic to cats??
What I’ve decided that they want most, is just to be with me.
To paraphrase Dr. Jody Carrington, my co-workers aren’t attention-seeking, they are connection-seeking.
It’s a feeling that I can relate to. I found that I was much more functional this past week now that our new reality settled in a bit more, but it was still hard. I miss being at school, being around the kids, seeing co-workers. (The human ones.)
I missed the connections.
I tried to make a phone call every day, just to hear a real voice on the other end. For those who follow this blog regularly, yes, my son is still home. And yes, he is in the basement a lot. He's just not overly loquacious! I shouldn’t poke fun at him - we had a great week playing games and visiting, but I miss “work” talk. For me, and so many of my colleagues, teaching and learning are our passions. It’s something that we are always trying to read more about, improve on, and do better for our students, and so much of that happens in discussions with each other.
It’s not that it can’t happen anymore. It’s just going to look different.
The week to “pause” was a gift for our physical and mental selves, both for us and for our students. The week(s) ahead now are going to be full of challenges, but are also an opportunity to learn. For all of us.
I have a whole other train of thought on how this pandemic is exacerbating and laying bare the societal divisions and disparate social order that previously existed, and of which most people are in denial about, and that layers of privilege are buffering me from any real degree of suffering at this moment. But because I’m trying to focus on positives for the week ahead, I’m going to come back and think about that later (and because that privilege provides me with the space to do that) I promise you there are more thoughts to come. *Although the government could absolutely be doing something right friggen now about helping our students who are aging out of care in the foster system and being cut off from all supports in the middle of a goddam pandemic.* Like I said, more to come.
In the week ahead, stay safe and stay connected!
The most dreadful times you face
are the only opportunities you will ever get
to prove to yourself
exactly what you’re made of.
J. Warren Welch
I never let kids title things, "Untitled." There is always a better descriptor out there, something to let us know what is coming, plus it feels like a cop-out. But this week? Yah, this is untitled.
There’s only one thing to write about.
It’s all that we talk about. Think about.
Live our lives around.
And it has only been a week and a half, really, since things started to change. Remember when hockey just up and stopped?? Yah, it feels like sooooo much longer.
Like everyone else, we are self-isolating at our house. For those that don’t know me personally, we are fortunate to live on 40 acres of forest in between Pike Lake and Delisle. With both of our children at university this fall, I’ve written a lot about empty-nesting, so self-isolation isn’t that much of a change for me. I talk to my cats, hang laundry out on the line, split wood, go for a run on the grid roads that don’t have loose dogs, and sit by the fire and read a lot. I literally have nothing to complain about. The only real social interactions I have are with my colleagues and my school ‘kids.’ Volleyball, my yearbook duo, handbells, the super-chatty 7s and my go-getter 8s. And I can tell you, I’m already missing that A LOT.
To people with a busy social schedule, that probably sounds like a sad existence. But as someone who is an extroverted-introvert, it’s the perfect mix. I can relax and be myself with my students at work, and then relax and not be with people outside of work lol.
But this is different.
I tend to be an overthinker at the best of times, so a global pandemic can throw that into hyperdrive. And without bemoaning how I am handling the fact that our daughter has chosen to stay with her bf in the thick of the infection in Calgary, I’ll just say that it has not been easy.
As my son said, “Mom, we’re worriers.” Yep. Although thankfully he packed up and came home this week, as I’d be substantially more worried if it was him still there.
I know everyone has to find what works for them, but there’s two things that I have tried to do to manage feeling overwhelmed.
First, I’ve been alternating a couch-day (with no expectations of even moving), with a day to get something done (even if it’s something simple like doing loads of wash.) When the province gave educators a week to “pause” it was the best possible idea. This ‘new normal’ is going to be THE normal for a long time, and that has taken a huge mental adjustment. I still catch myself thinking about going to work, or thinking about something for a class, and realize that won’t happen…or at least not the way it was before…AND FOR A FEW MINUTES I JUST CAN’T FATHOM IT. I envision that one part of my brain is arguing with the other side, like the little angel and devil on the shoulders of cartoon characters growing up. Eventually it sorts itself out, and I focus back on what I was doing.
Which is the second thing I have been doing to feel less overwhelmed: thinking at a micro level. It was a few years ago when someone first mentioned the phrase “micro-ambitious” to me, and I loved it. What are small, tangible things that I can be doing to manage my own anxieties and fears at this time? But even more so, in this period of social-isolation when everyone is feeling stressed, what can I be doing to reach out to help others?
Recently, I had read a short article by Bill Taylor called, “Great Leaders Understand Why Small Gestures Matter.”
What if we took just a moment to think a little smaller, to act a lot more humbly, to elevate the person-to-person interactions that lead to more meaningful relationships? Sure, successful companies and leaders think differently from everyone else. But they also care more than everyone else—about customers, about colleagues, about how the whole organization conducts itself when there are so many opportunities to cut corners and compromise on values. In a world being utterly reshaped (and often disfigured) by technology, people are hungrier than ever for a deeper and more authentic sense of humanity.
The last week and a half have really shown which companies and leaders care.
And which ones don’t.
By looking at snapshots from around the world on Twitter, if nothing else, this pandemic has forced people to simplify, stop and look around, and reach out to their neighbors. Whether it was singing from balconies in Italy, people coming out in Toronto to celebrate a little boy’s birthday as he rode his bike down the middle of the street, or 7pm nightly clapping in Vancouver to honor health care providers everywhere.
As the spread of the virus lays bare, something doesn’t have to be big to make a giant impact.
But it can be a positive too: “Small gestures…can send big signals about who we are, what we care about, and why we do what we do.”
This is the first post about our new normal, and it won’t be the last. Remembering that it is a marathon and not a sprint is a good way to remind ourselves to slow down, pause, and in small ways find the positives in each day we spend alone, but together.
It was two years ago yesterday, that I started writing this blog. And aside from holidays, there have been only rare Sunday nights when I haven’t posted. Last week was #75. It’s hard to believe that I have had enough things to write about for 75 pieces! So this is a perfect time to do my best Academy Award thank you speech, but without the jokes and probably a lot shorter than the ones on tv.
It’s a tradeoff lol.
So, this blog started because of a confluence of three things.
First, Innovator’s Mindset from George Couros. As educators, if you haven’t read it, you need to. It was a monumental shift for me that built on the beliefs I had on teaching and learning that began with Jay Wilson and Rick Schwier in my ETAD master’s program at the U of S.
Second, I had signed up for the Aspiring Administrators program with Prairie Spirit. In our first session with Tracey Young and Jon Yellowlees, they modelled an “I Am From” poem. It was the first thing I had written in years and it was a big deal. As I wrote in that first post, “To say it was cathartic doesn't do it justice. It was like a small stone starting an avalanche for me.”
And the third thing that got me started was support from an administrator at the time, Brett Kirk. Although it was the answer he often gave when I would run ideas by him, when I said I was thinking about starting a blog, his response was, “Do it.”
So I did.
I've had people ask me what I write about every week. Where do I get ideas?
Well, there are times that I have drawn ideas from the books that I am reading. I love to read a lot, and have gotten into the bad habit of juggling several books at the same time, which just means that I’m not finished any of them! My to-be-read pile is pretty ridiculous right now too.
The book I’m working my way through now is called Deep Learning and it is talking about many educational practices and beliefs that I feel really strongly about. Literally the last line that I read today was about cultivating collaborative cultures. Besides being a really sweet alliteration, the feeling of working together for a common goal is one of the most powerful things you can have in education.
“Cultivating collaborative cultures works in tandem with focusing direction to develop a nonjudgmental culture of growth that fosters the capacity and processes for change. Innovation requires an environment that allows mistakes as long as the group is learning from them. Collaboration becomes not just collegiality but the cultivation of expertise so that everyone is focused on the collective purpose. This collaborative expertise is a powerful change strategy as leaders use the group to change the group.”
Like I wrote last week, I get a lot of ideas from the people I follow on social media. Brene Brown will change your life. Start with her TED talks and then get the books! Twitter is also fantastic if you don't get sucked into the comments. There are so many amazing educators out there, especially here in Prairie Spirit, that I am continually inspired by.
There are so many times that I have drawn ideas from the people around me. I can’t even list how many ideas from the first year of blogging were totally ripped off from conversations with Brett. (I guess I’ll see if he still reads this anymore lol.) As our VP, he challenged us in many ways to not just rethink our approaches, but to create a vision of what education and learning could be. Of course, if you ever tried to give him credit (like I’m doing here) he always said it’s not about him…it’s about ‘us’ as a collective, and that’s a lesson I try to bring to classroom as well. I hardly ever even think about it as me ‘teaching’ anymore - it is all of us just learning together. You might wonder how that’s even different, but it is. And that’ll have to wait for another post…this is starting to feel like it is Academy length!
Thankfully they don’t follow me on social media, as I have drawn a lot of ideas from my own children. In the span of two years, our daughter has moved to Calgary on her own, managed to survive Biology and Pharmacology classes, massively improved her snowboarding skills, and now is seriously learning rock climbing. There was no shortage of texts, phone calls, and many tears from both of us as we navigated those unchartered waters together. Our son finished high school, which marked the end of my kids carpooling and being my company every day for literally 20 years. I wrote about the joy of his provincial football win and the crushing defeat in the provincial hockey final. And then he left for Calgary too, and I have had many thoughts about empty-nesting and the true grief that comes from actually feeling alone for the first time.
Now I just draw ideas from the two of them living together. And bickering. Like one of the texts I got yesterday, “Mom, he’s being an actual ass.”
Ah, good times.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that even as adults, these two will still provide me with things to ponder and write about.
And of course, I have drawn many ideas from the other kids in my life, the ever-changing students in my classroom. Without getting too sappy, I couldn’t imagine wanting to do anything other than work with young people. Plus I’ve been at this long enough that there is a predictability to their unpredictable teen dispositions! But still, there is something every week that I can reflect on, and know that I’ve learned something new from them too.
900 words! Pretty quick they’ll be playing the “Get Off The Stage Your Thank You Speech Is Too Long” music. So one last shout out. It’s to the music recommendations that I get. Not only have they made it into the content of quite a few blog posts, it’s what’s playing in my ears every Sunday night as I try to focus and write. Some inspire me. Some make me sad. But they all help me think.
So that’s it for this week. Always hoping I’ll be here to write again next Sunday. Maybe even for 75 more lol. Have a good one!
A lot of stuff going on this past week. Feeling like a rollercoaster and couldn’t really put anything together in a cohesive way, so pulled the plug on that idea after a while and decided to just include a few recent posts from some of my favorite books and Twitter follows. And since March has come in like a lion, here’s to it going out like a lamb!
On twitter check out: @gcouros @matthaig1 @najwazebian and on Insta j.warren.welch
“Finding happiness isn’t a matter of creating a perfectly even-keeled experience of the world, where no sadness ever intrudes. Instead it means riding the waves of joy, and trying to find our way back upward when we’ve been knocked down. In renewal we find a kind of resilience, an ability to bounce back from difficulty by reigniting the optimism and hope that rises within us when we believe that joy will return.” Ingrid Fetell Lee
“…it doesn’t mean tough times will not happen again, or you won’t fall back into a negative mentality. Falling back is a reality. It is about not getting stuck. I love this little shift in thinking from Marc and Angel: ‘Being positive does not mean ignoring the negative. Being positive means overcoming the negative. There is a big difference between the two.’ There can always be a reason not to move forward. But there can still be a reason to keep going. I try to focus on this simple mantra when I struggle: Go through it or grow through it. #MindsetMatters” George Couros
“You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at a baby’s face as she lies asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view from a high place and not assess the likelihood of dying from falling. There are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra-large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late-night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere.” Matt Haig
“Here’s the thing about people with good hearts. They give you excuses when you don’t explain yourself. They accept apologies you don’t give. They see the best in you when you don’t need them to. At your worst, they lift you up, even if it means putting their priorities aside. The word ‘busy’ does not exist in their dictionary. They make time, even when you don’t. And you wonder why they’re the most sensitive people. You wonder why they’re the most caring people. You wonder why they are willing to give so much of themselves with no expectation in return. You wonder why their existence is not so essential to your well-being. It’s because they don’t make you work hard for the attention they give you. They accept the love they think they’ve earned, and you accept the love you think you’re entitled to. Let me tell you something. Fear the day when a good heart gives up on you. Our skies don’t become gray out of nowhere. Our sunshine does not allow the darkness to take over for no reason. A heart does not turn cold unless it’s been treated with coldness for a while.” Najwa Zebian
“In the darkest days
it becomes even more
that you find
you may possess
and shine it
as brightly as you can,
not just so you can see
but so those around you
can find their way
J. Warren Welch
Perpetual amateur. Lifelong learner. Vice-Principal. Teacher. Musician. Mom. Annnnd if you're reading this, then I'm still a blogger.