We were driving back home Monday afternoon. We were at our third Easter dinner, this one at Unity, when we first saw the smoke rising south of Biggar. As we got closer, the plumes of smoke got larger, and although the fire was miles away, at one point the gale-force winds blew the smoke across the highway. It had only started a few hours before and would take days to contain, the sheer size of it was immense.
Everything is tinder-dry here. It literally only takes a spark for a wildfire to start.
But I was surprised to read this week that there are places where fire can remain hidden underground, even over winter, and then make its way up to the surface again. If there is a lot of deep organic material, and little spaces in it for oxygen, the fire can smoulder there for years. And our winter snow? That’s just insulation, not a deterrent.
So you don’t know IF it’s going to pop up, and if it does, you have no idea where it might be. Good luck with that one.
I had a recurring nightmarish fear of fire as a kid. Okay, even into adulthood. Enough so that I have a collapsible emergency ladder in our bedroom closet, in case we ever have to flee a fire from the second story of our house. Which is likely never going to happen, but tell that to the irrational part of my brain that can visualize it all happening. In great detail. (Which reminds me to check the batteries in our smoke detectors later…)
But why think so much about it now? Well, because for whatever reason, my mind also loves to make connections. Continually. I’m sure that 80% of my writing in this blog is just me making analogies lol. This is no different.
Fire makes me think of hope.
I haven’t had time to make my way through any more of Dr. Roset’s dissertation on hope, so I haven’t been thinking about that. And I’m not thinking about people in the news, hoping that a wildfire spares their house or farm.
No, I’m thinking about people who have been losing hope. Who don’t see it in their work. Who doubt its power. Or who just look at the events of the world and feel really helpless.
I feel that too. Maybe that’s all someone else needs to hear. Despite whatever positivity I try to muster, there are times when I don’t see the hope in a situation. I don’t think that there is anyone out there that hasn’t felt it. I do things to mitigate and manage that feeling (like muting Trump tweets for a bit…it works!) but like fire, it can be stubborn to put out.
But I prefer to think of the fire not as hopelessness, but as hope.
There are times that I am overflowing with it. Burning up with it. I can see it everywhere. I take inspiration from everyone. And that hope fuels itself. One hopeful and positive act turns into another one. I am on fire with the belief that everything is possible and in turn burn brighter because I know that I am bringing hope to someone somewhere. A contagion. Wildfire. Spreading.
And for the times that hope can feel so, so far away, where isolation and frustrations take their toll, I imagine that hope is still under there burning. It never stops. It just is looking for a way to get back to the surface again.
But unlike fire, it doesn’t have to be unexpected. We can make a path for it:
Visiting a friend.
Talking to a colleague.
My go-to line with kids, “what’s up?”
Take that break. Yah that means I’m putting down my phone. For a bit.
Lots of breathing.
Going for a run, even if you think running is stupid.
Smile. Without teeth if it feels like a grimace. Or a thumbs up to someone will suffice.
Step back, figuratively or literally. Use the 24 hour minor hockey rule.
Gain some perspective. As I’ve often heard, things will look better in the morning.
Find that one positive.
Tell someone what you appreciate about them.
More breathing when they don’t reciprocate. Patience. They may spread that fire to someone else who needs it too.
Remember we are all in this together, no matter how politicians or media soundbites might make us feel alone, or divided.
As we come back from break, hopefully re-energized and rested, remember that when you need hope, be open and let someone else spread their fire to you. When you feel the fire, be the spark to help someone else.
“Just like an old friend, reach out to me.
Bathe me in the light of understanding.
And try to help me to share the trouble
that you've got burnin' in you,
then you can help me.
And in our time together, her memory will ever
Shine like golden embers in the night.”
Golden Embers by Mandolin Orange
Normally, a 2am text is a cause for alarm, but there’s an 8 hour difference between here and Barcelona, Spain, and that’s often the time that our son has been messaging me. He is on a trip with a group from our town, travelling to Spain, southern France, and Italy; and for the most part, besides being tired and having one rainy day, he is having an amazing time.
Which is good, because travelling doesn’t always bring out the best in people. You are exhausted, it’s stressful, and things aren’t like home. We’ve travelled with our kids a lot, almost every summer to the USA, and they know that in small and big ways people are not the same all over. So when we first found out that they were paired up with a group from Pittsburgh, we talked about being patient and polite. When they met the other group, it was 1/3 kids and 2/3 adults. He still had some reservations, so our text conversations shifted to giving people the benefit of the doubt, and that first impressions aren’t always as they seem. Things seemed to settle in for the kids.
The adults in the other group? A whole other story.
Whenever I hear complaints about “kids these days” I take them with a grain of salt. Granted, some of them will be valid, but after twenty years, I know that kids are literally just kids. They have such limited experience with life, that they make a lot of mistakes. They can misinterpret situations and misjudge their reactions. They are impulsive and often their filters don’t work consistently. But they are also full of wonder, kindness, questions, and concern for others.
I have infinite patience when kids mess up. They’re still learning. I’ve written before that an area I continue to work on is remembering that adults are learners too. That they need differentiation just like kids do. I totally get that.
But……it’s tough to remember when this series of texts starts rolling in at 2am.
Only 9 kids with the other group and the rest are adults. They have made us late and make a real fuss about everything. We talked about this at supper and this morning as well. Today we are supposed to leave at 9. It’s now 9:16….
And it didn’t get better.
Just saw the La Sagrada de Familia and it was awesome. But of course we lost one of the americans so now we get less time to see the city and some of Gaudis architecture. I’m trying really hard not to let it ruin my trip but when I have to rush or only get a few mins at some places now it really does wreck it.
Yah found them. The tour guide just ripped her. It was an adult. Classic American tourist wants to go to Europe then complain that it’s not America when they’re here.
We’ve encountered that a lot in our travels, and that’s not to say that all Canadian tourists are amazing either. Of course they aren’t. But we’ve tried to practice the ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ attitude when we travel, and to take in as much of the local culture as possible. We balance seeing the sights with getting off the beaten path.
As our kids got older, we also tried to appreciate the sights that we see with the knowledge that so many of these amazing structures and places were built with the power and money gained from the oppression of other people. That sometimes getting off that beaten path was literally as close as a tent city of the homeless a block or two away from the great opulence. It’s not about sucking the fun out of travel, but at a minimum, acknowledging the reality of the place we were in, and appreciating our privilege to both visit these places and to come home again.
To differing degrees, you can see most kids get that. They understand what the social norms are depending on the situation or place they are in. They say good morning. They use their manners. They hold doors open (even when adults suspiciously go to the next door instead of one being held open!?)
Of course there are kids that don’t get it.
I wonder if they just haven’t been exposed to many different situations? Yet another reason why we always took our kids out with us to restaurants when they were little.
Never had the norms of that place reinforced? Ahem, just because it’s a rink, doesn’t mean that you get to run wild.
Never had anyone model that behavior? Plausible, but make sure I catch myself from making assumptions about their lives.
A better check: am I modelling that behavior myself?
Which is why, in a world that is more technology-dominated and less physically-connected than ever before, I strongly believe in working with kids on social and emotional learning. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about restorative alternatives when they don’t. It’s all those things we want from them as adults in the ‘real world.’
Hmmmmmmm…..like being on time on a tour??
Maybe it’s the hypocrisy that gets me most when adults complain about kids.
Kids are late? Lock the doors. Reem them out for being late without ever asking why.
Adult late to a meeting? Comes in and sits down. No interrogation.
Kids don’t have a writing utensil? Huuuuge deal. You’ll have to do without.
Adult forgets a pen for that same meeting? Quietly asks to borrow one.
Kids need to use the washroom during class time? We just had a break. You can wait until noon.
Adult needs to go? Doesn’t ask admin for permission, quietly leaves and returns.
Kids don’t have assignment done on time? Late marks or don’t accept it at all.
Adult didn’t complete that form for the SPTRB? Email reminder to get it done as soon as you can.
Kids get an essay assigned to complete over the holiday week?
Adults….okay, I can’t even imagine this one. I would have had a few choice words if admin had assigned some mandatory reading or a project over the break.
*And just to be clear, you won't hear those lines in my classroom!
The Easter Sunday sermon wasn’t on the golden rule, but it’s one I try to remember: treat other people as you’d like to be treated. And for me, that’s something I live by in my classroom. Honestly, the real world is the one we are in right now. The ‘fake one’ is really the contrived rules and expectations, and our responses, that we set up for kids in school that simply don’t exist anywhere else.
To the adults who I will never meet, but who are causing stress to my kid somewhere in Spain, get your shit together and act like…well, act like your responsible kids….and show some courtesy to your fellow travellers.
And to my education colleagues, enjoy the break and recharge. Get better, some of you that were sick! And read if you want to, not because someone made you. I’m hoping my students are doing all of those things too. See you next week!
As I was struggling with what to write about this week, I decided to come back to some notes I’d made from Dr. Roset’s dissertation. Instead of just copying them in here verbatim, I decided to reframe them as verse, and the occasional sets of haiku lol. So kinda like a found poem, none of these words are my own…none…but they are some hopeful words as we head into another week! (Page numbers and other authors referenced!)
Children tend to come to school hopeful,
with conceptions and ideas that are
personally meaningful and
significant to them.
the child does not expect
that most of what goes on in
(thoughts and feelings and
questions and hopes and
desires and fears)
will have to remain
- PRIVATE -
- off limits -
in the social world of the
The prescription for
a dull, uninteresting
and boring classroom
for both students and
teachers is to start where you
want to start, pour in
what you want the child
to learn, pace that instruction
according to a
determined and the pressure of
the school calendar
and then ignore the
inevitable and brute
fact of our students’
I N D I V I D U A L I T Y.
If the conditions
that make for productive growth
and learning do not
exist for teachers,
teachers will be unable
to help to create
and sustain those same
conditions for their students.
Because when the juice
stops flowing for the
teachers, the juice will not flow
in students either.
Hope is the
precursor of action
in the move toward the
realization of desires
Hope is the
precondition for action.
Hope is not itself a force,
But it is a condition,
existing in varying degree
that may SPARK
---> toward goals.
Hope does vary
in the sense that it may be
Coerced from outside oneself
or initiated from one’s own
It may be
Hope grids action.
It is not
Optimism and hope,
like helplessness and despair,
can be learned.
The individual who hopes has
a worldview that looks beyond
the present situation and
there is a way out to a more
that when you
what is in your
it will be
it will not
We cannot achieve
commit ourselves to the
love thy neighbor as thyself.
these are sacred words,
but then again,
COMMUNITY is a
Development of hope
is a process
and stands as the most
Life without hope
carries more trauma
than the human spirit
is an essential condition
for being human.
This past week we hosted our annual Heritage Fair, where students choose topics they are interested in and passionate about, and present their research in a display board and speech in front of judges. It’s a big deal and no small feat.
As we gathered in the gym that morning, our VP talked to the kids about the importance of knowing Canada’s history and heritage. About not understanding our present until we know our past. Of celebrating the good things about who we are as a country and learning lessons from the things we’ve done wrong.
But he started by asking, “Who here is nervous about today?”
Just about every hand went up.
And he let them know that that’s okay. That it means you care about what you’re doing. And that we’d be worried if they didn’t feel that way.
I came across a tweet by author/speaker Brett Bartholomew that had the same sentiment: I still get anxious every time before I speak at a large conference. Used to think it was a weakness, the truth is I’m anxious because I care enough about wanting to do a good job. Never take one moment for granted, and learn to use your emotions to focus your work.
It’s also one of many lessons I’ve taken away from Brene Brown:
Are vulnerable experiences easy? No.
Can they make us feel anxious and uncertain? Yes.
Do they make us want to self-protect? Always.
Does showing up for these experiences with a whole heart and no armor require courage? Absolutely.
I was really proud of all of our students, and knowing the whole journey of how they got there made it even more impressive for some kids. That two days before, I had students asking me to stand beside them for support as they did a dress rehearsal in front of the class. That one student absolutely froze and was convinced she was going to faint. That a display board was literally unassembled a day before, not because the parts weren’t all there, but because this student has some roadblocks getting work to completion.
The day arrived.
I didn’t have to stand beside anyone as they presented. That student didn’t faint, and in fact, came to tell me how well her speech had gone. And the board came together, with the help a big sister and a confidence boost from home the night before.
It’s not often that we ask students to be so vulnerable. It’s scary.
Even more so for the kids who had two RCMP officers in uniform sitting in front of them as judges!
Brene Brown writes that “Choosing our own comfort over hard conversations is the epitome of privilege.” I was also proud of the students who chose tough topics, ones that challenge our narratives and call attention to colonial practices. Residential Schools. Highway of Tears and MMIW. The Sixties Scoop. LGBTQ Pride Awareness. A student who chose John A. Macdonald as a topic and didn’t ignore his racist policies. A student researching the Canadian Pacific Railway WITH HER SOLE FOCUS ON THEIR COLONIAL PRACTICES AND THEIR HARMFUL EFFECTS ON CHINESE AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLE. Wow. I sometimes forget these kids are 12 years old.
They give me hope.
The Canadian Pacific Railway was finished on November 7, 1885. The last spike was pounded in by Donald A. Smith in Eagle Pass, British Columbia. It was a huge success for Canada. All that was seen at the time was the railway, a sign of unity, power and a quickly developing country. What wasn’t significant in the minds of Canada – or the rest of the world – was the price that others had paid for their benefit. The Chinese and what could almost have been called slavery. Half of the population being called upon to hand over resources and money to a cause that had nothing to do with them. First Nations being forced off their land by white settlers that had just come to Canada and still were favoured over the people native to the country. Those are the things that nobody sees. And sometimes, they are the things that matter most. Some people look only at the good history, the things that Canada has done well and done fairly. But to get a true picture of Canada’s history and who we really are, I believe that we need to look deeper. The only way to learn is to learn from our mistakes. And I believe that the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway is an opportunity to do just that.
When we care, and make ourselves vulnerable, disappointment can be soul-crushing. And because we are only allowed to send six projects out of our 53 to the next level of competition, I had a lot of disappointed kids.
And for different reasons, none of the examples I mentioned above were chosen by the judges to move on. There was a range of reactions to that disappointment: some were angry, some wanting to place blame, and some literally already planning for next year.
It was a good teachable moment, made even more poignant when a student asked, “Well if we didn’t move on, what was the point of it all?”
We asked “why” so often through the process, I never anticipated we would be asking it at the end.
So we answered that together too.
Like I said, they give me hope.
It’s difficult for me to write essays and present information to you, because like most of you I’m scared to be judged. Today I’m talking about LGBTQ+ movement. This topic needs to be discussed more. Yes, gay marriage has been legalized and yet there are people who still don’t understand the community. There are parts of the world where being gay will get you killed. I believe most people understand and accept our community and yet sometimes that’s all they see when they look at gay people – they forget we are human beings. Our gender and/or sexuality is not all of who we are. It does not define who we are, just like your gender and sexuality are not what you are…I hope you will have gone home with a little more knowledge than before. Remember that no matter who we are or what we do, we are all equal. One day I hope sexuality isn’t what people think define us all. I hope we accept everyone for who they are. And remember, ‘open your mind to wonder instead of closing it with beliefs.’
Till next week, tervetuloa, tawâw, welcome.
Perpetual amateur. Lifelong learner. Vice-Principal. Teacher. Musician. Mom. Annnnd if you're reading this, then I'm still a blogger.