I’m not a huge believer in karma. That is, until it boomerangs back and hits me when I’m not expecting it!
Earlier this fall, I was a little boastful about never getting sick. It’s true, though, as I haven’t had a cold in at least two years. Honestly, not so much as a sniffle.
Because when I do get sick, I get REALLY sick. And for the past two weeks, I have been really sick.
It’s my own doing too. Not getting enough sleep. Over-committed. No down-time. Still working through an injury with physio, so not running or getting to the gym. There is a lot of talk recently about the importance of self-care and prioritizing, and it's not that I disagree, but I’ll just say this: it’s not always easy. Because saying no to opportunities for kids is, well, saying no to opportunities for kids.
This weekend I did manage a bit of time on my own, and finally finished Jody Carrington’s book, “Kids These Days.” Ironically, that might not have happened if it wasn’t overdue from the division office library, with a nice email reminder to bring it back!
I loved hearing Dr. Jody speak at Warman last month. Passionate, invigorating, and compelling. Reading the book was just like being there all over again! She references one of my other favorite writers, Brene Brown, quite frequently and covers a phenomenal amount of topics in such a short space. But the one that stuck this week was right at the end of the book: taking care of ourselves. As she said in Warman, “Kids are only as okay as the people who hold them.”
So here’s her main points, and my goals this week!
Know whose opinions count. Those few people who you want to make proud. “In the big moments, only their opinions matter. The rest don’t score.” As Brene Brown says too: “Get clear on whose opinions of you matter.” She also says to beware of the invisible army (of WE) and nostalgia (HAVE ALWAYS DONE IT THAT WAY.) Sometimes it’s easy to feel like you can’t win for trying, or get sucked into excuses instead of action. This week, I need to touch base with the people I trust and stay focused on what I know is best.
Choose joy. “Leaning into joy, for me, means slowing down long enough to notice the little things. And believe me, they’re everywhere.” I like to think that I am a joyful person. A hopeful one. But the truth is that it’s sometimes a foreboding joy, as Brene Brown puts it. We don’t celebrate or get too excited because we’re not quite there yet. There’s more to do. It didn’t go as well as it should have. Why don’t we let joy in? “Because joy is the most vulnerable emotion we feel.” I’m a stop-and-look-at-sunrises person, but I need to stop and look more! I also need to truly accept a compliment and to celebrate the feeling of accomplishment too. We are surrounded by many small, good things. This week, I need to notice those more.
Gratitude and intention. Dr. Jody talks about practising gratitude and bringing focus through making intentions. I’m not always organized enough for daily routines (outside of coffee lol) but I do like these lines: “Stopping for a moment to slow down the crazy can change everything. When you do that, you come back to yourself. Ever so slightly. And that is where your best version of yourself resides…Anxiety or depression cannot live in a relaxed body. Slow it down as many times a day as you can muster.” For me, I’ve literally been forced to slow down due to injury, which sucks, and have been obligated to carve time out of my day for stretching and physio. This week I won’t cheat, because I know I won’t get better if I don’t do them!
Practice forgiveness. “I know I needed to repair it. I know it would work. I know he needs it. And I know it wouldn’t be hard. But I didn’t want to do it.” Oh, this is a hard concept for me and I totally feel that last line. As someone who sets high standards for myself, I am sometimes frustrated with other people when I feel they have let me down. As Brene Brown says, I need to “shift my mindset from wanting to be right, to wanting to get it right.” But maybe it’s a meme that shows up on the internet every once in a while that really reminds me why forgiveness is important: “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” This week, I need to feel this message.
Collective Effervescence. “We are wired to do hard things, but we do those things so much easier when we remember we’re wired for connection.” This coming together as a community is something that often happens when the worst happens. But it really should be the way that it is. Every day. And that’s challenging. “It’s so much easier to assume that our differences mean we’re right and they’re wrong…Just like with kids, the hardest ones to give it to are the ones who need it the most…How do we create that sense of ‘we are in this together’?...It’s empathy - suspending judgement for just a moment and stepping into another’s shoes - that will always, always get you there the quickest.” This one shows up on the internet frequently too: “we are all fighting battles no one knows about.” This week, I need to do my part to foster those connections and let those around me know they are important people doing important work.
Lean in. We need you. As her last piece of advice, Dr. Jody writes, “This is not the time to be humble my sweet ones. I’m going to need you to get uncomfortable. To lean in to your true power for the lives you influence and have influenced.” Brene Brown says it this way: “Let yourself be seen. Love with your whole heart. Practice gratitude. Lean into joy. Believe you are enough.” It’s been a hard two weeks being sick. When your body is run down, your spirit goes with it. Everything requires so much more energy to do. And of course, those last two weeks just happened to be the busiest of the school year yet.
But it’s funny what a difference focusing on a few positive moments can make. Some time with a book. A nice email. Visit with a friend. A string of texts from my son, even if it’s just to complain about the Riders disappointing him every year. And Cam Talbot. The Flames sucked tonight too.
Dr. Jody’s parting words in “Kids These Days” were this: “What you do is holy work. You are wired to do this. And with all my heart I know this to be true: You are exactly where you need to be.”
As I go into this week, still sick but getting better, the words that really stick with me most are from a colleague, Brett Kirk: “I know that none of this will make the problems we are facing disappear. I’m not that naïve. But it might just give us the strength we need to tackle them.”
And that’s the truth.
It’s November 9, and we are driving to Calgary to visit our two kids. We are in the middle-of-nowhere section past Hanna and a long way from the next turnoff. There’s not a lot to do. I’ve read one book and accidentally packed my marking in the back of the vehicle.
And for once, social media is pretty quiet. Maybe it’s the long weekend or something, but for a virtual place like Twitter that’s all about stirring the pot, there’s not much stirring out there.
*Note: I jinxed it! I’m finishing this on our way home, and thanks to Don Cherry, my timeline is now an angry mess.*
So I did what every person who has ever been stuck in a car, desperate and bored, would do: I looked out the window.
A lot of pasture. A few pumpjacks pumping. A cool herd of buffalo by the Drumheller turnoff. But that’s about it. Then I saw them in the distance - birds. Hundreds of them.
I was struck immediately by three thoughts. One, Alfred Hitchcock and “The Birds.” Traumatizing movie and probably why birds freak me out a bit. Two, what the heck are they still doing here? Shouldn’t they have headed south like all the non-procrastinating birds did a month ago? And three, how do they self-organize from a black mass of bird bodies into sleek straight lines?
It was nothing short of mesmerizing.
I remember in my first years of teaching, that a principal talked about geese. How they lift one another up as they fly. How they take turns at the front. How they don’t leave each other behind. It’s the most amazing example of collaboration and teamwork.
So then I think about people. Not just little people at school, although the grade 7s do walk to the library like a noisy mass of bodies too, but also adults. How often do we get on the same page, totally going the same direction with the same impetus? At work? At home? Over a post on the internet?
Yah. Not very often. Again, Don Cherry.
It also makes me think of the senior ELA class that I have right now, as we learn through a social justice lens. As we have discussed the ideas of privilege, oppression, and just about every social issue that you can think of, there has never been a day where we were like the birds. Maybe it’s naivete, but I really thought there would be at least one or two areas that we could all settle on. Things that, to me, are simply cut-and-dried-one-hundred-percent-not-up-for-negotiation issues.
I read a book recently called Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice. Here’s a few of my takeaways:
- Generally, students have already learned to make sense of the world through particular lenses, and they, often unconsciously, feel comfortable learning only things that map onto this worldview. That is, students often use lenses that reinforce the status quo. That makes sense. We stick with what is familiar and comfortable, and tend to reinforce the ideas that we want to be true. Adults are still debating politics on my Facebook timeline like the election is still on. It isn’t.
- “If students are not experiencing crisis, they likely are not learning things that challenge the knowledge they have already learned that supports the status quo, which means that they likely are not learning to recognize and challenge the oppression that plays out daily in their lives.” Trying to develop empathy and putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, whether through a character in a novel or a clip from the news, is sometimes the closest we will get in our relatively homogeneous community to recognize that oppression. Whether I like it or not, those messy conversations are where learning takes place.
- “In fact, ‘good’ teaching often means that crisis is averted, that lessons are doable and comfortable, that problems are solved, that learning results in feeling better, that knowledge is a good thing.” In this case, ‘the more you know’ doesn’t mean much if what we are learning is keeping with the status quo. We have to start somewhere, and that means including diverse voices and perspectives. It also means modelling, modelling, modelling. I wish I could remember where I heard this: but we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
- “So, the task for teachers is not merely to add to the curriculum more information about different groups in society. The task is to ask questions about the political implications of the underlying story being told by whatever is included.” It’s not just checking a box. It’s checking the privilege in each situation. I can’t remember where they came from either (sorry!) but I have these questions on a bulletin board in my room: What message is being said? What message is not being said? Whose voice is being heard? Whose voice is not?
One of the biggest hurdles for me does involve language. When we have disagreements, often it’s a semantic issue. And someone may say that it’s just words…that it doesn’t really matter. To me, it does. When we say people should be equal, the assumption is that by giving everyone the same thing, everyone will get the same out of it. Of course that doesn’t work, because we all have differing individual needs and are coming to the table with differing circumstances.
So then we say there should be equity, which is a great idea. Give everyone what they need to succeed, and if that looks differently for people, that’s okay. Except that this is still not a long-term solution, as we aren’t taking into consideration how each of us got there in the first place.
What we really need to be working toward is systemic equity. We need to look at the root causes for why some people are advantaged or disadvantaged. And it’s totally doable! Because even the biggest systems, like education, are still just made up of people. What dozens of decisions are made every hour that raise people up or keep people down?
To me, it’s the things that we choose to do everyday in our classrooms that shapes the system. It’s choosing to hang inclusive signage on our room walls. It’s choosing to seat kids in table groups and with people outside their direct peer group. It’s choosing to focus on what we are learning, and not just on what we are doing. It’s talking about graduation rates in class and recognizing that 1 in 4 Saskatchewan students live in poverty. It’s breaking that number down to realize that potentially 50 kids in our own school of 200 students are coming to class hungry, or with financial instability at home. It’s that lightbulb moment and resulting silence, when we realize that this happens in real time to real people.
One more thing: we visited with my great-uncle and aunt in Calgary too. He is 94 and was in the Canadian Air Force in WWII. He told my mom this story: Their plane had been hit and they had to parachute out but for some unknown reason, one parachute was filled with socks. Socks! The guy wanted to just jump and hang on with another jumper, but he was a heavyset man so they said no. As a group they decided to crash-land and take their chances. And that’s what happened. They didn’t jump and leave him behind. They crashed, everyone survived, and the French underground hid them in a cellar. They were smuggled back into England and a week later, were up flying again.
In a world that is becoming more split and more partisan about almost every issue, I still hope that we can be like birds. Or those soldiers. That despite the problems that are placed in front of us, that we can come together and work towards solutions.
That we lift each other up, acknowledge the privilege we simply have, and to use it to help shoulder the load with others.
I’ve been writing this blog for 21 months now. 61 posts. This is the stellar start to number 62!
I wasn’t actually setting out to count, because I knew I wasn’t at a significant, take-stock moment in my writing, although at some point I should probably be brave enough to use the word “blogger” instead of telling someone that “I write a blog.” But that’s a whole other issue lol.
I was looking back, because I occasionally find myself with an idea and then wonder if I’ve already written about it.
Case in point: sisu.
And yes, I had.
But it’s a good time to bring it up again, because I don’t often see sisu in action. Actually, it’s not so much something that you can literally see. It’s something to be felt.
Here’s what I wrote before:
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. 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 was thinking about sisu at (of all places) junior boys volleyball playoffs yesterday. I gave our staff the long play-by-play version, but here’s the Cole’s notes version.
To me, that’s sisu. And the boys felt it.
All day long they talked about how proud they were of just getting to the final day. How proud they were to beat Osler. And VCA. And to make semis. And then the finals. And when we lost, they kept that same attitude. They were devastated, absolutely, tears welled. But the smiles came back out for pictures and they talked about being proud to be second in the league and looking forward to next year.
There are so many amazing lessons our students learn through sports. And so many that we, as adults, learn from the kids in the process.
I love that we can stand on the sidelines and coach in real-time. When a mistake is made, or a miscommunication happens, it is instantly a teachable moment. And then because another serve happens, we get to try it again. We get to build connections outside of the classroom, and like yesterday, when a kid accidentally calls you ‘mom’ it’s a compliment to that relationship. We also spend a lot of time reflecting: in timeouts, in between sets, after a game. What's working and what isn't?
Besides skills, we had to work a lot on teamwork concepts this fall. We knew how to be good losers from last year’s season…we lost a lot…but had to learn to be gracious winners when we found success this year. That wasn’t easy. We also learned some hard lessons about respect: for people’s property and people’s dignity. At one point in the season when we were on a win streak, I said to them: “How we do here today isn’t in question; how people go home and talk about our team definitely is.” When the last player out of the classroom yesterday asked me for a broom to sweep the room before we left, I realized that some of those lessons might have stuck.
Last night as we waited for other matches to wrap up, one of the boys commented on being worried about the final game. “I’m nervous, but it’s an excited nervous!” Which lead to a big conversation about, of all things, the importance of a positive attitude and growth mindset. After that surprising bit of philosophy, the boys had a conversation about whether just the winners get medals, or if the second place team gets anything, and someone even went to find out the answer from the Colonsay host. (We got a plaque lol.) They also decided that we weren’t underdogs like last year, but more like “mediocre-dogs.” Haha. And just before he got up to go start warming up, one of the other boys added, “No matter what happens, I’m just really proud of what we’ve done.”
Me too, kids. Me too.
“A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” Jim Watkins
Perpetual amateur. Lifelong learner. Vice-Principal. Teacher. Musician. Mom. Annnnd if you're reading this, then I'm still a blogger.