I turn on Twitter and see Don Cherry is trending.
Oh boy. I know what is there.
I joined a bookclub at the last minute this week, and I’m so glad that I did. It is being facilitated by Amanda Nelson, our amazing Sector Facilitator for Indigenous Perspectives, Partnerships and Outcomes. We are reading How to be an Antiracist by Ibram S. Kendi. There’s a part in the opening chapters that says:
Racist and antiracist are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing in each moment. These are not permanent tattoos. No one becomes a racist or antiracist. We can only strive to be one or the other. We can unknowingly strive to be a racist. We can knowingly strive to be an antiracist. Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.
Last week I had written that we need to shine a light on our own beliefs and question why we’ve come to believe it. Then I stole the words of my Director of Education, Lori Jeschke, and added: Let it propel you to act.
As educators, we have a duty to shine that light not only on ourselves and our implicit biases, but to help shine it on students to help them grow as well. We need to feel propelled to act. Every. Time.
“Call it out” seems like harsh wording, and I understand why we use that phrase. We cannot allow blatant racist, misogynistic, or homophobic words and actions in our classrooms. They need to be safe spaces for all students.
But they are also spaces where we want children to grow, and so although it is subtle, ‘shining a light’ is connotatively more useful wording as we help students to recognize, empathize, and hopefully change those words and actions.
Do I always know what to say? Am I always saying the right thing?
No. And no. I’m sure that I am not.
But I always say something.
My goal is not to convince.
My goal is to shine a light on their thinking.
Overheard in a span of one day:
“That’s so gay.”
Just when I think that maybe this has gone away, there it is. How do I shine a light on this? Kids know this one, so usually something short, like “There are 300,000 words in the English language. If you mean stupid, say it’s stupid. Saying it is gay is hurtful and mean.”
“If she beats me again (in a video game) I’m gonna…” I can’t even type what was said. It was not good.
And although only one in the group of boys was saying it, the misogyny needed to be pointed out for them all. “Are you mad because you lost or because you lost to a girl?”
Definitely because she was a girl. Okay, that narrowed it down.
“If we all have the capacity to be good at something, male or female, why does it matter that it’s a girl that you lose to? Or does it have something to do with being socially conditioned to think that men are just better at things than women? So that when you lose to a girl, you respond with shame and anger? How much of that anger do you think she gets online, just trying to do something that she’s good at?”
That one was a longer conversation, but also not long enough.
We were using jamboards (interactive sticky-notes you do together online) as conversation starters in ELA. It’s new. Kids play around a bit. Two kids keep throwing up memes.
Except that all the meme faces are black. Or women. Or black women. None of them witty or complimentary.
Before I get mad and completely pull the plug on the activity, I decide to shine the light.
This time I addressed the whole class. Yes, that’s for a laugh. But whose faces are you choosing? Why are you only choosing those faces? Do you realize it has only been black people or women or black women that you’ve chosen for a laugh? Do we consider that racism and misogyny are often ingrained in our worldview and we don’t always see it? My point wasn't to shut down gifs, but for them to hopefully consider what ones they always use and why.
(Coming from someone who was raised in a household that never used profanity or racial slurs but easily said the n-word when we chose who was “it” for tag using eeny meeny miny moe…there are layers of unconscious bias and racism in all of our actions.)
Before you worry that I am living in a glass house, let me assure you I am not.
Like students, there is a level of discomfort when someone shines a light on my own actions too. Sometimes it is something I already know I need to work on. Sometimes it is something I hadn’t even remotely considered that I was doing.
It never feels good. But it’s only in working through the dissonance that you can grow and try to be better.
I started with a quote from Ibram Kendi. Let me finish with one more.
"Racist” is not…the worst word in the English language; it is not the equivalent of a slur. It is descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to constantly identify and describe it – and then dismantle it.
Thanks for reading today.
<MARCH 21/2021 POST>
With the release of reports from two independent agencies citing the RCMP's discriminatory actions surrounding Colten Boushie's death, I decided to share the post I wrote the night of the verdict. It's just as true today: the comments under the articles this week are evidence of that - both predictable and perennial - despite the fact that the RCMP has accepted most of the findings, in stark contrast to an initial internal investigation that completely exonerated them of any wrongdoing.
Three years have passed and the cognitive dissonance and racism still run deep here in Saskatchewan. If we hope for any change to come, we have to continue to do our part, particularly in schools. As the ConnectR site states, "grow what you know, encourage a shared future, and generate change." If you're not sure what to do, they are a good place to start. www.beaconnectr.org
<APRIL 21/2018 POST>
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)
<FEBRUARY 9, 2018>
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 naught.
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. 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.
As my third year blog-o-versary lands on today, it’s a perfect time to re-post my very first one! Not sure anyone reading this will have been there since the beginning, so here’s the Coles notes version.
1. Still love my metaphors and analogies.
2. Still not as funny as I think I am. Just ask my children.
3. Still too much a private person. There’s probably been more soul-bearing that I anticipated, but not as much as I yearn to.
4. Still mostly written sans editing. And at times long-winded. (Is meandering verbosity a craft move??)
5. Still mostly for me. Still the best reflective practice I can do. But writers need audiences, and I’m always glad to know when my words have reached someone’s heart or mind. If you are reading this, thank you.
One more thing: when I decided to jump right in three years ago (full-send it, as the kids say) I decided to call my blog Rocks and Willows. I grew up in a small Finnish collection of farms called Rock Point, and my maiden name was Pajunen, which translates to little willow. Both words have shaped me.
But it also works as rock, sand, willows.
There is a Finnish construct called sisu. It’s a quiet determination (stubbornness?) and strength to keep going, despite adversity. The rock inside us.
Sometimes the self-doubts and imposters in our head make us feel like we are on shifting sand, trying to find our footing. Let the sand sift its way through to settle as a base: the journey may have struggle, but it will make us stronger.
There are few trees more pliable than a willow, bending but rarely breaking. It reminds us to be flexible - to lean in when needed but be malleable to others as well. Here in Saskatchewan, wild willows never grow in isolation, their root systems expansive and strong. That’s something for us to remember too: together, we are stronger.
Thanks for being part of the journey with me.
First one...Ensimmäinen. 3/7/2018
So technically, this isn't the first entry. It's not even the second, as I've been writing to myself in Word for a little bit. And although I'm an amazing audience, I decided to take a leap and publish some of my thoughts online. It might be an audience of one, plus two more. I have dedicated friends lol.
I'm a pretty private person, so there won't be a lot of soul-bearing here, but I think a lot. And I like to write. Actually, I'd forgotten how much I liked to write until very recently. I signed up for an Aspiring Leadership group through our Prairie Spirit School Division, and one of the things they had us do at our first meeting was to create an "I Am From" poem. To say it was cathartic doesn't do it justice. It was like a small stone starting an avalanche for me. (This site is called Rocks and Willows....there's going to be a lot of metaphors haha.) The second reason I started writing might have been before that even. I'll have to get the calendar out to check! But it's a story for another entry.
So I thought I'd share my "I Am From" poem with you, sans edits. If you think this sucks and you're never coming back to read anything I've written again, then blame the Superintendent running the session that day as he put us on a timer! Just kidding. There may be sarcasm at some points in this blog. If you think that sucks and you're never coming back to read anything I've written, then I'm okay with that too. This is for me. You can come along for the journey if you want to.
I am from Rock Point, right on the edge
many nights and mornings at the kitchen window
scanning miles and patterns of fields beyond the Coteau Hills.
I am from stoic Finlanders and Irish tempers
and a landed-in-Dunblane-where-the-tracks-ended-with-25cents-in-his-pocket
I am from childhood coffee time and the lilting
of words not understood
Of kahvia and kiitos and hauska syntymäpäivää!
I am from a two seater airplane, its pilot
with a grade 8 education, a product of time and circumstances
but of trust and exhilaration and
I am from farming and freedoms
Of middle child mixups and a family
of siblings with alliterations as names.
I am my mom, and that makes me proud. And happy.
I am from Miss Carney and Kindergarten
and dreams that came to fruition.
I am from detours through music, and full circle again.
I am partnered with contrast.
Of half-breed written on a birth certificate, residential schools,
abuse and abandonment.
But of resilience and hope and our
beautiful brown-eyed family which
makes his story forever also mine.
I am from peace
and good fortune.
Yesterday, the water pump in our well quit. Died. Crapped out. Over 18 hours later, we have no running water and since it is Sunday, there is no end in sight.
If you follow this blog, you’ll likely know that we heat our house with a fireplace, which means that I am chopping wood and splitting kindling every day. We wake up to 13 degree Celsius mornings throughout winter, and there is a pail of snow gathered last evening for emergency water that didn’t even melt overnight.
In other words, I am one power-outage away from living an authentic Saskatchewan-in-1952 life. If I wear an apron to work tomorrow and have cooked my own supper, someone had better come for an intervention.
Sometimes things end very abruptly. We don’t see it coming, can’t prepare, and after an initial shock of emotions, work our way through the aftermath.
Life before COVID, that’s totally you.
Sometimes things don’t end in any concrete way. They slowly disintegrate, fade, or morph their way into non-existence. I think of waking every morning for weeks last year, trying to decide when it was the day to put our old family dog down. The end was never clear to me, even when the day arrived.
I also suspect that is how COVID will end…not in an armistice day to remember, but an overlapping of life with restrictions and life without, until at one point everything has resumed.
Maybe not as before, but resumed nonetheless.
In visual art, students have been researching an artist as an inquiry project, and realizing that art styles do not have a hard and fast existence. Artists do not appear out of nowhere. Musicians, scientists, architects, writers…all are shaped by what is happening around them, and build on the work of those who have come before.
I was fortunate to listen to an amazing educator, Linda Rief, present this week, and I was thinking about this as she guided us through quick writes with mentor texts. When I was younger, my own writing voice parroted that of Stephen King. I was a huuuuge Stephen King fan and read his books voraciously. It wasn’t until my English teacher in grade 9 had covered one of my pieces with “SF” all over it in red pen, that I learned what it meant. He explained sentence fragments to me, and when I protested (which I often did when given advice I didn’t agree with lol) by telling him that Stephen King used sentence fragments all the time, his response to me was this:
You aren’t Stephen King.
It’s a good thing that he was the best English teacher that I had, or would ever have, as I didn’t hold his criticism against him.
But I think of it often.
When I asked students to respond to the questions, “What criteria can we use to ‘judge’ artwork? What things would you consider important? What does creativity, craftsmanship, and complexity mean for an artwork?” this was one Grade 10 student’s answer:
Linda Rief gave us many multi-modal examples. Let us not be the limiting beliefs on our own students’ creativity as they convey messages of their own.
So this is where an unstructured blog can go wrong lol.
I really WAS thinking about endings. Thinking about how I’ve written this blog for three years as of next week, and maybe it was time to wind it down. Thinking about the end of this quint semester on Wednesday, and reflecting on changes that I need to do to improve the experience for students next time. Thinking about starting my week un-showered and about bringing my toothbrush to work.
But writing, particularly writing quickly like I do with this every week, can go in directions I hadn’t anticipated. To steal a quote from Donald Murray that Linda used in her presentation, “Write fast - write badly - so you will write what you don’t yet know you knew, and so you will outrun the censor within us all.”
Maybe this doesn’t feel like the end quite yet.
Have a great week everyone.
This past week I took a belaying course. It was kind of important. If you don’t take the course and pass it, you aren’t allowed to belay. And I want to be able to do that!
So what is belaying, you might be wondering?
When you are rock climbing, the belayer is the person on the ground. As your partner climbs, you are moving the rope through the belay device to get rid of the slack. You also control the brake so that if they slip, they won’t fall very far…ie. plummet to the ground.
Thankfully, my nephew graciously signed up with me to avoid having to partner with a stranger in COVID times. I was fairly confident that he would be a good student and not let the above example happen!
It’s always good to have a reminder of what it is like being on the student-side of things: to remember that learning something new is not easy. At one point, I had asked so many questions that I apologized to the instructor, saying that as a teacher I should be a better student. But I was actually being a great student:
The 2.5 hours were all hands-on with a 3:1 student to instructor ratio lol.
And it was STILL hard.
I can’t imagine how much I would have taken away from the course if it had been us sitting in a room, with the instructor just telling us about the knots to tie. No rope. No demonstrations. No climbing.
Answer? Not much.
As it was, we practised every skill that a belayer needs. The most fun, of course, was the falling - that millisecond of exhilaration as you are near the top…and just let go.
At first, we would tell our partner that we were going to fall, so that they could mentally and physically prepare for what needed to happen.( KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE BRAKE ROPE!) After a bit, we practised unannounced falls, because I can tell you from experience, you don’t always know in advance that you are going down!
The most important skill, though, is likely communication. Verbally, there are a few universal commands to learn, to confirm with your partner what is happening or what you want to happen. But there is also non-verbal communication, keeping your eyes on them and being aware of what is happening.
Like with most things, as I was on the wall or belaying my nephew, I had school-connections running through my head! Here’s three things we could transfer to our classrooms:
1. Let kids fall off the wall more often. Purposeful falls. Accidental falls. I didn’t practise belaying for ‘if’ someone is going to fall, but ‘when.’ (You will fall!) We need to let kids know that learning happens when we take risks and push ourselves; and we learn when mistakes happen because we are learning from those mistakes.
2. Communicate and watch. I was really thinking about triangulation of data as we went through the night. We spent a lot of time in observation and conversation. We watched the other pair as they climbed, listening to the instructor’s feedback. We watched each other go through the intricate steps of knot tying; sometimes I helped my nephew and he helped me, but more often it was just talking and working through the steps together. I think in our classrooms, that is another important lesson: it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to talk it through with someone. It’s okay to listen in when the teacher is working with someone else. Learning is not done in isolation.
3. I’ll repeat that once more: learning is not done in isolation. When there is a climber and a belayer, you are a team. We depend on each other to be safe and have a successful climb. We have different responsibilities in each role, and we need to understand them both because we will do both. In the classroom, I am a learner as much as I am a teacher. And I want our students to be teachers as much as they are learners.
(Something happened in Visual Art before the break that was so cool: one student had learned a technique, promptly showed it to another student, who in turn taught it to another student lol. When a fourth student asked me about it, I sent them to the last student who had learned it so they could teach it too.)
And for the “BUT IN REAL LIFE!” counterargument, the interesting thing about the night was that it was all practice. Just feedback and learning. When we are ready, we will go back for a ‘test’ to show them our skills. We will try until we’ve demonstrated that we know what we are doing.
And then…climb on!
Hope everyone enjoyed a short break. Have a great week!
Hmmm. Close, but that feels too random.
Sort of, although that’s only part of it.
But that doesn’t quite have the energy in the word that I’m looking for either. I need something that captures the essence of all three of those things together!
This week is staff appreciation week in Saskatchewan, and I am feeling very <lucky-privileged-AND-fortunate> to work with the amazing people that I do. This week is about them.
When I even look back on the last week, without exception I saw adults learning everywhere: talking about the professional books they were reading; furthering their learning through workshops in areas of content, assessment, and leadership; contributing to groups on staff wellbeing, and brainstorming fun ideas for us to stay healthy together; talking to each other and seeking input and advice.
Innovating and taking risks.
Continually growing in their craft.
That’s a lot of -ing words, and I didn’t write it in past tense on purpose because it is a continual process: the people in our building are learners, and are modeling themselves as learners.
But that’s not all.
I am also so <lucky-privileged-AND-fortunate> to be working in my other position with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. They are also incredibly modest and would deflect the compliment, but it is true. The best learning happens in relationship and collaboration with other people, whether that is virtual or with someone across the hallway. It happens when we consider the experiences of other grade levels and subjects. It happens with feedback from mentors. It happens with critical self-reflection and goal setting.
And to my collegial friends that are a bit farther away, or virtual educators that I will never meet, I learn from you as well. Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences. When we are honest and vulnerable (including on the internet!) it can leave us open to judgement or criticism, but it also allows others to learn and grow with us.
I don’t know how many times in a week that the weight and scale and complexity of what we do as educators can feel crushing, but it is through the amazing teachers, EAs, teacher candidates, division-office leaders, administrators, substitutes…all of us together…that we continue to serve our students best.
So on Staff Appreciation week, I am sending my appreciation out to each of you!
What we do is important.
YOU are important.
Thank you for all that you do.
I just need to say this: There is no unacceptable amount of exclamation marks in an email. Or a FaceBook post. Or a tweet.
This is not a subtweet. It's a note to me from me.
Put as many as you want.
A whole bunch in a row.
Or just sneak one in at the end.
Conventions be damned…you do you.
Why even care? This week I overheard two students talking:
“Don’t overthink this.”
“But that’s what I do.”
Kids today are so much smarter than I was. The idea of overthinking something didn’t even enter my vernacular until a few years ago. Being able to recognize it in yourself? Accepting it as part of how you see the world and acknowledge that’s how you interact with it? Sooooo much smarter than I was.
The exclamation mark is a perfect example. I love the exclamation mark. Love it!
It’s like a thrilling amusement park ride hurtling into the station, the brief second of stillness before the unceremonious releasing of the air brakes.
Like getting to the last page of a book and having your breath taken away by the ending.
Like a slammed door.
A sudden epiphany.
A red light.
But use too many? Juvenile.
None at all? Stern.
I have no doubt that there are people who can relate to this, but others who are flabbergasted that someone would spend any amount of emotional energy even considering a punctuation mark.
In the end, I suppose it’s not really about an exclamation mark at all, but our constant maneuvering to balance the expectations of others with an authenticity of self. A recent webinar on female leadership by Amy Korver and Amy Orth had me thinking about that. (Linked video at the bottom of this.)
E. E. Cummings was one of the first poets I was ever exposed to, and some of you may have come across these words before: “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
But it is the words preceding those famous ones that I find even more poignant.
“A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. This may sound easy. It isn’t. A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking.
Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.”
We are taught, consciously or subconsciously, to be many things. (Linked a video here too, but heads up it's NSFW.) This week I’m going to set that overthinking aside…as best I can lol…and pay attention to what I feel…to be nobody-but-myself…and to be accepting of that.
And if that email feels like it needs to be chock-full of exclamation marks?
It will be!!!
Have a great week everyone!
Some things we don’t talk about:
The razor edges of clouds.
Mugshots of our souls.
Darkness that licked the light.
The distinctions of quicksand.
Anticipations of our tears.
Mirrors that enhanced the dolor.
The dust storms of memories.
Burdens of our assumptions.
Casualties that masqueraded the truth.
The frail guise of armor.
Savannahs of our depths.
Cascades that hindered the tsunami.
The tender fear of doubters.
Threads of our destiny.
Nectars that fed our courage.
The velvety fringes of the sun.
Self-portraits of our core.
Beacons that burn away the Cimmerian cover.
Things that we see and feel, but
some things we don’t talk about.
I saw the first four lines above on an Instagram post this week, and they stuck with me. I’m always telling the kids to spend some time playing in visual art this semester, and decided to play with some words here. But while I was doing that, several ads for Bell Let’s Talk day kept coming up in the background as my family was watching football playoffs on tv.
And it made me think: there are actually a lot of things we don’t talk about.
On Thursday this week, it’s Bell Let’s Talk Day.
As awareness of mental health increases, and more people are open than ever before, not everyone is there yet. As I saw on a meme this week, “You can’t talk butterfly language with caterpillar people.”
But if you’re not sure what to do, where to begin, or how to start that conversation?
You can be present.
You can be kind.
You can be patient.
You can be open.
You can learn.
You can be vulnerable and honest and sensitive.
You can listen.
As Bell Let’s Talk Day reminds us, “Now more than ever. Every action counts.”
That starts with me.
Tell me more.
*Foy Vance “Let Me Carry Your Burden”
Let me carry your burden
If something's not right, I will let you know
Like the paint that's drying on a heart that's broke
Let me carry your burden
Get you back on a high when you're feeling low
When the weight's too heavy but you won't let go
Come to me my brother and I will sit with you awhile
Pretty soon I'll see you smile
And you know you will
No matter how much you are hurting right now
You know that everything will change in time
So let me carry your burden
Let me carry your burden
When your mouth's on fire but your mind is cold
And you're fanning flames that won't keep you warm
Come to me my brother and I will sit with you awhile
Pretty soon I'll see you smile
And you know you will
No matter how much you are hurting right now
You know that everything…
This is the 105th blog post I’ve written. Not really a celebratory number, but the 100th one passed by without my noticing. I don’t need to skim back through them to know that there are a lot of common themes that pop up, and a lot of things that didn’t go exactly to plan!
When that happens - often - I try to concentrate on the positives. There is always, without exception, something to be learned from the experience, but I find it isn’t productive to just fixate on all of the things that went wrong.
A goal in making my thinking visible each week through my writing, was that it helped me process and give form to the lessons I learned for my own sake.
Do I fixate sometimes? Of course. Some lessons take longer to process than others.
Sometimes, I’m just stubborn lol.
But for all that, and especially if consider that some of my audience may be people who are just starting out in education, I’m not sure that it’s always clear that I didn’t arrive here in one day.
Truth be told, “arriving” is just an illusion. And so is “here.” There really isn’t an education station (a la Platform 9 ¾) that we will ever pull into. It’s a continual journey that at some point I will leave, you will leave, and others will join.
And it will keep going.
Lest this really spiral into existential thinking, let me return to my point and reassure you: I have made many mistakes.
I have written copious notes on the boards. Given worksheets. Given zeros. Given marks for behaviour. Taken off marks for behaviour. Taken off marks for late work. Taught from a textbook. Taught from a binder. Given feedback only at the end, and either for impact or tradition, put it in red pen. I’ve done rote and repetition. Handouts and homework. Puff-projects. Nothing personalized to the people in front of me.
When I think about it, the ones that really hurt are the voices I silenced or the ones that weren’t empowered to speak because of the structure of my classroom.
And even just the fact that I thought of it as mine. Not ours.
I could continue, but it does actually give me a palpable reaction to go down this path.
Has it been a very long time since those things were part of my educational philosophy?
Am I constantly striving to learn, follow research, and try innovative approaches?
Will I continue to make mistakes?
Part of my opening work with new classes is this: If you get to the end of this course without having made any mistakes, then you haven’t learned anything new at all. If I allow myself one more existential thought: if nothing else, when I get to the end of my life and the list of mistakes seems extraordinarily long, I will confidently say that I learned a lot along the way.
So for me, just like anyone starting something new, it can be overwhelming to look at where others are and feel overwhelmed.
Social media exasperates that with our curated Instagrams and Pinterest-worthy posts.
But remember: everyone started at the beginning at some point. For you it might be today. For someone else, it was last year. For others, this shows a decade of growth.
I might be starting something new today, that you have been doing for a long time.
You might be starting something new today, that I have been doing for a long time.
I wish I knew how many times I’ve written this quote in my 105 entries…it will be a lot. But I’ll write it again because these words guide me not only at work, but in life:
“Do the best you can until you know better. But when you know better, do better.”
Here’s one more via Simon Sinek from Nikolai Vavilov:
“The outcome is uncertain…But still, I want to try.”
Have a great week everyone! Start small, but start something new today.
Growing up on the farm, we spent quite a bit of time driving to fields to pick up my dad, move equipment, or just generally ride along with him to check crops.
Of fascination to us was the most exciting and portable pieces of technology available at the time…the CB radio.
Mounted under the dash of our ¾ ton farm truck, we had multiple unsupervised occasions to play with it, using our best trucker and farm lingo.
Okay, not trucker language per se lol.
But “That's a 10-4 buddy!” was definitely part of it.
We would press the button and talk, and spin the dial to different channels. I have no idea if dad had to put it back every time, but it was always a shock to hear someone else’s voice on the airwaves too. I’m sure we likely panicked and stopped playing immediately!
I don’t think anyone at the time could have fathomed self-driving combines and smartphones. The amount of change, even in a rural farm setting, has been staggering. And yet, so many other aspects of farm life are virtually frozen in time.
Not being able to go to the farm for a family Christmas (or Easter or Thanksgiving) has made me nostalgic and wistful for a visit.
To our sledding hill.
The old barn.
The empty hangar where Dad’s plane used to be.
The noisy cacophony of kid and adult voices mixed together, although I prefer to recall it sans talk of politics. If I never hear Donald Trump’s name again, it will be too soon.
There’s a line in the song “July” by Noah Cyrus that says:
You know I,
I'm afraid of change
Guess that's why
we stay the same.
It’s a sentiment that’s probably found in innumerable song lyrics and is probably a survival technique deeply rooted in the human psyche.
It’s also true.
I try new things all the time. I’m not afraid of change, but it’s also much easier when you are the instigator of the changes.
2020 thrust so much change upon us.
And being in the passenger seat for changes happening around you, is a much different feeling, not unlike the helpless fear of sitting with your own child as they learn to drive. It’s not impossible to manage it, but it’s definitely more challenging.
So as I write this on the cusp of a new year, I’m really proud of the people I am surrounded with at work. Our division leadership. Admin. Colleagues. For persevering in what were unfamiliar and unchartered areas for most people. For working hard and long hours. For keeping the kids in our building as engaged as possible, despite so many restrictions.
For keeping them safe.
I know that 2021 will not suddenly be a panacea for all the ails the world. In fact, even when COVID is more contained, the societal disparities it has exposed (and exasperated) will remain. We will need each other more than ever.
I think that’s the quintessential post-midnight new-years-eve feeling, regardless of the year: realism mixed with hope. After surviving 2020, the hope aspect may well feel in short supply. So that’s when I go back to Dr. Sharon Roset’s dissertations for guidance.
“Authentic relationships with significant people are a means of acquiring hope; creative dreams that come from within a person and focus on a better world have been cited as a source of inspiring hope.”
“Hope undergirds action, it is not the action itself.”
“There is no such thing as idle hope.”
“Hope is stronger than despair for it enables one to persevere and not give up. It is mightier than cynicism and apathy, for it activates enthusiasm and passion for a specific purpose. And it is tougher than selfishness for it instills compassion, empathy, love, and a sense of justice that in turn build vibrant, strong families, schools, and communities.”
“Hope cannot sustain itself on its own.”
You there buddy?
That’s a big 10-4.
Thanks for checking.
Perpetual amateur. Lifelong learner. Vice-Principal. Teacher. Musician. Mom. Annnnd if you're reading this, then I'm still a blogger.