7 Habits +1 to Empower

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Betty Boult was the keeper of the knowledge when it came to Stephen Covey and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when I first started teaching in Abbotsford.  She had done the facilitators training and she facilitated with flair.  We had animated discussions and were committed to engaging with the ideas and doing the work to complete the workbook meticulously.  I can still play out some conversations that resonated and remember my queries around some of the habits.  Those were the days when “sharpening the saw” was just a part of daily life and took much less deliberate effort.   Saying “no” was not yet part of my repertoire and everything was a priority.   These were the days before children and my husband was working just as hard to start his business.  The advantage of professional development in Abbotsford was that it was a small enough district that we all did pro-d together.  Therefore, the things we learned and ideas we were thinking about, were discussed in the staffroom, as staff socials and the ideas frequently referenced.  I think in this way, many of the ideas were incorporated into who I was.

I recently finished reading Stephen Covey’s (2008)  The Leader in Me:  How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time.  In this book, the learning is focused on children in K-5, middle and secondary schools, in the United States (the main focus), Singapore, Canada and Japan.  The power is that it that the ideas are introduced and developed with entire school populations.  Students are taught public speaking and acknowledged for their strengths and encouraged to assume responsibility for leadership tasks within the school.

I remember shortly after my Covey training, I was asked to do the goodbye tribute to my mentor, Joan Fuller, at her retirement function.  Public speaking had never been in my comfort zone.  Memories of tomato seeds bouncing out of my hand during my 9th grade oral report haunted me.  Boring topic.  Questionable choice to be holding the smallest of all seeds for an oral report in front of the class.  Terrifying teacher who was known to roll her eyes. Nothing good came out of it and I carried a lingering fear of public speaking.  However, I loved Joan and had a vested interest in making her retirement special.  I was terrified.  I was over prepared and tripped over my words.  I was glued to my cue cards.  My vocal chords constricted.  My legs shook.  I blushed.  And yet, I lived through it.  Everyone clapped and smiled.  Joan was delighted and cried.  And there were no tomato seeds.  I drank the Kool-Aid and was excessively proactive and had a passion for professional development.  I found myself more and more speaking in front of audiences,  in both my professional life and involvement in personal passions.  Yes, I was one of the lives that was changed because I had come to understand I had something worthwhile to say.

Covey is frequently referenced but I wonder how many people really understand the ideas and have integrated them into their lives and then regularly revisited.  There is a tremendous amount to be learned that directly correlates with empowering, not only adults but children too.

For those of you who need a quick recap of the habits:

  • Habit 1:  Be Proactive
    • Take initiative
  • Habit 2:  Begin with the End in Mind
    • Set goals
  • Habit 3:  Put First Things First
    • Prioritize and only do the most important things
  • Habit 4:  Think Win-Win
    • Getting what you want while considering others
  • Habit 5:  Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  • Habit 6:  Synergize
    • work well with others to accomplish a task
  • Habit 7:  Sharpen the Saw
    • Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep
  • Habit 8 (added in 2004):  Find Your Voice and Help Others Find Theirs –
    • Identify gifts.  Optimize them.  Develop them.
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Kids Own Their Learning

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The Spiral of Inquiry by Judy Halbery and Linda Kaser  is my favorite  framing of the inquiry process because it speaks to both the educator and the learner in academic and social-emotional learning contexts.   Teachers are asking big questions about their students and how to support them; students are taking responsibility for their learning.  It is the questions that we ask that are going to make a difference.  If students can answer the following questions, then the revised curriculum in British Columbia is well on its way to being implemented:

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going with your learning?
  • What are your next steps?

Students are actively engaged in knowing what they are learning and why.  Learning is happening as a result of moving forward with a plan, not just the luck of the draw.  This goes hand in hand with the work that people such as Stuart Shanker, Kim Schonert-Reichl and Leah Kuypers are doing with self regulation.  The goal is to give students the power to identify their moods and thoughts without judging them as good or bad, as well as create a customized set of strategies to cope with them.  As a school principal, I am engaged in these conversations with my students on a regular basis.

All too frequently, students will tell me that it is bad to feel angry or sad.  No so.  Being angry or dismayed at injustice is often a catalyst for needed change.  However coming up with a well reasoned problem-solving strategy is not going to happen when the blood is flooding the reptilian brain in preparation for flight or fight.  The best thing we can do for our students is to help them identify the self calming strategies that work for them so they can problem solve and get back to a place where they can continue learning.

One helpful strategy for many of us, is to take a break.  I have shared with many kids that one of my calm down strategies is to make a pot of Earl Grey tea.  Their strategy could be as simple as walking to the fountain for a drink or moving to another place with teacher consent and appropriate supervision in place.   This gives the child the control over self calming  when he or she is not feeling in control of the situation.


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I encourage students to use a timer (1 minute, 3 minute or 5 minute) to help them meet the goal of calming down rather than dwelling on the problem, and then moving into problem solving mode.  Once a plan is formulated, students move back to the classroom.  The three inquiry questions are just as relevant with social-emotional learning as they are with academic learning.

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going with your learning?
  • What are your next steps?

When students are able to self calm, the learning is acknowledged and students are able to move forward with a sense of accomplishment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peaceful Playgrounds

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I recently read a publication in the NY Times Sunday Review called My Kid’s First Lesson in Realpolitik.   Annie Pfeifer is a parent bemoaning the need for our children to stand up to bullies.  There is recognition of the fact that “helicopter parents” swoop in with speed and  vehemence to deal with any conflict, big or small, that his / her child may encounter.   The alternative presented is to let kids fight it out, like on the playgrounds in Switzerland, so they learn how to deal with conflict.  It is my position that both of these options fail to provide our children with the confidence or skills to deal with conflict.  Our kids need educators and families to work together to provide the guidance and mentoring to teach kids how to resolve conflict.

Playgrounds serve to be a microcosm of the world where our kids learn important lessons.  They are filled with students who are human.  Perfection may not be possible but the aspiration to create a peaceful playground is paramount.  We want our future generation to accept that everyone is invited to the party and we all need to learn to co-exist peacefully to create a better reality.  A playground is a relatively small fishbowl and a good place to learn about kindness, acceptance, tolerance and to develop problem solving skills.

Peaceful playground require:

  • kindness
  • communication skills
  • compassion
  • empathy
  • inclusivity
  • compromise
  • sharing space, equipment and friends
  • an ability to express feelings, while considering other people’s feelings
  • an ability to understand when you need to self calm and practice those skills
  • problem solving skills
  • ability to follow safety rules and game rules

Of course the list could go on.  We have a number of programs and theories to help us navigate this course.  School Codes of Conduct are mandatory in schools in British Columbia and are widely published on school websites.  Articles and tweets about the topic of self regulation has become common.  @Stuart Shanker has committed to tweeting a daily quote #SelfReg to encourage us to pursue and gain a greater understanding of root causes of our feelings and how to deal with them.  .

I particularly like The Zones of Regulation program developed by Leah Kuypers, to teach kids that feeling emotions is never a bad thing but we require strategies to deal with them in ways that keep others and ourselves safe.  If you are very angry and in the “Red Zone”, your job is to self calm before you try to problem solve.  Kids are fascinated to learn that “yoga” or slow breathing actually causes your brain to calm your body.  Science at work!

The Peaceful Playgrounds Program is another program that I really like.  Basic messages are framed in a way for kids to easily remember and apply on the playground.  It also includes a plethora of ideas of things to keep kids active and problem solving on the playground.  Problem solving strategies that you probably remember from your own childhood.

  • Talk
  • Walk
  • Rock, Papers, Scissors ( Yes, you commit on 3 – agreed upon rule! )  In several of my other schools, this was know as Ching, Chang, Push, apparently a well established strategy in China too!

War Toys To Peace Art is a group established to fund art projects by peace loving groups of children.  The Friendship Bench is one way for kids to find their way into playground activity if they need some additional support.  A bench is designated as a space for kids to demonstrate kindness by inviting kids looking for a friend looking for someone to play with.  Programs like Jump Rope for Heart give kids a focus and the equipment to get involved in healthy playground activity.

Kids are human and sometimes they will need help resolving conflicts face to face AFTER they have calmed down.  When kids don’t make good choices, they need the opportunity to own them.  Kids need to be able to express how they are feeling and what they didn’t like in face to face conversations.  They also need to learn to listen to other opinions, how the choices he / she made impacted the other person and to develop strategies for how to repair relationships.  They also need to learn to move forward after they have dealt with the problem.   Adults are there to support kids in dealing with the problems.  The goal is for kids to develop the skills to problem solve and the confidence that they can.  Adults are involved in the process to ensure that name calling and bullying (physical and emotional )  do not become an accepted norm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reframing 2018

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I’m am writing this blog post as a series of questions but it is actually a reframing of my New Year’s Resolutions.  I am undaunted by the fact that I have been writing the same resolutions using different words  and forms for many years.  To believe that we cannot become better is to admit defeat.  Like my mother, I am an eternal optimist.  Although things did not always turn out as planned or hoped for or prayed for – she put steadfast belief that people could become their best selves, as did all three of my grandmothers.  Strong women that worked with deliberate intention.

I have German and Scottish roots and perhaps because of that,  a well developed work ethic.   I also have a creative mind and need for little sleep, so the possibilities in life are endless.    Unfortunately time is not.  I continue to struggle with the limits of a 24 hour day.  In the past, it has been all about creating work / life balance.  My colleague, Brian Kuhn, frames that best as “working to live” as opposed to living to work.  However at times, my life has become frenetic in trying to get things done.  My first question is how can I discipline myself to work less and maintain balance?

The quest to balance body/ mind / spirit has often been in the “life outside of work” end of the teeter totter and “work” on the opposite end.  Because there is a plethora of competing demands and imminent needs everyday in my job,  during the school year the teeter totter is most often is grounded in the problem solving and minutia on the work side.  The natural school break times do allow me to refocus priorities, replenish my energy reserves and reframe my next go in the elusive quest for balance.  This seems to be the times I play catch up with creative possibilities, physical and spiritual wellness.

Yes, these are the times of the “ultimate oxymoron” –  the power relax.  Although laughter is a key part of my stress management at work and enjoyment of life, it isn’t enough.  My latest and greatest power relax is the salt float.  My cousin in Cairo is right, it’s not the Dead Sea.  It is 90 minutes of floating in highly concentrated salt water, all by myself in the ocean room of the pristine Halsa Spa in Kits.  Like being a noodle in soup.  My preference is no sound and no light but ambient sound and the blue light and the pod option, work too.  Reading, yoga, cardio activity (walking/ hiking, biking, skiing / boarding, swimming, golfing ), sunshine when possible, good wine and socializing with people I enjoy – all build up my depleted energy reserves.  How do I maintain the balance to maintain long term energy reserves?

Over time I have been changing my perception of balance to be more of a teeter totter with triangular seats on either end.  How can I carve out the time and place to meet physical, spiritual and intellectual needs at work and maintain enough energy to create the same balance at home?   The goal is to avoid the frenetic pace I maintain at work and then collapse in front of the News, Murdoch Mysteries and Modern Family.

My school is right beside the Pacific Spirit Park and Acadia Beach and most classes regularly engage in outdoor learning.  All but the most torrential days are outdoor days during recess and lunch.  The school is less than 20 minutes from four golf courses.  I can ride my bike to school in 40 minutes or less, depending how energetic I am on the big hill.  My husband and I live right beside the beach and already walk to shop, see movies, eat out or go to church.  How can I extend that to get enough exercise at home and work to maintain a healthy perspective and body?

My work first as a teacher, then a teaching vice principal and now as a principal have afforded me many opportunities to participate in rich face to face opportunities for professional learning.  Participation in social media has added another layer to access information and connect with people online.  Blogging has incorporated more depth to personal reflection because it is public and invites further conversation.  The many challenges of implementing curriculum change and adapting to societal change creates stress and possibility in all school communities.  My current school has students speaking 34 different home languages in addition to English.  Some students live in the area, others commute and some will return to their home countries when they have learned English or when their parents finish their studies at The University of British Columbia.  How can I incorporate the voices and needs and desired directions of our staff, students, parents and community partners with national, provincial, district and community school team directions?

For me, spiritual wellness requires times of quiet reflection or a pause button to stop and be grateful for the people and events unfolding around you.  What matters most doesn’t fit on a To Do list with time limits or happen with a perpetual open door policy.  Although I participate and grow from participation in organized religion, spiritual wellness is bigger than participation in church activity.  Church can be a conduit to spiritual wellness and empathy but unfortunately, I have seen it also used as a weapon to control or justify entitlement and hurtful actions.  Fortunately I live in one of the most diverse and profoundly beautiful areas of the world.  A walk in the neighbourhood takes my husband and I to the beach, skiing and hiking takes us to the mountains, wine tasting in the interior of BC takes us to the desert, golf takes us to the park, and a walk just beyond the school grounds takes us to the forest.  I believe that nature feeds the soul because it speaks the natural beauty and diverse forms of life that surrounds us.  On a very foggy late afternoon in December, I was working in my office and happened to look up just in time to see a bald eagle descending down on the playground to scoop up it’s prey.  My question is how can I hit the pause button and look up more often?

My goal throughout 2018 is to go about answering my questions.  One of my ideas to encourage sharing of ideas is a tea time on the first Friday of the month from 9:15 – 10:15 am at my school.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  My student leaders will be providing school tours and talking about their learning at the same time.  Good luck with your reframing in 2018.

 

 

 

Reconciling Assessment & Reporting Practices with the New Curriculum in British Columbia

The implementation of the New Curriculum in British Columbia has garnered a lot of attention throughout the world.  Our population is made up of Canadians, immigrants and refugees from many different places, with many different schooling traditions.  In my little school of only 328 students, we have 34 home languages.  Yet what we are doing to prepare our students for the demands of the 21st Century is bringing good results.

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Students are encouraged to ask the key questions laid out so effectively by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser in The Spirals of Inquiry.

  • Where am I now in my learning?
  • Where am I going next?
  • What do I need to get there?

Suzanne Hoffman, Superintendent, Learning Transformation, Ministry of Education emphasizes the significance of “unveiling the hidden curriculum” by deliberately teaching and assessing core competencies.  Deliberate instruction and reflection of  communication, thinking and personal / social responsibility skills have the power to transform lives of our students (SAHoffman, Nov. 15, 2017).  Mandatory self assessment demonstrates that core competencies are important enough to be measured and help students to learn about themselves as learners, to develop the skills required for collaboration and to supports the creation meaningful goals.

Aside from the students themselves, teachers have the most significant impact on the students in their classrooms.   Teachers in British Columbia have a high level of professionalism.  They  are well educated and have regular access to professional development and opportunities for collaboration.  As John A.C. Hattie aptly states in Visible Learning for Teachers:  Maximizing Impact on Learning ” (2013)  “…those teachers who are students of their own impact, are the teachers who are the most influential in raising students’ achievement.”    By making learning intentions explicit, teachers help their students to learn intended learning outcomes, as well as the strategies of how to learn.   The development of scoring rubrics with students or  a review of criteria prior to assignments or marking, helps students to understand expectations and plan their time.  The challenge for teachers is to determine those strategies and practices that will enable students to ask complex questions, problem solve, work collaboratively and persevere to find answers and discover future possibilities.

In the new curriculum students are given far more responsibility for their own learning.  One rationale is to improve student engagement in school.  Another is to create students who will be able to respond to the demands of the 21st century.  My son works as a designer in Lululemon’s “Whitespace” with engineers, scientists and technologists.  Beyond the frosted glass and carded access, he is researching how clothes impact physical performance and the mental and emotional perception of athletic ability.  The goal is to respond to trends, create markets and tailor sports clothing for 4-10 years down the road.  To our amazement as his parents, the childhood fascination with lego, trials riding, downhill riding, skiing, snowboarding and the construction of death defying jumps were the things that provided some of the rudimentary learning required for the job.  We can’t predict all of the jobs in the future, but the new curriculum sets out to enable students to ask and respond to tough questions and learn through engagement in the things they find fascinating.    Students are now responsible for assuming responsibility for their learning, engaging with peers to learn cooperatively and participating in evaluating their progress.

In the not so distant past, teachers aspired to be a fountain of knowledge and rushed in to speed up the process of answering questions or finishing explanations expeditiously.  Jon Saphier,  recently featured in a Webinar sponsored by Corwin (Nov. 13, 2017), suggested three ways to make learning visible and deeper:  Turn and talk.  Explain. Restate.  In the new Curriculum, we want students to take the time to think about difficult problems, to be comfortable being stuck, to engage in dialogue, to ask peers to explain their thinking, and to persevere until they discover their answers.

 

The shift from summative to formative assessment is necessary to assist students in this new role.  In order for our students to take more responsibility for their learning, they require ongoing feedback embedded in their daily instruction.  The focus is not on one letter grade but movement along a continuum to demonstrate growth in student learning.  The initial response was the development of paper based portfolios that allowed students to self select items to demonstrate learning outcomes.  The accessibility of technology has added several other layers and possibilities with the addition of pictures, videos and attachments with comment.

The Surrey School District has been using FreshGrade for the past four years to facilitate the collection of online portfolios to provide what Sir Ken Robinson calls “a continuous glimpse into each child’s progress that parents and students can share”.  It is one of the possible online applications that BC teachers like for the ease of use by young children and the inclusion of BC Performance standards.  The VSB is currently exploring how Office365 can be used in conjunction with various applications to fascilitate learning, store and showcase student work from entry in Kindergarten to graduation in Grade 12.  All school districts in British Columbia are developing reporting directives for implementation in September 2018 that will mesh with the new curriculum.

 

 

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Reporting has always included the aspect of what students are able to do, the areas that require future attention and the ways of supporting students.  The opportunities introduced by implementation of the new curriculum in British Columbia are the source of many conversations with colleagues, students and parents about how our system in British Columbia can become even better.  Let the learning continue…

Formal assessments continue to play a role in providing feedback about students and  Provincial assessments , National and International assessments provide a snapshot of student performance in key areas and, over time, can help to monitor key outcomes of B.C.’s education system.

From the Ministry of Education Website:

B.C. students participate in three types of large-scale assessment:

  • Classroom Assessment is an integral part of the instructional process and can serve as meaningful sources of information about student learning.
  • Provincial Assessments:
  • National and international assessments measure reading, math and science skills of B.C. students. Various age ranges participate and student achievement levels are compared with other provinces or countries.

Kids Asking Questions

Inquiry is a natural response of a young child to life.  When my son and daughter were young, I remember the exhaustion of trying to keep them safe in the midst of it.  My son was a bold explorer, scaling rocks to butt heads with young goats in Stanley Park, blazing trails in Mundy Park on his bike and on Grouse Mountain with his snowboard.  My daughter was a fearless follower of her brother’s careful instruction to crawl out of the crib and keep up with her older brother in new adventures everywhere they went.  Clogged drains were explained away as doing Science and our family repertoire of good stories are plentiful and filled with laughter of past and present exploits.  Both kids have emerged into adults who continue to question and explore new pathways to make discoveries.

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My question as a administrator is much the same as when my kids were young.  How can we support children in continuing the habit of asking questions and developing strategies to find the answers to their questions?  I’m not thinking so much of school completion and continuing on to post-secondary, which may be a by-product, but the intrinsic reward that comes with the discovery.  “Eureka!” is always followed by an exclamation point for good reason.  There is an excitement that comes with discovery about something you care about. I want children to maintain the same level of engagement that they enter kindergarten with.  I believe everyone should teach kindergarten at some point, if even for a day.  The questions come hard and fast and “no I won’t answer it for you even if you are pulling on my sweater”.  In kindergarten, the challenge isn’t getting children to ask questions, it is teaching them ways to discover their own their own answers.

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My pathway to discovering the power of inquiry to engage learners was through my own professional development.  Maureen Dockendorf, who has been instrumental in the inclusion of inquiry curriculum in British Columbia, invited me to an inquiry group early on in my career.  Each member in the inquiry group went through the process of defining a question of professional interest, refined it and came up with a plan to discover possibilities.  We were responsible for reporting back to the group so reflection of our learning was an integral part of the process.  The inquiry led me to ask my students about their learning.  It made me a better teacher by creating a high level of engagement and a relationship with students that went beyond interest in their lives to develop relationship and enhance learning.  It helped me to invest in students as learners and helping them to learn strategies to learn throughout their lives.  Yes, lifelong learning has become a buzz word but the essence is developing a population that is interested and invested in their work and their life.

I recently had a group of students in the gym for a Camp Read event.  Yes, reading on floating islands of mats with no shoes on is still exciting.  We chatted about inquiry and I put out a banner for students to record their questions..  These were some of them.

Why is the ocean so full?

Why do people go to school to learn?

What was the first moon landing like?

Why is a slug “nature’s hotdog”?

What are “nature’s french fries”?

Why did the first mushroom decide to grow?

How do plants start?

What was the first food on earth?

Why do birds and bats fly into Ms. Froese’s window that faces north?

Why do dogs chase cats?

Why did the sun start?

How do birds fly?

Why don’t some people respect other people?

Was there outer space before the Big Bang?

How was gravity made?

Why does earth have air but other planets don’t?

Are ghosts real?

How was the first iPad made?

How do we grow?

How come some animals started living like people?

Why are there seasons?

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Finding the answer to each question lends itself to a great opportunity for personal learning.  It is also an opportunity to develop the core competencies and content goals in the New British Columbia Curriculum.  Although the framing and publication of the B.C. curriculum is new, the research and implementation of these practices are not.   Linda Kaser, Judy Halbert and Helen Timperley explain the essence of educational change in British Columbia, Canada with finesse:  “((I)nnovation floats on a sea of inquiry and curiosity is a driver for change.” (2014 CSE – A framework for transforming learning in schools:  Innovation and the spiral of inquiry ).  This is what has enabled British Columbia to emerge as a leader in educational practices and achievement worldwide.

Truth Matters

The truth eventually emerges. Regardless of skillful deceit and the amount of time and manipulation to manufacture the lie.  Sometimes it only takes someone brave enough to champion the truth.  Sometimes the truth is revealed in a series of puzzle pieces over time.  All the time, it requires an audience that is ready to embrace the truth, regardless of the ugly underbelly that may coexist with the lie.

Once the truth emerges, it is sometimes followed by a long period of silence.  A myriad of questions unfold.  Will anyone believe me?  Is it worth the stress of bringing it up?  Should bygones be bygones?  Does the perpetrator of the lie still have the power to make my life miserable? Are the people who were most damaged by the lie still alive?  Does the truth really matter after so much time?  Is the damage irreparable?

The truth may bring up painful memories or challenge the very basis of the life that you have led.  The lie may be fabricated to save face for a poor choice or assume power or undermine a perceived enemy.  The problem is that there is never really a solid basis for lying.  Lies create a power imbalance and fostered the anger of those who know the truth but feel powerless.  With any lie, there is at least one loser. Sometimes it is the person who lives under the injustice of the lie.  Sometimes it is the moral integrity of the liar and those who choose to look away from the truth.  Sometimes it is the physical, emotional and financial damage that results from the perpetuation of the lie.

There was never an upside to removing children from their homes and placing them in church run residential schools.  As a mother, my heart breaks when I consider the pain.  The premise was based on a notion of the cultural supremacy of the people arriving from Europe and the desire for power.  Although Indigenous cultures had existed for thousands of years in Canada, there was an assumption that the people with the weapons and power could decide on the best way for everyone to live or not live.  Residential schools were the fastest, most expedient way “to remove the Indian from the child” – the proclamation of the day and the instrument utilized to attempt to decimate Indigenous culture in Canada.

The process of justification took many the form of several lies, over many years: Indigenous spirituality was not a pathway to God.  European education was superior to learning Indigenous ways of knowing.   Maintaining family ties, culture and language was not best interest of the Indigenous child.  As with most lies, it is in everyone’s best interest to stand on the side of truth.  As Canadians, we demonstrate maturity as a country when we are able to look back in our history and identify poor policy choices and human rights abuses.

Residential schools were an example of how poor policy can be implemented and continued despite  the fact it is fundamentally wrong. Indigenous children removed from their families suffered.  The communities who had no power to stop the removal of their children suffered.  The people perpetuating the lie suffered the fate of any liar.  As a country we failed to move forward with integrity as defenders of social justice.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been profound.  Telling the truth has been embraced as something that matters in our country.  The reconciliation is about people being ready to hear the truth and accept it.  It’s not about accepting blame.  It’s not about living with shame.  It is about the realization that in the earliest years of our history, it  was decided that Canada was better off without embracing the pre-existing Indigenous culture. It was a lie.  The reconciliation comes in recognizing that we are better off with the rich fabric of all the cultures that come together to form Canada.  The hope lives in our ability to listen,  to learn and to move forward together with integrity.

Trump’s USA

It is hard not to reflect on Trump’s U.S.A.   I drove back over the border to Canada and could hardly stifle doing a happy dance.   Is a decidedly different U.S.A. with Trump at the helm.  The promise and hope that accompanied Obama’s election has been obliterated and the despair and fear is palpable.   We entered the United States at the Peace Arch crossing and were promptly subjected to a “random” comprehensive search, along with many other people, most whom did not have white skin or spoke another language.  We were herded along with others receiving various degrees of scrutiny by American officials.  The long lines and indifference to making people wait is apparently here to stay.  Traffic was gridlocked around most cities en route to the Sierra Nevadas along the I-5 and then to L.A. with road work “to serve us better”, too many cars and a lack of infrastructure to provide public transit.

True to our reputation, we are friendly Canadians, and friendly Americans gravitated towards us.  We had fun times with neighbours at the Silver Lake cabin in the Sierra Nevadas.  Shared camaraderie in Ernie’s tackle shop and in the Sierra Inn in June Lake.  Talked “education shop” with a hiker (aka teacher from Oakland) en route to Gem Lake.  Had a blast in the mountains with my older sister’s family as we navigated through our #GrantFire crisis that threatened possible evacuation from our family cabin.  Talked books with the librarian in the Gull Lake Library.  Dashed down to L.A. to visit with more family.  Learned more about my Dad’s life.  Navigated waves in Malibu with our younger nephews.  Had great conversation in the hot tub in Medford.  Yet the news, coffee shop conversations, bumper stickers, billboards and ways people treat each other show a dark underlying current of self-serving interests and unkindness.

One billboard read “REAL” Christians follow the teachings of Jesus.  The love, kindness and a lack of a judgemental stance forming my understanding of Jesus was not the vibe coming off this massive and somewhat threatening sign with the link to “fire and brimstone” rules to follow on the internet or else. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), the civil rights organization formed in 1909, issued the first ever travel advisory and warns of “looming danger” for people of colour traveling through Missouri after Trump’s buddy, Governor Greitens, passed Senate Bill 43 – accurately hailed as a Jim Crow Bill, rolling back human rights and facilitating legal discrimination.  Deadly, race- fueled clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia unfold and Trump is unable to condemn neo-Nazis, skinheads and members of the Ku Klux Klan protesters for their hate propaganda instigating death, racial hatred and mayhem.  People joke and sport bumper stickers saying “Black lives matter to who?’ or disrespect the people who work for them with talk of building a wall or questioning which children are entitled to health care or education.  Trump stickers have dollar signs on either side of his name.  What are the lessons American children are taking from this?  Who do they want to be in the world?  What do they want it to look like.  It is quite telling that the white supremacist group Vanguard America target a university campus to recruit. This seems the polar opposite of the open mindedness and lofy ideals that we expect higher education to inspire.

The basis of the Trump election platform was vilifying “the other” and framing blatant lies as “alternative truth”.  When your quest for power is fueled by racism, misogyny, hate, greed, fear mongering and lies, then that is the basis for your term in office.  For any student of history, this is quite disturbing and comparisons to WWII Germany are not out of line.  Hitler’s speech in the early 1920’s was titled “Why Are We Anti-Semitic?”  People knew exactly who they were voting for and facilitated his actions.  By the end of WWII, 6 million Jews had been killed in Nazi Germany.  This was far too many people to have been killed by the SS.  A population was catalysed to view their Jewish neighbours as sub-human by government leaders with hate discourse, legislation and propaganda.  History has already taught us this lesson.  Our job is to not let history repeat itself.

How we act and what we say defines who we are.  Honesty matters.  Respect matters.  Tolerance is not enough.  Tolerance indicates we are enduring something or someone who is a pain in the neck.  It leaves the “tolerant” one feeling put upon and the recipient of her benevolence feeling embarrassed and insecure. It is true that change and differences and honesty can cause a degree of stress in our lives.  However when we choose to learn from a different perspectives and ways of being, tell the truth, admit mistakes, ask for forgiveness and look for commonalities of our humanity, we open up the opportunity to grow and learn.  When we choose to care about people’s feelings, forgive mistakes and give rather than take, we open our hearts and minds and allow love, respect and reciprocity to be the outcome.  Yes, I’m talking about living in harmony and with generosity towards our families, our neighbours, our fellow citizens and within the global community.  It seems like we should have evolved enough to embrace this by now.

Trump’s latest strategy seems to be uniting the masses by going after an outside target – Kim Jong Un – after all he’s been is a movie and is recognizable by even the uneducated.  It is something we have seen before.  Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were proven not to exist but the propaganda united Americans to the point that some Americans still believe.  As CIA Director Mike Pompeo has clearly stated, there is no imminent threat from North Korea, in direct contradiction to Trump’s war mongering.  It seems “making America great again,” boils down to waving a big stick.  It feels like haunting foreshadowing of a dark time in global history that we’ll be trying to understand long after the fact.

Many elementary school students will tell you that bullying through violence, humiliation and exclusion is wrong.  They will also tell you that lying to create a reality more to your liking and creating “alternative truths” are both the same thing.  They will be able to explain strategies for solving problems.  They can tell you why the United Nations Universal Declaration of Rights and Freedoms was written and signed in 1959 by so many nations striving to avoid a repeat of past wrongs.  I’m looking forward to going back to school and talking to children about who they want to be in the world and what they want our world to look like.  I want to talk about the ideals of honesty, generosity, integrity and inclusiveness.  It gives me hope.

Fascination with the Brain

Walking along Jericho Beach as a little girl, this piece of wood screamed “brain” to me.  This was long before the fascination with the brain had extended beyond neuroscientists and doctors, to psychologists, to educators, to anyone aging and fearing cognitive decline.  The brain held secrets that were not readily apparent to the naked eye.  It was the also the basis of the best bonding with my neurosurgeon father.

Dr. Peter Dyck is not a man who relished talk of feelings, hopes, dreams, aspirations or divergent opinions.  However he has always been an example of the consummate learner.  He survived war times in Germany.  When he was 12 years old, he was sponsored to come to Canada with his mother and siblings by his uncle in Alberta.  He learned English and excelled in school.  He ended up working on his step-fathers farm in Abbotsford while attending school.  When a cow would die, he did not shed a tear.  He would dissect it behind the barn.   My aunt boiled many a chicken bones so he could reassemble them.  When I would go on rounds with him during summer visits to Los Angeles, the nurses would run when they heard his footsteps.  He was demanding of staff and took patient care very seriously.  Dad became fascinated with the possibility of destroying, rather than removing a brain tumour by using a local anaesthetic and a three dimensional C/T scanner to avoid the trauma of opening the skull.  Radioactive material in a small tube was targeted through a tiny hole in the skull into the centre of the brain tumour.  The concentration used would result in the radioactivity reaching only the tumour cells.  A team was formed including him as the neurosurgeon, Armand Bouzaglou, the radiation oncologist and Livia Bohman, the radiologist, to travel to Germany in 1981 to study the technique for stereotactic isotope implantation with Professor Fritz Mundinger at the University of Freiburg.   This technique was brought back to the USA and his first book about it’s success in avoiding the trauma of a full craniotomy was dedicated to the patients whose hope against overwhelming odds brought about this endeavour.

Not even neuroscientists agree on the inner workings of the brain.  However asking a question and our attitude seem to be the key components informing our brain and resulting in amazing accomplishments and sometimes survival.  Viktor Frankl’s answer to his question, “Why do I need to survive?” allowed him to walk out of Auschwitz and go on to develop his theory of logotherapy, write his influential book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and help many people find a way to cope with the challenges in their lives.   Norman Doidge details many examples of therapies that have allowed the brain to heal in ways that are still outside of mainstream medical practice in The Brain’s Way of Healing:  Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of  Neuroplasticity .  John J. Ratey, MD, in his book SPARK – The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, provides a compelling argument as to why exercise is integral to our ability to cope with stress, learn, as well as maintain good mental and physical health.  The brain is central in all facets of our lives yet understanding how it works is still somewhat elusive.

Educators, such as Eric Jensen started to focus educators’s attention on Teaching with the Brain in Mind  in the 90’s.  Educators are now seriously considering the implications of what neuroplasticity means in the classroom.  Previously held conceptions about the limits of some learners no longer apply, and standardized testing has become one indicator of specific learning strengths and weaknesses, but not an accurate measure of future success.    Perhaps the greatest outcome has been talking to children about how their brain works and how they learn best.   This puts the responsibility and joy learning with the child and allows them to move beyond just looking for a good mark on an assignment.  Giving children the capacity to talk about the connections they are making in their learning and providing numerous opportunities to share their ideas and discoveries, opens up the possibilities to ask new questions and see their peers, teachers and parents as partners in a collaborative process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thrill of Change

We hear a lot about the difficulty of change.  The stress of change.  The reluctance of people to change.  However I think change in under-rated.  There is an excitement and a promise of possibility that can also accompany change.  Quite frankly, I love it!   Change is learning.  Every time we venture out of the house, challenge our mind or talk to someone, we are stepping into the possibility of changing our experiences, our feelings, our thoughts or our life path.  Perhaps that is why I like to travel, to read, to write and to talk, yes even ramble, to friends and relatives and even to strangers.


I am on the precipice of a change in job.  I officially start as the principal of University Hill Elementary School on August 1st.  I unofficially started moving in, learning, organizing and exploring at the beginning of July.  I’ve had a chance to get to know the engineering staff, learn about the award winning UHill Kinderclub, School Aged Daycare and Preschool from the amazing staff, walk down the Salish trail and discover an immediate left turn takes you to Wreck Beach (yikes!).  I have figured out how to change the sign with moveable letters at the front of the school and found the cheapest pots big enough to let the amazing plants in the entrance ways continue to flourish.  I have unpacked my still excessive number of boxes of books, manipulatives (yes, I still have the bins of lego and wooden blocks from my own kids) and other treasures (yes, including my rocks).   I am thrilled to have a huge old, oak desk in a huge office with three different views and windows that open.


I had a chance to meet staff, students and parents and heard about amazing outdoor learning programs, arts performances and work around Indigenous ways of knowing and technology in June.    I can’t wait to get to know the people better and to discover the ways I can support them in their work.  Change brings with it the possibility of continuing to grow and develop in ways we have yet to imagine.  Yes, big change = big thrill.  I love it!