Perspective is Everything

 

Rock Dove or Winged Rat?

Friday morning, I saw a fleeting reference to pigeons as “winged rats” as I was scrolling through Twitter.  On the drive home, I finally paused to consider why I found this so irritating.  The common pigeon, which apparently, we don’t all know and love, is also known as a rock pigeon or rock dove.  The reference to being a dove evokes a completely different persona than that of a rat.  How could this respect worthy bird be reduced to the stature of a rat, spreader of the bubonic plague?

Pigeons have a special place in my childhood.  I liked the cooing sound they made.  I liked that they made their nests in places you might not expect.  I liked that they had better manners than seagulls or Canadian geese.  I always assumed when I heard the song, “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins, it was the appropriate was to treat pigeons.  My Grandpa Derksen (my father’s stepfather) adored pigeons and kept them in the backyard along with the chickens, a rooster, and a peacock, long after they sold the farm and moved to an Abbotsford house.  He loved the pigeons and he loved me.  I loved him and it was my duty to love his pigeons.

I also grew up with stories from my paternal Grandmother, who kept her four kids together in the midst of WWII in Germany before making her way to Canada in 1948.  One of the stories that stood out in my mind was that of the rats.  In the large warehouses where they sometimes found shelter, she would stay awake at night to shoo away the rats that would move closer in the dark night to nibble on the exposed body parts of her huddled family.  My cousin, Kevin, who was never thrilled with his much younger cousin tagging along to the “forbidden without adult supervision” beach across the road on Sundays, added to my horror of rats.

His words have always stuck with me. “You better be careful.  If you fall between those rocks, the rats will bite your foot off.  They we’ll all be in trouble!”  I was very careful.

I went home and searched for the Twitter post.  It turns out, @BirdNoteRadio was just employing a good attention-grabbing introduction to their post.  Phew!  We could agree on the merits of the common rock pigeon.  I followed them on Twitter.  Common agreement makes relationships so easy.

When I was living in the suburbs, one of my fellow Amnesty International group members, first introduced me to the fact that some people love rats.  She had many at home and would bring her favourite rat to Amnesty meetings and let it run around a sling on her neck.  It shouldn’t have been such a leap for me to embrace this practice.  I had loved other rodents – my cousin’s white mouse, my childhood gerbils, rabbits at my grand-parents, and my classroom guinea pigs.  Yet, old biases die hard.  I didn’t embrace rats along with my other rodent friends.

One night someone set fire to one of the portables of the school I was teaching at in Clearbrook.  I arrived to find a sopping wet, rat sitting in a puddle of water in his cage.  Ethical dilemma.  This was not a spreader of the bubonic plague but a well-loved classroom pet.  Contrary to every instinct in my body to walk away, I didn’t.  I changed the bedding.  Dried the rat.  Put him in a warm spot.  I cringed the entire time.

It is hard to change a perspective.  Dismissing other ideas is the path of least resistance.  Most often the “eureka” moment does not wipe away our entrenched understandings to be replaced by inspiration after the instantaneous flash of understanding.  Our background experiences  are often hard-wire and impact our responses long after the dawning of emerging understanding.  To formulate a new perspective, we may need to challenge an emotional response or challenge ideas that we have accepted unconditionally many times over.  The change requires an effort to want to be open to other possibilities.  An unwillingness to consider options frequently results in justifications and entrenchment.   There is still a bristling or cringing, but it comes from being incensed by the  audacity of having our ideas and motives questioned.  The greater the emotional investment in our own perspective, the greater the angst at hearing another perspective presented.  The corollary is an absence of critical thought and the absence of personal growth.

At the end of the day, the conversations that are the most memorable come from diverse perspectives.  Not just disagreement for  the entertainment of playing the role of the devil’s advocate.  Not just to be entertained by the novel response of someone intent on changing your mind with any tools of derision or insult at hand.  But the disagreement that comes from a well thought-out and a well-intentioned perspective of trying to create understanding.  This is the type of conversation that precipitates thought and is considered long after the initial conversation.  It is also the willingness to emerge beyond the “Yeah, but” that proliferates many of our conversations.  The possibility is a greater capacity for empathy and understanding.

Who are “Breakaway Learners”?

Sometimes, happenstance or serendipity, or whatever you want to call it, just happens.

Subject line in my overly full email inbox reads:  A seemingly out of the blue email from a children’ book author based in US and living at UBC
The text:   Long story short, I am a visiting scholar at UBC through March 5th and passed your school many times.  I write children’s books — which I have read to thousands of children of all ages and stages (ideal range is 2nd — 5th grades)… Seeing and being in schools and working with children of all ages and stages is what I do — and having been a university president and senior advisor to the US Department of Education, I am ever of the view that the most important education is that which occurs early…  And, for the record, I attach a photo of myself and a short bio so you can see I am legit.  

My Response:   Is there a cost attached to this great offer?

The beginning of another beautiful relationship that started online!  Karen Gross did come to University Hill Elementary School to share her stories with our students.  She captivated both teachers and students alike.  She was aware of our outdoor school and environmental focus and arrived with her newest children’s book, Lady Lucy’s Dragon Quest, a story about droughts and saving land and crops with a strong female protagonist with a collaborative approach to problem solving.  Our Korean students were thrilled that Korean students were the illustrators, who are now in college and who continue to illustrate.
2.  plasticity references the permanent change that occurs in the institution itself in response to required changes
3.  pivoting right references supporting students in their ability to make short and long term decisions that will bring abut the most favourable outcome
4.  reciprocity  that extends beyond student willingness to share ideas and commit to agreements with staff listening and responding, to institutions being responsive to the ideas and needs of their changing populations
5.  belief in self by teachers and institutions stepping away from a deficit model of education to one that builds on strengths

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.