I inadvertently learned a new word today. I was following the array of posts and articles on happiness and gratitude. Long ago, my husband noted that he had never met anyone who worked so hard at being happy. It was a hard-fought learning from my childhood that has become as natural as breathing, albeit sometimes breathing with a harsh chest cold. The morning reading included yet another article on how the Danish have a long standing record as being the happiest people in the world. Hence the new word – hygge (hue-gah).
The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute, is one of the bibles of this Danish word. Yet, another internet discovery. I was taken through a you tube walk through the homes of both a self acclaimed 100% Danish expert returning from a hard day at work and Scottish Diane in Denmark who is married into the expertise. Apparently life’s simple pleasures really are the best. Wiking lists 10 things that can be found in the typical Danish home to create the comfy, cozy context to induce this relaxed sense of security and contentment. It includes everything from candles (or a fireplace), lamps, blankets, books, hot beverages, to wood furniture, comfy clothes and thick, wooly socks. Apparently I am well on my way to developing my own hygge expertise. I am certainly committed to doing the research.
I have never been a creature of habit. When things get to be too predictable, I get an anxious feeling that life is passing me by. Perhaps this is the reason that eduction has been such a good fit for me. Change and new learning are always afoot! Meeting new people, changing grade levels, attending professional development and navigating through the politics of the time provide food for thought and a landscape to navigate that takes all of my personal and professional resources. The quest for me is to maintain a larger perspective of what really matters and not get sucked into the vortex of ever increasing demands.
I work hard and play hard. A good friend of mine use to marvel that one hot tub after I arrived at “The Secret Garden”, her B&B on Bowen Island, and I had geared down from “10” to a happy “2”. This Spring Break, my play opportunity, aka Spring Break, has taken me to Vietnam for a much anticipated visit with my darling daughter. We have escaped the humidity of Hanoi and are now settled in a little piece of tropical paradise in Phu Quoc. One day on our secluded little beach with hammocks, a few kayaks for our use and a good book and I have officially geared down to a “2”. I suspect the relaxation speed corresponds directly with the lush greenery surrounding us. All that O2! Although I must confess I pulled my hammock away from those green coconuts overhead on the beach with a remaining vestige of control.
My daughter, Larkyn, and her boyfriend, Justin, are both teaching in Vietnam at ILA, International Language Academy. It has a carefully delineated program to ensure standardization in English language instruction in institutions around the world. Yesterday Justin started to tell me about this new thing, PBL, that was being introduced into the courses with the higher level students. The Project Based Learning is technology based and facilitates collaboration, communication and problem solving between students. Students for the first time have the power to choose interest areas to pursue and develop vocabulary around those interests.
I taught practicing teachers at the Bureau of Education in Fuyang for two summer sessions in 2008 and 2009. I worked with four other educators from Coquitlam, British Columbia, teaching educators English and ways to engage students in learning. It was an amazing opportunity for personal learning. I gained a much better understanding of my students from China and the challenges facing the educators in China trying to implement practices that were bringing such strong results in the Western World. Rote learning was not just a philosophical position but a way to manage behaviour and safety in classes of 50 or more students. Teaching students how to write tests determined their ability to further their education, access opportunities and care for family.
Project based learning is an exciting possibility for implementing change in school systems. My principal, Rosa Fazio, is off to China this Spring Break, to inspire educators with the ways teachers are using technology and student interest to inspire profound learning at the Kindergarten to Grade 8 level at Norma Rose Point. There is part of me that is excited to go back to school after break to discuss what we have learned over the holidays. Yes, I’m sitting with my coffee in a little piece of paradise feeling very grateful to be an educator.
This December is my last as vice principal at Tecumseh Elementary School. I have been at the school long enough to work, learn, play and share experiences with enough children and adults to make leaving a hard thing to do. Many Tecumseh students have heard my heartfelt speech that you choose everyday if you are going to make someone else’s life a little bit better or a little bit worse. I just realized that I have missed an important element. You have to understand that you impact others with the things you choose to do and the things you choose not to do. During my time at Tecumseh, particularly this past December, the Tecumseh school community has chosen to show me that they care about me. That choice has touched me deeply.
The cards, songs, poems, books and kind words show that you understand the things that are important to me and are grateful for our time together. I love that I have been able to help someone learn to talk to people and make friends, make someone feel special by saying hi and smiling, make someone else feel like they can kick a soccer ball or code or blog or learn English or choose who they want to be. I’m grateful to have talked and listened and laughed and learned with you. I appreciate that many of you have learned that strength can be physical but also standing up for what is right and believing in yourself.
Staff gave me a beautiful silver necklace with the wolf symbol crafted by Harold Alfred, as my parting gift. This symbol was also given to me on a card when I left Norquay Elementary School. I love it. As you well know, I am very interested in Indigenous ways of knowing and worked hard to further our collective understanding of our history and traditional indigenous teachings. I take the selection of this wolf symbol as a huge compliment and inspiration. The wolf represents great strength, is considered wise and powerful, chooses one mate for life and demonstrates strong loyalty to family. Not a bad symbol to have chosen for you!
I’ve learned many things about strength of purpose at Tecumseh. I love that staff signed me up for the Bike to Work Week and tested by ability to persevere until I could pedal up the hills from Kits to 41st and Commercial Street WITHOUT getting off my bike. I love that so many in the school community invested in our We Welcome Refugees project to show the strength of our conviction that Canada is a welcoming country that demonstrates empathy and belief in what people have to benefit our country. I love the enthusiasm that Tecumseh students bring to new learning and challenges. I love that so many students have the strength to continue to try even when they fail or the task is really hard or maybe not even fair. I also value that the families in our school community are so invested in creating a better future for their children, often in the face of significant challenges. My Mom struggled raising two daughters and supporting her extended family as I was growing up. I admire the same tenacity in our Tecumseh families.
Students, staff, parents and community partners have shown me in so many ways that they value the relationship we have developed over the years. I cannot tell you how much it means to me that the relationships we have developed means as much to you, as they do to me. I am so grateful for our time together and I wish all the very best for you in the future.
P.S. I am also grateful to Harold Alfred for creating my very special and beautiful gift.