Feeling Grateful

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.

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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.  img_0355

Not Just 4Parents

Parenting is a tough gig.  There is no “perfect” set of directions to follow that work with every kid and every situation.  I started to teach before I had children and bemoaned that if only parents could be consistent with some basic rules in the household, all would be well. Having my own children brought a new level of humility to my perspective.  Sometimes we are able to follow our intuition and get it right.  Sometimes we’re just tired and want to avoid conflict.  Sometimes we are left in search of the magic answer to steer us in another direction that will solve all issues and reassure us that we’re doing the “right” thing.  There is no easy answer and parenting continues as one of THE most work intensive endeavours of my life.

My mother had her well-worn copy of Dr. Spock in her bedroom bookcase well into my teen years.  My parenting bible was How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish.  I read it repeatedly through the lucid moments, frustrations, phases and stages of bringing up my own two children.  For those parents bringing children up in the 21st Century, the “must read” is  The Dolphin Parent by Dr. Shimi K. Kang.  She is a Harvard-trained child and adult psychiatrist who provides advice in the form of prescriptions for parents who strive to raise children who have healthy relationships with the world and meet challenges with determination and hard work.

Dr. Kang provides a basic frame that divides parenting into three categories:

1. Authoritarian or the “I know best” parent.   Dr. Kang includes both the overdirecting and the overprotecting parents who micromanage their children’s lives.  This is an easy trap to fall into because many of us have been parented ourselves in this way.  She asserts that when parents micromanage their children’s lives, they are underparenting and thereby robbing children of a sense of control of their own lives.

The authoritarian parents include all of the types of parents with the familiar tags applied these days:

  •  “Tiger” parents ferocious in their dedication to pushing their children to achieve the competitive edge
  •  “Helicopter” parents waiting to swoop down to intercede on their child’s behalf
  • “Lawn mower or snowblower” who are always one step ahead of their child removing obstacles
  • “Bubble wrappers” – who see their role to protect children from even the slightest disappointment

She uses the metaphor of the butterfly to explain the problematic aspect of helping too much.  In his efforts to help, the little boy pulls off the cocoon that the butterfly is struggling to get free of.  To the little boy’s surprise, the butterfly doesn’t spread his wings and fly away.  The butterfly needed the time and struggle to develop the muscles and coordination to fly.

2.  Passive or “Jellyfish” parents  Dr. Kang frames these parents as those who avoid confrontation and underparent by failing to establish appropriate boundaries.  They fail to define socially appropriate expectations around respect, social etiquette or personal values.  These are parents who are overwhelmed with the demands of their own lives or strive to be best friends with their children.  They hand over control without providing guidance.  They struggle with saying “no” and will even resort to “turning a blind eye” or buying alcohol for their underage children to party with their friends.   Dr. Kant provides specific examples from her practice where these children end up irresponsible, impulsive, with poor relationships, a lack of respect for authority and an increased likelihood to engage in riskier behaviour.

3.  Authoritative parents establish clear rules and guidelines to support children in experiencing and coping with reasonable stress to develop the mental strength and resilience they need for independence.  This is where the metaphor of the dolphin comes in as a model of ideal for parenting.bottlenosedolphinmombabychinslapping-1

Dolphins are highly social animals and the bonding process is important.  Their young are provided with guidance and an opportunity to learn through play.  They experience natural consequences from mistakes through this playful exploration with the group.  Dr. Kang  is a big proponent of play to help students develop intelligence, emotional regulation, creativity and people skills.  Dr. Kang cites Albert Einstein’s quote “Play is the highest form of research” to emphasize the importance of play in a child’s life.  Overscheduling, memory drills, and repetitive practice puts the focus on demonstrating a specific skill set and kids don’t have the time to wonder.  They stop asking questions and will not risk an incorrect answer.  Apparently Edison failed 9,000 times before he eventually invented the lightbulb.  He had the benefit of experiencing the learning that comes from what is too often framed as “failure” rather than “learning”.   In the 21st Century, information is at our finger tips, but asking good questions is what generates innovation.

People have become very familiar with IQ or intelligent quotient as a standard measure of intelligence since the test was first widely applied to sort which soldiers would be sent to the front and which ones would be trained as officers in the U.S. Army prior to World War I.  However rote learning and regurgitation of information has not resulted in “smarter” students.  At the university level, The Faculty of Medicine, has needed to change requirements for entrance due to the fact that high achieving applicants do not demonstrate the problem solving ability or people skills to cope with the demands of a career in medicine.  We are learning that IQ is not the best measure of gauging how well a child will fair in life.

The 4 essential 21st Century Skills for success  have now been defined as CQ or Complete Quotient.  It has been determined by The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills, an organization at the University of Melbourne that includes more than 250 researchers from sixty different institutions worldwide.  These skills have been incorporated in educational institutions and workplace environments everywhere.  The higher the CQ of your child, the more adaptable, healthier, happier and more successful you child.  These skills include:

  • creativity
  • critical thinking
  • communication
  • collaboration

As an educator and as a parent, I have come into contact with many parents and many styles of parenting.  In most cases, all of these parents love their children intensely and have grand aspirations for their happiness and success in their futures.  This book is an excellent way for parents to take a step back and consider what they really want to accomplish with raising their children.   We still want to develop the intellectual skills of our children, but also the ability to problem solve, self regulate, form meaningful human relationships and the resilience to cope with failure and keep on learning.  It also gives us the permission to bond with our children through joyful play and shared interests.

The Science of Art

Dana Mulder, one of the Tecumseh staff members, gave us the opportunity to experience the Science of Art last week.  She has developed a considerable amount of background knowledge through her work providing programs at Van Dusen Gardens and provided an after school session for interested staff members on dyeing wool from natural materials.  My experience to date with dyeing anything has been Rit dyes out of a package.  It felt like a whole new world was introduced.

Dana not only taught us about the natural dyes used historically but also the stories and collection of the plants and insects that they were derived from.  The Brilliant History of Color in Art by Victoria Finlay, Wild Color  and Quilt History also provide a plethora of information for further exploration.  We learned there are three types of natural dyes derived from three different sources.  There are natural dyes obtained from plants (indigo), those obtained from animals (cochineal), and those obtained from minerals (ocher).

We used ALUM as the mordant to facilitate the chemical reaction that takes place between the dye and the fiber so that the dye is absorbed and brightens the colour slightly.  Other common mordants are: IRON (or copperas) which saddens or darken colors, bringing out green shades; TIN to brightens colors, especially reds, oranges and yellows; BLUE VITRIOL which saddens colors and brings out greens and TANNIC ACID used for tans and browns.  Some dyes like walnut hulls and lichens do not require mordants.

I chose the cochineal dye, not for the smell, but for the story and for the rich, red colour.  Historically cochineal was a valuable commodity, only beat out in trading popularity in Europe by silver and gold.  These dead insects, hence the smell, are ground with the mortar and pestle into a fine powder that is mixed with the alum for a beautiful colourfast dye.

As a child I spent a lot of time with my grandmothers.  Knitting, crochet and embroidery projects were clearly enjoyable but also had a specific utilitarian purpose.  Creating clothing, decorating pillow cases and saving money were a driving force.  I learned to appreciate these endeavors and continued to pursue them and teach them to students as hobbies.  Dana’s session provided us the opportunity to consider the cross curricular connections implicit in the craft. Her dyes included crushed marigolds, dandelions, leaves and the cochineal insect.  Dana also provided information on respectful harvesting, although I have grand aspirations of our students stripping the ground of all traces of dandelions in spring to deal with this pernicious weed on our school grounds and use them for something purposeful!

The new curriculum in British Columbia gives educators the opportunity to consider the things that we do in schools through a new lense.  Dyeing wool no longer belongs solely in the realm of arts and crafts.  It becomes part of science, the stories of history and Indigenous practices, as well as outdoor education.  It also provides a high level of engagement that was able to keep educators at school after a week of parent-teacher conferences and preparing for professional development sessions the following day.  It continues to hold our attention as we shake our jars daily to distribute the colour and imagine the final outcome.  Special thanks to Dana for opening our eyes.  My Nanny Keenan would be thrilled .  She had fond memories of this long-haired sheep on the farm in Brandon, Manitoba.  I can only imagine what she could have done with these dyes!

 

Curriculum Learning at Gr.6 Camp

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Last week was the annual Grade 6 Camp Elphinstone experience.  For students on the South Slope of Vancouver, it is a game changer.  Most of the children come to camp and experience a plethora of “Firsts”.  This year some of those “firsts” included:

  • taking a ferry
  • staying in a cabin with friends
  • sighting a baby bear
  • watching a river otter poop
  • canoeing
  • kayaking
  • archery
  • catching a fish
  • swimming in the ocean
  • attempting to hit the bell at the top of the climbing wall
  • Meal time and Campfire ritual of songs and chants and debates
  • counting the seconds between the forked lightning and thunder
  • eating Mexican sushi (actually scrambled egg breakfast wraps)
  • setting the table, serving food, and cleaning up

The team building opportunity presented by the camp experience creates a  perfect opportunity to develop the essentials of social and emotional learning.  This results in a sense of belonging and a wonderful tone going into their final Grade 7 year of elementary school for Tecumseh students.  The YMCA has years of providing high quality programming for young people and has all of the elements of the camp experience down to perfection.  The camp rituals of family style food service and traditional campfire songs and activities challenge students to take risks, engage in experiential learning and explore their identity.  The young counsellors from Canada, New Zealand and Australia are able to keep up with the pace of energetic Grade 6 students and facilitate safe and memorable learning experiences.  Our Junior counsellors from David Thompson Secondary and sponsor teachers came together to ensure the best experience possible for our campers.

If you talk to our students, they will tell you they are on a holiday from school.  In actual fact, they have simply entered the outdoor classroom to engage in experiential learning masked as fun.  The learning is not in just one experience but many experiences in nature and with peers over time.  If you have the time and inclination, you may want to open up the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia-Grade 6.  The three-day camp experience touched on many big ideas, all of the core competencies and a meaty chunk of curriculum.  The social emotional learning is pervasive throughout all of the activities and experiences and indigenous ways of knowing are infused throughout the experience.

Meal time and camp fire included  action songs, chants, listening games and debates for students to hone their powers of persuasion.  Shelter building required teamwork to come up with a plan to build a shelter from materials on the forest floor that could withstand both the earthquake and water test.  Canoeing, kayaking, hiking, the climbing wall and archery challenged students to take risks, learn a new skill and took the development of flexibility, strength and endurance to new levels.  The range of games such Running Pictionary, Capture the Flag, Camouflage tag and Wink, Wink, Murder necessitate safety rules, game rules, social interaction, spatial awareness and verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

Upon reflection, the camp experience opens a myriad of possibilities for more intentional curriculum learning.  I am not proposing duo-tangs filled with photocopied worksheets.  I am proposing that we consider the aspects of curriculum that can be incorporated into the camp experience.  Place based Aboriginal perspectives and ways of knowing as outlined in the First People’s Principles of Learning could be clearly articulated.  The opportunity to directly teach social emotional skills to allow students to develop coping skills for dealing with stress and for dealing with conflict effectively are present throughout the daily schedule.  The consideration of opportunities for direct instruction in mindfulness by tapping into nature and social interaction are plentiful.  It means people with background knowledge about the solar system, constellations, local flora, fauna and primary resources become invaluable.  Materials such as compasses, Write in the Rain notebooks and field handbooks may need to be purchased. The camp experience may be re-imagined, not as an “extra” but as a vital pathway to develop and incorporate big ideas, core competencies and curriculum knowledge for our students in a meaningful way.