I Believe in You

“I Believe in You!”  This is the mantra of my daughter.  To my chagrin in secondary school, she joined the Cheer Squad at Charles Best Secondary School.  I saw the objectification of women.  She saw the comradarie of the cheer squad and the physical challenge.  It has served her well.  She bought into the importance of encouragement.  As a tiny little girl who only wanted to be with her Mommy, she experienced the encouragement to go out into the world on her own.  In Kindergarten, her teacher nicknamed her Sparky because she brought palpable, positive energy into the classroom every morning.  As a competitive soccer player in school, she witnessed the power of encouragement to impact her performance.  In cheer, she learned why cheerleading came into being.

I worked very hard to interest Larkyn in attending UBC for selfish reasons of my own.  Her quest for adventure and independence, took her off to Queen’s University.  She made a group of friends that negotiated the ups and downs of university life.  Visiting her and her housemates was always refreshing.  The young women who she pulled close to her, were people who demonstrated the same encouraging way of being.  “I believe in you” was often uttered as a young woman with the unbrushed hair in a sock bun emerged from her room with a scowl on her face to take on some assignment or test or interaction that she was not feeling particularly good about.  In this case, “I believe in you” was not a statement assuming success would be the end product.  It was a recognition that her friend was doing something hard.  It was a promise that at the end of the day, success or failure, you were still someone who mattered.

I had an adoring mother who believed I was wonderful and always assumed success in my ventures.  My steadfast determination assured a fair record of successes.  However failure meant not only failing at an intended task, but also disappointing her.  It is something to this day that I experience.  Missing the mark and disappointing the people who really want my success, results in the heavy heart times two.  Perhaps this is residual from being a little girl with blonde ringlets and an over reliance on pleasing.  I do find the “I believe in you”, received and delivered with a smile, has a more positive impact.  It’s like being sent off with a hug of reassurance.  It doesn’t presume an outcome, just the encouragement to “Go for it” and acknowledgement that you’re taking a risk that is hard.

In Grade 3 due to a significant family upheaval, I ended up in a new school after the beginning of the school year.  Peer groups were already established and I was doing poorly on daily timed math drills.  My Mom suggested I talk to the teacher about what I could do to improve.  The teacher told me not to worry about it, I was in the average range.  My take away was that she didn’t believe in me and my belief in me faltered.  It took me until my statistics class in Graduate School to discover I didn’t actually suck at Math.  We have huge power as educators to deflate or inspire.

“I believe in you” is a message that inspires people or at least may help them lighten up.  It isn’t the belief that success is imminent.  It isn’t the belief that failure is an opportunity to teach you an important life lesson.  It’s the statement, “You’re on my team!” and the commitment to cheer for you no matter what!  Unconditional cheering.  Not a bad way to go out into the world and make our mark.  It is a message that I aspire to communicate to my staff, students, friends and family on a regular basis.

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Mothers Who Play

For obvious reasons, I am thinking a lot about mothering today.  Mother’s Day tends to do that.  I was fortunate to have a mother whom I adored and provided an amazing model of steadfast love, tenacity and optimism that I have carried with me into my adult life.  I have also had many other woman who have mothered me, including my step-mother, my grandmothers, special aunts, special friends and mothers of my best friends.  They listened to my stories and told me theirs, gave me advice, sometimes solicited and sometimes not so much.  They put on the kettle to solve the problems of the world or drove directly to Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavours.   Yet, what they all had in common was that we laughed together, talked and played a lot.  Conversations and learning were not planned events but came out of hours and hours of time spent together.

When my own kids were very young and I was frustrated in the midst of a messy house in the suburbs, surrounded by laundry, I made my best mothering decision.   The sunshine beaconed but I was nowhere near finishing any of the housework or laundry.  I knew at that moment that I needed to choose.  I was going to clean the house and finish the laundry or we were going to the park.  Going to the ski hill, going hiking or biking, going to the beach, going to the park, going to the library or going in the hot tub won.  The house was messier than aspired for, but I heard the stories my kids were willing to share, fed their interests, laughed and got regular doses of joy.   On the downward slopes on the parenting roller coaster, they provided the promise of better days to come.

I remember reading once that regardless of teacher training methods experienced, teachers often taught in ways that were most familiar to them.  For me the biggest influences on me as a teacher, were the women who mothered me.   Beach time and double solitaire with my Mom.  My Auntie Myrna and her “What’s your story, Morning Glory?”  Knitting, crafting and collecting stuff with Nanny Keenan.  Endless games of Yahtzee and Parcheesi with Grandma Derksen.  Playing cops and robbers with my step mother in the convertible en route to Mayfair Market and annual trips to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and the mall. Swimming up and down the pool with Mrs. Patrick debating anything and everything.  These were woman who liked to spend time with me, laughed freely and played with me.  What I brought with me into the classroom was a healthy appreciation of how I learned in environments where I was free to laugh and play with ideas and take more than one kick at the can to get it right.  They also taught me the importance of seizing the opportunity as it presented itself.  I feel so very grateful to the women who have mothered me.  They have helped me to learn the most important things I needed to do as a parent and as a teacher.

Circle of Courage Reframed

Artwork by The Douglas Fir Pod (Learning Community)

Norma Rose Point School is a Kindergarten to Grade 8 School that opened 3 years ago on the original site of University Hill Secondary on the University Endowment Lands of the University of British Columbia.  The School in located on Musqueam ancestral lands and named after reknowned Musqueam Elder and educational leader, Norma “Rose” Point.  Students are organized into nine learning communities of two to five classes of students.  Students and staff are encouraged to ask questions, work collaboratively and share their learning with peers.

The articulation of the First People’s Principles by FNESC, the surrounding land, the significance of the signing of the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement with the Vancouver School Board and the new curriculum in B.C. has opened our minds to learning about and embracing Indigenous ways of knowing.  Indigenous cultures demonstrated one of the earliest expressions of democratic structures of governance by problem solving and making decisions in circles that gave equal voice and power to all people in the group.  That is what we strive to do at Rose Point School.

Martin Brokenleg has been inspirational in Indigenous, as well as educational spheres.   His Circle of Courage  was initially framed as a model of positive youth development in the book Reclaiming Youth at Risk, co-authored by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg, and Steve Van Bockern.

As explained in the link, “The model integrates Native American philosophies of child-rearing, the heritage of early pioneers in education and youth work, and contemporary resilience research. Brokenleg et al. identify belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity as basic growth needs of all children to thrive.” (Brokenleg et al.)  It has served as the basis for framing the Code of Conduct at Norma Rose Point Elementary School.   

Students are challenged to think of their unique qualities and “voice” they bring to the group, as well as their responsibility to maintain the safety and nurturing aspect of the community.  Indigenous symbols that are meaningful in Coast Salish Culture are used to represent the big ideas presented in the Norma Rose Point (aka NRP) Circle of Courage.  Belonging is central to the definition of Community and symbolized by bear.  Kindness is used to put the focus on generousness of giving of self rather than goods and is symbolized by the whale.  Independence is symbolized by the dragonfly and represents our ability to take responsibility for our learning and actions.  The beaver represents taking responsibility for attaining goals to maintain health, curiosity and lifelong learning.

I came to Norma Rose Point as Vice Principal in January.  Of course this role includes many discussions about the whole gamut of choices made by students.  The beauty of the NRP Circle of Courage is it changes the conversation.  Students are able to reflect on who they are and the choices they are making and their commitment to the community. Discussion of restorative justice frames the process.  The goal is to help students apply the Circle of Courage to their lives in and out of school throughout their lives.

ADDENDUM NOTE:  For a powerful description of the First People’s Principles of Learning, check out Laura Tait.  Her explanantion with pictures and stories of her family is inspirational.

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.

“We are story…”

Richard Wagamese calls it. It’s up to us to create “the best story we can create while we are here”. The celebration of relationships with the earth, family, community and spirits as well as the embedding of history and survival techniques in story is what sustained our First Nations people for thousands of years pre- contact. The importance of embedding story in curriculum has been explored extensively by Kieran Egan at Simon Fraser University and has become a mainstream truth. What is new, is the rediscovery of the fact that embedding memory and history in story to make it meaningful is part of the legacy handed down to our current society by First People’s cultures. Learning about and acknowledging and integrating these foundational truths from First Peoples cultures is how we can truly reconcile our relationship with Indigenous people that has been seriously compromised in the process of colonization and the subsequent quest for economic advantage.

The First Peoples Principles of Learning were written by fnesc (First Nations Education Steering Committee) and the British Columbia Ministry of Education .  Laura Tait did an amazing talkat The Changing Results for Young Readers Conference in 2013.  It’s well worth listening to her 15 minute presentation, complete with pictures and stories from her family and Tsimshian community to bring life to the words. image

For me, the concept that bounced out was the acknowledgement of more than one way of looking at the world. Imagine the wars based on religious intolerance that could have been averted if we had been able to grasp this concept. I think of all of the time it took me to grasp the concept of “sister- cousin” from my Indo-Canadian students.  And for me it should have been easy.  I grew up with a cousin who was more like a sister and even lived in the same house for a chunk of time.  When I finally “got it”, I had to tell Babita, the student who persevered and patiently explaining the relationship of “sister-cousin”.    She had persisted with the idea despite my insistent references to the definition of the word cousin. Her eyes were filled with the delight, or was it relief, of a teacher when a student finally understands the seemingly easy concept that has eluded them.  It didn’t just take my willingness to try to understand but her patience and perseverance in hanging in there with me on the journey of discovery.  We hold on to these little successes along the way.  To end where we began, with the words of Richard Wagamese:  “We change the world one story at a time.”  Babita changed mine.

Continue reading ““We are story…””

Be Kind Wherever You Go

 As every administrator in every school regularly does, I pulled our students together to talk  about our Code of Conduct.  We decided to divide primary and intermediate students into two smaller groups so I could tailor the conversation about RISE (Respect / Improve / Safe / Encourage  ) to each age group.  The primaries gathered for the discussion about expectations for behaviour. The big culminating question:  So what does RISE look like for a Tecumseh student?  Hands shoot up and I pick one from Cole Johnson’s K/1 class.  The response: “Be kind everywhere you go.”  Done.  The wisdom of the 5 year old rules the day!  The work to practice and reinforce the message continues. 


In Mr. Johnson’s class, that message took on a life of its own.  Mr. Johnson clearly  understood that the words of his student came with a special power to catalize his students. It became the class motto.  When he immortalized the words on a button, they became even more valued.  Then he handed them out to each staff member at the year-end breakfast.  As I stared at the button, the familiarity was there but not the exact context.  Cole Johnson looked at me and said “You remember!”    Cole breathed life into the moment.  He  had accomplished what every great teacher does on a daily basis – tapped the teachable moment.

As a previous Kindergarten teacher, I have a huge appreciation for those who walk that path.  Mr. Johnson’s students will be able to say “All I Really  Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” and perhaps publish their own rendition😃

Robert Fulghum (1988). All I Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten

Another Look at Gratitude

The return to school after job action has been fraught with complexity and things to do. This week we hit a moment of pause and celebration. It is one of those moments that become one of “the moments” that make all the difference in a life. Canadians, whether by nature or training, are good at manners. The workweek is filled with please and thank you. However what made this week a little different was the decision of a staff to say a collective thank you, not at the end of something but in the midst of it.   On a Thursday after school, our staff took the opportunity to breathe and express gratitude for the things they have appreciated most from their school administrators. The demands don’t dissolve but they continue with a lightness of heart and a smile.

The Facebook phenomenon of public expressions of gratitude can be dismissed as the latest fad. However when you look at the research pointing to the higher degree of happiness in developing countries, compared to developed, consumer-based cultures, the concept becomes worthy of another look.  This year as part of my teaching assignment, I am teaching a Grade 3/4 class on Mondays and Tuesdays. Students have started their “Thinking Books” to draw, web, observe and scrapbook ideas to write about. Everyday at the back of the book, students record one thing they are grateful for. I set out thinking it would provide students with a positive frame to contribute to good mental health and perhaps serve as another source of ideas to develop in their writing.   What I am discovering is that they want to share what they are grateful for and it is taking on a life of its own.  I’m curious as to the impact that it will have in the culture of the classroom, student writing and other possibilities.

It’s a rainy Saturday morning in Vancouver and our little two-bedroom condo is filled to the brim with relatives poised to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. I have stolen to the local Starbucks to let everyone sleep and ponder the week. And yes…I am feeling so very grateful.