Long Weekend Power Relax

Yes, I realize it sounds like the ultimate oxymoron BUT in the quest to cope with job stress, time is limited so strategizing is required.  This plan played out quite well for me on this Victoria Day long weekend. The weather cooperated and I am feeling grateful.

This may be the recipe… at least for me!

  1. Starting the weekend in a noisy, hip hop and happening hot spot like Local Bar and Grill.
  2. Finishing an entire book that I WANTED to read, as opposed to one I SHOULD read.  This requires reading in bed.  Curled up in a favourite chair.  In a great coffee shop (like 49th Parallel) with a sunny deck.
  3. Biking around the Stanley Park Seawall before the tourists have set out for the day.
  4. Breakfast at the perfect hole in the wall spot, yes called The Spot.
  5. Halsa Spa float in an ocean room.  Thanks for the introduction to this, Celia!
  6. Golfing.  Working out the angst on little white or fluorescent balls.  Soaking up the beautiful sounds and sights.
  7. Self designed Semperviva One day Yoga Retreat – Hatha in the am at the Sea Studio.  Restorative in the afternoon at the Kits Beach Studio.  Yin before bed at the Sun Studio.
  8. The promise of a good sleep 🙂
  9. Reaffirmation that there is life beyond work!

 

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The Beauty of the Monster Within

The black poster with the gothic lettering did not come under my range of awareness until the third morning that I woke up and crept on to the deck waiting for Taipei to wake up.   The garden space has been created on the deck at the top of the 72 stairs and emerges to claim its place in the world of Taipei rooftops.  A haven of plants, birds and secrets.  The black poster asks “What kind of monster have I become”?  It is positioned beside a photo on the beach of a pre-pubescent girl on a beach with a cigarette handing out of her mouth.   The picture does not reflect all that is “sugar and spice and everything nice” but the survival of a young girl who has experienced loss, betrayal and anger.  The image is not one of innocence but of Paradise Lost.

Beyond the protected garden paradise emerges the dichotomy of the old and new of Taiwan.  Tiny green leaves emerge and begin their climb towards the heavens.   Two shiny, stainless steel  water tanks stand over the tenuously placed air conditioning systems and rusting out sheet metal, cracked tile and dirty brickwork.

Two pigeons take their place above a small area of red, clay roof tiles beyond and look down on me.  The bird choice of my not quite related, paternal grandfather brings the warm glow of having been loved unconditionally.  Only some people are able to celebrate the contradictory elements of innocence and respect the quest to emerge beyond mere survival.  He lived dichotomies and he could understand them.

Traffic in the background is a steady, predictable hum.  No blaring horns.  No sirens. No persistent car alarms.  Warbling birds and tiny chirps are different from the plaintive seagull calls and crow scoldings of my usual life, but somehow familiar and calming.  A persistent sweeping of the broom establishes a rhythm.  Exercise for a higher purpose.  Cleanliness.  Godliness.

There is no fengshui in my morning alcove.  It is a creation of the mind where the green astro-turf under the table, the collection of textured, patterned and coloured blankets over comfy couches, butterflied and dragonflied pillows, real and fake plants come together with curios to feed the imagination.  The space is not beyond the possibility of dark, twisty discoveries and fabrications.

On my flight to Taiwan, my viewing pleasure included the movie creation of Mary Shelley’s life.  Many were disbelieving that an eighteen year-old girl could have authored such a book as Frankenstein.  The bigger discovery is that the girl had already experienced such despair, disenfranchisement and had personal knowledge of the monster within by the time she was 18 years old.  The Frankenstein book was made possible by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet she loved, her own loving father, a disapproving step-mother and the havoc they wrought with her heart and mind.  Her strength was her ability to name her monster, chew on it and use it to make sense of her life.

The paint bucket with clean white paint drips emerges from a hiding place behind a couch.  The ability to put a fresh face on the less than clean and sparkly.  Imagine the possibility.  Re-created the sense of self you want to project.  Yet, is aware of the monster that lurks beneath the surface that is responsible for teaching us how to be resilient.

Barbie Celebrates International Women’s Day

Barbie, the iconic doll of my childhood, celebrated her 60th birthday this year on March 9th.  This celebration, a day after International Women’s Day, is cause to pause.  This is particularly the case for me.  I was well versed in the world of Barbie long before passionately embracing the quest for gender equity.  International Women’s Year was not declared and the March 8th day celebrated, until 1975.

The 1908 garment strike for better working conditions for women in the United States precipitated the first National Women’s Day in the United States in 1909.  The 1910 Socialist International Meeting in Copenhagen brought the quest for rights for women and suffrage to the international stage.  By 1911, the first International Women’s Day marked the right of women to vote, hold public office, work and participate in vocational training in Austria, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany.  It would take Nellie McClung and her Manitoba suffragists until 1918 to secure the vote for women in Canada and make it clearly understood that “nice women” did want the vote.  Susan B. Anthony would be hard at it, for another two years to secure the right for women to vote in the United States.

My sister had one of the first Barbies.  No bendy legs or moving wrists but a doll that brought the promise of the empowerment of being a grown-up who could make all her own decisions.  She was pretty and had flipped up hair like our mother.  Barbie liked nice outfits, shoes and accessorized, just like our mother, our aunts and our step mother.  Her store-bought clothes were expensive, so my grandmother would design and make clothes with the scraps of material from other sewing projects.  My grandpa made clothes chests for Barbie and Ken from wooden Japanese orange boxes.  My Barbie also had a car, so she was not limited in her travel.  My mother did not learn to drive and get her white, Maverick until the year Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  I knew a car meant freedom.  Barbie also had a carrying case so I could bring her with me to the park, the beach, houses of cousins, my friends and my father.  Her wide range of clothing allowed her to be dressed appropriately for any activity.

It was not until I went off to university and cut my feminist teeth that Barbie fell out of favour with me.  I baulked at the notion that society had limited expectations that women should look, act, and present in a deferential way or conform to the expectations of others.  By then the slam was no longer that of Manitoba Premier, R.P. Roblin, that “nice women don’t want the vote.”  It was the notion that a woman voicing her opinion was less than desirable.  A man could assert strong opinions and be celebrated as “assertive”.  A woman doing the same thing was labelled with “aggressive”.

As a teacher and a mother, I worried about helping young girls to find their voice and embrace the many opportunities open to them.  I bemoaned when my students wrote Barbie adventure stories, especially when I was framed as the Barbie or her friend.  I refused to buy my daughter a Barbie.  When all she wanted for Christmas was a Barbie, my friends rallied and bought her several “Go, Girl” dolls.  I loved them.  They came with a themed sports outfits and gear, had flat feet and looked athletic.  My daughter politely said thanks for the hiker, the soccer player, and the skier snowboarder dolls.  She was clearly not impressed with these dolls, although she loved participating in all of the activities.  She was thrilled with the one “real” Barbie from the Fashionista line, with long blonde hair and accessories.  She was delighted that my “retro” Barbie collection of clothes and shoes fit her so Barbie could have some variety in her outfits.

As generations of Barbies have emerged, so have the varieties of skin colours, abilities, and interests reflected.  There is the notion that little girls need to see themselves reflected in the doll.  I don’t refute this.  However, my experience is that of my daughter’s selection of “the doll” makes me wonder.  I mean the special doll that takes a significance beyond all others.  This is the doll elevated to a position of human status.  The doll that is cared about, nurtured and even her feelings worried about.  For my daughter, this was Ruby.  I even feel somewhat guilty referring to her in the past tense.  She was an ever-present member of the family who biked the Kettle Valley Railway with us, travelled to through Italy with us, saved our son from a concussion when he fell from the top bunk, and attended weddings with us.   Ruby is a Cabbage Patch doll with black skin, short curly hair and brown eyes.  The minute my daughter saw her in my friend’s garage, it was clear she was the one.  My friend, Jan, saw it immediately and gave her the doll.  At that time, Cabbage Patch dolls had seen their day. My fair skin daughter with long blonde hair and blue eyes did not see herself in the doll.  Yet, Ruby was the one who allowed learning that my daughter was ready to embraced.  She is the one doll that continues to reside in my cedar chest because she is too treasured to part with.

For me, I didn’t want a Barbie that looked like me.  I wanted a Barbie who could go out dancing, drive a car, wear nice clothes, walk-in grown-up shoes, and make her own decisions.  My frustration with the pace of my physical development wasn’t an issue with looking like Barbie.  It was an issue with my cousin, my sister, and my neighbours who looked older than me and could do things that I was not allowed to do.  It was people treating me like I wasn’t very smart because I was a pretty little girl with blonde ringlets, a shy demeanor and a goal to please.  Barbie was the one with the power in my world.  A power that I wanted.

My older sister and I both grew up to be fiercely independent.  Our mother, Barbara, chose a different path that most as that time, by choosing to leave a marriage that did not encompass the kind of respect and trust she wanted in a relationship.  She taught us that we deserved respect.  The financial challenges we lived with taught us the importance of getting a good education and being able to take care of ourselves.  Yet my Mom did look like Barbie and did defer to men in a way that women in the secretarial pool did in the 60’s and 70’s.  However, she was that person and a “steel magnolia” at the same time.  As little girls, we were able to identify where we were going and what we wanted to take with us.

Sixty million barbies are sold in 150 countries each year.  The “Go, Girls” dolls went out of business.  Clearly the Barbie appeal meets some desire of our girls.  Perhaps what Barbie provided for me was the opportunity to explore through play what I wanted to incorporate into my adult life.  For me that still includes reading and playing at the beach, working at my own job, me deciding, travel, as well as appropriate clothing, foot ware and accessories for any occasion.   I will be curious to see how Barbie contributes to opening up the possibilities our girls.  Clearly, she is not going away.  Happy International Women’s Day, Barbie.

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

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!

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.

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

Discussing U.S. Election Results with Children

When my son was young, Bart Simpson hit the air waves.  I hated how the characters on the show talked and how they disrespected each other.  It incensed me to the point that I refused to let my son watch it, despite a considerable amount of begging.  The conversation ended briefly.  I soon discovered that he would go to his friend Dennis’ house to watch the show.  It wasn’t until that point that I agreed to watch the show with him.  It opened the conversation.   We would discuss what he found funny and what offended me.  Although he still preferred to watch it at Dennis’ house without my commentary, at least he understood my perspective about the importance of respectful interaction.

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The election of Donald Trump to the position of President Elect of the United States has stopped many conversations.  Coming from a Canadian stance, it is largely incomprehensible how someone who has overtly disrespected and discredited woman, Latinos, Muslims, Immigrants and the LGBTQ community could be selected for public office, in part by the people he targeted.    I needed to step away from being personally offended by his hateful rhetoric, in order to come to the conclusion that this was not just a win for misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and a fixation on the gun culture.  This was a democratic election and the leader was chosen by the 55.6% of the population who opted to exercise their democratic right to vote.


It has pushed the need to ask questions about what is happening south of the border that has created the palpable anger and commanding voice for change?  What is a “protest vote”?  What is the “status quo” that has created such a reaction?  Who voted for Trump?  Did gender play a part in preventing the election of a woman?  How did the close alignment with bankers and sizeable payouts to prevent bank failure impact public opinion?  How much impact would Bernie Sanders have been able to make on what happened in a Clinton government?  What was the impact of the votes garnered by Jill Stein and Gary Johnson?   The list goes on.

As a vice principal in a school, I spend a large chunk of my time engaging in conversations about respectful interactions.  The rules of the game in school are intended to prepare them for life.

  • Tell the truth.
  • Tell the other person your thoughts in a respectful way.
  • Take responsibility for your behaviour.
  • Empathize with the other person you are in conflict with.
  • Don’t make yourself feel big by intimidating others with words, physical proximity or force.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote a letter to third graders at Tecumseh thanking them for their work to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada earlier this year.  In the letter he told them that their voices and what they do matter right now.   I believe our children internalize these messages that their voices matter, just like they internalize the rules of respectful engagement when they live it.  My hope is that our children fully participate in the democratic process by voting and holding elected officials accountable for their conduct, actions and decisions.  My dream is for them to assume roles and responsibilities in the future where they are able to conduct themselves with integrity, intelligence and kindness to create a world based on respect for peace and justice.

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Let the Blogging 2016 Begin

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I love the new possibilities that come with each new year.  I have been blogging for several years now for a variety of purposes:

  • to discover unexplored terrain- the world of blogging
  • to share my adventure teaching and traveling in China with friends and family at home
  • to explore my own ideas and thinking
  • to develop my own writing skills by sharing with an audience
  • to share food, wine and experiences I love
  • to share subject specific information with literacy educators
  • to provide content with students
  • to encourage student writing and development of skills
  • to develop reading -writing connections
  • to share my ideas on a broad spectrum of educational issues
  • to develop a sense of community with my readers

It was interesting when I first looked at the WordPress stats and realized that people beyond my friends, relatives and acquaintances were reading my professional blog.  It was flattering but also gave me the sense that there were many like-minded people who I’d like to connect with.  I just don’t quite know how to do that.  My quest for 2016 is to figure that out.

I have a three pronged plan to develop a online community of people to challenge my thinking with divergent opinions, affirm my “ah ha” moments and shared realities, and provide information and thoughts on their own educational contexts.

  1.  I signed up to be part of School Administrators Virtual Mentorship Program (#savmp) in fall
  2. I signed up for Blogging 101 offered by WordPress. Thanks for pushing the card on this post, Josh!
  3. I’m scheduling time to respond to other bloggers.

The focus of my professional blog has morphed from a singular focus on literacy development to encompass a broad spectrum of professional issues and concerns.  I hope you’ll join me in my efforts to develop an online community of learners.

The Best Version of Ourselves

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This year I have read a plethora of reasons NOT to participate in the tradition of New Year’s resolutions:  “If you can’t love yourself at 185 lbs., you can’t love yourself at 150 lbs.”  “Embrace who you are.”  “Be gentle with yourself.”  I am a believer in self care and proactive, positive change but these loud and prolific proclamations evoke the images of Mr. Scrooge and his “Humbug” response to considering the notion of goodwill toward all people during the Christmas season.

Part of family tradition with my mother included annual New Year’s Resolutions.  The pens and erasers and note paper from stockings were put to good use.  My mother, my older sister and later my sister-cousin, would compile lists of things that we were going to do in the following year.  It was a time of dreaming big and thinking through all of the possibilities.  I did learn to ski, snowboard, water ski, drive, finish a 10 km run, do a mini-triathalon, finish my MA, take the kids to the park rather than clean the house, entertain, travel and rotate between personal and professional reads.

Yes, I have also been a chronic breaker of New Year’s resolutions.  My eating habits slip and so does my exercise regime.  My love affair with diet coke re-ignites.  I don’t sleep enough and work too late.  I don’t invest enough time into human rights work.  I don’t do all of the wild and wonderful things I had planned for the new year.  But the possibility remains that I will and if I do, I will be proud of my accomplishment.

I still heartily believe that I can be a better version of myself. And so I am in the process of making both personal and professional goals for the upcoming year.  This will be the year I unfriend diet coke, eat less junk, take more stairs, stretch before I exercise, get enough sleep and maximize engagement in relationships and in online possibilities.  And yes, I believe I can do it.  At least some of it.  Hope still burns!  And in my wake of enthusiasm, I will encourage my relatives, friends, colleagues and students to join me in the pursuit of being the very best version of ourselves.  Good luck with your New Year’s resolve and accomplishments big or small along the way! Continue reading “The Best Version of Ourselves”