What Matters Most?

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Santa chose a winner with the book selection for my stocking this year,   Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis.  This  Giller prize winner is a quick, enjoyable read with prompts pondering of the big questions of life.  Apollo and Hermes make a bet that given human intelligence, any animal would be even more unhappy than humans at death.  Fifteen dogs in a Toronto veterinary clinic are gifted or cursed, depending on your perspective, with human consciousness.

The responses to the change in their lives brings reactions in the dogs that we are all quite familiar with…

fear of change, clinging to a notion of “old ways” that results in an adherence to a bastardized version of the past, embracing change, efforts to adapt, a quest to communicate, formation of alliances, fear of differences, plotting, selfishness, brutality, subjugation, revenge, jealousy, love, betrayal, loyalty, hope, loss…

In the lead up to the season of New Year’s Resolutions, it begs the question, what matters most?  How do we lead life in a way that maintains the integrity of our core beliefs?  Just a few more days to figure that out.

 

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Why Do I Lead?

imageIt is a hectic time of year but pretty much every month in the school year is shrouded in busyness.  Getting back to school, meeting reporting deadlines, getting ready of special assemblies, celebrations and project presentations with the overarching goal of meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of our students.  In administration, you add yet another layer to the busyness.   During our recent career day sponsored by the Spirit Committee, one of the students chose “Vice Principal” as their dream job.  Of course, it begged the question.  Why?  The response was true enough: I smile a lot and laugh at my own jokes.  I spend most of the days just talking to kids and teachers and parents and people who fix stuff in the school.  I get to play everyday.  I have a whistle and lots of keys.  I get to do fun things like building the playground and garden boxes. I make rules and get to talk on the PA. What more could you want in a dream job?

I recently became part of the School Administrators Virtual Mentor Program (#SAVMP).  George Couros suggested the blog topic:  Why Do I Lead?  It has pushed me to reflect on the various types of leadership that I have experienced as a student, a teacher, a parent and an administrator.  My first memory of  leadership was in Grade 7 at David Lloyd George Elementary School in Vancouver, British Columbia.  I was running to be team captain.   I was nervous beyond belief to be up on the stage giving a speech and facing the possibility of a humiliating defeat.  My eyes flickered up from my shaking cue cards to see the front rows of primary students cheering.  Those little people believed I could be their leader.    Getting elected was thrilling but the biggest takeaway for me as a kid was that big people and little people believed my ideas mattered and wanted to talk about them with me.  My takeaway as an adult is that I want everyone in our school communities to have that experience.

Subsequent activities that I have chosen, or been co-oped to lead, have been things I have been heavily invested in, such as social justice, my children, my students and professional development.  Leaderships skills were not a precursor to assuming the leadership roles for me but were more of a by-product of the experiences themselves. Every leadership role has been a risk taking venture.  The learning has come with the grand successes or the abysmal failures or the things to consider for a later date.  Each leadership opportunity has connected me with people who pushed my thinking, made me laugh, tried my patience and allowed me to see things from a different perspective.  Each opportunity helped me to grow personally and professionally.

There are many opportunities for leadership when you work in a school.  Throughout my career, I assumed a variety of leadership roles in sports, BC teacher Federation PSA, LSA’s, professional associations and committees while teaching at the elementary school, middle school and university level.  When I was seconded to Simon Fraser University as a faculty associate, my realm of leadership possibilities broadened.  In the Faculty Associate role, I worked in several school districts with student teachers in a Kindergarten to Grade 12 module.  It provided the opportunity to engage in conversations with many administrators about their role and experience many school cultures.  The multifaceted challenges in the role of the administrator in developing a learning community was intriguing.

I have been fortunate to work with a number of strong school administrators who challenged the status quo and supported teachers with innovative teaching practices. What they all had in common was the willingness to support and trust the initiatives proposed by staff members.   We are fortunate in British Columbia to have a strong public school system.  We are also in a time of unprecedented change that requires that educators have the confidence and support structures in place to cope with the advances in technology and shifts in parenting, society and curricular expectations.  School administrators play an integral role in creating and envisioning an environment that supports the intellectual, human, and social and career development of all students.    This requires their personal investment identifying the possibilities open to us as educators.   It is inspiring to work in community to develop the background knowledge and skills required to provide the scaffolding for school communities to meet with success in the challenges of change.  Richard Gerver (2014) highlights the work of Professor Guy Claxton (2002) and his definition of the 4 R’s of Learning Power as Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reflectiveness and Reciprocity.  I lead because I want to be part of a network that supports teachers, support staff, parents and community partners in providing the very best kick at the can for our students to graduate with the background knowledge, skills, creativity, and confidence to fearlessly embrace the possibilities in their future.

 

 

Responding to Negative Feedback 

With the excitement of the holiday season comes lots of free floating stress.  In schools, the combination of report cards and Winter Concerts and overtired kids and adults can be challenging.  Festivities with family can bring a plethora of opportunities for negative feedback.  Although a season of nothing but good will and joy would be ideal, it isn’t always the reality.  I regularly receive THE MANAGEMENT TIP OF THE DAY compliments of the Harvard Business Review.  Always interesting food for thought.

December 3, 2015

Decide How You’ll React to Negative Feedback

When criticism arrives unexpectedly, remembering how you should react to it is tricky. Getting caught up in the heat of the moment can overwhelm our best intentions. Think through the reaction you want to have now, so that you’ll be ready when the time comes:

Listen carefully to what’s being said. Is the criticism of you fact or opinion? And is it accurate? What’s the intent and motive of the person giving you feedback?

Don’t get defensive. Even when your criticizer is factually wrong, saying so isn’t helpful. Listen to what the person is saying, then ask questions to make sure you understand it.

Ask for time to consider what’s been said. Doing so defuses the immediate situation, shows the person you consider the feedback important enough to be considered carefully, and gives you a chance to decide whether the criticism is true.
Adapted from “How to Handle Negative Feedback,” by Dick Grote.

The goal for the season:  Listen carefully and think long and hard before you speak 🙂  Easier said than done 🙂  Good luck.

 

TedxVancouver Starts the Conversation

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One question brought 3500 Vancouverites from all walks of life together on a rainy day.   The tone in Roger’s Arena morphed from captive to zen to electric depending on the speaker and the message. Technology provided an interactive component to solicit opinions of the group, artist renditions accompanying performances, illustrations of speaker’s points and the opportunity to tweet(#TEDxVan) and show that history can be interesting with Sam Sullivan’s videos. Continue reading “TedxVancouver Starts the Conversation”

Anne with an “e”

imageAs a little girl, I do not have lots of memories of bedtime stories and being surrounded by books.  I had Beatrix Potter books from our dear friend, Mrs. Patrick and a collection of Little Golden Books.  I had a set of Children’s Encyclopedias with actual colour pictures of Pinky and The Blue Boy.  School provided Janet and John, Lucky the dog, Buttons the cat and a father that went to work and a mother who stayed home.  Basically the bulk of my reading had no connection to life as I knew it.

Fortunately the librarians in my life helped me to become a reader.   I was introduced to series of chapter books.  I fell in love with Trixie Belden and stayed up late into the night with my flashlight terrifying myself with the possibilities.  Nancy Drew, Donna Parker, Henry Huggins, Beezus, Ramona and the Hardy Boys also held my attention.  However when the librarian in the Marpole Public library introduced me to Anne of Green Gables, I learned what it was to have a kindred spirit and that living with imagination was a good thing.  My mother was delighted when I brought the first book home and waited for me to finish reading the book so she could reaquaint herself with Anne with an “e”.  In fact I read the series so quickly because my Mom was always in line to read the next book.  My mother did not have a lot of spare cash as a single mother, but she always belonged to the Book of the Month Club and frequented the public library.  The fact that she wanted to read my books filled with me with a huge sense of pride.  She’d make a pot of tea and we’d chat about the book, the characters, the importance of pretty clothes and that people actually die in books and in life.

When my husband was planning our bike trip to Prince Edward Island this summer, my one request was that we do ” The Anne thing”.  I bought the book to reread it during the journey.  And yes, I did take it for the photo op in the garden amidst all of the flowers that she so adored.  YES, I do realize that Anne is a fictional character.  Yet, what L.M. Montgomery was able to so aptly do was write about what she knew from losing her mother as a toddler and growing up in P.E.I. with stern grandparents and a doting but far away father.  Clearly she was able to take her experience and recreate it in the mind’s eye of a kid growing up in Vancouver and little girls growing up in Japan.  The walk down Lover’s Lane and through the Haunted Wood is just what I expected.  She was also able to create such a vivid character that could have been real and would be loved and remembered into adulthood.  When I woke up to the poplar’s rustling wildly in Mount Stewart at the Water’s Edge B&B, I knew that Matthew would be warning Anne of imminent rain and packed my Arteryx jacket for the day’s journey💧.   I can’t wait for the long running musical in Charlottetown!

To Blog or Not to Blog

The perfect sunset.  The funny moment. The great jazz performance.  There are all kinds of reasons that people take to social media to “share”.  Tweets and blogs abound.

  

I started my first travel blog,  Hoodooquest.blogspot.com, on my first trip to China as a way of learning about this “new terrain of blogging” and to share my Chinese teaching adventure with family and friends.  My friend, Jan Wells, informed me she read it every morning with her coffee and the newspaper while I was in China.  Then I discovered that people I didn’t know, read it too.  This gave me the confidence to jump down the “rabbit hole” into the world of blogging.

I’ve always written a journal. I have volumes, starting with the pink Holly Hobby diary, on family, school, friendship, skiing, romance, food, travel, motherhood, injustices of life and grand celebrations.  They are highly personal and come with disclaimers that they should be destroyed and certainly not read when I die.  Yes, I have always had a flair for the dramatic.  Blogging can encompass a similar style of writing with strong voice and opinions.   However the public aspect of blogging requires an additional lens.  I am processing my own thinking, but very aware of engaging an audience.

My early blogs were specifically intended as teaching tools (T2fish.wordpress.com, tecumsehcomputerwhiz.wordpress.com).  They had specific learning outcomes and a body of content to present.  They targeted Tecumseh students but the stats reflected the interest was beyond the school community.  My next evolution of blogs were very similar to newsletters.   They shared relevant information with a specific audience and I tweeted them for accessibility to a greater audience:  For the foodies – SeriousIdulgences.wordpress.com; For educators and community members interested in social justice for children-  cultureofpeace4kids.wordpress.com ; For PDK members in Vancouver – pdkvancouver.wordpress.com.  However I learned most about engaging an audience when I used Kidblog to introduce blogging to gifted students.  Those kids created amazing blogs about their passions and our conversations about audience inspired interesting thoughts about reaching a like minded community of learners to provide feedback and mentoring.  I’m just beginning to touch on the things they taught me.  It was at that time that I started to actively follow blogs and the twitter feeds of people who inspire me and make me think, such as Jordan Tinney, George Couros, Chris Kennedy, Steve Cardwell and Ruben Puentedura.

This input, suggested reads, my professional  inquiries, collaboration with colleagues and students have made Inquire2Empower (carriefroese.wordpress.com) my most interesting blog to date.  I started writing it as a way to build community with other literacy educators in British Columbia.  It has emerged to a place where I not only share information but also develop my thoughts on a variety of professional topics including literacy, leadership, thinking skills, educational technology, human rights …basically all of those issues that are near and dear to my heart.  The public nature of my blog, holds me accountable for taking the time to reflect on my learning and articulate my thoughts. Once it hit over 2,000 views, I realized people were interested and I had developed an online PLN.

Inquire2Empower is very much question driven, as suggested by the name.  During my first temporary contract as a teacher, I was doing a maternity leave.  My burning questions were why did I hate teaching reading when I loved to read?  How could I engage students in the lesson with contrived, didactic material?  It taught me early on in my career that the pursuit of the answer is what has the real power to make a difference my practice.  Blogging and tweeting brought to light the concept of Virtual PLCS (Casey Reason 2015).  Social media has very much facilitated the formation of a wider community of informal groups that have emerged into symbiotic relationships.   The world of blogs and twitter have provided a structure for me to reflect on my learning but also provided opportunities to participation in Ignite Nights in Vancouver and Coquitlam that personalized the online connections.   It also opened up risk taking ventures like “One Word Burger”.  It has provided amazing choices of speakers for professional learning and the people attending are eager to participate.  It also allows for the follow up and consideration of the ramifications after complex sessions, like Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model.   It has opened up opportunities for me to personally present to interested audiences.  Multiple pathways of learning.  Isn’t that what makes the world of education so interesting? Yes, for me, the answer is “to blog”.

A Season to Celebrate

June in schools…  The amount of things on the “To Do” list grows exponentially and it is easy to get overwhelmed.  The beauty of June in schools is the sheer quantity of things to celebrate.  Monday I was called in as an extra adult for the Grade 7 kayaking trip in Deep Cove.  My desk is a mess, I’m behind on email, I have a few more learning outcome checks to do with the class I enrol and the list goes on but duty calls… and I go kayaking with Grade 7’s.

As soon as we started out, our guide commented on how well our kids were doing.  The kids were quick to point out they had kayaking experience from Camp Elphinstone when they were at Grade 6 camp.  Some of these kids who were hard to lure off the dock during grade 6 camp were now confident venturing out towards Indian Arm in their two person kayaks.  When I perused the group, I could also find the kids resistant to speak English when they started at the school, laughing and talking with their friends.  Kids who worried about being part of the group were very much part of a community.  Venturing out to share the day with this group of Grade 7 students was a gift.  These same students will be walking across the stage tonight to celebrate their transition to secondary school.  The day promises to be busy with the preparations but the evening will encompass the pride of reaching this milestone.

We celebrated my son’s graduation from university this Spring.  The bursting pride, the verge of tears, the over the top amount of pictures were very much the same as all those accomplishments and transitions along the way.  It could have been riding his bike on his own, The Test of Metal Competition up Whistler, leaving elementary school or high school graduation.  The pause to come together and celebrate lasts and become the stuff of stories that endure for years.  I’m trying to keep this in perspective as I rush to attend end of the year professional commitments and retirements.  In each event is the opportunity to celebrate the big and small accomplishments along the way.  Enjoy people.  This is the stuff of our stories and the stories of our students down the road.  The promise of summertime relaxation is within our grasp.

ProD Inspiration

Professional reading on the topic of professional development largely espouses the view that much of professional development for educators is not worth the time or money. Large-scale conferences or filling the room with a speaker does not serve the attendees in the room. This has not been my experience. I am a whole-hearted enthusiast of professional development in a variety of forms largely because I’ve experienced the direct benefit.

I have actively engaged in “teacher research” or “reflective practice” or “inquiry based practice”, since it was introduced to me under the label of “qualitative research” at Simon Fraser University in pursuit of my MA. I was in my Kindergarten class, creating a body of research with my questions and my students. Maureen Dockendorf popularized this process for wide-spread participation of teachers in Coquitlam.  Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser’s work and subsequent book, Spirals of Inquiry (2013), has continued to provide a philosophical frame and structure for educators to find answers to their questions while maintaining a focus on student learning. There is no limit to the power of asking questions, focusing on our classrooms and engaging in a conversation with colleagues about our practice and the implications for student learning.

Implicit in the asking of big questions, is the quest to find the answers. That doesn’t just happen in the microcosm of our classrooms. Some of my recent questions have come out of the work with the Grade 3/4 class I enroll on Monday and Tuesdays and my computer classes with intermediate students.   I’m working with a small group of colleagues trying to integrate digital technology into our practice to develop language proficiency and extend thinking skills. Our inquiry group has been supported by Audrey Van Alstyn and the VSB PILOT initiative – Professionals Investigating Learning Opportunities using Technology.  We have had access to planning time, regular practical instruction, discussion of pedagogy and the SAMR model with Dr. Reuben Puentedura, the support of literacy mentors in our classrooms and the opportunity to learn from others involved in PILOT via Speed Geeking and The Digital Fair.   The learning curve has been steep, and at times daunting, but always exciting. However the learning does not happen in a vacuum. We are constantly drawing on the background knowledge and ideas of specialists in the field.

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Much of my thinking has percolated on the ideas from professional reading, professional development and the subsequent conversations in person and via social media. I am energized by professional development and I have been involved in many different forms. I would like to discuss the impact of three professional development opportunities that would meet the criteria for a stand and delivery professional development.   Even though interaction is built into the presentations, according to popular research, it would render this style of professional development as obsolete.

LEARNING AND THE BRAIN CONFERENCE (May 2014):

The research on the plasticity of the brain opened up interesting conversation with my father, a retired neurosurgeon and fueled a fascination with the implications for education. When faced with the opportunity to attend a Brain Research Conference in New York, I jumped.  The power of neuroscientists and educators coming together to define best practice is probably one of the most powerful opportunities at our disposal today. Yes, I was one who lined up to have my purchases signed by the “rock stars” of educational research. And yes, then I proceeded to read the books and look for connections with my practice and applications in my educational context.  I have even participated in the follow-up monthly online chats.

INTERNATIONAL READING (NOW LITERACY) ASSOCIATION (July 2014):

I first became involved in The International Reading Association as a beginning teacher in Abbotsford. Level of involvement fluctuated throughout the years, but my role, as a literacy teacher and learner remained constant and the International Reading Association has always been the “go to” place for practical application of educational research. The International Reading (now Literacy) Association Leadership Convention in Tampa, Florida brought together literacy leaders from North America and beyond to share our work with our provincial /state and local literacy councils. I attended in my capacity as the Provincial Coordinator interested in supporting research based literacy teaching.  The connections made with colleagues of like mind has provided a bank or ideas and support to continue with my work in literacy learning and leadership.

PHI DELTA KAPPA – UBC CHAPTER

My involvement in PDK has come out of a love of the cross-pollination that comes from engaging in conversation about educational leadership with people engaged in a variety of education contexts, from a range of school boards and educational institutions. PDK is a professional organization that is founded on the premise of research, generally organizing 3-4 dinner meetings and featuring a speaker or panel to discuss an area of interest to our members. In April (2015), George Couros and Jordan Tinney presented a session: Report Cards and Communicating Student Learning: Leadership & Learning in a Changing World. The room was filled to capacity within the week and the waiting list started to grow. Tinney and Couros engaged participants in a discussion of the possibilities for innovation that exist in the educational context in B.C. to engage and empower students as well as teachers, utilize social media and create digital portfolios to document student learning.   They created electricity in the room. Ideas were also processed via twitter (#PDKedchat )during the presentation and allowed people outside the room to participate as well.

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In each of these contexts, people of like mind and a growth mindset flocked to sessions to discuss the ideas and make sense of the presentation in light of their own educational context. The conversations would continue long after the actual presentations within professional networks, in blogs and via twitter. The connections with other professional development was be processed, questioned, discussed, embraced, dismissed or implemented in hybrid form.

James Paul Gee presented a talk called: The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Literacy at The Learning and the Brain Conference in New York in May 2014. I was inspired and had a template to build my understanding of what digital literacy needed to look like in my context. At a breakfast meeting in Tampa with Marcie Craig Post, the Executive Director of International Literacy Association, the discussion continued about the need to provide students not only with the scaffolding so they can learn to talk, read and develop thinking skills but the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively for literacy development. Tinney and Couros pushed the card with the possibilities for implementation of meaningful assessment and evaluation practices.

When presentations resonate with educators, the conversation continues. Listening to a presentation brings a depth of understanding that doesn’t always come from reading the book, a blog or a twitter post. When people I respect recommend titles of books, I read them or at least aspire to read them! When they ask a question that captures my attention, I think about it. Perhaps I use it to frame my next inquiry project.  I have been lucky to have many opportunities to learn new ideas, consolidate old ones and ask questions. I’ve had the good fortune to listen to amazing professionals with breadth of background knowledge and experiences. They stood, they delivered, they engaged the audience and made me think.   I left the room with new tools, more questions, a sense of efficacy and the inspiration to act. I strongly believe the appetite for this mode of professional development is not going away anytime soon. It represents one necessary part of my professional development appetite.

On the Road with Terry Fox

Nine year old Kerry Anne Holloway spent the summer of 1980 driving across Central Canada.   Her dad, Bill Vigars, worked for the Canadian Cancer Society as a publicist and he decided to take his kids on a road trip for work.  The gig was acting as the public relations organizer for Terry Fox on his now historic run from the Atlantic Ocean to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Kerry Anne is now a registered clinical counsellor living in Burnaby.   She learned early of the importance of devoting herself to caring about other people.  April 2015 marks the 35th anniversary of Terry Fox’s cross-country fundraising effort to raise $1.00 for every Canadian for cancer research.  Friday, Debby, our grade 2 teacher, organized for Kerry Anne to come and talk to our students before the annual “Toonies for Terry” Run for Cancer Research.   The reaction to Terry Fox presentations by the people in the room is always fascinating.  Many of us who followed Terry on the t.v. and radio and cheered him during his Marathon of Hope, have the emotional response triggered by the memory of a special friend or relative who is remembered with affection and the very personal sadness of loss.  For our students, he is a historical figure.  A Canadian hero.  A guy you want to be like.  Terry Anne’s task is big, to inject the humanity into the legend. 

 Kerry Anne is one of those people who remember what it’s like to be a kid.  She is able to reach back in her memory and pull out the things that matter to kids.  She shared how he ate TONS of food and that when they went into a restaurant, it seemed like he was ordering a whole page from the menu.  That they had food fights.  That her and her brother brought him oranges and water.  That he was nice to her.  That he LOVED basketball and would play it when he was taking a break from running.  That he was never the best player as a kid but loved to play.  That when he got older, he wanted to be a P.E. teacher.

Our students knew Terry dipped his toe in the Atlantic Ocean in St. John’s Newfoundland and then ran for 143 days for the  5,373 kilometers to Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Kerry Anne put it in understandable terms.  He ran 4 Vancouver Sun Runs everyday.  20 kilometers before breakfast.  10 kilometers before lunch.  10 kilometers after he had a nap.  Rain or shine, he was out there.  He went through 9 running shoes.  That he had a sock on his prosthetic leg that he grew VERY attached to and that you can see in Ottawa.  She shared he would be really tired at night so the rule was that they were not allowed to bug him after 8 pm.  Once her brother went in to chat with Terry and one of the adults came and knocked on the door.  Terry quickly hid her brother under the bed so that neither of them would get into trouble.  He was a guy who had your back.

Kerry Anne talked about the things that inspired Terry.  On August 27th in Terrance Bay, Ontario, Gray Scott of Welland, showed up to ride his bike beside Terry.  Greg rode behind Terry for 6 kilometers.  Greg had also lost his leg to bone cancer.  For Terry, this was one of the most inspirational moments and one that brought him to tears when he talked about it.

The kids in both the primary and intermediate audience ate up everything Kerry Anne had to share.  When a question came up that she didn’t know the answer, one of the kids in the audience did.  One on the emergent readers in the audience excitedly threw up his hand to report that the words Terry Fox were on the picture of his van.  Another little girl nicely summarized her learning for all of us:  “Terry Fox never give up.”

Kerry Anne shared a lot of the things she learned on her recent trip the Canadian Museum of History (previously the Canadian Museum of Civilization) in Ottawa.   The Fox family lent more than 200,000 items to the museum, including the jug he filled with water from the Atlantic at the beginning of his run, his own Marathon of Hope t-shirt, his Team Canada hockey jersey from Bobby Orr, his runners and his prosthetic leg with the modifications he made for comfort.  She also shared one of the letters that she wrote to Terry detailing how her brother was always wanting to watch Mash on t.v. and that there were better things they could be watching.  She told us she did a search and found her letter in the Canadian Museum of History Archives.  The museum has scanned and made accessible many of the letters that school children wrote to Terry Fox and other key documents.  Clearly this will be something we will be interested in pursuing.

My favorite story was about Kerry Anne and her brother fighting in the car one day.  Kerry Anne remembers the adult response, “Be quiet and watch Terry run.  You are never going to see anything like this again.”  And she hasn’t.

Terry Fox died on September 1, 1980 and left us with a challenge:  “Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue.  It’s got to keep going without me.”  On Feb. 5, 1981, Canada’s population reached 24.1 million people and the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope raised $24.17 million.  Every year people in almost 25 countries participate in runs and fundraisers to raise money for cancer research.  So far over $600 million has been raised in Terry’s name.  You can add another $807.00 to that.  Way to go Tecumseh Elementary students for keeping the dream alive.