Measuring or mattering?

A few weeks ago, I treated my husband to an evening of restorative yoga and Thai yoga massage. As we relaxed through two hours of hot stone therapy, deep massage and gentle yoga poses, one of the facilitators offered some possibilities to focus our thinking. One of them in particular has been rattling around in my brain since then. The question was “are you measuring or are you mattering?”

This question resonated with me particularly because of an experience I’d had earlier in the week. Mr 14 had come home with a challenging story. He had gotten to school one morning last week to find a crowd outside the office. He found his friends gathered around a listing of students who had achieved “honour roll” status with their first semester marks. “Okay”, I thought, “this was an alphabetical list of the kids who had achieved a pre-established standard. Not ideal, but not awful”.

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Measuring, or mattering? A strange combination here. credit: flickr user Rafael Castillo, va cc

Except, as my son explained, it wasn’t what I pictured at all. Instead, it was a list of student names, with their averages listed, in numerical order. I have a fairly resilient kid, so he wasn’t particularly shamed by what was posted, but I also have an empathetic kid, who was looking at friends who were crying (or trying not to), and obviously struggling. One very talented child, who had achieved an average above 90, was repeating “it’s not good enough” to herself.

 

This is clearly a focus on measuring over mattering. The system in which these children are learning seems to value the grades they achieved over who they are as individuals, and felt that it was acceptable to post a list that would clearly identify who was “winning” and who was not. It made me think of Josh Hill’s amazing TEdXedu talk in Waterloo in the fall about how we define excellence:

 

The story does have an ending that gives me hope. My son has built enough of a relationship with the director of his program that he felt able to approach that teacher in the hall later that day, and express his concerns about the way the Honour Roll recipients had been published. He was not the only student to do so over the course of the day. When I bumped into the program director a few days later, he expressed his thanks that those students had felt able to address the issue with him. He talked about an “unexamined tradition” that will now be looked at with staff and student input moving forward. The staff and students, together, are beginning a journey from measuring to mattering.

It’s easy to get caught up in measuring – again, there’s that idea of expectations and “enough”. Is our house clean enough? Are we making enough money? Are we losing enough weight? Are we taking enough risks in our classrooms? Are the students in our class learning the material as well as those in the classroom down the hall? It’s often the default position in the world we live in – to compare ourselves to others. How do we shift the climate – for ourselves, our families, our students, our school communities – so that we look for ways to show others that they matter, that they have intrinsic value, no matter how they “measure up” to some imposed set of standards?

I would invite you, as a small step, to think of someone in your world who needs to hear today that they matter – a student, a teaching colleague, your administrator, a friend, your own child, your spouse.  Or maybe even, you. Take a moment and let that person know that they have value, that they are enough. Take a moment to matter.

 

Let the sparks fly.

 

 

Giving it up (for a while)

It’s Mardi Gras as I write this.  Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday.  It’s the day on which, historically, you wanted to use up the things in your pantry and larder that you were not going to be able to eat during the 40 days of Lent, which, historically, most people observed. According  to Wikipedia, this idea of fasting for 40 days got its start around 331 CE. The idea, originally, was to have only one meal a day, and to avoid meat, dairy, oil and wine (doesn’t that sound fun?). Gradually, that expanded to a small “collation” or snack in the morning and evening, and the main (meatless, oilless, dairy-less) meal at lunch.  In many places, fish and seafood were allowed, and in Canada, historically, you could also eat beaver. So, eating pancakes and sausages on this day kind of makes sense, to mark a stretch when, historically, you couldn’t eat those things.

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This could have been your way around a meatless meal in early French-Canadian culture. photo credit: flickr user Space Age Sage via cc

 

Over time, the idea of “fasting” or “abstinence” during Lent has evolved into giving other things up – maybe chocolate, or beer, or coffee. Followers of this practice are often asked to think about something that draws them away from God that might be given up, or to think about whether they could add prayer or devotional time to their day, rather than giving something up.

This year,  I’ve decided that I need to try a self-imposed social media fast. Particularly during this self-funded leave year, I find that I can happily spend a lot of time down the rabbit hole of my Twitter and Instagram feeds. Without my daily face to face connections with colleagues, I find myself craving connection through my digital networks, and seeking that next hit of dopamine from a like or reply. I need to wean myself away from that, and hopefully find some more time for writing, knitting, spinning, working out, and yes, prayer and meditative time.

I’m also interested in seeing whether stepping away from social media helps with my expectations (my OneWordOnt). I was intrigued during Tina Zita’s OTF workshop on wellness in a digital world to hear one of the participants admit that being on social media actually raises her stress level as a teacher. She feels like she sees all these great ideas, and creates some unreasonable expectations for herself in terms of using them all. I have had other friends share this thought as well. Perhaps taking some time away from the #edtech social media world will help me focus in on the things I already know I want to do with my class next year, rather than worrying about what the hot new activity might be. We’ll see.

One thing I’m pretty certain I’ll accomplish is lowering my yarn budget. I had no idea that Instagram was the true home of yarn porn. So much hand-dyed loveliness, so many women of Star Wars colourways, so much money…..

 

So, this is a farewell for the next 40 days or so. If you need to reach me, e-mail will probably be easiest, although I will also check Messenger, and Twitter DM. I will still be blogging, and will share those posts via social media. I hope to be “talking” to some of you via your blogs. I hope you’ll let me know if there’s something big happening with you that I might miss if I’m not on Facebook. Maybe we can get together over a cup of tea…..

 

Let the sparks fly

 

Why not go? (and some ways to get there)

Why not go? (and some ways to get there)

If you were paying attention to my social media postings over the past week, you know that I was at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference (#OLASC) from Tuesday night until Friday. This is a huge conference, with around 5000 participants coming from all over the country, and from every sort of library (medical, public, school, archives) you might be able to think of. It includes a trade show with many authors available for signings, a huge offering of workshops in different streams, and spotlight speakers for each stream as well as keynote speakers designed to appeal to all attendees. This year’s theme was “Fearless by Design”.

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I had an amazing time. I presented on Wednesday morning, on the topic of “Dishcloths, Design Thinking and Knitted QR codes”. I was thrilled to have an enthusiastic, engaged group of learners who were ready to participate in the activities I had prepared, ask some great questions, and try their hand at knitting. The photos and tweets shared by participants showed that people were having some “aha” moments, and that there was a lot of mentoring going on by some of the experienced knitters in the crowd. It was a terrific way to start the conference.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend all 3 days of the conference, and I learned an immense amount. I got to watch amazing educators share their knowledge, hear some remarkable speakers (and have my thinking really pushed by some of them) and be a “fangirl” for a favourite author or two.

Most importantly for me, I got to spend some precious time with old friends, while making connections to new ones. Relationship-building is what this kind of event is all about for me, because connecting with those people is what can help me keep that “conference high” going. It was a terrific recharge and  this is a great time for it – a boost to get you through the “middle stretch”. I came home with much to think about.

And then I thought: “why don’t more people go to things like this?”, and then I had to check my privilege at the door, because I know there are a ton of reasons why people can’t/don’t attend conferences.

Economic barriers are huge – conferences are not cheap, and if you’re an out of towner, you’re paying for transportation, accommodation and meals. You also have to figure out release time, which, I learned, is WAY more of a hassle in some boards than in others. Time barriers are huge: if you have dependents of any size and shape, leaving for 3 days can be impossible, and then there’s the major chunk of time you’re going to spend prepping for a supply teacher. I hadn’t realized how much that was a factor until this self-funded leave year, when I went to a conference and it hit me that I didn’t have to worry about how thing were going in my classroom, or check for supply feedback, or adjust plans, or call a parent or…..(I know, you get it). This year, OLASC overlapped with my board’s elementary report-writing day. I would have been heading home Thursday night if I’d been teaching, or I might have decided not to go at all, in order to have time to complete reports. I think a third barrier is that people genuinely don’t know a) what conferences might be available and b) don’t know what a conference can offer them.

 

 

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There can be a lot of barriers to attending a conference. How can we work around them? photo credit: Matteo Parrini via cc

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about teacher mental health. Partly because I’m on a year off, and I know I’m emotionally and mentally healthier without work stress; partly because of the growing concern about violent incidents in the classroom; partly because I’m part of this community, and I know we don’t do enough for ourselves. At report card time in particular, we’re often hanging on by our toenails, as we try to keep all the balls in the air and meet everybody’s expectations. I’d like to propose that time away from your work routine for some self-directed learning, even for a day, might be one possible mental health strategy.

So how do we get around those barriers?

  • Check the workshops your provincial union might be offering – many that ETFO offers cost $50 and include release time, transportation, accommodation, meals and dependent care coverage (and yes, you have to apply). Summer workshops offered by OTF are multi-day events with transportation, accommodation and meal allowances, and you get your registration fee back after the workshop (yes, that’s right, it’s FREE!) and are open to all teachers in Ontario. (and they’re offered all over the province, so many people combine learning with a family holiday, if you have another adult who can help you make that happen).
  • If you’re looking for a lower registration price, put in a workshop proposal – we all have great ideas to share. Many conferences offer free registration for the day you present, or a discounted conference rate, if your proposal is accepted.
  • Release time an issue? Check if your union local offers funding for learning opportunities. Shoutout to KPRETFO, who will cover release time and up to $400 for accommodation and registration until that budget line is depleted. Yes, you will have to fill out an application and have your principal sign it. Worth it? I think so.
  • Find out where conferences are taking place. Can you stay with someone? OLA was downtown Toronto, and my best friend lives there, close to a transit route. I just hugely lowered the cost of my event, and got to spend time with my best friend. Win-win.
  • Check dates – find an event that’s happening when you feel like it might work for you to have a break.
  • Ask a friend to go with you – you can go to different workshops, and share resources (and if you share accommodation, your costs go down). And you’ll always have someone to sit with at lunchtime.
  • Find a conference that you really want to go to. Going to a conference won’t feed you unless it’s something you choose. Tech, subject area associations, indigenous learning, mental health, art, early learning, inquiry – it’s all out there.

Yes, it’s still a hassle to prep to be away. That’s a reality, and probably a whole blog post. You may still struggle to find child/parent care, which may mean that this post is a “not now, but someday” for you. You may be the kind of person who’s going to add to your stress  by going to a conference and getting overwhelmed by all the things you “should” be doing (yes, I’ve been there). You know what you need. But maybe, just maybe, it’s worth a try for moments like this that you can hold in your heart to get you through the next rough spot.

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The reason I really go to conferences. Spending face to face time with my personal learning family. Thank you, Diana, Alanna and Dawn!

 

What’s your favourite conference? How do we make going to conferences more manageable for a more diverse set of learners? How do we find opportunities for people to share what they learned, if they want to do that?

 

Let the sparks fly!