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.

 

 

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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

 

Is this enough?

Is this enough?

Monday morning, as I checked my e-mail, I found a message from my director of education. She talked about our board’s focus on student well-being over the past few years, and introduced a new initiative, specifically targeting staff wellness. I admit, I got a little choked up reading that.

I have been that annoying person, every time we have professional development on student mental health, who participates fully, but always asks, “and what about staff mental health?”. For me, the two are inextricably linked. All teachers, and particularly those working with high-needs populations, need support to keep themselves healthy (physically, emotionally and mentally) in order to best support their students. They need to be working in spaces that feel safe, with supportive colleagues and admin, and have access to strategies and supports to help them when life is not going exactly as planned. I know I’m not alone in saying this has not always been my experience as a teacher. I was thrilled to see the e-mail.

I was less thrilled to read on and discover that the new focus on staff well-being comes in the form of a partnership with a particular research team, which “has over 20 years of experience working with some of the world’s highest performing individuals and organizations. They specialize in research-based strategies that improve health and wellbeing in challenging environments, including schools and boards.” I’m not saying that sounds bad – because it doesn’t. Teaching, and staying healthy while doing it, can define the phrase “challenging environment” . So, why did I have such a negative reaction?

Maybe I’ve become a cynic in my old age, but my experience has been that when we align ourselves with one particular program, a) we’re paying a lot for it and b) it doesn’t make for a lot of opportunity for differentiation. And I’ve wary of that at this point. I’m wary of anything that comes “pre-packaged”, that is supposed to meet a multitude of needs.

However, I try really hard to be a positive person, so I went on to the accompanying video.

 

And that’s when I really got frustrated.

I’m not going to go into all the things I struggled with in the video – those are probably for a conversation with my director, who I respect as a fellow educator. But I have to say that I felt like there was a gaping hole in the whole “pitch” (and yes, that’s my sarcastic voice coming through – it did feel like a pitch). There was no mention, really, of emotional well-being (other than as “stress”). In the interests of transparency, I need to say that my spouse is a couples and family therapist, who uses an emotionally focused approach. That definitely colours my thoughts on this.

The approach indicated in the video suggests a major focus on physical health, and I cannot argue with the importance of sleeping well, eating well and moving more, because those are strategies that work for me. I believe in the value of mindfulness practice, especially when it’s adapted to different people’s needs (some of us are helped by moving meditation). But for me, unless this program makes space for learning about the importance of our emotional health; for learning about our relationships – with ourselves, with our family and friends, with our school community – we’re missing a huge, vital, piece of the puzzle.

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It’s all about relationships, really. Photo credit: flickr user Robert Eede via cc

My other main struggle is that this program will come to us, as teachers, every couple of months, as a package in our in-box, including videos, podcasts and articles. Again, I’m thrilled at the thought of more resources. However, the expectation that teachers will need to take another piece of their constantly shrinking “own” time, and dig into those resources, and hopefully benefit from them, is not a realistic one. How many colleagues do you know who rarely access their school e-mail, because they already feel the demands are too much? Surely, if this is really a priority, we could spend the occasional staff meeting working through a module together? Maybe find some PLC time during the day to gather with a small group and listen to a podcast or watch and discuss a video (maybe even with snacks)? Staff well-being is incredibly important, for bigger reasons than reducing absences.  I think it’s the bedrock we build on. A well staff means a well school, which means more ability to work with students, and their families towards their own wellness and, at its strongest, means being able to model what health and well-being looks like. Having been in the job for 25 years now, and currently experiencing the lowered stress level that comes with a self-funded leave, I know that many of us struggle with balancing our own emotional needs with the needs of our immediate and extended families and of our students, with the stress of deadlines and paperwork and trying to build safe spaces for our students. 

I think that we deserve more than a package in our in-box.

I’m going to end in hope that this focus will grow. I’d also love to know what other boards are doing. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Let the sparks fly……

 

Leaving Kansas…

Leaving Kansas…

 

 

In December, an exhibit opened at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, focused on the work on designer Christian Dior, and particularly his role in resurrecting couture fashion after the Second World War. I’m not a huge follower of fashion, as anyone who knows me would assert, but I am fascinated by the links between popular culture and history, and this fits perfectly in there. My family is lucky enough to have an out-of-town membership for the ROM (worth getting if you visit Toronto a couple times a year), and I was able to register for a member experience involving the ROM exhibit.

 

Dawna Pym, who is part of the education staff at the ROM, and who has a personal deep and abiding passion for fashion, gave us a hands-on provocation with textiles from her own collection, helping us situate Dior historically. White-gloved, we lifted lace, examined the construction of corsets, and envied zippers on girdles.

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Yes, really – that’s a zipper on a girdle. How great would that be?

 

Dawna then took us for a guided tour of the beautifully curated Dior exhibit. The ROM has the 3rd biggest museum textile collection in the the world, behind only the Met and the Victoria and Albert, some 55,000 items. We got to see scrapbooks, fabric samples, finished products, and learn about the way in which the resurrection of couture also helped save the disappearing arts of hand beading, embroidery and more. Anyone who doesn’t think sewing machines have a spot in the makerspace needs to come and see some of the astounding work on display in this exhibit. More on this adventure in another post.

After 2 engrossing hours, I headed down to the cafeteria in the bowels of the ROM to reflect, and really try and absorb some of the amazing stuff I’d learned, and then the world tilted.

Because on her way out of the cafeteria, on her way to her session with Dawna, was a friend I spent a magic summer with 33 years ago – and who I’ve really only seen a few times in the interim. But that summer, and that experience, was one of those that binds you to those you share it with. It connects you and despite communicating via Facebook, when you see each other 33 years later, you call each other’s names, and laugh, and hug each other, and do a 5 minute update, and get teenaged girls (who can never imagine that they will be this old someday) to take your picture , and then, if you’re me, you sit down, and get a little teary, because that bond is still there, and it’s magic.

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Old friends – we’ve aged surprising well, I think!

 

So, I thought, why, after all this time, is that connection still there?

In July of 1984, when I was 17 years old, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of about 30 Ontario kids to go on an immersion experience to Germany. There was a cost involved, and I know I paid some, and my parents somehow came up with the rest (which would not have been easy). We would be boarded with families, most of whom had a teenaged child, and would go to German classes in the morning, and then have the afternoons free for social and cultural activities. We soon realized this was code for eating much bratwurst and poppyseed cake, drinking much beer, lying in the sun at the town’s outdoor pool complex and dancing at the local disco, with the occasional castle and cathedral tour thrown in for good measure.

I had done a fair amount of travelling as a kid. The requisite long road trip out west, lots of camping adventures with my family, a year spent living in Florida the year I was in Grade 9, while my dad worked on his Master’s in Media Literacy (yup – on his #selffundedleave – I come by it honestly). But prior to this trip, in the summer of Grade 12, I had not really been away from my family for very long – maybe a week at a time at a summer camp. And suddenly, here I was, on another freaking continent, with money of my own to budget (my dad set me up a ledger), and really, no accountability to anybody except the charming grandparent-age couple who were housing me.

I think that was the key.  That “out here on my own” thing we were all experiencing together, with no opportunity for helicopter parenting – no cell phones, no e-mail, no Skype or FaceTime. I sent a couple of postcards, but my parents were very far away – literally and metaphorically. If somebody got a dear John letter from his girlfriend in Canada, and was trying to self-medicate himself to solve it, nobody but us was going to dig him out of that hole. If somebody truly fell in love, and didn’t know how they were going to say goodbye, we cried it out together. If someone was mixing pain meds, paprika chips and apple schnapps a little too liberally, it was up to us to solve that problem. If I wanted to have my hair cut down to an inch all over my head, there was nobody who was going to say “no, that’s a bad idea”, and lots of people to encourage me. We became each other’s family, and we took that responsibility seriously. We grew up a lot, that summer, and we helped each other do it.

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Dear heavens, but we’re young. Summer of 84, Kulmbach, Germany. That’s me, in the mushroom cut (before I cut it all off!). We were fierce, and brave and gorgeous!

And that’s why I had a little “verklempt” moment. Because seeing, and touching, and talking to my old friend reminded me of the fierce, brave, gorgeous women we were becoming in the summer of ‘84, and of all the things we didn’t know yet were going to hurt us and give us joy.

Being me, I am left with some questions.  What was that defining experience for you – when you knew that you weren’t in Kansas anymore, and that you were okay with that? Who were the people you shared it with? Are they still part of your world? Please share in the comments, or your own writing – I’d really love to know.

Second batch of questions: Do those opportunities still exist for our students and our children in this ultra-connected world? Do we encourage our students and kids to take them, and then get out of the way? How might the technology that enriches our lives be getting in the way of this kind of adventure? How do we help our parent/teacher selves let go?

 

Let the sparks fly….

It’s “check-in” time

 

This weekend’s bitter cold where I live had me thinking about the importance of check-ins. Everywhere I looked, there were reminders to check in: check in with your vulnerable family members and neighbours; make sure there isn’t a pipe break  threatening your business (Bluestreak records flooded); don’t leave your pets outside too long. 

My neighbour, upon leaving for holiday, asked my boys to do a walk through of her house each day, making sure that the heat was on and nothing disastrous had happened. We asked friends of Mr 16 to do the same when we went away.

That made me think about how lucky I was to be able to do that. I have neighbours, and relationships with them. I have family members to check in with (shout-out to my Oma, who was 97 on January 6).

Many in our communities don’t have those privileges. I did my first volunteer shift at our local emergency overnight shelter just before Christmas (that will be another blog post, when I can manage to put it into words). I knew that many in that community  would be moving from whatever warm spot they could find to another during the day, and couch-surfing or at a shelter overnight. I know that I can’t check in on everybody, but I have adopted the practice of carrying extra new warm socks in my bag when I’m downtown, and offering them to those who are asking for money on the street. I have also carried grocery store or Tim’s gift cards in the past. If you have a relationship with people in your local underhoused community, please check in, in whatever way works best for you. Make a donation of money, food or time, or just stop to make sure that someone on the street knows where the local shelter is. This article  has some suggestions in the school context. I occasionally encounter former students in my volunteer work at our local meal program, and I have found that they hugely appreciate me recognizing them and taking the time to check in, without judgement (and yes, I often cry later). 

So, all this thinking about check-ins made me think about those who are returning to school today (or having a snow day, if you live where I do). Brian Aspinall’s brain was running along the same lines yesterday.

And I was happy when another tweeter responded, suggesting that we remember this applies to staff, too.

I need us all to take a minute and think about how this weekend felt. Were you thrilled to have a weekend to cocoon? Knit, read, binge-watch your favourite show (or mixed doubles curling ), bake, prep food for the week? Did you bundle up and get out in the cold, like my husband and kids did, with a cross-country ski? Did you connect with a friend for a hot (or cold) beverage?

Or were you one of those tossing and turning last night, because you didn’t want to go back this morning? One who spent the weekend getting the marking and planning done that you had ignored over the last 2 weeks? One who woke up this morning, and were hit with that feeling of dread about going to work? Or were you in that completely different category, like the woman in my church community yesterday morning, who had a completely unforeseen tragedy strike her family over the break? Did you spend much of your break putting out fires for other people? Were you coping with toxic family time? Are you heading back without feeling you’ve had a break at all? I have, at different times, been in most of these categories, heading back in January, and I’m sure many of you have, too. So, of course, have our students.

Most of us are really good at checking in with our students. We have class meetings, or we start or finish our day with a quick check-in. We meet our kids at the door because we know it makes a difference. We’ve learned that along the way.

 

I don’t think we’re anywhere near as good at creating opportunities for a genuine check-in with our colleagues. We’ll ask the generic “how was your holiday?” or even “Did you have a good break?” as we pass in the hall, but we’re often not truly listening for the answer, and we’re rarely vulnerable enough to give an honest one. It’s not how we’ve been raised, and it’s not easy, but is, without question, worth the effort. If we know that check-ins help our students feel visible, understood and valued, imagine how extending that same care to ourselves would make us feel.

So, there’s my challenge to each of you. Today (especially if it’s a snow day, and you have a chance for a quiet moment), or some time this week,  try – even with one colleague – to do a genuine check-in. Ask how things are. If you know there’ve been some challenges (and really, when aren’t there?) maybe that’s the question to ask. Maybe this is the week to organize a potluck for Friday lunch, just to give people the chance to sit down together. If you have a colleague, as I do, who’s off on long-term disability, or who is off being a caregiver for someone they love, remember them, too. They would probably greatly appreciate someone in their professional life  remembering that they exist. We need to be seen and heard, just as our students do. Check in. It’s important. 

 

Let the sparks fly.

All that I have, and all that I am…

I don’t know where to start! 20 years ago today, I married Terry Noble. Many of you know that my levels of common sense are sometimes not overwhelmingly high, but they were off the charts when I chose my life partner.

Here’s what I know, after 20 years:

We make each other better – smarter, more grounded, able to take chances in our careers and our learning, better parents, better partners, better friends, and we do it all the time, every day in small and big ways;
We believe in one another – at times, more than each of us believes in ourselves;
We could not be the people we are today without the gifts we have both brought to this relationship.

Terry forces me to think deeply about things, to question why I’m making a particular choice, to stand up for what I believe in, and I strive to do the same for him.

He’s also the first face I want to see in the morning, and the last one I want to see at night.

He is my best friend, my partner, my companion, the best dad I could have ever imagined, and my hero for what he does professionally every day.

“All that I have and all that I am” – I promised these to my husband in our wedding vows on August 19, 1995. I’m still learning and exploring what those encompass everyday.

Thanks, sweet boy. I love you more than you know. Here’s to the next 20.