The Amazing Race: Pit Stop – Vancouver

I’ve always wanted to be on the Amazing Race.  In fact, my husband and I considered applying but our young sons cried at the thought of us leaving so we put that idea on hold.  However, the thought of racing around the globe, gaining new experiences, facing mental and physical challenges and racing against others is quite appealing.


For the last 24 hours, four of my colleagues and I have had the chance to unexpectedly, race across North America in an attempt to return to Vancouver from the Educon Conference in Philadelphia.  The plan seemed simple.

  1. Conclude the Conference.
  2. Walk to hotel.
  3. Go out for dinner.
  4. Go to bed.
  5. Get up.
  6. Pack up luggage.
  7. Go to airport.
  8. Fly from Philadelphia to Minneapolis.
  9. Wait 30 minutes.
  10. Fly from Minneapolis to Vancouver.

As I sit here typing this I am in the ‘much desired middle seat’, squished between two strangers on a flight out of Montreal.  Maybe I’m tired, maybe I’m delirious, but for some reason I find great pleasure reflecting on the past 24 hours.  I have just lived my first ‘Amazing Race’ adventure, and although I have a gut feeling we are the last team to arrive, I know I would not want to be on any other team.  Together we demonstrated an incredible blend of patience, creativity, intelligence, street smarts and humour as we have tackled roadblocks, U-turns and detours.

The adventure began roughly 24 hours ago as we were gathered together in a hotel room about to head out for dinner.

“This is an emergency.  DO NOT leave your hotel room.  DO NOT use the elevator, DO NOT use the stairs.  This is an emergency.”

Living our first ‘hotel lockdown’ in Philadelphia, our curiosity and sense of adventure kicked in.  With wit and street sense we locked our door, remained in our room and deduced that it was a minor emergency as the number of emergency vehicles responding did not warrant panic.  We laughed as we recalled the incredibly angry guest from the second floor whom we had met on night one.  Clearly he had finally snapped and must be responsible.  By the time the PA repeated the announcement for the 25th time, I decided I should use my phone to capture the comforting message so we could laugh again in the future.  When the alarm finally stopped we assessed the hallway, only to find four panic stricken ladies in the fire escape.  We calmed them down with the knowledge we had gained by calling the front desk and let them know the emergency was over.  They explained they were four librarians in pajamas.  I told them that was a great name for a band.  Not sure they agreed.

Eventually we found some food, shared ideas from the conference and headed back to our rooms to get some sleep for our travel day.

The day started out great, with a run through Philadelphia, straight up the Musuem of Art steps (as seen in Rocky).  If this was the Amazing Race, I’m sure the yellow envelope would have been waiting right by the Rocky statue (which for some reason has now been relocated to the bottom of the steps)

The card would have read “Make your way to your next pit stop: Vancouver”.  We patiently waited for the complimentary hotel shuttle only to figure out after the fact that there was nothing complimentary about it – $50 please.

Together we arrived at the airport, had our Starbucks confiscated by security, and proceeded to our boarding gate.  Clearly, we must be in first place. It was noon and our flight to Minneapolis would not depart until 2:40 PM.

“Attention passengers, your flight has been delayed. Your new departure time is 3:33 PM”   An interesting twist.  A 57 minute delay.  In Minneapolis we were scheduled to have a 55 minute layover.  It appeared we could miss our connecting flight.   Time to ask some questions, and time to hear some interesting options presented to us by our sweet by perhaps inexperienced ticket agent:

“I’m sorry but we need to re-route you.  Four out of the five of you are now scheduled to go to New York – and we are trying to send the fifth traveller to Seattle”

“oh wait – we have now canceled the flight to New York but we can still get 4 of you on the  flight from New York to Vancouver”  Great – a detour.  Love it.

“To get to your New York flight, I can try to fly you to an airport 30 minutes from JFK and then you can race to get your flight.  No – sorry – I can’t do that – you could all leave now and use public transit.  It takes about 2 hours and costs $40 but you could possibly get there in time”

“I’m sorry, that might not work– you will be staying another night in Philadelphia”  This wasn’t the end of the world but we decided to ask some more questions.

“Actually – I found something here – I can fly you to Montreal – would that be close enough for you to drive home to Vancouver?”  I smiled and suggested it would be similar to driving yourself home from New York to Seattle.   At this point, we decided to use our Geography knowledge and some problem solving skills.  We asked the ticket agent how we could help.  I asked if she would like a drink.  She requested a Pepsi.  I asked if anyone else would like something, to which a large man in the waiting area let me know he needed a 7-Up. Next thing you know I was on a shopping mission for drinks for strangers.  Our principal asked if he could help look for flights.  She eagerly agreed and asked him to call their help line so another agent could search for flights.  Together as a group we suggested possible big cities that would have connecting Vancouver flights such as Montreal, Seattle, Chicago etc.   In time, with our guidance our agent found a solution.  “I have you all on a flight to Montreal – and then to Vancouver – but you have to RUN – catch the connecting shuttle across the airport and get to Gate F 29 before the scheduled departure in 30 minutes”  Great.  Just like the race we were running through our first airport.

Time for the U-Turn.  “Attention passengers – your flight has been moved to gate F33.”

Another U-Turn. “Attention passengers – your flight has been moved back to gate F29”

Roadblock:  “Your flight has been delayed until 4:15”

Roadblock: “Your flight has been delayed until 5:00 PM”   Despite the high pitched emergency alarm ringing uncontrollably, we eventually boarded our flight to Canada.   So nice to be almost home in our own country we thought.

“Welcome to Wisconsin Air’s flight to Montreal.  Unfortunately the water pipes on this plane that are used for making coffee or washing your hands are frozen, though we have provided wet wipes as a substitute.”  That’s awesome – I’m sure wet wipes squeezed together with some coffee grinds make an awesome blend.  Who needs Starbucks after all?  For an hour we took time to rest and marveled at the amazing sunset high above the clouds.  We landed safely with time to spare.

“I’m sorry mam, but the chance of us finding your luggage is not good.  See the Delta counter”

“You booked on Delta but flew on US Airlines.  Please see them”

“You will have to fill in this form, take it to carousel 10, get a stamp and run it back to us”   Hmmmm.  I started to inquire…. “I have a flight in 50 minutes – do you think I will miss it?”   “Yes, maybe”.   And so the race continues…..

“I’m sorry – we have stopped boarding that flight and we are no longer checking luggage.” (for those of us who still had luggage)

“The plane is still there – you will have to run.  They will not wait.”

Time to use some great communication with the guards at security.  “Excuse me, we have a flight leaving in 15 minutes – would it please be possible for us to move ahead in the line?”

“No.” Well, I guess that answers that.  Enter the hurry up and wait followed by a long sprint through the Montreal airport.  For the first time in my life I ran passed a Starbucks and didn’t stop.  I’ll have to process that one again later.  We actually had to run passed 30 gates – this time with some real speed – enough that I wondered if any of the weary people waiting for flights popped up with excitement expecting to see the film crew chasing us J

“Hello.  You have made it in time, but we have oversold the flight.  We do not have seats for you.  You will not make this flight.”  Well that’s kind of cool – none of us have spent time in Montreal.

“Some of the passengers assigned seats have not checked in.  If they do not arrive we will give you their seats”

“Come with us – we have seats for you.”

“I’m sorry Miss – you both have tickets for seat 13B – could you please come with me?”  (not sure I wanted lucky row 13 anyway and I’m sure the 200 passengers staring at me with eyes that scream HURRY UP are really appreciated the nice smile I’m giving them).

Maybe I’m over-tired but as I sit here cramped on the ‘less than ideal seat’ I cannot help but smile.  Today was an amazing journey.  I met new people,  (such as the ex-convict who wants to see Vancouver but can’t cross the boarder but was happy to share that his son is on a new path and just finished rehab) ,I saw the twinkling lights of New York flash on and off through a thick cloud cover and I watched the sun set over a Montreal skyline from thousands of feet in the air.  I got to connect with colleagues and have rich discussions about education and life in general.  I also got the gift I so often ask for – more time.  I had time to people watch, time to wonder about the stories behind those with peculiar outfits, time to read, time to sleep and time to write.

Today has been an Amazing Race – an incredible journey full of roadblocks, U-turns and detours.    When it comes to time, we are clearly the last to arrive, but when it comes to relationships, human behaviour and spirit (which really is the best part of the show anyway), I have to say, I am so glad I got to be part of this team. We might not be leaving with a million dollars (or even my luggage for that matter), but we have returned home strengthened, charged with new ideas, and united as a team that played the game well, blending creativity, intelligence, problem solving skills, patience and humour.  And as long as I don’t kill the passenger beside we who is chomping Swedish berries with his mouth open, this will turn out to be an Amazing Race I won’t soon forget.


Two Exciting Education Events for 2014

Happy New Year!  There’s something about January that I love.  Whether or not we keep our resolutions, the simple act of stopping to reflect on the year behind us and look at the new year with optimism gives us a sense of renewal and hope.  It also gives us direction for where we are headed.  “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”  ― Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist

This coming year I am really looking forward to two exciting education events!  I am hopeful that you will join us in one or both!

1)  The first of the two events, is Make BC Smile – an initiative that students in my leadership class created.  Make BC Smile will take place in BC from Monday May 26th – Friday May 30th.  The premise is simple – have students engage in projects that spread kindness and help make people in BC stop and smile.  What I love about this project is how it came to be.  In October, I showed my leadership class a video I had found on Twitter, created by Massoud Adibpour.  He is a university student in Washington DC who decided to make it his mission to make DC smile.  He got some friends together and began the ‘Honk if You Love Someone Campaign‘.   My intention was simplistic.  I thought I would show the video to my students, and then we would repeat the idea by creating positive signs to hold on Lougheed Highway in Maple Ridge for one morning.  What happened next was pretty cool.  Local media learned of our project because passerby’s phoned the media and asked them to cover it.  The Province newspaper wrote ‘Happy Haney students spread the love with streetside rally‘. The secretaries at our school fielded multiple calls from drivers who wanted to thank the students for making their day.  One lady broke down in tears in the Starbucks line up sharing the impact the simple messages had that particular day.   As an educator, I LOVE the impact this day had on our students.  A couple of days later, one of my students, Caroline, approached me and asked if I had a plan for our leadership class the following week.  I asked why.  She told me she needed 20 minutes of the class.  She had taken it upon herself to contact Massoud Adibpour in Washington DC to let him know that we had repeated his project and she had made arrangements for him to join us via Skype to share ideas for positive projects in our communities!   On the Monday, during the Skype conversation, two other leadership students, Jenna & Miranda, thought of a new idea.  As members of the Maple Ridge District Student Advisory Council, they were in search of a motivational speaker for May for a grade 6-7 leadership conference.  What if Massoud & his girlfriend Bonnie could be the speakers? What if the leadership conference could include a district wide ‘Honk if you Love Someone’ campaign with grade 6-12 students lining the streets from East to West through Pitt Meadows & Maple Ridge?  As grade 12 students at Thomas Haney (a self directed school), they know how to negotiate, take initiative, and advocate for what they want.  So what did they do?  They did their research, looked up flights, contacted Massoud & Bonnie and convinced them not only to volunteer their time to come to Vancouver, but also to extend their stay for a week!  They then set up a meeting with our superintendent’s office to confirm funding.  This ALL happened before they shared the idea with me.  I told them I loved it – I just had one question…. where would they stay?   They smiled and said “at your house!”.  (Which our family is excited about)  I love how they have created this all on their own!  Their goal is to share their enthusiasm with others across the province.  For the week of May 26-30th the Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows School District will work together spreading random acts of kindness throughout the community in an effort to ‘Make BC Smile’.  We would LOVE to have schools around the province join us.  If you would like to participate, please comment below and our students will be in touch and showcase your initiative on  I know it will be an exciting week.  I’m smiling already!

2) The second event I’m looking forward to is a bit of a dream come true.  For those of you that know me well, you know I LOVE education and I LOVE planning events.  Well, this year, when a team of educators from our school travelled to Edmonton for the annual CCSDL Conference (Canadian Coalition of Self Directed Learning), we found out that the city scheduled to host the conference next year had to back out.  My principal Sean Nosek and I had already been speaking about planning an exciting pro-d event in Vancouver, so we decided to take the plunge and offer up our school as the next host school for this national teaching conference.  However, in talking with our teachers, we realized we have all reached a place where our expectations for Pro-D are changing.  We don’t want to be ‘talked-to’ – we want to participate.  We want to leave the conference inspired, and full of new ideas. We realized we crave something different – something new – something that shakes up education.  We want to plan a conference that we would like to attend… a conference that challenges us to be better educators and inspires us to try new ideas.  A conference that dares to disrupt education.

After a couple months of preliminary planning our ideas are starting to take shape.  Here’s what I can tell you so far….  DisruptED Vancouver will take place over three days, October 23 – 25th 2014.  The Thursday will take place at Thomas Haney Secondary and the Friday / Saturday will take place at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

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So what is DisruptED?  Our ideas are unfolding but here’s a glimpse into what we hope to create….

DisruptED is different.  It is not for those who want the future to look the same as today.  It is not for those who doubt our education system and what it can become.  DisruptED is for those who believe in the future of education and believe that we have a responsibility to create the best system we possibly can. It’s for those who want every student to have an education that is rich and meaningful.  It’s for those who are willing to challenge assumptions that hold us back and take bold steps to move education forward.

DisruptED promises to be a powerful 3 day conference in Vancouver, BC where great minds in education will gather together to share ideas that are innovative, promising, creative, hopeful and inspiring. DisruptED invites the rogues, the rule breakers, the ones interested in pushing the limits to step forward.   We will provide an opportunity for individuals and groups to come together, to share stories and ideas, united in our belief that beautiful things can happen when we disrupt the status quo.

And we could not promote this idea without living it.  DisruptED will NOT be a status quo conference.  Expect to participate.  Expect to create.  Expect to learn. Expect to teach.  Expect to think.  Expect to laugh.  Expect to experience the beauty of Vancouver as you join in walking conversations on Vancouver’s seawall, engage in rich dialogue in one of the city’s casual cafes, or use what you’ve learned to compete in the DisruptED Vancouver Amazing Race.  Expect to leave motivated, inspired, connected and ready to shake up education.

It’s time to DisruptED. 

I hope that you will consider joining us!  Our call for presenters will open this spring and our website will be announced later this month.   If you would like to join our mailing list please comment below.  For more information you can also contact us via email at or

As I look ahead to 2014, I do so with excitement and gratitude.  I cannot wait to join with students to Make BC Smile and connect with educators to DisruptED!