I have spent three of the last four weeks in Mexico. On our last day here in the sun, I realize that this is likely the first and last time (until possibly retirement) where I will have the opportunity to relax this much mid-year. For the first week, I was invited to participate in We Move Forward – an amazing Wellness Retreat for Women in Isla Mujeres where I presented on the Science of Happiness and Impact of Giving. After four days back at work I was packing again and heading to San Jose del Cabo for Spring Break with friends and family for two weeks in the sun. Continue reading
Maybe I’m overly optimistic. Seventeen years in, and somehow I have not yet found the answer for surviving September. Like many parents and teachers, the start of the school year is often the time to set resolutions and goals for the year. As summer closes, each year, my well rested mind somehow knows that ‘this year will be different’. With good intention, I convince myself that THIS will be the year…. the year that I plan meals in advance, the year that I prep lunch foods on Sunday, the year that I wake up refreshed, gracefully finding a work / life balance, the year that I read more, spend more time outside Continue reading
There are certain occupations that tug at our heart strings. We naturally associate warm feelings with kind professions such as the florist, the massage therapist, and the kindergarten teacher. We expect to like them. Contrarily, other professions seem to arouse fear or anxiety just buy stating their title: the cop, the auditor, Continue reading
- I want them to develop a love for learning where childlike wonder develops into an inquisitive nature. Where they are just as excited to raise their hand in grade 12 as they are in kindergarten.
- I want them to understand how they learn so they can continue to apply their skills to new content throughout life.
- I want them to become socially responsible citizens who care deeply about others and take the time to know people’s stories.
- I want them to have rich experiences in and out of the classroom where they connect with community, explore a vast array of topics, and start to discover their own passions.
- I want them to play. I want them to feel safe enough to take risks and embrace their creative spirit.
- I want them to find balance with skills in technological literacy for a fast paced world yet equal skill in self reflection, mindfulness and comfort in silence.
- I want them to be loved, appreciated and understood. I want them to experience synergy and contagious energy that develops when they truly connect with others.
- And more than anything I want them to always be happy. I want them to understand that happiness does not come from getting what they want, but rather from giving to others, expressing gratitude, being active and reflecting on who they are becoming.
- I want them to learn with passionate educators who believe in educating the mind as well as the heart. This video, which was beautifully created for the Heart Mind 2013 Conference captures this perfectly. http://www.educatingtheheart.org
“Luck is when opportunity knocks, and you answer.” Author Unknown
Last night as I was cleaning the kitchen a commercial aired on TV advertising Lotto 649. As the thought of purchasing a ticket ran through my mind, I stopped and asked why. Why would I want to win the lottery? What would I do if I won? When you ask others what they would do if they won the lottery, many people talk about living their dream, spending their time and money as they wish. Dreams often include travel, moving to a new home, helping family, changing or altering careers, spending time with loved ones, and volunteering for meaningful causes. Thanks to a professor at the University of Victoria, I now think differently about the lottery.
In 2009, I travelled to U-Vic for the Fresh Minds Symposium: a day showcasing university life for bright young minds. Grade nine students had the opportunity to attend lectures on a variety of topics. Unfortunately I do not remember the name of the professor I had the pleasure of listening to, but I do remember his story. He started his lecture with a story about his personal background. He shared with the students that he had only been at U-Vic for a couple of years. Prior to that he lived in the Prairies with his family. He was working full-time, managing his career and family commitments while feeling overwhelmed. On his way home from work he decided to stop and buy a lottery ticket. He dreamed of the day he could win the lottery and change his life. He even decided to make a plan, asking himself what he would do if he won. He had always loved Victoria and so he decided he would move there. He had always wanted to do research and teach so he knew that even if he won millions, he would love to work for a local university once settling into Victoria. With a plan in place he waited with anticipation, hoping he could escape his current reality and live the life he dreamed of. Unfortunately he did not win. However, he learned some lessons from the lottery. He realized he was leaving his life to chance, and that he had the power to create the life he wanted even without winning millions. Of course he had to take some risks that could be avoided with a million dollar cheque, yet he used his experience as the motivation to start living the life he wanted. He applied to the University and within a couple of years he was able to achieve his goal of landing a job as a professor in Victoria.
When the commercial aired last night, I stopped to think: Why would I buy a ticket? What would I do if I won? Who could I help? How could I best spend my time? Where would I work? Where would my family live? When I answer these questions I recognize that I have the opportunity to pursue many of these dreams now, rather than leaving them to chance. My husband Shawn and I spent some time answering these questions. While we may not be able to make drastic changes to our lives without the lottery funds, we can use this experience to guide us in the right direction. When we have a big decision to make, we can stop and ask which solution aligns best with our dream. What do we want to learn? Where do we want to live? How can we best give back? Do we really need a lottery ticket to make these changes?
So… while I wish you the absolute best of luck winning the lottery, I encourage you to stop and ask yourself ‘why’ before you purchase another ticket. What are your really hoping for? What changes do you want to make? Are your dreams really best left to chance? Or can you make small changes today to live the life you really want. If we can learn lessons from the lottery to make positive change, then really we have already won.
“Peace: It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
I am not a quiet person. I like to talk. I like to laugh. Those who know me well describe me as an extrovert. And yet, the older I get, I wonder if that’s really true. I find that as I get older, the more I rely on my inner voice and the more I learn to appreciate silence. When I need to make a big decision I certainly like to talk to others, but ultimately I find I am able to find answers when I am quiet. When I take time to consciously stop and reflect, things become clear. Times like spring break, Christmas break and summer provide natural opportunities to read, reflect, and think. I appreciate these quiet moments and recognize I need to schedule them into my day when life is operating at the regular pace.
This spring break, I am on vacation with my family in San Jose del Cabo. As I write this blog, I can hear the waves from the Sea of Cortez crashing against the shore. They sound like thunder yet soothe the soul and remind me of the power of the universe. At the shore, the waves are giant as they crash against the sand, yet further out in the distance, the sea appears calm. At the surface, the water churns with emotion, and yet, deep within, a place of calm exists. Listening to the waves, I can’t help but recognize a parallelism that exists between the sea and children. Like the sea, children are full of emotion. The emotions of children are often unpredictable, can change in a moment, and can range from pure jubilation to stormy seas in a matter of moments. Authentic emotions roll freely from children, as they have not yet learned to hide emotion. As parents and educators, we face the challenge of helping children return to a calm place while managing our own emotions at the same time.
When I think about the teens I have worked with as an educator, I recognize that so many of them are also like the crashing waves. They have highs, lows, and a range of emotions that surface from positive and negative stressors. It seems more and more common to work with children who struggle with depression, anxiety, or difficulty managing the stress in their lives. As I start to recognize the power of silence, I wonder if we are allowing our children to grow up with enough down time built into their days. Do we help kids find the calm that exists within them? As parents I wonder if we are teaching our kids to appreciate silence or have we created negative associations with quiet time by using strategies such as ‘time out’?
As a parent, there is nothing I want more than my children to grow up ‘happy’. When I say I want my children to be happy, that does not mean that I want to give in to their every wish and surround them with material items. Instead, I want to help them grow up with the habits that truly create happiness. The science of happiness studies the habits of truly happy people. These habits include positive thinking, altruism, exercise, gratitude, connection to others, relaxation, reflection and stress management. So I stop and ask… how many of these habits do we teach to our children? As a parent, I can think of ways I teach my children to think positively, give to others, exercise, connect and show appreciation; but I’m not sure I have put as much effort into teaching my boys how to relax, reflect and manage stress. When I think of our schools, I see the same pattern. Schools today seem busier than when we were kids. Emphasis on cooperative learning and the integration of technology has a positive impact but also adds a new level of connection. This is an exciting time, and learning today is an incredibly rich process. As classrooms become more dynamic, do we need to be consciously aware of the quiet time we schedule into the day? Should we ask ourselves how we are teaching our students to relax, reflect and manage their stress? Kids today grow up with high tech toys, the internet at their fingertips and activity filled schedules. Do we allow for introverted children to shine? Do we teach extroverts the power of silence? Many schools have implemented MindUP training to help children develop mindfulness but unfortunately it seems to be a program of choice based on the teacher rather than a competency that children of all ages are working towards.
During spring break I am able to spend fun filled days with my kids from morning until evening. Our days are full of swimming, beach walks, activities, games, time with friends, and constant conversation. Our kids have a rich and wonderful life. However, we don’t seem to have much down time built into the day. Even ‘down time’ often involves the TV or a high tech toy.
The more I read about wellness and happiness, the more I recognize the importance of silence in our daily routines. Silence can take many forms (meditation, mindfulness, yoga, reflection, journaling, etc). Just last night I watched a video clip where Marci Shimoff speaks about happiness and how it was managed in indigenous cultures. When someone was feeling depressed, they would visit the Medicine Man or Shaman. He would ask four questions:
When did you stop moving?
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop telling others your story?
When did you stop having time for silence everyday?
Just last week, my two boys had an argument. As I was getting ready for school my youngest son, age 5, was at my leg crying. He had been first to the remote control yet his brother, age 8, came along and took the remote to turn the TV to his chosen show. Through tears, Cole said “I was watching the Black Show and Jaden changed the channel and the Black Show is my favourite!” I asked Jaden why he had changed the channel, only to discover that Jaden had taken the remote because Cole had not turned the TV on. His favourite show, The Black Show, meant he was holding the remote and staring at the black screen. In the moment this seemed cute and funny. Today, reflecting on life at a busy pace I wonder if I missed a moment for Cole to enjoy the silence.
Like the crashing waves, we have emotion that rolls from us throughout the day, yet like the sea, a place exists within us where we are calm. How can we teach our children to find the calm beneath the waves? When spring break concludes and we return to the hectic pace of regular life, I hope to make moments of silence a routine for my children and I. And next time my five year old grips the remote and asks if he can watch the Black Show, the answer will be a definite yes.
Happy Spring Break!
Imagine you are on an airplane, mid-flight, and you strike up a conversation with the passenger beside you. Together you start comparing high school as you know it from your hometown. If you are from BC, you would likely share some personal experience while outlining the basic framework: 30 students per classroom, 1 teacher per room, different curriculum for each course, 4 classes per day, 5 days of school per week, 8 courses per year, bells to dictate start and end times, etc. Although your description may include some variations on school culture and unique attributes, the basic learning environment would likely sound similar regardless of who was telling the story…unless you are from Thomas Haney!
Six weeks ago I began a new position as Vice Principal at Thomas Haney Secondary. I have held off blogging about the school until now as I wanted to have time to experience the culture and understand the model before sharing it publicly. Although I am certainly not an expert, I feel confident describing what makes Thomas Haney so incredibly unique!
Thomas Haney is part of the Canadian Coalition for Self Directed Learning. Following a unique model, each student is on a personalized learning program where they have the ability to explore their passions and focus on their strengths as they work towards graduation. Students develop competencies necessary for life after graduation including communication skills, planning, an understanding of their learning style, organization, negotiation and technological literacy skills.
When students begin grade eight, they become part of a multi-grade Teacher Advisory (TA) Group. Essentially, this becomes their home base or family at school. TA meets at the start and end of each day. Students stay with the same teacher for TA throughout their five years of high school. This allows for very strong relationships between teachers and students, and allows parents to have a key contact at the school for communicating about their child. The teacher advisor is in frequent communication with the other teachers to stay informed of the progress the students in TA are making in their coursework.
Each day, students use their planner to set their learning goals for the day. They use the morning TA time to determine what they are going to work on, where they will be working, and what their weekly goals are. The teacher advisor signs off on the plan after discussing it with the students.
Each course at Thomas Haney is divided into twenty learning guides. As students complete learning guides, they track their progress in their planner to communicate with their TA and their parents. Teachers from each course will pace the course and communicate with students about which learning guide they should be working on. The school is not self paced, though the structure and learning is self-directed so that the students have opportunities to decide what to work on when, and how to demonstrate their learning. This often leads to creative explorations where students follow their passions and engage in projects that meet the learning outcomes of multiple courses at the same time.
As students progress through the grades, their schedules allow them more flexibility, and more control over their own learning. In grade eight, all students are in set classes all day. Each of the eight set classes meet three times per week. Many choose to participate in our grade eight laptop pod where every student has a laptop with the necessary resources instead of a bag full of textbooks. On Mondays, grade eight’s join all other grades in a one hour ‘Y’ block where students choose where to work and what to work on.
In grade nine, each course meets two times per week instead of three. The remaining blocks become work blocks, where students plan their own day and choose their work areas. Each department has a ‘Great Hall’ where students can choose to work. Teachers also have flexible schedules with a mix of set classes or time in the great halls supporting learning. In grades ten through twelve, most courses meet for one set class per week with the expectation that the student attend the great hall at least two times per week to work on that particular course.
What is the result? Well, here are some of my first impressions. First of all, the teachers have an increased amount of time to collaborate as they are often in shared work spaces that lend themselves to natural collaboration. Next, the relationship between students and teachers is very strong. As you walk through the great halls you see teachers sitting next to students working one on one or in small groups, allowing for individual attention and meaningful dialogue.
What surprised me most, is how able the students are at handling the increased responsibility. Almost all students rise to the challenge and as a result, there are very few behaviour issues. As you walk through the school you see students from all grades working in the same areas, helping one another, and working with the teachers to guide their learning. While working on curriculum, students are also developing competencies that range from time management to creativity. As an example, just last week, two students who had never worked together before began talking and decided to create this amazing spoken poem about social justice. They will share it live at the upcoming Maple Ridge Social Justice conference. They will also share this with their Socials and English teachers to see what learning outcomes this project meets.
The open structure and flexible scheduling also lends itself nicely to unique school events during the day such as the recent ‘Poetry Slam’ contest pictured here that took place in our English Great Hall. Next week for spirit week, all students dress in colours representing their TA’s, and participate in a variety of events culminating with the annual Gym Riot where the colours compete in friendly competition.
Finally, what I have recognized in my short time here, is that the staff and students of Thomas Haney absolutely love their school. They are incredibly proud of the unique model, and appreciate learning in a way that models what we see in the changing workplace. Graduates leave feeling ready to embrace the world, with the competencies necessary to navigate their next adventure in life. And, if that next adventure finds them on a flight, I can assure you they will have lots to talk about when they spark up a conversation addressing what high school is like in their hometown.