Thanks Mom. I’m Learning From You.

Thanks Mom. I’m Learning From You.

I have a pretty awesome mom.  I spent the first 20 years of life pretending to be wildly independent, forming my own identity.  I spent the next 20 years slowly realizing we have a bit in common.  I’ve spent the last three years openly admitting I am what I like to call “a toned down version of my mother.”  For those that know my mom, you will likely agree: there isn’t a person out there with wilder ideas, a more creative spirit or a bigger heart.

Growing up I had no idea what I wanted to be.  I just knew what I did not want to be.  My mom was an elementary school principal, and since I was on my own quest of independence, I knew I would be anything but that.  At first I was convinced I would be an accountant.  I loved math so much that Continue reading

Advertisements
Goodbye Guacamole: Finding Balance in the Crazy World of Education

Goodbye Guacamole: Finding Balance in the Crazy World of Education

12814244_10156710943540134_2235263687946280847_n.jpgI 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

From OM to OMG!

From OM to OMG!

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

I’m Not THAT Principal: Re-Imagine the Role

I’m Not THAT Principal: Re-Imagine the Role

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

The Purpose of Education

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”  
Aristotle
 happiness36
Sometimes when we talk about education we lose scope of what matters.  Political campaigns and media headlines emphasize numbers: school closures, class sizes, rising costs and grad rates.  Numbers give us quick answers, and an easy way to compare schools to one another. While math was definitely my favourite subject growing up, I’m not a fan of numbers when it comes to measuring schools.  Of course class sizes, dollars spent and high marks are important, but these pieces of data pale in comparison to what really matters in education.
Let’s take your own school experience as an example.  Take a second to think back to your school days.   Do you recall the number of students in each course, the cost of your annual school fees or the grade point average of your graduating class?  I’m suspecting those are hard facts to remember.  If this is the case, why do we so often turn to quantitative measures when we set school goals or measure a school’s performance?  Quantitative data is easy to measure but I question whether it should be the goal.  When we focus on what really matters in life, we create environments where kids feel safe, supported, connected, inspired, and excited to learn.
What happens if I change the questions about your education.  This time,  what if I ask you to  tell me the name of your favourite teacher, the best class you ever took or the connections you made with others.  I bet these questions are much easier to answer.  When I look back I remember my grade 10 science teacher Mr. Sandy Hill.  Our class always looked forward to the weeks when science would fall in the last block on Friday, as those blocks were dedicated to lessons in life.  He taught us that ‘hallway’ was the most important subject, and used the power of story to teach us valuable lessons about friendship, compassion, and life in general.  In grade 12,  I met my favourite teacher of all, Mr. Rich Chambers.  And here’s the irony – I hated the subject he taught.  Yet I signed up for Comparative Civilizations so I could hear his stories, and experience what it was like to be in his class.   Every morning he greeted each of us at the door with a handshake.  He brought humour and energy to every class.  He had high expectations and he cared deeply about each and every student.  Attendance wasn’t something he had to worry about as a teacher as his class was so exciting that no one wanted to miss it.
Personally, I will never forget a particular April morning in my grade 12 year.  I had a terrible fight with my parents and I had been crying most the night.  When I woke up my eyes were puffy so I wore my sunglasses to school.  Mr. Chambers was at the door as usual, waiting to greet each student.  As he shook my hand he exclaimed “hey – nice shades!”.  I lifted my glasses so he could see my swollen eyes.  He gave me a quick pat on the shoulder and told me we would chat soon.  What happened next was perhaps the best ‘teacher education’ I have received.  He did not single me out or draw any attention to my bad day.  Instead, he started the class by saying today was the day we were going to have mini conferences with him in the hall to talk about our progress.  He put a video on relating to the curriculum and began to call each student out for individual meetings.  After two or three students, it was my turn, and he was able to discreetly talk to me about what was going on in my life outside school.  I will never forget that moment where he seamlessly transitioned his lesson to discreetly help me though a difficult time.  Teachers like Sandy Hill and Rich Chambers truly understand that the most valuable lessons we learn in school are lessons in life.
 Now that I’m a parent I think about what I want for my own children.  Here’s what I want their school experience to be like:
  • 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
As an educator, I want this for my children and for your children.  Do I also want them to get good grades?   Of course I do.  I’d just rather we focus on what matters most.  When we create learning environments where our children can thrive, the numbers will become a by-product of more meaningful and significant goals.

Lessons from the Lottery

“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.

 

 

 

Waves of Emotion: Helping Children Recognize the Power of Silence

“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.”

Author unknown

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.

imageThis 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.

imageDuring 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!