The Moral Imperative

Contemplation

The notion of a moral imperative to guide action is not a new concept. For German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), human understanding of pure reason was the basis for a moral code defining subsequent action. Long before that, holy books from world religions were proposing a course of action focussed on the moral integrity of leaders who sacrificed for the betterment of others. Yet, the story of those consumed by greed and the quest for power is equally pervasive. John Dashwood’s promise to his dying father to take care of his stepmother and half-sisters, in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811) is quickly replaced by greed acceptable according to English law of the time. Mr. Potter in the Frank Capra movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” released in 1946, demonstrates a more intense avarice and quest for power. Charles Dickens sent us all clear message on who we should be in his 1843 publication of A Christmas Carol. Theodore “Dr. Seuss, Giesel gave us a reminder in the 1957 publication of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Ron Howard and Jim Carrey hammered the message home in the film version released in 2000. We know better but we’re not doing better.

Over the past week, we have watched in awe as political leaders have demonstrated a popular culture apparently bereft of morals and ethics. We sat riveted to the news and witnessed example after example of people spouting the rhetoric of a moral purpose who in fact were clinging to the relics of power and privilege. It brought me right back to the 1989 when I was riveted to the television watching Chinese tanks driving over pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square. Every social justice bone in my body believed that we were at a turning point. The Amnesty International quest to shine a light and expose injustice was playing out. We, as a collective society, would no longer be able to turn away and feign unawareness. Now people would be ready to start the work of creating a just society with a foundation of respect for human rights. I realized this was not the case when China did not even lose most favoured trading status with the United States. We are at another important point in our history. We are witnessing people ignoring COVID-19 rules designed to stop the spread of a global pandemic, perpetuating privilege, undermining the democratic process, ignoring legal obligations and fair process, and turning away from promises to family and friends. Are we looking at the fall of an empire, a failed experiment in democracy, or the possibility of reaching out to grasp the moral imperative required to create a socially just world?

I was privileged to be teaching in a Grade 6 classroom the day after U.S Congress was stormed and desecrated.  For the first hour of the day, the questions and perceptions of 11-year-old students directed the learning.  These kids wanted to talk about politics, democracy, communism, racism, anti-racism, slavery, the Civil War in the United States, Hitler’s legacy of neo-Nazis, Black Lives Matter, environmental practices, the oil and gas industry, the differences between the perception of guns in Canada and the United States, and the impact of Trump’s words.  Lots of big ideas.  When an idea began to resonate, a hand shot into the air or tentatively went up.  These kids represented what we need on a global scale.  A willingness to think.  A willingness to consider possibilities.  A willingness to think in terms of fairness and social justice.  For the kids in this room, there was no question that logical consequences are in order for poor choices.

A moral code has already been defined. Ethical requirements are articulated. Social justice has been defined and written down. The issue is how we as individuals live our lives that acknowledges a moral imperative. Individuals in leadership positions should be held to a higher standard. Trump has provided the most recent example of the power of words by a person in a leadership position to disenfranchise, to disrespect, to undermine, and to invoke violence and lawlessness of those with power, privilege and entitlement. However, it is not just people in leadership positions who are required to hold themselves to account.

As individuals, we need be hold ourselves to account for our behaviour and how we live or disregard our own moral code. I used to equate Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs with the development of morals and ethics. My assumption was that self-actualization required moral and ethical development. It required attention only after basic requirements for food, safety, love and belonging, and esteem were in place. Now I think that the metaphor of weaving better describes our moral and ethical development. The warp threads are the foundational components of who we are, and the weft threads are the experiences. It is a particularly apt metaphor for me because I use to love to weave. I just wasn’t that good at it. I would pull the weft thread tighter and tighter. The result was a piece of weaving that got narrower and narrower until someone intervened to help me loosen the threads and allow the warp threads to assume their parallel structure. The quality of the fabric was a reflection of those stationary threads and the constantly moving thread. There are many examples of people who begin their lives with a strong sense of integrity that is eroded over time.

For those of you who spend a lot of time with children, you will have noticed the quest for fairness and logical consequences for poor choices. As a principal who spends a lot of time outside on the playground with kids, there is little reticence of even the youngest students to let me know who is not playing fair, who I need to talk to, who I need time-out, or whose parents I need to phone. In conversations with students about poor choices they have made, invariably the harshest consequences come from the students. The question “How do you think that made … feel?” frequently prompts tears. Empathy is alive and well on our elementary playgrounds. As is a willingness to accept responsibility for choices.

The ability to empathize seems to dissolve into the atmosphere along with curiosity as students move through the system.  For some of us, we may be our own best whipping posts, or have reflective practices built into our lives that keep us honest.  For others, there is a quest to step away from assuming responsibility for our own poor choices.  This seems to be most common when a polarized stance is adopted.  Us and them.  An unwillingness or inability to consider another stance or position or feelings. 

To keep ourselves open to learning, we need to value pluralism and the importance of diverse voices and perspectives. It is possible to have a strong identity with commonalities and still maintain different culture or values or beliefs. As a Canadian, I am lucky to live with people from many different places, spaces, and experiences. However, that privilege brings with it a responsibility to listen and learn from the experiences of other Canadians and question a system where some voices are amplified, and others are silenced. My study of history, political science, and my father taught me to articulate my ideas loud and proud. Time, my friends and family taught me that some of my earlier conclusions and strongly articulated ideas were just wrong. It happens. Ideas change if minds are open. If you are ever wondering if you are straying from your moral compass and acting with integrity, and don’t have someone who will tell you, find a kid in elementary school. They will have no difficulty putting you back on track. If we expect moral integrity from others, we need to live it ourselves.

Pining for Tradition

No Chipper Event at Kits Beach 2021

It makes sense that in light of all of the cancellations of events throughout the city, that the tree chipping events down at Kits Beach would also be cancelled during COVID.  But I didn’t want it to be.  We have so many happy memories of chipper events with kids, hot chocolate and even roasted wieners.  When my husband reported that the event was going ahead, I too wanted to believe.  He had checked on the internet.  It must be so.  Social distancing could be possible. 

Off we went with our exceptionally dry, consequently very light tree.  Like many other Vancouverites, our tree went up the earliest date ever.  The lights, the decorations in trees outside as well as inside were the things we could control this year.  It was imperative to grab some festive spirit. 

Off we embarked in the pouring rain, each of us with one end of the tree to participate in the annual Lion’s Club fundraising event.  We would ensure muddy paths would be covered in fresh chips of fragrant Christmas trees.  There were a few clues, it was not to be.  We were the only people carrying a tree.  There was no sound of a chipper echoing through the neighbourhood. 

The question of what to do with a dried-out tree, brought both of us to the exact same point in time.  The first Christmas that we celebrated together.  It was Spring and the discarded Christmas tree was still on the smaller of the decks in Brad’s party apartment that he shared with Dave.  This was the apartment where the residual of a good party was an eviction notice.  These were the years that we believed that the West End should be reserved for those people anxious to celebrate what life had to offer in downtown Vancouver. 

My very practical suggestion was to put one garbage bag over the top of the tree and one over the bottom so we wouldn’t drop needles in the hallway en route to the garbage bin.  These were the days before the green bin pick up.  Brad had other ideas.  His love for Science and Math and belief in his physical prowess produced a far more expedient option.  He could simply pick up the tree and throw it like a javelin towards the garbage bin in the back lane.  His strength and the momentum from the mass of the tree would allow it to sail to the garbage bin.  His story is that a breeze picked up and thwarted his plan.  After all it made it past MOST of the tiered balconies.  However, the thump on that last balcony was followed by the frantic sliding door being thrown open.  We both sunk down along with our backs to the wall and didn’t breathe.  Mission completed. 

Brad’s suggestion yesterday was to hold the tree high in the air and act like we were part of the end of 2020 celebratory parade.  Instead, we carried the tree back home to contemplate what to do with the dried-out Christmas tree.  Fortunately for the neighbours, we are older, wiser, and living on the ground floor.

Treading Gently in 2021

Stanley Park path from Prospect Point

The process of writing New Year’s Resolutions has a different feeling this year.  Yet, in honour of my mother, who was always striving for better, I feel compelled to maintain the tradition.  Although we have said good riddance to 2020, we are still left with the continued fallout of the global pandemic.  That fallout seems to be largely fear based.  Some of the fear is related directly to COVID-19.  Some of the fears have been triggered by repercussions of sickness, job loss and various levels of quarantine or other “safety” measures.  Some pre-existing fears have been magnified.  The reactions are pervasive, diverse and sometimes quite intense.  They cross ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, and politics. 

In this context, we have no idea of the stresses and feelings evoked by this pandemic.  We are blatantly aware that some jobs are more prone to the daily stress.  However, we don’t know the path that others are walking.  It seems that the only New Year’s Resolution that matter in 2021 is: Tread gently.

Right now, we don’t know what people are dealing with.  We do know that COVID and other illnesses, death (related or unrelated to COVID), job loss or changes, underemployment, family breakdown, isolation or constant togetherness, and boredom are impacting the mental and physical health of the people we meet each day and ourselves.  So has not being able to come together for joyful celebrations of the holiday season, engagements, marriages, and the closure of memorial services. We also know that what people show us often does not reveal how things are going for them.  How vulnerable that people allow themselves to be is determined by several factors.  It could be trust in the relationship or a desire to cope with the unimaginable by distancing.  People do what they need to do. 

Never before have we seen the immediate need for empathy.  It is not easy to consider things from another perspective, particularly when faced with aggressiveness or unkindness.  Sometimes it may mean just taking a step back.  That may be all you have in reserve at that given time.  The pervasive call for kindness is not just a platitude.  It is the only positive way to navigate through this difficult terrain.  I have been the recipient of many kindnesses from colleagues, my school community, family and friends during this pandemic.  It is often the determining factor of a “survival mode” or a joyful day. 

The call to Tread Gently also directly pertains to how we treat ourselves.  There continues to be a need to reflect on our actions and apologize for reactions, as required to maintain relationships.  However, I think we also need to give ourselves a break.  Now is not the time to reprimand ourselves up for what we haven’t done.  Maybe a binge watch of Netflix is the best we can do on some evenings.  Or maybe going to bed at 8:30 pm is the answer if we’re that tired.  Maybe our body is telling us we need to attend to go for a walk or stretch.  Maybe the purchase of that very expensive coffee machine is worth it, if it results in joy with that first morning sip. 

How we interact with each other and how we treat ourselves, matters now more than even.  Seemingly small actions have a big impact, much like a tiny pebble causing multiple waves in a still lake. We could hold the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back or adds a ray of hope.  Tread gently.

Christmas Joy Trounces COVID Bah! Humbug!

Reading Corner Extraordinaire

“How 2020!” is the much uttered refrain these days.  It was the response when my oven door crumbled at my feet on Christmas Eve.  It was the response to the intrusion of all “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinners” (Dickens, p. 2) aspiring to snuff out carols calling for comfort and joy.  Yet in the face of an out and out battle with the global pandemic seemingly in the lead at times, Christmas Joy wins. 

My older sister has taken the hit for the family, in assuming the role of Florence Nightingale. There is no doubt that all health care workers deserve our utmost appreciation and praise during COVID. However I cannot imagine being a hospice nurse in Baytown, Texas. Hospice nurses at the best times warrant a special place in heaven. The patience and kindness of the nurses at St. Michael’s Hospice when my Mom was dying will remain with me always. However a whole new layer of responsibility is added by a global pandemic, on top of what is already a job that most of us couldn’t handle on the best of days. However, Debbie carries with her a sense of purpose and responsibility. And still sends me some of the best gifs of the day! Positively inspirational. I must admit though, I feel like I dodged a bullet when Santa gave the Nancy Nurse doll to Debbie, and the Baby First Step doll to me, on that Christmas of our formative years, long, long ago. Whew!

Another inspiration has been my lifelong friend, Alison. Both of us are lovers of Christmas and believers in spreading Christmas joy. I could only manage it on a very immediate level this year. In my immediate reach. Beyond that it has been a stretch. But Alison has held tight to her wings and the dream of Christmas jot, including the Christmas letter that reflects her love and pride in all of her family. And the gift that I never imagined I needed. Yet my crafty string of Christmas lights and lights to go in that special bottle of Lambrusco from my kids on Mother’s Day. Of course, it would make the perfect reading area! Who knew? Other than Alison. It gives me great faith in future possibilities. The pervasive image for this school principal at this point in time, is a phoenix rising out of the ashes.

What the COVID restrictions have done is slow down the pace of the holidays.  I will reach that goal of reading 100 books in 2020.  It is possible for me to sleep past 6 am.  I can find time to write everyday and exercise. There has been time to connect with friends, neighbours, and family members via phone calls, messenger, social media and en route.  From work.  From back in the burbs.  From university.  High school, And even elementary school.  To pause over losses of loved ones.  To celebrate happy memories we’ve been lucky to share. To do the present drop off.  To be there for people when it matters.  To connect in ways that in other times would have been unfathomable.  

The feeling of space and time also allows time for reflection and creativity to emerge. Like my colleagues, I started the holiday exhausted and in high gear at the same time. Yet with some down time, I am gobsmacked by the challenges thrown our way and our ability to support one another as we run the gauntlet of COVID-19. Colleagues have stepped up to support each other in a multitide of ways that will be remembered for a lifetime. My daughter and her partner are tucked away safely in Taiwan where they have COVID management under wraps. Our son is close by and his business continues to thrive despite COVID. Brad and I have rediscovered boardgames. Scrooge would be right in his assessment of COVID-19 as a Bah! Humbug! However, in the big picture, Christmas joy emerges victorious!

Shattering 2020

Everything bad in 2020 is directly attributed to COVID-19. Destructive forces conspire to make the year, the very worst it can possibly be. Unanticipated injustice is to be expected in 2020. And yet the response begins with shock and awe and plays out in a variety of very typical or perhaps universal responses.

The very best Christmas Eves of my life have included two things.  A heartfelt Christmas Eve Church service that crystallizes all of the very most important things in life.  And the Annual Diaz Christmas Eve Party complete with an abundance of love, joy, dancing, sangria and roast pork.  This year the only element within my control was the food, so I called my favourite Cuban chef, Armando Sr., for the trade secrets for the perfect roasted pork shoulder. 

My perfected sourdough bread was baked.  I grabbed the handle to open the oven and baste the pork.  The glass door of my very modern, high end oven crumbled around my feet.  Shock. Awe. Memories of the other shattering experiences in my life. 

My mother had finally saved enough money to replace her first car.  The white Maverick had served our family well.  She had learned to drive on it at 30.  She had taught my older sister and my cousin to drive on it, then averted an ulcer by sending me to driving school.  I had gotten to the point where the rattling from multiple areas of the car made it hard to hear the radio and certainly hard for me to exercise my personally perceived, cool persona.  The burgundy and white Sunbird changed all that.  Fresh off the lot, with the brand-new car smell and gleaming in the sun.  I convinced my mother that I was a very experienced driver – a year of driving under my belt in a mere two months!  Windows down.  Radio up.   I picked up Vikki.  Of course, we needed to cruise a little before we headed to the tennis courts.  We spotted our friend, Karen, and picked her up.  Vikki pulled the door closed and the back window shattered.  Completely gone.  Nothing to see.  When I finally got up the nerve to go home and tell my Mom, the response was not unanticipated.  TEARS.  Lots and lots of tears.

Fast forward many years to our house in the suburbs.  I wanted vertical blinds so I could hot tub in peace with my friends.  My very meticulous husband did what is common for me, but a rarity for him.  He dropped the screwdriver during the task.  It just nicked the bottom right corner of the sliding door but triggered a much bigger reaction.  I had time to call the kids to witness science in action, as the entire door shattered.  My husband was furious.

Christmas Eve 2020.  I’m not entirely certain what triggered the shattering of the oven door.  I’ve never heard or seen anything like it.  Did the screw in the handle come loose?  Did that happen when the door shattered, and I let it slam shut?  What is certain is there was shock.  There was awe.  Then there was uncontrollable laughter.  Of course, this would punctuate Christmas Eve and provide another illustration of how bad 2020 has really been.  My experience with shattering glass, parallels the universal experience with this pandemic.  Tears.  Anger.  Incredulousness.  And an overwhelming desire for the year to just end already! 

The Downside of Perfection

My father is a retired neurosurgeon who had a brilliant career.  He was a slave to his work, and he emerged from a little boy who could only speak German when he arrived in a Canada in 1948, to a doctor and published author with status, power, money and privilege.  His dream.

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Thomas Edison

I grew up with my father quoting Thomas Edison at every report card time and littering it through every summer visit and many long-distance phone calls.   Perfection was an imperative for him.  

Aspiring for perfection has some merit.  It can allow a vision to play out in your mind that can bring amazing results and the “big win”.  It can teach a commendable work ethic.  However, the flip side is it can also be debilitating.  My stepmother always recounts the story of sitting down to write letters to our mother in summer.  I would sit down and get my ideas down on the page and have absolutely no concern about spelling errors or a lack of punctuation.  When I first started blogging and she found a spelling error, she commented that I must be SO embarrassed.  I still wasn’t.  I learned that spell-checker doesn’t always work.  My sister, being plagued with being the first born, took hours completing her letter and would have holes in the page from eraser marks.  For her, it was a painful endeavour.

The part that Thomas Edison is missing in his well quoted words, is the part about the intrigue that comes with being fascinated by a question.  For Edison, I believe that this was intuitive knowledge.  He entertained the “What if” questions.  Inquiry was not an attempt to demonstrate genius.  Inquiry was letting his mind dance around the possibilities.  It takes time.  It takes patience.  It takes a belief that you can.  

In education, we frame this process in a myriad of ways:  Creative problem-solving; Deductive reasoning; divergent thinking; the inquiry process; task engagement; daydreaming.  The list goes on.  The recent rewrite of the curriculum in British Columbia comes close to describing what we are trying to accomplish in the education of our children.  We want students to graduate with the dispositions and skills to creatively engage and succeed in a world that is changing at unprecedented rates.  We want a high level of achievement that is measured in meaningful ways and inspires further investigation and maybe even genius.

In order for this to happen, we need to help people to change how they view children, adults, and themselves.  This requires a significant shift away from deficit models most of us have grown up with.  People are not defined by what they can’t do.  They are respected for their contributions and efforts are acknowledged.  Perfection is not the standard.  Growth is the expectation.  Lifelong learning is recaptured as a concept of identifying areas for growth and continuing to learn over the course of a lifetime.  

As a faculty associate at Simon Fraser University, I loved the conversations that proceeded the classroom observations with students in the process of completing their degree in Education.  They were all about what the student wanted me to look for to help them improve their practice.  I love this conversation with teachers.  The process is defined and for the learner.  I was involved in the revision of the Standards for principals and vice-principals in British Columbia.  It is the same process of supporting the learner to improve.  It presumes that the learner wants to improve.

I have enrolled Kindergarten to Grade 8 students in the public system.  I have taught summer school to secondary English Language Learners.  I’ve taught undergraduate students at the university level.  I’ve taught practicing teachers in Vancouver and in China.  I have worked as colleagues with teachers in three school districts and as a vice-principal / principal in the Vancouver School District.  I have attended professional development with educators from all over the world.  Generally, learners in all of these contexts want to improve.  The biggest block to learning is the belief that identifying growth areas will be used against you.  In contexts where a deficit model exists, perfection is the gold standard.  In contexts where a growth model exists, identifying areas for growth is a precursor to learning.

In British Columbia, the successful implementation of the revised curriculum will require the adoption of reporting practices that support learning.  Identifying areas of strength is only one side of the equation. Identifying areas which require more repetition and practice, and ways to support this learning, is the key to future development of the learner.  The aversion of many educators to letter grades or sliding scales comes out of the fact that it does not provide a complete picture that supports future learning.  Every reporting period should be a celebration of growth and an honest discussion of the plan for moving forward in the learning process.  

In the COVID-19 world, I have been involved in the question with my staff and colleagues of how to build communities when students are separated into cohorts.  My last attempt at a school wide assembly.  All students learning at school and at home were on the All-Students TEAM.  My intro worked.  Division 1 student acknowledgement of Indigenous lands from their classroom worked.  I shared my PowerPoint.  The embedded perfect clip by Canadian students illustrating the importance of Human Rights and setting the stage for Human Rights Day on December 10th.  I played it from the link in the PowerPoint.  Didn’t download it first or share on my screen.  Kids heard it but didn’t see it.  Some teachers copied the link and played it.  Epic fail.  Definitely a D grade if I was writing the report card on it.  I went on PA and apologised.  Shortly after, I received this email from a Grade 3 / 4 class:

“Division 7 is really proud of you for being brave and trying something new even if it didn’t work.”

So not actually an epic fail.  We are all a work in progress.  I met many of the criteria for success and I have learned what I need to do next time.  These kids jolted me out of the deficit model of thinking that I grew up with.  We have had many laughs on the playground about epic fails and what we learned.  I can provide lots of these stories.  For the Winter Show N’ Share, I pre-recorded everything so the hard work of students and the amazing production led by our amazing music teacher, Ms. Presley, and the slick presentation by Mr. Carruthers would be the central focus for our school community.  It was perfect enough!  For the January online assembly, I have a plan.

BC Literacy Council in Action

After many years of inactivity, the British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association was reinvigorated with new energy and revitalization last fall. We took off running. The executive council organized and facilitated three successful events and had a lot of fun doing it. You can read more about it on our website readingbc.ca. We also actively participated in social media @BCLiteracyCoun1. Then … COVID-19. It took the wind out of our sails during spring and summer, but we are back.

Graphic Novel Panel Discussion

The BCLCILA hosted it’s AGM this past week. Thanks to the interested members that attended the AGM and congratulations to our 2020-2021 Executive:

Past President – Mike Bowden

  • Also, a newly named director of the British Columbia Superintendent’s Association (BCSSA)
  • Recently published his 4th book – distributed by Strong Nations Publisher
  • Indigenous Leader and District Principal in Kamloops

President – Carrie Froese

  • Lifelong literacy and social justice advocate
  • Principal of David Livingstone Elementary in Vancouver
  • Blogger – Inquire2Empower;  Tweeter @CarrieFroese @BCLiteracyCoun1

Vice President – Linda Klassen

  • Principal of Coghlan Fundamental Elementary School in Langley
  • Champion of the arts and Indigenous ways of knowing

Treasurer – Garth Brooks

  • Lifelong International Literacy Association member and executive member Canadian National Special Interest Group of the ILA
  • Past National Coordinator of Project Love Letter Writing Project

Membership Secretary – Kelly Patrick

  • Librarian at Point Grey Secondary School in Vancouver
  • Author of The Kelman Sisters’ Cookbook

Secretary – Kathryn Self Ransdell

  • Orton Gillingham trained tutor and active PAC member of General Gordon Elementary in Vancouver

Our Provincial Coordinator – Karen Addie

  • Literacy Consultant with PhD in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology
  • Experienced teacher in public and private system, Vice principal in the public education system 

We are ready to pivot and explore other ways to involve and support literacy advocates in British Columbia in a COVID-19 world.  I have found Twitter to be an excellent source of professional development.  It has also been a way to develop relationships with people who have common interests.  One of my teachers at David Livingstone Elementary School, Karen Lirenman, wrote her book, Innovate with iPad – Lessons to Transform Learning, with a colleague, Karen Wideen, who she met and collaborated with online.  I recommend you follow @BCLiteracyCoun1 and executive members who are active on Twitter @CarrieFroese @k_addie @KlassenLinda @TheDuke_247 @tlslovebooks  Our ILA Provincial Coordinator, Karen Addie, is also exploring ways for us to engage and collaborate in virtual spaces.  We are planning to do some Twitter Chats this year to invite participation in the creation of our British Columbia Literacy Association Annotated Booklist 2020-2021 to support social emotional learning in schools.  This will be publicized through twitter so be sure to follow. 

The COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter Movement has focused attention on social emotional learning like never before.  We would be negligent as educators if we failed to acknowledge the need to carefully consider and implement supports for our students.  Our ultimate goal is to empower our learners with a sense that they are cared for and valued as a springboard for engaging in their learning journey.  As a bunch of book lovers in the British Columbia Literacy Council, we of course came to the conclusion that books are a perfect way to provide supports for our students at school and a home. 

There are many booklists that have been collated for a variety of purposes.  Our goal is to create a booklist that addressed the following:

  1.  Anecdotal Reference by educators to specify the appropriate audience and possible uses of the text in terms of social emotional learning and BC core competencies. 
  • Representation – In order to feel valued and included in our school communities, our students need to see themselves as part of the community.  This includes students who identify, live or learn in ways outside on the dominant group in the school community.  This also includes our Indigenous, Black, and people of colour. 
  • Stress and Coping – Books that help students to understand stress in our lives and possible coping strategies.
  • Working for Social Justice – Books to help students explore what makes us human, our basic rights, freedoms, and our responsibilities as anti-racists in our school, our community, and our world. 

This is a large task and will require that we engage not only our current membership but also capture the imagination of other literacy educators and parents in British Columbia.  We are inviting mass participation online.  Participants are asked to become International Literacy Association members.  All people who join the International Literacy Association in British Columbia are automatically members of the British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association.  There are numerous membership options, and a hardcopy or online newspaper is included.  There is also the opportunity to add popular International Literacy Association publications, such as The Reading Teacher and Reading Research Quarterly to your membership.

BCLCILA members who contribute to the British Columbia Literacy Association Annotated Booklist 2020-2021 will receive one of the titles from our booklist to use with children.  Widespread participation in this project is encouraged.  You are invited to submit as many entries as you wish.  Please complete one form per book.  Please note one book will be sent to each BCLCILA member participating in this project to celebrate our collaborative online project.  All submissions must be made via THIS LINK.  The information submissions can be displayed in an excel spreadsheet and organized for publication. 

In March, my big risk-taking venture was connecting with my Livingstone students via Video Tweets.  I have upped my game and I’m reading an SEL books weekly  – Ms. Froese Reads on my own YouTube Channel.  It’s still a big risk but I’ve come a long way from my initial Video Tweets.  This is being published on my school wide Office 365  TEAM and tweeted on the school twitter account and @BCLiteracyCounc1   You are welcome to use it with your students.    I’m feeling very grateful to have a team of people still engaged in doing the work of supporting our teachers and students.  We hope you’ll enjoy us in this positive and proactive engagement.  We’re always open to new ideas.  We hope to hear from you.

Keep Going for Equity and Justice

Creating a space where each member of a community not only feels welcome but valued and respected is a gargantuan challenge.  I have been welcomed into spaces where there are is an unwritten code, or set of expectations, that you must identify and comply with if you do not want to fall into disfavour and subsequently have the welcome withdrawn.  All too often the rules are apparent after the fact.  Or perhaps, they are never are discerned.  Job places, schools, places of worship, and community gathering spots face the same challenge of how to create spaces where people with diverse cultures, belief systems, family structures and appearance can come together in a context where everyone feels valued and in the words of Marlo Thomas – free to be. 

I have lost heart that any set of rules will provide all the answers. The Declaration of Human Right and Freedoms was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 and enshrined the rights and freedoms of all human beings. Subsequent human and civil rights law have codified many of these basic rights. We have had time for full implementation. And yet, in wealthy countries the #MeToo #BlackLivesMatter #IndigenousLivesMatter echo the cries of people waiting for even basic rights to be extended to them. The citing or rules, finger pointing, and defining the work that others need to do, breeds anger and resentment rather than a collective, coordinated effort to do better.

If we are going to make a difference in the quest to create respectful spaces, we are going to need to capture the imaginations of the people within organizations whether it’s a workplace, school, club or social organization.  Co-existing in a space does not generate a welcoming or generous climate.  We need curiosity and empathy.  The kind of curiosity that inspires us to want to get to know each other, the patience to listen to someone’s story and the development of empathy.

The best place to start teaching this process is in schools, where we already have students brimming with curiosity, not afraid to ask questions, and ready to dive into the learning.  I have been inspired by Patrick Stewart’s reading Shakespeare’s sonnets and Michelle Obama’s story time online.  As part of the process of building community in our school, I decided to put a weekly story on YouTube for my school.  For my first book, I chose Fauja Singh Keeps on Going to dovetail with our recent learning about Diwali. 

I gathered the book, my tripod, my iPhone, and headed off to read the book to a Grade 5 class.  After I discovered there was too much noise and the student response to the book, I headed off to read to the Grade 3 class I was covering.   It is a newly published book by Simran Singh with illustrations by Baljinder Kaur that bring additional insight into Sikh culture.  Fauja Singh is 108 years old and will live on in my heart.  He experiences physical adversity, racism, loss, and becomes the first 100-year-old person to finish a marathon.  Fauja demonstrates resilience, perseverance and grace in moving forward to become an inspiration for all of us.  Before I went off to read with students, I called one of the parents in my school community to make sure I was pronouncing Fauja’s name correctly.  Turns out Bindy interviewed Fauja when she was doing the research for her doctoral degree and was able to provide a great personal story to bring additional insight to our students.    

My 15-minute YouTube time limit for Ms. Froese Reads, didn’t allow for me to include the fascinating conversation with students.  All of us immediately made the connections with Terry Fox, the Canadian hero who demonstrated the same kind of perseverance and integrity as Fauja.  The image of Canadians running beside Fauja was reminiscent of people running beside Terry to encourage him along his route and it made us proud as Canadians.  The racist treatment of Fauja in New York post 9/11 was a focus of both conversations.  A Grade 5 girl with white skin spoke of her embarrassment about people being racist, even though she wasn’t there.  A Grade 3 boy with brown skin gave an impassioned and well-informed speech about how Donald Trump and how his racist beliefs are taking the United States in the wrong direction.  These kids heard Fauja’s story.  They understand fairness.  They empathize.  They were inspired by Fauja’s mother ‘s message that “Today is a chance to do your best.”  How do we inspired everyone to take a step back and proceed with kindness on a path to equity and justice?

We are at another junction in history where people are pausing to consider our direction.   Certainly, it will take a willingness to listen more and to broaden our perspectives if that is to be a path towards equity and justice.  The route of how to get to a more social just society is widely disputed.  I still hold tight to the  principles laid out in the United Nations Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  I believe the process of continuing to articulate those principles in a Children’s Charter, an Indigenous Charter, and a Canadian Charter were important to further strengthen these basic rights and freedoms.  I will continue to live them and to teach them.  I believe in laws and their fair application to provide justice.  I also believe in mandatory training to outline expectations in the workplace and in public institutions.  Yet, they are not enough. 

How do we inspire curiosity and a desire to do better?  How do we break down the hierarchical and social structures that inhibit people from sharing their stories with the people in their schools, jobs, places of worship, and the cities we live in?  And how do we inspire people to want to empathize?  How do we encourage people to give each other the benefit of the doubt and not immediately assume the worst intention?  Any environment that creates a fear of making mistakes, is destined to become entrenched in camps.  Silence follows fear.  Growth requires a collaborative effort to understand. Authors like Margaret Atwood, Wab Kinew and Yaa Gyasi have the ability to shift perspectives within a few hundred pages.  Children are responsive to well written books with diverse perspectives, particularly when followed with engaging discussion.  Sitting face to face in a room and learning about someone’s journey is magic.  As a member, then community fieldworker for Amnesty International, I had the opportunity to listen to the stories or many people who had been imprisoned and tortured for their religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, political belief or relationship to someone else being persecuted and intimidated.  They were stories or hope, survival and gratitude.  They were inspirational and strengthened my resolve to work for social justice.   During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, hearts were broken listening to traumatic stories of residential school survivors  and family breakdown of our Indigenous people.  It brought a part of Canadian history, omitted in textbooks, to the forefront of our collective consciousness as a country.  Anyone involved in the process has a greater level of empathy and understanding of the complexity and importance of the path to reconciliation with our Indigenous people. Like Fauja Singh, we need to keep going until basic rights and freedoms are part of the lived experience of all people and we don’t even have to ask – Do you feel valued?  It will be a given.

Imagination in Leadership

Imagination has factored into my life in a myriad of significant ways. It is largely responsible for many of my happiest memories in childhood, teaching, and parenting. The role of imagination in my leadership has been more obtuse. Is there room for imagination in the many management responsibilities and competing priorities of principals and vice-principals? Although I know in my heart it has to loom large, I have been struggling to articulate it.

When I was young, developing the imaginative ability of children was not a priority goal.  School was task oriented.  I remember my Grade 5 teacher closing the curtains so we would focus on copying the notes from the board rather than the snow falling outside.  I spent the morning staring at the curtains, imagining what it would look like at recess.  You did the work and then the recess or lunch bell rang, and we spilled out onto the playground.  The holes in the chain link fence meant that play easily extended into the forested areas bordering the school.  After school, we were set free to run with the neighbourhood kids and be home for dinner.  My bike was another appendage of my body and it took me off to explore, build forts, and discover.

My parents’ divorce made travel part of my early life. First by car. Then by plane. I learned there were lots of places to explore and lots of different ways to live with different expectations and rules of engagement. We were still free to roam the Hollywood Hills and the wilds of the Sierra Nevadas. Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm provided a window into how adults can structure imaginative play.

As a first-year teacher, every Friday the Shape of the Day was titled Friday Fun Day with coloured chalk and large swirling letters.  It was a day devoted to engaging students in learning in wild and wonderful ways.  My Grade 2 students actively participated in planning our explorations.  That was the year that Krista Pera hand sewed a shiny fabric bauble at Christmas for my tree and demonstrated that anything was possible if you created space for it.  Inquiry brought a structure to my teaching practice that allowed me and my students to go after finding the answers to interesting questions.  Imagination was a habit of mind that I brought to my practice and continued in my teaching of elementary, secondary ELL, and post secondary.

There is a comradarie between teachers that exists in many schools that makes teaching rewarding and filled with lifelong friends.  I was fortunate to have many colleagues that would spark ideas that became great learning adventures for my students and me.  I also had many enthusiastic colleagues who were willing to ask questions and play with ideas.  The strong professional development wing of the BCTF and supportive principals provided funding and many opportunities for distributed leadership to allow our imaginations to flourish. 

As a parent, my first born led the charge into imaginative play. His grasp of the possibilities without any concern for safety, took me to new places. How do you create a safe context and an opportunity to explore was my quest. His sister arrived and followed his lead with abandon. I walked into her room one day to witness her brother’s scaffolded instructions for how to escape from her crib. He assumed the role of Batman. She had no alternative but to be Robin. Just as my sister and I had been many moons ago ( to quote my mother). The Dynamic Duo wanted challenge and adventure. Imagination was not taught, but spaces were created for it. And yes, sometimes they included trips to the Emergency ward. As they grew older, outlets for creativity were formalized through many sets of lessons, and classes as Place Des Arts. Imagination was not only part of free play, but also expressed in clay, paint, crayon, music, and pencil. For our son, even biking and snowboarding became acts of imagination. It became as much a part of the process as muscle memory.

Last Sunday, my husband and I jumped on our bikes and did our standard route around Stanley Park.  En route home, a car stopped at a red light on a busy street, suddenly decided to make a quick right turn to avoid the light and didn’t notice me stopped in the bike lane beside him.  In my peripheral vision, I saw him and muscle memory from years of trail riding and riding along logs in bike playgrounds kicked in.  I jumped off the other side of my bike while he drove into the front tire of my bike and knocked it down.  It was a habit.  I learned long ago on my Brody Mountain bike that sometimes, you just need to bail.  I think that’s what it’s like with imagination.  The more you think divergently and aspire to problem solve creatively; the more opportunities present themselves.  It becomes a habit to think wide and consider possibilities. 

Organizational skills and problem-solving ability are required parts of the job of principals and vice principals.  It is the foundational piece for administrators, as classroom management is to teachers.  Imagination is not a prerequisite or even a standard expectation. Professional development, diploma programs, graduate work, training for faculty associates, and teaching teachers in China allowed me to further develop my skill level in tandem with my vision of possibilities for learners.  Imagination is required to envision what education could be beyond a current reality.  It is present in those administrators who are able to formulate a vision of the possibilities.  That vision may reach beyond the specific context and limitations that exist.  If being imaginative has become a habit in the principal or vice-principal, it kicks in just like muscle memory.   It needs to be fed by hope in order to flourish.  If we hold tight to the fact that we have the capacity to make a positive difference in the world, we can enlist our imagination to aspire to bring a possibility to life.  And if we are lucky, the spark will ignite the imagination of others. 

Hallowe’en Fun in Times of COVID

One of my dear friends introduced my family to ranching life in Merritt, British Columbia. We’d head to the Chutter Ranch to ride horses, participate where we could, and adopt the stance of what we called “The Country Mouse”. The farm boss, Traugott, took my riding skills to new levels during times where we were riding for a purpose, like separating calves from mamas. He’d yell “yahhh!” and I’d hold on for dear life as the horse did the very familiar I work. When my sister and her family bought a ranch in Texas this past year, our family was stoked! We made a bee line from Vancouver and Taiwan (where my daughter is working), for the GameFive Ranch last Christmas. While we were there, my sister bought me, not the sale boots that I was gravitating towards, but the most beautiful “real working” red cowboy boots that I loved. I was ready to don my cowboy persona for Hallowe’en.

The Perfect Cowboy Boots

Hallowe’en has been met in our school community with a fair amount of trepidation.  In our school community, Hallowe’en has been BIG.  Huge participation in wearing costumes.  Amazing costumes.  A massive parade of the amazing Hallowe’en costumes with copious quantities of parents showing up to watch.  Lots of contributions of treats in the classroom.  Pumpkins delivered to the grass field for all students to claim.  Hot chocolate.  Lots of fun.

This year, as administrator of the school and designate “safety police officer,” I initially felt that most of my effort was going into scaling back what we have done in previous years. No parade. No parents in the building. No treats from parents. Prepackaged, commercial treats only from teachers. Tonga. My concern as an educator was how we could maintain the fun of this season of imagination. Fortunately, my teachers had that covered. Did you know that some teachers have entire outfits made of Hallowe’en fabric? Others are willing to sweat profusely to maintain the integrity of the costume – Beit Eeyore or a clown? Activities throughout the day were integrated with the Hallowe’en theme and novelty. Our kids were well taken care of and their imaginations were being nurtured.

The added bonus was the Livingstone Garden.  Last weekend my husband and I were biking through UBC neighbourhoods, and noticing that Hallowe’en decorating was still quite amazing this year.  I stopped to take picture after picture.  Graveyards.  Harry Potter themed worlds.  Huge blow-ups of pumpkins and ghosts…  People willing to play.  Although it was a last-minute announcement, I invited the school community to join in with decorating the garden.  One group of students came through with a scarecrow.  One group helped to make the black fringe to blow in the wind.  One class came through with spooky ghosts.  My trusty dollar store helped out with the rest of the decorations.  The decay of the fall garden added ambiance. 

On Hallowe’en, armed with dollar store candy, monster erasers, sticky frogs, my Hallowe’en playlist, and my tongs, I headed to the garden at four intervals. With my black, BCPVPA mask, I looked more like Jesse James, famous train robber. However, with my daughter’s Calgary Stampede, cowboy hat and the current expectation of masks, I was not too scary. Class after class entered the garden. I could easily change the playlist from fun to spooky on my phone depending on the group. Some kids would even dance with me.

I made a decision to buy both treats and decorations. As a result, I did not buy chocolate bars for every student in the school. I bought little packages of ghosts, bones, and pumpkins. Chewy, sugared eyeballs. Chewy fruit candies. Caramels. And I pulled monster erasers and sticky frog toys from the cupboard for kids who don’t eat candy. I was waiting for complaints that the treats were small. Never happened. It transported me to the penny candy store that use to be by Tatlow Park. As kids, my cousins and I would take coveted change from our grandpa and uncles, to the candy store ,and carefully select our purchases. It was fascinating to watch our students. Some kids knew exactly what they wanted and decisively made their choice. Some kids were overwhelmed with the choice and just took what the person ahead of them selected. Others could not make a decision at all, and I needed to make it for them to move the line along. And in most cases, it was followed with a Thank-you or Happy Hallowe’en. Gratitude. Good feelings. Joy. So much fun.

Another fun element was the inclusion of our preschoolers at Spare Time Treehouse, the little ones playing on the public playground with their parents, and kids en route to Tupper Secondary School.  There was the element of delight in being included in the fun.  In some cases, disappointment that they were not wearing their full costume.  There was a feeling of community and a sense of victory in maintaining the spirit of fun in midst of it all!  Anything is possible, even during times of COVID. 

Happy Hallowe’en