School Leaders Who Blog

School Leaders Who Blog

As a blogging principal, I was honoured to be featured in the June 2021 issue of the BCPVPA Principl(ed) journal.  It is interesting to read about the many reasons that school leaders choose to blog and the things that they capitalize on.  It is also interesting to ponder the responses that come into play in the decision to make our thinking transparent as leaders.  Blogging has been important pathway for me to develop my reflective practice and to create my own narrative as a school leader.

The role of the principal, particularly in the days of COVID, is threatened to be taken over by the overwhelming amounts of managerial tasks.  Although I agree that school leaders need have well developed management skills, this was not what drove my decision to become a school principal.  My strong belief is that educational change requires instructional leaders.  Instructional leaders need to be knowledgeable and current.  Being current requires strong support for the management work and a strong emphasis on the development of instructional leaders who are clear about moving their school communities forward to support, challenge and keep our students safe. 

Instructional leadership is a process, not a finite destination.  The OECD principles for educational change have continued to be solid goal posts, but the path we navigate is continually changing.  Although social emotional learning has been a part of many school plans for many years, COVID created more immediacy in focusing our attention on what our students require to be able to learn.  George Floyd’s death and the discovery on the remains of Indigenous students at a Kamloops residential school provided a powerful catalyst for creating systemic change in our schools and in our communities.  Tremendous work has been done by principals and vice principals that are aware of the issues and how to navigate a pathway forward. 

This does not happen in a void.  We encourage our students and our staff to actively engage in inquiry and take risks in their learning.  We encourage bold questions and predictions.  We also teach them to take a step back, reflect on their conclusions, and change their mind.  In his book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant eloquently creates a case for thinking in scientist mode so that we can remain flexible in our thinking.  This person is actively open minded and searching for reasons why we might be wrong, not for reasons why we must be right.  Revising our views based on what we learn and changing minds are considered to be acts of intellectual integrity.  Blogging allows me to step beyond my Things To Do list and assume the stance of a scientist.  

I have been cautioned and questioned about the wisdom of stating my ideas publicly.  Adam Grant describes the person who adopts the “politician” stance and acquiesces to the group in a bid for popularity at all costs.  As school leaders, our decisions cannot always appease the group.  Sometimes we are called upon to make difficult decisions that are unpopular.  Our role requires we have reflected on the issue and have develop a strong rationale for why the decision serves the greater good in our school community.  That takes time, reflection, a professional learning community to help you navigate the terrain and support from upper management. 

I feel fortunate in many ways this year.  I have colleagues and district staff on speed dial to discuss issues, problem solve and possible pathways forward.  Julie Pearce, my Director of Instruction, has the background knowledge and wisdom from years of experience to pose questions to extend my thinking and the will to support her principals.  And I have my practice of inquiry and reflection to define and redefine who I am as a school leader and what matters most.  Articulating who we are as school leaders and a willingness to rethink our positions in the face of new information are practices that are integral to establishing ourselves as leaders in the educational community.  Blogging is one pathway.

Grand, Adam (2021).  THINK AGAIN.  The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.  New York, Viking.

Principl(ed) Vol.2, Issue 3 – June 2021 – The Journal of the BC Principals’ & Vice-Principals’ Association, “Leaders Who Blog”.

To Livingstone Grade 7’s as Your World Expands

Grade 7 Leaving in Hollywood Style

In June 2020, we tried to replicate the Grad Ceremony in an online meeting. This year we tried to create a celebration for our Grade 7 students that would capture their interest and excitement. This was my farewell speech to our David Livingstone Elementary Grade 7 students as their principal.

Students, teachers and our online viewers, welcome to Hollywood North!

You are leaving the smaller pond our elementary school and swimming into the much larger pond of secondary school.  However you are taking with you the background experience unlike anyone who has come before you.  Last year, Grade 7’s left under the haze of COVID starting in March 2020 but a year filled with fairly typical Grade 7 experiences until that point in time.  You are leaving with the previously undefined experience of fear, caution, lockdowns, expanded online learning, physical distancing, masks, cohorts, restrictions, air high fives and air hugs.  Previously uncharted terrain for your typical Grade 7 student.

As people are being vaccinated and cases of COVID lessen, there is less focus on fear and apprehension.  There is more focus on looking forward.  People are already writing books about what it has been like to live through a modern day pandemic.  But what is most significant is that YOU can write that book.  All of your experiences and the feelings could fill many volumes.  Of the 36 students leaving Grade 7, there are 36 versions of that book.  Each version carries its own truth.

I’m currently reading a book called Think Again by Adam Grant.  The subtitle – The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.  What is most intriguing about the book, is the fact that it isn’t the smartest people who are most able to cope with adversity or change.  It is the people who are able to rethink the situation and pursue a different pathway.

Mike Lazaridis dreamed up the idea for the Blackberry as a wireless communication device for sending and receiving emails.  In middle school, he made local news for building a solar panel at the science fair and won an award for reading every science book in the public library.  In his eight grade yearbook, there is a cartoon of Mike as a mad scientist, with bolts of lightning shooting out of his head.  By 2008, his Blackberry company was worth $70 billion dollars.  By 2014, the market share had plummeted to less than 1% of smart phone users in the US.  What happened? 

In 2010, when one of Mike’s colleagues pitched the idea of sending encrypted messages. He passed.  What’s App saw the potential of text messaging to the tune of $19 billion dollars.  When the idea of typing on a glass screen rather than on the tiny keyboard emerged with thumbs.  He laughed.  Steve Jobs saw the potential.  Apple was off and running.  Clearly Mike Lazaridis was a smart guy.  He just couldn’t rethink or adopt another perspective.  He couldn’t unlearn what he already knew. 

Adam Grant talks about four approaches to the way people think and live their lives: 

  1. The first type of person digs in their heels and argues their point of view is right.  They ever question their ideas.  This type of person takes offence at other perspectives or anyone questioning their conclusions.
  2. The second type of person completely focuses is on proving others wrong.  This person focuses on discrediting rather than discovering.
  3. The third type of person will appease the audience at any cost.  This is the politician in the group.  Popularity rather than accuracy dictates their views. 
  4. The final type of person assumes scientist mode.   This person is actively open minded;  searching for reasons why we might be wrong;  not for reasons why we must be right.  Revising views is based on what is learned. Changing minds are acts of intellectual integrity for a person in scientist mode.

Intellectual curiosity and openness to new discoveries.  This is the skill set you’ve been taught since kindergarten.   This goes hand in hand with curriculum in British Columbia. All those inquiry studies.  All those questions to pursue.  All that predicting and testing hypotheses.

The COVID pandemic has certainly thrust you into the full understanding of uncertainty.  Yet, you are equipped to not only handle it but to pursue your very own version of truth.  I look forward to reading about it.  Or perhaps watching it on a screen in Hollywood, California. With that,  I wish you all of the very best as you swim off into your next pond. 

Pivot

I have a formidable work ethic. German on one side and Scottish / Irish on the other. I went from Magee Secondary School to summer French Immersion Program: to UBC; to one year at York University with written consent to transfer credits back to UBC for degree and to discover I had no idea where “back east” was in Canada; back to UBC to finish my Bachelor of Education Degree; to a diploma program while working at Spare Time Childcare Society at David Lloyd George elem. to ensure I wasn’t wasting time while looking for a job as a teacher; to working in SD34 – Abbotsford where I had done my practicum; to SD43 – Coquitlam to work closer in case my baby needed me; to Simon Fraser to expand my horizons as a Faculty Associate; to SD39 -Vancouver as a Vice Principal and then Principal. In the midst of it all, I taught summer school and worked as an online TA, a sessional instructor of the Reading Methods course at SFU and completed my Master of Arts Degree in Education.

Fortunately my passion is Education and I was able to work hard while still maintaining a focus of being there for my family.  Working part-time, and scheduling after hours professional responsibilities around the soccer, swimming et al., schedule of my kids was possible.  Certainly having a husband with his own company and a Mom who lived with us for 10 years helped.  I was able to fly off to attend International Literacy Association Conferences in New Orleans, or Brain Conferences in New York, present in San Francisco or Kelowna and teach in China. 

All threads have converged with a focus on my professional life, family and wise financial planning.  Buying back pension time from maternity leaves and 9 month contracts at SFU was difficult at the time, but part of that wise financial planning.  My mother taught my sister and me very young that you NEVER depend on anyone to provide for you.  Those messages from youth provide a lens to see the world but also a subconscious nervousness about future financial stability. 

In all fairness, security for my Mom was $20.00 in your wallet in case you needed to take a cab home.  She was left with a divorce settlement and child support that never increased after 1964 and left her existing on the edge of poverty.  Of course, my reality is very different.  And yet, even for me with a pension plan, I sent in my letter of retirement with trepidation.  My mind battled with the fearfulness in my heart. 

Many people will tell you that you know when it is time to retire. Not so for me. I love instructional leadership. I love my conversations with kids about their learning and about their lives. I love talking to parents about parenting. I love talking to teachers about possibilities for their classrooms and their careers. I love talking to Spare Time staff about the same things. I love talking to Education Assistants about Universal Design.

Certainly no one emerges out of COVID without thinking about their WHY.  Simon Sinek resonates for people considering their work lives or their personal lives.  COVID has also opened up new avenues for working and pursuing our WHY.  The other morning I woke up to Kenny Rogers.  Now this was interesting because I am not a grand country and western fan, or a gambler.  For me it is reserved for The Calgary Stampede and visiting my sister and her family in Texas. However, the lyrics came back to me from the 80’s loud and clear.

“Know when to hold’em

Know when to fold’em

Know when to walk away

And know when to run…”

I woke up laughing.  This did not evoke surprise but certainly inquiry from my husband.  He is well use to my vivid dreams, and inspiration through lyrics.  I’m am feeling particularly excited about retirement from the VSB these days.  I will ensure I leave the new principal in good shape with a thorough transition plan to ensure my Livingstone people are in good shape for our seismic mitigation move.  Now to be perfectly honest, I may knit more, and I do have my Nanny Keenan’s rocking chair.  But, I will embrace new opportunities with excitement, enthusiasm and energy. Time to publish. Time to work in new ways. Time to pivot.

“If you wait until you feel 100% ready to do something you really want, you will be waiting the rest of your life to achieve it.  Forget the past. Forget your age.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

Michael Nulty

The Thrill of New Discoveries

Stanley Park Great Blue Heron Rookery

If you live or visit Vancouver, sighting a Pacific Blue Heron is as likely as seeing a seagull or a Canada Goose.  Usually, it is one large statuesque and graceful bird alone on the golf course or at the beach during low tide. New discovery today. The Great Blue Heron Rookery is part of my Stanley Park bike route.  Who knew? They have returned to their address at 2099 Beach Avenue, the trees outside The Parks Board building, and apparently have been doing so for 20 years! 

Looking up during a sunny bike ride was not what led to this discovery.  I have nearly made it through all 111 Places in Vancouver That You Must Not Miss, the book by Dave Doroghy and Graeme Menzies.  This is number 98 and the perfect time to discover it.  The Vancouver Parks Board has installed a webcam ( Vancouver.ca/herons ) for viewing their arrival in March;  courtship in April; egg laying and incubation in May; chick rearing in June; and fledging in July. 

Without the leaves on the trees, you can see SO many nests, seemingly empty.  Then an eagle comes cruising by.  Instantly the sky is filled with masses of our very closest renditions to prehistoric pterodactyls in flight.  Apparently, we are home to the largest urban blue heron colonies in North America.  One third of the great blue heron population in the world live around the Salish Sea aka the part of the Pacific Ocean by British Columbia and Washington.

After the big commotion, the herons return to the nests, but this time assume a far more visible stance.  Some on branches or on the edges of nests.  Some appear to be visiting between the trees.  They have diversions from the tennis courts, the lawn bowling club, and the people staring up at them.  For me, it is the excitement of a new discovery.  How could I have missed this?  I’m looking forward to checking out the webcam at regular intervals and letting all my Wild About Vancouver outdoor enthusiasts about it.

Another discovery is that Stanley Park Ecology Society has started an Adopt a Nest Program to sustain the Pacific Great Blue Heron colony.  It is $54.00 to adopt one nest for a year.  There are over 100 nests in 25 trees in Stanley Park.  I’m excited about doing this with the students at Livingstone Elementary School to support learning in all curriculum areas and build interest in our Twitcher group.  The kids like the name.  Although our sightings are not usually rare, they are equally as exciting when someone can identify the bird 🙂

Reporting Student Achievement in British Columbia

Report cards will be sent home this Thursday and I’m feeling triumphant.  I have read all the report cards, Individual Education Plans, English language inserts, Resource inserts and in some cases student self assessments and curriculum summaries.  I have asked questions, made comments, suggestions, and signed off on nearly all of them.   They are copied on buff paper to be sent home to parents and copies are ready for each student’s permanent file.  And they are good.  I feel so proud of my teachers and how far we have come as an education system in communicating student learning.  When I was in Elementary school, my Mom use to receive an achievement grade and most often the comment “Carrie is a very conscientious student.”  No need for further discussion.

ThE Ministry of Education in British Columbia mandated that teachers will provide five reports of student achievement to families each school year.  In the Vancouver School District, at least two of those reports must be formal written reports.   At Livingstone Elementary School, these formal written reports are issued at the end of January and the end of June.   The expectation is to include information about student strengths, areas for growth, and how we can work with families support the student in academic and social-emotional learning.  It must also include a sliding scale to indicate how the student is doing in achieving grade level learning outcomes for each subject areas.

My very favourite part of the report card, as both a parent and as a principal, is the opening paragraph.  It was the part I agonized over getting perfect as a teacher when I was writing report cards.  A parent can see their child in a well written opening paragraph.  This opening vignette gives us insight into how the school year is unfolding for the child.  My very compliant daughter made this paragraph easy for her teachers to write.  My headstrong son made it more challenging but readily apparent if he had a teacher that was delighting in his creativity and divergent thinking.  Of course, in some cases COVID-19 has made the developing of rapport between the teacher and the student a challenge.  In person interaction will always be better than online interaction.

Old school report cards were all about achievement.  The “A” was perceived as university entrance, a high paying job, and a charmed life.  We know so much more now about how we can support students so they can create their own version of a charmed life.  We understand that standardized measures of intelligence change over time with increased background knowledge and are not a guarantee of a successful life. 

The work of Howard Gardner expanded our ability to see the many different ways that children can shine.  The work of Carol Dweck helped us to see how a growth mindset can set the stage for new learning.  We want students to be able to identify areas of strength and what they can do to improve the areas requiring more work to develop.   The measure of a good report card is the plan to help students build on their strengths and develop the areas that are not as strong.

Self esteem does not emerge from a sense of someone unconditionally viewing everything you do as perfect.  That is something reserved for loving grandparents.  It comes from the realization that you can do stuff by yourself.  That first paragraph in many report cards includes what students are proud of.  It usually has to do with learning something you’ve worked hard at, whether it is soccer skills, use of a new APP, or learning to read. 

The sliding scale in many ways serves the same purpose as letter grades.  It shows how students are doing in relation to grade level expectations.  The sliding scale has replaced letter grades because it reflects a new kind of thinking.  The goal is to identify areas of strength and those areas requiring repetition, practice, hard work, and possibly adaptations to move learning forward.   

A successful student is a person who is a learner, regardless of age.  A learner asks questions and tries to find answers and new pathways even if it means failing and starting again.  This requires the resilience to try again, as well as the analytical skills to come up with the reason for the fail and a new possibility.  There is no grand prize for learning fastest or achieving perfection.  There is power in believing that with perseverance and initiative, we are able to meet our learning goals. 

My husband and our daughter are the math enthusiasts in our family.  At the dinner table, they would discuss a math problems and alternate solutions.  My son and I would look at each other in amazement that they thought this was captivating.  We didn’t.  And yet in our adult lives, my son and I manage budgets, participate in games requiring math skills, and use math daily in our work.   We both learned that not all things we needed to learn are preferred choice activities.  We figured out that perseverance and commitment to the task at hand was required.  We still opt out of discussions of interesting math problems.  Just don’t get us started on history and politics.

The requirement for additional communications with parents to communicate student learning is an additional bonus to the reporting process in British Columbia.  Conferences, emails, phone calls, and student portfolios provide examples that support the written report cards with specific samples of student self-evaluations, measures of achievement and supports required.  The school website, Twitter, classroom newsletters, curriculum summaries, and blogs are also used at Livingstone Elementary to share learning that is happening at our school.  This provides a very concrete way to involve students in talking about what they have learned, celebrate accomplishments, and develop achievable goals.    

The shifts in reporting practices have been a move to recreate the communication of student learning to families from an event that happens a few times a year into a conversation that happens throughout the year. John Hattie’s research has taught us that children benefit significantly when parents establish and communicate high expectations for student achievement with them.

The Ministry of Education in British Columbia has outlined the process to give parents the information to actively participate in their child’s education. However as with any profound educational change, it is the commitment and efforts of teachers that determine the impact. It is work intensive. It is exhausting. Teacher efforts to help students understand themselves as learners, determine required supports to facilitate further development, and involve parents in the process are what make this process exceptional in British Columbia. Much of it is a labour of love by consummate professionals. Lucky for us.

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.

The COVID-19 Office

The Human Rights Work Continues

One positive change that could emerge from the COVID-19 global pandemic is the change in how  we do our work.  People working at home have been exposed to a whole new reality. To work, it is not necessary to be sitting in front of a computer 24/7.  Flexibility in work schedules is allowing people to schedule their days to attend to physical and mental health, as well as get the work done. 

On the common deck of my condo in Kits, my neighbour has run a power cord from the hall and set up the laptop screen to increase visibility of the screen.  He asks if I’m okay with his choice of music.  He is studying to be a pilot.  Sometimes I find him on the deck working as a personal trainer with one of his clients.  He has taught me that to explore angles on the laptop screen and shade it with a shirt to create a visor in order to increase screen visibility.  When I tilt back my reclining chair back, I can see the screen as well as the ocean and the mountains.

Down at Jericho Beach, I watch as the young women beside me tentatively step into the ocean and quickly decide it is just too chilly today.  The phone rings, and one of the young women shifts gears.  She effectively negotiates her business call and makes the commitment to draw up a proposal and have it to her client tomorrow.  As she chats, her friend takes out her computer and gets some work done.  There are no hurt feelings or resentment for not giving her friend her undivided attention.  The social contract allows and expects these disruptions.

I frequently give my son a hard time for not giving his father and I his undivided attention when he comes for dinner or for a bike ride.  And yet, at the same time I’m incredibly proud at how well he is doing with his business.  Clients around the world are paying the bills, manufacturing product or ready to work collaboratively.  Communication cannot be limited to a 9-5 context if you are being responsive to needs.  The phone rings or the text comes through and my son  seamlessly slides into business mode, negotiates the call and rejoins us.  

My cousin has an office job.  Working at home started when COVID-19 hit Vancouver in Spring.  It has just been extended until January.  She has adjusted to the reality that some days includes far more work that other.  She always meets the expectations of what needs to be done in a day.  For the employer, no work space, office furniture, phones, supplies or daily cleaning are required.   The employer has got to have noted the obvious benefits of reduced costs. 

In British Columbia, schools were closed after Spring Break to everyone but principals, vice principals, operating engineers and trades people.  I went into my office first thing in the morning, stood at my desk for hours on end, absorbing all of the new information possible, attending online meetings, planning and problem solving.  I turned my head to pick up the phone and left my office to attend to very specific tasks.  The intense stress exacerbated the muscle strain.  Two things happened to change things up for me.  Nearly all meetings were online so there was less need to dress in my regular work attire.  We were also given direction to leave the school by 3:30 pm to allow the deep cleaning of the school.  This allowed me to ride my bike to school and get some exercise, and some perspective as I rode home along the seawall.  Some phone calls I navigated en-route, and people got use to some huffing and puffing when I reached hills.  Sometimes I just stopped to focus on the situation.  I also stopped to do video-tweets for the students at my school.  It was a refreshing and much needed break.  I was still available for work.

Initially I thought perhaps Millennials were just better at pivoting during this new  reality than Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers.  And yet Alex Neve,  Canadian Human Rights Activist and Secretary General of Amnesty International, popped up on Facebook with his office set-up in the forest.  It seems to be that people with their own businesses or more job autonomy have been the blade runners in defining these new realities.   Granted some jobs lend themselves to more flexibility.  When schools opened on a voluntary and part time basis in British Columbia in June, educators certainly needed to be onsite more frequently.  However in July when I was facilitating a course for BCPVPA, I transitioned to a work space in my dining room.   Now I have expanded my options.  The side deck or front deck in the shade with the birds, or the common deck with the mountains, ocean and sunshine are working just fine.  This could be the upside of COVID-19 

A Pandemic Possibility of Courage and New Growth

My Apple watch buzzed on my wrist and I looked down.  Premier John Horgan announces kids back in school on June 1st.  Before I have a chance to react, my Apple watch buzzes again.  The breathe icon pops up on my watch reminding me.  In through your nose.  Out through your mouth.  If this pandemic has taught me nothing else, it has taught me to be ready to pivot.  Our only constant in this time, is that things will change.  The trick is finding a way to navigate the change in the midst of big emotion all around.

I jumped out of bed on Saturday morning on high alert.  Things to be done.  What deadlines had I missed?  What was absolutely essential to accomplish before 8 am?  The forecast was for rain but no rain yet.  Every Vancouverite can appreciate the pressure to optimize this opportunity.  It was now late enough to rally my husband and go for a walk.

Walking the seawall before the crowds descend never gets old.  The constancy of the waves and the mountains. Breathing in the sea air.  Stopping to notice.  The cherry blossoms are done.  The dogwoods are in full glory. The realization that  poppies come in many colours.  More people staying home, have resulted in a new boldness from our birds.  The Canadian geese with their many babies don’t even bother to get out of the way.  Their honk is louder and closer.  The blue herons pause longer before even looking in your direction.  The crows fly closer to your head.   Only the seagulls are put out with the reduced human consumption of fish and chips which directly impacts their diet.

On the route back home on the rough stone of the seawall, between Second Beach and English Bay, a beautiful array of carved serpentine stones.  The Metis artist, Jock Langlois, has taken shelter under a beach bush, because he too could smell the approaching rain.  Jock left his job in the corporate world many years ago to become a street artist.  He embraced the power of desire, faith and action to reveal the beautiful messages hidden in stone.  The image of the bear jumped out to me first.  For my husband it was the eagle.  Then the most obvious image on this overcast day, the raindrop.  The eagle messenger.  The bear of courage.  The raindrop of new growth.   All rolled up in one inspirational piece of art.

Inspiration is just like learning.  You need to be ready to identify it.  Ready to receive it.  Ready to learn from it.  Jock Langlois was able to hand me a message of courage and the possibility of  new growth.  Thanks to the teaching of my mother, emergency cash was tucked ready between my phone and it’s case.

There is so much change and fear wrapped around the COVID-19 times.   How do we step forward with courage and look for the learning that will help us to grow as individuals and communities?  The pause to reflect on what will feed inspiration and innovation.  The willingness to embrace possibilities is what will feed the community.  We will change as a result of this global pandemic.  Walking in fear tends to result in stagnancy or ugliness.  Being courageous and stepping forward together as problem solvers promises new learning and the possibility of better pathways in our future.

Thanks, Jock.  I’m glad our pathways crossed yesterday.  I am happy to have your art as a reminder of the incredible beauty in our midst and the enduring message of courage for new growth.  Check out his story and his art.

Metis man discusses life after quitting job to carve

A Dozen Ways to Find #Joy During COVID-19 Self Isolation

1.  Celebrate a really good cup of coffee first thing in the morning.  I discovered I had one more tin of coffee from the Café Du Monde in New Orleans.  Oh the happy memories of travelling.  Bonus!

2.  Prepare really good food to eat.  It might be cooking old favourites or involve trying some new recipes.  I had just recently came across the recipe for the cinnamon buns that I adored when I was getting my Bachelor of Education Degree at U.B.C.  I am still trying to perfect the carmelized topping that I remember from back in the day!

                                                                                                Aspiring to recreate iconic UBC Cinnamon Buns

3.  Be grateful for small kindnesses.  After I sent my second letter home to parents and students, I got the gift of a drawing from one of my students for the Easter weekend.  It made my day.

4.  Marvel at Springtime Blossoms and amazing views during physically distanced outings.  The cherry blossoms and the magnolias are particularly magnificent right now!

5.  Feed your mind.  Read lots of books.  Fat, sad books.  Non-fiction.  Listen to audiobooks.  Poignant books read by the author and hard-boiled detective novels.  Professional sources.

6.  Write journals, stories, blogs and poems.

7.  Slow down and take time to notice details in familiar places. 

 

8.  Sink your teeth into a great binge watch.   Netflix.  Showtime.  Cable TV.  When else will you invest the time to commit to several seasons in a few days!  A binge watch of  Marie Kondo inspired me to go crazy with organization! 

9.  Start new routines.  I did an online workout and discovered muscles I forgot I had.  

10.  Take the opportunity to do chores that haven’t been done in years.  Or perhaps should be done every week.  The joy for me is in the finished product.  The clean gene skipped me and I find NO enjoyment in this task.  I also find that I am able to control the start and finish of these tasks.  And yes…I do like that.  The big joke when I lived in the suburbs was that if there was ever an earthquake, the coats of paint on the walls would hold up the house!

11.  Plan at home date nights, virtual social times, celebrations, and events – even if it is just a very English tea time.

 

     

     12.  Plan for when life goes back to normal and the possibilities open up.