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 🙂

The Legacy of Slavery in Canada

Excerpt from August 10, 2020 post

The 1783 Act to Limit Slavery was the first legislation to limit slavery in the British Colonies and celebrated by abolitionists in Upper Canada. British abolitionists had been engaged in protests against transatlantic trade in African people since the 1770’s. In 1833, Britain passed the Slavery Abolition Act in Parliament which was targeting slavery in tropical countries. Slavery was abolished in most British colonies, freeing more than 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa, as well as a small number in Lower Canada. By 1934, Canada became a destination for black people trying to escape slavery in the United States via The Underground Railway. As a Canadian, this has been a point of pride.

Slavery has been present since ancient times and has been sustained in one form or another throughout history.  The British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and Belgian empires-built empires based primarily on plantation agriculture using people abducted from Africa.  Slavery in the plantation economies of the United States, Brazil and Cuba came later and flourished under slavery.  Today slavery continues with human trafficking and in sweat shops.  Clearly there is no one country or civilization that has moral high ground.  Slavery in one form or another has plagued us all.  The point here is not that we all need to feel guilty.  It is to understand that through-out history, people have been making judgements that some people are less than.  Who decides?  For what purpose?

David Livingstone (1813-1873) in his explorations / mapping of central Africa documented in his journals and spoke in Britain of the cruelty of the slave trade in destroying African lives but also the devastating impact on the British character:

“No one can understand the effect of the unutterable meanness of the slave-system on the minds of those who, but for the strange obliquity which prevents them from feeling the degradation of not being gentlemen enough to pay for services rendered, would be equal in virtue to ourselves.  Fraud becomes as natural to them as ‘paying one’s way’ is to the rest of mankind.” 

He points out that slavery has a double-edged sword. It is devasting to the life of the person being enslaved. It also has a devastating impact on the character of the person involved in the enslavement. I would propose that racism also has a double-edged sword. It hurts the recipient of racism. It also damages the character of the racist. A world based on equity and respect is the only avenue forward.

Why Amnesty International Matters

Excerpt from August 10, 2020 blog post

Shine a light on human rights

Amnesty International first captured my heart and mind and imagination at a booth at Granville Island in Vancouver, British Columbia just after graduation from UBC. I saw the possibility of working with people committed to human rights to create a fairer and more equitable world. I was young, optimistic and newly empowered with a university degree. I was in education and believed with all my heart that if people knew better, then they would do better.

The premise behind Amnesty International is to “shine a light on human rights” and reveal the facts of imprisonment, abuse, miscarriage of justice, and extrajudicial killings to a wider audience.  The gold standard of social justice is the Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms signed December 10th, 1948.  The goal of Amnesty International research is for it to document the facts.  It is checked with three reliable sources before it is published.  In most cases, people do not work on cases in their own countries to avoid reprisals.  Exceptions are made for Americans working to stop capital punishment and Canadians working against abuses of Indigenous People.

The most affirming part of Amnesty work has been meeting prisoners who had been released by their governments once letters from Amnesty members around the world started to arrive.  These governments still believed in the currency of truth and did not want to be embarrassed on the world stage by overtly ignoring human rights.  It was encouraging to work with community members and students who were fully engaged in learning about human rights and ready to work towards their vision of how they wanted the world to be.  Amnesty International training is also excellent.  I learned about “Unpacking White Privilege” with activities that were respectful of the different starting points into the conversation with people in my community and from around Canada and just as relevant today.

The most frustrating part of Amnesty work for me is writing on behalf of extra-judicial killings, capital punishment in the United States, and Indigenous Rights in Canada.  The same painstaking work to collect facts and triangulation was done.  The Declaration of Rights and Freedoms was still a reference point.  However, there was a vested interest in secrecy and skewing facts.  The investment in maintaining the status quo seems to over-rule truth in too many cases.  Governments did not step up to admit that a person had not been granted a fair trial.  They did not look at the systemic racism that put, too frequently a black man, on death row.  They did not expeditiously address the land claims issues or practice of dumping the drunk Indigenous person outside of city limits in the snow or address the question of why so many Indigenous women were missing and killed. 

Today the work has become harder because too many politicians seem to have traded the reliance on the currency of truth, in favour of the belief that they can garner votes by fueling people’s fears to intensify biases and racism in society. I was encouraged when the book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson was released as a movie and an audiobook. And yet, this same story has been told by other people who have been unjustly accused or penalized far beyond what is just. And money is still directed to systems of punishment rather than required support systems.

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.

Indigenous Experience is Canadian History – Remember on Sept. 30th

Orange shirt day is officially marked on September 30 each year, as that was the time of year Indigenous children were historically taken from their homes to attend residential schools in Canada.  Orange shirt day is not a day about guilt for actions of other Canadians in days gone by.  It is about being part of a story.  Our story as Canadians.  A story in which 150,000 Indigenous children were taken out of their homes and communities and put in residential schools because the differences in culture and language were not understood or appreciated or tolerated.  A story where 10,000 years of experience living off the land was not understood as a learning opportunity.  A story that started in 1831 with the first residential school and continues today.  Because although the last residential school was finally closed in 1996, the trauma of generations of residential schools has left a trail of shame, sadness, and racism.

One of the best things for us as a country has been the work of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada.  From 2007 – 2015, as the commission traveled throughout Canada, the stories of residential schools became common knowledge.  In many cases for the first time, Indigenous people were able to tell their stories and have people believe they were telling the truth.  We learned of the harsh, punitive conditions in which children were not allowed to speak their own language or practice their cultural traditions.  Six thousand children never returned home due to inadequate food, health and sanitary conditions.  Stories of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse are all too common.  The trauma has crept through generations.  And yet the beacon of hope is that the truth has been told and heard.  And now the work of reconciliation has a chance of success.  We have the opportunity to forge a vision of a future in which Canadians value differences as opportunities for learning, ask questions, problem solve and recognize that every person matters.

Indigenous elders teach respect of the sacredness and importance of clean water.  Autumn Peltier from the Anishinabek First Nation on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario learned this as a young child.  These teachings have allowed this 15 year old girl to clearly articulate the need for clean water to the United Nations and at hundreds of events around the world.  She speaks and people listen.  Her question, “All across these lands, we know somewhere where someone can’t drink the water.  Why so many, and why have they gone without for so long?”  I am certain she will be included in the next edition of Wab Kinew’s book about Indigenous heroes!  Our country is better with her voice.

 

The Vancouver School District has identified an Indigenous Goal for all of our public schools:  To increase knowledge, acceptance,  empathy, awareness and appreciation of Indigenous histories, traditions,  cultures and contributions among all students

At David Livingstone Elementary, we will be exploring the Indigenous Principles of Learning incorporated in the new curriculum in British Columbia and exploring Indigenous ways of knowing.  Our starting points will be in the school community garden.  It will be a place to learn about indigenous plants and how they were used by local Indigenous groups as food and as medicine.  We’ll also be exploring many of the legends  that are based on different aspects of nature.  We have lots to learn and we’re ready to begin.

Who’s Invited?

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My mantra as an Elementary School Principal in British Columbia, Canada is “Everyone’s Invited to the Party”.  We register the students who live in the defined school catchment or there is space in the school to allow for a cross boundary permit.  There is no requisite testing or evaluation of “fit” in the school community.  As a student of history, I ascribe firmly to the notion that the state of democracy in a country can be judged by the state of the public-school system.  In British Columbia, we are in good shape.  Our curriculum is progressive and focused on student learning.  We do well on international testing of student achievement and have been acknowledged for the strength of the system.  That doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement, particularly when it comes to students who enter the public system with social and/or learning differences.

Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were matriarchs who held their families together.  They both experienced a considerable amount of adversity in their lives and it made them resilient and appreciative of family bonds.  They actively stayed in touch with each of their four children, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  They shared family news and ritual gatherings helped all of us step past petty grievances and hurt feelings with laughter and shared memories.   Newcomers to the family were welcomed with open arms and celebrated.  My grand-mothers thought less of themselves and more of the family members they sought to embrace.  They provided the ultimate example of inclusion.

With the deaths of my grandmothers, the bonds loosened and the context of family changed.  This change seems to be reflected in society generally.  A huge focus on the individual and their losses, happiness, divorces, and boundaries has weakened the concept of family.  Bullying by exclusion takes root in this context. The concept of family and the requirements to maintain inclusion in the life and fabric of family changes to one of judgment, preference or arbitrary measures in all too many cases.

There is no doubt that setting boundaries in cases of abuse are required for the safety of individuals involved.  However, all relationships are hard because people are not perfect, have expectations, and they keep changing.  We can learn about the importance of investing in these relationships from our grandmothers.  Blood connections are not required.  An investment in time, effort and empathy is required.  We are included in the family because we fit into the web or relationships through blood or affiliation.  Our shared experiences are instrumental in defining who we are.  Strong families create spaces for all members to be loved and celebrated.  There is also scaffolding to navigate through difficult situations so that the family is able to remain intact.  The longevity of the relationship brings depth because of the shared experiences.

In his book my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry (2015), Fredrik Backman does a masterful job of illustrating the insecurity of 7- almost 8- year old Elsa in finding her place in her two new families, after the divorce of her parents.  Her father’s wife has two of her own children and her concern is that she upsets the family dynamic, as she has read on the internet, so they don’t want her around.  Her mother and her step-father are going to have a new baby and her concern is that they will love the new baby more because he belongs to both of them.  Fortunately, in this case, both parents and their partners are very focused on the child’s needs and respecting the other parent. They fully invest in including Elsa in both of the families she belongs too.  In this situation, everyone wins.

On Twitter this week, @MrsHankinsClass was sharing how her students said “Welcome to the family” when the new student said “Hi”.  This is a concept of family in the very best of ways.  Day One that new student knew he was welcome and he was in a safe place therefore in a position to start learning.  There is an expectation that differences will exist, problems will be encountered and there will be a will a respectful problem-solving process.  This is what inclusion is supposed to look like.  You walk into a classroom where it is just fine to be yourself.  Perfection is neither expected nor required.  In the midst of challenges and poor choices, the expectation is that you calm down, then problem solve and then repair relationships.  Tomorrow is always another opportunity to be your best self.  Growth is the valued currency. 

I’m excited about the beginning of a new school year and it isn’t restricted to the new post it note colours and shapes and the smell of new notebooks.  I’m in a new school and there is another opportunity to work with a new staff to welcome our students to a school where they want to come each day.  Fredrik Backman defines the most important human right as the right to be different.  Yes, everyone is invited to the party!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weaving Together the Stories of Reconciliation

Latash Maurice Nahanee performed his first national premiere on Thursday night as part of the cast of Weaving Reconciliation – Our Way.  It is presented not only as a play, but also as a cultural encounter, written by Renae Morriseau, Rosemary Georgeson and Savannah Walling with contributions from the cast, knowledge keepers and partnering communities.  I was honoured to be a witness to the stories that unfolded.  The pre-show weaving demonstration, a metaphor for the play, was the focus in the middle of the circle when you enter the room, which later becomes the stage.  The stories of the struggles of one Indigenous family unfolds in the centre of the circle.  They are supported by four relations, arranged like compass points around the stage, from the past, the present and the future.  Their voices have an ethereal quality and speak to their friends and relatives, ready to support the tormented soul of the characters that weave in and out of the spotlight.  Just when the pain and tragedy of the story became too overwhelming, in enters the Trickster, Sam Bob, with his hopeful, young sidekick.  This character has a big physical presence with a lightness of spirit and sharp wit which mirrors the comedic element in Shakespeare’s tragedies.

The sharing of the stories, intertwined with other stories, intertwined with past injustices, intertwined with other injustices, give light to the complexities of the process of reconciliation with Indigenous families.  The struggle and the promise of moving forward is a testimony to the resilience of Indigenous people emerging beyond the constricting yoke of residential schools, systemic racism, dislocation from support structures and pain.  Part of the hope felt at the end of the play comes from the characters moving forward towards reconciliation with family, with history and with a stronger voice to recapture the power over their own lives.

The power of good theatre is the capacity to draw us into the story and help us to empathize with the characters.  Watching the play, I believed that each story represented the lived experience of each actor.  Their intensity of emotion was palpable.  The story of the experience of Indigenous people in Canada belongs to them and their story of reconciliation belongs to them.  How that story intertwines with our individual story and our colonial past is defined by us.  Latash has been a mentor and a friend in helping me on my own personal path towards understanding and reconciliation.  We met “many moons ago” when we were both working in Coquitlam.  Latash was an Aboriginal support worker and I was a teacher at a middle school.  Some of our shared students were some of the most vulnerable in the district.  Latash was masterful at stepping back from judgement and accepting where these kids were and providing much needed support.  He helped me to begin to understand the complexity of supporting these young people as they tried to forage a new path that was far beyond the scope of learning to read.

Latash invited me to be the sponsor teacher in a cultural exchange program with indigenous students in the Coquitlam School District and indigenous students who belonged to a Friendship Centre in Ottawa.  These students came bubbling with enthusiasm to seek out understanding of their cultural roots.  Students spent time as a large group in both Vancouver and Ottawa.  It opened up new world of experiences, cultural learning, and access to history not included in my classes at elementary school, secondary school or university.  As the sponsor teacher, I was in charge of expectations for behaviour, timelines and safety.  This was my first glimpse into the challenges that come with the role of principal.  It was also my first understanding of my role as the “one outside” who carries a completely different frame of reference and experience within Canada.

Latash, helped me to grapple with the notion that my path towards reconciliation was my own.  Learning the history was not enough.   Looking to the indigenous community to reconcile on their own was not a viable option.  Feeling guilty wasn’t the point.  The discovery that residential schools existed in Canada, let alone in my lifetime was as much of a shock as the dawning realization that Canada was not the champion of the Universal Declaration of Rights and Freedoms that I had believed.  The initial defensive move was the desire to distance myself from any responsibility and create a rationale for unacceptable decisions.  The dawning realization was that the decisions made and perpetuated throughout our history could only have been motivated by a belief in cultural supremacy and monetary gain.

Our challenge is to decide to open our minds and hearts to the stories and weave a new chapter that is based on a reconciliation of the past, and lay a new foundation based on  respect for basic human rights and freedoms.   It is to ask questions.  How does one woman decide hitchhiking is her only option and no one ever sees or hears from her again or knows what happened to her?  How does that happen once, let alone hundreds of times?   Why do indigenous people struggle to graduate?  Represent such a high number of the prison population?  Suffer from high rates of addiction?  As Latash aptly describes, Canada for indigenous people “is like the albatross that was hung around the neck of the Ancient Mariner.”  Resilience will be the story of the Indigenous people in reconciling within their families, communities and Canada.  The story of the reconciliation of “a settler” such as myself, is still to be written.  It will be a journey and it will be woven with a myriad of other stories.  It will be a story of hope and of justice.

My advice.  Go see the play.  It’s in Vancouver for another three days, then off to Pentiction, Toronto and Winnipeg.  It may make you cry.   It will make you think.   It will make you hopeful.  And surprisingly, it will make you laugh.

Superheroes Champion Syrian Refugees via CBC Podcast

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1947 This suitcase carried belongings of mother and her four young children to Canada to start a new chapter of life

It all started with a suitcase on Human Rights Day on December 10, 2015.  Tecumseh students were first asked to reflect on the Syrian Refugee crisis.  Students wrote letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing their desire for Syrian boys and girls to live in a place without war where they could go to school in safety.  They wrote heartwarming notes to Syrian refugees so they would know that Canada is a country that values human right and was welcoming to people wanting to start new chapters of their lives.

This project captured the mind and heart of Grade 5/6 teacher Marion Collins, who worked tirelessly to provide learning opportunities for teachers and students throughout the year in the spirit of the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia.  With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase became a symbol of the refugee experience and a work of art welcoming individuals to add their individual voice to the multicultural expression of Canada.  With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (the BC council of the International Reading Association), the writing component of the project grew to include stories and photos of the journey to Canada of Tecumseh students, clothing with messages to Syrian refugees to go in the suitcase, reflections of what students would grab if they needed to leave home in a hurry like refugees.

Last week, Science World hosted the Digital Fair of the Vancouver School Board.  Grade 5/6 students presented their Graphic Novels inspired by CBC podcasts.  Graphic novels featured student created Refugee Superheroes to equip Syrian refugees with the skills to cope with the experience of settling in a new Canadian home.  They use captions, time labels, sounds and speech bubble to demonstrate their innovative, creative and unique style.  Most of all, they continue on the spirit of welcoming that comes from children who understand the challenges and difficulties that accompany leaving your home to start a new chapter of life in another country.


#WelcomeSyrianRefugees

imageOn December 10th, 2015, Tecumseh Elementary School paused to celebrate Human Rights Day and to consider the plight of Syrian refugees.  If you had a chance to read the Welcoming Syrian Refugees blog (Dec. 2015), you will remember that Marion Collins was reading Hannah’s Suitcase with her students and we had the idea to create peace art with the old wooden suitcase that my paternal Grandmother brought to Canada in 1947 to start a new chapter of life with her four young children.   With the help of the grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase has become an inspiration for representing ideas through art, reading, writing, listening, speaking and caring.

One side of the suitcase is decorated with messages of welcome to the Syrian refugees. The other sides are decorated with Jackson Pollock inspired art by Grade 3 students. Each colour represents each individual in Canada with all of our similarities and differences.  The finished masterpiece is the representation of all of us coming together to create something beautiful.  Tanya Conley’s students also made flags of the countries of origin of Tecumseh students and of the suitcase.  A local artist, Larkyn Froese, came into help the Grade 3’s with applying the flags on the project.  Grade 6 students wrote messages of welcome on fabric squares and sewed them on items of clothing to be displayed coming out of the suitcase.

The artwork became a catalyst for more questions and an inspiration for the reading and writing of Tecumseh students.  With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (The British Columbia chapter of the International Literacy Association –ILA), Ms. Collins continued to expand the project to include a literacy component with the entire school.   The experience of leaving home and family behind is a difficult experience as an immigrant and as a refugee. Many of the parents in our school community have given up good jobs in their home country and work hard, often with more than one job, to provide better opportunities for their children in Canada.  Ms. Collins spearheaded a writing project with intermediate students to interview their parents and discover family stories of hardship and triumph.  Several albums have been filled with the interviews and photographs for display with the suitcase.

This same family history vein was pursued by Ms. Conley’s HumanEYES art based initiative that celebrates the diverse life experiences of young people throughout the Vancouver, Coast Salish ancestral lands.  This project documented inter-generational and inter-cultural storytelling and celebrates the importance of family and maintaining cultural roots.  The project culminated with an intergenerational cookbook filled with recipes, art and family photographs of her 4th graders that has been included in the suitcase as well.

Ms. Collins, her enthusiasm and the desire of staff to get involved resulted in almost all of the classrooms in the school taking part in the project.  Several classes stopped to consider the notion of taking flight in war-torn areas with very few belongings.  They learned many refugees leave home with a house key in the hope their home will survive the war or as a memory of what was.  Several intermediate classes of students designed hamsa handsan old and still popular amulet for magical protection from the envious or evil eye in many Middle East and North African cultures.  They created keychains with the hasma hand, a key and a fimo sculpture of what they pack if they needed to leave home in a hurry.  Primary students wrote and drew about what they would bring and have created albums of their ideas for inclusion in the suitcase as well.

The #WelcomeSyrianRefugees project was first featured at the United Way luncheon for Syrian Refugees that was hosted at Tecumseh Elementary school this Spring.  The most common reaction from the adults viewing the project has been tears.  In the barrage of negatives on mainstream media and social media, there is comfort that Canadian children are welcoming their Syrian children with open arms.  There is also the hope that there are many Canadian adults who are doing exactly the same thing.

Note:  The title #WelcomeSyrianRefugees came from the Twitter handle of the same name that expresses messages of welcome not just to Syrian refugees.  This project will be on display at the Vancouver School Board during July and August 2016.  Our goal is for it to be displayed at a variety of venues as a way to warmly welcome refugees as they begin a new chapter of their lives in Canada.

 

Technology Break

 

imageIn my quest to extend my background knowledge of technology, I have immersed myself in learning using my computer, my iPad, my iPhone and even my FitBit. Experiences with distance learning, the PILOT (Professionals Investigating Learning Opportunities using Technology) inquiry with my staff, providing PREP for teachers in the computer lab at our school and participating in professional learning with colleagues online has kept me “plugged in” on a regular basis.  At some times, my iPhone seems to have become an extension of my arm.  Although I’ve made a concerted effort to take technology breaks, they are generally brief and not enough to direct my thinking elsewhere.  This Spring Break that changed.

My husband and I went to Cuba for the first time.  My homework revealed that internet access was not only expensive but it was unreliable.   I also didn’t realize how safe Cuba was so I locked up all my technology and left it at home.  My husband brought a tablet and his HTC android.  The HTC did not take good pictures and the tablet was too big to be easily accessible so my vacation was largely without tech toys.

After a brief period of “disconnection withdrawal”,  I was just fine not being online. Being in the tropics certainly makes the process of exhaling and relaxing happen easily.  This is particularly the case when no one can get hold of you.  I did miss the iPhone camera.  It made me realize how often I snap photos of information rather than writing it down.  Snapping photos also often helps me to record memories, create artistic photos to share and remember great writing ideas.  I was delighted when I got home and had my iPhone camera accessible when I spotted the father eagle guarding the Kits Point nest.  I snapped the pic and while I was looking down at it, he took flight and I missed it.  I found myself wishing I had left the phone at home.

The merits of taking a technology break and enjoying the moment and the people you are with has obvious benefits.  What I have found most surprising is the effort required to reconnect after the technology break.   Communicating online requires the same investment as any face to face relationship.  You need to devote the time in order to experience any kind of reciprocity.  The real value of the break for me was the pause to re-evaluate the avenues that are most worthwhile to engage both online and offline.  Strategic use rather than conditioned response is my new goal for tech use.