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.

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!

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 

The Best or Worst Versions of Ourselves?

With the advent of the COVID-19 global pandemic, we are witnessing extreme versions of people. Some people take Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice to “Be Kind” to heart. We see examples of people choosing to be the best version of themselves and acting with generosity and kindness. Then there are the other people who unleash a nastiness and vitriol that we only saw hints of in past interactions. The ongoing conversation has become, do difficult times reveal the actual predisposition of a person or does it reveal of lack of coping skills?

What do people see when they look at you?

Since the beginning of civilization, there are examples of people who seek out those opportunities to dominate others.  The motivations have ranged from selfishness, jealousy, insecurity, entitlement, sadism or fear of losing power.   We have historical relics such as the pyramids, the Great Wall of China, concentration camps and the documentation of slavery, as glaring examples of this.  With COVID-19, there are increased reports of family breakdown, abuse, separation, divorce, racism, and volatility in the community.   Last week, a Kitsilano resident assumed the responsibility for aggressively questioning people on the beach, where they were from and ordering them home to their own neighbourhood.  There is no shortage of examples of outrageous, opportunistic, and perhaps Machiavellian behaviour to warrant responses of anger, depression and dismay. 

Yet, the friendliness and kindness is palpable on a daily basis.  There are so many examples of generosity and kindness in person and online that have the capacity to fill our heart with gratitude.  The smiles, the friendly conversation, inspirational stories, and the commiserating over lines at stores are daily occurrences.  The 7 o’clock salute to thank health care workers has expanded from pots and pans to include percussion instruments, car and boat horns, sirens, and in some cases full bands.  In their lives, did these people receive good character education with an emphasis on moral justice, integrity, and kindness from friends, families, or teachers? 

In my heart of heart, I don’t believe in truly bad people who go out into the world with a mission to make other people miserable.  And yes, good people have bad days.  However, all of us are called on to make choices and are responsible for those choices.  The COVID-19 global pandemic will be one of those times when the measuring stick comes out to judge where we were as a civilization in 2020.  History will hold out the examples of the human capacity for greatness, or like Margaret Wheatley points out, the very clear indicators of the fall of yet another civilization.  We will be held responsible for how we raised up the voices of those in need of help and encouragement, and how we responded on a societal or individual level.   

Grade 7 Zooming Away Ceremony 2020

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COVID-19 can prevent the face to face event but not the celebration.  A speech to Grade 7 students leaving elementary school to start secondary school.

My name is Ms. Carrie Froese, the very proud principal of David Livingstone Elementary School.   I am honoured to be addressing our Grade 7 graduates and their guests tonight.  This has been a year of change like no other.  The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed how you have experienced school. It has changed how you socialize with your peers.  It has changed how you connect with your family.  It has changed how others interact with you.  The Prime Minister has addressed Grade 7 students directly in a speech as you graduate from elementary school and move on to secondary school.  A first!  You are witnessing a tipping point where masses of people want to address the racism and discrimination in our systems of policing, health care and community life.  You are seeing the backlash, as people wanting to hold tight to their preferred position or privilege, demonstrate blatant and deplorable racism.   Then there is you.  In the midst of it all.  In a position to make real and meaningful change a reality.

You have heard me ask many times, who do you want to be in the world?  Your power is in the things that you do and the things that you say.  Many of you have already discovered that power.  Early in the year, I was approached by group of Grade 7 students.   They politely told me that when I said “Good morning, boys and girls” in the morning message, it did not make everyone feel welcome.  They were able to identify the language was not inclusive and had the potential to make students feel “outside” of the group.  They hung in there with me through slips of habit, to change my language to make everyone in the school feel welcome with a “Good Morning Livingstone School Community”.  Little shift.  Big difference in creating an inclusive and welcoming space.

Anna identified two things at the beginning of the year;  A love of graphic novels by students in the school;  A lack of graphic novels in the Livingstone library.  Her initial goal was to “educate me” about the merits of graphic novels.  I was sent home with homework and a fresh set of eyes.  Her goal grew to include sharing her passion with other educators, parents, and students by presenting on a panel session sponsored by the BC Literacy Council.  Her efforts resulted in a growing collection of graphic novels in the Livingstone Library and a nice connection with the librarian at Tupper who also shares her passion.  We discovered that Tupper has the most well-developed collection of graphic novels of any school in the Vancouver School Board when the Tupper librarian attended the session.

Christa and Miki wondered about the Black Lives Matter movement, the horrific images on social media, and the subsequent protests taking place. They took the time to ask questions, and followed their learning to embrace questions about the multiple perspectives that exist in history.  Our history.  They learned about the historical and present day discrimination faced by our Indigenous people and other communities of colour in our own backyard.  Then they looked for ways to use their voices to speak up for needed change by sharing their learning with peers, signing petitions, advocating for donations and setting out to discover a path forward.

Fundraising for the Yukon Trip took on a life of its own, as students in Division 1 and 2 set their sights a trip of a lifetime to the Yukon to learn about food security, Indigenous people and the northern environment.  Then just when the funds were almost in place – the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the possibility.  To say it is a drag is an understatement.  However, students have been able to pivot and make spending decisions that indicate:

  • the aspiration to benefit as many people as possible in the school community
  • a gratitude for the Essential Service Workers during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • gratitude and support for the Project Chef in-residence program and the powerful learning we experienced this year
  • A concern for people who are struggling to put food on the table
  • A desire to eradicate racism and discrimination

That is a strong voice filled with care, empathy, generosity and kindness that makes all of us proud.   As you move on to secondary school, never underestimate the power of a clear, kind voice.  Not laughing at a racist or sexist or homophobic joke.  Naming behaviour for what it is.  Supporting a targeted person.  All those things have power.  And when we act collectively, it is possible to change our society to embrace kindness and implement basic human rights for all people.  As Margaret Mead says, ““Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

You have the power to choose who you want to be in the world.  Be kind.  Be curious.  Ask questions.  Read to experience different places and glean new perspectives and knowledge.  Write to fine tune your thinking and share your ideas.  You have the power to change the world .  I feel very confident that you will.  I am so glad that our paths crossed.

Congratulations and best of luck as your next chapter unfolds at Secondary School.

Maintaining Principal Communication with Kids During “School At Home”

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 A smile.  “Good morning” at the door or the school.  “Hi” in the hallway.  Chatting on the playground.  Working together in the school garden.  Navigating through conflict.  Teaching calm down strategies, conflict resolution skills, and perhaps kindness. Supporting budding leaders in their ventures.  Visiting classrooms to talk with students about their learning.  These are some of the ways that principals and vice-principals develop relationships and communicate with students.  It may serve as an invitation to other conversations.  It may establish a welcoming tone in the school. So what do principals do when a global pandemic keeps all of the students at home?

At this time of COVID-19 more than ever, we want to re-assure students of the constants in their lives.  They still belong to a school community that cares about them.  We have a number of strategies to keep ourselves safe and healthy.  Teachers are doing a great job of reaching out to re-establish strong classroom connections and provide learning opportunities at home.  Teachers are communicating via email, phone, text, and online.  On line platform such as Teams Classroom, My BluePrint, and Showbie are allowing students to access lessons, assignments, and opportunities at my school.  Support materials are being provided to support students.

My quest as a school principal is to find ways to make students feel part of their larger school community.  Can it be done?  I’m a confirmed optimist, so I believe it can.  The “Together We’re Better” has become a tagline.  However, the tagline emerges from an essential truth.  At difficult times, we need to come together to support one another.  For some students, it may be one part of a well-developed support network.  For other students, it will be a lifeline.  I want every child to have at least one adult who they are comfortable to reach out too.  I am trying some things that I hope will make a difference.

  1. Video-tweeting a message everyday while students are not able to come to school to learn.   Our school Twitter feed @LivingstoneVSB is a link on the school website so it can easily be accessed by students without a Twitter account.
  2. Sending weekly newsletters to students when I send home the newsletter to parents / guardians.  This week I shared a recipe from my maternal grand-mother and the story that makes it special.  See sample below.

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    Nanny Keenan as a girl in Brandon, Manitoba
  3. Sharing some activities and opportunities that can be adapted from Kindergarten to Grade 7 on the Livingstone school website.  I am hoping it will provide some areas of common experience, much like when we have a school assembly or program.
  4. Providing links and opportunities for online activities and resources from our community partners. The entire school participated in the Project Chef In-Residence Program this year.  It was a highly enjoyable learning experience that left Chef Barb and her talented foodie crew, near and dear to our hearts.  Yoga Buggy provided a program through a partnership agreement with our Tupper Community School Team to introduce students to yoga and support our goal of developing greater mindfulness.  Yoga Buggy then provided a program for our Grade 1,2, and 3 classrooms.  I am hoping that the familiarity and the background knowledge developed in programs like these will allow students to try the learning opportunities on these links at home.

I’m making the commitment to take risks and try some new things outside of my comfort zone.  This is exactly what we asking teachers, students and parents to do.  I have a few ideas in mind, but I’m hoping this blog will bring me some new ideas to try.  Two things I love about blogging:  It helps me to clarify my thinking about what matters most and it always precipitates conversation.  I’m always open to the conversations that push my thinking and provide other possibilities.   I hope to hear from you.

Stay safe.  Be gentle with yourself. 

 Addendum:  Most recent letter to students:

Friday, April 17, 2020

Dear Livingstone Students,

Week 3 of #SchoolAtHome or #HomeAtSchool – depending on your perspective.  The sunshine has been glorious this week.  We have almost broken the record for the most sunny days in April in over 100 years!  Great for our ability to get outside and enjoy some activity outside.  For many of us, it is one of our “Dozen Ways to Feel #Joy” during this tumultuous time of COVID-19!

Students have been learning with teachers, parents and siblings in some interesting new ways.   Many of you have shared that you have been enjoying baking.  Me, too.  #Joy I’m going to share my Nanny Keenan’s recipe for Oatcakes.  Nanny was my Mom’s mother.  She was born in Brandon, Manitoba but her Mom, my great-grandmother, was born in Scotland.  Oatcakes are a very Scottish treat.  I spent lots of time with my Nanny Keenan.  As soon as I’d walk in the door with my Mom or my aunts, she’d get us to put on the kettle for a “cuppa” tea.  Oatcakes are perfect for a tea party.

Nanny Keenan’s Oatcakes

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Ingredients:

1 cup flour

2 cups quick oats

½ cup sugar

¾ cup shortening

Salt

¼ cup shortening with ½ teaspoon baking soda

Optional – a handful of brown sugar and a bit of cinnamon   ( I tried this variation after I had some amazing oatcakes on a biking trip on Prince Edward Island.)

Directions:

  1. Mix all the ingredients together.
  2. Sprinkle flour on a cutting board, then roll out the dough with a rolling pin dusted with flour. You can decide if you want them thinner or thicker.
  3. My Nanny Keenan cut the pieces in triangles so she would use all of the dough the first time. Sometimes I roll out the dough and use a cup to cut circles.  I think they look fancier.  Then you have to roll out the dough a second time to use the remaining dough.  Nanny Keenan hated waste so she ALWAYS cut triangles.
  4. Bake from 8-12 minutes until golden brown.

Go to the School Website to see today’s video-tweet @LIvingstoneVSB of Miranda and what she’s been baking. Yum.  Enjoy.

I would love to have stories, pictures of your work, and any thoughts about what would be fun learning activities for your peers.  Let me know if you are okay with me posting your work on the school Twitter feed @LivingstoneVSB and the school website.  I would love to hear from you.  I miss you.

From,

 

Ms. Froese

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.

School in the Wake of COVID-19

Spring break is almost over in Vancouver, British Columbia.  On Monday, March 30th, for the first time in my life, the doors of the school will not open to welcome students back.  The doors of the school will remain locked.  Students will not return to in-class schooling as per the direction of BC Health officials.  This is completely new terrain for educators, families and students.  Fortunately, we had the luxury of Spring Break.  No one is falling behind. We had the gift of two weeks to consider how we will approach this challenge.  Although educators have been on a regularly scheduled holiday, I know the work ethic of my colleagues.  I’m willing to guarantee that more than one educator is already dreaming about kids, thinking about the days ahead, and creating a things to do list.  Teachers are dedicated individuals who go into the profession because they want to enrich the lives of children.  At this point in the school year, teachers know their students personally and have a good understanding of their individual learning needs.  Teachers will be participating in conversations and online meetings on Monday and Tuesday and contacting parents in the coming week.  Administrators have been participating in online meetings with district staff and dealing with a barrage of email to prepare to meet the most immediate needs.  Our superintendent is communicating online with staff, being interviewed and creating YouTube videos to reassure people that we’ve got this.  At home, there are some basic things that families may find helpful to support their child(ren) in learning at home.

The new curriculum in British Columbia has garnered worldwide attention because it has effectively incorporated current research about learning.  This involves looking at learning through a different lens than what most adults grew up with.  Learning has never been something that happens between the hours of 9 – 3 pm.  The redesigned British Columbia curriculum tries to capitalize on the curiosity of a typical 5-year-old entering kindergarten and put the supports and structures in place for that same curiosity to continue to exist in the typical 17-year-old student in secondary school.  It capitalizes on the role of student interest, self-regulation, and benchmarks to signal a need to loop back for more repetition and practice, or to move on to the next phase of learning.  Learning may be happening for all of the waking hours but “school time” allows for the time for deep thinking and the front-end loading for skill development.  It is not intended to be painful, but it is intended to be deliberate.  Although not all parents are educators, all parents educate their children in one way or another through-out their lives.  Here are some things you can do with your children to facilitate learning at home.

Set up a workspace for school times.

Support kids in setting up a workspace for 9 am to 3 pm.  Currently at home I am taking  up the entire dining room.  Pencils, paper, journal, iPad, plug in.  Have your child make a list of things required.  They are best at “doing school”.  I would encourage one notebook designated for questions.  Questions might be for teachers or for future inquiry projects.  Let the teacher know if there are things you require when you are contacted.

Set up a daily routine for “school”.

Sit down and create a daily schedule with your child.  In my classroom, it was always called The Shape of the Day.  Kids will recognize this process as it is done in one form or another in most classrooms.  Showering, getting dressed, eating breakfast and brushing teeth happen before the start of the school day.  Be sure to build in “recess” and “lunch” breaks.  Be on time.  You could be teaching your child the structure so they can have a successful home-based business in the future.

9:00 am – Review daily schedule.

Make any necessary changes to incorporate Skype calls to interview Grandma, chats with friends about books they are reading, or interesting programming that fit in with student learning.

9:15 am – Online yoga or physical activity to stretch and exercise.

9:30 am – Literacy Time

Children get better at reading by reading.  This may involve taking turns reading with a parent.  It could involve listening to a parent read and stopping to discuss issues and interpretations.  It could be listening to an audiobook and following up with discussion with peers via messenger or illustrating while listening or writing a journal entry afterwards.  It could be writing a personal blog or a story.

10:30 -11:00 am – recess break / Snack preparation by the child and free choice play

Snack preparation is another opportunity for developing literacy and numeracy skills as well as teaching about nutrition and independence.   Let your child participate.  Opportunity for more physical activity.

11:00 am – Numeracy Activities

The type of activities done during numeracy time may involve some skill and drill practice of basic facts, playing store that involves pricing items, paying for them with real money and making change, budgeting for future trip planning.  There are also a number of online options to develop numeracy skills.

12:00 pm – lunch break / lunch preparation by the child and free choice play

Again, children should be involved in the preparation and clean-up of lunch. Go outside for a break while practicing physical distancing of at least 2 metres.

1:00 pm – Project Based Learning

Supporting students in asking questions and developing a plan to find answers is at the heart of Project Based Learning.  Hard questions make for interesting projects.  My children learned early on that they would not be as likely to get in trouble for making a mess if it was done in the name of “Doing Science”.  The question can be as easy as “What kind of bird is that?”  Spring in Vancouver guarantees that kids can look out any window or go for a walk and see several species to make close observations with field notes that include dates, times, drawings, notations, comparisons, and questions to pursue.

Generally big questions cross many different disciplines of subjects which should be encouraged.  Successful learners in adult life are divergent thinkers.  This is to be encouraged.  At this point in history, it is not possible to master all of the relevant content because new content is generated at such a high rate.  We are teaching kids to think about the application of content to answer new questions.

This time can also include outdoor physical activity, as long as there is attention to physical distancing recommendations of two meters from others.  There are also a number of online opportunities to sign up for or follow along on television.

2:45 pm – Make a schedule for the following day and clean up.

In many families, a student workspace may also be a family living space.  Clean it up.  The learning may continue but school is over.

3:00 pm – Home Time

I encourage you to draw lines around “school time’.  My caution is that if ALL time is designated school time, I anticipate you will get considerable pushback from your child(ren).  Take the time to play games together and let your children make personal choices. Limiting screen time will undoubtedly be necessary but brainstorming a list of possibilities is helpful.

Teachers will be in contact with families in the coming week to provide more information.  Teacher communication with families has taken many forms this year.  Some teachers communicate using the online platform My Blueprint or Fresh Grade, while others communicate via a class newsletter and email.

I encourage you to begin with the structure of learning at home on Monday.  The content of work times will change over time with teacher input, but the routine of school will create a predictable structure that will be reassuring to students.  The goal is to minimize the struggles that often emerge during assigned homework times.  If daily school at home is not successful, we have more work to do with our students to enlist their engagement and support.

I can guarantee as educators, we will not have all the answers this week.  I can also tell you that I was emailing a question to a colleague on Friday night at 9:05 pm and getting an instant reply.  Educators are on high alert and doing their best.  They may have pressing issues to deal with immediately and they will have a myriad of concerns that you will not know or understand.  Currently I am waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the welfare of the little salmon that are part of the Salmon Enhancement Program at school.  For some this is a relatively small concern in a myriad of more pressing matters.  For me it matters because my response to my students demonstrates my investment in their questions and concerns.  At the end of the day, we are all directly accountable to our kids.  Our collective task is for “school at home” to be another way to go about learning in the midst of a significant pivot.  It will be an exercise in teaching our kids to be resilient.  I hope we will be working together with our kids to meet their needs as learners and as young people experiencing a historical first. We are all writing our own story. Let’s make it one of creative thinking, collaboration, and victories – big and small.

“Fenced In” during COVID-19 Lockdown

Lockdown in the city.  Although social distancing could have been the answer to the dramatic effort to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, stronger government measures have been required to enforce common sense measures like social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.  As a result, most of us are in our homes for most of the day in Vancouver and many other places throughout the world.  Only Taiwan used the SARS experience to prepare adequately to manage this recent global pandemic.  For people in Taiwan, life includes travel restrictions, regular temperature checks, masks, and strictly enforced isolation for people who have travelled or feel sick.  It also includes going to work, restaurants, and the gym.  For the rest of us, we’re inside.  No socializing.  No yoga.  No gym. No eating out at restaurants.  No visits to the local coffee shop to sit, work or socialize.  Even the logs at the popular Vancouver beaches have been gathered and fenced in to prevent people from gathering and socializing in groups.  The quest to cope is daunting for many who feel like they have exchanged control of their lives for abject boredom.  However we continue to have control of how we perceive our situation and how we spend our time.

I am grateful that we our two week Spring break that pushed the card on self isolating and government enforcement of Health and Safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while my family, friends and my school community are still healthy.  Prior to the break, our school did a good job of reminding kids to wash hands properly, cough into their elbows, and maintain clean spaces and surfaces.  We are now in a better position to teach and reinforce the importance of social distancing.

My Grandma Derksen kept four young kids together and alive through-out World War II in Germany.  She lived to be 100 years old,  Her stories of rats nibbling on toes in emergency shelters and other horrific conditions framed her later life.  She demonstrated a fastidious attention to cleanliness.  For her joy came with a clean and organized household.  When I was newly married, I’d take a toothbrush to crevices when she came to visit and shove piles of stuff into closets.  The family joke has always been that the clean gene skipped my genetic make-up.  I prefer to go out and do something.  If I’m at home, I’d prefer to read or write rather than clean the house.

I was gifted with the collector gene of my Grandma Keenan.  Books, rocks, shells, tea cups, photos, letters and other treasures carry stories and possibilities.  My recent obsession with clean surfaces have brought the realization that the clutter also brings dust and presents a cleaning challenge.  I will require more than a two week lock-down to meet the Grandma Derksen standard, but I am well on my way.

My recent painting, organizing, and cleaning obsession has been made enjoyable with audio-books and the Netflix binge watch.  I have discovered that weekly featured audiobooks are available for under $10.00 and some great classics are even cheaper.  Nothing like a hard boiled detective with Tourettes to entertain you while you paint a bedroom.  Multiple seasons of a series on Netflix with well developed characters has kept me shuffling papers and sorting “stuff” well into the night.

Social media has the merits of checking in on people and statistics, but like binge watching television or the news can become a black hole.  It has the same capacity as empty grocery store shelves to fill me with anxiety and apprehension.  My mother was the ultimate worry wart.  The worst things that happened in her life were the things she never saw coming.  The worry just made her more nervous and less able to experience joy.  I have found the need to just turn it off.   Daily technology and television breaks are mandatory.

Reading is how I cope with life.  It allows me to shift gears.  It provides the front-end loading that feeds my curiosity and helps me process life.  It allows me to do big picture thinking and make sense of things in the past and yet to come.  It’s not an “add on” to a busy schedule but part of my life.  The additional time at home has diversified my reading.  I am even listening to a grisly book called Still Lives that would make my older sister proud – the ultimate consumer of scary books and movies.  I just finished a book called Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang that has reframed my thinking around work/ life balance.

Daily outdoor exercise is part of the mix.  It provides a welcome addition to the day.  There is something to be said for the positive addition of having time with nature to calm our nervous system and experience joy in its beauty.  There is time for long walks and bike rides.  My preference is for long bike rides because it gives me a better way to work out.  Spring is a great time of year.  As new growth emerges, so do the possibilities for learning, considering things in a new light and creativity.  With this new learning and inspiration comes the desire to write and to cook.  Olive’s bran muffins from when my cousin and I worked on 4th Avenue at The Computer Tax Service, Nanny Keenan’s oatcakes, along with homemade croutons have become staples.

By the end of the day, I still find I have more to do.   Today I will venture out into the rain.  Then the promise of a pot of tea and a good book.  Tonight I have decided that it will be date night.  I will put on nice clothes and perhaps even make-up and make a fancy dinner.   Something to change things up.  I may even let my husband teach me a new card game.  My husband will be delighted not to be co-opted into another organizational venture!