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that you must identify and comply with if you do not want to fall into disfavour and subsequently have the welcome withdrawn.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.

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

COVID-19 Distancing

Social Distancing at Spanish Banks
“We can chat from cars!”

We are social animals.  A range of cultural and social institutions, as well as businesses have been organized around this premise.  COVID 19 strikes.  The World Health Organization responds with 5 basic rules for us to follow.

Do the Five by WHO
5 things to prevent the spread of Covid19 #DoThe5 #Covid19

The first two imperatives are under our direct control on a regular basis and have been implemented to varying degrees over the course of the last several years.  Kids in public school are familiar with repetitive reminders to wash their hands and the mantra – “Cough into your elbow, away from people”.  The success in NOT touching the face depends  largely on how successful people have been in conquering the habit of nose picking.  Unfortunately the adult nose picker driving a car demonstrates this is an ingrained habit in as many adults as children.  To obliterate this habit could be the one upside of the global pandemic.

People have clearly taken the recommendation to stay home if they are sick.  I have heard a few sneezes but none of the coughing that is usually quite apparent at this time of year.  The last time I heard someone coughing in a public place was at a yoga class before Prime Minister Trudeau appeared on television and the level of concern and vigilance increased exponentially.  The obviously sick person had a big box of kleenex on her mat and evoked a fair amount of angst in the group.  I’m not certain if she returned to class while sick but it was enough to have me to take an extended break from yoga class and for the studio to close their doors within days.  I have heard the occasional sneeze escape in a grocery store or outdoors, followed by a plethora of apologies or explanations of allergies.  Sick people are self isolating due to the directive or reaction of the general public.

Maintaining a distance of at least one metre between people is the most challenging of the directives to implement.  Even though many people are trying, habit is again the culprit.  The hand goes out to shake.  The hug to say thanks.  The high five to recognize.  Fortunately Star Trek has given us the “Vulcan handshake” along with the very appropriate “live long and prosper tagline.  For long time trekkies, it also is guaranteed to evoke a smile.  Better to avoid  the physical proximity of the elbow or toe tap.

The direction to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has met with good timing with the two week Spring break in British Columbia.  Yet, the wild card has been the Vancouver sunshine.  As every Vancouverite understands, sunshine screams, “Get outdoors now”.  Life in a temperate rainforest has taught us that rain is often just around the corner.  A pause in quickly getting outside to relish the sun is perceived as a lost opportunity.  Certainly by me.  What better place to socially distance than to be in the great outdoors?  This is the case in many places.  NOT in city parks of Italy or Lower Mainland of Vancouver where scenic parks are magnets for people to convene.

Living in Kitsilano, the most beautiful and accessible places to head are the beaches, parks, bike/ walking routes west from Kits Beach to Spanish Banks and east around Granville Island and the Stanley Park seawall.  As the week of stay at home lockdown has been self inflicted to prevent the spread of COVID-19, all these scenic places and routes have become much busier and hundreds of people are congregating to have a coffee, chat and watch the children play at the beach and in the parks.   Apparently this is also the case at Rocky Point Park in Port Moody and the White Rock boardwalk.

Social Distancing is possible.

There are some valiant efforts to establish the  recommended 1 -2 metre distance between people.   Many people have jumped on their bikes to do this.  In too many cases they are too difficult for some to sustain or not taken seriously.  Certainly that has been the case on the playgrounds.  Yesterday there were some new signs reminding people to maintain a 1-2 metre distance at Kits Beach but the sheer quantity of people made that difficult in high traffic areas.  My husband wanted to go for a walk, rather than a bike ride and we were unable to maintain the recommended barrier when passing people at Kits Beach or along the Granville Island walking route.   What healthy people do not understand in their risk as carriers.  Clearly on the beach and in the parks, there are also some people who believe their own physical health will protect them.   They don’t understand their role in exponential numbers of other people getting sick and the implications of the stress on the elderly, the vulnerable, medical system and the economy until we emerge out of flu season.

It does seem that we need to exercise our own judgement about how to monitor the physical proximity of ourselves to others.  I feel grateful to have my husband in stay at home lockdown.  Yes, partially for the chores around the house I’ve wanted to get done for some time, but mostly because we have fun being together.  We still want to get daily exercise outdoors, however we will be more discerning about how, when and where to do that. We will choose less busy places to walk and ride.  My pivot has been to bike the Arbutus Greenway, continuing along through the quiet Kerrisdale neighbourhood bike route to UBC, and staying on the road in the busiest sections of Spanish Banks.

If we are not making good decisions to avoid contact during a pandemic, then we are inviting government to make those decisions for us in order to protect the population.  Then again, the inevitable Vancouver rain seems poised to grace us and it will assume the responsibility for enforcing social distancing as more people are more inclined to stay inside.  Then those of us who love the smell of rain will be free to venture to the beach routes for our daily exercise without risk of close contact with others.  In the meantime, #DoThe5 and stay healthy.  Books, Netflix and binge watching all beckon.

Afternoon Update March 22, 2020 – Metro Vancouver cities have closed outdoor sports areas.  Parking lots for popular beaches and parks have been closed.  Prime Minister Trudeau adopts language indicative of further measures to ensure people people are practicing emergency distancing.

Continue reading “COVID-19 Distancing”

The Joy of Reading Report Cards

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No, the title is not a joke.  MANY years ago, my principal walked into my office, with coffee in hand, and deposited a relatively small pile of report cards on the desk of his beleaguered VP during report card time.  Stressed parents.  Stressed teachers.  Stressed Admin staff.  Stress kids.  Hundreds of report cards to read, give feedback, and sign.  Yet with a smile on his face, a coffee in hand and the lion’s share of the report cards, off he went to his office.  Being that beleaguered VP, I set to work to return the report cards with suggestions on post it notes, or signature and appreciative comments on a thank you notes back to teachers ASAP so we could all “get on with it”.  I feverishly finished and went to announce victory to my principal and thank him for the taking the biggest pile to review and sign.  There he was sitting with the student photo book from the school photographer in hand, the class lists in front of him, reading report cards – still with a smile on his face.  “Hey, listen to this…”

It was at that point, I learned about how to read report cards.  It was not an addition to my already heavy workload but the real work – getting to know the kids better so I could support their learning.  It has now become for me, what it is for parents – additional insight into what they already know about the child and his/her/their learning.  Sitting down with the photo book allows me to match the name with the child, if I haven’t already done so.  It makes me smile.  It gives me a new piece of the puzzle or confirms my suspicions.  Classroom visits and meetings with parents and teachers, give me some insight into the individual children.  Interaction on the playground gives me another perspective.  Teachers provide another.  Student voice in the report card provides yet another.

With the roll out of new curriculum in British Columbia, there has been a new spotlight on student understanding of his/her/their learning.  Student voice in report cards has been included in many well written report cards over the years.  However, with the new curriculum in British Columbia, student voice has become a focus.  Our very own, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, of Spirals of Inquiry fame, have given us the structure to facilitate this within our own learning and classroom instruction:

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going?
  • What next?

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As students experience answering these questions, and posing them on their own, student voice finds its way into assessment and reporting practices.  This is where the true joy emerges for me as a reader of report cards.  There is incredible promise when students are empowered to take control of their own learning.  The ability to identify learning strengths, areas that require more repetition and practice, and strategies for further learning,  the ceiling is removed from what our children are able to achieve.   It develops the metacognitive skills required for children to think about their own thinking and learning, then develop a plan to move forward.

I’m hoping the practice of paying students for being good at something at report card time is replaced with good conversations about celebration of successes, as well as plans for future efforts.  As a little girl, my daughter swam with the Coquitlam Sharks and was repeatedly disqualified  (DQ’d) at swim meets during the dreaded butterfly stroke.  So much that we regularly went to the DQ to eat ice cream and shake it off after swim meets.  The first meet that Larkyn wasn’t DQ’d, our family went crazy.  We hooted.  We hollered.  We hugged. We cheered with enthusiasm and apparently volume!  The dad beside me leaned in and said, “You know your kid didn’t win, right?”  However, Larkyn conquering the “butterfly stroke” was the biggest win of our swim club experience and is entrenched in family lore.  My hope is that is what report card time can be just like that for all families.  Reading strength-based report cards that are honest about achievement, clear about areas requiring more focused attention and delineate a plan to move forward, give me hope.  It is possible for report cards to bring joy.  These are the opportunities to create enduring family stories.

 

 

Back to School

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It is that time of year where I am filled with conflicted emotions.  I desperately want to eke out every possible enjoyment of summer.  The lazy days of summer start to pick up the pace.  I desperately want to maximize reading of fiction, organizing, writing, socializing, exercise and random opportunities into the last days of freedom from responsibility.  The last bit of time before the days spin by and I drop into bed exhausted.  Too tired to read.  Too tired to pick up after myself.  Too tired to want to do anything other than flop down in front of reruns of Modern Family.

And yet, there is also the excitement of a new school year.  The smell of new books.  The seduction of brand-new highlighters and pens, colourful file folders and novel post-it notes.  The promise of a new year with complete organization and balance in life.  People to meet.  Conversations that make a difference.  The excitement of a new year of possibilities.

The good-bye speech from one of my teachers at my previous school, included the story of the teacher calling me to deal with four boys that were wreaking havoc in his class one afternoon.  He came to my office to find them drinking tea and talking about their feelings.  There is always a story and I do love to unearth them!  Facilitating the first steps to calm-down strategies and then moving on to problem solving makes a big difference in student perceptions of conflict and their ability to navigate it.  It’s also the essential piece required for empathy and for relationships to be repaired.  I look forward to facilitating those lessons that have the potential to make long term differences in lives and a kinder and more peaceful world.

I also love the opportunity to collaborate about learning opportunities with colleagues, students, parents, and community partners.  I have been fortunate to work with many strong administrators in my capacity as both a teacher, administrator, and as a parent.  These individuals believed in a flattened hierarchy and they believe in empowering others to assume leadership positions.  I look forward to helping teachers, parents and community partners to achieve ends that benefit them personally while also supporting the school community.

The Vancouver School district has defined a vision of creating a collaborative learning community through a lens of excellence and equity.  As a social justice advocate, equity of opportunity for all students in foundational in my educational philosophy.  As a principal in a new school, I am reflecting on what I need to learn from my new school community.  I will be investing in trying to learn about a new school culture.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity to the activities and conversations that can lead to a common understanding of our culture and define directions to consolidate and celebrate our strengths and the capacity for future growth.

Over the past year, our dynamic superintendent, Suzanne Hoffman, has used the metaphor of the iceberg to facilitate conversations between administrators about the culture in the Vancouver School Board, one of the largest and most complex of the 60 districts in the province.  It has provided a meaningful way to facilitate discussion about culture,  both the visible parts of the culture that are easily observable, but also the larger mass that exists beneath the surface and is more difficult to discern.

I spent most of my career as a teacher in Coquitlam.  When I started to work as an administrator in Vancouver a decade ago, I discovered the challenge of trying to identify and understand the less obvious aspects of culture.   I attended VSB schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12.  I lived in Vancouver until I got married and moved to the suburbs.  I believed I knew Vancouver culture.  And I did know the obvious, exposed areas of the iceberg.  But I had no insight into the less obvious aspects of the culture.

Visiting David Livingstone Elementary and initial conversations have given me some insight into the culture and vibrancy of opportunity at the school.  I look forward to the conversations with the people in the school community to help me develop a deeper understanding to guide my work.  And this part is the most enticing part of back of school.

Nature as a Catalyst for Learning

False Creek Community Garden beside Vancouver Seawall August 2018

There is no teacher like direct experience to engage the head and heart in the process of learning.  Data about students becoming less curious as they move through the school system, is heart-breaking.   It begs the question – Why?  When my children were preschoolers, the day revolved around playing in the backyard, discovering new backyards of playmates and going to the park.  On sunny days they were dressed in  clothing to protect sensitive skin and exposed bits were slathered with sunscreen.  Other days included sweaters or “muddy buddies” or rubber boots or snowsuits.  Bottom line, those preschoolers were going outside for an adventure filled with fresh air and exercise and access to the wonders of the natural world around them.  Awe, curiosity, delight and question upon question were the standard of the day.

Richard Louv (2006) raised the alarm about our students who are increasingly demonstrating a “nature deficit disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods.  The nature deficit is something being experienced on a much bigger scale.   Baby boomers are perhaps the last generation to be pushed out the door to “Go play outside and be home by dinner”.  Accessible hand-held technology, less green space and a heightened sense of fear fed by the media, keeps  adults as well as children inside with repercussions for engagement with nature, physical fitness and mental health.  Some doctors are writing park prescriptions to assist patients in dealing with depression, high blood pressure and stress.  Groups like Wild About Vancouver, have initiatives to encourage people of all ages to get outside and get active.  The Japanese started a movement called “Shrin-yoko” or “forest bathing” in the 1980’s to improve physical and mental health.   It has taken the world by storm.  Regular “forest bathing” opportunities were scheduled in Vancouver’s 400 hectare rainforest, Stanley Park,  this summer and many other forested parks with around the world because going outdoors, looking, listening and breathing needs to be taught.

Engaging with nature is a catalyst for curiosity and the learning that comes with it.  The first time I saw a “Bear in the Area” sign in our local park when we moved to Coquitlam a suburb of Vancouver, I did the research to find out what I needed to know.   I went online, got books to share with my family, and talked to neighbours and friends and even the police officer sitting doing his notes in the parking lot.  Sailing, biking, skiing, snowboarding and  hiking, all come with required background knowledge and a skill set to keep yourself safe.  Every time we try something new, we learn.

The Child and Nature Alliance is astute in pointing out that the best way to get children outside, is to go with them.   My husband and I now have adult children.  However since their pre-school years, some of our best memories and best laughs are beach, park, biking and ski/snowboard adventures or the times just after, like reading Harry Potter aloud with hot chocolate by a fire.  Of course, developing relationship during outdoor activities necessitates putting the phone away and giving your family and friends your undivided attention.

Scott D. Sampson in his book, How To Raise A Wild Child:  The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature (2015) identifies three pathways (EMU) as being most critical to promoting nature connection based on published studies in anthropology, psychology, education, neuroscience, and biology.

  1. Experiencefirst hand knowledge – experiential learning, multi-sensory opportunities, unstructured times, emotional connection

Black Bear searching for blueberries in Minnekhada Park, Port Coquitlam, B.C. Sept. 2018

“American kids devote more than seven hours daily to staring at screens, replacing reality with virtual alternatives” (Sampson, 2015, p.5).  As with the advent of any technology, humans benefit from the advanced development of their prefrontal cortex, and the thinking skills to decide how best to utilize the technology.  I am a huge fan of using phones, iPads and computers as tools to access information and communicate learning to a wider audience.  When I’m outdoors, I use the camera on my cell phone and my iPad to focus my attention and capture things I find interesting or beautiful or memorable or that I want to explore more later.  However just as I was instructed to turn off the television and go play outside as a little girl, parents and educators need to assume responsibility for the amount of screen time they allow for the children in their care to growth and lead healthy lives.

Germany is well-known developing a love of the outdoors.  I remember hiking with my family in Schliersee.  We were so proud of our stellar progress upwards on our hike, when we rounded the corner and not only had someone been there, but they had installed a bench.  Britain is also well known for a population that engages outdoors.  The British outdoor kindergarten movement is growing.  Italy is known for the Reggio Emilio discovery based school movement.  There is widespread recognition that children benefit from learning outdoors in the places they know well.  It is outdoors that they can access the materials, solve problems and feed the curiosity that form the basis for important learning.  This is the reality of place based learning.

The outdoor classroom does not close because it’s raining.  I have recently adopted the slogan I learned from Scott D. Sampson’s book, How To Raise a Wild Child (2015): “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”  The rain in Vancouver  does present different opportunities for learning. while extending our understanding and appreciation what is is to live in a temperate rainforest.  When my daughter was 6 years old, we were travelling in Venice.  The rain started to fall and everyone ran for shelter.  Our family was quite delighted with the break from the heat and we splashed puddles down the centre of the street.  My little Vancouverite looked up at me, smiled and said “Oh, Mommy.  It smells like home.”  This is what the poet W.D. Auden (1947) must have been referring to when he coined the word “topophilia” which translates to a “love of place” to describe the bonds people form with the places where they live.  When you care about the place you live, both your heart and mind are open to the lessons they provide.  This necessitates outside experiences.

  1. Mentoringside by side exploration, mentors listen more than they talk, observe closely, inspire curiosity, “pull” stories from their mentees by asking questions that push the limits of awareness and knowledge

Ms. Phoenix discovering the mysterious appearance of tomatoes in the Butterfly Garden     University Hill Elementary School, Vancouver, B.C. – September 2018

I have been fortunate to be a teacher in British Columbia.  Teaching in Abbotsford meant the farm was in close proximity to learn about mammals, and the smell of manure in the air impacted learning about food systems.  In Coquitlam, spawning salmon at the end of a playground provided input for learning about life cycles and perseverance.  My current school is located in the Pacific Spirit Park.  Teachers are able to take students into the forest to discover more about the “wood wide web” and The Hidden Life of Trees, to the beaver dam to learn about our history and science, and down the beach to investigate yet another habitat.  My previous school was not surrounded by untouched wilderness, but it was there that we were able to follow the newly released butterflies to discover one of the best butterfly gardens I have ever seen cultivated by a local resident with a green thumb.  The best weather forecasters were the students who had learned to go outside and use all of their senses to make observations.  Those students had well-developed background knowledge about clouds and could tell you about the best weather APPS.   In all of these school contexts, what makes the biggest difference to student learning is the skillful mentoring of educators.  The questions they ask, and the student questions they reflect back to the group, helps students to hone their observation skills and risk asking questions about the things that matter to them personally.  The innovators who have mirrored nature in their products have spent time outside studying, observing, hypothesizing and experimenting.

           3. Understandingponder and learn about big understandings before mastery of  discrete pieces of factual knowledge

When I was in elementary school, I had a teacher who closed the curtains when anything particularly interesting was happening outside.  It could have been a first snowfall, a heavy downpour or the clouds dropping down to make the mountains nearly invisible.  Her intention was to eliminate distraction.  She was a conscientious teacher who was committed to our learning.  It was not an effective strategy for me.  All of my attention was directed to what was happening outside and why.  My imagination took me far away from the lessons of the day.   I would have a story worked out by the time recess and anxiously focused on the grand opening of the curtains.

Scott Sampson talks about using the power of learning from Indigenous culture that is grounded in nature and creation stories told from the perspective of animals, plants and landforms.  He uses the term “Going Coyote”  to reference using “the trickster coyote of Indigenous lore (creator with magical powers as a transformer, shape shifter, hiding in plain sight) to inspire caring and empathy for nature.  “The Coyote Club” at our school is grounded in active outdoor learning experiences that provide a model for respecting self, others and the environment.  It is embraced indoors and outdoors on a continuous basis.

By pre-school age, students have developed inquisitive minds and a skill set to find answers.  Children don’t need to be taught to ask questions.  They need to know that their questions matter.   They need to know that engaging in the world around them is what good learners do.  We want our children to continue to be inquisitive and identify the possibilities, to make observations, connection and ask new questions when they are outdoors as well as indoors at school.    Our challenge as educators is to redefine ways to feed the inquisitiveness of children coming into school while we broaden their opportunities to access information, to work collaboratively and to hone skills to find answers.  The outdoors provides not only an opportunity for physical activity but an opportunity for incredible cross curricular learning and mental health.  This is a place to observe and ask questions and learn through play.  To make connections with book learning.  To use technology to document and access new knowledge.  It is a place to be in awe and celebrate curiosity.

For ideas to engage children in nature activities, online information and lesson plans, please see:

How To Raise A Wild Child:  The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature. by Scott D. Sampson (2015).

i love dirt – 52 activities to help you and your kids discover the wonders of nature by Jennifer Ward (2008)

Sharing Nature:  Nature Awareness Activities for All Ages by Joseph Bharat Cornell (2015)

The Nature Conservancy

The David Suzuki Foundation

A New Age of Joy & Optimism for Indigenous Peoples in Canada

I love the picture of this little guy on the front page of The Vancouver Sun.  The sparkle in his eyes and the look on his face remind me so much of my son at that age.  With life comes the opportunity for grand adventure!  Joy is suppose to be part of every child’s life.  I hope that all things good unfold for this little man.  The title of the Vancouver Sun picture: “A New Age is At Hand”.  Colonialism did not work for the Indigenous people of Canada.  But there is hope and there is unprecedented optimism for the future.

A fierce pride in Canada’s accomplishments throughout its almost, 151 years of nationhood, is strong.  The is a realization that north of the 49th parallel existed for thousands of years prior to confederation.   The learning from the Indigenous people was invaluable.  Finally it is part of the national conversation.  Within the field of Education in British Columbia, there is a quest to embrace our history, even when it includes the shame of colonial structures and prejudice that allowed children to be separated from their parents and basic human rights to be ignored.

Summer solstice,  the longest day of the year, was chosen to be THE day to celebrate, recognize and honour the heritage, cultures and valuable contributions by the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada.  The Northwest Territories has celebrated this day as a statutory holiday since 2001 and The Yukon followed suit in 2017.  The day started with one of the teachers engaging me in a conversation of the use of “Indigenous” rather than “Aboriginal’ and the implications.  I had my phone out, googling, so we could determine why Metro Vancouver Celebrations were mostly using the word “Aboriginal” and “Indigenous” was being used on the national stage.   What was most respectful?  How do we explain the difference?  What I thought was indicative of this “new age” was  that it mattered.

One of our Grade 3 teachers, Janet Logie, is a committed student of history and volunteer at the Hastings Mills Museum at the Old Mill Park by Jericho Beach.  As a kid, my sister and my cousins, would regularly swing into the museum to check it out when we were at the park.  It still smells the same but the context has changed.  Amazingly intricate baskets and artifacts that were purchased as parts of private collections have been curated and recognized as significant parts of the history of Vancouver.  Recently there was a special event to publicly thank the Indigenous First Responders during the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886 who saved many lives.  Marissa Nahanee, of the Squamish Nation, performed the Paddle Song beside the replica of the historic “Tent City Hall” and volunteers served Indigenous herbal teas by Raven Hummingbird Teas in the museum. Our MP, Joyce Murray, brought formality, acknowledgment and thanks of the government.  It was a great event.  Our children are growing up with an appreciation of the contributions by the Indigenous community in our shared history when they go out to play.

The focus on the herbs grown and used by the Indigenous people has been a focus for Grade 2 teacher, Joan Phoenix.  Our PAC (Parent Advisory Committee) supported her financially in designing and planting a butterfly garden that would attract the butterflies once the primary children had observed the life cycle indoors and freed them into their natural habitat.  One of her parent volunteers, Sara Baren, teaches Urban Forestry at UBC.  She enlisted the help of Emily Tu, newly accepted to do a MA in Landscape Architecture, to work on the project.

They were instrumental in helping Ms. Phoenix to plant indigenous plants that would serve this purpose.  The Grade twos used books and iPads to research the traditional uses of the plants by the Musqueam and that are now widely available in grocery stores.

Our Grade 5 teacher, Melody Ludski, is currently doing her graduate work while teaching full time.  She has extensive background knowledge on Indigenous ways on knowing, as well as incredible sensitivity to the protocols required because we work, learn and play on the unceded lands of the Musqueam people.  To celebrate National Indigenous Day, Ms. Ludski booked accomplished Pow Wow dancer Shyama Priya, who has Cree roots on her mothers side.  She was taught by Coast Salish pow wow dancer, Curtis Joe.  She took the time to share the story of creating her regalia and engaged kids and teachers in dancing that reflected amazing skill and athleticism.  I was fortunate to go to a few pow wows with my friend, Latash Nahanee, many years ago and join in the dancing during the grand procession.  The only word for the heartbeat of the drum and the communal participation – Joy!  You could see it on Shyama Priya’s face and those of the children.

The Garden Committee, headed up by Grade 1 teacher, Kate Foreman, for many years has been planning an outdoor learning space.  Two portables were removed from our school site this year and the perfect opportunity presented itself.  Many teachers were very inspired by the idea of a circle with twelve large rocks for seating an entire class.  The size of the rocks and the placement to reflect true north, south, east and west were carefully planned and facilitated.  As a history major, I loved the possibility of reflecting Indigenous Culture as an early instigator of a democratic system.  Everyone has a voice in the talking circle and respect for divergent opinions is a basic tenet.   The Vancouver Board of Education was gifted a Musqueam word by Shane Point:  Nə́c̓aʔmat ct  It means ‘we are one’.  Our Nə́c̓aʔmat ct Circle will be a talking circle for problem solving, a listening circle to teach empathy, a way to incorporate medicine wheel teachings and understanding of the circle or life and the seasons and relationships with ourselves, others and Mother Earth.

The work of Laura Tait has been inspirational in helping our staff “to push the paddle deeper” in our School Growth Plan.  We will be developing and progressing through our own adapted version on the rubric based on her Aboriginal Understandings Learning Progression from SD68 Aboriginal Education.  I am so excited that another inspirational colleague, Joyce Perrault, will be helping us to navigate the path.  With her drum and her newly published book, All Creation Represented, we will be exploring the Medicine Wheel from an Ojibwe perspective  while sitting in our Nə́c̓aʔmat ct Circle.  The book states that it’s a child’s guide to the Medicine Wheel but with all I’m learning, the next hardcover, coffee table edition will be marketed to adults.  The book provides insight into relationships with ourselves, each other and Mother Earth.  I am feeling joyful and optimistic too.   We are heading out on a promising journey with optimism and joy and determination that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  will be respected in this chapter of Canadian history.

Note:  The phonetic pronunciation of nə́c̓aʔmat ct  is knot-sa-mots.

7 Habits +1 to Empower

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Betty Boult was the keeper of the knowledge when it came to Stephen Covey and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when I first started teaching in Abbotsford.  She had done the facilitators training and she facilitated with flair.  We had animated discussions and were committed to engaging with the ideas and doing the work to complete the workbook meticulously.  I can still play out some conversations that resonated and remember my queries around some of the habits.  Those were the days when “sharpening the saw” was just a part of daily life and took much less deliberate effort.   Saying “no” was not yet part of my repertoire and everything was a priority.   These were the days before children and my husband was working just as hard to start his business.  The advantage of professional development in Abbotsford was that it was a small enough district that we all did pro-d together.  Therefore, the things we learned and ideas we were thinking about, were discussed in the staffroom, as staff socials and the ideas frequently referenced.  I think in this way, many of the ideas were incorporated into who I was.

I recently finished reading Stephen Covey’s (2008)  The Leader in Me:  How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time.  In this book, the learning is focused on children in K-5, middle and secondary schools, in the United States (the main focus), Singapore, Canada and Japan.  The power is that it that the ideas are introduced and developed with entire school populations.  Students are taught public speaking and acknowledged for their strengths and encouraged to assume responsibility for leadership tasks within the school.

I remember shortly after my Covey training, I was asked to do the goodbye tribute to my mentor, Joan Fuller, at her retirement function.  Public speaking had never been in my comfort zone.  Memories of tomato seeds bouncing out of my hand during my 9th grade oral report haunted me.  Boring topic.  Questionable choice to be holding the smallest of all seeds for an oral report in front of the class.  Terrifying teacher who was known to roll her eyes. Nothing good came out of it and I carried a lingering fear of public speaking.  However, I loved Joan and had a vested interest in making her retirement special.  I was terrified.  I was over prepared and tripped over my words.  I was glued to my cue cards.  My vocal chords constricted.  My legs shook.  I blushed.  And yet, I lived through it.  Everyone clapped and smiled.  Joan was delighted and cried.  And there were no tomato seeds.  I drank the Kool-Aid and was excessively proactive and had a passion for professional development.  I found myself more and more speaking in front of audiences,  in both my professional life and involvement in personal passions.  Yes, I was one of the lives that was changed because I had come to understand I had something worthwhile to say.

Covey is frequently referenced but I wonder how many people really understand the ideas and have integrated them into their lives and then regularly revisited.  There is a tremendous amount to be learned that directly correlates with empowering, not only adults but children too.

For those of you who need a quick recap of the habits:

  • Habit 1:  Be Proactive
    • Take initiative
  • Habit 2:  Begin with the End in Mind
    • Set goals
  • Habit 3:  Put First Things First
    • Prioritize and only do the most important things
  • Habit 4:  Think Win-Win
    • Getting what you want while considering others
  • Habit 5:  Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  • Habit 6:  Synergize
    • work well with others to accomplish a task
  • Habit 7:  Sharpen the Saw
    • Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep
  • Habit 8 (added in 2004):  Find Your Voice and Help Others Find Theirs –
    • Identify gifts.  Optimize them.  Develop them.

I Believe in You

“I Believe in You!”  This is the mantra of my daughter.  To my chagrin in secondary school, she joined the Cheer Squad at Charles Best Secondary School.  I saw the objectification of women.  She saw the comradarie of the cheer squad and the physical challenge.  It has served her well.  She bought into the importance of encouragement.  As a tiny little girl who only wanted to be with her Mommy, she experienced the encouragement to go out into the world on her own.  In Kindergarten, her teacher nicknamed her Sparky because she brought palpable, positive energy into the classroom every morning.  As a competitive soccer player in school, she witnessed the power of encouragement to impact her performance.  In cheer, she learned why cheerleading came into being.

I worked very hard to interest Larkyn in attending UBC for selfish reasons of my own.  Her quest for adventure and independence, took her off to Queen’s University.  She made a group of friends that negotiated the ups and downs of university life.  Visiting her and her housemates was always refreshing.  The young women who she pulled close to her, were people who demonstrated the same encouraging way of being.  “I believe in you” was often uttered as a young woman with the unbrushed hair in a sock bun emerged from her room with a scowl on her face to take on some assignment or test or interaction that she was not feeling particularly good about.  In this case, “I believe in you” was not a statement assuming success would be the end product.  It was a recognition that her friend was doing something hard.  It was a promise that at the end of the day, success or failure, you were still someone who mattered.

I had an adoring mother who believed I was wonderful and always assumed success in my ventures.  My steadfast determination assured a fair record of successes.  However failure meant not only failing at an intended task, but also disappointing her.  It is something to this day that I experience.  Missing the mark and disappointing the people who really want my success, results in the heavy heart times two.  Perhaps this is residual from being a little girl with blonde ringlets and an over reliance on pleasing.  I do find the “I believe in you”, received and delivered with a smile, has a more positive impact.  It’s like being sent off with a hug of reassurance.  It doesn’t presume an outcome, just the encouragement to “Go for it” and acknowledgement that you’re taking a risk that is hard.

In Grade 3 due to a significant family upheaval, I ended up in a new school after the beginning of the school year.  Peer groups were already established and I was doing poorly on daily timed math drills.  My Mom suggested I talk to the teacher about what I could do to improve.  The teacher told me not to worry about it, I was in the average range.  My take away was that she didn’t believe in me and my belief in me faltered.  It took me until my statistics class in Graduate School to discover I didn’t actually suck at Math.  We have huge power as educators to deflate or inspire.

“I believe in you” is a message that inspires people or at least may help them lighten up.  It isn’t the belief that success is imminent.  It isn’t the belief that failure is an opportunity to teach you an important life lesson.  It’s the statement, “You’re on my team!” and the commitment to cheer for you no matter what!  Unconditional cheering.  Not a bad way to go out into the world and make our mark.  It is a message that I aspire to communicate to my staff, students, friends and family on a regular basis.