Pivot

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Know when to hold’em

Know when to fold’em

Know when to walk away

And know when to run…”

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

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

Michael Nulty

The Thrill of New Discoveries

Stanley Park Great Blue Heron Rookery

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

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

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

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

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

Terry Fox in Times of Covid-19

I paused when I considered the annual Terry Fox School Run this year. This surprised me. I have both a personal and professional connection to the run. I am old enough to have the memory of the kid dipping his toe in the Atlantic, starting on his lonely run, then capturing the imagination of a country. I no longer have enough fingers and toes to count the number of community and school runs that I have participated in. Terry Fox defined my identity as a Canadian. Yet, I faltered. My job as a school principal is to ensure safety.

Inspired by Terry Fox

I am a big fan of a party.  That is what Terry Fox Runs have become.  The crowds flocking to runs do not capitalize on the gut-wrenching sadness of cancer, they ride high on the belief that every person has the capacity to take risks and do great things.  They are fun.  We do make a difference. The Terry Fox Foundation has raised over $800 million dollars towards cancer research. There is a cure for the type of cancer that Terry had. The Terry Fox Run was my first of many 10 K runs.  Someone told me towards the end of the run that I had good form.  In every run since, when I’m sure I have to stop, I straighten up and am buoyed up to finish. 

I have well developed organizational skills and the desire to engage the whole school community during Annual Terry Fox School Runs.  Last year, the music was pumping, the kids were energized, the gigantic Terry Fox flag flying, and families and neighbours flocked to the school to cheer us on.  Kids were proud of the distance they ran and the money they were able to fundraise for cancer research.  Terry Fox inspired them.  COVID-19 caused me to balk.  How could this be done following the required COVID-19 guidelines? 

I am very grateful to my staff for providing the impetus for the run this year.  Matt Carruthers brought it up at a staff meeting and the date was set. He provided the schedule for running in learning groups/ cohorts, and the crew to distribute and collect cones.  Staff led the charge in their classrooms with lessons and inspiration about Terry Fox.   I set up the online donations site and sent the letter home explaining how the Terry Fox Run would look different at Livingstone Elementary in times of COVID.  My heart held more trepidation than enthusiasm. 

I started run day with a talk about Terry Fox.  My heart fills with pride when I talk about who we have self-selected as a Canadian hero.  Who had a more valid reason to feel sorry for himself and to feel really angry?  The kid had lost his leg to cancer.  Yet, that was not what defined him.  He set a goal to raise $1.00 from every Canadian to go towards cancer research.   Done by February 1st of 1981.  Yet that was not what defined him.  He is defined by perseverance.   He was not always the best at things that he loved, like basketball.  It didn’t stop him from loving the game and trying to improve.  He is defined by empathy and sympathy.  He experienced the ravages of cancer and its impact on other kids in the hospital with him.  He didn’t let adversity immobilize him.  He was able to think of how he could make the lives of other people better.  He was willing to do something really hard.  And in the process, he captured our imaginations and gave us hope.  He defined heroism in a very Canadian way.

On the Livingstone run day, the gigantic flag and the cones were in place. Most families respected my request to participate via our Twitter feed @LivingstoneVSB on the school website. The Spare Time Treehouse Preschoolers led off the run on the gravel field first thing in the morning. The final learning group / cohort was still running according to schedule at 2:30 pm. Ms. Janze’s class had inspirational chalk messages of encouragement on the sidewalk. Kids were laughing and having fun. They were setting personal goals of how many laps they would do. As we progressed through the day, the donations to the Livingstone School Run continued to roll in. At last check, we were at $2,814.95. Precious dollars we are able to contribute to cancer research when donations to charities are down due to the global pandemic.

In times of COVID-19, there are many disappointments and challenges to maintaining a positive outlook.  Terry Fox is perhaps our very best example in Canada, of how adversity does not have to conquer.  The #beliketerry and #tryliketerry capture how it is possible to move beyond sadness and anger to strengthen community and make a positive impact in a world that needs it.  And my heart soars 🙂

A Pandemic Possibility of Courage and New Growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metis man discusses life after quitting job to carve

School Drills

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Photo by Kính on Pexels.com

School drills are the way we ensure that staff and students know and understand the processes required in the event of an unanticipated emergency.  I remember the day that the fire bell went off at recess and many of the students entered the school to line up at their classroom doors.  Since that day, I have always done at least one fire drill at recess or lunch to ensure children know where to line up.  The biggest take away for teachers, parents and students is that drills are opportunities to pause and consider how we could keep ourselves safe in an emergency.  The most reassuring information I can pass on is that I have been doing fire drills at school since I was five years and I have never had a big school fire.  Those of my students who consider me ancient, are VERY reassured.  All schools have regular schedules for mandatory safety drills.

Fire drills in VSB schools happen a minimum of five times at each school.  All parent and students in the school have grown accustomed to this practice.  The necessity is rarely questioned and parents are comfortable with having the conversation about the necessity of this drill with their child.

Earthquake drills have been scheduled once a year at most schools  during The Great British Columbia Shake Out drill in October.  Another Evacuation drill, happens in May in the Vancouver School District .  A school evacuation could involve a situation which could include but is not limited to fires, earthquakes and hazardous spills, or as required following a Lockdown or Drop-Cover-Hold (ie. during an earthquake or an explosion)*.   The reunification of families in the event of an evacuation is given extra care and attention.  This drill usually involves lots of “what if” conversations and problem solving.  It is supported by information on websites, radio, and social media, the Police, the Fire Department, the Ambulance service, the school district, and from the provincial government.   It is still an uncomfortable conversation, but lots of people are participating in it together.

The drill that often doesn’t evoke a lot of parent conversation is the Lockdown drill.  Lockdown is used to protect school occupants from a dangerous person within the school, for example a person armed with a knife, firearm or other weapon and who is threatening or in the process of harming people*.   At my PAC meeting, the recent lockdown drill precipitated a lot of conversation by the parents, PAC executive and the DPAC rep at the meeting.  I was surprised because lockdown drills have been mandatory for many years, but have never been discussed by my parent group to this degree or with so many opinions about how it should unfold.  Initially I just wasn’t sure what to make of it.

The obvious finally occurred to me.  Many parents don’t want to consider the possibility of needing a lockdown, let alone having the conversation with their own children about why we practice  this drill.  As the person in charge of ensuring school community safety, I understand the feeling.  However I am also of the mind that if we know what to do in any given situation, we are in the best position to staff safe.

That being said, here are a few suggestions to talk to your child about a lockdown drill:

  • Be calm and matter of fact. Nothing bad has happened or is expected to happen.
  • We practice drills at school to keep children safe if anything unexpected
  • In any situation, a plan helps us to stay safe. It makes sure we know what to do.
  • If you have questions or concerns about the drill, talk to the teacher, your parents, or another adult.
  • Television shows, movies, and video games are intended to sell things not reflect reality at most schools.

If your child is particularly anxious about any of the drills at school, it is always a good idea to talk to the teacher.  This will help the teacher prepare for her conversations with his/her/their students and any alternate arrangement that may need to be made in the event of a child’s special need or extreme anxiety.

*Sentence from the Vancouver Board of Education:  Staff Emergency Procedures flipbook available in every classroom.

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.

Wild About Vancouver and More…

I am on the Steering Committee of a group called Wild About Vancouver, brainchild of our fearless leader, Dr. Hart Banack, UBC.  This is a particularly good opportunity because I get together with people who experience the concept of #GetOutdoors on so many different levels.  Our conversation started with a goal of organizing an outdoor festival to get people of all ages out as participants and stewards of our amazing city, Vancouver, British Columbia.  Yes, Canada for those of you familiar with another Vancouver, south of our border.   Vancouver in itself provides many opportunities for outdoor activity and is widely known for the active lifestyle of it’s residents.  The outdoors provides many possibilities to enhance mental health, physical well-being, environment awareness and action, as well as curricular instruction.

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I am writing this blog on the deck of my father’s cabin in the Eastern Sierras at the doorstep of Yosemite.  Just like my first visit at 9 years old and ever after, I am awake before anyone else.  This was one of my favorite places to be when I was a little girl on visits with my older sister down south to see my father, step-mother, and later younger siblings.  I could get up and out.  No burglar alarm to be dis-armed.  There were discoveries to be made and other early risers in the world.  And I had energy to expend.  Lots and lots of energy.  Cabin life allowed for that to be a natural part of life.  We hiked beyond the waterfall.  Rowed.  Played “Kick the Can” endlessly with the other cabin kids.  Tried to steer the motor boat clear of the dangers of pipes hidden in reeds, sand bars and trees in the lake and on the “jungle cruise” aka stream.  Fishing was a challenge for me unless we were casting and then reeling those rainbow trout in.  I was a high activity kid.  As an educator and a Mom, I had a personally tested strategy of using the outdoors as a way to increase focus in the classroom and to get kids to sleep at night.

I carried the habit of running, biking, hiking, and physically challenging myself into adulthood.  I learned as an adult that no one actually cared how you did at something.  Sometimes just trying was a victory.  I did my first Terry Fox 10 km Run for Cancer Research at the urging of my husband.  I believed passionately in the cause.  I watched Terry run on the nightly news and my Mom had already suffered her first bout of breast cancer.  I hit the 9 km mark and thought I was going to have to stop when a volunteer on the sideline yelled “good form”.  That carried me to the finish line with renewed energy, through many Sun Runs, My First and only Triathlon at Cultus Lake, and getting back to running after pregnancies and injuries.  Experiences skiing during my high school years, made learning to snowboard achievable.  Familiarity on my bike made the bike trip through the Prince Edward Island a glorious adventure.   A willingness to try some new physical challenge frequently ended with an increased sense of pride.  When that didn’t happen, it resulted in a good story, frequently filled with laughter.

When I graduated from the University of British Columbia, it was the 80’s and very difficult to get a teaching job in Vancouver.  I did another year at UBC to get a diploma in English Education while continuing to worked in a daycare / out of school care centre.  My quest “to teach” was infused with my supervision responsibilities.  I got my Class 4 driver’s license and we took those pre-schoolers all over the lower mainland of Vancouver to explore.  School aged kids were welcomed to Sparetime Fun Centre after school and organized into clubs.  We went outside to collect materials for arts and crafts.  We ran. We danced.  We played.  We learned.  By the time I got a full-time job at 22, learning through play indoors and outdoors was a well-established part of my understanding of how you establish rapport and create bridges between experience and curriculum.

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I did my mandatory “out of town” practicum in Abbotsford, British Columbia, because I could stay for free with my paternal grand-parents.  When I had my son, I wanted to be closer to home  and started working in Coquitlam, where we had purchased our first home.  When our youngest daughter went off to Queen’s University, my husband and I promptly moved back to Vancouver where I grew up and both of us lived, prior to kids.   The place I was teaching, determined how I went about teaching the curriculum.  In Abbotsford, background experience of students included experiences with gardens, cows, berry picking, farms and the ever-present smell of manure from spring to fall.  In Coquitlam, salmon spawning in streams, raccoons in garbage, bear awareness when hiking or running in the park, and deer wandering on roads was common place.  In Vancouver, walking and biking as a preferred mode of transportation, many local mountains for skiing and snowboarding, beaches, seagulls, crows and ethnic cuisine permeates life.  This awareness of place has increasingly become part of education as we have reflected on how we incorporate understandings that are implicit in the Indigenous cultures that were present long before Canada emerged as a country.

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The location of the school in British Columbia impacts how many Indigenous students attend.  This sometimes provides a block for staffs trying to authentically incorporate Indigenous teachings into the curriculum.  However, the sense of place provides an entry point for all students to gain insight into Indigenous ways of knowing.  Examining how the place we live impacts our experiences, lends itself to going outdoors and considering our present and historical context.  Many things in life cannot be anticipated or guaranteed with confidence.  If you live in Vancouver, I can guarantee that it will rain and I can even tell you what that smells like.  As a 6-year-old in Venice, my daughter looked up at me and smiled and said “It smells like home, Mummy”, when it started to rain.  These understandings over time are the things we can learn from the stories from our local Indigenous people. Medicine Wheel teachings that have been incorporated into many Indigenous cultures have much to teach about how we make decisions, resolve conflict and achieve mental health.

My mother was in the hospital awaiting a procedure when I was called into the room to calm her down.

My response, “Breathe, Mum…No.  Not like that.  Into your abdomen…  You know…Yoga, breathing.  No.  Not like that.”

My mother’s exasperated response:  “You mean I’ve been breathing wrong my whole life?”

The poor nurses came running when we both burst out in uncontrollable laughter with tears running down our faces.  They thought they had lost us both.  However, there is a reason that the Japanese have taken the world by storm with “Shrin-yoko” or “forest bathing” since the 1980’s, yoga practices have become common place for people of all religions, and Indigenous teachings to improve physical and mental health are being considered.  They teach contemplative practices and breathing that is very much centred on experience in nature.  As a special education teacher and school principal, much of my work has been teaching students how to self-calm BEFORE problem solving.  The first step is always to slow down breathing and learn what strategies work for you.  My first go to strategy is physical activity but all of my students can tell you that a pot of Earl Grey tea works wonders for me.  The trick is to have more than one strategy that works for you.

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We have many amazing educators on the Wild About Vancouver Steering Committee.  Although I have many years of experience in education from kindergarten to the university level, as a classroom teacher, administrator and university instructor, I am constantly learning from our committee members who come with varied experiences and approaches to how they get children to pay attention to the nature around them.  Although I can’t prioritize what is most important about experiences outdoors, I strongly believe it is our success in getting children to pay attention that has the most significant impact on teaching curriculum.  When we closely consider something, we come up with the best questions.  The best questions result in the deepest learning and meaningful discovery.  Engaging with nature is a catalyst for curiosity and the learning that comes with it.

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Wild About Vancouver Committee members have all come together because we love Vancouver and want to fully engage people of all ages outdoors in all our city that has so much to offer.  What we believe is most important varies with who you are talking to on the Steering Committee or what participant.  Our ideas and suggestions are very contextual in that we are sharing what we know as Vancouverites.  We have a one week long Wild About Vancouver Festival every year with a grand WAV event in the city.  However, the learning and the application of this learning is relevant in any context.  I have learned so much from participating in twitter chats and blogs originating in England and Germany.  I have also taken from Reggio Emilia early education teachings with roots in Italy by doing lots of reading and visiting the Opal School in Portland, Oregon.  And I’m pondering Wild About Vancouver at my Silver Lake playground in the East Sierras on the California – Nevada border.  This model of celebration of outdoor activity takes place in many cities.  The Wild About Vancouver model takes it one step further by incorporating a celebration of the outdoors with a striving to deepen the learning we take from nature in all aspects of our lives.

Please include us in your you tweets about Outdoor learning @WildAboutVan and tag us with #getoutdoors and #outdoorlearning in all social media posts.  For you Vancouverites, we are always looking for participants and Steering Committee members if you are so inclined.  Check us out at https://www.wildaboutvancouver.com/

Enjoy the day and #getoutdoors

Eating Marigolds

When I was eight years old, I got my first dog.  My sister had gone down to California to live with my father and I was very lost and all alone.  A family friend convinced my mother that the answer was a puppy.  Scamper was a little, black, curly haired cock-a-poo.  She was an amazing playmate and helped me rediscover joy in my life. 

Joy came to Scamper particularly easily.  One of her greatest joys was in late spring when my mother planted rows of yellow marigold flowers and bright red salvias.  Scamper would promptly get to work biting off the marigold flowers.  She was not a particularly well trained little dog.  She would throw the flowers in the air.  Catch them.  Run in circles with them in her mouth. Roll in them.  And finally she would eat them.  We were left with long rows of green marigold plants with no flowers.  My mother did not find any joy in this.  My dog could not contain her joy.  We all find our moments of joy in different ways.

The big joys come from the relationships that develop with the people who are there for us over the long haul.  The people that let us know that we matter and that we are special.  We don’t even need to see these people frequently.  These are the kindred spirits that help to sustain us through the hard times and celebrate the good times.  Then there are the people who we cross paths with and we develop relationships that are situational.  They are fun and filled with laughter and open us to other ways of being and doing.  Often as the context shifts , the relationships fade into the background.  They are fun while then last.

As the complexity of life and the demands of work and home increase, joy can get lost.  People are not always kind and do not always give you the benefit of the doubt or struggle to find joy themselves.  Demands can feel insurmountable in a 24 hour period. 

For me, the answer is to go on a deliberate quest to find joy on a daily basis.  The beautiful thing  about working in a school is that it is filled with kids.  Joy is always close at hand.  Stories.  Smiles.  Questions. Explanations. Pondering. Witnessing joy in accomplishments.

I ran into a colleague not too long ago.  She said “Yeah, I was thinking about your joy thing.  I tried it.  I like it.  It actually works.”  I love being known for my “joy thing”.  I am looking forward to summer joy.  In summer, I don’t have to go looking for joy.  It finds me.  Beaches. Books.  Lakes.  Laughter. Friends.  Family.  Biking.  Golf.  I’ve even discovered that marigolds are actually edible and will definitely order a salad with marigold flowers in it.  Who knew, Scamper was on to something! The things you can learn from your dog!  Joy in eating marigolds.

Weaving Together the Stories of Reconciliation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superheroes Champion Syrian Refugees via CBC Podcast

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

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

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

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