Dad G

Despite having such a great father, I sometimes still feel like a terrible son. I take on too many things at once, I am disorganized, I struggle with prioritizing tasks, am often pre-occupied, and frequently forgetful. All of these things were not taught to me by my dad, but somehow worked their way into my life-skillset anyway.

I’d like to blame him here, but know that none of this was modeled for me in the home. What I am happy to share are the amazing things that I did learn from this man whixh have contributed so much in making me the man, husband, father, and teacher I am today.

Did I mention easily distracted?

Sound funny? In its own way, yes and no. Right now though, is time to celebrate my pops. It’s Father’s Day, and instead of sending a card without ever enough money or gift card value to show my appreciation, I wanted to share something digitally with the world that would honour my dad Bill, and the blessings that he has given my life instead.

Wisdom

It is no lie that from the moment a child joins Team Earth, there is much to learn. My dad stepped into the role of Co-CIO(Chief Information Officer) in my life. Come to think of it, there were a lot of roles that he took on once family life started: Co-CFO, Co-Jurist, Co-Cop, Co-Logistics Manager, and Co-protector to name five.

From the get-go he was providing information and feedback. Somedays it was like come here, be quiet, get off of that, stop hurting your sister, stop bothering your brother, go to sleep, stay out of the forest, and so much more. Dad taught me what it was like to be a peacekeeper and how to maintain law and order.

As I grew a little older, it became more technical, iterative, and descriptive. By the time I was 5 much knowledge was gained. Always be learning, work hard, play hard, be honest, do your chores, quit hitting your brother and sister, don’t interrupt, pay attention to your surroundings, be respectful to others, be a problem solver, and learn new words everyday by reading. And then it was time to go to school.

School 

To a kindergarten kid, school is a giant indoor and outdoor playground. There were things to discover, games to play, songs to sing, and people too. At the end of the day, Dad would ask us what we had learnt and I am sure that the answer was always the same one, “Nothing”. Most days, I wanted to go to school and I wanted to show how much I was learning. There was so much to do, experience, and try even when we learnt “nothing”, we still managed to learn something.

My dad shared, that when he was growing up, he liked school too. He preferred playing sports, but also enjoyed his academic subjects. For him, the end of Grade 12 meant hitting the job market. You could get a job with a high school diploma in those days. I remember that he spoke about the importance of going to college/university and how a degree would be a benefit in our lives. Hard work mattered if any of us wanted to get ahead in this world. That meant I had to get a part-time job. 

Work 

Newspaper routes, washing dishes, bussing tables, and waiter were all lines on my resumé before turning 18. As Co-CFO, finances were important to my dad too. ‘Money did not grow on trees”, clichés about money did. Yet, despite having to get up early on weekends to go to work, the satisfaction of earning my own money for a job well done has never gone away. My first official paycheck at age 14 was a big event. It also signified the end of my allowance, but the beginning of my ability to generate income and start making some financial decisions for myself.

In many ways work was like freedom. It allowed me to do the things I’d never done before. The people skills and financial literacy are still in use. My parents’ hard work allowed us to have a wonderful home and security. This privilege also came with some responsibilities and expectations (a fair deal, although difficult to admit at the time).

Working was, is, and will be what we do. Even now, at 85 years old, dad is working full time, and probably loving every minute of it. I am still many years away from that milestone, but have already begun strategizing on what my 70s and 80s will hold beyond teacher life. Law school? Advertising? Barista? All threesta?

A strong work ethic shared by my dad has served me well as an entrepreneur and as an educator. Throughout all of my iterations as a child, adolescent, young adult, spouse, parent, and educator, my father’s ability to guide me towards make good decisions without deriding my choices has helped me in and out of the classroom. What still surprises me to this day is that even when I deserved to have my figurative ass kicked with an “I told you so.” or a “You should have…”, he allowed me to make my mistakes knowing that I would learn from them. That is how I try to do it too.

Here are a few of my dad’s pearls of wisdom (original and otherwise) that I am passing on to my son. Afterall, there will always more to parenting than just passing on DNA. Perhaps DNA stands for something else too.

Dad’s Natural Advice aka DNA 

“There’s no substitute for hard work.”
“If you have time to do it wrong, you’d better have time to do it over.”
“You can’t be a leader without a following.”
“You can fool some people some times, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”
“Do nice things that help others.”
“Pay attention to the world around you. Take time to notice the little things.”
“Be kind to others without expecting anything in return.”
“A good vocabulary is the key to higher learning.”
and my all time favourite…
“Take French, you might get a job someday.”
Yay for second language learning!

I have shared each of these gems with my son and students over the years. Not a single one appears in a curriculum document, except perhaps the learn French one(only until Gr 9). Nevertheless, the wisdom at the core of each one is also at the heart of our collective humanity and capacity to learn and grow. My dad knows this, and continues to share it with a grace and wisdom beyond any of the degrees found conferred in academia.

It is with the knowledge that I pick up the mantle he has hewed before me, carry it forward, and prepare the future to hold it high.

Thanks Dad for the lessons. I still need more. May God continue to bless you with health, happiness, and wisdom for years and years to come so you can keep on kicking proverbial ass with wisdom. 

Love Will

 

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The ABCs, verbs, and a reminder to government about their actions

As soon as 2 mouths are open, listening
Becomes impossible. Be still and
Calm your urges to react.

Cultivate your responses with tact and care.
Be bold in the face of ongoing acrimony.
Accept that change takes time(or an election cycle).

At a point where everyone expects instant gratification, information, and action telling the world to wait, think, and then act requires a bold courage beyond any mandate from 40.5% of voters. Regardless of political stripes, promises, and budgets, decisions must be made to benefit the entire populace not provoke or punish it.

Yet, it seems punishment in the form of economic funding cuts is all that is taking place. The public outcry is deafening already, and growing louder everyday. No one thinks cutting education, health care, or social service funding is a good idea.

With so many public services under attack and more cuts coming our way I wanted to consider the impact of government actions in terms of verbs in an alpha-betical construct.

Aim – attention from your current actions and onto publicity stunts
Blame – the past government for everything
Claim – you are acting on behalf of the people
Denigrate – all citizens opposed to your actions(students, teachers, nurses, doctors, legal aid, trade unions, union leadership, public service, municipal governments, social services advocates, scientists, youth/outreach workers, poverty activiststs)

Explain – that times are tough, and that everyone must do their part…to widen the gap between rich and poor(must have left that part out)
Feign – indignance rather than stand back to see the financial and social impact that such short sighted decision making will have on society
Gain – an affluent base to keep happy or a motivated electorate intent on ending a mistaken mandate…short term gain for long term pain

Harangue – any and all opposition from the public and press that does not follow party platforms – see also hector
Inflame – situations by refusing to answer direct questions in the legislative chamber, but choosing instead to derrogate the opposition while touting “accomplishments”
Jab – at those who dare stand up against arbitrary cuts while watching the richest earners/companies not expected to pay their fair share(s)
Kick – programs that help the most vulnerable to the curb(safe injection sites, Legal Aid,
Launch – attacks at union leadership, teachers, and students for protesting cuts to education
Manipulate – the media by generating a provincially funded news source to stream unchallenged government narratives
Negate – all the good that exists in our province that will continue – educational success, job creation, maintenance of social safety net
Obfuscate – every noble platform priority in favour of fixing a fictitious fiscal fantasy
Profit – from backroom connections that line the pockets of cronies and friends of the family

Question – everything that does not willingly lineup, salute, and drink the  party Kool Aid
Refuse – to consider the long term impact of poor public policy on justice, access, education, health care, mental health, and the economy.
Scold – leaders fighting for the rights of workers instead of inviting them to collaborate on ideas together

Taunt – the media, trade unions, families, students, teachers, front line health care workers, the poor(a buck a beer is not a policy win)
Undermine – years of hard work in areas of Special Education, FDK, and ASD treatment access
Vex – bait, confuse, and switch messages, narratives, and directions in order to bluff out the players in the game. To cause dis-ease in the ranks all the while peeking at the cards they might be holding.

Wonder -why is everybody so upset? Everyone can find 4% savings if they look close enough.
Xerox – duplicate what is being done south of the boarder by populist politicians

Yawp – complain whiningly with great noise and blame about the policies of other past and present governments
and
Zigzag – never defining or refining specific policy or platform goal beyond a provocative headline or veiled promise.

I am sure that there are hundreds of other verbs that could comprise this list. Feel free to share some of your own verbs from A to Z in the comment section.

If you liked or felt challenged by what you’ve read,  please share. Thanks for reading.

Chesed – חסד

Last week, I met with a young man and his mother via Skype to help give a TED Ed style talk. It was the first of several virtual conversations we planned.

Once the technical bugs were worked out between 500+ km of fibre optics, I was greeted by a shy, yet mischievious smile and a kind woman. There was instant rapport. The pair willingly shared in the conversation. We chatted for an hour and throughout it all, I felt like I’d known them for years. It was like we were family and my Hebrew vocabulary increased too. 

We said our goodbyes and planned to speak again. I left the conversation feeling happy and inspired. What I did not realize at the time, was it was to be our only meeting,

He was less than a decade old, and had probably done more living, in those short years, than most would with 10 times that many.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of medical appointments, diagnoses, and procedures. Yet, never without hope, desire, and strength.

Hope that he will continue to get better.
Desire to be a blessing to the lives of others.
Strength and determination to keep fighting everyday.

Impact is measured in lives changed. His was great and it can be characterized with a single Hebrew word, chesed – the attribute of grace, benevolence, or compassion – all of which he had plenty to spare.

His brief life was a reminder to all that everyone has a purpose to fulfill. And even though the number of days to fulfill our purpose is not known, to borrow the words of his mother, we too can be kiddush hashem, like this young man, true blessings to others.

 

Competance does not always equal excellence

We see you.
Like robots going through the motions.
Emotionless though never motionless.

You’re getting things done.

Facing forward. Moving forward.
Walking the straight lines from task to completion.
You got this.

We see you, but do you see us?
On the sidelines.
Watching you get things done,
but asking ourselves why?

You are competent, but is that excellent?
Who are you serving first instead of being a servant?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, I misspelled competence. Thanks for noticing.

 

Illness

Recently, I saw a commercial for the upcoming 2019 Bell Let’s Talk Day, to be held on January 30th. The ad shows scene after scene, in quick succession, a number of people who do not utter a word. The actors sit comfortably in front of the camera. Some are smiling, some are not, and others are neutral. It’s as if the ad is daring viewers to infer a story about them or  leap to false conclusions, and then we learn they aren’t actors.

By all appearances, the people in the spot represent a cross section of ages and cultures found across Canada. The only message stating that each person suffers from mental illness is a little chyron in the corner stating this fact. Suddenly, for the viewer, there’s a realization that unlike seeing someone in a cast, wearing a chemo patch, or who is propped up in a hospital bed we really have no way of knowing when someone is suffering from mental illness because it can’t be seen.

Does this excuse us from understanding or accepting a person’s illness merely because we can’t see it?

The invisible nature of mental illness makes it hard for all of us to identify it in someone. Especially sufferers who are stoic and silent. For many reasons, we are more likely to believe what we see rather than what we do not. Sometimes people are just having a bad day due to circumstances beyond their control. It is difficult to discern without ever learning all of the facts. So assumptions often take over. 

Adding fuel to this fire is the fallacy of personal incredulity that many people with mental illness face from their friends and family. 

That’s why we need to talk about mental illness as if it was as easy to discuss recovering from any other illnesses our bodies face. I think it starts here and it start with me.

I suffer from good days and bad days and I know I am not alone. We are not alone. No one is alone. 

I have felt happy, moody, pre-occupied, stressed, elated, angry, anxious, nervous, ecstatic, overjoyed, overwhelmed, indifferent, listless, lacklustre, sparkly, ebulient, magnaminous, and scared. In other words I have been on a few emotional roller coasters and the rides have not always been thrilling. I am fortunate that my highs and lows always level off and that none them linger longterm. Yet, I still choose to keep my feelings to myself.

After all, it is easier to bury it all in being busy instead of getting better. This means looking for things to take my mind off of how I feel. Helping others, taking on too many tasks, and staying occupied are all common ways of coping. Anything but talking about my feelings or appearing weak when I’m up or down. 

So let’s talk; because talking clears a path towards understanding, empathy, and encouragement. I am learning to share how I feel in posts like these and in interactions with others in the hopes of helping  more people to join the convo. 

Efforts to spark conversations about mental illness have indeed created awareness of the issues facing a sigificant segment of our population. And they are manifesting themselves more and more everyday in schools, offices, and homes. However, with recognition comes a responsibility.

Teachers are not trained psychologists. Schools are not clinics and school boards are not health networks. Yet everyday, educators are on the front lines of care for those who suffer. This includes themselves. How can we address a growing need in our profession to support one another while supporting our students in areas where few are trained to inhabit?

Here are 3 things that could make all the difference going forward;

  1. It is time for use to declassify Mental illness to the same status of illness regardless of the diagnosis. This way we can remove the invisible barrier and secret shame that some sufferers feel. No one mocks a person who has cancer? Why should people with mental illness be subjected to scorn?
  2. It’s time to fund schools and school boards to have more trained psychologists and mental health professions to support staff and students.
  3. Teachers need time and training to address their own issues of mental health without fear of stigma and reprisal from colleagues and employers. This training will build empathy and capacity in order to serve students. 

If we commit time and resources now, we stand a chance of truly ending the stigma of mental health in our community. Sadly, I fear that this will not happen in a board room or legislature because the dollars and cents are too easy to dismiss as ill spent, and with that our society needs to fix itself, not business. Government will say that it already funds health care to meet the needs of the people.

What both business and government fail to do is believe that there is really a problem to begin with. It is this collective incredulity that as historically led us to this point. So it falls again to education to create the conditions and pick up the pieces to effect change – and with zero to no budget. Nothing changes but the day. 

So here goes a simple solution in 5 easy steps to get you started. 

  1. Take time (know yourself, your colleagues, students and families, a smile or acknowledgement goes a long way as it may be the kindest thing someone experiences all day)
  2. Talk (share your feelings, hurts, joys, struggles, and victories without fear or shame)
  3. Listen (engage others to talk, let them know they matter, you do not have to solve any problems, a listener is what’s needed most)
  4. Take action (a smile, a call, or a cup of coffee with 1-4 may be the start of an important and impactful change in someone’s life, find the way you can support others best)
  5. Repeat

Our mental health is not a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that because it is an indication of our collective societal well-being. So let’s talk. 

You are a teacher

You wake up before your alarm clock because your students are on your mind. You drive to school during a blizzard even when the busses are cancelled. You are a teacher.

You see lessons worth sharing in the simplest and strangest places. Pandora’s boxes of teachable moments just waiting to be opened. The work you do permeates the core of your existence and the students you serve. It identifies you. It might even define you. You are a teacher.

You take a break from it, but can’t break free from thinking of it. Weekends, weeks, Summers spent in loud silence. Void of bells, bustling hallways, playground screams, and dozens of daily impetous interruptions. You are a teacher.

You see them trying their best though they are stuck struggling in the saddest places.
You stand beside them, behind them, and in front of them. You are sometimes their biggest fan, sympathetic ear, and excellence expectation establisher. You are a teacher.

You ask them to dig deeper. To share their thoughts. To ask questions about their world. All the while working to empower them to find their place and know that they belong because they matter. You are a teacher.

You witness the world being discovered daily through eyes of innocence and wonder. You are a teacher.

Happy World Teacher’s Day.

 

Wyoming 1971

This is a companion post to Building blocks published on the Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning blog for the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. It is, as my wife puts it, a means to spare readers with commitment and time issues a chance to get some of the back story if they want it instead of a longer read.

In the early 1970s, my family moved to the State of Wyoming, USA. We settled in a little town of 10 000 people. It was there that I began 7 years of school from K to 6.

Our school year started in September and finished at the end of May. It was glorious. Once Alice Cooper’s anthem played on the radio we all knew that 3 months of vacation awaited. We would leave the house in the morning and only reture for a few reasons; food, medical attention, and the toilet. Neighbourhoods swarmed with kids of all ages on bikes, playing sports, fishing in the local creek, and cooling off in a pool. Parental supervision was at a minimum. The entire neighbourhood looked out for one another. There must have been at least 6 other families to turn to if trouble came my way. Summer vacation in Wyoming was spent outdoors, playing from dawn to dusk, and without talk of school. We all had chores to do, but even most of them were outdoors. My parents did not have a single school related task to fill those days; that I knew about.

The moment Labour Day weekend rolled around new clothes were purchased, maybe some shoes too if we outgrew the old ones, and like a switch got flipped, we were all back in school mode. Since I was new to all of this there was a lot of oblivion as it related to which class I would be in or who my teacher(s) might be. The only thing I knew about kindergarden was that a nap was scheduled in the afternoon, but I wondered who it was really for? Us or the teacher? By foot was how most of us arrived each day, with the only exception being a school bus full of tired farm kids whose commute was up to an hour each way.

Independence and the rust

From K to 1 someone walked me to school, but from Grade 2 on I joined the commuter class of children who walked to school on their own. It was a distance of about 700 metres that included 3 turns and crossing the street. We avoided cars, strangers, and loose dogs. At lunch, many of us would walk home and back, even though school lunch was provided in our lunch room for the price of 45 cents – milk included. It was nice to go home and relax in between classes. Our school had a nurse who checked our hearing, vision, and teeth. She applied iodine and bandages, which is probably why most kids chose not to go in when cuts or scrapes occured. It was better to take your chances with an infection than it was with the iodine. When my mom would ask me what happened, most of the time I couldn’t remember because we were too busy playing.

Of course it wasn’t only like Neverland in Wyoming. Once we settled into our classrooms each year there were the usual get to know you activities and expectations. Teachers would be trying to assess us on our abilities to read, write, do Science, and answer increasingly difficult pages of Math questions as fast as possible as our ages increased. Nothing like shaking the cobwebs off from the get-go. It was tantamount to a leap into frigid waters not felt since May. For some it was shock to the system and yet for others there were no effects.

For me, after being out of the classroom for 3 months, it was obvious some rust had formed and I knew it. However, it never seemed like our teachers were worried about what we remembered or forgot from the previous year. Perhaps, they believed that recalling knowledge was like riding a bike even though your feet haven’t touched the pedals in years. It just comes back to you after a little practice. Sure there were some wobbly moments and crashes, but eventually momentum was regained.

In that time, it never felt as though we weren’t getting better each year. Some subjects were harder for me and others came easier. We were taught, we tried to apply the lessons, we were tested, corrected(shown how to improve), and taught some more. Not much has changed 45 years later except I’m on the other side of the desks now. And students are a whole lot more connected and savvy than then. The Math we are asking them to understand is kilometres ahead of the drill and kill days. At least in some ways.

As I work with students who have been off for 10 weeks over the summer break, I am noticing that many are coming to school in September exhausted and anxious. They struggle to shake the rust off and pick up where they left off at the end of June. I wonder when/if they were able to be still, run, recharge or play without having every moment of their day prescribed by a camp, sports team, or club? Many of these programs seem more tied to child care than they do to fun and seem to be a necessary reality for children where all of the adults in the home are in the workforce.

As a result Math seems to suffer the greatest amount of rust over the summer. And this might contribute to some of the anxiety that we are now seeing in the classroom each September. Perhaps if we gave our students the time to savour the summer rather than sail through it, we might give them the opportunity to return to schoolready for another year at the speed of learning.

That leads to the blog I originally wrote called Building upon balance, which inspired this preamble and its companion Building blocks.

Thank you for reading. Please take time to share or comment to let me know your thoughts. If you would like to read a bit more about the experience of leaving this mid-west Shangri La and what it was like to return to Canada, please read Uprooted.