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.

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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.

English evil

If I ever pry open my wallet to buy a vanity license plate, it would read WRDSRWRD  – Words are weird. Well, at least the English ones.

Over years of teaching language I’ve discovered something very important. That English is evil. Not English people as per se, but the English language as a whole, is evil.

It kind of rolled off the tongue one day while I was teaching when a student asked, “What kind of language would have 3 words mean something different, vary in spelling, but all sound the same?” I blurted out, “English, because English is evil.” The class lost it.

Imagine the propensity towards evil that exists in a language that can muddle up 26 letters to create an ex-con, lexicon of over 175 000 words with such reckless abdomen, abandon. And it’s still groaning, growing.

I love my classes spend time on the simplest words that then lead to so many interesting conversations. I love investing time into re-mixing and dissecting words with students. We even create our own words. I am presentating my ideas about language to you.

You heard correctly, I said presentating in the hope that the verb presentate in all of its awkward etymological glory will legitimately be included into the Oxford English Dictionary. 10 years ago, I started using it with the goal of being able to use a grammatical aberration and have it accepted as a part of our language, by first misusing it in the classroom.

No wonder my students get in trouble the following years when using presentate amidst less receptive instructors. I’ve had colleagues challenge my motive to add the verb presentate, but it is all in good fun.

When we learn like this, we invite laughter and oral communication skills into our space. This helps turn a difficult lesson into a powerful learning opportunity that is often unscripted, responsive, and accessible for all.

Knowing the value that exercises like these play in my teaching, has become a huge part of my instructional competency. I love it when students are able to turn their minds loose and then listen for the chuckles when words are captured, tamed, and then set them free again. This past year we shared a 40 minute discussion about Illuminati Grilled Cheese. We were in tears from laughing so hard.

What happened in that time was far more valuable to their education than any lesson found in a text.They were present for something spontaneously created by them. We play with words, sounds, and letters and let the conversations carry us towards creativity and critical thinking. We became closer as a classroom and community. My students felt safe and because of that, we were able to do some deep learning.

Every year, I share this reminder with educators and students because things become really confusing, really fast when a language which is still evolving gets mixed up, misunderstood or misused. I want everyone to know the power that waits within the language they are using. I want everyone to become comfortable with words and to own a rich vocabulary whether they are learners, teachers, writers, speakers or witty conversationalists.

To me the more we all interact with language, at any level, the richer our learning experiences will become. 

This summer, take some time to have fun with the language you experience. Use language like your communicating with an alien. Play with the letters, sounds, and words as if you’re inside of a VR game of puns, poetic devices, and crunchy axioms. Wishing ewe awl well. 

Note:

I am currently working through a TED Ed Innovative Educator Talk and initially wrote this part into my message. It was pulled from the final draft in the interest of time and in order to stay closer to my through line as it relates to peculiarities in our language and goals for education. I hope to be able to share it someday soon.

Flu id

flu·id

noun
1. a substance that has no fixed shape and yields easily to external pressure; a gas or (especially) a liquid.  “We all need several glasses of fluid a day”

adjective
1. (of a substance) able to flow easily. “the paint is more fluid than tube watercolors”
Fluid seems like a pretty harmless word, but when you break it into two words, you get nothing but trouble. What if fluid really meant a selfish virus – flu id: These two words from within a word mean something very different apart than when the space between them is gone.
If something is fluid, it moves in harmony about and around the forms and forces acting upon it. In Science, it is generally considered a state of matter. In the Arts, the dancers were fluid in their movements as they leaped across the stage. In baseball, a hitter may have a very fluid swing.*
Fluids are observable, measurable, and useful. Whether it’s a litre of stock, a cup of  cream, or a spoon of olive oil, together or apart, each contributes to a delicious recipe.
In life, situations can be fluid too. Often they change or are changeable with little to no control or resistance. Come to think about it, the flu is pretty good at being fluid as it evolves into new and virulent forms in order to thrive from year to year. It’s id saying. “catch me if you can.”

 The flu morphs and hides in the nearest convenient host. The id is like the GPS for our psychological and physiological existence. Like the flu, the id is always seeking ways to get what it wants and needs to survive.

The Flu virus floats around like a plastic bag in a breeze and lands on anything with a warm surface. It proceeds to take up residence in the heads and lungs of its victims. Like the id, the flu wants what it wants. Once inside, it becomes the house guest from hell, turns the heat up on its new hosts, and rejects anything that gets eaten. Not wanting to stop there, the flu and its id are even more happy to move on to a new residence with a sneeze, forgetful touch (doorknob, remote, phone) by an unwashed hand, or a nose wipe.

As a teacher, there will always be students, parents, and or colleagues battling the flu and its id on a regular basis from October to March each school year. Fevers, coughs, phlegm, dizziness and vomiting are all part of the suffering unleashed by this selfish super bug. I was down for a whole day and half this year because of it.

And what does the world tell us to do when it hits us? Get some rest, and drink plenty of fluids. SMH.

* This is the opposite to a hole in their swing as I shared in What are holes made of? Pt 2 Language