Category Archives: Personal Learning

Learning and Life

My dad passed away almost a year ago and I have been forever changed.

I have written this before, but I feel that everything has just slowed down a bit.  Life doesn’t seem as fast paced as what it once was and his passing has made me refocus.  It is often said that great athletes see the game they play at a slower pace and can recognize things coming at them differently.  I feel that since my dad has passed, the game has slowed down for me.  Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad.

In the last year, I have taken the time to focus more on myself and the people closest to me.  I have enjoyed having some of those people experiencing great things with me. I have tweeted less, blogged less, and feel like I have lived and experienced more.  I learned quickly that life is short and although I want to make a difference in the world, I also want to appreciate those closest to me and make a difference with them.  I have not been as successful with those relationships in many ways, but I have tried harder.  I have spent better time with fewer people.

Although I started this site to be an “educational blog”, it was weird for me at first to write about personal things in this space.  I have written about times that I have struggled personally, and events such as when I lost my first dog, and the opportunity for reflection in an open space, I feel, has made me more cognizant of my own life.  Many people get turned off by this type of writing in what is an “educational space”, but what I realized is that this space was never meant to be focused solely on education, but always on learning.  If you don’t think that you learn something when your dad dies that applies to the kids you deal with every day in a school, you are wrong.  How much will a kid care about math when they lose someone close to them?   The human connection that we have in schools will be the reason that schools will always be relevant and these life lessons, and how we deal with them, bring a lot to our students.  If you only teach the curriculum to a child, you have come up short.

In a weird way, I feel closer to my dad now more than ever.  I make it a focus to talk about him when I speak to honour his impact on me as an educator, but more importantly, as a person.  When you lose someone, you always have regrets on what you didn’t do or say, but I am trying to focus on what my dad gave me and what I can give others.

Am I where I want to be?  When I ask this question, I am not talking about my career but my development as a person.  I know that I have a long way to go but these moments in life teach you a lot about yourself, where you have been, and where you want to go.

I miss my dad every day, but I know that even though he is gone, my continuous reflection on his life and what I learned from him, ensure that he will impact me and help me grow as a person and teacher.

Everything happens for a reason, but…

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Chinese Proverb

2014 is coming upon us and I am thinking about some of the goals that I have for the upcoming year.  As many people do, I will focus on something that has to do with my health, my career, and those that surround me.  It is great to look back at what you have done in the past and reflect upon the year, and as each new year comes, I am excited about what lies ahead.

As the year comes, and in everyday life, I hear this saying often:

Everything happens for a reason.

I believe this more than you would ever know but I have always felt that the saying was missing something.  In my opinion, it should be something like this:

Everything happens for a reason, but you will need to do something with what lies before you.

Years ago, I was unhappy in my career and was ready to quit education. I hated teaching and a new profession seemed that it was on the horizon.  Due to some unforeseen events, I ended up getting a job in a new district and in my head, decided to give it one more year.  Since I was totally new to my district, I decided that with this new opportunity I was going to reinvent myself.

It started simply with wearing a tie to work everyday.  I know that it seems very simple, but that one little change made me feel something different.  With that little change, bigger changes happened within me, and although within one short year I became a school administrator (which I had never envisioned), I came to a place where teaching was not a career, but a passion.  Many of those mindset changes that I made that year I continue to do today.  Because of that year, I have always seen change as an opportunity, even when it comes out of something bad.  It takes a lot of work to see it, but when you do, your life can become that much better, but it depends on what you are looking for.  Change is hard but it is a lot harder to deal with when we choose to do nothing.

So if everything happens for a reason, what will you do with the opportunity that lies before you?

My Year In Review

Every year Google shares a “Zeitgeist” video, that does a simple year in review:

These videos always make me think about my own life.

I feel extremely blessed that I am living out my dream right now, speaking and travelling the world, while also being blessed to work in a division that does not only allow us this, but encourages it. As I speak to other educators around the world and tell them about the opportunities that I have in my role, to both work in a school district, while travelling and speak, they are envious.

This year I have travelled to speak in Asia twice, Australia twice, as well as all over North America. I met and developed friendships with people all over the world, and have felt blessed to make these new connections.

I also lost my dad. That really puts things into perspective.

I think about him a lot, and wonder what he would think of what I am doing now. Although there are things in my life that I still want to accomplish that I wish he would have seen, I also feel that he left at a time when he knew I was going to be okay and know that he is proud of me. I will continue to connect with him even when he is physically gone, by sharing what he had gone through in his life to give my family what we have today.

In 2013, I learned that although someone can be gone, a legacy can live forever. I see my dad in my immediate family, and his grandkids every day. It is going to be tough to go home and see his tombstone for the first time, and not see him sitting at the end of the table as we have Christmas dinner, but I feel him in who I am more now than ever.

Taking Time To Be Human

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by ePi.Longo

Yesterday morning I woke up feeling great and ready to take on the world.  Lately, things have slowed down  (in a good way)  and you have those times in your life when you seem to hit your stride.  I might be in one of those times.

Then I checked Facebook.

A good friend of mine wasn’t having one of those days.  Unfortunately, a beloved pet of hers had a terrible accident and was in a severe condition.  She was not doing well and I contacted her directly to check in and see how she was doing, not through a comment, but a personal message.

The odd thing to many, is that when I say “good friend”, this is someone I have met in person once, but have connected with several times through Twitter and Facebook and have got to know through social mediums more than the opportunity I have had to meet face-to-face. Friendships that are started and maintained through social media are becoming something  normal to me.  I always prefer face-to-face, but do not limit friendships to that.

Yet many times those connections that we build either online or offline, get pushed aside for the busy times that we have in life.  We spend a lot of time doing what we do, connected in our own world, and we lose touch with some of those valued connections that we have built in our lives because we are lost in ourselves.

As I left this morning, I thought of her and checked her Facebook feed to see how her dog was doing only to find that her beloved pet had passed away.  I stopped everything that I was doing and cried profusely, knowing how tough the loss of a pet is and wondering what I could do to help, knowing that there isn’t much from a far distance.  It also hit me how we often only check in on people we see that something is wrong, yet pay little attention when seems to be going right.

We can stop our lives instantly to help a friend in need, yet you often hear things like “I could care less what someone had for breakfast”, when it comes to social media.  Yet those little “shares” help us to build those strong connections in the first place.  The constant sharing of my own pets may not be something that connects to everyone, nor do the masses find appealing, but it does create a deep connection with few.  I have purposely started to filter those “meaningless” tweets and updates from others as I felt I have been too busy to keep up with it, and wanted only the shares related to my field, but why?  Those little glimpses into someone else’s life were the things that brought me initially close to so many people.

Maybe when we start to care about those little happy moments that others share so openly, it shows the importance of the connections that we have made, and that we are not only there in “bad”, but also to help them “savour” the good.

Maybe we need to pay a little more attention to what someone had for breakfast.

Maybe it just says we care.

Little Things…

Tomorrow I am speaking at Marin County, which is the same place that I found out my dad died.  Because I had turned off my phone that day, I had found out through my brother via google chat.  I remember looking at my computer, seeing the message, then closing it and walking away.  I had no idea what to do.  I went to Mary Jane Burke, a person I had met only once, but knew that had the biggest heart ever, and told her.  She dropped everything, took me to a room, and made sure that I was able to call my mom.  Obviously I was not going to finish my day, and I remember Mary Jane saying, “we really want you to come back some day and speak to us”, so here I am.

It has been a week that I have been needing to happen.  That week, I was in the middle of a “vacation”, and had to cut it short (obviously) because of the passing of my father.  I decided to come here early, and just be.  I don’t want to term it that I needed “closure”, but I guess I just kind of wanted to be here with the thoughts of my dad.

I remember specifically being driven to my hotel (they would not allow me to drive) after the news, and going over the Golden Gate Bridge.  As we drove over, I could feel my dad there and not there at the same time.  I have no idea how to explain it, but that bridge will always remind me of him. I can see it in a movie and be brought to tears.  I took yesterday to spend some time on my own, and on the advice of a good friend, grabbed a bike, and headed out to the bridge.  I wanted some time with my dad.  As I biked up those steep hills, I got to this point at the top, and no one else was around.  Then I saw the sun shine in a way that I had never seen it before.  I snapped this picture.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by George Couros

I could feel my dad there, and for some reason, I felt not only the presence of my dad, but that he was proud of me. I am not one for stopping and admiring things, but that moment I was frozen and I took it all in. Again, these are things that I can’t explain, but it was just my feeling at the time.  I needed to feel that.

There was one other thing that I distinctly remember that day.

Mary Jane came into the office where I was talking to my mom, visibly upset, and she placed a rock on the table that was in the shape of the heart.  Honestly, at the time, I thought it was just weird and made no sense, and to this day, it still doesn’t make sense.  To not come off as being rude, I took the rock and kept it with me on the ride home.  To say I am fidgety would be an understatement, and while driving home, that rock was in my hands and I constantly rubbed it between my thumb and fingers in my right hand.   When I saw my dad for the first time after he passed, I did the same thing, and again during his funeral.  I had amazing support from family and friends during that time, but that little rock, that made no sense to me, calmed me and made me feel at ease.  I took a picture of it and the sight of it can put me into tears, but in a good way.  It will always remind me of my dad and that little thing, that made no sense, has helped me more than I could have ever imagined.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by George Couros

3 Years

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by George Couros

Sorry for the personal post, but today is an anniversary that I have promised that I would honour until the day I die.

My first dog Kobe died three years ago today.  To that point, it was the toughest day of my life as I had never lost anything close to me.  Even though I was an adult, I felt I really “grew up” a lot that day.  Sitting by something you love and watching him pass away as you hold him is a tough experience and one that I often wake up remembering.

Every night that I was in the same house as Kobe, he would crawl into bed and lay beside me, look at me, put his paw on my shoulder and sigh as if he was frustrated that we could not understand each other’s words.  I would say, “love you buddy”, and eventually fall asleep. Because my body temperature is always quite warm, it was uncomfortable for Kobe to sleep beside me, so he would wait until I fall asleep, and then go lie beside the bed.  I would look every morning beside the bed and smile.  Dogs do not only give you unconditional love, but they teach you to love in that way as well.  Kobe has set an extremely high standard for what I want in my life, and what I will accept.  The quote, “be the person your dog thinks you are”, sets a high standard that I think about often.

That being said, I still wake up some mornings and look beside my bed, but Kobe is not there.  I miss him but I would not exchange the pain for anything as I was blessed to find a dog that taught me a lot about life.

As my oldest dog Shaq starts to display the same things that Kobe did before he passed, I am taking more time to just enjoy and love her.  She has mellowed in her old age, and as a dog that used to hate going outside, she has now taking a love of going for walks.  So we go often and as long as she can hold up.  I come home some times and she doesn’t even notice or wake up until I sit beside her and start to pet her.  It is sad and beautiful all at the same time and I am learning to embrace those moments that she is not rushing to me when I get home, but I am rushing to her.

The end is seemingly near for her and I want to make sure that I enjoy as many moments as I can.  With two years of a lot of travel for work, I am happy to say that Shaq has not spent one night in a kennel.  She has had people that have loved her because that is her home as much as it is mine.  Kobe taught me that they are more than just “dogs”, but they are family.

As I think about Kobe and see little things that constantly remind me of him, I share this poem from Jimmy Stewart about his love for his dog. It is pure perfection.  It made me smile, reminding me of the frustration you sometimes have with a dog, while also making me tear up thinking of the love that you receive from a dog that you would never expect.  “Beau” could easily be replaced with the name of “Kobe” for myself, as I am sure it will resonate with anyone else

I miss and love you buddy. Always will.

Time is a gift; use accordingly.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by epSos .de

A personal reflection…

At the end of February, 2013, I was incredibly excited to be asked to “come home” and speak to teachers for the opening day of the Horizon School District 2013-2014 school year in Saskatoon.  This was a special honour to me as it was the district that I grew up in as a kid.  I called my mom soon after it was confirmed, excited to shared the news with her.  She was really excited, but I remember her saying, “well hopefully your father and I will be around still by that time.”  I told her to be quiet and stop being “ridiculous” as the talk was at the end of August (tomorrow) and obviously that was a scenario that would not play out.

A month later my Dad passed away from a heart attack.  He will never see me speak.

Anyone who has been through that knows you change forever. My world, my outlook, and sometimes I even think my demeanour.  Life seems a little bit slower.  I have no other way to explain it.

So I decided to really take a look at my life and what makes me happy.  Because of this event, I decided to take a half-time leave from my job at Parkland School Division to pursue the opportunity to speak more, as well as write.  Although last year I was either at work or on the road working, I wanted to do things differently.  I want to, as a friend of mine always encourages, “smell the roses”.  I want to have more experiences.  I want to meet more people.  I want to connect deeper with those I am closest with.  I want to pursue my passions.

As the school year started today for teachers within our school division, I have thought about what I want to focus on, not as a teacher, but as a person.  Here are some of those thoughts:

  • Surround myself with amazing people.
  • Trust when it is tough and forgive those closest to me a lot quicker.
  • Try to give more than I receive.
  • Pursue my passions with all my heart.

Teaching is a “people business”, and I believe that there is a considerable need for us to look at ourselves and what we need to be happy if we are inspire those we connect with every day.  Time is a gift and I am going to try to make the most out of every moment by focusing on living better this year, than I did the last.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” Henry David Thoreau

Cool Moment

One of my favourite books from the last year has been “Humanize” by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant.  I have quoted it often and like Dan Pink’s “Drive”, it has been one of those books that has really shaped my thinking.  The funny thing is that I would have never read the book unless I wrote a post about my thoughts on “Humanizing Our Organizations“, and received a comment suggesting I should take a look.

Because of my work and my love for this book, I have quoted the book often in my blog and in my keynotes.  Yesterday, I shared the following quote in a keynote to Peel District School Board:

“As the Internet has become more central in our lives, we have begun to witness a revival of the importance of being human.” Notter and Grant

To my surprise, somehow Jammie Notter got wind of what I had shared and when checking my Twitter feed after my talk, I saw the following tweet:


Obviously he is over-exaggerating in his comments, but it was just cool to be acknowledged by an author that I admire greatly publicly that is outside of the education sector. I have no idea how he even knew I mentioned the book, but obviously it showed up somehow on his Twitter stream. I was kind of giddy.  I have seen this happen with our students, but I guess I am still amazed by how quickly and easily we connect with people all over the world.  

As the population continues to grow, I realize the world is smaller than ever.  It is definitely something we have to take advantage of with our students.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by George Couros

Survival Mode

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Foxspain Fotografía

As I wait at the airport to head off to #ISTE13, I have been thinking a lot about the year that was (“teacher years” in North America are September to June).  I have been inspired over and over again by so many great people in my own school division that are constantly pushing the edge of learning and really stepping up their leadership.  I have also been fortunate enough to connect with many people around the world that have not only pushed my thinking, but have become good friends.  I am blessed in what I do.

That being said, I feel like I didn’t finish the year off the way I wanted.

I remember when my Dad passed away in March and I sat there stunned for several days.  It was not until I went to the funeral home that it really hit me.

And it hit me.


I remember thinking, “How am I going to make it through the rest of the school year?”  When I returned back to work and speaking, I was able to do what I needed but it was tough.  Spending time with some great people really helped, but at other points I felt lifeless.  I really tried to keep healthy, go to the gym everyday, try to eat better, but I also felt my body starting to shut down.  I have been to the doctor more times in the last three months than I have in the prior three years.

I have always asked the interview question from teacher candidates, “If two kids get in a fight, is the consequence the same?”  If they answer yes, I ask them why, and they will usually say something along the lines of being “fair”.  If they say that, I follow up, “What if one of them just had their dad die.”  They usually rethink their answer as they know that when faced with a situation like this, things change.  I never really understood what my question really meant until I dealt with.  Everything changed that day in March for me.

I went into survival mode.

Tears have been easy.  Sometimes feeling something is tough.  Losing a parent for me made me start to revisit everything in my life. I would lose endless hours of sleep thinking.  Naturally my mind has always raced, but more so lately.

Weirdly enough, my blog has become my therapy.  Just writing about anything has given me an outlet when I needed one most.  Who knew that it would be something that helped me through a grieving process.

So as we come into the end of the year, for the first time in a long time, I am not thinking about next year and all that I want to try and push.  I am just thinking about enjoying my break.  I am thinking about just having some time to catch my breath and go for a run every morning with my dog.  I am thinking about sleeping in.  I am thinking about writing.

I know that by the time August comes around, I will be ready to get back into it, but I also know that I will never be the same after losing my Dad.  Your priorities change, but changing does not mean it will make me worse.  In fact, the more I think about my Dad, the more I think about what he is thinking about what I am doing right now. That thought will drive me to be much better in many aspects of my life.  Just maybe not yet.  It will though.  He did so much for myself and my family so that we could have all of the opportunities in the world. It would be a dishonour to him to not make the most of it.

I know I have written about how excited I was about the accomplishments of staff and students, but this time, I am just happy to have made it.

Sometimes that is enough right?

Finding Light in the Dark

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Oscar E.

Warning…This post gets a little mushy…mushier than usual.

Trying to get back into the swing of things after my dad passed away, I have been thinking about what to write.  Blogging has been something that has been important to my growth as not only an educator, but honestly, as a person.  It has made me more reflective and thoughtful in many aspects of my life, and the time it has taken to just sit down and write has helped me catch my breath when I needed to most.  Writing about dad was one of those times that I needed to use my blog for therapeutic means.  I know it made me really think and appreciate his life, even in his passing.

Coming back after this type of event makes it hard to focus on “education” related topics but it really helped me to continue to think about learning.  When I think of the word “learning”, I don’t think of simply the consumption and creation of knowledge, but I also think of the development of ourselves as people.

I started to reflect on the last week, which had many downs, but some very bright ups.  I really learned a lot about people and how they react to tragedy, seeing both the good and bad.  What I was most proud of in the last week was the strength of my family to come together and make sure everything was dealt with, while also taking care of one another. With my dad looking down on us right now, I know that he would be proud of how he strengthened our love and commitment to one another as a family.  I try to focus on that good, while I push out some of the bad.

So as I continued to think about what I could possibly write today, one of the ideas that kept coming to me over and over again, was how my life is a lot better because of social media.  Many people still do not see the value of this space, but looking back at the last week, I know that the people I have connected with through Twitter have helped to not only make me become a better educator, but more importantly a better person.  I saw “strangers” connect and care for me from both near and far through social networks, many of them that I have never met in real life, or maybe once or twice.  People from across the world that would check in on me and continuously ask, “what do you need me to do?”  Thinking that this was a crazy question from people so far away, it was nice to know that people were willing to help however they could, wherever they were.

Years ago as a new and (what I thought at the time) young administrator, I felt extremely isolated in my position.  Many people that were in a similar position had different interests and families while I was still single, on my own, and away from family.  It was hard to connect with my peers in a personal sense although I always loved connecting with them on a professional one.

Then Twitter.

I honestly felt quite lonely at the time and felt that all I did was work and go home.  Just a continuous cycle.  I started learning with a lot of people that were a lot smarter than me, but I started to find my “tribe” and connected with many people and built friendships with many that at a time when friendships were lacking in my life.

Was that what I set out to do? Absolutely not.

In fact, if you would have told me I would have made friends with strangers through Twitter, I would have thought you were crazy.  But now, some of my best friends in the world are literally from around the world.  Many people use Twitter and don’t necessarily “get it”, but I think that it is easy to not see the value if you are not in the mindset to put yourself out there and connect with people.  If I was just “reading” other people’s stuff, I don’t think I would keep coming back.  The connection to the “tribe” has really been the difference in my personal and professional life.

This is not a “you should join Twitter” post.  I don’t want people to think that at all.  What this is (for me), is the reminder that many people from around the world have been there for me when I have struggled at different points in my life and it has made all of the difference in the (my) world.  In the context of schools, wouldn’t all kids learn better if they always knew they were cared for?  There is a correlation to my own growth and the feeling I get from so many caring people.

What this post is meant to be is a “thank you” to so many “strangers” who reached out, wrote, called, DM’d me, texted me, and cared for me and my family when we needed it most.  Just like a learner needs food in their stomach to be able to concentrate, love and caring is needed for them to excel.

Thank you to so many for giving me just that.