Category Archives: Personal Learning

Moments

I jumped into a cab to get to the Sydney airport and my driver looked very familiar. As I sat in the car, his phone rang and he started to talk to his son in Greek. Scattered in English and Greek, I listened to him give advice to son, talking about not frivolously spending money, and then asking about his grandkids. I could not help but to start crying in the back because it was like listening to my own dad. When he got off the phone, I asked him where he grew up, and he told me he was from Tripoli which is very close to where my parents grew up and in the same area. I showed him pictures of my dad and he was so moved by what I shared.

I miss my dad so much every day but for a moment I could hear his voice and it was so comforting. I will miss all of the advice he gave me, even though I know I should have listened a lot more.

I saw this cartoon on Imgur the other day and it really hit home so I just wanted to share it.

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The Importance of Emotional Leadership

In about my sixth year of teaching, I remember sharing a story about my dogs with my grade 9 students.  As I was on my own in a small town where I didn’t know many people, the dogs were a HUGE part of my life and this wasn’t the first or last time I would talk about them.  They were and are like family to me.  When I was really getting into the story, one of my students shouted out in the middle of the class and said, “We don’t want to hear another story about your stupid dog.”

Years prior, I probably would have asked her to leave, got frustrated at the comment, and would have shown anger before anything.  This time I didn’t.  Instead, I said to her, “Those dogs are a huge part of my life and when you say something like that it really hurts me.”  Her facial expression and demeanour changed quickly, as did several of others in the class.  I was no longer simply a “teacher”, but a person, with real feelings and emotions.  After that moment, I felt a real change in how I was treated by students and, in all honesty, how I treated them.  It changed a lot for me.

As a principal, it would have been easy to fake emotions and represent that nothing had bothered or stressed me out, but in reality, I was never like that.  When Kobe (my first dog) had died, I struggled at school.  I spent a lot of time in my office and would often cry to my staff when they shared their condolences.  To many, this would be sign of a weakness, but in reality, I would say the exact opposite.  To be able to show who you are and share emotion is strength. Denying it and pretending I was feeling something else would not be true to myself.  We show our true strength when we accept that that we are vulnerable.

As a speaker, it is not easy to cry in front of people, but sometimes by showing emotion, I feel it is what makes me relatable.  Although I talk a lot about education, it is often the stories of my dad passing away, moments with my family, and my dogs that I often hear resonated most with others.  Every single person you have met has dealt with hardships in their life, and when they see someone being able to talk about similar experiences and share what they have learned from them, that is often what sticks with them.

This is not to say you need to share every part of your life, as I, like many educators, value my privacy as well.  But there are parts of YOUR story that will make an impact, and showing that you are having a rough day is showing that you are a person.  I spoke the following week after my dad died, and the day after I lost Shaq.  I cried profusely in front of people as I shared those stories with them.  The hugs that I received after both of those talks went WAY beyond people learning “stuff”, but went into deeper connections, for the audience and most definitely myself.  Think about it…if you were going to be vulnerable in front of any profession in a world, wouldn’t the best group to do that in front of be a group of educators where being loving and caring is an unwritten part of their job?

Yet I have seen many people walk into new roles and put on a tough demeanour and move away from who they truly are.  They implement the “don’t smile until December” rule and stick with it.  They constantly put people at arm’s length as they act as if showing emotion would be a sign of weakness.  Ironically with many, their emotion, their passion, and their story, which they have shared with me, is the exact reason that I have connected with them in the first place.  I talked to one new principal this week and he said his main focus for the beginning of his time at a new school was not about implementing a bunch of different things, but connecting and learning about his new staff while they learn about him. That focus on “connecting” was perfect and why I know that he is going to be successful.  Life is often a roller coaster ride with many ups and downs that we are all experiencing and asking for help is showing much more strength than simply giving up.

So as many people go into new roles next year, and try different things, my advice would be to show and be true to yourself.  Emotional leadership, showing humility, and being genuine, are not only sharing pieces of who you are, but they also show confidence, which is vital to successful leadership.  You and your colleagues will have ups and downs, as will your students.  Getting back up only happens when we fall down in the first place; they are both important parts to the story..  When we are in a field that is focus on developing people, no matter what your role is, showing your “human side” is vital.

Telling stories is often the best way for people to move forward, but don’t forget to put YOU into that narrative.  That is often the most important part.

As I wrote this on the plane, when I landed I read this post by Nicholas Provenzano, this one from Leah Whitfordand this one by Amber Teamann that are powerful examples of what I tried to articulate in this post.

The Vulnerability of the Web

I am probably babbling but here goes…

This week has been tough.

Travel is always wearing on a person, but having to make an impromptu trip home to say goodbye to a long time friend (my dog Shaq), has worn on me.  I miss her a great deal and am going to have a hard time going home this weekend and not see her waiting at the door for me, wagging her tail.

The documentation of my life, the ups and downs, in an open space, has been some of the most powerful learning that I have done.  Reflection has been extremely therapeutic in dealing with some tough times, but the love of people from around the world that genuinely care and try to make things better for others, has been overwhelming.  As I shared one of my last pictures of my sweet girl and I on Instagram, many people sent their condolences and love my way.  The “virtual hug”, as always, was greatly appreciated.

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From my sharing of this picture, I received several messages from dog lovers who may have given their own pup a little more love, an extra treat, or just spent some great time with them.  That loss of life may have reminded others that life is short and fragile, and we need to appreciate all that we have as much as we can.  I know that every time I see something similar to what I have shared, it brings me closer to the loved ones in my life.

Sitting in my hotel room alone and trying to deal with a range of emotions that I was going through, from sadness of losing my baby girl, and relief that I had made it home to say goodbye, I casually and almost lifelessly looked through Facebook and twitter to try and pass the time.  In a short 24 hours, I saw so much from people that way past “education”, but deeper into humanity.

My good friend Chris Wejr, who is a big of a dog person as I am, really struggled with the idea of bringing another dog home after the loss of his beloved Ozzy.  We had several conversations about getting another dog, and I was at the vet saying goodbye to Shaq, Chris was bringing a new dog home to his family.

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The hurt of saying goodbye and then the power of saying hello. Sharing death and sharing renewed life.  In my loss and grieving, I smiled at my friend who loves dogs, giving one a new home.  I was so happy for him and his family.

Then I received a message from Paige that my niece Bea had sent her condolences through a video message to her and I.  It stopped me in my tracks.

So much love coming from such a place of sadness that was so powerful. Even though she is so far away, I felt her love and caring, and social media and the literacy of creating a video allowed me to FEEL that.

I woke up the next day wondering how I would make it through an emotional day of speaking to educators.  If there is a place that I would feel safe, it with individuals that are in the “people business”, where nurturing and caring is part of what they do.  When I had shared what I had went to, they grieved with me, whether they knew me from Twitter or my blog or whatever.  Seeing others struggle often brings out the best in others to step up and help, and I knew that I could be vulnerable around them.

But about 15 minutes after I was done speaking, I received a text message from my 9 year old niece, who sent me a picture of her new baby brother.  Remembering when she was born and now seeing her send me the news through a text message was a pretty amazing reminder of how time flies by so quickly, and how a mobile phone has allowed us to connect so much more now from when it had existed before.  I quickly checked Twitter and Facebook, and saw my brother share the following picture and realized that I had a beautiful new nephew:

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Death, life, sadness, and happiness.

All  of this was shared in 24 hours from people that are close to me emotionally, yet far in terms of proximity.  The humanity that is shared from those simple “tweets” is what brings me so much closer to them, and them to me.  The “learning” through social media is great, but the human aspect is why I stay.  The willingness to share ourselves is something that is very powerful, yet makes us very vulnerable. I have tried to embrace that vulnerability although sometimes it can be extremely tough.

What I was reminded of in this short amount of time, while I still try to deal with something very tough, is that there is more good than bad out there, and every little share we make can bring us closer together.  We have to remember the impact we can make on others, both positive and negative.   I am also reminded of how social media can truly “humanize” us, when we deal with the great moments and also the tough ones. That “humanity” can bring us closer together as people than we have ever been before.  I was also reminded of the following quote:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Unknown

Every action can make an impact; I am going to try every day to make it a positive one.

Goodbye My Sweet Girl

As I sit here with my dog Shaq in her last moments, listening to her breath as she sleeps, I think about all of the times that I have had with her that have made my life so much better.

Almost fifteen years ago, as a coach of a high school boys basketball team, we went on a road trip to my hometown for a tournament.  As we sat in a Burger King, and I read the classifieds to them, I said, “Do you guys want to come get a dog with me?”  Of course, they said they absolutely would love to go.  We went to a farm just outside of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and there were ten puppies there to pick from, and while nine of them ran up to me, the one that ran away was the one that appealed to me.  She seemed so shy and that she just needed love.  Myself and twelve basketball players were in a van with this sweet puppy, and you watched this dog take some of the toughest kids you know and reduce them to mush.  When I asked them what I should name her, they said, “Well you already have Kobe, so you might as well name her Shaq.”  I thought that it was a ridiculous name for a girl, but they said well it is short for “Shaquelyn” (rhymes with Jacquelyn), and I was sold.  A new puppy had entered my life.

As I already had Kobe and he suffered from severe separation anxiety, I felt that giving him away would be too hard, and that another dog was the answer. My girlfriend at the time, said it was a bad idea, yet I still returned home with a surprise that charmed her immediately.  Every single day I left Kobe, he would start to destroy things, bark wildly, and tear at the floor in front of the door.  The first day that I left him with Shaq, he didn’t even notice I left.  She immediately made an impact on both of us.

Even as a puppy, she controlled the house.  There were the “Shaq Rules”, where basically she got whatever she wanted, which lasted her entire life. She was shy but sweet, and was leery of people, but very loyal to me.  Although she was not a “snuggler”, she was in every room that I was in, all of the time.  She would sleep at the foot of the bed, she would stand at the top of the stairs, or she would sneak her way into the bathroom.  Presence was everything to her.  I had her since she was 6 weeks old and although I would like to think that she needed me for protection, she saw it the other way around.

At about 9 months old, I took her to the vet to get her spayed, but unfortunately the operation couldn’t happen that day; she was already pregnant from the town stray dog.  A few months later, in a house that had only 500 square footage of room, I was now home to 2 dogs and 10 puppies.  12 dogs in my life and I was living a real-life Disney movie.  I gave every single one of those dogs to students in the town, and I am sure that some of her offspring are still around, but I also know that she outlived a few of them.

For the last fifteen years of my life, Shaq has been a constant.  She had been there through the loss of Kobe, the purchase of my first home, the loss of my dad, and getting engaged, amongst a myriad of other things.  Through several ups and several downs, I was always guaranteed to come home to her running to the door and wagging her tail.  About three years ago when she was diagnosed with cancer, I decided that serious medical treatment was going to be too much for her, and decided against it.  The doctor predicted that she would live for six months and three years later, here we are.  Shaq was a fighter.

My last couple of years I have spent a lot of time on the road due to work and leaving Shaq and Odom had been the hardest part of that experience.  When you are used to a house that always seems to be full of love, it is tough to spend a night in a quiet hotel room.  I have been so used to sleeping with my dogs, that I often held a pillow and slept on one side of the bed on the road because that was my routine.  The dogs ruled the house, with Shaq as the ultimate boss.

I got the call while I was in Indiana that Shaq hadn’t eaten, and when she went to see the vet, she told me that Shaq had “given up”.  I said okay, cried profusley, and booked a flight home.  She had been there for so many good and bad moments in my life, that there was no way that I was going to absent for her last.  I rushed home as soon as possible, fearing that she would not be alive when I got home.  As I rushed out of the cab and downstairs, I saw her lying there with hey eyes open, waiting for me.  I picked her up (which she had NEVER been okay with until today), and carried her just like when she was a puppy, relieved that she had waited for me.  She nestled into me and you could see a sigh of relief in her demeanour that I had made it home.  I have not left her side since.  As I prepare to take her to the vet tomorrow morning, I think about how much love she gave me and how the house is already starting to feel a lot more empty.  Dogs have brought life to a home, and made it more than a place to live.  It is going to be so tough to be in a room and not feel Shaq’s presence as she watches and hovers over me.

Just like she has been by my side for fifteen years, I am going to be by her side until her last moments.  Shaq taught me how to love unconditionally, and forgive easily.  We can learn so much from our dogs if you are open to the love that they are willing to give, and even if sometimes you are not.

Tonight will be our last night together and tomorrow I will say goodbye to my sweet girl.  I am going to snuggle her like crazy and give her as much love as possible while enjoying one last NBA FInals game with her, since I have watched so many with her by my side.

Thanks Shaq for teaching me so much…Just like Kobe, your impact on me will never be forgotten and I will try to be the person you have seen me to be.

Sleep warm my sweet girl.

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