Tag Archives: my dad

A Simple Hug

It is almost two years ago that my dad passed away.

I still struggle writing and seeing those words.  Sometimes I find myself laughing thinking about stuff that he did, or crying because he is not seeing things happen in my life right now.  Although we tended to argue about certain aspects of my life, I know and always knew he was trying to look out for me.  Every person needs someone in their life that whether you like what they say or not, you know that they are there for you.  That was my dad.

As I received the news of my dad passing through a google chat message from my brother because I had shut off my phone prior to a presentation, I can still that little pop up window that rocked my world.  I saw it, closed my computer, and immediately informed the group that I would have to leave.

As I arranged plans to fly home to be with my family, I remember sitting in the Denver airport in a little restaurant off to the side, where I wrote about my dad passing away and what he meant to me.  Writing was seemingly the only way that I could hold things together.  Today, as I flew to Detroit from the Denver airport, I passed that restaurant again and I was reminded of a special moment.  As I wrote about my dad, with tears in my eyes, the server had brought me food that I ordered that I had not planned on eating.  I was the only one in the restaurant at the airport at the time, and although the restaurant was not busy, she kept asking me if I needed anything, with service more attentive than I had been used to.  All of a sudden, the server came up to me, and she said, “I am really sorry, but I saw what you are writing over your shoulder, and I am incredibly sorry for your loss. Would you mind if I gave you a hug?”  Needing that more than anything, I stood up, and cried uncontrollably as a stranger cried along with me.  I remember that she had hugged me until I let go, and I was incredibly grateful.

Walking by that little spot in the Denver airport always makes me pause, but today, almost two years later, it really hit me.  It also reminded me that although it can be really easy to get caught up in all the bad in the world, total strangers sometimes do the kindest things, and people sometimes show up unexpectedly when you need them the most.  I was also reminded of hearing someone say that when a kid in school comes up to hug you, never let go first.  They will hold on until they get what they need.

That is what that kind stranger did for me that day, and I am forever grateful.

Love and Innovation

Maybe it is because it is close to Christmas, and maybe it is because my dad has been on my mind so much lately, but I just needed to write the reflection below.

I love the “30 for 30″ series on ESPN, because they share powerful sport stories that go way beyond a game, and really touch the heart.  I don’t know if it was from “The Guru of Go” about Paul Westhead and the death of Hank Gathers, or if it was “Survive and Advance” about Jim Valvano, his NC State team, and ultimately his battle with cancer, but I heard about the importance of “love” in bringing people together and overcoming so many obstacles.  It made me think a lot about the term “love” and it’s role in schools and “innovation”.  Not “love” in the terms of relationships with a spouse, but that feeling of being truly cared for and caring for others.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the battle people are going through in their own lives, and how that impacts their work.  I love this quote attributed to Will Smith on the subject:

“Never underestimate the pain of a person, because in all honesty, everyone is struggling. Some people are better at hiding it than others.”

There are people that show up every single day, with a smile on their face and not only do great things, but lift others up as well.  This year I have seen one friend openly share their battle with depression, and another friend share that their spouse may have cancer, yet in both cases, not only did they both seemingly have a smile on their face, but they also lifted others up to become better.  Sometimes when people face the most adversity, the easier it is for them to show love to others.

I have also seen others openly struggle and show up every day.  I remember one teacher going through a very tough personal time, and although they did everything they could for their students, you could see the hurt in their heart.  The pain was there, but it was not enough to keep her away from helping others.  Maybe it was part of their calling, but maybe it is often the unconditional love from her students that kept her going each day.

I have been known to have my heart on my sleeve, and I remember when I lost my dog Shaq this year, having to speak to a large group of teachers the next day.  As tough as it was to talk to a large audience, I was honest with them, shared my loss, and when I was finished, I not only received a warm applause (that is the best way I can describe it) from them, but so many hugs from strangers.  It might not be “love” in the sense that we know it, but it was “love” in the way I felt it.  It not only made my work easier that day, but it pushed me to be better.  In a time when educators are asked to do so much every single day, and in many cases so much “extra” stuff that we never planned, feeling and giving love is crucial.

I was reminded of this quote today:

“Every single employee is someone’s son or daughter. Like a parent, a leader of a company is responsible for their precious lives.” Simon Sinek

Maybe I am being overly sentimental because of the time of the year, and maybe I am just exhausted (I am), but when people know they are cared and loved, they are going to go so much further and push themselves to do better things for kids.  That feeling of safety and belonging is crucial for innovation. Maybe I am way off base on my use of the term.

But then I see this…

Then I think of my good friend Tony who not only loves his job, but loves his school and his community, and from what I can tell, loves his students. Then you see what they share in return.

Maybe “love” is the wrong word.  Maybe it is something else. But in a time that educators are so often asked to go above and beyond what they are expected to do, especially in a job that can be so emotionally wearing, I think of the word “love” and the place it has in schools.  For our students, for our colleagues, and for ourselves.

In a profession that is so inherently human, there has to be something more than showing up and  “learning” every day.

To inspire meaningful change, you have to make a connection to the heart, before you make a connection to the mind.


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.


The Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Dehumanizes”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

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

One of my favourite books that I have read in the past few years was called “Humanize”, and it really helped me to think of technology in a much different way than I had in the past.  As an assistant principal years ago, I remember actually arguing against the use of technology because of the way that I had seen it used.  Students would often go to a lab, which became an event, and teachers would often have students interact with websites or programs, instead of people.  I watched kids focused on a screen and losing connections with one another.  If I continuously talked about the importance of relationships in schools, it didn’t make much senses to talk about technology this way.

When I became a principal however, Twitter started becoming all the rage amongst educators, although I never really understood it.  Once I started connecting and sharing with real people, I was hooked.  Not only were these people brilliant educators, but they were great people that I connected with.  I learned not about their philosophies and thoughts on education, but about their families, their likes, their interests, and who they were as people.  I don’t come back to Twitter for the technology but for the connection.  If you build relationships in any area of your life, online or offline, you are going to come back.  Relationships are built with people and the people are what brought me back.  The ability to show one’s self was the draw for me.

Although I was proud of all that my school was achieving, while also sharing my own thoughts on education, I decided to show other aspects of my life as well.  People saw through the sharing of my love of basketball, music, and humour, that I was not just a “principal”, but a person who happened to be a principal.  But it was not only the “good” times that I shared.  When I lost my first dog Kobe, or went through another stressful time in my life, and even lost my dad, I felt that the Internet cried with me and gave me a virtual hug.  People came together to help me through trying times, many that would be considered “strangers”.  My willingness to share myself made me more than an avatar, but a human being.  This past weekend when I got engaged to the girl of my dreams,  I got another giant virtual hug.  Because I have been willing to share my ups and downs, I have been able to connect with so many people that I would consider good friends.

I have experienced this, but I have also seen these stories over and over again online.  John Berlin, made a video asking Facebook for his deceased son’s “Look Back” video, and when it was picked up by a Reddit user, people shared and reshared the video, which quickly caught the attention of Facebook and led to the video being released.

There is more good than bad in the world and the Internet has given us the opportunity to really tap into one another as human beings.

As a school administrator, I think often about the opportunity social media gives us to connect in ways that we couldn’t before.  If you look at large school districts such as Peel District School Board in Ontario and Surrey Schools in British Columbia, they have made their world a lot smaller by their use of social media.  In large geographical areas, they have used social media to create a “small town” feeling within their communities. Although you might see their leaders only once in person within the school, you have the ability to connect with them often online.  It is all in the way that you are willing to use the technology.

If a school leader uses social media as a way to simply share messages, and not engage with their community, it will not be very beneficial and does not create much more than existed without the technology.  Recently, I saw my good friend Jimmy Casas (who I met in person first but have become very good friends with because of technology) share a post about being vulnerable.  In it, Jimmy shared an anonymous tweet that was targeted against his work as a principal:

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 11.25.11 AM


Jimmy could have simply ignored it and moved on, but instead showed his vulnerability and addressed it openly.  That is courageous leadership.  The ability to openly share and discuss a criticism in a space that is totally open.  The irony of the post is that technology was used in an anonymous way from someone who was not willing to be brave enough to address Jimmy in person.  If you think about it, people dehumanize one another, not technology.  We have to always remember that on the other end of that Twitter, YouTube, Facebook account is a person, and when we choose to use technology in such a manner, we do more harm than any social media account ever could.

I often hear people talk about losing special things such as handwritten cards because we are often focused on teaching technology to our kids.  There is something sweet and sentimental about a card, but then I think about the video my brother shared of my dad below:

I wouldn’t trade seeing my dad in this video for any handwritten card that he could have ever  written.  His humanness shows here and I am reminded of his loving, goofy, and caring heart even though he is not with us anymore.

If you think about it, this type of technology can makes us even more human than we were before, it’s simply on the way we choose to use it.

“One of the reasons social media has grown so fast is that it taps into what we, as human beings, naturally love and need and want to do—create, share, connect, relate.”
Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

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.

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.

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

Honouring Change

Below is a picture of my Dad:

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That picture was taken in 1958 at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where many immigrants came  to Canada to make a better life.  My Dad left his parents and siblings, came to this country with less than 20 dollars in his pocket, couldn’t speak a word of english, nor read and write. He worked his way up from being a dishwasher to owning his own restaurant for decades and gave his kids everything.  I get nervous about travelling to another country that I can’t speak the language, let alone leaving my family to live there.  I can’t imagine how he did it or how hard it was, but I am sure grateful that he did.

His story is not unique though as probably many of you reading this have a similar story in your family of someone that took a huge risk to ultimately give you the opportunity to do what you do today.  My Dad did not just embrace change, he took advantage of the opportunity “change” gave him to make something better (his life and the life of his family).

Seems pretty insignificant when we complain about something like moving from Microsoft Word to Google Apps, doesn’t it?

Several years ago, I was in a district that I felt I had no opportunity to grow in and gave up a tenured position for a temporary one in hopes of rekindling my passion for education.  It was gone and “change” was the only opportunity to get it back.  Although I was quite lucky to land in a very progressive school district, I remember thinking that I was going to take advantage of this new opportunity and really focus on recreating myself.  From a temporary teaching position, I became assistant principal one year later, a principal three years later, and division principal five years later.  My Dad taught me that whenever something is “new”, it also means that it is a “new opportunity”.

Change is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, change can be the best thing to happen a person, depending on how we look at it.

So many people that paved the way for us to have the lives we do today understood this.  We need to take advantage of the opportunities that stand in front of us to make what we do so much better.

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

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?