Tag Archives: Shaq

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.

Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 1.56.42 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 2.04.44 PM

 

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:

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 2.04.23 PM

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.

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.

Me in Review

I am really trying to be reflective about the year I have had and looking back at some of the posts that I have written.  I see many people doing these types of reflections on their most visited or popular posts, but I wanted to look at the posts that have had the most meaning to me.  I am inspired to do this after reading my good friend Summer Howarth’s blog post on the “Year that Was“, which was deeply personal and open.  Personally, I know I connect on a much deeper level to the bloggers that share these stories.  I especially liked this quote from Summer about her future:

* Take a chance. If you don’t like your situation, change it. You aren’t a tree.

So as I look back at my own year, I just wanted to share some of the posts that I go back and read that give me some perspective on how I am doing as a person, not so much as an educator:

1. Fall Apart; Fall Together – This was an extremely tough time for me personally and I like to think that I look back at this time and have become stronger.  As with any person, struggles are never simply “over” but they are something that you continue to look back and reflect on.  As I grow, I know that true strength comes from being able to acknowledge weakness, not by ignoring it. I have to continue to read my own words below:

I have learned to not just dream anymore, but to full on pursue those dreams.  I have learned to refocus my efforts to be the leader that I need to be for those that I serve.  I was at my lowest and I was able to come out of it because others loved me and believed in me.  I need to continue to grow and be that person.  All of those people that stuck by me and helped me have motivated me to do the same for others.

2.  Why I Try To Follow Every Teacher I Can on Twitter – Connecting with people on Twitter has not only been career changing but life changing (seriously).  I have met so many amazing people through Twitter and I am always excited about the next conference or connection that I will make because of how I have connected over this social network.  It has been a great ride!  Here are some of my thoughts on why I connect to so many:

I have learned over and over again, that I have no idea who I can help, who can help me, and who I can be the connector for between two separate parties, so I do my best to follow as many teachers as possible.  You do not have to be a prolific “Tweeter” to help me become a better educator although your sharing does help.  A ton of people trusted that they could learn from something from me a long time ago when I had contributed very little, so I am going to continue to do the same.

3.  Lessons from Shaq -My sweet dog Shaq has been struggling a little bit as she gets older, but she is just as smiley as ever.  Probably one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life was when I first went to the SPCA and got my first dog Kobe, which led to Shaq, and now Odom.  I just absolutely love dogs because of all they teach you and as I wrote about Shaq, she taught me to ” keep giving love, keep giving love, keep giving love.”  As she gets older, she continues to push me to try and get better:

After 13 years with Shaq, she is now crawling into bed and nestling right beside me every single night I am home.  It has taken a long time but I appreciate it a great deal because she taught me that if you keep giving love, eventually that love will be returned in spades.  Dogs have a funny way of making us better and teaching us to be kinder people to all those that we encounter.

I have learned to love blogging because it has given me these opportunities to look back on much more than schools and education, but hopefully, my growth as a person.

Lessons from Shaq

The fear of thunder

Shaq..waiting for the thunder to stop.

Spending the last few weeks in Adelaide, Australia and spending a great deal of my time on the road, I have struggled with missing my dogs.  I am lucky that I have a great friend who is making sure that they are taken care of and loved as I am gone, while also getting to stay in their house (they have been there more this year than I have!).

Often I have written about my dog Kobe, who had passed away a couple of years ago, and Odom, who is finally growing out of the puppy stage, but have said little about Shaq (yes, they are all named after people that played for the Lakers at one point).  I always wondered about why Shaq has had little face time in my online world, and I guess part of it is that she is extremely camera shy (she literally runs when you get a camera out sometimes) and has always been timid.  But as Shaq grows older and starts to move into the final stages of her life (she is 13), I have missed her more than ever on this trip.

You see, Shaq was not really what I ever wanted in a dog when I first got her.  She was extremely shy and as Odom and Kobe were extremely affectionate she was always somewhat despondent.  Rarely would she enjoy being petted and she was extremely weary of new guests.  She is all bark, with maybe a touch of bite (if you try to cut her nails) and has stressed me out on several occasions.  As Odom and Kobe would often want to sleep on the bed, Shaq would often sleep beside and just want her own space.

I struggled with this for many years, but I just kept giving her love, giving her love, and giving her love.

As she got older though, I always appreciated that although she would not sleep in the bed, she was always near by. Always.  If I was in my office, she was in the office at my feet.  If I was in the kitchen, she sat close.  When I would watch TV, she would be sitting on the couch beside me (yeah, they have the run of the house).  Once in awhile though, while I was sleeping, Shaq would sneak on the bed and lay close.  Although it was always on her terms, she was always there. As I said, she was sometimes tough, but I just kept giving her love and her presence in the room was aways amazing.

Always close…but not too close.

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by gcouros

I truly believe that you can learn a lot from animals, and if you let them, they can make you better people, so as I thought about Shaq and how much I miss her, one student popped up in my head over and over again.  For the sake of the story, I will call him Sam.

Sam came to my school when I was principal and I knew that he had a special heart but struggled as well.  I had known that he had some issues with his temper and often would get into trouble.  At one moment he was the kindest boy ever, and in the next, he would be yelling and swearing.  Too often we focus on the second part, yet I always try to find the positive in every kid and knew that if you kept working with Sam, he could be a good kid.

One time Sam was extremely upset in a school assembly and for the safety of others, he was sent to my office.  He came in and he was extremely escalated and was swearing a great deal.  10 years ago I would have yelled at him as he escalated as I didn’t know what to do but I have learned that is about as effective as yelling at a class when you need them to be quiet.  I wanted to model the behaviour that I would expect out of Sam so I calmly said, “when you are ready to tell me why you are upset, I will be ready to listen.”  He kept swearing and I sat there doing work on my computer.  I just kept telling him that I was going to wait for him to calm down but I wanted him to stay in the office with me.  Again, 10 years ago, I would have asked him to leave, but I have learned that often times with kids like Sam that when you actually cut off that physical proximity, you teach them that when times are tough, you will easily abandon them.  Now I just wait and make sure that we are in the same room.

Shaq taught me this that even when it seems tough, keep giving love, keep giving love, keep giving love.

So as Sam calmed down, he talked about what was upsetting him and also talked about how he was sorry about the language that he used.  I told him how much I appreciated everything that he had said and he had done some work with the custodian and myself so that he could help around the school.  This was not the last time Sam had one of these temper tantrums, but he got better and better over time and I felt that he knew that I wouldn’t ditch him when times were tough.  When I moved onto a different position and left the school, I promised Sam that I would come back and check in on him and I smile every time I see him still.  In a farewell, Sam said, “Every time I get in trouble, I will think of Mr. Couros.”  His wording made me laugh but I knew exactly what he meant and was glad that he knew that I had cared for him.

The reason that I think of Sam when I think of Shaq is because no matter how tough they seem to be, they are always there.  Shaq is always in the room near by, while Sam was the first kid to school every day and one of the last ones to leave.  This was a happy place for him and the proximity for both was something that they each craved.  We often overlook the fact some of the kids we struggle with as teachers and show up every single day, are the kids that need us the most.  Anyone can teach the well-behaved kids; the ones that we struggle with are the ones that make a great teacher.  Sam pushed me to get better and taught me to be patient, calm, and caring when it was sometimes hard to do so.  People show their true worth when times are tough, yet when we go through those things together with someone, we come out with a much stronger relationship.

I still see Sam every now and then and he smiles and is excited to see me and I him.  He still gets in trouble now and then, but I know that he is in good hands and is cared for.  As he becomes a young adult, I am so proud of how much he has grown up and I will continue to watch him grow and develop.

After 13 years with Shaq, she is now crawling into bed and nestling right beside me every single night I am home.  It has taken a long time but I appreciate it a great deal because she taught me that if you keep giving love, eventually that love will be returned in spades.  Dogs have a funny way of making us better and teaching us to be kinder people to all those that we encounter.

As Shaq and I her deal with her cancer and she slowly goes into the night, I will always be thankful that she was and will always be close to my heart, no matter her physical distance.

Love

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by gcouros

People Business

My last picture with my best friend. I will always remember him :)

cc licensed flickr photo shared by gcouros

Last year was a fantastic year for me but had one of the toughest experiences of my life when I lost my first dog, Kobe.  On a day that I struggled so much and never wanted to come around, I now look back at my time with my good friend and think back with fondness.  Kobe was the dog that I always wanted when I was a kid, and through all the pain that I felt that day, it was worth every moment that I got to spend with him.  I still look at the above picture and she some tears, but they are happy tears as I was glad that I got that one last picture.

With all of the good times that I had with Kobe, I decided to go to the Edmonton Humane Society and add another member to my family, Odom:


cc licensed flickr photo shared by gcouros

And I still have my other baby Shaq:


cc licensed flickr photo shared by gcouros

Yes, I am one of those “dog” people.  My dogs sleep with me every night, and we take naps any chance that we go home. This is something that is unique about me and makes me who I am.

The lesson I learned through all of the kind words about when I lost Kobe, and all of the excitement from others when I went and brought Odom home, and take pictures with him and Shaq is that, as educators, we are a group that cares about others.  The caring and empathy that was sent my way through a very hard time by educators all over the world, helped me get through something that was very tough.  We are in the people business and no matter the changes in education, no matter all of the reform that is happening, people need to come first.  Sometimes we are extremely sad, and sometimes we are extremely happy.  Sometimes we are in the middle.  No matter where you, or your students, or your colleagues are on that spectrum, it will affect what they are doing.  What we can do is just to continue to care about each other.

I look back at the beginning of my career and shudder to think of one of my favourite sayings: “I am not paid to be your buddy, I am paid to ensure that you do your work.”  Now I can debate what being a “buddy” means, but all I know now is that statement was wrong. I don’t think about what I am “paid” to do anymore, but I think about it is important that we care about those we serve and work with.  Doing that will help them do better in whatever their passions may be.

Want to make change in education? Care about people first, and the rest will come.