So many people go to conferences and they will say things like, “I really loved the speaker, but I really loved the time that I had to connect with colleagues informally and share our ideas.”
I could not agree with this statement more.
Too often when I speak at events, their is a short break before educators have to rush to their next session, because the organizers are trying to make the most out of the time for participants. What we don’t realize is that educators do not have enough time to talk to each other; it feels like they are either teaching or being taught. Yet conferences need to embed times where participants can do more than grab a snack and go to the bathroom.
As someone who speaks at these events, I do my best to spark thinking and challenge people, not just give them ideas to implement in the classroom. Learning would be so much deeper if participants could have conversations with their colleagues to make their own connections; I can’t make these connections for them. I know we often talk about “personalized learning” but all learning is personal. These unstructured times are extremely valuable to education.
Often when I am leading workshops, I give prompts for conversations and I explicitly tell the adults in the room, “If I come to sit down at your table, do not pretend to be talking about these questions, if you aren’t. This is your time and it is valuable. Use it how you see fit.”
My hope in writing this is that we do not just see this time as valuable for adults, but for kids as well. What if we didn’t just give kids breaks, but looked at them as networking and reflection time? Would that change the way we taught when kids are leaving our rooms for their own “breaks”?
Some of the best learning that can take place in a day, although deliberate, can be unplanned. We can’t expect people to “think” if we don’t give them the time to do so.
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
This post is going to be pretty personal. Perhaps too personal for some. I often talk about embracing the humanity of the Internet and the importance of transparency so I think that I would almost be hypocritical if I did not write this.It is extremely easy to always discuss success in our blogs, but in reality, if I do not share the struggles as well, am I truly helping. This is about one of those struggles.What I am about to share may have little to do with education, but for me, it has everything to do with learning.
A few months ago, things were different in me. I had seemingly lost focus, but in reality, I had really focused on the wrong thing. People that were close to me saw that something was different and I was starting to lose myself. From being the person that was extremely happy all of the time, I had changed significantly. And when things seemingly were getting pretty bad, they all of sudden got much worse.
In fact, everything to me, seemed like it fell apart. I had crashed and I had burned. My family was extremely worried and my closest friends didn’t know what to do. They were there as much as possible, yet you could feel that they were trying to say the one perfect thing that they hoped would knock me out of it. Even people on Twitter were noticing that something was off. As much as they tried for weeks, nothing was working. Personally things were tough, which was leading things to be tough professionally. I likened it to a car; if one cylinder was not working, the whole car suffered. I remember someone very close to me saying, “You need to deal with this. Don’t just do things to push aside. Give yourself permission to actually hurt.” I did just that and I had honestly have never felt so low. Then came a few little things that changed everything.
After a few days off work, I had come back and although I was getting better, I was not myself. I was ‘off’ and as a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, anyone could have seen it. Although I tried to smile, it was empty. When I wanted time to go fast, it went slow, and vice versa. I wanted the days to be over so I could just get back to bed. Then my boss called me into his office and my heart raced as I am nervous by default. I never liked being in the principal’s office as a kid and this gave me that exact same feeling. As I sat there preparing myself for the worst possible outcome, I was shocked by what happened. I was asked to be the opening keynote for our own school division’s opening day in the fall. And this wasn’t just the decision of one, but the decision of many who believe in me to do a good job with this day even though they were watching me struggle. It was an honour that I would have never thought would have come my way and especially not at this moment in my life. It lifted my spirits in a way that I would have never imagined.
Sometimes you start to believe in yourself when someone shows they believe in you first.
Although this was an awesome moment, it was not the only thing that helped. As I left a quiet afternoon at Starbucks, I cried in my car as soon as I walked out. At that moment, I said that this is the last time I am going to cry about this and I knew I needed to do something different. For everyone that was there for me, I had to give back. I drove straight to the Edmonton Humane Society and decided to spend some time with animals that were waiting for a good home and use my network to promote the adoption of these animals. I have never really cared about the number of Twitter followers that I have, but I also knew that with the extent of the network that I had created, I should try to leverage it to help an organization that had done so much for my life. I started tweeting pictures of dogs that were up for adoption (I could adopt all of them but two dogs in the house is already a lot!) and hoping that people would see them and come adopt. At the least, they would be more aware of the organization that does so much good for others. When I was at my lowest, people were there for me. Giving back was something I needed to do. It changed everything. There were so many things that I have learned from this experience. I learned about how the “real world” can really work. With all of this talk about the “no-zero policy” in Edmonton right now and how “in the real world, your boss…blah blah blah”, I know how I want my real world to be. I want to work in an organization with leaders that genuinely care about the people that are a part of it, not just focus on numbers and results. Schools need to be like that. Organizations need to be like that.
I have been more dedicated to our school division now more than ever because of the care that was shown for me, as well as the belief from others in what I can do. I need to continuously work to embody these qualities in my own leadership. I have also learned about the importance of those closest to me and how I need to appreciate them more. I have always been busy and will continue to be busy, yet the times I have spent with my friends and family, I have tried to be more “in the moment” and appreciate them. I have learned to take more interest in their lives and to try and support them as much as possible. I have more appreciation for my family and friends now than I ever had. When I was at my lowest, they showed they loved me the most. I watched and listened to this video over and over again and these words stuck out to me:
“Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute, for an hour, for a day, or even a year. But eventually it will subside and something else will take it’s place. If I quit however, it will last forever.”
Pain is a part of life. We have to learn from it. I remember feeling such a short time ago that things were hopeless. Honestly, at this moment, they have never been better. I have had some of the best days of my life and opportunities that I could have never dreamed of. I am in better shape. I am happier at my job. I have also stopped and appreciated things like never before. I sit with my dogs now and just look at them and am filled with love. If I learned anything, it was not to go faster, but to be better. 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. I end with these words by Will Smith (yup, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air) that motivate me to do more.
“If you are going to be here, there is a necessity to make a difference…I want to do good. I want the world to be better because I was here.” Will Smith
The focus on being better has never been so clear.