Archive for category Personal

Not Everyone Is Able to Tweet and Post Who They Are

There is often much discussion around the separation of our professional and personal lives on social media.  Some districts strongly encourage this separation while others encourage the blending of both.  I have been a supporter of the latter as I believe that if we share who we are online we develop better relationships with others.  In December, I tweeted the following:

From an organization perspective, I wholeheartedly agree with my tweet.  I encourage people to share who they are and be transparent in their views on education.

However, my friend Royan Lee gave me some pushback on this idea when he tweeted,

What I did not realize when I tweeted that, was that my view on the subject was coming from a lens of privilege – the lens of a middle class, white, heterosexual male.  Where I fell short in my tweet was that I failed to empathize with those whose lives are considered less acceptable to some.

When Royan brought this side to my attention… I stopped and thought about deleting the tweet, but then realized this is all part of the learning.  It was not my intention to be ignorant but by wearing my invisible napsack of privilege… I felt I was.

I immediately thought about my friends who have struggled most of their lives with a target on them for being gay.  I thought of my gay friends who are now so happy with their girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives, and kids.  I thought of how these important friends that have inspired me and taught me so much cannot always share who they are for fear of being attacked by those who judge and throw stones.

I have been attacked for my views on education and sometimes these became personal; however, I have never been attacked for who I am or who my family is. For those with a personal social media account where they share all of the joy in their lives and happen to be gay (expand to LGBTQ), it is a sad reality that, because of societal views and judgment from others, they feel they cannot share this personal joy in their professional streams.

I recently shared a video of who I am with the families and staff of my new school.  It was very well received and it immediately help foster some relationships with families.  In reflection, I cannot help but think about what it would be like if I did not have the “typical wife and two children” family.  What if my wife and kids were a husband and kids?  Would I still share this?  I feel we have a fairly liberal society in BC but there would likely still be some families that would shut me out or view me differently.  We all love to belong and love to be accepted and although I would hope that I would have the courage to be publicly proud of my family, I am not sure I would as that might be risking this feeling of acceptance.  It is reflection like this that help me to attempt to look through the lens to help me understand how difficult it must be for my gay friends and many others who want to share who they are but live in a society that still has some people that look to judge rather than seek t0 understand.

I was going to write another post about the importance of sharing who we are… and I still believe this is important;  however, it is much easier for people with a life that is more acceptable in society.

Although Royan’s tweet was not specifically about the LGBTQ community, it was a wake up call for me to change my lens and seek to understand the difficulties for students and adults to post and tweet who they really are.  To all my friends, as well as those in my network, for whom I failed to understand their lens…. I apologize.  Thank you so much to Royan and the many others who continue to teach me to empathize with others and attempt to view life through a new lens.

Looking through a better lens.   cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Kevin Dooley: http://flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/4196773347/

Looking through a better lens.
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Kevin Dooley: http://flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/4196773347/

 

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My Late Homework (please don’t dock marks)

Photo from my figure skating days... with my good buddy Hogues who has been a life-long hockey teammate.

Photo from my figure skating days… with my good buddy Hogues who has been a life-long hockey teammate.

There has been a chain of blog posts (or memes) going around with bloggers challenging others to share a bit about themselves, answer questions, and then ask others to do the same.  I am not a big fan of homework but I see the benefit of sharing who we are and letting people in.  Because I have procrastinated so long with this post, I have had a number of bloggers assign me more.  I was going to ask my mom to write a note to excuse me for part of it but instead I decided to pick my favourite questions that have been asked and answer those ones (because it is my blog… and I can ;-)).

As far as I know (and I may have missed someone), I have been assigned this homework by: Starleigh GrassKat MulskiAmy IllingworthBrent CatlettDr. Spike CookGlen ThielmannAaron AkuneVictoria OlsonPeter JoryBill Ferriter, and Tia Henriksen.  Rather than answer all the questions, I have chosen my favourite ones.

First, here are 11 random facts about me:

  1. One of my heroes growing up was Sylvester Stallone.  Why?  Well, the movie “First Blood” was filmed in my hometown so our grade 1 class got to watch some of the filming, my grandpa got to work on the film (with his backhoe), Rambo (and his stunt double) rode down the main street of Hope on his dirtbike for a scene and he happened to ride right in front of my dad’s sporting goods store, AND I got to spend some quality time with Sly and my buddy Brian Druet as we chatted and hung out in the movie theatre for a few minutes.
  2. I used to know every line to Dumb and Dumber, Forrest Gump, Tommy Boy, Ace Ventura, and Old School.
  3. I met my wife while I was teaching high school phys ed.  None of our department felt we could teach dance very well so we brought in someone from a local dance studio to teach hip hop.  This someone turned out to be the woman of my dreams… who apparently got swept off her feet by my mad skills on the dance floor. #notsomuch
  4. Because my future wife was a dance teacher, I did everything to impress her… including participate in a dad’s dance group (pure comedy) for a number of years. Once we were married, I even “starred” as “Daddy Warbucks” in her studio’s musical production of Annie.  (There may be a video or 2 out there of my lengthy dance career… and I use the term dance very lightly).
  5. My wife and I have seen every Friends episode… two or three times.
  6. My mom helped me get my first admin job.  She was a retired teacher and happened to be working as a teacher on call at the school when she heard that they were looking for a VP.  I applied, went through the process… and started my career in admin!
  7. I am colour deficient.  A lot of people call this being “colour blind” but I actually can see colours… I just struggle to differentiate between red/green/brown and blue/purple.  My wife has to help me plan my attire so I match.
  8. Our first born’s middle name, Jovie, was named after one of the lead characters in the holiday movie “Elf”.
  9. I used to be a figure skater.  Prior to starting to play hockey, I spent 2 years (ages 4-5, with a number of my buddies) learning to skate in the local figure skating club.  During that time, I was in the carnival as a “purple-people eater” and an “usher”.
  10. I did not like to read when I was growing up.  I cannot get enough of it now.
  11. Snakes are the most feared organism on the planet… my dad agrees with me.
  12. BONUS: I was the 2-time goat milking champion at the Agassiz Fall Fair.

My responses to questions by others:

  1. What’s your favourite Seinfeld episode (or line)?  Definitely George when he “discusses” collaboration on his “Jerk Store” comeback. 
  2. What would you like people to say about you after you are gone?  He helped to create the conditions to bring the best out of me.
  3. Dog or a cat or an animal person?  Definitely a dog person… REAL, committed, friendship.  I wish everyone was as happy to see us as our dogs.
  4. What book are you currently reading?  Just started Learning In Depth by Kieran Egan; just finished “Orr” (story of Bobby Orr) and Covey’s “The Speed of Trust”.
  5. What is a major change you would make to the BC Education System?  Movement away from a focus on grades (particularly up to grade 9) which will help align formative and summative assessment practices.
  6. Best Place you’ve vacationed?  Jamaica for our honeymoon (although my backpacking trip through Western Europe was unreal too).
  7. Who do you look up to the most?  For personal advice and mentorship, I most often go to my mom, dad, sister and wife. I am so lucky to have people close to me to guide me in my life.
  8. PC or Mac?  I am definitely a fan of Mac for their reliability and speed… although I am seeing the benefit of other devices in schools.
  9. How do you spend a day electronic-less?  This is an interesting question and one I will participate in this summer… although I would have to drive there using a truck that uses electronics, I would LOVE to spend a day fly fishing on the Skagit River… with a break for lunch with a sandwich and a good book.  I have not done this for years and it is something I need to get back to doing as there is nothing that grounds me more than being in the river.
  10. What actions do you take to combat racism?  My goal is to always say or do something to take a stand.  As a white male, I have experienced very little (if any) prejudice in my life; in the past 7 years (especially), I have worked to analyze and reflect upon my “invisible backpack of privilege” and attempt to see the world through the lens of others. This has helped me to become more wide awake to the racism around us and to take a stand against it.  By doing and saying nothing, we state that it is acceptable; therefore, we always need to speak and stand up.
  11. How would you describe your interactions with the first peoples on whose territory you currently live and/or work on?  I am a bit embarrassed to say that my relationship with the first people’s in the Langley area is very surface level.  I have lived here for years but not made the effort to seek understanding and awareness of the local cultures.  I am proud of the relationships that were built with the first peoples in the Agassiz region (my former place of work) as I believe that I worked hard to understand the people and truly listen and learn from the local communities.  I look forward to learning more about the cultures and traditions of my local community in which I now live and work.
  12. What is the best gift you have ever received?  My first response would be getting the gift of twin daughters (and their hugs, art, gifts)… but most parents would say this.  I am not sure about the BEST gift but I recently I received a gift from the Aboriginal community when I left my former school that brought me to tears.  The gift of a steering paddle, hand carved and painted by local artist Harvey Robinson, was given to me to symbolize leadership, wisdom, and teaching.  It is a gift that I hang proudly in my new office… and one that means so much.

My challenge is for the following bloggers to share 11 facts about themselves,  answer the questions below, and ask 11 questions to 11 others:

  1. Steve MacGregor
  2. Stacey Garrioch
  3. Hugh McDonald
  4. Darcy Mullin
  5. Kyle Timms
  6. Shawn Blankenship
  7. Aaron Rowe
  8. Jesse McLean
  9. Remi Collins
  10. Deirdre Bailey
  11. Roxanne Watson

Questions:

  1. What was the biggest AHA moment that changed you as an educator?
  2. Provide an example of an activity you do that symbolizes your family tradition or culture.
  3. Do you like the use of school-wide awards?
  4. Left or right handed?
  5. What is your favourite line from a movie?
  6. If someone has to share a concern with you, what is the best way to do it?
  7. If you could retire tomorrow (or are already retired) how would (or do) you spend your time?
  8. In your final days/minutes, when you about to take your last breath, and you think back to all that you have done or going to do… you will be most proud of ________.
  9. Which book is next on your “to read” list?
  10. Describe a moment on social media stands out to you as something that has had a significantly positive impact to you or someone else?
  11. How do you make the time to be quiet, still and alone?

 

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Why I Took Facebook and Twitter Off My Phone

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Quinn Dombrowski: http://flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/8107606569/

image cc licensed (BY SA) flickr photo by Quinn Dombrowski: http://flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/8107606569/

I am proud to call myself a connected educator; however, I am not proud to say that being connected distracted me from my students… and my kids.

When I first joined Twitter in 2008, I was skeptical and was trying to use it to try to figure it out to help my wife use it for her business.  Later that year, I found the power of creating a personal learning network and for the the next few years, I could not get enough of talking all things education on Twitter and through blogs.  As a new principal, the people I connected with through Twitter we instrumental in helping me to grow and survive the first few years; however, I had trouble turning off and the phrase “power down, Wejr!” became quite common in our house.

From http://xkcd.com/386/

From http://xkcd.com/386/

I loved being so connected as there was always someone to talk and debate issues in education.  Real friendships grew out of my interactions on Twitter and I would never ever question the value of social media in education and professional learning.

This past year, my word has been “FOCUS” as this is an area I have always struggled with.  I currently have half of our large hedge trimmed, 2/3 of our patio rails painted, and only the back lawn mowed.  My wife jokingly says I must have A.D.D. but I actually do have a significant struggle with focusing on one thing at a time.   I am not good at being still; if there is a spare moment, I need to be doing something.

What I noticed this past year is that the “something” that I often needed to do when there was a spare moment was to check my social media apps on my phone. If the kids had to go to the bathroom, I would check my phone.  If I went to do laundry and was not with the girls for a moment… I would check my phone.  If I was walking down the hall… if I was waiting in line…I would check my phone.

I knew something had to change so I took all notifications off my phone aside from text messages.  I STILL went and checked my phone… but instead of checking the notifications, I would actually open the Twitter or Facebook app just to check for replies or messages.  As sad as this may sound for a “thirtysomething” to be doing this, you can imagine how hard it is for our students and teens when social interaction and connections are that much more important.  To be clear, I would not check my phone when I was with the kids – I had the self-control to avoid that.  The problem was that I would check when I had that spare moment and although I would put the phone away as soon as I was with the kids (or students), I often became distracted.  I was distracted by a message or reply that got me thinking… and when the wheels started turning about a tweet or a message, I found myself absent from the next few moments with my students or family.

As we hit the summer, I wanted it all to be about my family.  I decided to take the Facebook and Twitter apps off my phone and disabled email.  You would not believe the impact this had on me.  For the first few days of the summer, whenever there was a bathroom break for the girls (during the “Daddy.. PRIVACY” phase), I would think to go to my phone.  That was a huge slap in the face to me about how often I would reach to check.  I learned to be still.  I learned to enjoy those quiet moments.  For me to check my social media and/or email, I would need to open my laptop and at a time when my focus would be connecting online.  This meant that when we were at the park, or on a walk, or away for a week camping… I could not check my social media.  I realized that by connecting less, I was connecting more.  I was not distracted and my focus was 100% on the people that were right in front of me.The reason that I want to share the story of my highs and lows of connectedness is that I think we need to find a balance that works for us, our students, our jobs, and our families.  We are in a time where being connected is becoming less optional and I worry that with so many opportunities to connect, we lose the deeper connections with those directly in front of us.  I am not saying that social media is a negative or a bad thing nor am I saying we need to avoid social media; my connections online have led to deep relationships with people that have had a huge impact on my life.  I am also not saying that everyone needs to do what I did as most people likely have more self-control than me.  What I am saying is that we need to make social media work for us.  We do not need to be available at all times to all people.  We need to be available to the people that are with us in that moment. We need to model effective, respectful, and appropriate use of our devices to our kids.  We need to step back and reflect on our purpose.

Brene Brown wrote,

Connection is why we are here. We are hardwired to connect with others.

I truly believe in the power of connection.  With access to so many people who are willing and able to connect throughout the day, it makes it that much more important to be reflective and purposeful in how and when we use social media and technology in our lives.

Thank you to the student in Jonathan Vervaet’s education class at Simon Fraser University that asked me the question, “Can we be too connected?” as my response led to this post.  Thank you, too, to my wife for her constant nudging to “power down”.

Be sure to read my friend Dwight Carter’s post Disconnect to Reconnect as this had a large impact on me last summer.

Note: I realize that I can still access the web version of social media sites on my phone but for some reason, I was able to prevent myself from doing this.  As I am now at work and have learned more self-control, I have added email back to my phone.

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Living the Legacy of Lilee-Jean

Sharing a moment with Lilee-Jean as her principal after her first day of kindergarten. (photo by Andrew Putt)

Sharing a moment with Lilee-Jean as her principal after her first day of kindergarten. (photo by Andrew Putt)

As I sat at a stoplight, my phone flashed that I had received a message and with a quick glance, I saw it was from Lilee-Jean’s father, Andrew.  I had constantly checked Facebook for updates on LJ in the past week hoping for some miracle… but as I sat parked on the side of the road, I read “She’s gone, man…”.   I sat there hunched over in my car sobbing.  It was a moment so many of knew was coming yet nobody knew how to prepare for.  All I could do was sit there and picture Andrew and Chelsey holding their beautiful baby girl… a girl only 2 years and 9 months old that had captured the hearts of thousands.  From the Love For Lilee Facebook Page:

It is with broken hearts we make this post.. As of 5:25pm, our princess Lilee-Jean Frances Putt, our angel here on earth, is now looking down on us from heaven. She had a rough day today, and is no longer in any distress. She passed away curled up in Mommy’s arms, listening to daddy play his guitar. – Chels & Andrew.

It has almost been a week since the world lost a beautiful princess. My wife and I have had many hugs and held our daughters so tightly that they asked us to stop.  I have written about my relationship with LJ and her family before when they visited at our school following surgery because students at our school had fundraised for her.  I also had the honour of being Lilee-Jean’s only principal when she attended her first day of kindergarten at our school as Chelsey and Andrew decided to embrace LJ’s last few months and Dance in the Rain.

I started to reflect when someone asked me, “How do you know the family?”  I wasn’t sure how to sum up how I knew Lilee-Jean and her family but I just said, “I know them because of this incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking journey.”  I met LJ because of the fight; however this family captured my heart because of the way they embraced life… the way they took whatever was dealt their way – and danced.

Last night, I saw a picture of Mary (LJ’s grandmother) holding Lilee-Jean shortly after she was born.  It came to me that at that moment, a few days after LJ was born, we were also holding our girls for the first time.  At that moment, nobody knew what the next 2 years and 9 months would bring.  This is the thing that scares me so much… there is no warning for this and it could happen to any of us.

When I lost a good buddy and teammate of mine last year, I was really struggling so I called my friend Mike to ask about how he lives on after the passing of his mother at a very early age.  He said, ” it is a life-long struggle… but although she is gone, I know that she lives on through me and through my kids in how we teach and how we act – we live her legacy”.

The story of Lilee-Jean and her family has been followed by thousands and thousands of people in the Fraser Valley and Worldwide through social media, radio, TV, and print.  The family has somehow found the strength to recently reach out and thank individuals for little things we did along the way.  As I was reflecting on the image of Mary with Lilee-Jean, I thought about what WE, those who have been touched by this family, can do to carry on Love For Lilee… I reflected on how we can continue to better our lives, carry this beautiful angel with us… and live the legacy of Lilee-Jean.

I want the family to know the impact they have had on me.  I want them to know how they have made me a better person.  I want them to know that I am a better parent and educator and how the message of Love For Lilee will be carried on in homes and schools for years to come.

The Legacy of Lilee-Jean in my life:

  • Be vulnerable and share who we are. Chelsey and Andrew let so many of us into their lives. As difficult as this must have been at times, they shared their love for Lilee which led to so many others #LoveForLilee.
  • Connect.  Brene Brown wrote, ““Connection is why we are here. We are hardwired to connect with others”.  We often get busy in our lives and isolate ourselves in our work and in our homes.  It is important to connect with others – especially within our own communities and neighbourhoods.
  • Cherish the moments.  I will always remember the photos and stories of Andrew making lunches and having tea parties… of Chelsey snuggling with LJ in her bed… of walks on the beach with family in Harrison… of the moments that were taken to feel and listen to life – the sound of a child’s breathing and the feeling of her beating heart.  When they cherished these moments… it made me do the same.
  • Show empathy.  Love for Lilee shows how empathetic many of us can be… and this models and teachers this virtue to our kids.
  • Snow for Christmas in August. (photo via Chilliwack Times)

    Snow for Christmas in August. (photo via Chilliwack Times)

    Serve others. We often get wrapped up in trying to become happy by serving ourselves when true happiness comes from serving others.  Love For Lilee brought so many examples of people reaching out as a community – the story of how the Chilliwack Chiefs Junior Hockey team delivered snow for LJ’s Christmas morning in August still brings tears to my eyes.  Donate to a great cause.  Volunteer to help others.

  • Come together more often as a community.  We often hear about the good ole days of community and how we do not have this anymore.  Lilee-Jean brought out the best in the communities of Agassiz-Harrison, Chilliwack and Abbotsford to prove that there is still so much strength in community.  Seeing pictures of an entire neighbourhood decorate and get dressed up for Hallowe’en in July so LJ could go trick or treating one last time…
    #loveforlilee Hallowe'en

    #loveforlilee Hallowe’en

    hearing about and supporting so many pageants, parties and fundraisers so the family could be with Lilee every day…. seeing the picture of Chelsey’s road lined with pink balloons as she arrived home a few days ago.  Just a few of the endless stories of how this beautiful little girl brought out the best in her community.

  • Embrace the day.  It was so inspiring to see a family embrace every minute of every day… we can all learn from this.  There will never be another day like today – what shall we do today?  Hold on to your kids.
  • DANCE IN THE RAIN. “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass… it is about learning to dance in the rain.”  This saying is now up on my wall and will guide me in so much of what I do.

Thank you so much to the Whittle and Putt families for inviting my family into theirs.  I will always have a part of LJ in my heart and I promise continue to live the legacy that is Lilee-Jean Frances Putt.

A family that changed me forever.

A family that changed me forever.

To learn more about Lilee-Jean and how to continue to support the family, please go to the Love For Lilee website or Facebook Page.

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Modeling and Teaching Our Kids to Reach Out and INCLUDE

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Erickson Ocampo: http://flickr.com/photos/coolbite1/3596619861/

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Erickson Ocampo: http://flickr.com/photos/coolbite1/3596619861/

Every year, as a principal, I hear the heart-breaking stories from parents and kids about not having friends, not being invited to play after school and never being invited to a birthday party.  Although we are only a few students and children in communities, these stories are far too common and are not only devastating to the children but also the families.

As I grow with my kids, one of my goals is to always reach out and invite a child who, for whatever reason, needs a friend.  I have seen parents do this in our school as they taught and modeled to our children the importance of including others in their circles.

When I was in elementary school, I remember new students moving to our town and struggling to make friends.  On a couple of occasions (probably more), my parents asked me to choose a child that was new or struggled to have friends and invite them to come to a Canucks game with my dad and I (back when the Canucks games were mostly losses but very affordable). These events grew into friendships and modeled to me the empathy and care that is needed to truly understand and appreciate the value of friendships and inclusion of others.

As we move into another school year, my challenge to parents (including me) is for us to reach out and include students beyond our children’s typical friendship circles.  If it is a new student in the class, set up an after school activity for a day.  For birthdays, start by reaching out to one child that needs a friend… and if our children disagree, this gives us the perfect opportunity to embrace a teachable moment about empathy and care.  If it is a student that struggles with some behaviours or disabilities that require support, invite the child to come over with the parent so you can truly understand the challenges that both the child and the family face.  Raising a child with a disability and/or a child that requires significant behaviour support can also be very difficult for the parents. They, too, can be left feeling alone and negatively judged as “bad parents” when it is often a condition that is not about parenting and more about extra support, empathy, and understanding.

A series of these small efforts can have a life-changing impact on children, families and society as a whole.  I invite you to join me, and many families whom I learn from, in reaching out and teaching our children to include others.

@chriswejr

 

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Taking a Moment to Stop and Play in the Puddles

20130803-233848.jpg

Always important to take a break and play in the puddles.

As parents and educators, we often grow frustrated by children’s lack of focus and how easily they become distracted. Sometimes, though, they can teach us to focus less on the end point and notice the wonders of the journey along the way.

The other day my wife and I went for a run so we packed the kids up in the stroller and drove to one of our beautiful nearby parks. Being parents of twins, sleep and mealtime routines keep our girls happier and my wife and I more sane. We promised the girls after our run, they would have some bike riding time so they could have fun and burn off some energy. Because of some “potty struggles” with one of my daughters, their bike ride time decreased so when they both finally got on their bikes, I was strongly encouraging them to ride around. No less than five minutes into bike ride time, they both hopped off their bikes and ran to investigate some small puddles (photo above). My first response was, “C’mon girls, we only have a few minutes… Keep biking”. Of course, being 2 year-olds, they chose not to listen and began to jump and play in the puddles… Enjoying the moment. At that point, following some toddler giggles that can make anyone smile, they again taught me something – stop, and enjoy the moments; be wide-awake to all that nature and childhood can share. For me, it was about burning energy… To my girls, it was about the first puddle they had seen in over a month… It was about the joy in jumping In water… It was about the sensation of picking up mud in your hands and letting it slide through your fingers.. It was about play and wonder.

We often get caught up in getting to the next event or achieving the next goal in our lives and filling our statements with phrases like “hurry up” or “come on, let’s go”. We sometimes grow agitated when our students and children continually get distracted by sights and sounds (often new to them) outside of what we are trying to accomplish. Sometimes, however, we need to realize that the journey is not solely about us and we need take our kids’ lead by taking moments to enjoy the wonders and curiosities in our journeys… and stop and play in the puddles.

For me it was a good reminder that although routines are important to our family, they are nothing compared to the small moments we will always remember. Sometimes it takes a couple of 2 year-olds to teach me to embrace the journey… Wherever that leads.

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The Most Beautiful Morning Spent Dancing in the Rain

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Heather: http://flickr.com/photos/michar/2530447234/

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Heather: http://flickr.com/photos/michar/2530447234/

We are faced with challenges every day.  We also faced with a choice of how we respond to these challenges.  Today I had a slap in the face reminder of how, even when faced with the worst hand a parent could ever be dealt, there are people that choose to seek the positives… there are people that choose to Dance in the Rain.

Lilee-Jean was born 5 days before my girls in late 2010.  She started her life just like every other child… but 10 months later, something horrible started to grow inside her little developing brain – a tumour called Gliobastoma (GBM).  For the next year and a half, Lilee and her family did every treatment they could to beat this awful disease.  Although the chances of winning were very low, they kept fighting… After months and months of treatments and battles, they started to feel like they had a chance of beating this tumour.

Just when the sun started to shine a tiny bit on this family, the dark thunder clouds came rolling back in and another tumour was discovered… their worst nightmare came true: time officially became the enemy.  Chelsey, LJ’s mother, shared this quote in a recent blog post:

“Today we fight. Tomorrow we fight. The day after, we fight. And if this disease plans on whipping us, it better bring a lunch, ’cause it’s gonna have a long day doing it.”
― Jim Beaver, Life’s That Way: A Memoir

They still fight every day. As devastating as this has been to this family, they somehow have had the power to change their lens… to understand that if there is a chance of shortened time, they need to embrace every single moment they have with their precious daughter.  Chelsey wrote,

Once again, as always, with urgency, we are living. We are laughing. We are dancing. And we are singing…

…Andrew [LJ's father] and I have compiled a realistic, relatively short and doable list, not only to fill Lilee-Jean’s life to the brim with love, laughter and magic, but to keep ourselves focused on our now and not our later.
We have chosen to call it “Dancing In The Rain” in stead of a “bucket” list for obvious reasons, and if time allows, we will hopefully be adding to it as we cross things off.

There is no better way to fight disease and to fight death, than to live. So when we finish our last few stomach churning, heart wrenching “to do’s” they will be put aside, and left to gather dust until the time comes for them to rear their ugly heads… IF that time does come.

One of the items on the list was “go to school”.  Because of Andrew’s ties to our community (he attended our school years ago and is very well know in Agassiz), LJ’s story has grabbed and wrenched the hearts of many of us in Agassiz and at Kent School (I wrote about this here after she came to visit us following surgery).  Both our kindergarten teacher (Stacey Garrioch @garrioch) and I reached out to the family to offer LJ a chance to spend her first day at school with us.  Andrew and Chelsey agreed that this would be a great fit so this morning, we welcomed our newest student to Kent School.

Photo from Chelsey Whittle

Photo from Chelsey Whittle

Stacey set the day up as a typical day filled with tons of play-based learning for Lilee-Jean and her classmates.  As with every new member of the class, the students were so excited to meet and play with LJ – who showed up with a big smile and her “lucky bear” and new Tinkerbell lunch box.  She hung her coat up on the hook with her name on it, met her buddy and sat down and joined the class.  She was, of course, one of the VIPs so this meant she led some songs, shared calendar time, and told us all about the weather. She was a real Kent student in Division 10.  I think the best part of the day was when I walked in to check in to see how things were going and I couldn’t see Lilee-Jean; she completely blended in and was just ‘one of the kids’ playing in the house centre.  She was busy feeding her baby with two other students like any typical kindergarten student would be doing.  The other times I popped in to take in the moments, she was either pointing out the L in a puzzle and saying this stood for Lilee-Jean, eating her snacks with her classmates at the table, writing on the white boards, or dancing the Gummy Bear Dance with her friends.  I did not want this day to end but I knew she was a typical two year-old and needed her afternoon nap.

Photo from Jessica at the Agassiz-Harrison Observer

Photo from Jessica at the Agassiz-Harrison Observer

I didn’t want this day to end because I wanted to continue to be able to pop in and see Lilee-Jean bringing joy to all of us by just being herself in her first day of school. I imagine this is what Andrew and Chelsey go through almost every moment of their lives… and unfortunately, the moments must fly by.  At noon, Lilee-Jean had her lunch and hung out and played with her classmates.  She then gave every child and adult a big warm hug and left school with a huge smile as she danced in the puddles and caught the rain drops in her hands.  Tonight she will have a girls night as she and her mommy go to a spa and a hotel to continue their dancing in the rain.

As I sat in my office to collect my thoughts, I wondered: when faced with life’s challenges, do we look through the lens of all the problems we cannot change?  Or do we choose to change the lens and see all the wonderful moments life has to offer and dance in the rain? Andrew and Chelsey are going through what every parent fears. They CHOOSE to embrace the life they have with their beautiful daughter, Lilee-Jean.  Because they choose to do this and choose to share their story, I am forever changed. Lilee-Jean may not live on forever but all that she and her family have taught me about life and love will live on through me and so many others that have been touched with their story.

Thank you so much to LJ, Andrew, Chelsey for sharing today with us.  Thank you for letting so many of us into your lives through the window of social media. Thank you for inspiring me and so many others. Thank you for Lilee-Jean for allowing me to spend the most beautiful morning dancing in the rain.

Love for Lilee… forever. xoxo

Please support this family by going to Chelsey’s blog here and liking Love For Lilee on Facebook.

My daughters sang a song they love and one that I know means a lot to Lilee and her parents.  Have a look at the video below or view it here.

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Sometimes We Don’t Need to Fix It, We Just Need to Shut Up and Listen

One of the key things I have learned from my wife, as well as some staff members, is that it is often more about listening than it is about problem-solving. Although there are many times when a problem needs to be fixed, there are times when our only job is to listen, sympathize, and/or empathize with what the person is telling us.

I recall a colleague telling me about a time in which he sat and listened to the many things that were wrong with a teacher’s class and how she was frustrated with a lack of support for her students. My colleague told me that after he listened, he worked hard to change a number of schedules to provide more support for this teacher. I am sure, if he is like me, he was proud of his efforts in helping to solve the problem. When he went to the teacher and shared his solutions, she became even more frustrated and said, “I wasn’t looking for changes… I just wanted you to listen!”. He spent the next few hours undoing his solutions.

In a meeting a few years ago, I brought up the topic of staff room dialogue. I said that I felt that the focus of the majority of conversations should be about working toward a solution rather than merely voicing concerns. A colleague responded, “sometimes, we just need to vent and not solve the problems.” At the time I struggled to comprehend this but as I grow, along with the help of a number of conversations with my wife, I am starting to realize that sometimes the most important thing I can do is… shut up and listen.

Check out this short entertaining video that shares this point… #lessonlearned (Thanks to Michal Ruhr for sharing)

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A Priority of Family Instead of Medications

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by stephanski: http://flickr.com/photos/stephanski/6749689975/

This post stems from a personal experience and is NOT a criticism of parenting but merely a way to express my concern for the structural and societal pressures many North American parents face.  Medications are a necessity for some children and this is not meant to be the focus of this conversation.  As a society, I believe we need to better support families so there are less pressures to spend time away from our kids.  By supporting parents better as a North American society, I wonder what impact that would have on our kids?

I recently read an article from Psychology Today, “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD” , and I found myself nodding my head in agreement at the start and then becoming frustrated as I continued to read.  In the article, the author states that 9%* of school aged children are diagnosed with (and medicated for) ADHD while in France, this number is 0.5%. I appreciated the section that focused on societal issues that stated,

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context.

Although there are health disorders and disabilities that are very real and require significant medical support (as well as support and care for families), I often think that the culture and structures of North American society leads to a variety of disorders in our children. I was thinking that this article might support my thoughts and answer some questions.  The author briefly mentioned that parents and society play a key role in child development by providing key structures (ie. meal times).  Then, it took a concerning turn that aligned with much of the dialogue that occurs in schools and households in North America when it stated,

French parents let their babies “cry it out” if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months…  But French parents have a different philosophy of disciplinine. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.” And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France.

I think the article missed the key point here.  When family time is a priority, we see less children experiencing difficulties. Structure is important but it is not about spanking nor is it about “crying it out” methods.

In our North American society, with a high cost of living and little support, parents often are both forced to work.  Daycare is a booming industry.  Meals can be a series of snacks on the run. Parents who  make a decision (and have the financial ability) to not work when their kids are young state they are “JUST a stay at home mom/dad”.  Families are pressured to have their kids “kindergarten-ready” (whatever that means) to do well in school.  Parents pressure each other to get their kids registered in the “best” pre-schools and in the “top” organized activities. We pressure each other to get our kids involved with other groups of kids so they can be “socialized”.  We apply “programs” from best-selling authors and experts that disagree with each other.  When we do all this, we give up the opportunity to just BE with our kids.  We give up the chance for our kids to be with us and learn from us.

Being a relatively new father as well as an educator, I have read a few books and watched a few videos on the topic of child development and early learning.  I enjoy the bigger ideas in books like Raffi Cavoukian’s “Child Honouring” and Gordon Neufeld’s “Hold on to Your Kids” but I struggle with the books and videos that teach parents and educators to rely on a program or a standardized approach.  We often try to simplify parenting and education to a solution of a series of checklists and strategies that can be boxed and sold.  This minimizes the needed effort for us as parents.  What we really need is for us, and our society, to prioritize our time and relationships with our kids… we need to be truly present in their lives. Ironically, if we did this, we would likely need significantly less programs, books, videos, and medications. As stated, this is a result of deep societal issue in which we are so rushed in our daily lives that we are often forced or choose to have other adults (and often peers) raise our kids.

Although I appreciate articles that encourage our society to move away from medication as a fix, I fear that the underlying message in the Psychology Today article becomes a checklist of things to do TO kids rather than making family time a priority so that we can do more WITH kids.  We need a holistic approach that places children and family at the centre of what we do – a society that values family and makes raising our children our main purpose.

It is no secret that I struggle with work-family-friends balance.  However, I wonder if our society supported and placed family and children at the forefront, would our kids better develop the social-emotional skills required to handle the endless challenges they face?

I understand that there are medical conditions that are very real.  We need to support parents and families.  Our kids need us.  They do n0t always need experts**.  They do not always need medications**.  They need caring, attached adults.

 

**Note: I do understand there are disabilities and challenges that are very real and require medical attention, medication and expertise.  This is not a black and white topic.  The challenge is knowing when it is a medical issue.  Parents of children with disabilities need societal support instead of judgment.  Whether it is a medical or social concern, our kids need us parents more than ever. 

*ADHD in Canada is estimated to be 3-5% (Mental Health Canada).

As always, I would appreciate your help, thoughts and feedback on this topic.

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“Be More Interested Than Interesting”

Be more interested: Listen.
cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Bindaas Madhavi: http://flickr.com/photos/mkuram/5961100771/

At some point in the past year (for a variety of reasons) the how, the why, and the when of social media slightly changed for me.  I have been reflecting a ton on the purpose of social media to me – both professionally and personally (see Social Media in Education: Who Is It Really About?).  I have been thinking about HOW I read online (unfortunately, often just scan) and HOW I interact with others. I have been thinking about the purpose of social media as it pertains to my learning and my life.  I have altered the amount of time I spend learning from and with others online.

Over the holidays, one of the books I read was Mark Goulston’s “Just Listen: Discovering the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone”.  Among the many things that resonated with me in this great read was that I realized in the past few years, I have spent too much time trying to be interesting online and less time being interested offline (and online).  I have spent so much time communicating, learning and connecting that it has distracted me from the DOING both in my school and in my life outside of school.  I also know this is all a part of my continuous learning journey to be a better leader, educator, and person… to me, this is growth.

“The measure of self-assurance is how deeply and sincerely interested you are in others; the measure of insecurity is how much you try to impress them with you.” — Mark Goulston

Some people have asked me which single word defines my goals for 2013.  Although I do not generally make new year’s resolutions, I believe that the word that has driven me to be better in the past year and into this year is: FOCUS.  In addition to spending more focused time with my family and in my school, as well as in my personal and professional learning, I need to focus more on LISTENING and being INTERESTED.  I will continue to share interesting things that I read and the successes we are having at Kent School but I will work harder on being more interested in those around me.

“If you want to have an interesting dinner conversation, be interested. If you want to have interesting things to write, be interested. If you want to meet interesting people, be interested in the people you meet—their lives, their history, their story.”  – Jim Collins

Related post: Listen With Your Eyes

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