42

Far Too Young to Leave

Andrew (left) and my chili cook-off team. Spring, 2001.

Andrew (left) and my chili cook-off team. Spring, 2001.

I sit here because I cannot sleep. I sit here with eyes full of tears and a mind full of memories because I received a text message from Brianna, an ex-student and ex-player, whom I remain in close contact with, that Andrew, another ex-student and ex-player, had lost his fight with cancer.  He was only 24 years old.

I am not sure what I hope to gain from writing this post.  Is it for me (as I know writing has helped me with a previous loss)? Is it for Andrew?  Maybe it is a tribute to a student and young man that meant a lot to me? Maybe it is because I want his family to know the impact that he had on my life. Maybe it is because I want others to know how students can touch the lives of their teachers and coaches……

I met Andrew in my first teaching job in September 2000 at Brookswood Secondary School in Langley, BC.  I taught him Science 8.  Right away, Andrew and his buddies knew I was a rookie teacher so the razzing began fairly early and we immediately developed a comical, jock-type relationship.  That year, I also coached the grade 8 boys basketball team and helped coach the grade 8 boys rugby team.  Andrew was not the fastest, biggest, or strongest player in either sport but he was one of those great “coachable” kids that worked hard at every practice and was never one to complain about anything.  During the basketball season, I met his parents, Randy and Dori; they were the type of parents you wanted for your players: dedicated and supportive.  In the spring, I had the honour of coaching rugby with Randy (alright, I was more of a follow directions kind of coach as my rugby experience consisted of watching my roommate at university play for the UVIC rugby team) and, through the hours spent coaching, getting to know the family that much better.  I was always blown away how a kid that had a body like me when I was 13 (“a pirate’s dream” – sunken chest, surrounded by bones) could be so passionate about a sport like rugby; however, after you got to know the family, you knew that rugby was life and that Andrew, no matter his size, knew his passion.

I remember the school putting on a chili cook-off at lunch one day.  I don’t remember who won but I do remember all the laughs that Andrew and his buddies had as I invited them to “cook” with me for that hour.  Dressed in lab coats, we put a whole lot of ingredients of which none of us knew what they were.  In the end, it was edible and we shared a moment I will always remember.

Andrew’s class was the first class that I saw graduate through high school.  I was lucky enough to remain at Brookswood for all of Andrew’s high school years so when I saw his class graduate, it was something special as I could look back to when I taught and coached these “kids” in grade 8.  I had a special bond with this group of students; I only taught most of them once but I followed them and helped coach them right through their high school years.  From grades 8-12, I could always count on some digs from Andrew and his buddy Cody as I walked through the cafeteria at lunch (of course, Andrew mentored his younger brother Patrick on how to razz Mr. Wejr… and Patrick succeeded – big time).

After Andrew graduated in 2005, I ran into him now and then and we always shared that same relationship – a humorous one yet one that recognized we had a mutual respect for each other.

In March, 2010, I received a Facebook message from his mom that said:

I don’t know if you heard but Andrew was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in December.  He has his last chemo (no. 6) on the 30 of March. It has been a very long trip..a very scary trip at times.. he is doing much better. I didn’t realize how tough that kid is. Pet scan on April 20th and hopefully the cancer is gone…check him out on Facebook he would like to hear from you.

I was absolutely shocked.  I immediately wrote Andrew a Facebook message:

Cheering you on like old times

Hey bud. Got a message from your mom that you were going through treatments. Pretty shocking that a healthy, young guy like yourself would be faced with such a battle. I have no doubt in my mind that you will defeat this like you have always done. I remember when I picked you for the grade 8 basketball team in my first year at Brookswood. I never picked you because you were the tallest or the fastest… but you played with heart. I imagine that is what you are doing now.. just playing a much more serious game. Keep playing with the heart that made you a successful rugby player, student, and person.

The group of you guys has special memories for me as you were the first class I taught and coached (science 8, basketball, and rugby – although I was a bit of a waterboy for rugby). Chili cookoffs, pops with your mom and dad after a wet rugby game, and ripping into you and Rockson bring back some great memories. I miss Brookswood because I think of all the fun I had there but I know if I went back there it would not be the same. I do miss the joking around that I could do with you guys – I am at an elementary school now and you can’t quite have the same conversations with 8 year-olds :-).

Anyways, keep me updated on your treatments – I imagine with your heart, strength and the support that you have from all your friends and family, you will look back and see this as something that changed your life and brought so many people that much closer to you.

I cannot wait to see the scoreboard:
Vaydo 1
Lymphoma 0

Let me know if you or your family ever need anything!

Andrew never responded but I know he read it.  He was not a guy that really shared how he felt and that was not our relationship.  Before writing this, I sat there and stared into our back yard and wondered if Andrew knew how I felt about him.  I forgot about this FB message and I am so thankful that Dori reached out to me so I was able to send him that message.  Far too often in life, those we care about leave us without ever knowing how we feel.
This past Christmas, I was walking through the mall and ran into Andrew.  I hesitated on asking how things were going (as his mom had kept me up to date on radiation and stem-cell therapy treatments) but I did; he responded with shrug of his shoulders, a big grin, and said something like “still fighting… one day at a time”.  I had my newborn daughters with me – they were able to “meet” Andrew and see that there is always reason to smile.  That was the last time I would ever see Andrew.  He left with a handshake and a smile.

I am still not sure why I have written this.  I am not sure if anybody who knows Andrew will actually read this.

If I have written this for me, I do know that I have shed tears and cracked smiles as I reflect on the impact one student and his family can have on a teacher/coach.  I do know that Andrew knew how important he was to me.

If I have written this for others, I hope that people realize the power of teacher relationships with students and the impact that these can have on our lives.  Coaching, for me, resulted in the formation of close, personal relationships with many students and wonderful memories that nobody can ever take away.  I firmly believe that it is primarily due to coaching, and the resulting hours spent together, that I was able to form a close bond with Andrew and his family.  Thinking back on the days with Andrew and his family and friends, It is not the curriculum that I remember; it is the chili cook-off, the post-game chats, the humorous comments in the hallways, and the bus rides to games.  As teachers, we need to let people in and show that we are human; once we do this, we will see the huge impacts that students and their families can have on our lives.

If I have written this for his family and Team Andrew, there are no words strong enough to say or write but I do hope that they realize that their son/brother taught us all to look at things from a view of optimism and that can’t is a word to be avoided.  From Andrew’s Facebook Page (“About Andrew”)

“I believe that the mind holds the key to life beyond a physical meaning. A strong mind makes a strong person and with that strength, man can overcome any challenge or obstacle in his or her path. The belief in positive thoughts and positive re-enforcement will make the world a better place for everyone. The mind is the gateway to the soul, i believe, and when you gain control of the mind the soul stays happy. Positive thoughts to everyone!” —
If I have written this for Andrew, I, like many of those whose lives you touched, will do my best to carry on your positive outlook on life.  The pain is over, you can rest now.  Still, it is not fair – you were far too young to leave. I will remember you forever.
Andrew V. (1987-2011)

Andrew V. (1987-2011)

12

Meeting Old Friends For The First Time

Do you remember having penpals? I have fond memories of connecting with other kids from Japan and Australia as an elementary student. I also remember being so jealous when one of my classmates was able to actually meet his penpal face to face at Expo 86 in Vancouver.

I recently attended two conferences (well, one was an unconference) in Vancouver – EdCamp Vancouver (#edcampvan) and the Digital Learning Spring Conference (#edtechbc). My conference experience PRE-social media usually went something like this: I would arrive at the conference last minute, attend the keynote, listen to the presenters, take notes, and go home. I rarely knew anybody and I was not the person to just walk up to someone and introduce myself. I was a receiver of information and took part in very little educational dialogue.

handshake

From: http://bit.ly/lsRJUi

Flash forward to life after Twitter and blogging. For the past 2 years, I have connected with thousands of educators from around the globe; more recently I have connected with quite a few educators from BC. Prior to EdCamp, I posted a Tweet asking who was attending and I also posted some presentation ideas on the EdCamp site. Through this, I was able to have conversations even before the event started; I even arrived early to EdCamp because I was so excited to actually meet some of my Twitter friends face to face. When I walked into the library, I can think of no other way to describe it other than it felt like I was meeting my penpals for the first time. I felt I knew these people so well: I knew their values, their educational philosophies, and even a bit about their families. Instead of sitting in the corner waiting for the next presentation, I found myself seeking out educators and having powerful dialogue with people who I felt like I knew. I said to Heidi Hass Gable at one point “I have never met so many people for the first time… Whom I already knew”. There were plenty of smiles, handshakes, and even hugs as so many people were excited to connect with those who they had been “speaking” with for the past few months or years. (You can read more about my EdCamp experience here). I think this comfort level lead to the ongoing powerful challenging conversations that occurred throughout the day.

Two days later, I attended the #edtechBC conference which was keynoted by George and Alec Couros. George is someone who, prior to that day, had never met but have had endless chats through Twitter, blogging, email, and Gmail Video chats. I walked into the room just before he was about to present, he saw me, gave a wave and I think he wrote it best when he tweeted:

Tweet from @gcouros

I have always realized the power of social media as a professional development tool; I never could have imagined the resulting connections and face to face relationships. These relationships will never replace those within my school and district but social media has added so many passionate people to my professional learning network and, combined with conferences, truly has led to the feeling of meeting old friends for the first time.

Here is a list of people whom I connected with face-to-face for the first time (and a few whom I had the pleasure of reconnecting – if I missed you, I apologize!!!):

  • @davidwees – The man behind EdCamp. A math teacher in Vancouver and one of the most reflective educators I know.
  • @johnnybevacqua – An inspiring, reflective, energetic administrator from Vancouver. Encouraged by his reflections on student motivation.
  • @aakune – A passionate administrator and great leader from Delta. Only chatted with him for a few minutes but looking forward to the next time! Love his thoughts on educational leadership.
  • @remi_collins – A principal from Coquitlam, Remi and I actually completed the BCELC seminar series a few years ago but it was great to reconnect. I love his thoughts on grading and assessment. He is currently trying to pilot a project in his district that would see intermediates moving away from grades
  • @gmbondi A true family man and a guy who has a way with words around his powerful views on education. Gino is a principal in Vancouver.
  • @bsoong A senior science teacher in Vancouver – wish I had Bernie as a mentor to me when I was teaching high school science.
  • @aaronmueller You cannot help but smile when you hang out with Aaron – just a positive, happy guy who also happens to be an online educator in Vancouver.
  • @grantfrend An administrator in Maple Ridge who does it all. I love his reflective views on motivation of students.
  • @5_alive I love what Jaki, a teacher from Vancouver Island, is doing in her classroom around assessment! Her movement away from grades has significantly increased learning in her class.
  • @darcymullin When Darcy, a principal in Summerland, speaks, it is like he saying the words that I wish I knew how to say. Love his views on motivating students and his thoughts on assessment.
  • @tomschimmer The Assessment For Learning guru. District Principal from Penticton. #nuffsaid
  • @hhg One of my mentors on parent engagement in schools. The DPAC president in Coquitlam, Heidi works tirelessly to be a voice for students and parents.
  • @bryanhughes Passionate teacher in Vancouver – great views on EdTech.
  • @alissalu Energized administrator from Vancouver Island. Eats a mean burger.
  • @scienceworldTR Katie is just beaming with positivity – and great resources from Science World.
  • @teachingtammy A reflective, positive teacher from Vancouver.  Love some of the stuff she is trying with her class this year.
  • @millerblair Blair seems to do it all – math, tech, business, coach… an inspiring educator in Vancouver.
  • @emcavin Love the conversations Ed, a teacher in Vancouver, has with his class around motivation and education reform.
  • @fionade A lady that has been part of some key changes at our school. She is another mentor to me around parent voice, engagement and education reform. Fiona is about as passionate as they come and a member of @4moms1dream.
  • @cyberjohn07 The MAN when it comes to websites and distance learning. Check out his site for cool education sites. Love his energy.
  • @malchkiey Malcolm says it like it is – gotta respect that. Never even caught on that he was at EdCamp until it ended!
  • @stephenhurley All the way from Ontario, Stephen writes a darn good blog with powerful thoughts on ed reform.
  • @clthompson A science teacher from the Okanagan – cannot help but smile when you are around Claire.
  • @gcouros A man that needs no introduction… George is an online mentor to me. Creator of Connected Principals, principal in Alberta and social media guru, Roberto Luongo impersonator.. I just wish he would stop making fun of my phone.
  • @courosa Alec has been leading the way using social media to connect in education. I have never seen a man eat a burger that quickly. Poor younger brother George never had a chance growing up.
  • @chrkennedy One word: ENERGY. Wow, no wonder he became Superintendent of West Van at such an early age. A truly inspiring leader in BC Education and a leadership mentor to me.
  • @erringreg Erinn just oozes passion in education, especially around what she is doing with her “connected classroom”. Great sense of humour too!
  • @jbellsd60 District Principal of Technology in Fort St John, Jarrod is doing some awesome stuff with social media and schools.
  • @mthman Came up from the Washington and immediately liked this dude. Math teacher with a great future in educational leadership.
  • @mrmosesdotorg This guy blew me away with his thoughts on education technology. All the way from Vegas, he spread his ideas throughout BC at the EdTech conference. He is more than about technology, he is all about kids.
  • @tysune Tyler is a UBC student – I love this guy’s critical nature of his thoughts. A great perspective on education.
  • @learnbyliving Julia is someone who you meet and you just cannot help but stay and chat. Love her thoughts on education reform and overall learning. Reflective is a word that I seem to be using a lot but I must use this to describe her.
  • @4moms1dream A fantastic collaborative effort to change education with parent power. 4 BC moms with a purpose.
  • @g_kima Goran calls himself “just a parent” (is anybody “just a parent”?) 😉 . Although not a teacher, he is a true educator for more than just his kids. I love his perspectives on assessment and motivation. Organizer of TEDxKids in Vancouver.
  • @amy_stephenson A new Tweeter and teacher – another person you cannot help but smile when you are around.
  • @khforkids Her Twitter name says it all – Kimberlee is a mom with a purpose to encourage more parent engagement in schools. Another member of @4moms1dream

Thank you to all those that helped (and continue) to make my learning experiences so powerful!

11

Listen With Your Eyes

originally posted on “Connected Principals”

As leaders, whether we are administrators, teachers, coaches, parents or students, a skill that is often lost is listening.  Too many times we think we need to provide answers or solutions when all we really need to do is listen.

Have you ever been in a conversation and not known what the second half of the dialogue has been because all you were thinking about was what you ‘needed’ to say?

Have you ever been in a meeting and been interrupted before you completed your thought?

Have you ever drifted during a conversation and began to think about something completely different?

Do you know someone that flips the conversation to stories about him/herself all the time? Does he/she ‘one-up’ you? (“That’s nothing, this one time…”)

One of my goals for the past 2 years is to become an active listener – to be there in the moment – during conversations with my wife, family, colleagues, students, and staff members.  What does this mean?  What does this look like?

  1. If you are truly listening, you are not thinking about what YOU are going to say, you are thinking about what the speaker is saying.
  2. In an effective conversation the thinking moves deeper.  Ask questions built upon what has been stated by the speaker.
  3. Pausing is good.  Before you respond, pause and reflect on what has been said, then think before speaking.  I have been working on this skill by observing many of our First Nation leaders (including our FN Support Workers in our school)- conversations need not be rushed.
  4. The most piece of a conversation is not what is said, but what is heard.  Make sure you truly understand what the speaker is stating.
  5. Listen with your eyes.
A little girl came home from school with a drawing she’d made in class.  She danced into the kitchen, where her mother was preparing dinner.
“Mom, guess what?” she squealed, waving the drawing.
Her mom never looked up.
“What?” she said, tending to the pots.
“Guess what?” the child repeated, waving the drawing.
“What?” the mother said, tending to the plates.
“Mom, you’re not listening.”
“Sweetie, yes I am.”
“Mom,” the child said, “you’re not listening with your eyes.
Mitch Albom

As educators we need to be active listeners to many different speakers: students, staff, administrators, parents, and community members.  Most often, when engaged in conversation, we do not need to know the answers or jump to a solution or a story about us – we just need to be there, in that moment, and listen with our eyes.