Maybe Dad: A Simple and Powerful Message From My Daughters

I sat there and stared at the table setting and welled up in tears. The other 3 plates contained what was left of a family dinner and mine lay there empty. Beside each table setting, my girls had written the names of our family members. Beside my name said “Maby”. Maybe dad. It was a message that broke my heart but I needed to hear. Too many dinner times I had arrived late or not at all because I was in a meeting or just trying to get that important email sent out. Too many dinner times, I had left my wife and daughters with the hope that I would be there for dinner but arrived 15, 30, or 60 minutes late. Now, we are at the point of “Maybe, Dad” for dinner. When we stop and listen to our kids, they can tell us so much… so much that comes unfiltered. So much that comes straight from their hearts.

I remember Chris Kennedy sharing that Barrack Obama had made it a priority to be home for dinner and if the President of the US could do this more often than not, so could he. Whenever I start to complain about my job, Chris is always the first person to tell me, “you signed up for this, you can choose to make it work for you”. I hate it when he says this but he is right. In our job as educators, there will always be the draw to be part of that committee, to attend that workshop, to be part of that meeting, to plan that perfect lesson, or to write that important email. There are many times when we can say no. Saying no to the things we don’t necessarily want to do is easier; saying no to the things we do want to do is much more difficult. We can, however, do this and make our families a priority.  We are all busy and we never have “enough time” but we can prioritize our time; if dinner time is important to me, I can make better boundaries and be sure that I am home for this more often. Yes, there are evenings when I absolutely have to be at the school or in a meeting but there are other times where it is my choice and I prioritize other things over these dinner times. This is not so much about doing way less but perhaps doing things differently. Instead of working until 6:30 and then heading home, I can head home earlier and catch up on work after the kids are in bed. I can still do my job well but shift my schedule so I do not miss out on the most important times in my life… time with my kids – these are times I will never get back and they must be a priority.

Having said this, I also think that we, as a system, need to continually strive to be more understanding of the importance of family and create the conditions for more wellness and balance in the lives of people within our communities. Each person is at a different place and we need to do a better job of seeking to understand and support. It is no secret that people who are healthier and happier are more engaged and more effective at work; we need to make this health and happiness a priority in our schools and districts. As principals and formal leaders, we can have a significant impact on this but we also need to take care of ourselves. The “airplane oxygen mask” analogy works here too – if we do not take care of ourselves, we will have a harder time caring for others.  There will always be a need for some late-afternoon learning sessions, volunteering as after-school coaches and club leaders, and having some fun as a staff beyond the school day but we need to be continually mindful of what we are asking of ourselves and others. If family is a priority and time with family makes people healthier, happier and more engaged at work, as a system we need to support this.

My goal is to put my family in my calendar like I do for meetings and evening events. I have to set better boundaries on leaving school to make sure I am home. I have to learn to say “I can only stay until 5:30”. I can be more reflective on what needs to be done and what can wait. I can be home for dinner more often.

In the past year, there have been some changes that have occurred that have helped me as a father. I am thankful that our superintendent has discouraged emails on the weekends as I find I can be at home and away from work on weekends (and to district staff who are bringing wellness to the forefront). I am thankful that my colleague George Kozlovic encouraged me to take emails off my phone so I can be at home and focus on family. I am thankful that my staff understands that I need to arrive at school a little later in the mornings so I can help my daughters get ready for school and my wife can look after our newborn son. Most importantly, I am thankful that my daughters set my name tag as “maby Dad” and sent me a message to shift my priorities and be home for dinner more often. There will be more times when I get to home to help to cook, serve the food, talk about “what went well” in our days… and the table is set with my name tag saying simply “Dad”.

Please feel free to share any ideas that have occurred in your school or district to help support those wanting to spend more time with family while maintaining their effectiveness as an educator. 

This song is a good reminder for us all…


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.


Catching Moments

Moments at the park with my kids.

I recently took a few weeks off Twitter, Blogs, and Facebook.

As I did this, there were a few thoughts that I had but this one stood out:

You can always catch up on the tweets and posts… you can never catch up on the moments.

My kids are growing up so quickly… moments with my family are what I live for.

I love being so connected and forming amazing professional and personal relationships with so many great people.  It is difficult to even put in words how social media has affected my career and life. The challenge for me is to continue to work toward a more balanced life that includes being connected.  I don’t plan on spending less time using social media but I will be spending time differently.

I may be a bit behind reading tweets and blog posts but I know I will be there more often to catch the moments right in front of me.

Thanks to Dwight Carter for our phone conversation and his post that caused me to reflect.  Thanks also to my wonderful wife for the reminders and the push.


Rewards: 2 Parent Perspectives

As a follow-up to my recent post “My Issue With Rewards”, I wanted to highlight the thoughts of two parents from my PLN on the topic of rewards.  These individuals have caused me to reflect further upon the use of extrinsic rewards/prizes both for me as a parent and as an educator.

Sheila Stewart, a parent from Ontario and @sheilaspeaking on Twitter, commented on my post:

I am not sure exactly when and where and how I first began to learn about motivational theories, but I am thankful that I did come to understand more and that I had time to consider such before I taught and before I became a parent.

My approaches with children may simply have a lot to do with my own upbringing. My parents did not use external rewards in any big way to encourage my behaviour at home or beyond. I was their 4th child, but it seemed we were all just expected to be responsible, do our share and conduct ourselves as members of a family and as members of a community. Modelling, of course, was so important.

I am also glad I studied psychology before education. It gave me further insight into human behaviour and motivation. But then probably a lot of my perspective just has to do with me being me – observing, thinking, and aiming to understand why we do what we do. I am often saddened by how entrenched “reward systems” have become in our schools and society. How can we count on future generations to just do good for themselves, others and our world, if we encourage them so much to look for “What else is in it for me right now (or at the end of the month)?”. But I recognize how hard it can be to establish different strategies and expectations in a class or school if they are different or inconsistent from what a student has become accustomed to elsewhere. I think that is often the biggest challenge to face. So great to read about others committed to staying the course though!

I think we often resort to reward systems and strategies in teaching and parenting not realizing we are doing so for short-term benefits. Having been a supply teacher in the younger grades I can understand how easy it is to use rewards, tickets, etc., to get through a short-term teaching assignment, especially with students you may not have developed relationships with yet. I still had difficulty with resorting to those kinds of methods though, so instead I focused on making activities meaningful and engaging and I encouraged cooperation from the students as the experts of their learning and as “owners” of their classroom environment.

I really hope we can focus mostly on helping kids recognize and experience the “reward” that comes with engaging in their own learning, and also with living harmoniously with others in our schools and communities. I think that is the respectful approach and an important goal.

Goran Kimovski, from Vancouver and @g_kima on Twitter, wrote a thought-provoking piece on the Cooperative Catalyst a few months ago and I felt it would be a good addition to the conversation so I have included his personal story from the post.  For the full blog from Goran, click here.

…I’d like to share a personal story. I thought long about this and I decided it is too important to make teachers and schools stop for a moment and rethink the use of incentives — thus I decided to overcome my original apprehension and write about it!

My 7-year old daughter attends grade 1 in a French Immersion program, within a local public school here in [British Columbia]. To deal with the big number of kids who are not making the effort to speak French in class, and after seeing an interesting and seemingly successful program  that the grade 3 teacher next door ‘swears by’, my daughter’s teacher decided to use classroom ‘cents’ to get all kids to speak French:

We have started a new incentive program in our class to encourage everyone to speak French.  We already earn ‘cents’ for good behaviour and work habits but now we are starting every week with 5 ‘cents’ in our special envelopes taped to our desks.  Whenever we hear someone speaking English in our class we get to ask them for a ‘cent’.  If someone hears us speaking English we must give them a ‘cent’.  Madame has also been handing out ‘cents’ to everyone when she hears them speaking French.  At the end of the week we will count up our ‘cents’ and deposit them in our bank accounts for the class store.  So far this week some of our children have earned over 11 ‘cents’ for all the French they have been speaking.

I find this damaging in many ways and have been actively trying to influence my daughter not to take part in punishing kids when she hears them speaking English — even managed to convince her to give some of her ‘cents’ away to her friends!

…I can’t help but find the use of ‘cents’ deplorable and have hard time accepting that many teachers use similar, if not the same method to motivate kids into compliance!

Admittedly, as a parent, I have fallen into the trap many times — from innocent clapping when my daughter would finally dress up after begging her for 10 minutes, to bribing her with chocolate if she eats her broccoli first. I do know better not to use bribing to get her to read a book, or to convince her to stick to color pencils instead of pastel as a way to avoid making a mess when painting at home, though!

The use of extrinsic rewards (ie. prizes and incentives given from someone using ‘power over’) is deeply embedded in our society because it works to get others to do what you want them to do…. short-term.  However, as educators we need to reflect upon the long-term consequences that these short-term rewards (and punishments) may bring about.  As an educator, and now a new parent, I continue to catch myself relying on the use of extrinsic motivation to try to create actions/behaviours in others.

The most important question we can ask around the use of rewards was stated by psychologist and research Edward Deci (via Larry Ferlazzo’s book Helping Students Motivate Themselves:

How can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves?

I encourage us all to reflect upon our actions and contemplate whether they actually create conditions for intrinsic motivation to grow or they create a dependence on an extrinsic reward.

Thank you to Goran and Sheila for the permission to include their thoughts on this post.


My Favourite Teacher: My Mother

When I think back to all the learning that took place up until now, I have to say that my favourite teacher was my grade 7 home economics teacher.  I have actually known this teacher my entire life – she was there on the day of my birth and we are extremely close today.  This teacher is my mother, Lynne Wejr.  Although I am sure I learned a whole lot in that grade 7 year, it is the lessons that have been taught and the qualities that have been modeled that have shaped me to become the person I am today.

My favourite teacher: my mother

My favourite teacher: my mother

When I think about trying to put into words all that mom has taught me, the key word that comes to mind is: FAMILY.

Although my parents never had the perfect marriage, for my sister and I, they were the perfect parents  (you can read more about what my father taught me here).  I never remember a time when my mom was not there for me.  She has been at every sporting or school event, family barbecue, birthday party, and special occasion.  She was there for every heartbreak, every failure, every fall, and every injury.  No mother in the world can say they supported their son more than my mom.

Now that I am a father, and my wife celebrates her first mother’s day, I want to take this time to reflect all that my mom has taught me and say… thank you.

Thank you for…

  • always putting family first
  • being there when I needed a hug – when I was a child all the way through a recent loss
  • being my biggest fan – on the court, on the field, and on the ice – whether I was in first place or last place
  • driving me everywhere I needed to go and providing me with opportunities to follow my passions
  • being firm when I needed discipline and gentle when I needed guidance
  • encouraging me to take risks and challenge myself
  • teaching me that success was based on hard work and effort rather than ability
  • sewing the holes and hemming and unhemming my pants growing up
  • teaching the importance of trying new things (as a teacher, my mom never taught the same position for more than 5 years – she worked as elementary, middle, and high school teacher as well as a special ed teacher and librarian)
  • being so excited whenever I call
  • putting up with my grumpy years (ages 13-27  😉 )
  • teaching me to jive dance
  • staying up all night with me to get my last-minute projects done
  • looking after Ozzy and Mason (and letting our 150lb Bullmastiff Ozzy pretend to be a lap dog)
  • demonstrating the power of forgiveness
  • teaching rather than punishing
  • showing me the reward was the task itself
  • honouring me for who I am rather than the things I have done
  • being the glue that holds our family together
  • being the best Nan to my girls that they could ever imagine
  • modeling to me the patience, care, and love that it takes to be a parent like you

Mom, I know that I don’t say this enough but thank you, I love you and appreciate you more than you will ever know.  Happy Mother’s Day!!!


Dear Ozzy

Ozzy - Our "Bear" Forever

Ozzy – Our “Bear” Forever

“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog.  You are his life, his love, his leader.  He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart.  You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.” –Unknown

Dear Ozzy,

This letter is more for me than you as I need to do this to help me grieve and I know you struggled with your reading while you were here 😉 I will read this to Ellexis and Ella when they are older so they know how important you were to us.

I remember the first night I met you – it was the first date with mommy. Most people have to get approval of a parent or sibling; I had to get approval from you – a 140lb Bullmastiff. At first you scared the heck out of me; your head was twice the size of mine and you were bigger than any dog I had ever met.  Mommy took us for a long walk along the ocean and I even got to walk you for a bit (mommy tried to get me to pick up after you but I don’t think I was ready yet). From that night on, not only was I head over heels for mommy, but I was also absolutely thrilled to have you in my life. You see, I was the boy that was allergic to everything growing up so I never had pets. Even though you gave me hives every time you licked me or cuddled me, it never stopped us – the hives were well worth the Ozzy love.

That summer mommy had to work at a summer camp which meant it was daddy’s big week. I was such a proud daddy as we went to the beach and went for walks every day. I was so excited to answer any questions that people had about you – “what kind of dog is that?” “Is he friendly?” “Is he like the dog from Turner and Hooch?” “How much does he weigh?”. That week I introduced you, much to mommy’s dismay, to McDonald’s drive thru – plain double burger was where it was at, hey Bear? Shortly after that, you started to see me as “daddy” and you became “my bear” – and we all knew who ran the show from then on, don’t we?

The next year, I needed some help bringing mommy a very special gift. You were a star in your role and you helped to make sure she said “yes” and that we experienced one of the happiest moments of our lives.

Memories of this time are camping trips, dog parks, you having mud baths and then daddy having to get you all cleaned up, and finding you “hanging out” with 3 coyotes in the back of our house. I like to think I saved the coyotes from you.  You always liked a job – carrying mommy’s purse, carrying sticks, or carrying your stuffy (although I was a little embarrassed when you tried to do this on your walks).

In May 2007, mommy and I got extremely busy. Daddy was doing his masters classes as well as getting ready for a career change; Mommy was also making a career change and we had spent so much time looking at houses and planning the wedding that we may have spent too little of time with you. When you sustained your injury (stroke in the spine) and you had no movement in your hind legs, mommy and I dropped everything to be with you. You taught us how important it was to live in the moment and not get too caught up in the future. We made our home a fort in the living room and we lived there for weeks. We were told that you may never walk again but we believed that with love and determination and fight from you, you would walk down the aisle with us as our ring bearer in a few months. The way you pulled yourself to the door to greet me when I got home showed me that you were going to beat this injury. A few days later your tail moved ever so slightly. Then you kicked one night. Then you moved your right leg. We felt it was time for some physio for you so we took you to doggy hydrotherapy. A short time later, you were walking! Although you had a limp, you were doing it buddy! I will never forget the time that we were “walking” (I had to lift your back end) and mommy pulled up in the truck. You saw her and it was like Forrest Gump when the braces broke – you just started running! Daddy could not even keep up! There was no looking back after that – you had proved so many people wrong and DID walk down the aisle with your Uncle Vince at our wedding, holding a bag with 2 special rings for us.

The next 4 years seemed to fly by! You loved your new home with the big fenced in yard. You were a big reason we chose this house – it was so “Ozzy”. You loved going and seeing mommy’s dance studio and getting all the attention from the girls. We spent the summers camping, playing soccer, chasing the lawnmower, and hanging out in your puppy pool; if we were outside, you were with us. We spent the evenings by the fire; I will never forget when you crawled up between mommy and I as we were watching the meteor shower. You also loved the snow in the winters, catching the snowballs we threw to you. When you got cold you would curl up with us by the fire. Christmases were your favourite – you got to see all the family and rip open everyone’s gifts.

Last summer, our life was flipped upside down. Mommy felt a lump on your back leg so we got it checked out. The doc told us that it was one of the most aggressive forms of cancer and if we did not do something, we might only have you for a few more weeks. Unfortunately, we had no choice but to put you through surgery. You fought through this and within a week, you were back up playing hide and seek with mommy… but the lump had returned. You were not ready to go; we started chemotherapy. I cried so much when I had to give you your first dose; it felt so wrong to give you drugs that were going to kill so much of you. Just like all the other challenges you faced, you fought through this and even though you felt absolutely horrible, when I got home that night and saw you all excited at the top of the stairs with a stuffy in your mouth and I knew you were going to fight this cancer too. In a few months, 2 babies were going to arrive and we knew you were going to hold on to help mommy and daddy through this pregnancy.

As we neared the end of the pregnancy, mommy’s pain worsened and she was unable to work. You cuddled with her all day every day to make sure she got through it. In December, we welcomed 2 girls to the family. Everyone always warned us that you would not be good with the babies. You proved people wrong once again and showed everyone how loving and gentle you could be with our precious girls. Your snuggles near them and kisses on their heads were times we will never forget.  We shared so many amazing moments as a family in this short time.

Around Christmas, you developed a bad limp (now in your front leg). Although, in our gut, we knew what that meant, we decided to end the chemo (as it was making you so sick) and just give you some pain meds. Even with your sore leg, every time I got home, you jumped up to give me kisses and to go and get your stuffy for me. Our walks became shorter and shorter and you needed more and more help. Two weeks ago, you could barely walk so we had some x-rays done; the vet confirmed that the cancer was now in your bone and you only had days/weeks with us. We had family sleepovers in the living room and tried to spoil you with all the yummy food you could imagine. Even up until your final few days, anytime someone came over to see us, you hopped up, ran around and greeted them with such excitement. Last Wednesday, you stopped eating. You got up for the final time to see Grandma and Grandpa. On Thursday, you gave everything you had to just lift your head and give daddy a kiss and mommy a shake of your paw.

We lost you on Friday. We told you that there would be no more pills and needles and that you no longer needed to fight. We told you that we would be ok now and that it was time to end your pain.

What we call “normal” in our lives is just not there. There is a huge hole in our lives and even with two newborn daughters, our house feels quiet and empty. I keep looking for you curled up by the fire or in the kitchen or outside playing in the yard. When I have a bit of leftover food, I want to pitch it to you. I keep hearing you snore at night. Mommy and I came home to the house for the first time without you and I need to tell you Mason (our cat) did just what you taught him; he was at the top of the stairs to greet us with a toy in his mouth.  Mason is so confused on the whereabouts of his brother.

Bear, we will be ok; soon the amazing memories that we shared with you will fill that hole and the sadness will turn to smiles. People will say that Ozzy and Daddyyou were “just a dog” but we all know that to be a lie. You were our first “baby”. We treated you like a member of our family. You were the centre of attention at our house and became part of us. People would always ask how you were doing because they knew you were our “baby”. You taught us unconditional love and how to live in the moment. Whenever I had a bad day, I knew that I would come home to you at the top of the stairs and my day would be happy. By the time mommy got home from work, I had nothing to complain about because you had lifted my spirits.

Oz, mommy and daddy need to get used to the fact that you are not here anymore. I hope that each day will bring less tears and more happy memories of you. I want to thank you for the journey you took us on. You were our best friend, our hero, our baby, our Bear. As mommy says, “we will love you forever… and a day”.

G’night Bear. Daddy loves you.

Thank you to George, Lyn, Pernille, Lisa, my beautiful wife and my family for the encouragement to use writing as a support at this difficult time.

Thank you to all my friends and family who have sent us supportive messages on Twitter, Facebook and through email. It has truly helped.

Our Family - December 2010


When You Comin’ Home Dad

Finding balance as an educator is an ongoing challenge.  All the time spent prepping, assessing, meeting, and learning are the things that make great educators but they also affect life’s balance between work and family.Family

For my wife and I, these next few months will be the most exciting, challenging, and  joyous times of our lives as we are expecting twins in November/December.  As these children will be our first-borns, I want to make sure that I alter my life in such a way that my family is always the priority.

Education will always be ONE of my passions but it will never come close to the passion I have for spending time with family.  The main goal for me in the next year will be: BALANCE.   I want to be the parent that my parents were to me.  I want to be there to play, watch, teach, learn, read, coach, share, and love.

Although I have heard this song many times, I have never really listened to the lyrics.  As I am now approaching fatherhood, this song brought tears to my eyes as it developed a whole new meaning to me.  Please have a listen and reflect on the balance in your life.

The saddest part of all this is that Chapin died 7 years later… and never got to see his children grow up.

I need to find the balance to be there for the many special moments with my children.  I never want to answer the question, “When you comin’ home dad?” with “I don’t know when“.

Thank you to presenter and ex-principal Denis Harrigan of Victoria for introducing this to me.  Thank you to my parents for always being there.