From Followers to Friendships

Fist bump – from http://flic.kr/p/7XiTUz

Many of us have written about how our PLN (personal learning network) has helped us get through challenging times.  I wanted to share some experiences of how people I have met through social media have impacted me in my day to day life and even moved from followers to friends.  I am not a fan of lists of people and this is not meant to include or exclude but more to share some recent positive experiences resulting from social media.

As I head back to work and reflect on the summer, some key moments with friends stand out… moments that would not have occurred had I not been using social media as a tool for professional learning.

People who do not use Twitter and Social Media often state that “real relationships” cannot be formed through these avenues.  This summer was a clear example of how friendships CAN result from relationships formed through social media.

At the beginning of the summer, George Couros, division principal in Alberta, planned a few days stop over in Vancouver on his way to a speaking tour in Australia.  We planned to hang out for a day and then meet up with a few others that evening.  I picked him up at the airport (I was a bit late… although I did a drive by and he was too busy tweeting out that I was late to notice me driving by) and we spent the day chatting about all things life, education, and social media.  In the evening, we met up with a few other amazing educators (whom I have also met through Twitter) for some dinner and in depth chats about technology, education, and professional learning.   The weird thing is that this was only the third time I had ever met George face to face.  We have ‘spoken’ through Twitter, Facebook, email, SMS, Skype, etc for a few years but because he lives in Alberta, we rarely get to meet.  George and I hung out like we were university buddies… often it felt like we were catching up by sharing old experiences and bouncing ideas off each other.

Brian Kuhn, the technology leader in Coquitlam, is someone whom I met through Twitter and blogging a few years back.  I originally went for breakfast with Brian to pick his brain about developing a tech vision for our district.  What resulted has been regular (EARLY!) breakfast meetings throughout the year that include dialogue not only about technology and education but also about family and life in general.  We often meet up at conferences or events and I follow his travels around Europe and mountain biking trails via Facebook and he follows the growth of my young daughters.  Today we attended an Edcamp together and he made a comment “It is so cool to see photos of your daughter growing up… feel like I am watching family”.   Brian is a bit of mentor to me but also has moved to a trustworthy buddy that I can chat with about anything.

Another connection with Kuhn.

A few weeks ago, I was heading up to a family reunion in Salmon Arm and the route to there took me through Kamloops.  Cale Birk, a principal in Kamloops, invited me to stop by his place on the way back.  His house was a perfect pit stop for my family (you cannot get very far with two 20-month-old daughters in the car) so we popped in for a few hours.  Again, hanging out with Cale was like being with a buddy that I played hockey or basketball with.  We chatted about everything until finally my wife gave me the signal that we had to head out.  The crazy part of this is that our wives had actually connected through Facebook a few weeks prior as they are both dance teachers.  Further, Cale has 2 beautiful daughters (2 and 4) who immediately connected with our daughters.  The best part of this meeting was the fact that I had never met Cale face to face before.  We had also used a variety of tech to communicate with each other so we knew each other quite well but meeting face to face created that friendship.  Cale, Lori, Paige, and Kate stopped by our place for lunch the following week, en route to Victoria, and we are planning some more gatherings in the near future.


Meeting the Birks

The last example I want to share does not involve a face to face meeting but more of someone whom I keep in touch with on a regular basis.  Darcy Mullin, a principal in Summerland, and I have been Skyping once a month for the past year.  In addition, we chat via Twitter, Facebook, email, and text messaging.  Although our attempt to meet up this summer (which would add up to a whopping 3 times) did not work out, Darcy and I kept in touch by Skyping a few times and texting throughout the summer.  The best thing about our conversations this summer is that the focus was not just on education but mostly on our families.  Darcy has twins as well so the stories of my daughters really bring him back; too, I enjoy his narratives of his family outings throughout BC and Western USA – the excitement in his voice when he speaks about his wife, son, and daughter is truly contagious.

Meeting with Mullin

To me, the learning that results from the connections we have with people is obvious.  This post is by no means meant to be a cheesy shout out to George, Brian, Cale, and Darcy nor is it to exclude the many other people and friends I have met through social media; it is to share and highlight the potential deeper relationships that can arise from the effective use of social media.

Connecting through social media is not about the quantity of followers or ‘friends’ that a person has but it IS about the deeper, trusting relationships that can result if you take the time to make these relationships happen.  These guys have had a huge impact on me – and I probably would never have met them without social media.  I look forward to deepening the relationships and learning with a few more folks in the near future. Thank you to all those that have taken the time to connect with me to help me both as an educator and as a person.

For another example of how followers can turn into friends, please check out Stacey Garrioch’s wonderful post on #edcampkinder.



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