My OLW(s)

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It’s 2020 and time to think about my One Little Word (OLW). I’ve been musing about my OLW for this year and whether or not I should even try to find one. Wouldn’t it be better if my OLW found me? That has never happened before though I’ve read of it happening to others. Why not me? I had almost decided not to choose a OLW because while I see the power in having a word to guide my year, I haven’t been very successful at keeping it front and centre past January. So, if it hasn’t helped in the past why even bother? But at last night’s #TeachWrite monthly chat it came to me almost as in a lightening flash, but without the drama I associate with lightening, ie thunder and chaos. LOL!

It turns out my OLW is two-pronged: balance and completion.

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Balance because I’ve been slighting my personal life by favoring my professional life. Looking busy, but accomplishing little. So, something is wrong. I’ve known that for a long time, but I haven’t taken any significant action to right this situation. I’ve just been plugging along hoping that something that I am doing will be the golden ticket to get me where I want to go professionally. Instead, I’ve neglected my relationships with others and have worn myself out by staying busy while procrastinating on the important things. I’m not looking for a 50-50 balance; I don’t think that’s possible. Some days I will give more to one aspect of my life than to the other, but it will be intentional, planned and purposeful. And, I will announce that’s what I’m doing. Then, I can be mindful with the time I spend with friends and family, especially with family. I think in order for me to achieve this balance, I need to schedule it. I know that sounds crazy, but I’m finding it’s the best way to go. It will keep me honest and accountable to myself and to those I love.

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Completion – This is the year for me to complete a couple of projects that I’ve been dreaming about, but taken very little action on. Procrastinating is more like it. This year if I say I’m going to do something, like daily writing, then I will not only commit to doing it but I will show up to the party and be an active participant. Of course, I will cut myself some slack if I miss a day here or there; I don’t want to add to my overwhelm.

Today I was reminded that our primitive brain is always trying to keep us safe; it is doing the job it was designed to do. On the other hand, the prefrontal cortex wants us to progress; it has our long term interests in mind. If I don’t act quickly, five seconds apparently, I will retreat to a safe place and get nothing accomplished. At the same time, I will blame my lack of progress on everyone and everything else. Yet, it’s within my power to surge forward. And, this year that’s what I aim to do. I owe it to myself and to my family.

Now that I have embraced balance-completion, I will set intentional plans for each month of the year to guide me in achieving my goals. Although well-articulated goals and plans have not been my forte in the past, I intend to make a clean slate and figure this out once and for all. Being specific and realistic will help me in 2020.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers SOL Tuesday Challenge

Being Busy Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

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Prior to this year, just thinking about all of the things on my to-do list would have made me nervous, but accomplished. Like I was doing important things. And, because I had chosen the majority of these projects myself I was compelled to follow through and complete them. Getting involved with yet another project seemed exciting and like I was doing something important. However, if I’m honest with myself, it was all about #FOMO or Fear of Missing Out. I never stopped long enough to think about all of the time I would need to spend on each new project or the not-so-glamorous parts of each project I had to complete.

Sometimes I wished I hadn’t committed to so much because when it came time to deliver, I was always running against the clock and feeling like I wasn’t focusing on what was truly important to me; instead I was simply staying busy. At other times, I wondered what I could be doing with all of my “free time” if I were to let everything, or some things, go. I couldn’t even imagine that – both the free time or letting go of anything!

I used to think that I loved my busy life, precisely because I was busy. And, on some level, I guess I did like parts of what I was doing. No #FOMO, but lots of anxiety. Being busy is supposed to be a sign of success, but is it really? I deluded myself into thinking that I was making progress in my life goals because of what I got involved in. But progress towards what? That’s what I never stopped long enough to figure out. Was I gaining anything really important by volunteering for yet another activity? Was I any closer to any of my professional or personal goals? And…what were/are my personal/professional goals, anyway?

In my heart, I knew it could do better if I could say, “No,” once in a while. Not everything is worth doing or will get me further along my goal of writing a book, finishing my doctorate, becoming a more effective, joyful teacher, or finding much needed work-life balance. Even though I know this in my heart, old habits are hard to break. And, while I have been moderately successful at saying, “No” on occasion, I am still trying to figure out what I want to say, “Yes” to that will make a difference to me and others.

Since I’ve been on medical leave, I’ve had to reassess my priorities. I’ve had to drop out of a few commitments when I realized, sometimes too late, that I wasn’t feeling well enough to do them. I’ve been learning to say, “No” to more things, though I have to admit it hasn’t been easy. Along the way I am realizing that being busy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

In the New Year I am committing to a few important activities that will uplift me and keep me engaged because they bring value and joy to my life. I will stop doing those things that just don’t do that so I can truly focus my energies on what matters.

Recently, I read a blog post where I was reminded that elementary school teachers are expected to be experts in a lot of subject areas. The truth is that none of us can be experts in everything, yet we flit from one thing to the other as if we can do it all. That gave me pause. Although there are many worthwhile projects out there, not all of them are worthwhile for me, or even fit me as an educator or as a person. I’m learning to be discriminating in my tastes and that’s helping me pick and choose more wisely.

Here’s to a New Year of fewer, but better involvements.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge.

Browsing the Shelves at the Library

On Sunday, my husband and I went to the new Central Library in Calgary. Although this branch of the public library is considered “state of the art” and has been open for more than a year, we had yet to visit since it’s not in our immediate neighborhood. Since we arrived an hour before closing time, there weren’t any tours scheduled for the rest of the day. Nevertheless, we walked around a little bit – skimmed the surface really – admiring the variety of spaces available to library patrons, including a play area for children and a gallery of local art by Indigenous artists.

Even though we couldn’t get a guided tour of the library, I was able to do something I used to do before the internet, smartphones or apps: browse the shelves for books. Admittedly, I only looked at books whose covers were facing out on the shelves, but that was enough given the short time I had to search for books. Browsing the shelves is how I discovered many beloved authors whose books I still read to this day. I was reminded of how I used to find new books to read because of a twitter thread that asked tweeters if they second-guessed themselves if they didn’t like a book that others were raving about.

My response was that, yes that has happened to me, but that I choose to trust my opinion over those of critics. And, I realize now, how much easier it was to do that without the barrage of social media posts about new books. Recently, I started reading a book that put me in a dark mood – not what I needed at the moment. So, I abandoned the book even though it seemed as if everyone on social media was praising it. Not for me, I decided and returned it to the library. This is not to say that I haven’t gotten some great book recommendations on social media. Quite the contrary. However, I love discovering books on my own just by bumping into them on the shelves of the library or a bookstore.

So, on Sunday I happily roamed the stacks. And, I discovered many new titles by authors I had not heard of before. Also, when I looked through the pile of books I planned to borrow (to add to the growing stack at home), I realized that many of the authors were POC; I was pleased that my public library chose to showcase these on the shelves.

New Books

How did you find books to read before social media began to dominate our reading lives?

Cross posted to The Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday Challenge.

 

Schedule Writing

Lately I’ve been reading a ton, but not writing that much. I sometimes wonder if I hide my writing behind my reading. I know that to write well I need to read a lot, especially in the type of writing I aim to write. Yet, it seems I often don’t have protected writing time. I can read all day, but I can’t write all day. Go figure!

In one of the books I was reading – How to Do Fewer Things Better by Angela Watson – Angela recommends (and other productivity books say the same) to simply schedule in down time, work time, etc and to just show up like you would a doctor’s appointment. I have yet to do that with writing; it seems like other things get in the way. But I know that if I want to protect and advance my writing, I will need to schedule it in every day. And not just journal writing. That would be too easy for me, though there is value in that too. If I want to prioritize work that is important to me and if I want to accomplish something that can be perceived as a legacy, then I need to schedule in writing time.

Reading can be done anytime, anywhere. However, I find that I need different structures in place for writing. For example, I need to have my computer, a notebook and something to write with. I need to be sitting upright, preferably at my office desk, and I need to tune out any extraneous noise. (When I read I can be sitting in front of the TV while someone else is watching and truly get lost in the book I’m reading. Not with writing.)

One other thing that I need for a dedicated, daily writing time is to know what the focus of my writing will be. Will I work on the short story about my mom or will I work on a book proposal? Will I continue my doctoral writing or will I start something new? It seems that sometimes these seemingly simple decisions paralyze me and prevent me from moving forward. It’s easier to have nothing on the page than to be exposed to criticism or, worse, rejection.

Yet, I do OK with blog posts. So, what is the problem? I think, and I’m thinking out loud here, it’s that blog posts are shorter bursts of writing and therefore manageable. A book proposal or doctoral writing requires longer, more sustained writing. I am realizing I have yet to develop the stamina for that kind of writing precisely because I don’t yet have a daily writing habit that focuses on what’s important to me.

I’ve read that it takes at least 21 days to develop and maintain a new habit. Yesterday was Day #1 and I wrote at the appointed time on my calendar. I know it will get harder as I move through the next few days, but there’s no turning back now. The game is on. I look forward to getting it right…this time.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge.

2019

As I sit at my dining room/kitchen table (the downstairs living space in my house boasts an open concept, which I love), I turn to look out at the backyard through the large window that faces me. The snow continues to fall. The sky is gray. It’s starting to get bitter cold. Tomorrow and the day after promise even lower temperatures than today.

Winter in Calgary.

As I write this it seems that the snow is falling with more fury than just a few moments ago. I watch and wonder at the beauty of it all. Of course, as I’m on medical leave this year, I don’t have to interact with inclement weather too much; I can just watch it from the comfort of my dining room table. And, I’m grateful for that.

I’m also grateful that this year, 2019, has proven to be a challenge and a time of introspection for me and certainly for the rest of my family. Though we haven’t talked much about how this year has impacted them in that sense, I know.

It’s funny that as I was writing the previous paragraph, I almost typed that I was grateful that 2019 was coming to an end. Then, I realized that was not right. If it weren’t for this past year and all the painful lessons I’ve learned, I would be on the same self-destructive path leading to the same unexamined and unchanged life.

That’s not an option anymore…thanks to the events of 2019.

As I think about welcoming in the New Year, I need to remember all the learning, intentions, goals and promises I made to myself for a better life.

As I continue to watch the snow fall, I feel content as I anticipate, and plan for, how my life will be different in 2020; 2019 is fully responsible for that.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge.

On My Mind

This summer and fall I started digging into the issue of white privilege in a way I hadn’t done before. There isn’t one particular book, Twitter account or person that is changing my thinking, but a tribe of people and resources are making me shift my focus. I am opening up my eyes to my own white privilege and my role as an anti-racist educator. I thought I was doing OK and that I couldn’t possibly say or do anything resembling racism, but I’m discovering that racism is so prevalent that we are all a little bit racist. And although I knew this intellectually, I hadn’t yet applied this to myself. Here are some of the resources and people that are helping me think this through. I am not at a point where I feel completely comfortable in my own skin and new ways of thinking about racism, but I am examining all of this through a different lens than I had previously and although everything feels a little shaky, I know I’m on the right path.

Here’s a list of some of the Twitter accounts that are helping me do this:

@AlexSVenet @caitteach @SonjaCherryPaul @pgorski @TchKimPossible @BARWE215 @JoelRGarza @Lyricalswordz @biblio_phile @Drlbram @triciaebarvia @ChristieNold @ClearTheAir @debreese @PaulWHankins @ValeriaBrownEdu @juliaerin80 @TheEdCollab @ncte_lla

And, here are some books that I am currently reading or want to read:

White Fragility

Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo

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Of course neither list is exhaustive, but it is where I’m starting to interrogate my own white privilege so that I can become a more effective, guilt free, anti-racist that speaks out wherever racism rears it’s ugly head, including in schools where there are so many subtle forms of racism in operation. We need to uncover them and speak this truth if we are ever going to provide equitable learning opportunities for all of our students. That’s why it’s so important for not only white teachers, but also for Latino teachers to examine our own assumptions about color and privilege.

I am not currently in the classroom this year, but I am trying to educate myself on these issues so that I am better prepared to address them when I return in the fall.

Where are you on issues of equity, inclusion and anti-racist work? Please leave a comment so that we can all learn from and support each other in this work.

Words and Feelings Matter

These are some of the words and phrases that have become a part of my vocabulary over the last few months:

Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Cancer

Tom Baker Cancer Centre

Full hip replacement

Physiotherapy

Neutrophils

Neutropenic

Hospital

Doctors

Hematologist

Nurses

Chemo

Stem cell transplant

Fevers

Dizzy

Tired

Blood transfusions

Blood counts

Methotrexate

RCHOP

Hair loss

C-T Scan

PET Scan

X-rays

MRIs

Injections

IVs

And, here are some of the, mostly unexplained and unexplainable, mood swings I am experiencing:

Bouts of crying without a reason. Like a couple of nights ago. My 14-year-old son heard me crying and tried to get me to calm down by deep breathing with him. When he asked me what was wrong, I couldn’t give him a satisfactory answer. Not last night and not the next morning.

Bouts of crying without a reason. Usually after I get back from a treatment at the hospital.

Bouts of crying without a reason. Feelings of frustration because I want to do stuff around the house, but can only do a little bit at a time.

Bouts of crying without a reason. Like now, though writing about it helps because this is my story.

Cross pasted to the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday Challenge.

Gratitude: Living a Victimless Life

I have to admit that for most of my life I’ve been a cup half empty kind of person. If there was a negative aspect to any situation, I could find it, name it, and make sure everybody knew about it. That’s how I assumed the role of “victim” early on in my life, unable to reclaim my essence by finding the good in everything and relishing the moment.

For the past few years, I have been attending The Centre for Spiritual Living, member of a network of new thought ministries, not to be confused with New Age thinking, with followers all over the world. It is non-denominational, embracing all religions, cultures, sexual orientations and races. The sermons are great and the music is spectacular.

When we go to “The Centre”, I can embrace the coming week with optimism and hope. And it is gratitude that helps me grow my consciousness about the world and my place in it.

So, what is the antidote to an orientation towards negativity and victimhood? It is an abundance of gratitude for the here and now, for the past and the future, for all that I am and can be. As our spiritual leader says: “If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” And, “let’s make gratitude our default, not our last resort”. (Yes. I have my notebook with me and jot down some ideas and quotes I want to remember.)

This past Sunday, the sermon was about how we are constantly comparing ourselves to other people by thinking that their lives are better than ours: why don’t we have what they have? When we think this way we’re always missing opportunities to see what we do have and be grateful and happy for ourselves. Only then can we be genuinely happy for other people.

I take this thinking with me into this new staying-at-home school year and acknowledge all that I have (usually not material things) and all that I am grateful for.

I hope that if you’ve returned to school, are getting ready to return to school, or are starting a new phase in your professional life that you look inward and rejoice in all that you are and all that you have. Maybe even write it down as a reminder during those moments when you’re feeling low or overwhelmed. We all bring different gifts to the world; let’s affirm these to ourselves and live them in our lives.

Here’s wishing everybody a year filled with gratitude.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge.

August…

As August unfolds and teachers head back to school, social media is buzzing with planning for the fall. And, my heart skips a beat; I won’t be going back for the start of this school year. It’s the first time in over 30 years that I will miss the excitement and promise of a new school year. And I’m struggling not to feel a heavy dose of FOMO.

I remind myself that I have other things to take care of, namely my health, but I won’t be idle. For starters, I have reading and writing plans. I will be working on a short story that I started last year and threatens to languish unless I continue to work on it. I will add weekly posts to my professional blog. I will write short columns for parents in my neighborhood magazine. I will read and read and read. The pile keeps getting larger every time I check Twitter.

I will be doing as much online professional learning as is available and I can handle: I have four book studies currently underway or soon to start. I am collaborating on two workshops for the fall. I have two online courses waiting for me to dig in – one on the science of happiness and the other one on classroom discourse.

I am also looking forward to some periods of rest to recuperate my strength. Family time will be high on my agenda.

I will create and live a vision that doesn’t include the physical schoolhouse building…at least for a while…but that may be just as fulfilling.

FOMO? I don’t think so!

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge

Parenting & Teaching

Today was my 14-month old granddaughter’s first day in preschool. Throughout the day, my daughter shared pictures to our family chat to keep us in the loop.

We saw her eating at a table with other children. She ate all of her fruits and vegetables first.  

We saw her sitting in one of the teacher’s laps while listening to a story. Budding teacher’s pet? LOL!

We saw her sleeping in a tiny cot next to other children. She was covered with a blanket and had her lion with her.

We saw how happy she was. She didn’t cry as I had initially predicted.

I told my daughter to just take her for a couple of hours to see how she would do and then slowly increase her time there because I thought she might cry. She has been at home with her parents since she was born. I was using my experience with my own children to give her some advice. My daughter had decided her daughter could handle staying longer in daycare because she knows her child. And, she was right.

The same is true about teaching. We give each other advice, suggestions and encourage each other, but in the end, we all learn by doing. Some things may come easily and others will take some fine tuning. It’s a career long challenge to get teaching right and we are always on that journey. We’ll make lots of mistakes along the way. We will develop strong opinions about different approaches and practices. But if we are to get better we must learn from our students. We must have faith in what we know about teaching and get better at our profession through knowing our students.

So happy for my granddaughter. Can’t wait to get more pictures tomorrow.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday Challenge.