To the Classes of 2021/2022

As I sat pondering what I wanted to write after the Alberta Summer Literacy Institute the topics of all the speakers kept coming back to me. The thread that brought everything together, at least in the sessions I attended, was the importance of our students knowing themselves, honouring their identity and helping them to see and honour their genius and pursue their joy. With all the ridiculous conversations around Learning Loss and the mountains of advice people seem to have for teachers regardless of not being in the classroom themselves. The other day I saw a tweet from a brilliant educator that really helped me to frame my thinking more.

There are most certainly some folks that just want to dwell on the deficits. They are somehow stuck in some world where learning and expectations should not have shifted while the rest of the world did. I think the second sentence in Chanea’s for point really hit home the most. Our kids overcame odds that no one in schools right now has, and they did it is amazing ways. So often we see folks talk about resilience and grit until the kids demonstrated it in spades and now decision makers want to move the goal line. Using words like learning loss in front of our kids or even in meetings with other adults disrespects the work of our students, disrespects the work of our parents and disrespects the work of our teachers. So instead, as Dr. Gholdy Muhammad so powerfully reminded me this week, we are going to focus on students GENIUS and JOY. A letter to my students, maybe yours.

The Letter

Dear Students of 2021/2022,

Some of you have never had a typical school experience, typical elementary, middle or high school but you have been expected to demonstrate learning like you have. You have missed out on experiences, field trips, parties, concerts and sports tournaments. So much has been taken from you and yet you have performed wonderfully. Rather than tell the story of the struggles Covid brought us and the lost opportunities I prefer to focus on your resilience and dedication. This is the story we should be telling.

You individually bring excellence to our classroom and this year while we of course work on skills I want our focus to be that. You and the genius you bring. The unique qualities and abilities that we can celebrate through the work that we do.

There will be voices that try and distract us from this learning journey with their nonsense about “being behind” or “lost learning” please remember they do not know you and do not matter. They are uncomfortable acknowledging that you have continued to grow despite the hurdles. We can’t measure your learning like the years have been typical because they have been far from it. We can measure how you demonstrate your excellence however. We can work on our community and we can build something great together.

Your parents also deserve much thanks and credit for helping us all get through the last few years as we learned to demonstrate our genius and joy amidst the noise.

We will of course address the skills we are assigned to cover, but we will be giving ourselves grace while we do it. We will explore who we are as learners and as people and we will honour that journey. We will not talk about Learning Loss or entertain the idea that somehow these last few years you did not demonstrate your brilliance. I look back on the work we did in a full pandemic year and I know it is not true.

See you all in a few weeks. I am looking forward to getting started.

-Your Teacher

In Closing

I spent the summer reading and learning. I am started a new journey myself and in a few weeks, new courses, new students and new discussions. I am excited. I am choosing to focus on our shared genius. I am choosing to see my students as whole people and not a test score. Shifts and growth that is the plan. Celebrate the Genius and Joy as Dr. Muhammad said. The rest will fall into place.

Fish in a Cave

Fish that live in darkness lose the ability over time to see. I read this story where a character relates this to unhappiness. His goal in the story is to find the cure to unhappiness and this analogy of a fish in a cave stuck out to me so strongly.

I am guilty of spending too much time in the dark, something happens at work, or home or whatever and I dwell on the negative. I am sure I am not the only person that does this but what I am finding more and more is that the more time I spend in the dark the less likely I am to see the good things that exist.

After reading this quote I think back even to the last few months, I have not been pleasant and happy, I have complained more than celebrate and there is a lot of good things but man the cave can be deep some times.

A fish raised in a cave loses its sight.

We can not be those fish.

Swim in the light.


2016- we survived so far

At the time I write this I still have to venture into Lethbridge so things could change but knock on wood I have survived the dumpster fire that 2016 has been for so many. Economic downturn, political strife over much of the world, many beloved celebrities passed away, refugee crisis and civil wars across the ocean that have begun to impact the west and then of course there is Trump and the rise of the “Alt right” or white supremacists, whatever you prefer to call them.  2016 has not been the best year for many. For Julie and I it has been a rather unremarkable year. Nothing bad, nothing great (we bought a backyard pool) just a year. I had success in the gym, basically stuck in a holding pattern in the weight department which can be looked at as a success or a failure depending on perspective. But one thing I have noticed is we as a general society like to complain and more than that we like to blame others for our misfortunes.

My goal for the New Year is going to be Three fold.

  • Physical-Keep on trucking with the gym and get back on the right track with my eating. Tomorrow I take pictures and measurements, renew my dedication to food journaling and generally take steps to get back to my speedo shape. It is tanning time soon enough and I need to be ready.
  • Appreciations- I need to take the time to recognize the good stuff. Good things happen but we rarely spend time dwelling on the good stuff so it is less likely to be stored and remembered long term. Julie and I are going to do a “Good moments” jar this year and just make sure to put something in it each week. Then look at them next New Years eve. Should be fun.
  • #complainlessdomore- This needs to be my mantra. I do not want to be the person known for complaining about everything I can. People will listen to complainers because they tend to care about them but it is taxing on them and eventually we the complainers will burn out our support systems. So I have been thinking and these are the questions I am going to ask myself before complaining.
    • Can I solve this problem myself?- If you can, DO. Just complaining to complain will get me nowhere and so I need to do it less.
    • Is the person I want to complain to in a position to help solve my problem? If the answer is no then why are we bothering them with it? If the answer is yes I need to make sure that they are in a position to help because it involves them and not just because I know they will. My parents, friends and wife would all drop everything to help me, but they shouldn’t feel they need to because I am constantly complaining.
    • Am I blaming others for my problems? I think complainers are guilty of this the most, we can’t possibly have pointed ourselves in the wrong direction and then walked until we could not find the right way back. After getting lost it could not be our fault so it must be because someone didn’t support us enough or someone made us feel like we are not enough. Stop it, we are enough and people that care about us do not think we are not. Wanting more for someone does not mean you think less of them it just means you care enough you want them to reach the potential they know you have.

2017 is going to be the year of responsibility. Join me in taking responsibility for our own happiness, we must not put that responsibility on others. Recognize the simple joys, go for a run or lift something heavy, complain less and do more. Lets not have another 2016.

Making Gains-Trying to Improve Daily

What we control

This week has been a doozy. The election of Donald Trump to lead the most powerful nation in the free world put me and most people I am friends with into a full tailspin, unclear how people could, after hearing the venom and hate that he spoke, support him. Now we sit a few days out and some are happy. Happy because his opponent did not win, happy because perhaps he would stop the “moral decline” (imagine that a man who brags about sexual assault, ruining the financial lives of so many, flaunts his racist beliefs is trusted by some to be their moral safeguard?), happy because he will stop the flow of immigrants from these  war torn nations happy because he has given them permission to voice their agreement to the venom he puts out because well if the President of the United States says it and no one stops him why should they stop me.

In the hours after it was clear he won and the next day I had a hard time processing how to move past it. It was like a slide show of despair, people crying, the countless doomsday statuses on Facebook and the realization that people might not be inherently good. It was in that moment that I realized I can’t control that. I can’t control the hate others have, the prejudice they carry for others, the judgments they feel free to cast on those whose moral compass does not reflect what they deem right. I am only in control of how I respond and what I do. So I decided that I would focus on what I could that was good.

The sun came up Wednesday morning and it was spectacular. It was November 9th and 20 degrees. To me it was literally like the light was sent to see me through. I had the best day at school with my kids that I have had in a long time. I focused on their kind interactions with each other. I searched out good news stories. I stood out in the sun and laughed as my kids ran around the field without coats on November 9th because it was 20 degrees.

There is an incredible amount of crappy in this world and I could focus my energy there and how disappointed I am in the lack of empathy people must have that can see past all Trumps faults or I can focus on the joyful little things. I can stand in the light and take in the good. We can not fight the masses driven by darkness by creating more darkness.

The sun has felt good.

Making Gains-Trying to Improve Daily

So Dark

Today on my way home from the gym it was so dark that the lights from the car seemed to be just absorbed. A wall of darkness all around me and then the slightest red of the sun appeared on the horizon, such a blessing.

I am not very good in the winter. The lack of light is very hard on me.

I think the wall of dark absorbing the light is a great analogy for how I have been feeling lately. Too much negative in the news, things going on at school, feeling like there is never enough time to accomplish what I want. The only positive some days is the gym and this week the gym has felt more like my headlights than the sun. A little bit of light but only enough to hold off the dark. The gym has not been my sun this week but that needs to end.

My students were so fun today, we celebrated their accomplishments of the week, played outside, read a novel in an hour and then started talking about what they picture when they think about peace. A group of rowdy 11 and 12 year olds playing cards when they finished their work, laughing with friends and cheering on their classmates that was my sun today.

Sometimes all we can muster is the nightlight, some days the flashlight and unfortunately sometimes we spend some time sitting in the dark.

Focus on what brings up the sun. Focus on the positive. Allow yourself to just stand in the light when you find it. Recharge the batteries and start again.

Making Gains-Trying to Improve Daily

Grateful through the noise

Last week I felt like you could not turn on the news without seeing another horrible thing. Natural Disasters, Violence, Crime, so many terrible things going on. Now as my turkey is waiting to be devoured and I sit watching TV with my wife I realize that all that “bad” stuff is not going anywhere but we don’t need to focus on it. Instead I want to focus my blog post on all the things I am grateful for. The good things.

  1. The opportunity to spend time with family and friends- Not everyone gets to spend time with the people that make them happier over the holidays. I get to and I am grateful. Sure not everyone is here and not everyone is able to get together but I am grateful that I get to.
  2. Stanley the wonder dog- Last week was rough with Stanley. We discovered he has an auto-immune disease that is common in German Shepherds that could eventually take his eyesight if left untreated. Grateful note his treatment is working and the disease seems to be less prevalent than it was a week ago.
  3. A great team at work- I am very grateful for some of the other teachers I get to work with on a daily basis. Those I work closest with and that are just a friendly hello as we pass in the hall. It is great knowing that so many are working to a common goal.
  4. My class- So many awesome kids that are funny, creative and kind. Every year I am sad when it ends because of the group I am losing and every year I am excited for the new group coming in and the potential for greatness we can discover. One month in and I am so excited for all the cool things to come.
  5. The gym-It is my fortress of solitude, my calm away from the storm. I love starting my day in the gym and very grateful it is available to me.

We can choose to focus on the bad things out there, the snow, creepy clowns ruining Halloween, THE SNOW or we can focus on the good things. Be grateful. So many great things to come.

Stumble but Never Fall

Yesterday I ate chocolate pie and treats from the candy store. It was not a great eating day but certainly not the worst ever. I will say I have been having more mediocre days than good in the eating department. Even as I type this I am thinking about the ice cream in the fridge.

I have always struggled with regulating my food (junk food) intake. Luckily I have discovered a love for the gym and that has saved me. I have weeks were I stumble more than others in the choices I make. Chocolate bars or candy bags at the gas station, cookies at Walmart or just eating out when I can have a much healthier choice at home.

I figure as long as I keep exercising and trying to be better all hope is not lost. That being said it is time to get strong again. Sorry Halloween Candy, Eating Out and Bulk Barn trips. Your time has come to an end. A few treats one day a week will be my stumble, no more 3 days a week. No more chocolate pie for breakfast. Time to get up and walk back towards healthier choices.

Anyone care to join me?

Making Gains-Trying to Improve Daily.


Equal Play…

The other day I was a part of a conversation about fairness and the idea of Fair Play not being Equal Play came up. While I agree in theory with the idea I think it boils down more to what our goal is. Of course in sports it is hard not to go with the proven best because the goal for most in sports is to win. Growing up I had the opportunity to learn a lot from the best coach I know, my dad. He had this philosophy that while it was nice to win and of course we needed to, the “stars” were not the ones that needed the time on the field. Those who need to grow, want to grow, need the challenge, they are the ones that need to be on the field. So we would get up by a few touchdowns and then the starters would come out a piece at a time until it was the developing players that formed the team on the field, if they stumbled a few starters would go back in and lead them, coach them, teach them, lift them up. The developing players learned from the examples they saw but also because they were given the chance to do some of the heavy lifting.

Too often I think in life those who are thought of as the “starters” are given all the opportunities because the “coaches” want the job done right and they want it done right the first time. I have been guilty of this in my previous coaching experiences, jobs and even currently I probably do not give as many chances as I need to for kids to fall so they can learn to pick themselves back up. Seeing people struggle when we know they don’t have to is uncomfortable but it is essential for others to grow.

New challenges, New directions, New chances to succeed. These are the things we should all be aiming for and helping others to achieve. Equal Play…

Making Gains-Trying to Improve Daily

Happy New Year-Be Glorious

Teachers have two New Years. The traditional start of the calendar year and then September. New students come in, new ways to teach are introduced, new challenges , maybe new assignments or classrooms. Change comes in September and I look forward to it.

For me it also means a return to routine. No more grazing all day long on whatever is sitting around the house, no more late night snacks, no more staying up late watching Netflix and sleeping in before going to the gym. I get to reset and have the structure in the day to help me achieve my goals.

Last June I had set a plan that I wanted to end the summer at 240 pounds and go on a hike. I did go on a hike which was fun but I certainly did not reach 240 pounds. I didn’t do terribly but I could have done better. I look at myself in the mirror at the gym (before Julie tells me to get back to work and stop looking at myself) and think, “This is not my final form” I still have a long way to go but the great thing is I have that chance. I am grateful for that and so many other things.

I am grateful I have a job I love.

I am grateful I have the support of my wife in my journey to be a better teacher, better husband and healthier person in general.

I am grateful I have the gym, it is my fortress of solitude.

I am grateful for our friends and getting to take their kids to the “Spooky Store”

I am grateful.

This year is going to be great. Our theme is going to be “We will be Glorious”

I hope everyone else has a glorious year they can be grateful for.

Making Gains-Trying to Improve Daily.

Celebrate your wake up calls

5 days from now will be my 2 year anniversary of taking the gym seriously. At my peak in strength I was benching 315 for 2 reps doing 5 reps at 315 in squats and 2 reps at 275 for deadlift. So close to the 1 ton club but I have had a slight set back with some shoulder strain and working towards fixing that. It can be frustrating but in the past it would have made me stop, I would have used it as  a reason to give up. Now it is just a reason to reevaluate my goals.

Over the year I have continued to reflect on my goals and where I am in my health journey. I took part in a healthy eating challenge and it frustrated me to no end. Watching what I ate, how much I ate, when I ate…it became maddening. Fortunately it also brought results and over the course of the challenge I lost 20 pounds. Now in the last 5 weeks that summer vacation and tanning have taken a priority I have managed to only put back on a fraction of that and it gives me a chance to adjust and course correct. So here is my advice going forward. I will be setting new goals later this week.

  1. Scales are your friend but becoming obsessed with a number is not. So many times I have heard do not trust a scale, numbers are a bad thing, it is how your clothes feel. While I agree with that I do think the scale keeps us honest. I took 4 weeks off weighing in and I put on 5 pounds, why? Because I was not monitoring my weight. Pick a day and weigh in, same time same place but only do it once a week. Then reflect. Can you eat differently? Can you exercise more?
  2. Keep a food and exercise journal. This is so helpful to me and the fact I can do it all on my phone with a variety of apps is spectacular. My Fitness Pal even reminds me to put in my food for the day and log in daily. You can record your weight and even take a selfie if need be. Logging food (honestly) is probably the biggest help in weight loss and healthy lifestyle goals. I hate having to write down a package of cookies or a bag of chips. It has helped adjust how I eat and drives me to work out more.
  3. Allow yourself treats, just not everyday. I love treats too much to give them up. That said I can reduce my treat intake. I allow myself a day or two a week that I can have a treat evening. This helps reduce binges brought on by cravings. I still have treats but I have way less. If you are someone that can give up all treats cold turkey then crack on but I am not that person.
  4. Be ok with having a less successful week. My 5 pound gain was not a killing blow it was a wake up call. Celebrate wake up calls because they will guide you back to success if you let them. We can all dwell on crappy weeks but really all that does is lead to more crappy weeks.

Two year reflection post coming Sunday. I am the lightest I have been since University and probably the strongest all around as well. It has been a good year. Moving on to the next 🙂

Making Gains-Trying to Improve Daily