Communities Move Mountains – looking for more climbers

 
I have kept almost all my promotion for Climb for Kids Year III on Facebook and Twitter, but on this Thanksgiving Weekend, I am sending out one note to long-term supporters via email and here on my blog.
 
We have 10 trekkers for July 2020 and we want to get 10 more. A group of 20 seems right for such a big climb. It also means that we could reach a new goal of $40,000 this year, making our total for the three years of Climb for Kids over $100,000.
 
Maybe this climb is not for everyone – physically and mentally it is a great challenge. However, word of mouth is still the most effective way to get new trekkers so we are hoping that the good news will reach the right people and we will pick up 10 more people. If you are reading this and happen to know someone who might be interested, I would like to ask you to share this note with them.
 
There are several things people can do if they might want to come with us:
 
  • First, share this post with your network
  • Second, if you live close to Ottawa, come to our launch on October 25th at the Senate Tavern (Bank Street) – Tony Perdomo, from Exodus Travels will be there to talk about the trip and all the details.
  • call Monique Perras, our travel agent at Club Aventure – 613-789-8000
  • email me (mcswa1@gmail.com) and I can answer any question someone might have about the trip.

 

We have a large and growing network of supporters who continue to help us raise money for Christie Lake Kids.

Somewhere out there is a trekker who will help us get to a climbing group of 20 people and who will push us over the $100,000 mark. Maybe your job is to pass this note on to them!

 
Communities truly Move Mountains, and we really want to make this our biggest year yet! You can be a big help.
 
Who is out there waiting to join us?
 
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When your plan is no longer the plan

What are the dragons we need to address every day in our classes?

Sometimes the irritating thing about learning is that learning is tough and somewhat uncomfortable.

I am continuing my learning journey by teaching an Intermediate History course to second-year students at the Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa. It is a new experience for me. Although I have done lots of PD with adults, it is different when you are teaching a class at a faculty of education. It is a new challenge.

Life needs to be all about challenges. That is how we learn and grow. Just because I am now retired doesn’t mean I can’t grow! Not for a minute do I believe that!

On Friday I was looking forward to my third class with my second-year students. I had spent hours (many hours) of developing a lesson on Historical Significance, one of the six concepts of Historical Thinking. I am really excited about these concepts, it gives a framework for the study of history that didn’t exist when I taught the subject.

Historical Thinking concepts

After some presentations and a group work session, I was ready to launch into my slides, full of activities and material that I hoped would convey why this concept was important to the study and teaching of history.

This is where the plan moved in a direction I hadn’t expected.

One of the students in the class had a legitimate concern about something that had gone on in the previous class. It related to a much wider concern about how we are approaching the teaching of indigenous issues, the inherent racism that exists in Canada when it comes to First Nations peoples and how these issues are being addressed.

The student approached me during the break and asked if he could address the class. He did and what transpired was an incredibly powerful and at times challenging conversation that involved the entire class. It was pretty amazing and students brought up stuff that had been percolating for over a year. I have to say, I felt privileged and certainly humbled to be in on the conversation.

I hope they found it useful. You never really know. It is not like anyone is going to come up and say – ‘thanks for that really difficult conversation’. No one plans for these conversations. If one tries to, the conversation will be disingenuous and forced.

I am not a historian nor an academic.  The one thing I think I can contribute to a class like this is 31 years of teaching. Sometimes when something is bubbling just under the surface, a teacher has to know it is time to throw the lesson out the window and just let the learning happen.

That is what I tried to do on Friday. Everything I have learned about teaching and working with students led me to the conclusion that there was a more important lesson out there that had to be experienced by all of us. I know I learned lots, not just about the topic of the discussion, but, more importantly, I learned so much about the students I am working with.

I encouraged the class to write about their experiences in the class on Friday. I don’t know if any of them will – they are really busy people! But no matter, I had to and I hope my writing clarifies things for me at least.

Maybe next week I will get to my lesson on historical significance, but I think we have already gone much further down a different road.

In ancient times unknown areas on maps were labelled ‘Here be Dragons’

The Urban Communities Cohort – What is the Urban School?

the necessary changes in urban and suburban schools will have to appropriate adequate space for a re-examination of leadership that is collaborative,
transformative, socially just, and moves beyond the hierarchical construction of the individual leader role.

Beverly-Jean Daniel, Reimagining the Urban: A Canadian Perspective

What is the urban school? What does it look like in Canada? How is it studied and what should educators learn about before working in an urban school? This year, I am working with the Urban Communities Cohort at the University of Ottawa and I am asking myself these and many other questions.

As part of our learning, teacher candidates need to develop a digital hub or, in other words, some platform where they can reflect on what they are learning. I figure that if I am working this year with these students the least I can do is add this blog to the collection of reflective pieces that will accumulate as the year progresses.

St. Anthony School, where I learned most of what I know about urban schools

I have said this before but it certainly bears repeating. Reflection is an essential component of learning. We all need somewhere to record our thoughts and insights especially when we are on a steep learning curve. The students here at the University of Ottawa are on about as steep a curve as possible, so it is really encouraging to see them put out some of their ideas and wonderings on a blog or wiki or some other platform.

I think it would be really cool if some of these students decided they wanted to start a podcast about what they are experiencing as new teachers. VoicEd Radio would be a great platform for recording these experiences it has been done before, it makes for great radio!

Sarah Lalonde started her podcast while she was a student at the University of Ottawa

One of the foundational readings students have been asked to take a look at is an article by Beverly-Jean Daniel, Reimagining the Urban: A Canadian Perspective. There is a good deal to digest in this article and I am just starting this process.  What an urban school is? Is there really one definition of an urban school?

I am not an academic, but I had the privilege of working in one urban school and have had many experiences of working with poverty in schools. One idea that is really interesting has to do with the whole idea of an urban school. Is there really a precise divide between urban and suburban schools here in Ontario?

There are characteristics of have and have-not schools, but I don’t think they separate out along urban and suburban schools. It might be easier to look at what you might find in have-not schools:

  • a clear lack of resources outside what is granted by the school district or province
  • a higher percentage of children without resources at home to support learning
  • a higher percentage of parents who work several jobs to make ends meet, who have less energy and time for school
  • a higher percentage of health concerns, for example, dental health issues with many students
  • a more transient school population

There is, in my opinion, a real danger when I start to write down characteristics like this. Someone could easily read this and point out that this is stereotyping. One could also point out that my list is incomplete, that it focuses on the elementary panel (it does) and that it is missing so many things. Most of these criticisms would be correct, but I don’t think I am painted with a brush that is too broad. Yes, my list has more to do with elementary, but I am sure you could come up with a secondary list without too much trouble.

What would be much more useful and this is something I brought up in class this morning when I talked about the Daniel article is a careful look at the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. The ONS is an incredible resource that really tells the story of the places we live in here in Ottawa. From their opening page, the ONS states that it is presenting this data to help people understand our current living spaces and plan for better futures:

Evidence is mounting that the neighbourhoods and communities in which we live affect not only our health but also the gap in health between rich and poor. The purpose of the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study (ONS) is twofold: to better understand the physical and social pathways by which neighbourhoods in Ottawa affect our health and well-being, and to provide citizens in Ottawa with facts that support evidence-based decision-making.

Ottawa Neighbourhood Study

As I rambled this morning, I did say something that might be helpful – I really think that all educators need to carefully read the ONS before they start teaching in a community that is new to them. We all need to realize that we do not teach in a bubble. We teach in a living community and if we teach in a hard to serve or low-income community, we need to know what services are there to help our families, then we need to see how we can best fit in and make a substantial difference for the students we work with.

There is a great deal here to examine and to think about. When we work in a low-income school, do we need to develop a different mindset? Do we need to think even more out of the box than other teachers need to do? Do we need to question our models of leadership and collaboration with the wider community? Does our role as the teacher change?

I started this reflection piece with one of the conclusions from the Daniel article. Yes, I think we do need to re-examine how we do leadership and we also need to re-examine how we teach in low-income neighbourhoods. No, there is not a definitive split between urban and suburban schools here in Ottawa. Yes, there is true poverty and inequality in this city.

So, how do we best prepare our new teachers to enter this world and make a true difference? Can we as educators level this playing field?

Teaching History – We Need to Become FOLES – Thanks to HipHughes!

Tomorrow, I start teaching history again.

Certainly my first love in a long career in education, my time teaching history usually gets obscured by the things I did later in my career. That in some ways, is the great thing about a career as a teacher, there can be so much variety, change and certainly challenge.

It seems impossible to realize that when I started teaching history our best resources were Jackdaws and history scrapbooks – now relics of the distant teaching past.

a cover from the old Jackdaws series – anyone remember these?

Prentice-Hall 1978 – one of the Canadiana Scrapbooks I used in my grade 10 history class – the only primary resources available at the time!

After I taught history both at the intermediate and senior level I moved on to all sorts of other positions like alternative education, guidance, resource then administration. I did get to move back into the classroom for seven months when I went back to teach grade 6 language arts.

That was pretty amazing. Everything had changed while I had been off doing other things in schools. Assessment had changed dramatically, the resources available to a teacher had grown astronomically – when I taught history the internet didn’t even exist!

There is nothing better than the classroom. There is a real thrill in learning and growing with your students. Tomorrow I return full circle to the classroom to start work with year two Faculty of Education students at the University of Ottawa.

I am teaching ten weeks of intermediate history to 30 year-two students. I am ready and I have done lots of preparation to produce my first three-hour session. To me, there is one thing that is really important now. I want as much as possible to give them something that will be truly useful, that will give them a few tools they can use to engage their students and make the learning count.

This can be daunting in history. The old story goes that history is boring and irrelevant and of little use to anyone. Good history teachers really do need to sell their subjects and they need to make it engaging, they have to make history count. For most of their students, after the grade 10 Canadian History class, they will never take another course about their country’s story.

Not too much pressure right?

One of the great Historical Thinking Project posters from https://historicalthinking.ca/ – an amazing treasure trove of resources for Canadian History teachers

Immersing oneself now in the world of teaching Canadian History is a pretty wonderful process. I am certainly not an expert in the teaching of history and I will be very clear to my students that this is the case. What I can do pretty quickly is absorb lots of resources and start figuring out what tools are going to be useful to someone starting out.

I can also use Twitter pretty well. With the help of Rachel Collishaw, I have found lots of great Canadian history teachers!

I am not going to try to do this here, this will be a 30-hour journey lasting three months. I haven’t met my co-learners yet and they will have a significant role to play in this process of discovery.

One big thing though, good history teaching, like any other subject now is all about helping people to think and learn for themselves. It certainly isn’t the recitation of facts –  it is more an exercise in discerning what is significant, what evidence is important, what events have consequence and where the ethical dimension lies.

This is mapped out clearly as the Historical Thinking Concepts and these concepts will frame all our discoveries and discussions over the next few months.

This framework is relatively new as is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. How do we make reconciliation part of our history? I know this will be a long journey and the great challenge for these students will be to find meaningful ways to make it central to all the teaching they do. Like the internet, this is something that didn’t exist when I started. How will this impact what we do over the next few months?

Finally, something I do know about – what will work for kids. Even though this is a class on the teaching of history, it really needs to become a class on teaching kids. We never really teach subjects in schools, although it probably feels like that when you are in the second year of a teacher education program.

Probably the best resources I have right now, the ones I am most comfortable with are those that talk about teaching kids. I plan to show two videos from HipHughes on the first day (who knows how much you get through on the first day??) – these ones make lots of sense!

This is the second one I plan to show. I think these days, we are not so much teachers (never a professor!) as we are FOLEs – Facilitators of Learning Experiences. This is what we all need to be. Whether we are holding a group meeting with our grade 7 homeroom students to talk about rumours, or we are in a grade 12 class looking at systemic racism in Canadian History – we are all FOLEs! Tomorrow, I want to be the best FOLE possible.

Thanks HipHughes.

 

Teaching about Canadian History – Where do you start?

Sometimes when you start on a totally new project it is a challenge to know where to start.

Last week, I wrote that I was about to start on a series of new challenges, the really new stuff has to do with teaching at the Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa. I wrote last week that my blogging would probably pick up – it usually does when there is new learning going on.

For me, I need to write so I can reflect on what I am learning. I am going to try to be disciplined about this. I am in the perfect situation where I can publically reflect on a very open process – the training of new teachers for a very demanding profession.

I have done lots of training in the past and I have written about it here. I think working on professional development with the teachers in the schools where I was a principal was one of the most rewarding parts of my job. We really tried to develop a model where the teacher as professional was in charge of their own learning.

This was at times a challenge as most school boards hold to the idea that the learning objectives come from the top and while there is some room for individual variation, the scope for individualization is limited.

How will the learning work in this new situation?

For the first time, I am working in a truly academic atmosphere. There are two courses in the history program– I am going to be teaching the intermediate section. How I do this has been left up to me. While this is a bit frightening, it also represents a wonderful challenge. What will I teach these new professionals in the time I have with them? How will I structure the learning? How can I make sure these teacher-candidates have a legitimate voice in the learning process?

How can I be of use to them as they prepare for such a challenging journey?

First, I think I need to catch up a bit. When I first taught history, the internet didn’t exist. All our teaching tools were in the form of books and the curriculum guides were pretty thin if they existed at all. You really had to rely on your own ingenuity and hope that you had a teaching partner who was willing to share their materials.

More recently I went back into the classroom to teach grade 6 language arts, but my time in the classroom was short – I was pulled out by the March Break to become an elementary principal. The learning was intense during this period and it was certainly the best PD I have ever had.

Now I really don’t think this means I can’t teach an intermediate history course. My academic credentials are fine and I will bring 31 years of experience in the education system to my class. I just need to figure out what I can contribute in a meaningful way to help these new teachers with the awesome responsibility that awaits. I know a few things about that responsibility. This is my grounding, this is where I can make a contribution.

The teaching of history in Canada has gone through some dramatic changes in the past few years. A great deal has been written about what is the essence of teaching our story and there are some major streams of thought that will become the basis for what we will be doing in a few weeks.

First, the teaching of history now must focus on historical thinking and the major components of what it means to think like a historian. In Canada, the book that lays all this out is The Big Six. Such an incredible piece of work – it lays out the big six teaching concepts then follows up with a great collection of activities teachers can use in their classes to help students come to grips with each of these concepts.

I don’t think this is the post where I break down these concepts – they are really important and they define how we think about history. They turn history away from the dry recitation of facts into something different, something special, something that can actually change the way you think about things.

But this is only one of the currents that run through this course. The other big one is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission along with the findings and calls to action of the Commission.

Reconciliation requires constructive action on addressing the
ongoing legacies of colonialism that have had destructive impacts
on Aboriginal peoples’ education, cultures and languages, health,
child welfare, the administration of justice, and economic opportu-
nities and prosperity.
TRC – What We Have Learned

In Ontario, the history curriculum has been rewritten to draw in the story of the residential schools and the larger story of the indigenous peoples of Canada. You really can’t teach Canadian history without making the TRC a major part of what you teach. It is not just a unit in a larger course, it is a narrative that holds a central place in our story. It was not this way before the TRC and this means in our recent past we were not telling the whole story. Now we are obliged to do this and this must be a central theme in anything I do with the teacher candidates.

There is one final stream and it doesn’t really have all that much to do with history teaching. It has a great deal to do with good teaching in any subject. First, before anything, the teacher needs to know who they are teaching. It has never been good enough to be the expert in the classroom. Now more than ever before we need to see and attempt to understand the student.

This video from HipHughes really sums this all up. It is one of two of his videos that I am planning on showing on the first day.

This is certainly only scratching the surface, but my writing here is informing the process I am going through to come up with a meaningful syllabus. I am hoping these reflections will be useful to me and maybe even my students. You have to start with first principles when you take on a big new project and I am I am making a start here.

New Beginnings, New Adventures

When we are young, life presents so many milestones

Sometimes a few weeks can utterly change the direction your life is taking. When this is happening, I think it is important to stop, reflect and write.

I have had a pretty significant writer’s block this summer. Although I was able to get two posts off about our incredible adventure during the Tour de Mont Blanc, I was missing some inspiration.

As you get older sometimes you have to create your own milestones. For us, that was the Tour du Mont Blanc this past summer

That has changed pretty significantly in the past week. I am learning and experiencing again and I am compelled to keep some record of what is happening in our lives.

First and most importantly our first-born Liam was just married. For four wonderfully hectic days, we celebrated the life and love of Liam and Claire with all their friends and family. Nothing can prepare you for such an occasion and I already know that words are failing me when I write about how such a life celebration can really swoop you up and carry you to a new enchanted place.

Then life presents new, wonderful moments – Liam and friends with Mairi before the wedding

As you get older, it is understandable to think that life’s milestones and adventures can become less frequent. You have had your first job, your first child, your first almost everything. But, there are new beginnings. Something as simple and at the same time grand as the marriage of a child can shake you to your foundations in a way that is beautiful.

What is the collection of life’s adventures and challenges that leads to the meeting of two young people who fall in love and make the commitment to share their lives together? Being an intimate witness to this new adventure is enough to take your breath away.

Now, it would have been easy to return to a settled quiet life – everyone returns to work or study and I get to go back to the quiet, retired life alongside a new physical training regime for our next climb. But that is not happening.

On one incredible day last week, I was offered two teaching opportunities at the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. The same day, I was invited to take part in a 3-day training on how to design, write and assess three-dimensional units for science education in the United States.

None of this was expected, I was planning my escape from the cold and winds of another Eastern Ontario fall by trekking in Italy for six weeks. No more!

A rapid transformation of circumstances can really play with the mind! I now have to give up quiet retirement and look to a schedule this fall that looks almost full-time. I never really thought I would be in a situation like this again and while I do mourn the loss of a great trekking opportunity in Italy, the hills of Tuscany are not going anywhere and right now I am beginning to feel my batteries recharge for a really new and unexpected adventure.

I love teaching and I really love working with new teachers. This is what I will be doing.  Yes, I need to learn how to write a syllabus and plan on ways to teach Intermediate History to prospective teachers, but I am very happy to leave the quiet and set out again. Who knew?

This is what life is all about. When I am graced with a new opportunity I need to embrace it. Life is an on-going adventure. Either I am the active witness in the case of Liam’s beautiful wedding, or I am being thrown back into a dynamic teaching and learning situation.

Life can still be full of adventure

This blog is about to get much busier. When life takes a radical change learning happens that really should be accompanied by reflection. Things now are so new I really don’t know enough to reflect, but I think that will change pretty quickly.

I really enjoy writing when new things come up. I actually learn as I write. If you read this I hope there is something in here that helps you. Maybe my new students will find something useful here!

September dawns with wonderful memories and new adventures around every corner. Life is really good!

Christie Lake Climb for Kids Tour de Mont Blanc, the Col de Tricot – Day Nine

It is really hard to figure out what to write about after 2 weeks in the mountains. There are so many impressions, ideas and feelings that come with accomplishing a really difficult trek. I really thought I would have so much to say after completing the Tour de Mont Blanc, but inspiration is coming slowly.

The Tour De Mont Blanc deserves to be written about. It is a dramatic, difficult trek that tests one’s endurance at every step. The Col de Tricot 2120m, summitted by our group on climbing day 9 was really one of the great challenges of the Tour.

The Suunto map at the beginning of this post really does not do justice to the day. But it gives you some idea of the scope of the day.

starting up the Col de Tricot

We started up the Col and it really looked similar to other climbs we had done over the past two weeks. However, it turned into a steady, long grind up a 500 m ascent in 30C heat directly into the sun.

I have learned that it is a really good idea not to look up too much on these climbs. the summit never seems to get any closer. You have to go into yourself a little bit and make the mountain the path right in front of you. It has to be one small, steady step after another, one switchback, then another all the way up.

The climb probably took us an hour and a half, but you wouldn’t be able to tell this from the photo I have included here. This is the maddening thing about photography on the mountain, it is really hard to convey the perspective, the steepness of the ascent.

The group strung out over the mountain. We all struggled in the intense heat. John, our wonderful guide encouraged us up the col – small steps, breathe deep. He set the pace, slow and steady – the same every day. John told us that it had taken him at least seven years to work out this pace. Often it was like meditation in the mountains, this day it was the only pace that would get us to the top.

Even so, John ended up carrying two extra packs for trekkers who were suffering from the heat and the push to the top of the col.

We reached the top of the col and the group spread out exhausted. We took off our boots and socks and lay in the sun. It was still hot, but there was always a beautiful mountain breeze that was our reward after a difficult climb.

Just before leaving the col, I took some footage that I have included here. I don’t know if this shows any better the difficulty of the trek, but it is the best that I have.

Funny, as I listen to this I hear myself saying that we have an easy descent coming up. I don’t think there were any easy descents on the TMB. What we did have was a long steep descent followed by a second climb up another col then for some of us a crazy 700m running descent in the gathering thunder back down to Chamonix to catch a bus to our campsite.

As the joints and muscles heal back here in Canada, I can say that this was easily one of the most challenging treks I have ever taken part in – right up there with Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Ausangate Range in Peru. What continues to bring all this together is the wonderful camaraderie of our Climb for Kids group and the knowledge that we are doing all this ultimately to raise money to help transform lives back home.

Oh yes, there is plenty more to write about the TMB, but just like our recovery, I need to be patient and let the process play out. This was a spectacular trek with great people all for a wonderful cause. It deserves the time needed for reflection.

We all achieved something important and special, something worth celebrating, something that teaches each of us something.  There is lots more that needs to be written. Lots more to learn.

Tour de Mont Blanc – Day Eight for Climb for Kids

Our route after 8 days of trekking, we are now heading back to Chamonix

The map doesn’t do justice to the challenges of the trail. We have trekked around the Mont Blanc Massif for 8 days now and we have two challenging days ahead of us including a 1500 m ascent on our last day.

It is certainly hard to put into words what we are doing. Most of us have a good amount of experience trekking in the mountains and I think all of us would agree that this is the most challenging trek we have undertaken. Every day starts with a dramatic ascent followed by an equally trying descent into another beautiful valley.

The scenery is staggeringly beautiful. We are constantly introduced to another scene of mountains, rivers and valleys. To get these views you have to work hard. Our days start before 6 in the morning and the last two days we have been on the trail by 7:10 am to avoid the heat.

A few things for starters. The TMB is an international community on the move. Almost everyone greets you with bonjour, buongiorno, the occasional kon’nichiwa and hello. People from all over the world are here trekking for the day, the week or like us, the full two weeks.

There are lots of young people here. They are fit and fast and many of them are carrying their full packs on the journey. This is really encouraging to see. I am thinking that if more and more people, especially the young, start trekking through these beautiful mountains maybe we will start looking at the world not as a place to make a profit for the very few but as our precious home that needs to be preserved.

The days are long so there is lots of time to think. Every day we see evidence of global warming. As our guide John explains, the alpine glaciers are sick. They are eroding at a dramatic rate. Still, we have crazy politicians who aren’t convinced of the natural emergency we are facing with global warming. We are not spending enough time in the wilderness and we are not heeding the messages that are truly evident if we take the time to look and see.

Today is a rest day and we really need it. Yesterday we trekked for 11 hours and climbed 1000 m at the beginning of the day descending 1400 m to our camp. The group is in very good spirits, but our bones and muscles are sore. They will recover for tomorrow as we take on the two most challenging days of the trek.

Every day we get stronger. The ascents of the next two days don’t look too bad even though at the beginning of the TMB these would have been very difficult. Every day on the TMB your body gets stronger. The muscles adapt and the long hours harden the body and the mind.

Our bodies are the vehicle that are bringing us through these mountains. We are learning and growing on a journey that is transforming us. We chose the right type of trip to highlight Christie Lake Kids. Kids live lives of struggle and are transformed by Christie Lake programs and people. We honour their work as we saunter in the mountains.

 

Your Professional Life is Declining and It’s About Time

I have been rummaging around for something to write about for a few weeks now. Our trek around Mt. Blanc starts later this week, so soon, there will be lots to write about soon. Then, a friend sent me this great essay by Arthur Brooks entitled Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think. This is a great essay and if you are over the age of 20, I suggest that you read it.

There is lots of wisdom here and a fair amount of positive self-talk. Arthur Brooks is 51 and very accomplished. The essay reads a little like a therapy session for someone approaching the inevitable mid-life crisis. But it is the crisis of the accomplished written from the perspective of one who knows that they have done great things.

I don’t know if I can totally relate to what he is writing here, but he is a wonderful writer and I do think anyone can benefit from his perspective on growing older and going through transitions.

It is interesting that we live in a society that demographically, is growing older. The baby boom bulge still moves through the fair outdistancing in numbers the young generations that follow. Funny, in advertising, movies and media, in general, it is the young who triumph, but this is not a reflection of reality.

But, I digress. Brooks focusses in the essay on an encounter on an airplane with a man who enjoyed glory and recognition but now languishes in relative obscurity. He listens in as the man despairs of his life and the loss of fame and importance:

I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but couldn’t help it. I listened with morbid fascination, forming an image of the man in my head as they talked. I imagined someone who had worked hard all his life in relative obscurity, someone with unfulfilled dreams—perhaps of the degree he never attained, the career he never pursued, the company he never started.

He is shocked later to realize that the man is not labouring in obscurity, but is world famous! Here’s the rub – those who achieve great things in life are doomed to suffer later obscurity – unless, and this is the theme of the essay – they avoid the trap of not seeing their way into some new version of themselves.

In the essay, he writes about two people who have come down to us as great thinkers and creators – Charles Darwin and J.S. Bach. One Darwin grew increasingly unhappy and dissatisfied with his life the older he got. The other Bach transformed himself from a performer to a teacher. His later years were happy and he continued to work right to the end.

Depressed in his later years, he wrote to a close friend, “I have not the heart or strength at my age to begin any investigation lasting years, which is the only thing which I enjoy.”

The difference between the two was how they dealt with transition in life. Many of the most innovative and creative thinkers actually experience decline relatively early in life. Brooks writes that as a young performer, he was a gifted French-horn player. Early on, he had visions of being a great, famous player. This was not to be. By the age of 20, he already saw evidence that his performing skills were in decline:

But then, in my early 20s, a strange thing happened: I started getting worse. To this day, I have no idea why. My technique began to suffer, and I had no explanation for it. Nothing helped. I visited great teachers and practiced more, but I couldn’t get back to where I had been. Pieces that had been easy to play became hard; pieces that had been hard became impossible.

While he continued to play professionally for another 10 years, he never recovered the lustre of his early playing days. At the age of 30, he abandoned his musical career and returned to school.

From this time on he started learning a really valuable lesson. Sometimes it is truly wise to leave before you really think you are ready, before you think your time is up. To be able to transition on to the next stage in life, you have to move on, you can’t linger.

This is a really hard thing to do. For so many of us, we are defined by what we do. Our profession can define our lives, our status gives us our value. To move beyond this can mean a loss of self and a loss of status.

I understand this. Maybe this article was written for me. Leaving education at the top of my game has often made me wonder if I did the right thing. There is certainly some status that comes with being a principal. People pay attention to you. You are sought after because you are seen as a leader in the education system. When you leave, that status quickly dissipates.

This is OK if you realize you need to make a transition to another stage of life. You can’t be like the man on the plane or Charles Darwin lamenting that your best years are behind you. You have to remake yourself.

Brooks writes about the four stages in life or ashramas in the Hindu tradition. The key is to move through the stages and not get stuck in the middle. It is the second stage – Grihastha where people can get overly attached to power, fame, status and all that comes with it. In Brooks’ analysis, Darwin got stuck in the second stage and never grew from there.

What I want to learn more about is the third phase – Vanaprastha, meaning retirement or ‘into the forest. Vanaprastha calls for a shift in focus away from the status that defines us earlier in life towards a focus on spirituality, service and wisdom. We can’t make it to this important stage unless we let go, possibly at the height of our status. To hang on only leads to stagnation:

But the wisdom of Hindu philosophy—and indeed the wisdom of many philosophical traditions—suggests that you should be prepared to walk away from these rewards before you feel ready. Even if you’re at the height of your professional prestige, you probably need to scale back your career ambitions in order to scale up your metaphysical ones.

This really speaks to me and maybe this will be a guidepost for the future. I can’t hold on to the past and clinging to what I did before in education results in the frustration of diminishing returns. Education is not my life anymore and I need to progress and focus more on what challenges exist in developing wisdom and learning how to serve better.

Brooks finishes off with four goals that he is going to work on. I think I will borrow these and see where it takes me. First, – Jump – walk away on your own terms. In other words, don’t wait to be pushed out!

Next – Serve – I think I am getting this one figured out. There is no question (as we pack our bags) that there is a true richness to the work we are doing in developing the Climb for Kids project. We leave in a day for 14 days of trekking around Mont Blanc and our group is getting close to the $35,000 mark in funds raised for recreational programming for inner city kids here in Ottawa.

The next two – Worship and Connect – are a work in progress, but I see the wisdom in both of these goals. I really see the need to connect better with people. Not necessarily more people, but connect more deeply with family and some friends. I do need to work on Worship – one of the institutions I have left behind as I transition is the traditional church – here is a goal that needs more attention and thought on my part.

I am writing this post mainly for myself. Like Brooks, I think I am engaging in some positive self-talk. Life is a wonderful journey, but you have to keep moving and continually grow. The sticky point has been reached and I am slowly moving to new ground.

Lots to think about as I saunter through the mountains in the next two weeks.

 

The Importance of Preparing: Christie Lake Climb for Kids Goes Back to the Mountains

We are leaving in 20 days.

For seven months our group of trekkers have been training, fundraising and learning together to get ready for an epic journey around Mont Blanc. Three countries, 170 km. With only 20 days before we leave my attention is turning towards the mental preparation necessary to do this trek well.

Just like last year in Peru, everything changes when you make it to the mountain. All the planning and preparation comes down to the 14 days we are in the mountains. The word that resonates with me right now is preparation. Educators all know about how to prep, it is what makes all the difference for a successful school year. Getting ready for the Tour de Mont Blanc is like one long prep. We certainly have had the time, now we are moving to the front of the room.

The prep takes place on several levels but I am not going to catalogue it here. That is not interesting at all. But there are elements that are good to write about.

First, training the body is an essential part of the voyage and it is really liberating.

Focussing on your body and seeing it as your vehicle for success is not something we normally do. We usually take our bodies and our physical health for granted. Cars take us to work and even if we work out we seldom see ourselves as the vehicle. I really like the Chase Mountains series of Youtube videos because he is all about prepping for the climb.

The video above is really helpful as he breaks down the type of physical preparation you need to do to be successful on the mountain. Take a look at this video – it is pretty short. The one big thing, the one thing that takes a really long time is mobility – up to 3-6 months! My mobility is terrible, but I have been working at it for months. Recently (too late for sure) I have started doing more yoga. My 61-year old body simply isn’t as mobile as it used to be.

Mobility training, certainly a work in progress

One other person who I follow who really speaks to preparation is Elia Saikaly. I have followed him for years and he has spoken to students in three schools I have worked in. He has lots to say to kids, especially those who struggle to fit in. As a young person, Elia lived on the streets, got kicked out of several schools and rebelled against all authority. His story of turning things around is compelling.

The Unclimbed Series featuring Elia and fellow climber Gabriel Filippi is really interesting. In episode 3, Elia focusses on preparation. This is really worth watching if you plan to take on any really challenging task. You don’t have to be planning for the summit of an 8000m mountain. Your challenge is unique to yourself. The preparation, however, has to be done. It is partly physical, mental and I would say spiritual as well.

It is a comfort to be focussing on the physical. The trip planning and the fundraising are just about done. We are on track to raise $35,000 for Christie Lake Kids and with last year’s campaign, we have raised over $60,000 for inner city kids in Ottawa. One program – STEM education for girls actually started because of the fundraising we are doing.

Preparation allows for transformation. Physical prepping transforms your body and mind. Good program prepping is transforming the lives of low-income kids in Ottawa.

Transformative Recreation® is our unique way to engage kids in having fun, but also a powerful way to help them develop the values & skills that will help them to change the way they look at themselves, their relationships & the world around them.

CLK Website

Good preparation allows you to tell important stories – Elia has done this for years. The Climb for Albinism is a wonderful example of how this can all come together to produce something important and good.

These trips need careful prepping. Preparation can lead to something important. What is true for the classroom is equally true for adventures that raise awareness and support Transformative Recreation.

There is lots of video material to look at in this post. It all helps to explain why we prepare. Here is one more, a quick summary of what we have done this year to get ready for Climb for Kids II.

Soon we will have an inReach map up on the Christie Lake Kids website so you can follow us in the trek around Mont Blanc. Hope you follow us. Hope you contribute.

what our Inreach map will look like – it will be updated every day with new waypoints showing where we are going.

When we return, we still start to prep for Year III. Life is all about good prep.