The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health in the World of Education

There is a stigma attached to posts on mental health. People are afraid to deal with mental health issues. On Twitter, there will be lots of ‘likes’ and maybe a few retweets, but seldom is there anything else.

So I don’t expend much attention will be paid to this post – too bad.

The stigma surrounding mental illness is a big problem especially for principals and superintendents who actually witness many people suffering from mental health issues – teachers, students, parents. They have no training in this area and I think, tend to be less than empathetic. As a principal, I know we seldom discussed these topics and any form of distress was easily seen as a sign of weakness.

As a principal, I had an advantage. I have first-hand experience of the impact mental illness can have on an individual. I also had nine years of experience working as a guidance counsellor before I became an administrator. I easily saw more people in distress as an administrator than I ever saw as a counsellor. At least I knew what these people were going through. Most administrators do not and that is not a good situation.

I witnessed this deficit at all levels of senior administration with one notable exception.

The work being done in the  campaign is really important and I am looking forward to participating in the #Ontedchat twitter chat next Wednesday, January 24th, at 8:30 PM. This would also be a great topic for a Voiced Radio podcast!

I hope other people, the people who are in positions of responsibility listen to this podcast – they really should. The stigma surrounding mental illness needs to disappear. The fear needs to disappear. People need to step up and do much more to support those who suffer.

Empathy – We Still Have a Way to Go

 

We are coming up to ‘Bell Let’s Talk‘ on January 31st. This is a day to have an open dialogue on mental health issues in Canada. That’s a very good thing.

Twitter is not always the best forum for discussions on important topics like mental health. I have already seen people ‘like’ tweets about the importance of reaching out if you are someone in distress.

It is so easy to ‘like’. It is much harder to sit there and be present with someone who is really struggling. As someone who has suffered from mental illness in the past, I know people need more than a retweet.

I am happy that this topic is reaching beyond the shadows and getting some publicity. I am seeing people like Chris Nihmey and Laurie Azzi who are doing really important work on social media getting out the message that people need to talk. This is essential and I think their work could actually save lives.

What we need is more people entering this dialogue in a really meaningful way. I remember what it was like to be a struggling educator with serious mental health concerns. I did reach out to people when I was suffering from debilitating anxiety. In all cases, at work at least, my efforts to reach out were rebuffed.

In one case that I have written about before, I told a superintendent that undue stress was a trigger for anxiety. Incredibly, my honest admission was ignored.

Very fortunately for me when I reached out at home, I was understood and loved. That has made all the difference.

I learned a lot from my own mental health struggles and I am better for what I went through. I do however struggle with those in places of authority who are still unable to be empathetic when it comes to the people who work for them.

I have never called out the superintendent that was so insensitive to my own admissions and I won’t do it now. I only hope that they have learned something in the past few years. I hope they have learned a certain degree of empathy.

I am adding a Twitter Moment to this post. It is part of an incredible conversation on Twitter on the need for empathy amongst educators for educators. There are some pretty stark posts included here. I really hope that by writing these tweets, people have found some healing and understanding.

Good that there is a day of awareness. We still have a lot of growing to do.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The IWitness Challenge: Make the World Stronger than Hate

I don’t usually post from one blog to another, but today is the exception. This is such a good learning opportunity for students and educators I just had to put my Discovery Education post on this blog. If you are an educator, I really encourage you to examine this creative opportunity.

Educators have a powerful opportunity to educate and inspire students to make change now.

The 2018 IWitness Video Challenge, created by USC Shoah Foundation and in partnership with Discovery Education, provides an actionable way to promote equality, challenge bias, discuss tolerance, and engage students in a service-learning project that inspires action.

I Witness Viseo Challenge

The people in charge of developing partnerships for Discovery education are to be applauded. At a time where hate and divisiveness are part of our daily dialogue, Discovery Education is showing true leadership by encouraging the opposite – hope. They are doing this in the best way possible, by putting out a challenge to young people, the ones who will create a better world sometime soon.

This is not a partnership I know anything about.  All the more reason to write about it here and learn with all of you.

The USC Shoah Foundation is an incredible organization and they offer a wonderful teaching tool for students and educators. The Foundation is linked to the Institute for Visual History and Education which is dedicated to making audio-visual interviews with survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides. It is the perfect partner for Discovery Education.

The contest calls for community action in a similar way to the newly launched STEM Connectseries. Discovery Education is again showing their unique ability to go beyond their own walls to reach out and link the classroom with the outside world.

In this contest, students will listen to testimonies of survivors and witnesses of genocide and become inspired to counter hate. They will complete research-based and standards-aligned activities, culminating in a community action project. To compete in the Video Challenge, students will document their work in a video essay, which will share their message with the world.

I Witness Video Challenge

When I see things like this I truly wish I was back in the classroom!

There is more being written recently about banning cell phones from classrooms and the addictive effects of social media. I can see how this will go, with more calls from people who really don’t understand social media for its banning in schools.

Incredible contests and partnerships like this really need to be promoted so that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Social media using curated resources like Discovery Education can empower and transform our students and then, hopefully, transform a society that is suffering from way too much distrust and negativity.

Prizes for students reach as high as $5000 scholarships and participating schools are eligible for grants up to $2500.

It is really easy to sign up for the video challenge. The steps are outlined here. As always with Discovery Education partnership projects, there is an excellent teacher’s guide that you can see and download here.

I hope you can sign up your class for this unique challenge. We need more hope and we need to push back and create beautiful things!

 

Who Monitors Education in Ontario?

Trustees have a fundamental duty to rebuild the essential democratic linkages between citizens and board employees, who are in essence public servants. How to do that, is a fundamental question to all those that aspire to elected office.

Four Questions Ottawa Citizens Should Ask Before Voting for Their New School Trustees

Education is political and to forget this can lead to fundamental problems on how the system is run and managed in Ontario and other jurisdictions across the country.

In an excellent post this week, Four Questions Ottawa Citizens Should Ask Before Voting for Their New School Trustees, Dr Dragos Popa from the University of Ottawa has laid out four challenges for people running as public trustee in the 2018 Municipal elections. It would be a very good idea for all candidates to read this post and come up with clear answers to his challenges.

The public takes education for granted in this province. Unless you have a child in the system and even if you do have a child in the system, very few people have any sense of how public education is managed.

Even at the provincial level, there seems to be very little political will to seriously look at governance issues in public education. It seems that politicians and the public, in general, have surrendered up public scrutiny of the system to school board officials mainly because education is best left up to the experts.

This is a mistake and can lead to serious consequences. Dr Popa correctly points out that schools are nowhere nearly as ‘user-friendly’ as they should be. There is not the sense of public accountability that is more in evidence at the different levels of government. School officials are able to act with impunity because they know their actions are seldom challenged in the forum of public opinion.

To be fair, our education politicians are at a disadvantage. Years ago under Mike Harris, public education trustees salaries were discontinued, replaced with an honorarium as low as $5000.00 a year (The Fewer Schools Boards Act and the Toronto District School Board: Educational Restructuring 1997- 2003). School authority trustees are paid an honorarium at the same rate as was paid on December 1,1996 (Good Governance Guide, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association).

The problem with this is that politicians paid an honorarium cannot be expected to put in the time necessary to act as independent arbiters of school board staff policies and decisions. When it comes to governance issues in Ontario they simply do not play an effective role.

This may sound overly harsh, but it is not a criticism of the people who basically act as volunteers in the management of education in Ontario. I have worked as an unpaid board member before and I know that over time, a board member will become a ‘captive’ of management staff, the people responsible for supplying board members with the information they need to do their jobs.

This is a problem. Trustees are at best part-time employees of their school boards while the people they are charged with monitoring are full-time officials charged with maintaining a system that largely benefits these officials.

There is little public accountability in this system and there seems to be little interest in changing this dynamic. In fact, in a Globe and Mail article by Caroline Alphonso written in 2014 and updated in 2017, attempts by public school trustees in several school boards to raise their honorariums were reversed by the provincial government (Ontario orders school board trustees to cancel pay raises).

This leads me back to the original post by Dr Popa. He is correct in offering up important questions for new trustees to consider before the election, but do we have a system that actually encourages the necessary independence to actually challenge a system that is no longer accountable?

Is this a system that is truly public and accountable? Can we do better than this?

 

The Proust Questionnaire for Educators

Last night we tried something a little different for our Voiced Radio broadcast – First Hand Stories. Heather had the idea of doing the Proust Questionnaire for educators. You may have heard of the Proust Questionnaire on CBC Radio. The real questions are below and are certainly more meaningful and weighty than ours. But, our last broadcast was a bit heavy so we wanted to do something light.

The idea behind the original questionnaire was to reveal your true nature. Could our edition reveal the true nature of the educator? I’m not sure, but I have included our 15-minute broadcast below so you can decide.

Our Proust Questionnaire for Educators 
  1. Indoor or outdoor duty
  2. Keurig or drip coffee maker
  3. Online or paper assessments
  4. Whole summer or stretched out in increments
  5. Mr. D – funny or not funny?
  6. Hockey or soccer?
  7. Blogging or podcasting?
  8. Bluegrass or jazz?
  9. Staff meetings in the morning or after school?
  10. Favourite month of the school year?
  11. If you were a school mascot what would you be?
  12. Muffins or doughnuts at a staff meeting?
  13. What superhero would make the best teacher?
  14. Snow days – good or bad?

If you want to see the originals you can see them here.

On Becoming Groundless

When near the end of day, life has drained
Out of light, and it is too soon
For the mind of night to have darkened things,

No place looks like itself, loss of outline
Makes everything look strangely in-between,
Unsure of what has been, or what might come.

In this wan light, even trees seem groundless.
In a while it will be night, but nothing
Here seems to believe the relief of darkness.

You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.

“The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.”

You cannot lay claim to anything;
In this place of dusk,
Your eyes are blurred;
And there is no mirror.

Everyone else has lost sight of your heart
And you can see nowhere to put your trust;
You know you have to make your own way through.

As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.

What is being transfigured here in your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.

from: “To Bless the Space Between Us” by John O’Donohue. Pub in 2008 by Doubleday.

I wanted to start this post with all of John O’Donohue’s piece on groundlessness. To put just a portion of this great piece in this post would be an injustice.

It is a good time to write about groundlessness. Not just because of the time of year where everything is blurred by indistinct light and frigid temperatures, but because being groundless is a quality of the human existence.

We don’t always understand the necessity of becoming groundless and it certainly makes us uncomfortable. But, being uncomfortable and feeling the ground shift beneath our feet is an essential ingredient we need if we are going to learn and grow as thinking human beings.

As for me, I think I have a few reasons for feeling groundless.

I am a year into retirement. I have gone from someone who was totally engaged in my job as a school administrator to someone who is now cut off from my former community. I feel that what once gave me value has disappeared. This is OK, I think that I made the false assumption that being an education leader gave me some value and importance. This can be wiped away very quickly, especially if you are someone who was a bit of a fly in the ointment.

While it is a difficult decision to cut yourself off, I am convinced it was very wise to take this step.

I am in the process of remaking myself. It is very hard to do, but I am learning in the process. Writers and philosophers like John O’Donohue and Pema Chodron believe that we learn best in the times of discomfort or even crisis. I truly believe this. We need to go through the times where the ground is not steady, where our reference points are blurred.

To avoid doing this is to avoid learning and experiencing.

31 Days of Posting – So, How’s it Going?

So, how is it going?

I wrote a few days ago that I was going to post 31 times, probably in 31 days, but I was a bit vague about that.

I figured the posts would be all be about Discovery Education, and I can do that, there is so much to write about. But why limit oneself, there is so much to talk and write about.

Let’s see how things are going so far on January 5th and look into the near future for some inspiration.

I started out OK with a post to this blog and to my Discovery Education blog – 31 Days of Posting – This Time all about Discovery Education – so I don’t know if there is an arbiter for things like this, but does this count for two?

Right now I need to say this post has nothing to do with boasting, the chances of me getting all 31 posts done are not great. This is sort of a public declaration that can act as a bit of a motivator or maybe even a prompt for further posts.

Glad we got that out of the way!

I have been able to get one post off about the Social Studies Techbook by Discovery Education and STEM Connect, a new initiative by Discovery. These were fun to do because I am learning something, actually learning and writing at the same time.

I was able to get one more post in all about yoga – a deeply personal post about exploring my deeper side. The illustration below gives you some sense of the tone on that one.

So, I’m stalling now, I don’t think I have made the grade. Today is January 5th and even if I count this one I think I am a tad short. The judgement is in, no you can’t count double posting as two separate posts.

So, maybe I can make it up to you. What can I do for the rest of the month?

I would love to write a post for my friends at Innovate My School. These are lovely people and I really like them. They are always so encouraging and that means the world to someone who plugs away at writing.

I can write something for Voiced Radio. These folks, very much like Innovate My School are my muse simply by being positive and encouraging.

I will certainly continue to write about Discovery Education for the same reasons. These people are creative, positive and empowering – how could I not write for them?

There are other topics I want to look at in January. My partner sent me an article called The Power of Apology published in Psychology Today. I want to read this and write about this topic. It is really important and this is something I have been thinking about for a long time. More later, I hope.

Other topics are bound to come up. Writing about photography would be interesting as I have so much to learn on how to really take good pictures – this is something I aspire to do better at.

taking photos is a wonderfully creative process, I want to learn more about how to do this well

The best thing about pushing yourself to write is that you never know what you will come up with but everything takes on a special note because there may be something to write about.

Writing is a gift and I have a whole community of people who appreciate what I do. You are all my muse and ultimately during this challenge, I write for you.

No Yoga for Old Men!

Have you ever done a downward dog with your dog? I have. I think this actually sums up my yoga prowess at this stage of my life!

I am finding that at 59, things don’t seem to move the way they used to. Today to make a statement against the crazy -30 C weather outside, I did 35 minutes of yoga inside. Just like my 31 days of posting challenge, I think it might be a good idea to try 30 days of yoga!

So, why does everyone who instructs yoga look like a lithe and graceful elf? I am more like a lumbering, wheezing stickman. All the joints hurt. Forget any idea of bending from my waist and touching my forehead to the floor. If you watch me closely, you may notice a slight, painful bend, but the floor is light years away.

I do yoga most weeks. We have a group in the community who work out for 90 minutes in a painful collective therapy session. I like it. I like pain I guess.

Being strategic, I hide off to the side with my friend, neither of us can really do the poses, but we are very good at the groaning and complaining. Fortunately for us, we have a yoga instructor who has the patience of Job and she never gives up on us.

I will just speak for me, but is it possible to turn into a petrified man? I think I can actually feel my joints calcify as I stretch out.

yup you got it right Leonard

How did this happen? How will I keep this up for 30 days of yoga? What is that new pain in my hip?

Our yoga instructor says its the crazy weather we have been having that causes the pain. My partner says I am just old. Our dog gets to lick my face when I do a downward dog.

So, who knows?

I do remember trekking in the Western Highlands, 26 kilometres a day over really rough terrain for a week.

 

I was there, I did this

I do remember making it to the top of Kilimanjaro, even though I fell after and tore a quad muscle (maybe that’s the problem).

I think I took this shot, but high altitude plays with your memory

So, I will struggle through with Adriene’s yoga, she can’t see me anyway. I will continue to go to our group yoga sessions and I will continue to hike and climb whenever I can.

I ache, but so did Leonard, so I am in pretty good company.

31 Days of Posting – This Time all about Discovery Education

This time of year is great for looking back and planning for the future. Today, I have again pledged to post for 31 days, this time I will be writing about Discovery Education. Last year I started my retirement by pledging to write for 30 days. I don’t think I made it, but I did get out lots of posts last year. maybe I will make it this year.

I have decided to focus on Discovery Education. Why?  First, I received a #Deanie from Dean Shareski, a wonderful educator and a great supporter of teachers. I was pretty happy to get some recognition from Dean, I have a great deal of respect for his writing and his opinions.

Recognition is always great. It is a terrific motivator. When I read Dean’s tweet, I realized I really needed to step up my game on my Discovery Education blog – a site I had started to promote the great resources available for students and teachers.

The second thing that has me posting today is some of the work I am doing for Discovery Education. Discovery is currently revamping some of their Science Techbook material to get ready for state-wide adoption of the Techbook next March.

This is something that ministry people in Ontario should consider. Discovery will actually go back into their own material and modify it to fit the curriculum expectations of a state (or province) that adopts their material. They can do this quickly because they have a whole host of writers and editors that work with them on a regular basis.

The Techbook series, includes three separate editions, one each for Science, Math and Social Studies. In each Techbook there is a huge collection of excellent digital material. As in earlier blogs, I need to upload material to my blog as people who are not subscribed to Discovery Education can’t access all of the digital content.

Here is a screenshot of a grade 6-8 Earth Science lesson on fossils.

On the right-hand side, you will notice a text button. Many of the Science Techbook lessons are now available in a variety of reading levels. This material can be directly assigned to students with a simple link. All material is divided up into sections starting with Engage and moving on to Elaborate with STEM plus a Model Lesson this all follows the 5E Inquiry Learning model.

The Model Lesson is quite detailed and would be a great assist to a teacher. As we don’t usually have science or math specialists in elementary school these model lessons would be an invaluable assist as teachers prepare to teach new science and math concepts. I have uploaded the Teacher Preparation section of this lesson to Google Drive so you can get an idea of the material included.

The Model Lesson also has a section that shows the alignment between lesson content and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core.
These are American curriculum standards, however, if this material was adopted by the province of Ontario, the material would be adapted to comply with Ontario Science Curriculum. That is one of the great selling points of Discovery Education material. It can be quickly and accurately adapted to fit new jurisdictions if adopted.

All this may sound like a huge sales pitch, but I am doing this on my own. I believe in the way Discovery education does things because their content is excellent and they really believe in teachers. I support them because they expend so much creative energy bringing educators together.

So, off we go again. Let’s see if I can get closer to 31 posts this time. There is certainly enough to write about!

One Word for 2018: Radio #OnewordOnt

I am always looking for good writing prompts. Without prompts, it is hard to keep inspired enough to come up with new posts and regular writing is something I plan to continue to focus on as I start my second year in retirement from a formal position in education.

Today’s prompt came out of a discussion on Voiced Radio with Stephen Hurley and Doug Peterson. These two are an inspiration to me and much of what I write these days comes from discussions initiated by one or both of these active educators. Their show, This Week in Ontario Edublogs is broadcast every week and they have now reached their 40th episode.

While discussing blog posts from the past week, they came up with a post from Julie Balen, #OnewordOnt Introduction.

She writes:

There are many reasons why one would take on this challenge, but for most, it comes down to focus and intentionality. Having one word through which to “see” your practice, to guide your work, and to reflect on your professional learning gives you a chance to be really intentional about your professional growth.

If you continue reading, you can see lots of great bloggers who have added their words to the One Word Challenge. It came out in discussion today that none of the contributors came from men! Julie responded via Twitter during the broadcast making the conversation even more dynamic!

So, I need to take up the challenge. I choose Radio. Maybe not the kind of word that is used as part of a challenge like this, but this is what I came up with and I’m sticking to it.

I choose Radio because it offers wonderful learning and connecting opportunities for the new year, especially through Voiced Radio.

I also choose Radio because I was inspired by my partner and fellow broadcaster and blogger Heather Swail. Heather wrote a great post about radio last week – here is the beginning:

A single voice punctuating the dark. Light, bantering voices filling your head. Storytellers mesmerizing with pauses and intonations. Music lulling you to sleep. Radio has been my companion for so many years, in light and dark

Heather SwailThe Seductive Power of Radio

Radio works for me because it represents the opportunity to connect with others. Last week we did a great broadcast led by Brad Shreffler capping off a week of creative connection making all under the hashtag #voicedgratitude. We talked live on radio for over two hours. It was a great community discussion and very interestingly, very few of the discussion participants knew each other a year ago.

There is still something magic about radio that Twitter can’t replace. Radio allows you to hear the other person. Radio tells stories, radio fuels the imagination.

So Radio is my word. What will the new year bring? What will year two of VoicEd Radio be like? For many of us, this is a new barely tried medium, there is lots of room for growth.

A year ago, even before the first broadcast on VoicEd, Derek Rhodenizer and Stephen Hurley talked about the concept. You can hear the first of many rich conversations here.

Connecting and learning this year involves Radio. Where will we be 12 months from now?