Growth Mindset Can Work – But Who Needs to Grow?

I was looking for some inspiration today for a post after listening to my wife debrief after another exasperating day working with a particularly rude and difficult child. It is very frustrating to hear about her bad days because she is a gifted teacher and does wonders with intermediate students. My natural inclination in these situations is to look for ways to mute destructive students like this so that their impact on their school surroundings is minimized.

I can no longer affect the outcome of these challenging situations, I am not longer a principal. So, I write.

I am reflecting on the unfairness of this situation. Why does one child have the ability to disrupt, frustrate and block efforts that are being made to help them get an education?

This is probably one of the most frustrating situations in education. Children who for a wide variety of reasons do their best to oppose those who are committed to helping.

Sometimes Twitter can help with a prompt to help reflect on these exasperating situations. Today I found something by Dr Stuart Shanker

As teachers, this is an imperative reframe:  “I wasn’t trained for this.” To:  “Where can I learn more?” I love hearing about real experiences with the “growth mindset” model – will you share yours?

The growth mindset here has to do with educators, not students. Many children are in no way prepared to change their mindset. Who knows what has caused the blockage that leads to disruptive and destructive behaviour? The change in mindset needs to come from the educator.

The challenges in the poster at the top of the post are instructive. What happens when we open our minds to vastly different ways of doing things to support a student who is really struggling?

Can we be flexible enough as a system to adapt to the needs of a struggling child?

I think in many cases if we are able to start this work early enough we can make a difference. We must be ready to throw out everything in order to do this. Rework the system to fit the child. Design a system that uses the talents and intelligence of committed educators to affect change.

I have seen this work. In my last school, we had a wonderful boy in grade 3 who really challenged the entire school. He started off with us one block a day and even that was a struggle for all of us.

We had to rework things to make things work for this child. He was held accountable, but he also became the focus of a group of very compassionate, talented educators. Gradually, over time, his day lengthened. There were still the outbursts, the anger and the foul words, but we persisted. We adapted. I would like to think that we grew. He flourished.

Unfortunately, we lost touch with the boy when he was moved to another city. I like to think that we had all turned a corner and that given more time he would survive and thrive.

I think at the worst moments, we have to think back to our stories of growth. Even in the most unlikely circumstances, good things can happen.

I am not fooled into believing that positive change happens all the time. It may only happen once in awhile and it may not be longterm. What is important is the belief that we can adapt our mindset to bring about success in some cases and this makes all the difference.

In the case of the student my wife is struggling with there is a long road ahead that will not be completed by the conclusion of this school year. Maybe in another place and time something will spark a difference.

In Ottawa, many of our high-needs schools work with an organization called Christie Lake Kids. Their mission is to transform children through recreation. They call it Transformative Recreation or T-REC.

Through participation in the T-Rec model, the children and youth we serve develop a greater capacity for self-regulation, self-efficacy, social skills, adult monitoring, and positive relationships.

T_REC Model Christie Lake Kids

I mention Christie Lake Kids here because I think that the mindset change we need to employ will involve others outside the education system.

Maybe the counter statement to ‘We don’t have enough resources’ should really be ‘But what resources, especially in the community are we not using to their full potential?’

We certainly can do a better job at thinking outside the box. We also need to take a moment and really applaud the teachers like my wife who go in every day to face the unending challenges of dealing with the students who challenge.

May we learn to support them better.

Climbing to Ausangate: Climb for Kids!

The road to Ausangate covers lots of ground. We are now 16 climbers and we have already raised $10,000 for Christie Lake Kids. So, the climb goes well.

We are into our sixth week of indoor training, hurling big balls full of sand, hauling heavy sledges laden with weights, doing deep knee bends. In a few days, we start training on trails, learning the mountain step and the cowboy walk.

The group will now start to move outside to get used to hiking together. Time to check out equipment too

It is pretty remarkable to see a group of people learn to work together. Last week, we held the first in a series of group fundraisers, this one at Fatboys Southern Smokehouse in the Ottawa Market. After the expenses were covered, the group made over $4200 in one night. Ticket sales were great and we had a terrific silent auction that really boosted the amount raised. Fatboys and The Clocktower came together to offer the best raffle prize – a keg of beer and a $100.00 gift certificate. It always amazes me how generous Ottawa businesses are when it comes to events like this.

We had a great silent auction, all sorts of interesting items from birdhouses, Star Wars original film to park benches!

There is so much that goes into these projects, most long before you ever set foot on the trail.

We have lots of fundraising to go. We will certainly beat our original fundraising goal and I think all the climbers will be able to reach their personal goals. We still have to start stair training and we need to learn how we trek together as a group.

Some people don’t really understand what we are doing. Does fundraising really have to involve so much work? I would argue that the best fundraising usually does. We have 16 committed people. We now have a great filmmaker, Garry Tutte who is going to add so much to this project. We have some sponsorship, but we really need more. We are training and learning to work together as a group. This is a lot of work, but it is so rewarding to meet a new group of people and then gather an even larger group to help you reach your fundraising goals.

A truly rich experience. So glad to have all of you with us!

The Terrible Gift

I am been listening to our latest interview on Voiced Radio. You can find it here.

Heather and I interviewed Marc Lafontaine, a great friend of ours. The title of this episode was Overcoming Adversity and there is lots to listen to carefully here.

Marc has seen his share of adversity. He is a businessman and has had many ups and downs. In the interview, he talks about the failure of one business and what he learned from this experience.

We all go through adversity at some point in our lives. Marc in this podcast does not focus on the failure, but what he learned through the whole experience. It is in the really tough times that we do the learning. You could say that this is the terrible gift.

We suffer and then we learn.

If we do not go through adversity and challenge how can we grow, how do we learn?

I would argue that we really don’t grow unless we challenge ourselves and learn to be in the moment, even the really bad ones. What we gain is the ability to love and the ability to become empathetic. Marc says this in our interview and there is tremendous wisdom in all this.

Marc is a great road biker and less than a year ago was almost killed in a terrible accident with a car. He broke most of the bones in his face and suffered a broken neck.

While he did recover from this, it has left its scars, not only on him but on his family as well.

He is still in recovery and probably will be in this process for a long time to come.

What he learned is that no matter what happens, there are no regrets, no looking back, there is only the renewed passion to live life. This is something hard for us to learn. We live in a society where bad experiences are to be avoided or masked. The dark is not to be visited it is to be hidden.

What we need to do instead is be in the moment. I know that sounds trite, but the dark times build us, they develop a stronger sense of what it means to be human. We just need to accept the bad times and have the patience to be instructed by the moment.

The best interviews we have done have been with people who have faced great adversity, Marc Lafontaine and certainly Chris Nihmey.

We have certainly been blessed that these strong people are out there telling their stories sharing their wisdom and living bravely.

Don’t reject adversity. Take on the terrible gift. Reach in deeply and learn. Then make the world better and your friends and family stronger.

Unwrap and share the terrible gift.

 

What Brings you Joy?

Driving back from Montreal on a beautiful afternoon. What brings you Joy?

It is important to always reflect on what brings you Joy. This was a particularly challenging work week, we all have them and these are the times to reflect on the positive. This may sound a bit trite, but that is how things need to go. Staying mired in the negativity engendered by some organizations doesn’t help you at all.

Look for the things in your work and life that give you joy. For me, this was a particularly wonderful interview we did for a radio broadcast we do on a regular basis. The show is called First Hand Stories and this interview was done with Chris Nihmey, a mental health advocate here in Ottawa.

Chris has an important message for all of us and he displays the courage to talk about his story to school children and the general public whenever he can. Radio is a great way to communicate ideas, sometimes stilted by email, Twitter, blogs and Facebook. It is a great creative endeavour that brings lots of joy. Our time with Chris was magical and we feel so privileged to have had some time with him to discuss such an important topic.

Here is the interview.

If you want to learn more about the work Chris is doing, you can check out his website here.

The interview is a very small part of the wonderful burst of creativity that comes out daily from Voiced Radio. I have written about Stephen Hurley and the wonderful collection of broadcasters he continues to collect under his banner. Stephen really has something going. He really gets Joy. We are totally dedicated to Voiced Radio, not just because it is an incredibly creative project, but because it is always such a positive experience.

There is no bureaucratic malaise here, no negativity, no limiting hand that slaps you down, just a positive creative pulse that sustains and provides inspiration.

What brings Joy?

Working with accepting people who appreciate your work and the time devoted to creative projects.

There are so many other organizations that really could learn a lesson from this. Do those you work with create Joy?

A photo with Chris Nihmey after our First Hand Stories interview.

 

Christie Lake Climb for Kids Takes Off!


So Climb for Kids is going to happen!

After months of planning, talking and promoting we have the 16 people we need to allow this project to take off.

Last week four more people signed on to the expedition and the entire group met for the first time at our house. This is a great group of positive people who are excited to take part in a great adventure and raise money for an organization that is actively working to change the lives of children living in poverty here in Ottawa.

All of our participants have their Canada Helps pages up and running and all have pledged to raise at least $1000.00 for Christie Lake Kids. I think they will all surpass this goal and some members have already done so.

We have group fundraisers coming up, the first one will take place on March 23 at Fatboys in the Ottawa Market. The second one will be in May.

We begin to train as a group this week and this is something that we will continue to work on together right up until the summer. This will be a tough trek at high altitude. All participants will need to be in excellent physical shape.

We are now looking into corporate sponsorship. There is a really important story to tell here and we need to have the means to do this. This will not just be the story of climbing to Ausangate, it will be the story about how Christie Lake Kids is actively engaged in changing the lives of children every day.

Rainy day ball hockey

There will be lots to write about here. It is wonderful to be working with such a positive organization that is truly committed to bringing about change in the lives of young people.

We really hope that Climb for Kids attracts donors, supporters and sponsors. Now we totally expect that this will be the first year in a project that will continue to support social transformation in the years to come.

During our first gathering, several people talked about places they would like to trek to in the years to come.

We are going to Peru this year. Where do you want to go after that?

Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself

I just listened to Joe Biden on CNN this morning. Really powerful interview. He is an intriguing person. A career politician and possibly a presidential candidate in 2020. Of course, he can get into the political fray just like any other politician, but there is something different about him and his recent political memoir, Promise Me Dad.

Grief changes you and he has had more than his fair share in life. In 1972, soon after being elected to the Senate, his wife and 13-month old daughter were killed in a car accident. In 2015, his oldest son, Beau, died of a brain tumour.

His interviews have a cut wretching honesty that we seldom hear. As a public figure, he is known as someone who reaches out to people who have gone through tragedy.  This is something he knows a great deal about.

There are some important lessons here. First, he talks a lot about his son. Beau was someone who was always positive. We hear how important this is all the time, but how many of us really live this? Beau’s relationship with his father was obviously something very special.  The title of the book comes from a conversation he had with his son where he urged his father to run for the presidency all at a time when he was dying from cancer.

Joe Biden with his sons Hunter left, and Beau, in the early 1970s.
Credit via Joe Biden

It seems to me that people who have gone through the strainer of personal grief or tragedy somehow can see life differently. There needs to be more to live for, especially when you are living with the reminder of your own story.

Today, Joe Biden responded to one of the interview questions with this line:

If you don’t believe in something bigger than yourself you will never be happy

Pretty powerful.
This helps to reflect on some of the interchanges I have had with people this past week.
It has been a big week. We have now started fundraising for our Climb for Kids! project and this is always a challenge. Asking people for money really opens you up in ways that can be uncomfortable. One person, for whom in the past we have done lots of volunteer work for asked not to receive any of my emails about the campaign because ‘it doesn’t involve me in any way’. Another person chose this week to call me out for a note I had sent him around the time of my father’s death. It wasn’t a note I am proud of, but I wasn’t really at my best.
I mention these interactions because the negative can have such a profound impact. Most times it would be much better to remain positive or just keep certain comments to one’s self. We all do better if we can get out of our own petty worlds and just believe in something bigger than ourselves.
So as the week went on I looked back on the comments of supporters from last year’s fundraising climb to Mt. Kilimanjaro. These notes are positive and so affirming and they celebrate the attempt to be something bigger. Sometimes when confronted with the negative it is so much better to seek out the positive.
I was really struck by Joe Biden’s interview today. I was taken by the way this man takes solace and strength from his family as I do. I was encouraged by his and his son’s determination to look to the positive.
A son’s affirmation of the father is a powerful message. I have that and those who can’t see beyond themselves will just have to take the back seat.

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!

 

The Education Corporation

For me, one of the most interesting books has been The Corporation. I read it years ago and it still sticks with me. The Youtube version of chapter one gives a good summary of some of the main ideas behind the book. A synopsis of the book includes the following:

One hundred and fifty years ago, the corporation was a relatively insignificant entity. Today, it is a vivid, dramatic and pervasive presence in all our lives. Like the Church, the Monarchy and the Communist Party in other times and places, the corporation is today’s dominant institution.

The Corporation website

This is a really interesting study and I have thought for a long time that its analysis needs to go beyond businesses and should be extended to the traditional school system.

It is interesting when you take a look at their website that they are working hard to get their film into 1000 schools. I think it should be shown in schools, it is a great social commentary on how our society is currently structured.

Will any educator make the connection that apart from the pursuit of profit, there is little that separates the modern corporation from the traditional school board?

Probably not. We like to judge corporations as somehow a bit impure because they are motivated by profit and the wishes of their stockholders. I would argue that traditional school boards are motivated very much the same way as the corporation. It is simpler to call school boards what they are – education corporations.

The main motivator for the corporation is always to act in its own interests, to ensure its own survival. All actions are then justified because the corporation answers only to its shareholders.

The education corporation is in some ways worse – it likes to believe that it serves a higher purpose. This is especially true for Catholic school boards in Ontario where I live. Somehow saying that you are a Catholic school board gives license to all sorts of hypocritical actions.

Can we say we apply these great principles to the people who work in our schools?

Education corporations can be just as cruel and unfeeling as any modern-day corporation. It is very easy to find examples where people in powerful positions have treated others with less power in truly shameful ways. Generally speaking, the people who are being cruel justify their actions in the only way that makes sense to them – what they do they do in the best interests of the school board. They may give other justifications, but it comes down to their need to demand compliance and stay in power.

Unlike the business corporation, however, the education corporation does not answer to anyone. It could be said that there are public trustees who can call them to account, but at least in Ontario, trustees are underpaid officials who are totally captured by the senior staff that they depend on for information. They do not have the time or the resources to act as a counterbalance to superintendents and directors who really hold the power in the education corporation.

This allows for all sorts of abuse to happen. At the school level, poor administrators are simply moved to a new and sometimes bigger school when their actions become intolerable to a local community of teachers and parents. At the school board level, when senior administrators act poorly, there is no consequence, they are free to act with impunity.

There is the beginning of a climate change in our society. Only a few months ago it was acceptable for men (mainly) to use their power to oppress and abuse the women who worked for them. This bevaviour is no longer acceptable and this is a very good thing.

Will we ever get to a point in our society when those who abuse their power in other ways will be called to account? I hope so. Abuse of power in any form for any reason should always be seen as unacceptable.