Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Preparing for a shift

Every so often in our lives, something in the universe begins to prepare us for a shift in ideology or understanding. I would identify this phenomenon as a short period of time in which several events, readings or conversations relating to a specific topic land in your lap with great emphasis. Suddenly something you haven't considered before, or haven't considered in a certain way, light up within you. It is the closely-related and closely-timed manner of these moments that can actually shift something within us and bring us into new enlightenment.

Over the past three months I have been aware of a shift in regards to racism. Like many of my generation, I would have indignantly protested if someone hinted that I had any inkling of racist ideas or behaviours. I have been raised in a multicultural setting; I have friends and family members that come from as many varied backgrounds as you can imagine; I have participated in different religious ceremonies. I would have purported to be "colour-blind."

But in pondering and conversing about three specific readings lately, I have found myself shifting.

Small Great Things is a novel about a black experienced nurse told by a young white supremacist couple not to touch their newborn baby. The nurse is then charged with murder when the baby goes into distress and dies and the nurse hesitates to intercede. The protagonist attempts to capture the every day experiences in which white people subconsciously or consciously react to her skin colour.

This interview with Canadian actress Sandra Oh left me speechless about how she found herself brainwashed by the racist undertones of Hollywood. She discusses how when she was sent a script to read, she couldn't figure out which part they wanted her for; it never even occurred to her that the producers would want a person of colour for the lead role of a TV show.

Americanah is a novel about an African woman who comes to America and how she tries to navigate being an immigrant, a person of colour, and a minority in her new homeland. She is astonished at the little things, like finding a place to get her hair braided, that pose an issue.

I know and believe in the tragedy of white privilege.  I know that even if I travel halfway across the world to where my skin colour is a minority, I will be looked upon as unique and special. I know that the experience of a black person is not that way. I wonder if, and how, we can combat whatever it is inside of us, or inside the fabric of our society, that has created this great divide and unconscionable standard. My heart breaks when I hear people my age, people in positions of influence and power over future generations, decry the notion of white privilege and the idea that their skin colour might give them an advantage.

I yearn for what to do.

I shift.

Right now it seems I must just listen as I shift. Keep my eyes and ears and heart open. Continue to look and see what the reality is, to not insist that we have conquered this terrible monster. To acknowledge the experiences of those who go through it, and, whenever I can, allow them to have a platform in this world to tell their stories.  Perhaps, the more they do, others around me will find themselves shifting, too.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Teaching French

The current school board goal for students continuing in French language classes past the mandatory level of grade nine is 2 out of 36.

This statistic stopped me in my tracks.

For the school board itself to have such a low opinion of this subject begs the question: how do educators see the relevance of this subject? The truth of it is, almost every student (and many of their parents) believe the entire subject is a waste of time, irrelevant to their education and their life experience.

And yet students between grades 4-8 receive 200 minutes a week of French instruction. The only subjects in which they receive more are math (300 minutes) and language (500 minutes). Most students have a full period of French everyday for 6 years, and almost none of them have any real competence in communicating in the language. I may come across as harsh here, but I have made a habit over the past four years of informally polling those I come in contact with wherever I am. The fairly universal opinion of French class is that they learned very little and found it completely uninteresting.

A dear friend and mentor jokingly referred to French class as an "old dead van on the side of the road." He had good intentions; as he listened while I struggled through how I could reinvent French class, he assured me that if you walk up to an old dead van on the side of the road and ask to tinker around and change it, no one will look twice. It's already of no use to anyone, so how can you do any harm?

I balked at first at my friend calling my new and burgeoning career an "old dead van," but I've come to appreciate the analogy. The harsh truth of it is both inspiring me with its possibilities and chaffing me with its realities.

I have spent two years of teacher's college attempting to reconcile the place of French education in our schools today. I passed most of that time unable to see how my passion for project-based learning and the need for my skills as a French teacher might work together.

And then...a light.

I'll admit it's a small flicker, that I have been unable to fan much bigger as of yet. But I have a hunch that once I can grow the flame it will illuminate a relevant and engaging application of the French language.

Leaders in education are highlighting the importance of 21st century skills. Known as the 4 (or 6) C's, they are skills that are becoming more important to teach to students than the traditional content model of the past century.

Critical thinking
Creativity
Communication
Collaboration
Citizenship (global)
Character

I posed the question to myself: what is the relevance of learning French today?

What I alighted on was this: learning a second language is about two things, communication and global citizenship.  It's true what students and parents say - there is no real purpose to learning French. It is not a highly spoken language in the world. Most French speaking people also speak English. 6 years of core French will not be sufficient to get a Canadian government job. Few businesses would look for French as an asset due to business relations. If they visit Quebec or the easter provinces, most likely they will be able to use English. Although I adore this language, perhaps more than my native English, the truth is it isn't important on a global scale.

But what is important is the ability to communicate. Global connectivity has linked people all over the world, people who speak countless other languages. According to babbel.com, only 1.5 billion of the 7.5 billion inhabitants of the world speak English. But of that, only 360 million speak English as their first language.  The privilege for my Canadian students is that they happen to speak a language that most people in travel, tourism and business seem to favour. But the reality is that many of those people are doing it in a second language, with all the difficulties that come with such a challenge.

What I can teach in my French class is what it means to need to communicate with someone who isn't using their first language. I can teach patience and understanding for those with a million ideas in a first language but limited means of conveying them in a second language. I can encourage innovation to help people communicate across language more easily. I can teach empathy to understand what it feels like to be lost in a conversation. I can create global friendships and understandings so my students see they are not the centre of the universe. I can show them that language is not a barrier to friendship and that we are more similar than we think and that our differences are beautiful. I can give them the confidence to converse in any situation. I can give them the keys to unlocking a third, fourth, fifth language in the future.

In this setting, with a focus on communication and global citizenship, I'm no longer just teaching French. French simply becomes the vehicle through which I connect my students to the realities of the 21st century. It becomes a way in which I can prepare them for their future in a global workforce. Yes, I will still use French because of the history in which it is tied to our country and because the rolling sounds are music to my ears. But understanding the purpose of second language learning in a larger context is what will give real life to my classroom and relevance to this old dead (beloved) van.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Project Proposal

In keeping with our desire to support Colin transitioning into his youth years, another opportunity arose to mentor his growth. Colin appeared in the kitchen after school yesterday, excited about an upcoming project. The students in his class were being given a carte blanche to design and build anything they want. Colin had two projects in mind: Makey Makey (an electronic invention tool that connects objects to computer programming) or Cardboard creations (using motors and other trinkets to build a working game). His enthusiasm gleaned in his eyes and I was catching his excitement. I talk all the time about design thinking and project based learning to the point that all three boys feel as though they are missing out. But then Colin hesitated. "The only thing is, we have to provide the materials. And it's pretty expensive."

I was impressed that Colin seems to really be internalizing the concept of money, spending and budgets. These are skills that are going to be really important to have a good handle on when he leaves home (parenting win!) He sheepishly said the Makey Makey kit runs between $50 to $75 dollars, and the motor and parts for the other project would also run a high cost.

In the split second of parenting think time that I had, these thoughts raced through my head:

That's a lot of money.
I really want him to have the chance to do this project.
It's great for him to work in design thinking and building.
That's a lot of money.
It's for school, we can cover that.
That's a lot of money for one project.
I don't want the money issue to prevent him from participating.
Maybe...there's a learning opportunity here...

After assimilating all this, here's what I proposed to Colin:

"In the business world, you can get people called investors to fund your projects. But in order to get the money you have to submit a proposal. So I'll send along a proposal template where you can outline your vision of the project, why it's a good project, what you think it will cost, where you will buy materials, and what the timeline for working on it will be. Then we will meet together and you can deliver a prepared "pitch" to sell us your idea."

He jumped on board right away. I have a feeling it might be because he really thought it would be a flat out "no" when he told me how much it was going to cost.

So this morning I sent an email:

Colin,

I have attached a Word document that you can fill in for your design project proposal. You have a meeting with your potential investors (Mom and Dad) Saturday at 1pm. Please bring the completed proposal to that meeting and be prepared to “pitch” (tell us about) your project. Enthusiasm and knowledge will be very important to the success of your pitch in securing the money you need.

Good luck!

Mom and Dad.



If he puts the work in, I'm hoping this will be a really good chance to learn a business skill that will serve him in the future. I know I'll have to fight the urge to give him the money right away. If there are some holes in the proposal I hope to provide some feedback that he can revise before we "sign the contract" between designer and investor. In the end, however, I think it's a great little experience for him.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

All that we are

As I complete my Bachelor of Education, I am now looking forward into another exciting chapter of my life. But I have also been feeling the tug of looking back from where I've come. It can be a difficult thing to process going back to school as an adult, changing directions mid-life. My mother once asked if I regretted not doing this 20 years ago, as though I may have wasted those years now that I've come back to the spot in which I once stood.

However, I'm coming to realize that all that I am, all that I will be going forward, is a culmination of where I've come. This week I received an offer to collaborate on an exciting project that directly requires my training in film. The collaboration will be with an inspirational partner about a subject I am deeply passionate. As I step into teaching I don't expect my career will be traditional (nothing I have ever done has been) and this opportunity will fit right into that vision. And I wouldn't be embarking on it without the years of experience in film.

It's interesting to consider "all that I am" and to see and wonder how it will piece together for this next part of the journey. Will I draw on my musical background? Theatre? Film? Travel? Languages? Writing? Mathematic competitions? Field hockey, volleyball or soccer? Church leadership? Motherhood?

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Resisting the urge to pave the way

In the past month I had two experiences in which, after great resistance, I held out from spoiling Colin. Both resulted in a neat opportunity for him to grow.

The first was chipping away at the build up of ice on the driveway. I arrived home after school first that afternoon and began to try to dig out some of the ice. When Colin got off the school bus, he dropped his bag on the step and immediately picked up a shovel to help. The work was not easy. We were using a repetitive up-and-down motion with garden spades in an attempt to crack large chunks of ice off in order to clear them. Colin never spoke a single word of complaint; but three times I caught myself about to tell him to "go on inside, I can finish up." Part of me wanted to spare him the difficult work. Part of me didn't want to steal from his media time. But each time I swallowed my words, knowing that he would benefit not only from the physically demanding chore, but also from seeing a job through right to the finish. I was right. In the end, when we cleared the last chunk, the feeling of satisfaction in myself was exhilarating, and I can only assume Colin also felt that sense of accomplishment.

The second opportunity happened on a shopping trip. Colin needed a new soccer ball, new cleats, and new school shoes, so we headed out of town to a sports outlet store. As we shopped, I felt the urge just to buy all the items for Colin. He's a good kid, hardworking, helps out around the house, and I wanted to spoil him a little. Instead, I fought the urge. I told him that I would pay for a maximum amount for each item, and if he wanted something more expensive he would have to kick in the rest. I then watched as he carefully considered how much money he has, the different items offered, and compared the cost of each. To see him weigh all these options and come to sensible decisions (including one item of indulgence he had been wanting for a long time) made this mama's heart sing.

It's tough to hold out on these types of things, but the long-term benefits will be worth it.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Purposed, not perfect

I listened to a podcast the other day that when we think about raising our children, we should remember that we are not raising perfect children, but purposed children. Perfectly behaved children who immediately obey all those little commands that bark out from our mouths cannot be our definition of parenting success.

There are so many days when I get caught up in those little things:

"Pick up your clothes from the floor."
"Did you do your homework?"
"Tidy up your room."
"You didn't make your bed."
"Don't tease your sister."
"Hang up your coat!"
"Wet mitts can't stay in your bag."

If I'm being honest, 90% of what I say to direct my children falls into this category. But when I really consider it, if my children suddenly behaved in all these areas, would I consider it a job well done? Would I think that I had done everything exactly right in raising my children? Would I consider it a success?

The real answer is no. Tidy, quiet, well-behaved children makes for a quiet, well-run home, but it does not make for children who mature into stable, serving, contributing adults in our community. It does not make leaders who shake off the chains of habit and complacency and make real change in this world. It does not make servants of God's kingdom who really see those suffering around them. It does not make smart, critical and creative thinkers who can make wonderful discoveries and advancements in their field.

This - this is what I want for my children, and I can see how "purposed" instead of "perfect" children is how to get there. I want my children to look inward and see who they really are, the talents they have and gifts they can give. I want to help them cultivate a vision for their lives, to discover their purpose here in this world and set them on the course to fulfill that vision.

And if I'm to do that, I need to readjust those every day foci I have as a mother.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Family Stories

One year when the kids were young (maybe 3, 6, 8 and 10) we were on our way down to the US for a two day trip. Our morning schedule to leave was very tight, and not wanting to fall into the usual pitfalls of having young children, I sat down the three boys and very seriously explained that they were going to help get ready. They were do as I said, exactly as I said, and nothing else. Three little heads bobbed up and down in agreement.

"Go and get two pair of pants, and put them into your knapsack." Off they scurried to comply.
"Now get two t-shirts and put them in your bag." Instant obedience.
"Two pairs of underwear."
"Two pairs of socks."
"One pair of pyjamas." Back and forth they went, strictly adhering to my instructions.

"Toothbrush."
"Comb."
"A book and something to do in the car."

Yup - I was winning at this parenting thing.

Meanwhile I had packed away everything else you need for a road trip with young children - DVDs, Juliette's special diet, our clothes, Juliette's clothes, a bed rail, snacks, pillows and blankets for the car...in it all went. And when I turned around and everything was ready...we were early. Oh yes, I should probably write a book about this, I thought.

"Into the car!" was the last order and one, two, three, four in they went.  We pulled out and were on our way.

Just as we were pulling up to the US border, I turned around to give that lecture to the kids - the one that goes "don't say or do anything!" so that we will sail right through. And just for good measure, I added "But if they do tell us to get out,  just quietly get out of the car and follow Mom and Dad-"

"But I'm not wearing any shoes."

Say what?

"I'm sorry - what did you say?" I ask my 8 year old.

"I'm not wearing any shoes."

"How can you not be wearing any shoes? How did you get into the car-"

"I'm not wearing any shoes either," pipes up the six-year old.

This is the part where I nearly lose my mind.

"Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?" I don't even know what to say.

"Well, you told us to do exactly what you said, and you never told us to get on our shoes."

Mouth drops. Speechless.

He got me there.