Thursday, July 14, 2011
I work in a great school. I've mentioned this in many of my previous posts, including Come Together
It's a stretch to even say that it seems like work. There are definitely times when it is tough to get going in the morning and I certainly enjoy the holidays we are blessed to receive. I've worked in several different schools and I say with absolutely certainty that Grandview is great.
It's worth examining and I hope I can do it justice. What happens in our building really is special.
At the heart of a great school are great people. In my mind, education is about allowing children to see who they are and what they could be. Every decision that is made in a school must be made with its students' best interests in mind. Our school motto is "Parents, Students, Staff - Now That's Teamwork". I didn't make it up, but I like it because we really do live it. There will always be people who don't quite fit in, parents who mistrust the system, students who have trouble accepting the culture of how things are done, staff who do not commit themselves to the hard work it takes.
Overall, things work very nicely in our building. We have great kids. The vast majority of them have bought in to what we do. Work hard and play hard. Treat others with respect. Have fun! We don't have a long list of rules, but some things are not negotiable. As the vice principal of the school, I sometimes have to point out to children that it's not OK to play fight. Usually, they believe me and their behavior gets adjusted accordingly. If they don't "get it" the first time, then I need to spend time with them at recess. We watch the other kids, we walk, we talk and usually, they realize that play fighting is not what we do. There have been a few students who either don't get it or tell me they plain don't like that rule and those kids get to be my executive assistants. They get to do jobs inside, help with recycling, or work in my office. These kids are the exception because overall, the students who walk our halls understand their part in making Grandview a great place.
We also have amazing adults in our building. Starting with our indefatigable and overwhelmingly positive principal, Grandview is full of master teachers who care deeply about their students. Our staff is flexible and innovative. They openly embrace guest clinicians, performers and speakers. They seek out new field trips and technology to make learning come alive. These teachers understand that it's not possible to do a great job by arriving at 8:30 and leaving at 3:05 every day. Even better, they know how to work together. When they are given time to collaborate, it's all business and the business is making sure every child in our building gets the best opportunities possible.
The support staff does exactly that. They support the kids and the teachers. They do an amazing range of things and it all helps the kids in our building. Individual assistance, working with groups, tending to cuts, contacting parents, helping students with special needs participate in every activity, preparing materials and learning environments. These ladies do WAY MORE work than they need to and they do it because they enjoy it.
Much of what happens is a result of the prevailing culture in our building. In general, if people don't "get it", they leave sooner or later. I've been at Grandview for five years and we have some turnover each year. The core staff who drive the culture here have also been here for at least that long. It really is an amazing thing to be a part of.
You'll note that there is nothing in this post about achievement. We don't need an outside test or survey to tell us we are doing things right, though we do very well on those externally imposed and contrived "measures". There is nothing in this post about being a "Renaissance School" or a "Seven Habits" school. We don't need to attach any stickers or gloss on what we do. We are not a "Program of Choice" with a focus on arts/technology/languages/science etc. We have never attached the label of a "Professional Learning Community" to what we do, but if you understand what a PLC is supposed to be, you'll see that the definition applies very nicely.
We don't need labels, programs, high test scores and positive survey results. The people who spend their days in our school know it is a great place. You FEEL it the moment you walk in the building and to my knowledge, there is no way to measure a feeling like that.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
I need to get something out in the open. Country music makes me cry like a baby. I can't help it and I'm pretty sure I know why.
You need to understand that I love all kinds of music. I don't love them equally, but I can honestly say I have a very open mind when it comes to the things I listen to. Rock, alternative, country, folk, ska, reggae, big band, easy listening, classical, Broadway, jazz, blues, hip-hop, metal, you name it, I can probably listen to it. My iPod play list goes from The Animals to The Emeralds to Eminem to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones to Neil Young to Zac Brown, with lots of stops between. While my late father-in-law liked music that had a good beat, I'm a lyric guy. I am tone-deaf and have only recently gained the ability to read music. I have no talent or rhythm, but I definitely understand how to put words together.
The lyrics don't need to be particularly meaningful or evocative, I just love the way artists assemble words. My favorite band of all time is The Tragically Hip and I honestly believe part of the reason they have not experienced worldwide success is the Canadiana that is infused in their lyrics. One of my favorite Hip tunes starts with a reference to the Group of 7 painter Tom Thompson and that line evokes Thompson's paintings, a canoe and images of a place that is on my bucket list (Alongquin Park).
The lyrics of a song don't need to be particularly profound to elicit a powerful response. The Counting Crows' debut album has a track called "Time and Time Again." It was never a hit, in fact, I'm not sure I have ever heard it played on the radio. The opening lyrics, though, send shivers down my spine.
I wanted so badly/
Somebody other than me/
Staring back at me/
But you were gone.
I listened to this song repeatedly as I drove to and from a good friend's funeral. It framed the entrance and exit to a monologue I wrote and performed to deal with how profoundly Jeff's passing changed my life. Even today as I write and listen, my eyes fill up and I'm transported to my old SUV
(The Millennium Falcon).
Aside from a few tunes that Gordon Downie would refer to as "weepy little things", most of the music I listened to in my teenage years did not reduce me to a puddle. I liked big, brash, fun music and particularly liked tunes with interesting lyrics. When I met my wife, things changed in a few ways. I started listening to country music. We bought a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. It was all downhill from there.
After a big all night party at a teammate's house, we were killing time and watching CMT. Now, I'll admit that I was a bit fuzzy and compromised to begin with, but when my buddy Hammy said "This is the saddest song ever", I was a bit interested. The band was called Pirates of the Mississippi and the song is called Feed Jake. It's written from the point of view of a 20something guy who drives home to attend a childhood friend's funeral. In spite of cheeseball lyrics like "What we are and what we ain't/What we can and what we cain't", the video had me fighting back tears.
My next weak moment came on a Friday night when I was in university. My best friend Jeremy came to pick me up and we were having our usual warm up drinks before heading out for the night. The CMT Top 20 countdown was on and a new video by Travis Tritt came on. We were transfixed to the television, sipping a Lucky Lager. The video tells the story of a paraplegic war veteran named Mac Singleton who struggles to readjust to society with the help of his wife Annie and a fellow veteran named Al. By the end of the video, we simultaneously glanced at one another and realized that we both had the waterworks turned on. It was a true "I Love You Man" moment.
More than anything, though, fatherhood has rendered me completely useless in the face of songs about families, dogs, and being a daddy. Even when the songs are meant to be funny or tongue--in-cheek like Lonestar's Mr. Mom, they can make me weep uncontrollably because they remind me of a long-lost time when my kids were still babies. Nothing evokes a greater response in me than my family. Last year, I wrote a post (My Most Important Job) that explains how being a dad is more important than anything else in my life. Songs like Gord Bamford's Little Guy and High Valley's A Father's Love hit on themes that are the heart of how I see myself. I joke with my wife that these sorts of songs are inherently "unfair".
Even when the song does not directly connect to my life, if it tells a story and has a video that expands the story, I will watch it over and over again. Songs like Here Comes Goodbye and Colder Weather tell stories about relationships and loss. Jason Aldean's Amarillo Sky shares the story of proud farm families, Brad Paisley's Whiskey Lullaby tells the tale of lost love and alcoholism. These are not the stories of my life, but they make connections to my experiences and the people I love the most.
I suppose that the stereotype about country music is somewhat true. There are plenty of lost jobs, dead dogs and broken relationships in the music I listen to. On the other hand, though, being a parent and a husband is precisely "what I do". It's a good place to be and I'm glad that the musicians I admire and enjoy are providing the soundtrack.
Monday, June 13, 2011
I imagine that most of my readers remember the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. In the Star Wars films of my youth, Han Solo piloted an old ship that (almost) always came through tough situations. It didn't look like much, but it was Han's pride and joy. I am proud to say that I also owned a Millennium Falcon. Both of them carried beautiful women, hairy creatures and precious cargo. Both were driven by rugged dudes with sketchy backgrounds and plenty of scars. Both of them took part in plenty of amazing stories..
The main difference is that my Falcon was an SUV. A decked-out 1993 Nissan Pathfinder SE. In true early 90s fashion, it was teal green. It had custom-moulded running boards and a tint package that I paid way too much money for. Like many young professionals, as soon as I signed a continuing contract, the first thing I bought was a new set of wheels. All of my roommates at the time had taken the plunge. The truck I started my teaching career with was a gift from my parents, a nice little Ford Ranger with jump seats and a cool box cover. I really liked that truck, but it was 2 wheel drive. During my first year of teaching, we went on a New Year's ski trip to Whitefish and I couldn't push my little Ranger up the hill to catch our last day of skiing. I swore that day I would buy a 4 wheel drive vehicle (and I've owned one ever since.)
I clearly remember the June day I picked up the Falcon. We were into our middle school exam week, so we were going out for lunch. I picked up my new wheels, then sped back to the school to pick up "the boys". On the way, it sputtered and spat. Like Han Solo's Falcon, my truck couldn't reach the speed limit, let alone light speed. It was probably a vapour lock of some sort and it NEVER happened again. Nonetheless, I could see obvious doubt in the faces of my colleagues. I'm sure they believed that dumb old Ted got taken to the cleaners on his Japanese P.O.S.
From that day on, though, my truck never let me down. Ice fishing, off roading, long journeys on the highway, scooting around town, pulling trailers, trips to the dump. None of it fazed the Falcon. I went through several sets of tires, a transmission,a few fender-benders and my fair share of repairs. For the most part, though, I tried very hard to keep it running smoothly. Mechanically, it was a dream. Right to the end, it started happily in the winter and hummed like a top. It was a very sure-footed and well-balanced offroad vehicle, too. I never got it stuck (and I pushed it through plenty of scary spots.) It had all kinds of extras like "sport suspension", an 8 speaker stereo, a sunroof , plus power locks and windows that didn't like cold weather. My brother-in-law, a complete car junkie, loved the look and smell of my Pathfinder. This kind of compliment, coming from someone who has owned so many vehicles, always made me extra proud of the Falcon.
From a memory point of view, it was also fully loaded. I proposed to my wife in the Falcon. We took it across western Canada and through the Pacific Northwest. The console was extra worn because our pooch would stick her head between the seats so she could see where we were going. It seems fitting that our pup took her last breath in the Falcon. She went with us almost everywhere and when we had two car seats filling up the back, Bailey had to ride in the hatch with the luggage, but she didn't mind. It's a good thing my truck saw me through plenty of sad drives, because the day Bailey died just outside of Sherwood Park, I needed the Falcon to run on autopilot back to Red Deer.
More than anything, I remember going fishing in my Millennium Falcon. Ice fishing, fly fishing, lake fishing, bellyboating, canoeing, fly-in fishing. It had a second sense for finding fish and getting me home safely. Sometimes, it was my accommodation for the night. It was always a place where I had great conversations with great friends. My good friend Wayne called it the "Finder of Paths...Fishing Paths" and my buddy Dave immortalized it in a song about fishing on the North Ram River.
At times, my Pathfinder stunk. I usually had a Vanillaroma stinky tree dangling from the rear view mirror, but there were certainly times when other stenches overpowered the faux vanilla. A hatch full of wet neoprene or hockey equipment would billow the rankness of man sweat. After a night of eating red meat and drinking draft beer, it smelled like ass.. Following a ski trip where we tried to drink every Corona in the town of Canmore, the Pathfinder reeked of limes and onion rings from Peter's Drive In for a week.
The worst smell, though, was provided by the Falcon's most frequent flyer, Bailey the Chesapeake Retriever. My buddy Brian and I took her fishing on the Red Deer River a couple days after a freak September snow storm. We must have timed the trip to coincide with the arrival of the water from the Blindman and Medicine Rivers to the west of town, because our poor pup came out of the river smelling like manure. She could barely stand herself and we had to drive home with the windows, sunroof and rear hatch wide open.
I believe that you can tell a great deal about people by the vehicle they drive. Even when the rust started to wear though, I was proud to hop in my Pathfinder. It was me, from the roof rack to the upgraded stereo to the various dings, scratches and dents. When I sold it for $1000, it had over 320,000 kilometres on it. If you approached from the rear, it definitely looked worse for wear. The moment I got inside, though, I couldn't help but smile and think of all the great adventures made possible by the Falcon.
In my lifetime, I have not owned many vehicles. A '69 Olds Cutlass, an '80 Olds Cutlass, an '89 Ford Ranger, a '99 VW Jetta (The Red Rocket) and a '10 Subaru Forester. My present truck is an '06 Nissan Frontier. Each vehicle has special memories and I'm sure that many of them will appear in a blog at some point.
None of them match up to the Falcon and none of them ever will. Get ready for the jump to lightspeed, Chewie!
Monday, May 30, 2011
Thursday, May 26, 2011
- Lack of harmony among musical notes
- an unusual degree of dissonance for such choral styles
- the harsh dissonances give a sound which is quite untypical of the Renaissance
- A tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements
- dissonance between campaign rhetoric and personal behavior
The idea for this post has been percolating for over a year, but I never seem to get around to actually writing it. I've changed titles, messed around with the topic and even now, I'm rewriting this introduction for the fourth or fifth time. In essence, this post is about saying NO to your kids even when you eventually say YES. It's not easy to explain, so here goes.
I’m not talking about a state of total denial. I’m just saying that it is a parent’s job to teach their children. As a child's primary teacher, parents do children no favors by saying “Yes” to all of their requests.
For several years, I was absolutely adamant that our children would not have video games or a gaming system. I said no for a long, long time. At times, I ranted and raved. I cited the "vidiots" I taught who spent every waking hour gaming instead of reading or doing my incredibly meaningful homework. I read to my kids every chance I got. We did not (and still do not) have a DVD player in our vehicle. When we went on a long road trip, we took books, played games like 21 Questions and, if it was an extra long trip, we purchased an Invisible Ink puzzle book.
My reasoning went something like this... I didn’t have anything like it when I grew up. Most of my friends had some sort of gaming system – Atari, Intellivision, Colecovision. I made do with my handheld Coleco football game. I never was very good at video games (with the notable exception of Galaga) so I spent a lot of my childhood enjoying simple things like reading and playing with sticks. I can honestly say that I don’t feel like I missed anything because I didn’t own an Intellivision until 1996 (a fellow teacher had a system gathering dust in his garage, so I brought it home on a whim.)
Over the past couple of years, gaming systems have gradually made their way into our house. Santa brought my oldest son a Nintendo DS and since then, a DSI, two iPods and an Xbox Kinect have appeared. My children have always had a computer to use. They are digital natives and it amazes me to watch them interact with and figure out anything that is electronic. What finally swayed me was watching how their peers interacted and socialized. Gaming has become a social event that can be shared whether they are in the same place as a friend or not. I wondered if I was turning my kids into social pariahs through my absolute denial of portable, personal gaming systems.
Their gaming was initially restricted to educational sites and games like Brain Age. Over time, we have mellowed. Before our New Year's Eve party this year, I even purchased the Dance Central game so the kids could play (and laugh at the adults.)
In retrospect, it appears that I was being obstinate and perhaps hypocritical about gaming systems. I did have handheld games as a kid – Coleco Football, Mattel Basketball, and an amazing piece of plastic called a Merlin. When I was twelve, one of the coolest things I did with the friend I wrote about in Stand by Me was to play Space Invaders on his Atari. During my third year of University, I bought a Mac Classic II (after all, it had a blazing clock speed of 16mHz, twice as fast as the first generation of Mac Classics. When I started dating my wife, I did enjoy playing Donkey Kong on their Nintendo. I have a laptop from work that I bring home and take with me when I travel. My wife and I both have an iPhone and when I’m away from 3G and WiFi, it seems strange to me.
Part of the reason this post has taken so long is that I don’t believe in preaching. I particularly don’t want to write one thing, then turn around and do the other thing. My first title for this post was “Do Your Kids a Favour and Say No”. Upon further reflection, dissonance has tempered my outer grouch.
In my job, I do encounter children whose parents indulge their every whim. For many parents, screen time for their children means peace and quiet. Buying candy in the store also buys a quiet child and prevents embarrassment. My wife and I try hard to ensure that our children understand that they cannot have everything. We don't have the financial resources, but more importantly, I really want my kids to understand that things need to be earned.
More than anything, I hope that parents think carefully about the decisions they make when it comes to their children. I take a very long time to make decisions because I really need to understand as much a possible about an issue before I determine my stance. I am pleased with the way technology operates in our home. It allows us to learn, to communicate and provides a great deal of entertainment. Like anything, moderation is crucial. Every hour spent in front of a screen is balanced with an hour of physical activity, homework, reading or family time.
After all, I spend a great deal of time writing this blog because I really enjoy writing and I love the feedback I get from people on the thoughts that rattle around in my head. It would be pretty sanctimonious for me to deny my children the opportunites that technology affords them. I may not always say what I mean, but I do mean what I say!
Monday, May 16, 2011
Over the past weekend, I led a group on hike around Nordegg, Alberta. The route follows an abandoned rail line and crosses three trestles that are in varying states of disrepair. As the kids (and adults) nervously picked their way across rotting boards, one of the group leaders mentioned how much the trek reminded him of a scene from Rob Reiner's great film, Stand by Me. This comment brought back a flood of memories for me that form the basis for this post.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
I believe that you can tell a great deal about a person from the way they treat animals and children. My paternal grandfather was a tough man to be around at times. Even after he passed away, he requested that there be no memorial service. His final wishes were to be cremated and his ashes spread near the junction of the Clearwater and North Saskatchewan Rivers. This spot is about an hour’s drive from my home in Red Deer and it is on the way to one of my favourite rivers to fish. Every time we cross the river, I smile to myself and think of the day we gathered to fulfill his final wishes.
It was a small contingent. Me, my parents, my aunt and uncle. We met for breakfast in Rocky Mountain House, a small town where my grandfather was stationed during his time with the RCMP. The restaurant is a short drive away from junction of the Clearwater and North Saskatchewan, so we found our spot quickly. It was a gorgeous spring day, but we were not able to access the actual junction of the rivers, so we settled for a spot along the banks of the Clearwater just upstream.
As we said our goodbyes and released his ashes, we heard the voices of two small children. Their dog bounded up to meet us and actually ran right through the recently spread remains of my grandfather. At first, I was taken aback that someone else had intruded on the final memory of a man I admired and learned so much from as a child. My aunt, as usual, was able to make me smile and put things into perspective. We didn’t say anything to the children, returned to our vehicles and came to my place in Red Deer to spend the rest of the afternoon. As we prepared for supper, Auntie Lee laughed to herself then told us how she thought it was fitting that our intimate memorial service had been crashed.
“After all,” she noted, “Dad loved kids and animals. He didn’t like most people, but he always had time for children and animals. I don’t think he would have minded that we had company today.”
I’m inspired to write this by the passing of a person I only saw three or four times a year, but I looked forward to seeing him each time. I didn't know him really well, but honestly felt like I got to know him better each time we came to Nordegg. Brent Young was a figure known by anyone who spent time around the Shunda Creek Hostel or townsite at Nordegg, Alberta. He managed the hostel, was a driving force in the volunteer Fire Department/Search and Rescue, introduced countless people to the wonders of central Alberta and put a smile on the face of everyone he talked to. Brent grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, but landed in Nordegg several years ago and chose to stay because "he liked the big back yard." He was full of unforgettable witticisms like "There's not much happening, but it's all going on in Nordegg.”
Brent loved the outdoors and the adventure it brought. He told me that the perfect drink was scotch because it was easy to carry into the backcountry and all you really needed to add was snow. One of his main mantras was “No dramas” and he spent as much time as he could climbing, skiing or just trekking around. He was absolutely selfless and never seemed to be in much of a rush. This summer, I watched him tour my ten year old son around the Nordegg Fire/EMS newest bush rescue vehicle. For at least fifteen minutes, he answered every single question with the same patience and enthusiasm. Brent loved to talk and treated people with dignity. He was a big part of the reason I wrote the following blog last summer. (Nordegg: Reason #3 To Love Central Alberta)
For the past several years, every time I brought a group of children to stay at the Hostel, I looked forward to visiting with Brent. My oldest son loved the hostel so much, he wanted to spend his tenth birthday there. From middle schoolers to Cub groups to my own children, Brent treated the kids with respect and loved sharing his little piece of the world with anyone who found their way to the hostel. Kids loved Brent because he wore knitted hats, spoke with the cadence of a surfer and dished out phrases like “Cool bananas” and "Have a sunshiny day". Even if we weren’t staying at the hostel, I loved seeing him around the community or when we came to the hostel for a hot shower.
Brent died last week in a backcountry skiing accident. It seems fitting because he made his exit doing something he loved to do. I’ve read many stories about the untimely passing of people who love the mountains. Will Gadd has written a couple of columns about people who remind me of Brent. Accidents are an acknowledged risk of anyone who heads into the backcountry. No matter how knowledgeable or skilled you are, nature is more powerful and unpredictable. I’ve often said that if I pass away unexpectedly, I’d want to do so while I was fishing. I honestly never believed that a person I knew and admired would be in this type of situation.
The world lost a beauty last week. Brent truly made the world a better place and people can learn a great deal from the way he respected and loved the outdoors, treated others (particularly children), and animals. He was the full meal deal.
We are heading to the hostel for Cub Camp this weekend and it saddens me deeply to know he won’t be there in person. Shakakan.
Friday, May 6, 2011
Monday, May 2, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Every time I have some moment on a seashore, or in the mountains, or sometimes in a quiet forest, I think this is why the environment has to be preserved.
One of the greatest legacies of my childhood is my life-long fascination with mountains. I love to look at them, drive through them, climb them and visit them every chance I get. It takes me ninety minutes to drive to the nearest mountain from my home in Red Deer and it seems like they beckon from the moment I see them. On very clear days, I can see the outline of the Rockies as I drive to school. As a boy, our summer vacations involved either camping or fishing. Often, we were fortunate enough camp and fish in the mountains.