You teach your children some fashion sense
And they fashion some of their own
- Gordon Downie

Friday, June 29, 2012

Unplug. Play. Repeat.

Not long ago, we had a great family visit that reminded me exactly why we all need to unplug.

We went to deliver a baby gift to friends who have a 10 week old and a three year old. My boys are ten and twelve and, to be honest, screen time is usually a part of their day. We restrict the XBox to weekends, but between iPods, the family laptop, the PVR and our extended cable package, there is usually some sort of electronic component to their day. This visit, and some of the other visits I will describe later on, reinforce to me the importance of conversation, imagination and play.

We visited for a couple of hours. Visited. No electronics. No TV. The adults had a conversation (between efforts to keep the little one happy by rocking, talking and snuggling her.) The kids played with toys that require no batteries. Trains, mini stick hockey and playing a miniature piano managed to keep them entertained for the first hour of our visit. Then, the real fun began when they started to pull blankets out of the linen closet to make forts. Naturally, a round of hide and seek, jumping, rolling and squeals of joy ensued. It was SO refreshing to watch kids do the things I remember doing when I was young.

Tonight, both of my boys are having sleepovers. The older boys are at our house and the younger ones are 5 minutes away, but they managed to play together. On XBox Live, they can chat with each other while they play whatever game they are playing. I don't mind this. It is typical of their generation and I would be unnecessarily overprotective if I curtailed this type of behaviour. I think it is OK for kids, in moderation.

Our visit, however, reinforced the importance of balance and the need to unplug. Kids need to explore, create and solve problems in the real world. They need to navigate slippery log arches over creeks. Kids need to find amazing hiding spots. Chasing insects or playing with a pet can make hours pass by. My most vivid childhood memories involve visiting my friends, riding my bike, trying to climb trees, capturing frogs and being outdoors. On the last day of school this week, I asked my students what they were looking forward to this summer. I was thrilled and surprised that so many of them told me they were looking forward to things like camping, swimming, fishing and water fights.

When we go camping, it fills my heart with joy to watch my boys. They build forts, chop wood, and make fires. We ride bikes, go fishing and play cards. My absolute favorite moments of camping come when I watch my children create their own fun. Kids need to be kids. They don't need a parent hovering, coddling or berating. Children need to opportunity to define their own limits and push those limits. Sometimes, they will make mistakes. Sometimes, they will hurt themselves. Sometimes, they will spend hours engrossed in pure uninterrupted play.

Today marks the beginning of my summer holidays and I am already excited at our prospects for being unplugged for extended periods of time. They can have lots of fun indoors, but make sure to take your kids outside, folks. It's one of the greatest things you can do for them.

To learn a bit more about this topic, check out this site - Take Me Outside

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Things I've Learned (From People I Admire)

I am the sum of many parts.

Who I am is a complicated story of nature and nurture. Early in my teaching career, nature versus nurture was a major concept in Alberta Health curriculum, and as usual, I turned to a film to help my students understand the concept. Robert Redford's A River Runs Through It addresses the concept so clearly. As I mused two years ago in Lessons in Film , the story hits close to home for me. Alcoholism, parenting, high expectations and fly fishing are all topics that strike close to home. Redford's masterpiece effectively captures the story of two brothers, who turn out in dramatically different ways despite growing up in a stable household in a frontier community. I have many reasons to reflect on this topic, so here is my best attempt to give credit to the people who have made me who I am. In somewhat chronological order, here are some of the best lessons I have learned.

1. Mantiens le Droit (Uphold the Right) - Charles Theodore Alexander (CTA) Hutchings
I am the first male Hutchings in four generations to NOT be employed by the military or police.  As a young boy, my world was vigilantly defined by rules, schedules, promptness, respect and family history.  Whenever I would get too rambunctious, Granddad Hutchings would bellow, “CEASE and DESIST!!!”  When necessary, I still possess a tone of voice that is simply part of being a Hutchings.  As a vice principal, I get many opportunities to fulfill the RCMP mandate to Mantiens le Droit and try hard to make sure that things are done in an orderly manner.

2. When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade - Harry Link
While childhood visits to my Granny and Granddad Hutchings meant lessons in history, police lore, boxing, nature and travel; visits to my maternal grandparents meant education.  Grandma and Grandpa Link had a set of Audobon Society encyclopedias that I loved to read.  My Grandma Link was teacher in her youth, but it was Grandpa, a brand inspector for the Alberta government, who taught me so many things:  catching, kicking, billiards, snowman building, and cribbage.  I also learned abstract concepts like determination and courage from Grandpa, who struggled with arthritis and ultimately succumbed to cancer.  My first encounter with death was the death of my Grandpa.  I brim with pride when my relatives tell me that I remind them of Grandpa Link.  When he lost his hair to chemotherapy, I will never forget what he told me. There was no sadness or self-pity. Instead, he leaned over in his bed at the Cross Cancer Clinic, took off his hat and said "I look pretty good with no hair - my head is really smooth!"

3. I Will Always Be There for You - Stewart Hutchings
When I began to play hockey, my coaches assumed a greater role in my life. My father was one of my first coaches and he was one of the first people who pointed me toward my potential. Dad was (and continues to be) a very successful volunteer, both as a coach and manager. He knew how to deal with difficult people, he listened, and he kept me focused on success. I remember very clearly standing in a sports store, getting fitted for a pair of Bauer 100 skates (the absolute best you could buy at the time). Dad turned to me and told me that he would support me, regardless of the time or cost required, so long as I wanted to pursue hockey. Dad's support propelled me farther in hockey than many young Canadians and I am eternally grateful for his belief in me.

4. Don't Think - Gary Williams and Ken Hodge
Gary Williams was another of my first coaches. When I was nine years old, I made my first serious leap as a hockey player. I made the Fultonvale Firebirds, an Atom "A" team that experienced a great deal of success. Two players from our roster played in the Western Hockey League. Two players earned NCAA scholarships. Two played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. One earned an NCAA golf scholarship. Most of our players continued through minor hockey and finished up playing the game they love in Junior B. Gary's son, Warren, was my defense partner and our leading scorer. My job was to stay at home and not mess up. Gary always told me, "Ted, if you have to think, don't do it." In sports, it is one of the best lessons I ever learned. When I finally made it to the WHL, the message was very similar. Coach Hodge told me "Teddy, pass the puck to the first person you see open. And make sure you pass it HARD." Simple words, but words that helped me be my best. I have enjoyed the opportunity to meet both Mr. Williams and Coach Hodge as an adult. It was incredibly rewarding for me to share my life with them because they are people I respected and learned a great deal from.

5. The Power of Positive Reinforcement - Dave Cutler and Rusty Climie
My favorite coaches were the ones who took a personal interest in me. Every time I spoke to them, they made me feel like I was the most important person in the world. They built me up and made me believe in myself through the power of positive reinforcement. In hockey, Rusty Climie and Dave Cutler were the people I looked up to the most. In my early years of hockey, they coached our dreaded rivals, the Ardrossan Bisons. However, they always took the time to seek me out after a game with words of encouragement or congratulations. When they became my coaches, I can't imagine people better suited to making a young athlete more confident. In particular, Mr. Climie always took time to pump my tires and encourage me to take chances. I will never forget a tournament we played in Taber when I was twelve years old. We were in the final against a tough team from Trail, B.C. The first period was extremely tight and with about a minute left in the first frame, I wound up for one of my typical rushes. I picked up the puck on my side of the ice, drove around our net and bulldozed my way up the boards before I cut to the net, faked backhand and went around the goalie to make it 1-0. When we got into the dressing room, Mr. Climie told the boys, "Big Ted put the team on his back to score that goal. Now its your turn to help him out." It didn't hurt that we had future NHL star Ray Whitney in the lineup, but I scored another goal and we won the game 6-1. From that game forward, every time I played in an important hockey game, I wanted to be on the ice and I wanted to make a difference. It was an amazing lesson in the power of positive reinforcement that I will never forget.

6. Great Teachers Give Lessons That Last Forever - So Many Great Teachers
Throughout my school years, I had some incredible teachers. In elementary school, Mr. Milner shared his knowledge of and love for Alberta's natural history. Mr. Werenka, who always backed my athletics and academics.

In junior high, Mr. Bachinsky, Mr. Bushkowsky, and Mr. Dixon, who fostered my passion for reading, writing and literature. Mr. Fildes, Mr. Fleming and Mr. Harbourne, who encouraged me to participate in school athletics.

It was in high school that I found my most powerful role models. Mr. Sproule inspired my love of history. Mr. Barron helped push me in both French and English. Mr. Souster always backed me abilities as an athlete and was one of my biggest supporters when I left school to pursue hockey. More than anyone, though, Mr. John Phelan left an impression on me that I will never forget. He was an accomplished multi sport athlete who hustled you out of the gym into whatever sport he wanted. Mr. Phelan was solely responsible for  turning me and most of my friends on to rugby. Even though he never coached our team, he was always around, providing support and encouragement. I got to play a few games for Mr. Phelan as a JV player and I will never forget his intensity and passion for the game. When I moved to Red Deer and learned more about his legacy in his home town, my respect for him was secured permanently.

7. Every Conversation Is Important - Barrie Wilson
Barrie was my first principal and to this day, he is one of my biggest heroes in education. In my books, he ranks with John Dewey, Howard Gardner and Elliot Eisner. He is an amazing, energetic, inspiring man. The biggest lesson I learned from Barrie was the importance of taking time to speak with (and listen to) people. Barrie would always ask me about my life away from the school. Even more important, he remembered what  we talked about and followed up on it. As a beginning teacher, I spent many hours in the school on the weekend and it seemed that Barrie was usually there. He ALWAYS took time to have a quick conversation about what was going on in my life. Today, I know how important it is to acknowledge the people I spend my day with. I'm no Barrie, but I can always aspire to be like him.

8. Passion is Power - Jerry Simonsen
Jerry was my second principal at Eastview Middle School. He is also the man I can blame and thank for pushing me to become an administrator. Like Barrie Wilson and so many of the people who coached me, Jerry believed in me. Jerry is incredibly passionate about many things - athletics, fishing, fitness, underdogs and students who fall through the cracks in the system. When Jerry believes in something, he does everything he can to make sure it is successful. Jerry's belief that I could and should be a leader in our school changed my life forever.

9. Work Hard, Play Hard, Laugh Lots - Rita Di Placido
For the past five years, I have worked with Rita at Grandview Elementary School. As a teacher, administrator, parent and member of our school council, I have grown to respect "Mrs. D" in the most profound way possible. Nobody in our building works harder than Rita. She is often the first person at school and the last person to leave. If she isn't in the building, there is a good chance she is doing something related to our school. Rita's intense pride and love of what happens at Grandview is evident in everything she does. One of the greatest things about Rita is that she extends her passion to having fun. She never misses a dress up day or a staff party. Rita partakes in opportunities to play and laugh with exactly the same fervor that she approaches the "work" of being our school's principal. She is an amazing role model.

10. Don't Sweat the Petty Things (and Don't Pet the Sweaty Things) - Jeremy Spink
Jeremy is one of my very best friends. He is also the world's most relaxed organism. Very few things rattle him and he is always calm and positive. People love Jeremy because he is so nice and even-keeled. Whenever I need to be talked off the ledge, Jeremy is the man. We have worked together, played hockey, coached hockey, gone to school, stood up for one another and been roommates. We've shared vehicles, tents, trailers, hotel rooms and beds. Simply, he is the man and I'm glad I we are friends.

This list is far from complete, but this is a good place to start.