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Loving the Questions and Living the Truth

“Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.” — Khalil Gibran

It has been a long time since I wrote a blog post here, and a lot has changed in my life. I wasn’t sure I would continue posting, as I was uncertain as to whether my ideas would still be relevant for this space. Nevertheless, writing is helpful for me to process ideas, and I was inspired to post something more personal today.

Last summer I visited a friend in the Netherlands while on holiday. I immediately felt like I belonged there, and returned to Canada desperately homesick for a place I had never lived.  After some careful and thoughtful reflection, I embraced my commitment to my 2018 word: “Yes”, and began making applications to positions in the Netherlands. It took some time, but eventually the right job found me, and I was offered (and accepted) a position at a highly regarded academic University as an educational specialist/trainer. Immediately after finding out I had the job, I sold my home and the majority of my worldly belongings, said goodbye to my family and friends, and in January boarded a flight to begin the next chapter of my life, bringing with me only 6 suitcases and a hugely hopeful heart.

I LOVE living in the Netherlands. I do not question or regret my decision to move here. It is absolutely where I am supposed to be. My new city is beautiful and historic, while simultaneously lively and full of energy and culture. Some days I need to pinch myself just to check if it is actually real. One amazing thing about living in Europe is that everything is very close and travel to other places is relatively easy. Now that the weather is nicer and I am feeling more settled, I have begun to venture out more on my days off.

I am extremely grateful for the ability to use tools such as Facebook and Instagram to connect with friends and family - no matter how far apart or how many different time zones we may be in. I appreciate the ease of communication and feel immense gratitude for tools like Marco Polo that allow me to experience “conversation” with people I care about, even though we are not awake or available to talk at the same time. I have been posting a lot about the places I have visited, both within my own city and in the others I have travelled to, mainly so that the people who care and worry about me can see that I am safe and happy.

Despite my gratitude for having these tools to keep in touch, I have also started to notice that the more I post, the more I feel like a fraud.  I frequently receive comments from people saying things like:

  • I wish I had your life!

  • You are really living it up over there! Awesome!

  • You are having such a great time! It’s not boring there like it is here.

  • Keep posting! I am living vicariously through you!

  • You are so lucky!

While these comments are meant to be positive and supportive (and I have said similar things, myself, to others in their own posts previously), they leave me feeling like I am weaving a tale that is not true. Each photo is simply a snapshot of a carefully framed and curated moment, and a very inaccurate representation of real life. While this is the reality for all of us that use social media to post about the (mainly good) moments in our lives, it has started to bother me more and more over the 4 months I have been here. I want to be honest and share the true story that you don’t see in the posts.

  • I AM fortunate to live here, AND I was fortunate to live in Canada. When I show my Dutch friends photos of my Canadian hometown with its lakes and mountains and valleys and sunsets, they are incredibly jealous of how beautiful a place I came from. Sometimes we become desensitized to what’s around us and think that what we find “normal” (and, as a result no longer truly see) is boring. It’s not. Please start noticing the beauty and uniqueness around you. It is everywhere if you just pay attention.

  • My arriving here did not have a lot to do with luck. It had a lot to do with heartbreak and loss, and wrestling with identity when huge pieces of my life crumbled unexpectedly at the same time. It required a willingness to give up the comfort and security of the “known” in order to follow my heart and intuition, and to “put myself out there” and apply for multiple jobs, knowing that I would need to deal with repeated rejection until the right one appeared. It meant doing lots of really difficult and stressful things, and moving far away from people I love more than anything. Luck played such a small role. What it did have a lot to do with is COURAGE.

  • Moving abroad is rife with headaches. Immigration paperwork sucks. So does trying to figure out how to get established in another country, even for seemingly simple things like cell phone plans, bank cards and setting up household utilities. It sometimes feels overwhelming and like a canal full of purple crocodiles (a Dutch phenomenon that my colleagues educated me about).

  • I still have to wash dishes, vacuum, clean my toilet, shop for groceries, pay bills, and do all the other mundane tasks that go along with everyday life in any country. I also still work 40+ hours per week. I just don’t post photos of any of that stuff (and I don’t think anyone wants me to).

  • I feel lonely. A lot.

  • Living and working in a new country requires development of an up close and personal relationship with constant failure. I fail at understanding and communicating in Dutch. I fail at understanding systems, programs and procedures new to me at work. I fail at understanding and complying with cultural norms and nuances. I am a beginner learner again. I feel like I suck at everything… ALL THE TIME. I do not feel fully competent at anything… yet. When I tried to express this to colleagues, I felt like even more of a failure and ended up with a massive vulnerability hangover. (And I will likely have another one after posting this publicly).

A lot of people ask me why I decided to move here. I don’t really have an answer. All I know is that this is where I am supposed to be. I am as curious for the reason to show itself as anyone else. What I do know is that it will have something to do with people and purpose and connection. Already I am humbled by the kindness and helpfulness of people, the incredible opportunity to meet people from all over the world, and the gift of being trusted with their stories. I’m still struggling to figure out the bigger purpose piece, but I am sure it will come. When I get frustrated and impatient, I think about this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke: “Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”  

That, and I listen to this song on repeat. Every. Single. Word.

The Puzzle of Perspective

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In the spring, my thoughtful friend, amazing educator/podcaster Sandra Chow, surprised me by sending me a special puzzle called “Blue” that she had a feeling I would like. I was so excited! Not only is blue my favourite colour, but when I started putting the puzzle together, I realized that a lot of the pieces that made up the puzzle reminded me of different events, trips, symbols, memories, etc. that I connected with as part of my own personal story - the many distinct pieces that make me who I am. Working on this puzzle got me thinking about how each of us is a completely unique compilation of special puzzle pieces that fit together to make us who we are, and in turn, colour the lenses through which we see ourselves and see the world.

Every conversation we’ve participated in, book we’ve read, show/movie we’ve watched, song we’ve listened to, place that we’ve visited, teacher we’ve learned from, experience we’ve had, goal that we accomplished (or didn’t), thing that we’ve decided we like (or don’t), and so many more factors, help contribute to the story we make up in our head about our identity and the core beliefs that guide us in the ways we “show up” in life, and in our interactions with others. No two people could possibly have the exact same combination of puzzle pieces that make them who they are. As a result, no two people could possibly see the world in exactly the same way. There will always be differences, even if slight, that affect our “worldview” or perspective.

As I have been working with students to continue our plastic pollution awareness collaboration project with friends in Bangladesh (and more countries confirmed for the new year!), I have been wanting them to understand this idea of “puzzle pieces”, and how the country and culture we live in can add another layer of beautiful complexity to this concept. We will continue to build on this idea over the course of the year, especially as we do more collaborative work with our learning partners in other countries. Before we can understand the perspectives of others, however, we need to start by looking at ourselves and what makes us who we are and how we see the world.

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I have been familiar with the work of Global Nomads Group for quite a few years, and have always been impressed with the elegant and empathetic way that they address difficult social issues and concepts. I was looking through some of their resources and found some terrific ideas in their “One World Many Stories” curriculum. I had our students work through the “Selfie” activity this week. It was really interesting to have students start to put together descriptors of what makes them unique, and it was more challenging and time consuming than I had anticipated. When we shared our selfie information with others in small groups, I encouraged students to think about how they might react to others from a place of curiosity, rather than a place of judgement if their puzzle pieces were different from one another’s, which inevitably they will be. An example of this might be if one student sees themselves as unique because they love brussels sprouts and another doesn’t, the first reaction of someone who doesn’t like them might be to judge and say, “Ewwww! Those are so gross! How could you like those?!” We talked about how we could, instead, ask questions from a place of curiosity, to find out more about the stories behind why the person liked (or didn’t like) them. When we are willing to dig deeper rather than jump straight to a judgement or opinion, we often find out things that transform our thinking and surprise us! Recognizing why someone has a certain perspective, or what contributed to them taking that perspective, can be very enlightening! As I tell the students a lot, try to keep an open mind: different people, even within our own class (but certainly those from other parts of the world), have different ideas and ways of doing things. There are multiple ways of “right” that might not be exactly the same as ours. Another way of putting it, as a colleague says to her students, “Not right. Not wrong. Just different.”

There are some terrific picture books that address the topic of perspective, which I am hoping to use with students in the next few weeks. While picture books are often seen as only of interest to younger students, many have deeper ideas and topics that make them a perfect vehicle for exploring ideas and launching amazing discussions with older students, and even adults. “They All Saw a Cat” by Brendan Wenzel will be one that I use for sure. This book is simple in format, but I think will elicit some interesting opinions from the grade 6 and 7 students I am working with. I love the idea of how each person or animal in the book is seeing the same cat, but all of them have a different perspective about what the meaning or emotion attached to that cat for them.

Another great book I am hoping to share is called, “I Like, I Don’t Like” by Anna Baccelliere, which was just introduced to me in a workshop that I was fortunate to recently attend, led by the amazing Adrienne Gear. While short on words, this book packs a big punch in addressing perspective, privilege, child labour and poverty. The last, and most directly linked to our topic of plastic pollution, is “One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia” by Miranda Paul. I am loving the “Lit With Literacy” read aloud version of this book by @theSTEAMteacher. I will have the print copy of this book available for students, but with older kids, sometimes it is nice to have a version to project on the larger screen, especially when narrated by someone with a terrific reading voice!

Have you thought about the puzzle pieces that make up who you are and what you believe? How do they make you unique?

Do you have any activities that you have used, or want to try, with students that help address the topic of perspective or worldview?

Do you have any picture books or other resources that you like to use, or want to try, with students that help address the topic of perspective or worldview?

Please share in the comments below, on Twitter, or join our Facebook group and tell us your stories there! Your voice and ideas are important and valued.

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Nothing Sticks Together If We Don't

This content is cross-posted from the EdTechTeam blog.

“Whatcha gonna do about it?” I felt like the Universe was taunting me with this question after a challenging series of difficult life events and unexpected changes in rapid succession.  In addition to feeling defeated and depleted on a personal level, I was feeling anxiety and concern about the world at large. Every time I turned on the news, scrolled through social media or perused trending topics, I was bombarded with stories that were steeped in negativity.  I needed help finding the positive, and looked for inspiration in books, podcasts, online courses, and videos from people who have worked through difficult times with great courage. I noticed that many of them had the same core message, expressed beautifully by Viktor Frankl:  “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”  Perspective is powerful. Seeing difficult times as a catalyst for change and growth can help mitigate feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.  Instead of perceiving “Whatcha gonna do about it?” as a call to surrender to sadness and wave the white flag, I decided to choose to see it differently – as a challenge to do something good.  My response? The Glue EDU.

If we focus on the negative, we tend to see more of it. If we look for the positive, it begins to appear more frequently. I decided I wanted to create a blog that focused on the good, that helped myself, other teachers and students work toward becoming more “Wholehearted” (as defined by Brené Brown), and generate a positive ripple as a result.  

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Sketchnote by Leonie Dawson

I came up with my site’s mission: We appear to be existing in a time in this world (and often in educational systems) where the focus seems to be on things such as power, programs, policies, politics, plans, and procedures. It feels like decision makers sometimes overlook the most important “P word” of all: PEOPLEThe Glue EDU aspires to be a place where we can share lessons, activities, ideas, resources and more that help us work with our students to become human beings who are courageouscurious, and caring  – both to themselves and to others.  This could be through mindfulness activities, acts of service, global projects, storytelling, perspective shifting, and more!  Many of these activities can harness the power of technology to help us be even more effective and/or wide-reaching.

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As someone who has worked as a tech integrator for more than a decade, I am passionate about sharing ideas about using technology for GOOD, and teaching our students to do the same. I listen to a lot of people blame technology for many negative things in the world – that we are more connected to our devices but less connected to one another, just for starters.  In some instances, this may be true, but I believe we can work to shift our perspective here as well, and focus on all the positive ways we can use our tech tools. I have been incredibly fortunate to attend and present at many EdTechTeam Summits and events where I have seen this demonstrated over and over in presentations by other amazing educators. We can work with students to use technology to inspire curiosity, engage in empathetic interactions, and create, create, create – whether it’s connections to others, stories to share, solutions to problems, or moments of joy. It’s what you do with it that matters – and there are so many ways and opportunities to do it well!

It is scary to share your work publicly. When I began The Glue EDU, I worried that my only blog followers would be a couple good friends and my mom.  The response has been so much better than I ever expected. Colleagues in my own district are using some of the mindfulness resources I mentioned. Teachers from across North America, in New Zealand, and from Singapore, among others, shared how my post about #eyebombing brightened their day, made them smile, and inspired them to try it with their students. Kids in California are now getting a hug, handshake or high five from their teacher every day. An educator in Ohio reached out to say she made some big connections to the truthbombs I shared and thanked me for writing about them. Knowing that I am creating the positive ripple I had hoped for it gives me the courage to keep posting.

Human relationships, empathy, and compassion: they create the glue that connects us. I would love to hear your stories about using technology for good and possibly share them on the blog so others can hear them  – your perspective is important and necessary! Let’s use technology to connect our classrooms, share good ideas, and shift perspective to the positive together. Nothing sticks together if we don’t. Please join me!

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Sliding Door Moments

This week I started a brand new school year in a new position at a new (to me) school.  For the first two days I was working with all of the students who were also newcomers to the school community. Everyone in the room had a bit of a "deer in the headlights" look on our faces. We were experiencing a lot of new-ness all at one time, and it often felt daunting and overwhelming. There was frustration, exhaustion and a few end-of-day tears shed - and that was just from me: the teacher!

A number of colleagues checked in on me to see how I was doing over the course of the week. It was difficult to summarize my feelings, but the best description I could come up with was that it would be similar to the experience that I might have if I moved from my home in Canadia to Australia or Great Britain. On the surface, I would probably think, "It will be an easy transition - I speak English; they speak English. Without any kind of language barrier, I should be able to figure things out quickly, and integration into my new community should be fairly smooth".  In reality, I would find out - just as I did in my new school community - that acclimatization into new cultures is never as easy as we think!  There are different ways of saying things, alternate ways of doing things, peculiar places to store and locate stuff, acronyms to decipher, slang to decode. Not understanding the meaning of one word in a conversation or staff meeting can lead to cognitive confusion that makes you miss what is being said in the next several sentences, creating further challenges in your ability to put information into context and figure things out quickly. Adapting to all of this requires a lot of brain power, self-regulation, and patience with yourself and others.

Feeling like a "beginner learner" this week gave me a huge amount of empathy for anyone experiencing, learning, or even just being open to trying new things, especially our students. Sometimes, as the experienced instructor in the room, we can forget how this feels.  Even as a fairly high functioning, mindful adult, I found it incredibly uncomfortable. I could definitely feel how others, especially young students, might find it difficult to overcome the overwhelm in a positive, productive way. Many adults might not even be up to the challenge!

Luckily I was able to perspective shift and see how this new situation was forcing me to figure things out and grow - ultimately a good experience - even though it didn't feel like it in the moment.  This would not have happened had it not been for one important factor: relationships. People cared about the other people in the building, and this made everything else figureoutable. The staff were kind and accommodating. Students helped me with directions to parts of the building I could not find. Nobody rolled their eyes when I asked a lot of questions; people were patient and helpful. The giant hug I was given by a new student as she left on Friday was one of the highlights of my week.  Connection with other caring human beings was the glue that got me through.

Thinking about my gratitude for these relationships reminded me of a favourite video, "Every Opportunity", that was created by the Atlanta Speech School. I love how the story in the video depicts "alternate relationship universes" within a school; the contrast is pretty remarkable.  It made me think about how each new school year can be thought of as a "sliding door moment". Every new day and week in your classroom and school can be as well - an opportunity to start over and do better by using what you have experienced and learned.  

This week was a sliding door moment for me. I resolve to take my struggles and understandings from this first week of school and use them to be more empathetic toward and build better relationships with all the learners I work with this year - both children and adults.

Do you have any "sliding door moments" to share? Have positive relationships in your school communities helped you move through some challenging times? Tell us in the comments below or visit our Facebook group and join the conversation there!

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Just Three Deep Breaths

As humans, when we perceive that there is a threat of any kind, our brain tells our body to enter the "FFF" mode (Fight, Flight or Freeze). Adrenaline and cortisol are pumped through our system, our heart beats faster, our breathing rate accelerates, and muscles in our bodies tighten up, ready to react. A perceived threat can be anything from actual, imminent danger, to something as simple as thinking about something stressful. Human beings are the only animals that can activate the stress response even just by thinking about something that "could" happen - even if it's not really happening, or likely to happen at all. If our brain can think it, our body can react to it.

If our brain can make our bodies breathe faster as a response to stress, then it makes sense that if we calm our bodies with deep breathing, then our brain may take this as a signal that it is safe to relax. Even if we are not in a state of stress, a few deep breaths can help us quiet our minds for a moment, increase oxygen to our brains and bodies (which can improve energy, focus and attention), and help us start to develop a practice of mindfulness and being present in the moment.

Pausing to take even just three mindful breaths is a simple activity to integrate into the school day, and an easy practice to begin with your students.  This could be done in a "no tech" way by ringing a bell when it is time to take 3 breaths, or even by placing post-it notes or other prompts on desks, on books, or in other prominent locations where students will see them as a reminder to pause.

There are some excellent websites and tools that can help with this practice as well.  Xhalr.com is a simple, web-based tool that gives a visual to breathe along with. Under the menu at the top, right-hand side of the site, you can change settings to adjust the length of in/out breaths, along with types of breathing patterns.  Breathe With Me is another simple tool that offers a cute animal and soothing instrumental music to breathe along to.  One of my favourite tools is a Chrome Extension called "Breathe". This can be found in the Chrome web store and installed into your Chrome browser.  Once installed, you can click on the icon in your extension bar, and set the tool to pop up on your screen at regular intervals to prompt you to take a set number of breaths.  I am going to aim to have it pop up on the large screen or SMARTboard in my classroom every 30 minutes to remind the whole class to pause, be in the moment, and take 3 mindful breaths.

Have you tried doing mindful breathing activities with your students? Do you have any favourite tools that you would like to share? Please feel free to comment below this post, or join our Facebook group and share your ideas there!