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


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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Curiosity and the CAN-BAN Connection

“I’ve never met an interesting person who is not also an interested person.”  Curiosity and inquisitiveness are virtues.

- Elizabeth Gilbert (on the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett)

It is unusual to hear a teacher say that they are sad that they are running out of instructional days with their students near the end of the year, but I honestly wish we had a little bit more time. Don’t get me wrong: just like most teachers, I am absolutely exhausted, the full moon last week seemed to mysteriously make even the best students act out with unexpected behaviours, and I would rather be enjoying time on my deck in the sunshine, kayaking, or travelling rather than be cooped up in a classroom. That being said, because we are doing some AMAZING learning and collaborating, I am almost disappointed to see the end of June arrive.

Since launching our inquiry into plastic pollution in the ocean and its effect on marine animals (and the world), my students and I have really taken our learning to another level. Finding a topic that they were genuinely curious about got them really fired up and excited. The activities and collaboration that we have been participating in during the last couple weeks have added fuel to the flame. Very little of it would have been possible without the use of technology. We have been exploring young innovators like Boyan Slat from the Netherlands, who has come up with a unique way to start reclaiming plastic pollution from large, ocean garbage patches. We were extremely lucky to meet with the Florida Oceanographic Society for an excellent Skype in the Classroom program about Sea Turtle conservation. We have been brainstorming ideas for how we can promote more awareness of plastic recycling in our community. But the very best part of our learning? Our collaboration with new friends from another part of the world!

A mutual friend from the Netherlands suggested that I might find a good collaboration partner in Emil Waldhauser. Emil is a creative and talented teacher from the Czech Republic, who is currently working at the Australian International School in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This was such a timely connection, as, in our class, we had recently been looking at articles from the digital “Planet or Plastic” June edition of National Geographic, and a photo that we were particularly curious about was one from Dhaka. Emil was immediately onboard with the collaboration idea, and quickly set up some SMART Amp workspaces for us to use as an asynchronous collaboration forum - a great way of making things work despite the fact that a 13 hour time difference meant we would never be able to have our students meet in real time.  In the workspaces they have posted photos of and Google Maps links to nearby neighbourhood scenes, waterways, and plastic pollution on the beach. They even shared a terrific video about pasta straws that had my students wanting to learn more! We have been doing our best to post links in the collaborative workspaces about our city, river, garbage pick-up and recycling system, and other information that we have been learning. We shared a link to the Flipgrid videos we created to share our questions and wonders about Dhaka and plastic pollution in Bangladesh, and are waiting for our partners to comment back.  It has been extremely motivating for my students (and I think for Emil’s as well) to have an authentic peer audience for their work, and to be feeling like we are making friends in another country, while representing our own.

One thing that has really stood out to me about this collaboration is the extreme curiosity that my students have been displaying about learning more about this issue and the other countries we have been investigating as a result of our learning. While our Dutch friends were unable to fit us into their busy year-end schedule to collaborate, we still made a fun Adobe Spark video to share with them, and the process of researching and then creating it was a wonderful inquiry and learning experience. We learned some words in Dutch, and also got to have a little fun and show off our great Canadian sense of humour! ;-)

The CAN-BAN (Canada-Bangladesh) connection, however, has been the most powerful by far! Our countries and cultures are very different, and yet, we still have so many similarities. We have had some really terrific discussions in class about how the way we do things in Canada are not necessarily “right” - just normal for us, but that there are multiple ways of doing things “right” in the world. “Our” way is just one of many. We can learn a lot from how others do things. They can learn from us. We can be courageous, curious and caring. We can ask questions in respectful ways to find out more, like starting our sentences with, “I am interested to learn more about…” or “I am curious about…” or “I noticed this. Can you tell me your thoughts about it?”. We are also learning a lot about ourselves in the process, thinking about the systems and structures in place in Canada that make our country a wonderful place to live in, but that we often take for granted. This is powerful learning! 

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I have very few instructional days left with my students. We are currently trying to work on a culminating project where we make sea creature muppet-style puppets similar to these (but made from craft foam) that we’ll use to make green-screened PSA-style videos about the plastic pollution problem. We want to write letters to different levels of government and local restaurants to encourage them to reduce the amount of single-use plastic drinking straws we are using. We will make it a priority to keep sharing with our friends in Bangladesh about what we are learning and doing until they are finished their school year in mid-June.  Will we get it all done? I don’t know - and I’m not worried. The fact that my students are becoming more interesting people because they are interested and curious is more than enough for me! Better humans for the win!

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