525,600 Minutes

“525,600 minutes. 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes. How do you measure, measure a year?  How about love? Measure in love.”

- Seasons of Love from the musical, “Rent

December is always an interesting month for me. While I prefer the summer months because of the sunshine, longer days, and many outdoor activities (especially lake kayaking!) to partake in, December always signals a time for getting still and quiet, reflecting on the 11 months that precede it, and thinking about the new year to come. It is also the month where my birthday falls, so in addition to starting a new calendar year, I am beginning another trip around the sun myself, causing even further desire for self-reflection, exploration of personal growth and goal setting.

2017 was an extremely difficult year for me personally. In addition to my own difficulties, I feel like there were a lot of challenges in 2017 for many people on our planet. I don't feel I am inaccurate in saying that I have very few friends, acquaintances or people who I follow through social media who would express that it was their best year yet; in fact, for many, the opposite may be true. Nevertheless, we have made it through to the end of it. We learn from both our successes and our challenges, and sometimes the most powerful lessons come from the most difficult of circumstances.  Here are some of my most important takeaways from 2017:

  1. I forgot that one of the hardest things about being a classroom teacher is the amount of sleep I lose worrying about the students in my class.

  2. Mindfulness and meditation practices can help you process and work through some pretty difficult stuff that medication cannot.

  3. It is ok to stop, breathe, and take time to take care of yourself.

  4. There are many people around you going through hard things, including the students in your class and school - and your colleagues too. Be kind to everyone.

  5. When you are really, really struggling, sometimes you are often surprised by the people who show up to support you that you never expected… just as you are sometimes bewildered by the ones who you thought would be there for you, but are not.

  6. Sometimes when things feel the darkest, you don’t have any idea how close you actually are to getting to the other side of the tunnel where the light is shining.

  7. If you are willing to be courageous, curious, and caring, you begin to realize that almost everything is figureoutable.

In addition to personal contemplation, this time of year is a great time to ask your students about their own reflections on 2017 and their wishes for the new year.  I absolutely love this article about doing a nightly debrief with your children at home, and have borrowed some of the questions to add to a quick reflection for 2017/18 printable (go to "File - download as - PDF document" for the most printer-friendly formatting.) I left it in grey-scale for photocopying purposes. You are welcome to use it with your own students, and I will be using it with mine.  I am not a gifted graphic designer, so if anyone wants to take this template and improve upon it, I would love it if you would do that and then please share it back with me:, so I can share it here on the blog for others to use as well.  We are better together. UPDATE: Thanks to @mrmaltais for sharing his version of the above reflection printable.

One thing I know for sure: my life has been made better in 2017 through the incredible gift of connection. I am lucky to have so many rich connections with people - both face-to-face and online, and I can’t imagine having gotten through this year without them. I am always slightly mystified by people who still blame technology for disconnect between humans. So many of the people in my friend circles, my “tribe”, and my support networks have been those who I connect with from a distance, and this would not have been possible without the use of technology.  I cannot adequately express the gratitude I feel every day for the ability to spend time with these people via the use of the Internet and my technology devices.  It is possible to feel a dark, deep loneliness and disconnect with someone whose face you have an opportunity to see in person every day, just as you can experience absolute joy from a connection with someone who feels like sunshine to you, in a time zone 9 hours different from yours. It really is what you do with technology that matters.  If you are purchasing technology devices for yourself or others this season, please keep that in mind.  The best technology is that which allows you to create and connect, to share stories and support, and get to know and understand others better. There is no better gift than that.

As you think about the 525,600 minutes to come in 2018, how can you use your devices and Internet connection in the service of human connection?

Happy holidays and here’s to an amazing new year! 2018 is going to be the year that love wins. For me. For you. For all of us on planet Earth. I just know it.

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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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