It’s the Little Things

Wow! 2020. What a year. What a time. What a journey.

It’s fair to say that this time in the year 2020 is very challenging for many people. I would add that right now is particularly challenging for those of us who work in education. We are in a Global Pandemic. The number of Covid-19 cases are high (even though, I do realize that the numbers may be higher in other parts of the world), the highest they have been since the pandemic started. The school in which I teach, the same school two of my children attend, has had a Covid outbreak had to close for two weeks from November 14 – November 29. Additionally, just to make things even more interesting, our health authority has urged all staff and students to get tested for Covid-19 and self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of test results. Since my daughter (who attends a neighbouring high school) and my partner were both experiencing mild, allergy-like symptoms, we all piled into the mini-van and went for a family outing … off to the testing location. What fun.

After testing, we all started our self-isolation periods. One might think that it might not be so bad, since we are all self-isolating together. But, the thing is, we still cannot be close to one another, just in case one of us actually has the virus. In our family there are 3 people who are at-risk – two of us have asthma and another is immunocompromised and must have regular immunosuppressant infusions every 6 weeks. So, it’s not like chicken-pox, where you just expect (and sometimes encourage) everyone to get it, we actually need to be really careful not to expose each other to one another, just in case.

For us, not exposing one another means many things. We have been staying away from one another as much as possible. If we are in a common area of the house, we have masks on at all times. We do not touch each other. We do not sleep in the same beds. We do not eat meals together. When we are talking with one another, we do it through devices or at a distance – often from separate rooms, with doors open. Because of our family risk factors, we take this very seriously. We always have, which is why our bubble has been so small throughout this pandemic. The pandemic hasn’t been the most challenging part of 2020 for us, and we certainly don’t want to make it THE most challenging.

The stress has been pretty intense. It’s been very challenging. And yet, we continue. We don’t have a choice. We are surviving this pandemic, in such a way that we will be better at the end of it. We will be stronger as a family, as a community, as a province, as a country, and as a world, as a result. We will be. We just need to keep focused on keeping one another safe during this challenging time. We need to do our parts. Do our best. We are making history as we move through this time.

This brings my thoughts back to some of the most challenging parts of 2020 for me, which I will not go into here, but I got through. I got through these times with a wonderful counsellor, some inspiring and insightful books, some groups of amazing women who focused on lifting one another up, and some peaceful locations I could go to think, reflect, breathe, provide myself with some much-needed self-compassion, heal, be present, and focus on the little things, the things that really matter, the things that make a difference to our thought processes, which can be quite overwhelming for some of us during challenging times. For me, one of those places is near the water.

Being near the water provides me with such a calm sense, a sense of peace. It brings my senses alive and allows be to be truly present. It allows me to be in the moment. To be.

When I am near the water, the enormity of it can be breathtaking and overwhelming, yet still relaxing and grounding. When I look across the beach I see countless grains of sand, shells, rocks, pebbles, and seaweed. It all seems so big, so massive…. kind of like the Corona-virus. Everything about the virus seems big and overwhelming these days. But, when feeling overwhelmed and like things are just too much, we need to look closer. We need to examine our environment more closely to see the incredible things that are there. The things we may be missing. There are special things right in front of us, we just need to be present and really look for them, just like at the beach.

Much like life, the beach, in all its enormity, also has some pretty significant tiny treasures, if you take the time to really be present and look more closely. The closer we look, the more we will find to appreciate. The more we find to appreciate, the easier this time will be for each of us and for us all collectively.

Here is an example of this from a trip I took to the beach, on a particularly difficult day, in a very challenging time for me earlier this year. When I looked down I didn’t really see anything special. It all just looked like a bunch of rocks and broken shell pieces. Meh. But, even as I look at these photos, I see a lovely heart-shaped rock in the left photo (middle top of the photo). How precious. I didn’t see that then.

As I sat on the beach looking for treasures in what seemed, at first, to be a vast array of nothingness, I found a wonderful wishing rock. This rock brought back memories from years ago when I taught grade 1. My grade 1 teaching colleague used to go to the beach and pick up wishing rocks, enough for all the students in both of our classes. We would read a poem (this is not the exact poem we used, but an example … I could not located the exact poem) about wishing rocks (and do all sorts of poem study activities), and focus on the importance on making wishes and positive thinking. We would reinforce with our students the importance of holding on to those thoughts and wishes throughout our lives. We would also focus on how we can positively impact others (like in the legend of the wishing rock: Once you find a wishing rock, you make a wish. Once your wish comes true, you pass that rock on to a friend or loved one then all your wishes will come true and then your loved one can then make their own wish, and it continues).

When we look carefully (and sometimes not so carefully… but just take the time to look), we can find many things that bring us to more positive times. The more we take the time to look, the more we will find. This is what happened for me at the beach. It started with finding one wishing stone, and then moved on from there, until I couldn’t fit anymore in my hand. The more we look, the more we will find. The magic… the wishes… the peace … the fresh air … the resilience … it’s all there for us to find. There are times we will need to look more closely (and widely) than other times. Now may be one of those times for many of us. We can do it though! Even though it is really hard. We can do hard things.

Yeah, sure, we will still find some pretty yucky things along the way as well, as I did at the beach (cigarette butt in the sand), we just need to keep on looking. We just need to keep on refocusing ourselves, as many times as it takes. People are going to continue to do things we do not have control over, things that we may disagree with and things we may find frustrating. It is easy to get bogged down by those things, especially if those things are being done by people we care for and love, and especially when we know how harmful those actions are for all of us. There really is nothing we can do about that though. We can only control ourselves and try to be models for others (particularly our children and students) to follow. We can do this.

Other things we can each try to do to help keep ourselves grounded and in a better frame of mind, include…

  • As I mentioned above, try to focus on the things we can control or that we have control over.
  • Using the (free to educator) apps – Headspace and Calm to help us refocus and breathe.
  • Go for walks and notice the wonderful things around us. I try to take photos of these things and I will often post my photo walk photos on Instagram.
  • Listen to uplifting/positive music. I really enjoy this song, You Can Do Hard Things, and it is on my personal playlist called #Fighter. You may like it too. This version has some strong women … warning … there is one expletive by one participant at the beginning as they tell their point of view and this version is just the lyrics. We all can do hard things.
  • Read. There are wonderful self-help kinds of books to help refocus, and to help ground ourselves (like the book called Self-Compassion I blogged about recently). There are also many fictional books to just take you away into another space.
  • Limit social media or find groups that are more positive and uplifting. I found a recently created private group on Facebook by Lisa Baylis called Self-Compassion for Educators that I have found helpful. My colleague, and friend, Kiersten Shanz, our school counsellor, has created an Instagram channel that has some helpful supports as well.
  • Look for book studies. I was recently in a free 7-week book study with Marc Brackett, the Founder and Director of the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence, about his book, Permission to Feel: the Power of Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Well-Being and Success. You can find Marc on Facebook and Twitter as well.
  • Look through photos and videos of better times, when we went to concerts and spent much-enjoyed time together. The time when we are able to enjoy these times will come again. They really will. My partner, my love, just shared this video with me today (as I self-isolate away from him) of a wonderful time we had together cuddled together at a concert with Royal Wood. There will be more concerts for us soon (not sooner than we’d like, mind you).
  • Find times to smile and, better yet, laugh. This is one thing that made me laugh out loud last night … read the comments. Too funny!
  • Be creative in the ways you spend time with others.
  • Develop a group you can “zoom” with regularly … a group of people with whom you can smile and laugh and also a group of people with whom you can be vulnerable and share your struggles of these challenging times (you may need more than one group). It’s so important not to keep it all bottled up. We need to talk about our struggles with others. It helps our body and mind process things and not weigh us down.
  • Find ways to be creative. Create!
  • Learn something new. I am learning to sew. It’s quite a journey, since I haven’t touched a sewing machine since Grade 8 – over 35 years ago!
  • Try to be forward-thinking… this too will be over. Try to make plans for the future when we are past this time.
  • Reach out to a counsellor for a place to talk openly about how you are doing and the challenges you are facing.

These really are difficult times we are in. We need to be cognizant of that and be compassionate to others and ourselves as we move through this time. We need to be doing things differently. We have no choice in the matter.

We will get through this. Together.

Self-Compassion

COVID-19 (not to mention all the other life challenges we all face).

Need I say more?

Inevitably, life has challenging times. That is a given and to be expected. While there were predictions of a pandemic happening in the future at some point, what was not expected, was it happening now. For the past 6 months (or more, depending on where you live), we have been dealing with a global pandemic. To help slow the spread of the virus, we have had to limit the people we see, limit the amount of time we go out, and limit our activities. Schools were closed down for, at least, a couple of month, depending on where you live. Children were at home. Parents were expected to work and teach their children at home. Some people even lost their jobs. Others have health concerns (or family members with immunocompromised systems) which make it even more important to protect themselves, and their families, from this virus. As a result, there has been conflict … people being disrespectful of other’s decisions to wear masks or limit contact, etc… To say that changing the way we live our lives has been difficult would be an understatement. As a result, there has been much said in the media the last few months about the negative effects COVID-19 has had on people’s mental health.

When I met a gentleman on the beach the other day, we talked about how many people beat themselves up when things are challenging. We say harmful things to ourselves about our appearance, our actions, our mistakes, how fast (slowly) we complete our “work”, lack of self-care, etc… The list is endless really. The gentleman and I discussed how important it is for people to look at these things differently and instead of beating ourselves up, practise being kind to ourselves. Easier said than done, right? How many times have we thought/said things to ourselves that we would never say to someone else who may be suffering in some way?

As I mentioned in my last post, Noticing, I have been reading a book entitled, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Dr. Kristin Neff. In her book, she states that research shows that self-compassion is a major protective factor against anxiety and depression. She goes on to describe that depression is when someone ruminates about past events while anxiety is when someone ruminates about the future and future events. Both depression and anxiety are representations of how our body tries to keep ourselves safe.

Dr. Neff discusses the importance of feeling our pain. Really feeling it… not numbing it out and not avoiding it, but feeling it. She states that “We can’t heal what we can’t feel.” We need to truly feel and understand what we are feeling and why in order to provide ourselves with the same compassion we would provide to others.

She discusses a formula for us to consider – Suffering = Pain x Resistence. Oftentimes, we resist the pain we feel and, as a result, increase our suffering greatly. Instead, Dr. Neff says if we come to terms with the pain, understand it is there and, even though it may be really difficult, we can do things to manage this pain. There are things we can do to help ourselves.

Dr. Neff talks about a self-compassion mantra practise that she implemented to help her to remember to be self-compassionate toward herself. She would use this mantra whenever she faced something negative – difficulties in life or negative self-thoughts. For her mantra she repeats some specific phrases. While these phrases may be perfect for you, she also discussed the importance for each person to come up with our own version of her mantra – one which we are able to connect with personally. I have included both Dr. Neff’s Mantra and her other corresponding ideas to help you out (and to remind myself).

Dr. Neff’s Mantra (page 119)Dr. Neff’s Other Ideas for Personalizing a Mantra (page 121-122)
“This is a moment of suffering.”“I’m having a really hard time right now.”
“It’s painful for me to feel this now.”
“Suffering is a part of life.” “Everyone feels this way sometimes.”
“This is part of being human.”
“May I be kind to myself in this moment.”“May I hold my pain with tenderness.”
“May I be gentle and understanding with myself.”
“May I give myself the compassion I need.”“I am worthy of receiving self-compassion.”
“I will try to be as compassionate as possible.”

We are really all just doing our best during an intensely difficult time. While you are being compassionate to those around you for all they are going through, remember to pause and provide yourself with the self-compassion you deserve. This is hard. Really hard. September is over … one of the most difficult months of the school year has past. So, while you are thinking of ways to provide yourself with self-care, remember that self-compassion is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

Do you provide yourself with self-compassion? If so, how do you do that?

How has self-compassion helped you?

What’s the most challenging thing for you with regards to providing yourself with the compassion you deserve (and need)?

Other Resources For Support

BCCDC: Mental Well-being During COVID-19

ChildHealth BC: COVID-19 Mental Health Resources

heretohelp: COVID-19 – Mental Health Supports

BC Aboriginal ChildCare Society: COVID-19 Mental Health Support Resources

BCPA: COVID-19 – Psychological First-Aid

BCTF: COVID-19 and Climate Change – Managing Existential Anxiety in Your Students

BCTF: Starling Minds Resource

Noticing

It’s been a long time since I wrote my last blog post, and even longer since I did so regularly. Today, I finally feel ready to start to blog again. A little. I’ve missed it. As a way to begin, and to share part of my healing journey, I’m going to start with a rough journal entry I wrote (on paper) yesterday.

Journal Entry – September 30, 2020

20200930_131742I love the peacefulness and calm I feel sitting and journalling by the water, listening to the slight waves against the shore when a boat travels past, listening to the birds chirping close by and in the distance. Feeling the soft breeze of the wind and the warmth of the sun against my face. As I take small sips of my sweet tea, I notice that I am here … completely present … providing myself with the time, love, peacefulness, calm, gentleness, and understanding that I so need and deserve.

I’ve been through a great deal … more than any one person should have to endure. It has been an ongoing journey. With life, there will be many ongoing challenges, especially if one has to deal with any toxic people with any regularity, and who doesn’t have to do that.Continue reading “Noticing”

A New Chapter

Here I am starting yet another new chapter in this journey called life.

At the end of February, I decided to leave elementary school administration and head back to my passion of teaching in the classroom. You can read about that here. After a challenging time personally and professionally, I needed to find my passion again … why did I become a teacher? Why did I become an administrator? What was my purpose? Has that purpose changed? Developed? Evolved? It has been a process for sure that started with some health concerns and evolved into focusing on my word of the year for 2018, Perspective, which you can read about here.

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In March, I began teaching Kindergarten again full-time. What a joy that was. Truly. Yeah, there were times where there was pee all over the floor in the in-class bathroom and even poop occasionally, but it was still joy. I had kids struggling to leave their parents in the morning and requiring some extra cuddles. Joy. There were kids hitting each other and struggling socially to express themselves in appropriate ways. Still joy. Seeing the lightbulb go on when a child can find a word in the pocket chart when we are playing a game of “Where is…”. Joy! Watching a child learn to express themselves in their writing. Joy. I could add to this list all day. Teaching kindergarten was a joy. What a gift it is to be able to provide these children with my undivided attention and to help them with their struggles and be a small part of their triumphs! Continue reading “A New Chapter”

Finding Meaning and Passion

On February 24, 2018, I was at the beginning of making a pretty big decision in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some pretty big decisions in my life, particularly in the last 4 years or so, but this one was equally important on my journey of healing and road toward striving to reach my authentic self.

It was on this day that I decided I no longer wanted to be a principal. I wanted to return to the classroom. After 12 years as an elementary school administrator, and after a very challenging year as an elementary school principal, I longed to connect to my passion that made me strive to be an educator so many years ago.

As an administrator, particularly in the last 6 months of my admin career, too much emphasis had been on the negative. Too much emphasis had been away from student-learning and growth and focused on other factors which took time away from truly making a real difference as a school leader – a real difference in the lives of educators and their students.

In turn, throughout this time, I seemed to be working harder and harder, longer and longer hours, into the night after I put my kids to sleep, to try to make that difference. A difference that people didn’t want me to make. A difference I knew was possible and one I had felt I had made elsewhere. A difference people were not ready for. Continue reading “Finding Meaning and Passion”

One Word 2018 – Perspective

Happy 2018!

What a year 2017 was.

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A large part of 2017 was filled with anxiety, apprehension, and worry surrounding a health issue. In turn, this year was also filled with a great deal of personal reflection. In the personal reflection, many questions came up for me. Questions which needed further reflection, thought, and counselling. Also during this time, was a search for ways to lessen stress and bring more calmness into my everyday life.

PSX_20180107_200730.jpgSo, you might be wondering what health concerns I was having throughout 2017. I went for my very first mammogram in March, 2017 (almost 6 years later than you are supposed to go for your first mammogram). This visit led to a long series of concerns which involved multiple mammograms, ultrasounds, numerous biopsies, an MRI and more mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsies. After many months, and multiple growths later, these tests culminated in having a mass removed from my right breast – a mass that the doctor indicated that test results said it was a BiRads 4C and had an 80% of being cancerous. As a result, they wanted the mass removed completely. It was surgically removed at the end of November. I received the pathology results on December 11. Negative. Not cancerous. A fibroadenoma. A couple of them, actually. Thank goodness!  What a relief.Continue reading “One Word 2018 – Perspective”

One Year Ago Today

I am sharing this in an effort to help others, to be a voice when others may be struggling to find their words.  If you, or someone you know, think that you may need the support of a Transition House, give them a call. Reach out. Ask for help.

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February 12, 2017

One year ago today.

It was one year ago tonight that my three young children and I entered the Libra House Transition House through Ishtar Transition Housing Society. It was one year ago we began to meet some of the most caring, thoughtful, generous women I’ve ever met in my entire life.

One year ago today, I gained enough courage to move forward.

One year ago today, I asked for help.

One year ago today, I accepted support from others.

One year ago today, I gained the strength of many.

One year ago today, my healing journey began.

One year ago today, I started to value myself.

One year ago today, I started listening to myself.

One year ago today, I started to trust in myself again.

One year ago today, I started understanding that my normal, wasn’t really “normal”.

Continue reading “One Year Ago Today”

You Matter

Yes, you matter.

For the past few years, there has been a prominent movement toward making sure people (particularly kids) know that they matter. It is a wonderful, very important message that I feel like people can’t hear enough. You can read more about the You Matter Manifesto through Angela Maiers’ site. You can also find a wide range of inspiring ideas and posts on Angela’s Twitter stream. Check it out! You can even get a free copy of Angela Maiers’ new book: Genius Matters which has wonderful stories and helpful lessons to continue to spread this movement.

Here is a video by Angela Maiers about the words, You Matter:

I agree that it is our responsibility as parents, as educators, as leaders, and as people to help everyone around us understand that they each hold special gifts, talents, and abilities. I agree that too often our children are taught to conform and not to truly express who they are as individuals. It is our responsibility to honour them and help them understand their strengths and then build on these strengths.Continue reading “You Matter”

Be Kind to Yourself

It was Friday morning and my classroom was empty. The students had just left with the teacher who helps them exchange their library books for the week. A few minutes after 5448660307_14ccbc3b37my students in Grade 1 and 2 left the class, in walked in another student. He was a few minutes late and had his usual huge smile on his face. He’s 6 years old and in Grade 1. He’s absolutely adorable and has a huge heart. His smile is infectious and always lights up my day. So, with the two of us alone in our class, I said, “Good morning, Joe! Your parents must feel so fortunate to have such an amazing son who is always so happy!” (Joe is not his real name.) Joe’s smile became even bigger! And, then, away he went to the library with his book to be exchanged in his hand.

After school, I happened to be talking with Joe’s mom. She was dropping off some school notices which she felt she was late in returning to school. She was berating herself a little bit, saying that she was having a hard time getting things together. As a mom of 3, it is not easy to keep on top of all the things we need to do as moms. I felt for her and just simply said that it was okay and that it was important that she just be kind to herself. I went on to say that we are all just doing our best and that she is doing a wonderful job.

Continue reading “Be Kind to Yourself”

Where are the Women Keynote Speakers?

Where are the Women Keynote Speakers?

This post was collaboratively written by:

Jessica Johnson
Melissa Emler
Heidi Hutchison
Iram Khan
Kaye Henrickson              
Tia Henriksen                             

Image by PIxabay
Image by PIxabay

In a recent discussion in our Women in Leadership oxer group, we came to the realization that opportunities for us to hear female education leaders speak as keynote presenters at conferences are a rare find. We can list numerous outstanding male keynote speakers we have heard at conferences and would be happy to listen to again:

  • Todd Whitaker
  • Eric Sheninger
  • Peter DeWitt
  • Andy Hargreaves
  • Michael Fullan
  • Joe Sanfellippo
  • Tony Sinanis
  • Jimmy Casas
  • Jeff Zeoul
  • Daniel Pink
  • Sir Ken Robinson
  • Kevin Honeycutt
  • Baruti Kafele
  • Josh Stumpenhorst
  • George Couros
  • Dean Shareski

The list could go on and on…Continue reading “Where are the Women Keynote Speakers?”