Coffee that binds…

It isn’t every day that you come across a group of colleagues with whom you gel 24/7, but this year, I have had some defining moments of professional insight that have been spurred on by remarkably passionate and smart people inside AND outside my building. And when this happens, the potential for magic in teaching and thinking exists!

As I am sure was the case for many an Ontario educator, this week felt like one of the l-o-n-g-e-s-t so far this year for a wide variety of reasons. In my particular case, our progress reports went home this week on the same day that we hosted a dozen visiting P’s, VP’s, and SO’s as part of the province’s School Effective Framework (aka SEF) process. While we were ensured from the get-go that there was nothing extra to prepare or do, teachers being teachers, we all wanted to show our best work for our guests and have our students shine. Translation? Major extra stress during an already jam packed week which concluded with student-led conferences Thursday evening till 8 pm and Friday morning.

As the week went on, more and more teachers seemed to be getting sick too: raw throats, running noses, sleepless nights, and overall fatigue. Student behaviour referrals peaked in the office as well because we all know, just like with parenting, when teachers are stressed, kids sense it and act up! Staff morale seemed at an all time low Thursday to the point where I had to get a breath of fresh and I decided to go out for lunch. For that extra push to get through what would turn out to be a very long night (finally left at 8:30 pm), I picked up my signature grande latte, and treated two of my fellow coffee loving colleague to a Dopio Espresso and an Americano. Upon my return, I discovered they had skipped out for lunch themselves. A quick text message confirmed they were on their way back and would join me for coffee talk in the library (one of my favourite job-embedded professional development models) while they’d scarf back their impromptu sushi.

And as usual, this Thursday’s talk did not disappoint! When the three of us talk about the awesome lesson we had that day; how a particular student rocked our world with a piece of art they created; what’s broken in education; or an idea on how we can change the world, I swear I am teleported to another learning galaxy. This week I termed it as a “MOMENT” unlike any other. A moment when, spurred on by our overpriced hot Starbucks beverages, our passion for learning and our shared philosophy reached new heights and clarity all at the same time. I find myself so much more grateful than usual for the collegiality, professionalism, trust, and respect I have with these 2 fine educators, and I encourage you to read Kevin Sebastian’s and Jonathan Lewis’ (@j_lewie) excerpts in David Booth’s new book, Caught in the Middle, to know what I really mean.

Even though I am spent energy-wise this Friday night, I realize how much I treasure the moments when we really get to know the real person behind the grade level or subject; when I develop an appreciate of the full narrative that they each bring to my experience at school everyday. Deeper insight into the people I work and lead with provides me with clarity of the individual strengths, talents, and passions that can be leveraged/harnessed to mobilize positive social change in our school community and beyond…

We take long strides to get to know our learners, but how well do we really know those with whom we spend our working hours each day of the week? How many teachers’ passions and talents go untapped because no one ever asked or shared?

Hugs to fellow Ontario educators-we made it!



Grieving 2.0

Please don’t let the title scare you off… If “I am what I share” is true, then I simply must write about the emotionally charged week I just had in the hopes someone may gleam some strength and inspiration from my post.

Having lost my 86 year old amazing Babcia (Polish for Grandmother) to a sudden stroke on Hallowe’en evening this past Monday, as the eldest grandchild, I had the honour of preparing and delivering her eulogy at the funeral on Thursday. If you knew my Babcia, Kazimiera Mizaek, cramming all of her life’s experiences and character traits into a 15 minute address was no small task. I have never written a eulogy before, so I did what most would do to get started and conducted an online search for ‘writing a eulogy for grandmothers’. The results were very helpful in that they gave me a great start point. But then I got to thinking: I am not the only one who was inspired by my Babcia’s life; surely there were others.

So, as a connected educator and citizen, I tapped into my social network via Facebook by posting this on my wall: “I have the honour of preparing and delivering my Babcia’s eulogy at her funeral tomorrow and could use some help from family and friends. If you had the pleasure of meeting my Babcia, pls post memorable Babcia moments, sayings, etc… here. Thank you/Dziękuję :)”

Literally within minutes, family and friends were sending me anecdotes, stories, memorable Babcia moments and thoughts of how my Grandmother left lasting impressions on their lives! I had all the content one could ever dream of…

Stitching everyone’s ideas together was the only thing left. For some reason, once I read over what others had to say, the BIG IDEAS of her life rose to the surface immediately, and the eulogy flowed from my tears through my fingers. I even included a few lines in Polish thanks to my aunts (aka Ciocias) at the visitation. I wanted to make Babcia proud, and convey to everyone just how much she meant to all of us!

As the priest delivered the funeral mass, I was anxious to have my turn to tell Babcia’s true story. Finally, my turn had come, and with Babcia at my side (literally and spiritually), I read through all 1600+ words without crying except for the final paragraph!

Until now, I had only leveraged web 2.0 tools for professional purposes, but here was an example of tapping into my social network for something that was so much more meaningful and precious to me. I thank others for ‘being what they share’ with me! Their contributions helped me tell a much more complete story of the life and influence of a remarkable woman named Kazimiera Miazek, born July 25, 1925, who sadly departed from this Earth on Monday October 31, 2011.