#pawsfortales

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A common theme I have seen come up time and time again in this new normal we have all found ourselves thrown into in recent times is the tremendous role our pets play in all of this . As most dogs have, my Roo has fully embraced this time of home learning and isolation. She loves having everyone home all day…every day. I can’t remember the last time she was home alone. She also loves her daily late afternoon car rides to collect Pokemon and her evening walks with the family to collect sticks. She has figured out when she needs to lay quietly napping on the chair beside me, as I move from one video call to another throughout the day, and I have figured out around what time the mail carrier comes each afternoon and to be very cognizant of having my mic muted at that time!

There are animals formally trained as “emotional support animals” across the world; animals that do very important work and positively impact the lives of many living with mental health issues and specific emotional needs. But as of late, it kind of feels like everyone’s pet has become a bit of an informal, unofficial “emotional support animal”. What would many of us do without our fur buddies who are there to offer love, comfort and companionship at every turn?

Over the last month or so, I have loved seeing and hearing about classroom video calls in which students’ dogs and cats couldn’t help but be a main focus of early interactions or interruptions in some cases 😉 . I loved seeing teachers post pictures of themselves on Seesaw or social media at home with their pet. These are great ways to continue to build relationships with our students and with each other, even when we are apart. When we share a little bit of ourselves, we maintain connections and enhance our sense of community.

Some of the most heartwarming initiatives or movements we have seen take off during our time at home have done exactly that; strengthened our sense of community. On our evening walks as a family, I continue to keep an eye out for bears and hearts in the window. I am inspired by the musicians that have taken to balconies to serenade neighbours on a daily basis, along with other artists that have found incredible, innovative ways to entertain others via online platforms and spread warmth and inspiration through their creativity when we need it most. Daily traditions like the cheering for health care workers at shift change started with one clapper somewhere and later turned into a worldwide phenomenon.

I hope it is some of these pieces we remember most when we reflect back on this period of time in the future. Let’s always remember the moments that brought us together as a community and the incredible strength of the collective human spirit that has surfaced in a way we have never known before.

So today I invite you to take part in a new initiative that does just that. It honours our animals that have brought us such joy during these challenging times. Those animals might include a dog, cat, rabbit, reptile, fish, bird, hamster or even a favourite stuffy! It also honours our teachers, students and families at home, doing their best to figure out this new “home learning” way of life and encourages them to have a little fun with it. Last of all, it honours reading and books. For me and I hope for many others, finding some quiet time to read has been a pleasant escape during this time at home.

So as we take part in home learning, please take a moment to… #pawsfortales.

Find a favourite book or tale and read to your favourite animal. Post a picture or brief video (being mindful of copyright) and post on Twitter or Instagram to the hashtag #pawsfortales.

Or teachers challenge your students to do the same and post on your classroom’s online learning platform.

As you take a moment to pause and read with your furry friends, be proud and share it with the rest of us!

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Hometown Proud- Manitoba Educators Making a Difference

We all know the age old saying, “every cloud has a silver lining. Well, as we all muddle through this new normal of physical distancing, learning at home and the many ramifications of this pandemic; I can’t help marvel at and acknowledge “a silver lining” in the amazing work I see being done by Manitoba educators! 

These are trying times. As educators we could have never anticipated this unprecedented context we currently live and breathe each day. We miss our students, we miss our colleagues and we miss the normalcy of our everyday routines of life . This new version of “work” is exhausting and for many it constitutes a delicate dance each day of trying to balance our own personal situations in the midst of putting in a full “school” day from home. For others, this act is nearly impossible. Yet, despite these challenges, one can’t help but be continuously amazed at the true spirit, camaraderie and humanity that surrounds us. No the response is not perfect (that’s a given….we ARE in the middle of a crisis response people 😉 ) and we are continually adjusting our aim, but nonetheless people are stepping up, doing their best and in many cases going above and beyond in unprecedented ways. 

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Facebook Group that was created at the beginning of April rightly entitled, “And the teachers came together as the students stayed apart”. This private FB group started by Winnipeg School Division Vice-principal, Angela Perez and some of her colleagues; as a place to problem solve, share, support, encourage, and make each other laugh, while getting through this together has become more than just a “group” for it’s nearly 4 000 members (yes you read that right…four thousand!!!), it has become a community like no other, a lifeline of sorts for many. This is a place where not only teachers come together,  but those involved in all areas of education including clerks, EAs, & clinicians also take part. To find out more about how this incredible community got started read about here.

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Each and every day I cannot help but be impressed by the solidarity and support offered to each member who posts a question. Within hours regardless of topic or focus, countless suggestions and solutions are offered to the original poster, running from inquiries about specific remote learning platforms, to ideas for specific grade and subject lessons, to assessment suggestions, to tips in dealing with a myriad of issues.

But what is even more impressive is the moral and emotional support these educators offer each other. This is a place to go when you want to share and celebrate a success or a job well done. This is a place to go when you have a long, tough day and you want an empathetic ear. This is a place to go when you are frustrated beyond words and you need a fresh perspective or a potential solution to your struggles. This is a place to go when you need an exciting idea or a new way to do business. This is a place to go when you just need a laugh or a place to take your mind off your own situation for just a minute.

This past week members shared pictures of their pets and a little bit about themselves. This week members also shared a teacher that inspired them in their own school career. The members of this group are more than just teachers and educators doing a job; they are people with their own individual stories, families and contexts sharing their lives. It’s inspiring.

Another awesome bonus of this group is the sharing across schools, divisions and beyond. This platform allows educators to open the door to vast perspectives, to step outside of their own echo chambers and take in a multitude of perspectives and ideas. 

I think the members of  “And the teachers came together as the students stayed apart” would agree this is more than just a FB group, it’s even more than just a community of educators, this is a movement. This is an act of solidarity on behalf of Manitoba educators saying we are better together, we are stronger together  and we will get through this…together. 

I visit the page everyday to fill my bucket and warm my heart. It is a gift.

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So yes, in the midst of chaos and uncertainty I am so grateful and proud to be:

  1. A Canadian -For obvious reasons 🙂 
  2. A Manitoban -We are doing this Manitoba…we just have to stay strong & stay home. We need to remain vigilant right now, when it matters most.
  3. An Educator -My heart is full in seeing how Manitoba educators have put their best foot forward in figuring out this new context for learning. It may be challenging and it may be messy (often new learning is), but as always teachers are doing what teachers always do. They have come up with innovative ways to do what is best for their learners. They have come up with creative solutions to do what is best for their learners. And they have come together with a sense of efficacy and teamwork that transcends boundaries and geography and pandemics to do what is best for their learners.

*Please Note: Another amazing Manitoba resource worth mentioning is: 

My Learning at Home- a resource from Manitoba Education & Training that offers parents and caregivers a collection of online resources to support and encourage meaningful family-centered learning at all grade levels.

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If you haven’t had a chance to explore this rich resource or recommend it to your families, please take some time to do so. Everyday Learning Activities are available in both English and French and  organized into early years, middle years and senior years through the lens of literacy and numeracy in the following areas:

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There are also extensive ideas around Learning at Home, Online Learning Resources and Staying Healthy. The site has much to offer in the way of both digital learning opportunities and hands on learning around the house. A big thank you to Manitoba Education and Training for putting together such a comprehensive and family friendly resource!

(If you haven’t seen Wide Open School, by Common Sense Media, it’s also work checking out!)

Hometown proud! Thanks Manitoba educators, you are making a difference! Keep doing what you are doing and please know we are all in this together!

 

 

 

My Life in Seven- A Learning Opportunity for Students

If you are not aware of a bit of a phenomenon on social media over the last little while it involves the hashtag of #mylifeinblackandwhite or #blackandwhitephotos or #blackandwhitechallenge and goes something like this:

People choose a black and white photo that somehow relates to them or they relate to (no people, no explanation). They post it, and nominate someone else each day for seven days. There are variations on the theme but that is the general idea. You can check out the hashtags on both Twitter and Instagram to see examples.

I am a sucker for creative challenges such as this. I appreciate the outlet and power of capturing meaning and the essence of myself or my life using a visual means. I love the connectedness it brings to friends and colleagues as we share bits of ourselves and relate to each other. I value the chance to catch a new glimpse inside the people we know; including the things that matter to them most, favourite places, coveted objects, special memories and the like.

The educator in me jumps to the potential this simple exercise has for creating an innovative and enriching learning opportunity to do with students. It could serve as an excellent project to do with our learners exploring personal identity and could prompt thoughtful written reflections to go along with each picture. It could set the stage for rich dialogue and contextual conversations about posting on social media and using these platforms to put good out into the world. It could provide an opportunity to show our students that we care about them as individuals and that we are willing to meet them in “their space”, or digital platforms that they value and frequent.

I challenge classroom teachers out there to try something along this theme with their learners. If you do, I look forward to hearing about it. If you already are…please share!!

MY LIFE IN 7

Lessons from My Dog

Despite it being just a few weeks into summer and the fact I am really trying to honour the necessity of some much needed time to recharge, there is still a whole lot of “education” going on around my house. Roo, my ten-month-old Australian Cattle Dog/Beagle mix puppy is learning every single day, and very much still in need of some teaching or training.

Roo is the quintessential puppy; high energy, playful, fun and inquisitive. She loves bones, balls, sticks, water, treats, things that move and walks. She has many great qualities. She is good on the leash, very sociable with dogs of all sizes and ages, affectionate, easy going and always happy. She is resilient and tough; already battling through two UTIs and an allergic reaction in her short life. She can also be difficult to manage when she gets amped up, likes to bark at our three cats and struggles to behave appropriately at times around food. She is still learning. Hence, I turn on “teacher mode”.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that educating the youth of today in schools can be equated to the learning and training of a puppy, but yet there are many parallels. Over the last number of weeks, I have been struck by just how many. In many ways, learning is learning, regardless of the audience.

Key Foundations of Learning

Setting routines, boundaries, and expectations is essential

  • Setting the stage to know what to expect and being consistent is key.

Learning often takes time

  • Learning is a marathon, not a sprint. It often takes time. Chunk expectations and goals. Be patient.

Stay positive

  • Celebrating successes, honouring strengths, reinforcing the positive and planning for next steps is what keeps learning moving forward.

It always comes down to relationships

  • Roo trusts me. We have a connection and a bond. This whole dynamic is much more complicated with the whole master and dominance piece with dogs, but ultimately it all comes down to relationships.

Learners have different needs

  • What works for one learner will not work for all. Every learner is different. Be a problem solver, differentiate and look for alternative means to reach the goal.

Remember the power of the network

  • There is nothing more powerful than talking with others, sharing experiences and getting ideas through connecting. When we are open to learning from each other we all benefit. We also need to rely on our “experts”. (Special thanks to Lisa Morin, Stacy from Leo & Co., Ashley Reid, Kerry Nemet and Doggy Dan)

All of these principles drive the work I am doing with my puppy this summer. They also are reflective and embedded in the work I have done with both children and adults over the last twenty plus years. Learning is learning.

Roo’s learning is a work in progress. That’s true for all of us. And as we continue to work on her training this summer, I learn alongside her. She also teaches me many things. She reminds me to greet each new day with enthusiasm, play more, enjoy the simple things, and love unconditionally. There is much we can learn from each other! Wish me luck as the adventures of Roo continue!

Learning By Design

Screen Shot 2018-07-07 at 9.38.09 AMMuch of the work I have done with learners over the last few years has been built upon the process of Design Thinking. Whether it be planning and programming at the STEAM Enrichment Centres, working with teachers around innovative practices that support student-driven, creation focused learning, or guiding students through the creative process while working on Destination Imagination Team Challenges; all these elements involved some form of design thinking.

Design thinking is a creative process to support our thinking and doing. It can be used to approach a problem/task that serves as a model or roadmap for learners. It has universal applications across all subject areas and disciplines, and can be implemented regardless of what students are creating whether it be;

  • creating a sculpture
  • solving an ongoing classroom issue
  • planning a campaign for a school-wide initiative, or community need
  • building a tower
  • writing a poem or essay
  • coding a simulation
  • devising an experiment
  • designing something using 3D imagery

Design thinking is a mindset. The ultimate goal of design thinking is creative solutions to solving problems.

Many educators in my school division use this model of Design Thinking to drive the work done with students in this area. Building common, consistent understanding and shared vocabulary across, grades, classrooms, within schools and even beyond is very beneficial.

There are also other valuable models such as the ones below:

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(Left to Right: TMI Robot from Invent to Learn-Stager & Martinez, Stanford’s d.school Design Thinking Model, & AJ Juliani & John Spencer’s LAUNCH Cycle)

As a former Inquiry Support in a K-8 school for 10 years, I have many strong beliefs about the power of Inquiry-Based approaches to learning. I have given a lot of thought and had many rich conversations with colleagues around how Design Thinking fits into an Inquiry-Based model. In my mind, Design Thinking is just one of the many entry points to using an inquiry approach in the classroom. The image below I co-created a couple of years back helps to illustrate this concept. There are many entry points on “THE INQUIRY LANDSCAPE”.

Sometimes our students we may need more of a “wander and wonder” model that starts with a topic or question and is more “research” focused. Sometimes we use the scientific method if applicable. And sometimes when we are starting with “creation in mind” whether it be a product, idea, campaign, sculpture, structure etc. we may move towards the Design Thinking Process to guide our inquiry.

What may in some respects make the DTP unique from some of the others is the very natural way questioning comes out through the creative work often in “need to know” kind of ways as opposed to starting with questions in mind. In the end, I view, inquiry like the “umbrella” term or concept with multiple entry points or models as the “spokes of possibility” below.

Having multiple strategies to support student learning is nothing new. When we guide students in learning to read we offer them a variety of strategies to use when they come to word they don’t know ( ie. Chunky Monkey- chunking the word, Eagle Eye -looking at pictures for clues) When kids are faced with a word problem in math, we support them in developing a variety of problem solving strategies (work backwards, develop a model etc. )to tackle the problem. We constantly strive to build multiple tools for students to have in their toolbox in a variety of contexts. I see inquiry models and processes through that same lens. Different ones are going to be needed to be used at different times.

Design thinking as a process may be used by students to drive a task assigned by a teacher or to tackle a challenge the student has identified as a need in their surroundings (school, community, world). Regardless of what Design Thinking Process model we are choosing, or whether students are using design thinking to build a structure, construct a piece of art, design a PSA (public service announcement) to address a community need, create code to program a device, or develop a solution to a math problem,the steps of the process remain similar, as does the powerful opportunity for learning.

The ultimate goal of using a Design Thinking Process with students is the development of students as creative problem solvers. If we can support students starting in the early grades by giving them simple design tasks or challenges as opportunities to learn to understand the process of design thinking we set the stage for them as learners moving forward. If we offer students the chance to be innovative thinkers with ample opportunity to empathize, anticipate need, ideate, design, build, develop, invent, mashup, collaborate, and create we further empower them as learners. When we support students in developing a design thinking skill set throughout their years in school we fill their toolkit as the creative problem solvers we need for the future!

Ever Remembered

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This past week this beautiful plaque honouring the life of our friend and colleague, Kevin Mowat was dedicated and displayed in the hallway where he once worked. On it reads a poem that meant a lot to Kev.  It was a poem he shared often with others.  In fact, in sorting through some of his things in recent times, it was a poem that served as the front page of a number of his binders full of professional resources or meeting minutes, a daily inspiration.

It makes sense that this poem resonated so much with Kevin as he certainly loved much and often and won the utmost respect of the many many children and colleagues who crossed his path. There was no one more skilled at finding the best in others, and celebrating the beauty and joy in everything life had to offer. He has most certainly left the world a better place because he lived. By any measure, Kevin Mowat succeeded.

We continue to be inspired by the legacy Kevin has left behind.  He is present daily in our conversations, in our laughter, in our kinship, and in our work. Ever remembered…

 

Continue reading “Ever Remembered”

Times of Change

 

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about change. Change is a given. Change is unavoidable. Change is what drives progress, growth and moving forward. However, for some people and depending on the circumstances change can be very challenging, particularly when it is change that is unexpected, unwanted or beyond our control. Change means letting go of something known and often a shift to something new and foreign. It means doing things differently and moving away from the status quo. It means stepping out of our comfort zone, while embarking on a journey into unchartered waters, and with that comes uncertainty. Ultimately it is not change that makes most people uncomfortable but instead the risk and unpredictability of the unknown. So how do we best support others in a time of change? How do we ease feelings of fear and anxiety?

  • Focus our positive energy on moving forward. Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new”. Negative energy is wasted energy. We reap what we sow. The fruit is in the seed. When we put positive energy out into the world, it comes back.
  • Be compassionate with one another. Plato reminds us, “Be kind. For everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about”. Each of us processes and deals with change and uncertainty in our own way. In times of change first and foremost we need to be empathetic and patient with one another. Keeping lines of communication open is key and we must be mindful of supporting those around us in whatever way they may need.
  • Embrace new learning. Seth Godin suggests, Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone.” We do our best learning when we are pushed out of our comfort zone, move in new directions and are forced to imagine the possibilities.

  • Expect resistance and plan for it. Frederick Douglas once said, “If there is no struggle there is no progress”. One might argue that we can strive to remain positive, aim to model empathy and welcome new learning as individuals; but ultimately how do we support those who are struggling with or who refuse to embrace change moving forward?

Realistically, every situation and context is different and we need to honour this and recognize that everyone’s “Point A” or starting place and change of pace, is unique to them. Supporting and scaffolding levels of change is a necessity. In driving change we must also ensure it is informed change, guided by professional inquiry and grounded in research. In addition, we must be clear in and remain true to, our original intents and focus for change. When we are transparent and clear about why we are doing what we are doing, we build trust and connections flourish.

In the realm of education, the end game should always be; doing what is best for learners. With any change we implement, our utmost target must be our students’ success. There will always be individuals who may be apprehensive of change or even stand in the way of it. These people may be in need of more than a just a gentle nudge at times. For those who remain resistant or even try to sabotage forward progress, we need to continue to be clear and explicit in our vision and plan for student success. In the end, the train is moving and for those who don’t eventually get on board, get left at the station.

Change and uncertainty are inevitable and typically a non-negotiable in the name of progress. How we choose to deal with each and the path we take along the way is up to us.

 

 

 

Time Well Spent

This past week I had the opportunity to present, share and learn while attending the Riding the Wave Conference in Gimli, Manitoba. Some great learning, coupled with a number of wonderful colleagues, set with the beautiful Gimli backdrop made for an awesome few days. It was time well spent.

During one of the sessions I attended facilitated by Brandon educator, Allison Greig, she shared this video entitled, “The Time you Have (in Jellybeans)”.

I love jelly beans. Red and black ones tend to top my list but it is not the allure of candy that spoke to me about this video. Seeing a visual representation of the average lifespan depicted with jelly beans, and witnessing how quickly they vanish once we start counting them out through the lens of how we spend our time is a powerful analogy. Check it out…

The Time you Have in Jellybeans…Time Spent on Average ( in Days)

28 835 days- the average lifespan

8 477 spent sleeping

1 635 spent eating, drinking or preparing food

3 202 at work

1 099 commuting

2 676 watching tv or its equivalent

1 576 doing chore-like activities

564 caring for the needs of others

671 bathing, grooming etc

721 community activities

That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time….just under 3000 days. What are we choosing to do with that open, flexible time? How can we make the most of it?

Life is short. We never know what’s around the next corner. Time is precious. There are many applicable idioms that encourage us to make the most of the time we do have. Finding what makes us happy, what we love to do, and what we are passionate about can help us fill some of these 3 000 days in a rewarding, meaningful, fulfilling way. If you follow this blog, you know the word in its title “Meraki” means, “the soul, creativity or love you put into something.”. Finding our “Meraki” can help us make those near 3 000 days really count.

As educators, we have the unique opportunity to support our students in learning to value time spent doing things we enjoy from an early age. We have the chance to honour student voice, student choice and student agency by offering students the opportunity to personalize their learning path through student-driven, project-based, inquiry inspired learning in our classrooms. AJ Juliani poses the related question below:

If we did a comparable jelly bean video analogy analyzing the time we spend over the course of these 14 256 hours in schools, what would the break down look like? How many jelly beans would we move out representing compliance driven assignments, busy work or tasks focused on rote memorization of facts? How many jelly beans would be tagged to highly meaningful, and relevant learning? How many jelly beans would involve opportunities that both engage and empower learners?

We need to be intentional in all that we do and ensure that the 14 000 hours our students spend in schools is time well spent.

The Ripple Effect- #Humboldtstrong

 

The bus crash that took the lives of 16 Canadians on April 6, leaves a nation in mourning. In the aftermath of such a tragedy, my heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims as they navigate the unimaginable. My heart goes out to the billet families and the citizens of Humboldt as they deal with the aftermath of such tragic events. And my heart goes out to the Broncos hockey organization and the greater hockey community as they process this tremendous loss.

When we lose so many in such a sudden and catastrophic way it has a ripple effect, causing repercussions and impact far beyond what one might initially expect. This tragedy was one that broke the heart of a nation and was felt by millions of parents, hockey lovers, and Canadian citizens from coast to coast and beyond. In the wake of such tragedy, it is hard to predict what may hit home with each of us or resonate most, in relation to such a tragic story.

As a teacher, I can’t help but think about how many times I have traveled on a bus with students over the past twenty years and imagine the “what ifs”. And as a teacher, I can’t help but think about losing some of my own students and how heartbreaking that would be. As teachers, our students are part of our lives day in and day out. We often spend hours a day with them and depending on context sometimes we even know them for years. In turn, we share our lives with them and we let them into our hearts. We become a community; a family of sorts. We get to know them and we come to care about them in a special way that stays with us. Teaching is a profession of the heart.

So today my heart also goes out to the many teachers that have been impacted by this tragedy; the teachers and support staff who have worked with the 16 people we lost over the years and the teachers in Horizon School Division in Saskatchewan. My thoughts are also with the many, many students that have sat beside those lost in classrooms over the years and been a part of their “educational families”.

As those affected most by the events of April 6, 2018 continue to pick up the pieces and mourn this tremendous loss, please know that you have the support of a nation behind you. We are all #humboldtstrong.

 

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Compassion, Creativity & Skill

As always, participating in IMMOOC Season 4 has been a very valuable experience. This week’s prompt of; How are you working to make the world a better place by creating more thoughtful, compassionate, creative, and skilled individuals? really spoke to me. This question in many ways captures what I see as our end goal and ultimate mandate as educators; helping to support our students in becoming the most compassionate, creative and skilled individuals they can be to prepare them for their future.

I am blessed to serve as the Manitoba Affiliate Director for the non-profit organization Destination Imagination. My life and own learning has been deeply enriched since becoming a part of this phenomenon a number of years ago. One of the ways I make the world a better place is by spreading the true joy, creativity and deep learning that is at the core of Destination Imagination. One way I support the development of compassionate, creative and skilled individuals is through this initiative each year.

Last week I watched as 17 teams of over 100 students from throughout Manitoba came together to share and celebrate their learning at the Manitoba Destination Imagination Provincial Tournament. It was event charged with high energy, great enthusiasm, and creative spirit.

DI is the largest creativity program in the world. It is present in over 30 countries, 48 states and at varying levels in provinces across Canada. DI has been around since 1982 with over 2 million participants since and 150 000 annually. It is a leader in inquiry and project-based learning and blends STEM with fine arts and social entrepreneurship. At the end of each summer, DI publishes 6 different challenges and teams of up to 7 students spend the next 9 months trying to come up with the best solution possible. Then students compare their solution to those of others at a tournament with the culmination being the Global Finals in the third week of May where they can compare their solution with those from around the world.

DI gives learners of all ages (primary to university) opportunities to use the creative process to design and manage a project, and gain the skills needed to succeed in our 21st C world. They learn to communicate, collaborate and think both critically and creatively. They learn to problem solve and be novel or flexible in their thinking. As they meet trials and experience failures along the way, they practice perseverance and develop resiliency. They explore, experiment and learn to think outside the box as they imagine, plan, design, create, refine and share their solutions to challenges. They learn empathy, compassion, patience and the art of compromise as they work collaboratively with others. Each team’s solution is unique and presented in an eight-minute performance which showcases the individual skills, strengths, interests and passions of the team members.

Sometimes just the right thing somehow crosses our path at just the right time. Destination Imagination is just that thing for many as it continues to help develop more thoughtful, compassionate, creative, and skilled individuals each year, across the world.