#Becauseofschool

sarahletter

My daughter Sarah is 13 and in grade 8. School has always come easy for her, but in many ways, over the years, it has also left her under challenged and somewhat disengaged.

Sarah is highly creative and driven by somewhat random topics she is passionate about; urban exploration, Paris, cats, art, softball, music, media, photography, social justice and seeing the world. She is an avid reader who devours novels and entire series.  She also loves writing and aspires to publish a book one day. She has an eye for photography, a knack for design, a dramatic flair and a passion for pottery.  However, most of Sarah’s creative side and talents have in fact been developed outside of school.  In The Innovator’s Mindset, written by George Couros, he refers to this concept as students learning and leading “in spite of school” and suggests the need for schools to ensure they are also empowering students to be innovators and creators “because of school” and as part of their school experience.

From an early age, Sarah has often complained about being bored or disinterested in what school has to offer.  She has often questioned the overall relevance of worksheets, workbooks, textbooks, tests, rote assignments and desk in rows. Don’t get me wrong; she is a stellar student and has always been very good at “studenting”, but she has often expressed frustration about what is actually happening within her classroom walls and its application to her future. How many Sarah’s sit in our classrooms feeling similarly?

Sarah has flourished with teachers that honour her creative nature, strengths, interests, and talents by allowing time for student exploration and creation. In those settings, she excels and grows as a learner in many ways. Shouldn’t stimulated, thriving, engaged students be a norm in our schools and serve as the rule, as opposed to the exception?

This week, I was reminded of the power and the potential for joy we offer our students when they are given the opportunity to express themselves in creative and meaningful ways, when I received an envelope in the mail from my daughter. In her Language Arts class, she was tasked with writing a letter to her “hero” and the teacher went the extra mile to send the letters in the mail to the recipients of these letters on behalf of her students. Sarah is a skilled, impassioned and eloquent writer, however, there have been limited times and few assignments offered to her over the years in her school experience, that have allowed her the opportunity to truly show her audience and herself, her true capacity as a writer.  How many potential authors, artists, scientists, engineers, designers, and inventors sit waiting to be given opportunities to shine within our school system? How much talent is left untapped on our watch?

So….I write this post as a reminder to all teachers of the importance of giving our students time to explore their passions, and their strengths when planning and programming. And I share this story as a reminder of the necessity to give our students thoughtful, self-directed, open-ended tasks that allow them to express themselves and explore their creative side. Our students need more regular opportunities to explore, create, learn and grow #becauseofschool.

Dear Mom,

There are two billion mothers in the world. Trust me, I Googled it.  So the odds that I would be blessed with you as my mom were pretty slim.  But somehow, the stars aligned and I was lucky enough to become your daughter. Out of the two billion mothers in the world, I got you. And I am so, so thankful.

I tried to imagine life without you, but then I realized there would be no life. Technically, I wouldn’t have been born, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I mean is, without you, I would have no one to pour my heart out to, to speak my mind to and to share a laugh with.  At my lowest low, you were there, comforting me and giving me a shoulder to cry on.  And at my highest high, you are by my side, your hand in mine. You are my advice giver, “my person” and my rock. And without a rock, I would be completely and utterly lost. You have helped me find my way, find my meaning and find myself.

There is a difference between a house and a home.  A house has walls, windows, doors, and a staircase. But a home, a home can have a heartbeat. Home isn’t so much a place, but a person. You are my home.

Your creativity inspires me every day and your ability to see the best in people makes me proud to be your daughter.  You have taught me to value memories, knowledge, and love before material things and proved to me that I CAN do anything. You were my first friend, my best friend, and my forever friend. We have an unbreakable bond and our hearts are intertwined together forever.

Love,

Sarah

 

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The Meaning of Meraki

fullsizerenderA year ago almost to the day, I wrote my first post on this blog, The Meaning of Meraki, shortly after being acquainted with the word itself. Fitting, that this month I received the necklace above from my family, who had it specially made for my birthday, recognizing what this word has come to mean to me.

Meraki…the soul, creativity or love you put into something. The essence of yourself you put into your work.  

I am not sure I can truly explain or articulate my love affair with this word.  It just is.  I love what it means and what it stands for.  I love the way it looks on a page.  I love how it found its way to me. I love that it is of Greek origin and it is one of those words that has no direct translation in English. I love that since being introduced to it I have found many other fascinating untranslatable words, some examples you can read about here. I love that I think about it often.  I love that I have witnessed what I deem as real life examples of the word’s essence in people who are obviously passionate about their jobs, their hobbies, and their life, which have included; artists, athletes, musicians, inventors, chefs, students, and educators I have encountered over the past year.

It is a blessing and gift to find passion, joy, reward, and love in what we do and how we spend our time. This past weekend, I came across another great example of this in reading  Shelley Moore’s book One Without the Other: Stories of Unity Through Diversity and Inclusion. This book is a must read for all educators.  It explores how inclusive education can increase the learning and life chances of all students.  After reading the book and looking further into some of Shelley’s work online, one thing that becomes quickly apparent is her strong experience base and her true passion for children and education.  She is a master storyteller who appears to leave much of her heart and soul in all that she does.  She has most certainly found her meraki, and through her work, shares her voice to inspire that in others.  

In the book, Shelley Moore, suggests a definition of inclusion in which there is no “other”. Instead, she states, “ We are diverse, all of us. We all have strengths, we all have stretches and we all need to get better at something. The difference in teaching to diversity, however, is that we don’t start with our deficits, we start with our strengths.”

Imagine the possibilities if we organized our students by strengths instead of most schools’ traditional model of deficits. Imagine the possibilities if we supported our students in their quest to find their passions and fuel their interests. Imagine if schools were places that relentlessly sparked the inspiring artists, scientists, engineers, musicians, poets, designers, inventors and makers in our midst with regular opportunities for creation and exploration.  Imagine the possibilities if we gave learners the opportunity to explore these interests using a student driven, personalized learning approach that honoured voice, choice, and autonomy. Imagine if innovative programs like High Tech High and inquiry/interest based initiatives like Genius Hour were the norm in our schools and not the exception. And imagine the possibilities if ultimately, as educators we served as guides in supporting our learners in finding their own sense of meraki.

This week I received a gift; a beautiful piece of jewelry, envisioned by my 13-year-old daughter capturing a word, a concept really, that means a lot to me.  However, the real potential gift is the realization of the meraki that lies within all of us.  

 

Hamilton

ham-fbRecently, in a conversation with a colleague, the musical and recent Broadway sensation, “Hamilton” was brought to my attention. To be honest, once he explained it was about American founding father, Alexander Hamilton and the American Revolution my interest waned significantly. Don’t get me wrong, I do LOVE a good musical. Seeing a show on Broadway has always been on my bucket list, and I enjoy what I can in the way of musical tours through Winnipeg or those  to the big screen. But, if there is anything that interests me less than American politics, it is American history. It’s typically not my thing, so Hamilton was not on my radar.

However, as I looked for a Saturday afternoon “Cleaning the House” sort of playlist on Spotify this weekend, wouldn’t you know that indeed the “Hamilton” original cast recording had somehow made its way to my recommended section. I decided to give it a chance.

As I let it play out, I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised.

As the musical score played on, I was sold. Clever, creative, contemporary, inventive, moving, and unique…Hamilton is in every sense, truly a work of art. It tells the lesser known story of Alexander Hamilton, from his humble beginnings, to his rise in the ranks to be George Washington’s right hand man, his role in writing the Federalist Papers and the shaping of America, his scandalous personal life and the tragedies he encounters along the way.

How Hamilton’s creator, Lin Manuel Miranda, manages to take this historic storyline of the life of Alexander Hamilton and so passionately bring it to life using hip-hop and a modernized perspective, is beyond extraordinary. The soundtrack is truly remarkable including contemporary hip- pop, rap and R & B influenced songs you will choose to listen to over and over again. The storyline is informative, engaging, fast-paced and captivating.

In my mind, this musical is truly one of a kind, and it seems well deserved of every bit of critical acclaim, the countless awards and the record breaking box office sales it has received. It is lively, energetic and laugh out loud funny. It is a history lesson like you’ve never had before. It is moving, gut wrenching and at times brought me to tears. If the music in itself is this powerful, I can only imagine the emotion and reaction that must be evoked by experiencing this story in theatre. Add that to the bucket list….

For me, the most interesting part of this story lies with the playwright. Lin Manuel Miranda, an American actor, writer, rapper, and composer with Puerto Rican roots is an intriguing individual and speaks articulately about his inspiration for writing the musical. When asked about the innovative, contemporary spin he has put on these 18th century beginnings he discusses the creative license of artists and says “I think that’s what we do as artists. It’s coming up with, what’s the thing that only I can contribute? It’s saying, hello world, here’s this idea that never existed. It’s in my brain, and unless I express it, it’s only going to stay in my brain. It’s more about personal expression than imposing your will on the world. It’s more about, you know, if I don’t get this idea out of my head and onto paper, it dies with me. You think to yourself, what’s the thing that’s not in the world that should be in the world?” Hear more of Miranda’s reflections and insight on the writing of Hamilton in the video below.

Lin Manuel Miranda’s words resonate with me. We are all creators. Each and every one of us has novel, ingenuitive, worthy ideas that deserve to see the light of day. Each and every one of us is a creator in our own right, based on our own strengths, passions and interests.

As parents it is our job to support and help develop this creativity in our children. As educators part of our role is to encourage creativity in our learners and help them to make connections, take risks and go in new directions. Somewhere along the way Lin Manuel Miranda found the inspiration, the insight, and the ideas to create Hamilton and put this unique, monumental and hugely enjoyable masterpiece out there into the world and for that the world is a better place. Check it out!

(**Note: I found this link to Hamilton’s script/lyrics helpful when listening through  for the first time.)