Children of God

Last night we saw Children of God at the Citadel Theatre. This compelling musical captures the experiences of children who were forced to attend residential schools and the parents who were left behind. This part of Canadian history has been ignored in the history books, hidden even. 

After the performance we stayed for a talk back with some of the actors. The moderator opened the time by saying we were in a safe space to share. I felt privileged to be present during the sharing of perspectives from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds. This sharing brought to light some of the pain, grief and guilt that continue to resonate and affect lives. 

Clearly, the audience was moved by the performances, the music and the story itself. As was I.

One of the things that struck me is that kids are kids. As teachers, we know this. It doesn’t matter the colour of our skin, or our country of origin, kids are kids. Yet, why is it that adults continually divide themselves into groups? Us against them. Sometimes the groups are based on race, sometimes religion, sometimes socio-economic levels. Regardless, there seems to be an urge to divide and dominate.

And truly, I don’t understand this compulsion. I don’t understand how the colour of one’s skin makes us better or worse than someone else. One of the actors mentioned that he often tried ‘washing out the brown.’ He spoke of living an identity of shame. And given the history of how indigenous people have been treated, it becomes evident where his feelings about his own identity stem from. 

No matter who we are, or where our families were originally from, we’re all human. We all occupy the same planet. Kids seem to understand this better than adults. We can take a lesson from them, watching their interactions in schools or on the playground. We can also take a lesson from our own recent past. We cannot – or should not – hide history, no matter how shameful it might be.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Last night, I was educated through a beautiful work of art and the discussion that followed.

Maintaining Dignity

The other night after leaving a concert at the Winspear, I bought a paper from a homeless man: Alberta Street News. This paper, published in Edmonton, provides vendors with the opportunity for employment. They pay $0.75 per copy and then sell the paper for a small profit. Many of the vendors face barriers that prevent them from other employment.

Homelessness is a complicated issue. It is difficult to understand the circumstances that lead to individuals living on the street. To be sure though, it is not a circumstance that they envisioned for themselves when they were children. 

Rather than begging for money, this man sold me a newspaper. Our exchange, short as it was, maintained his dignity and provided him with a purpose. Here is yet another example of how words change worlds.

Why we do what we do…

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many new people at teachers’ conventions over the last few weeks. I am inspired by the energy, enthusiasm, the compassion and care that teachers have for their students. As Robert John Meehan has said, “Teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning!” 

But, let’s face it. It can be easy to become discouraged in this field. We face a range of abilities within our classrooms, ever-increasing expectations, pressures from parents, and day to day demands that only fellow educators truly understand.

Thankfully, teachers’ convention provides us with the opportunity to reconnect with each other, to be inspired through the stories the speakers tell, and ultimately, to remind us why we do what we do!

As we walk back into our classrooms on Monday, as those student faces look up at us, consider this: they are the reasons we became teachers. Despite their individual circumstances and needs, we have the incredible privilege of working with each and every one of them. They are the reason we do what we do.

What do you love most about teaching?

I’ve been giving this question a lot of thought.

Although I have many answers, most of all, I love our ability to empower students. Whether it be through literacy, or through the personal connections we make, we have the capacity to raise confidence and self esteem, to impact the way our students feel about themselves and their place in the world.

When I work with struggling readers, I look forward to the day when the students realize that letters combine to create words. That day they make the connection that the words on the page hold meaning. That day they gain a skill they will use every day forward.

When I work with students in the classroom, I revel in the opportunity to share my love of writing. I enjoy giving them strategies to help make writing a little easier and potentially more enjoyable, too.

When I work in my role as assistant principal, I appreciate the time I have with those children who struggle with behaviour. I know that the behaviour is their way of communicating anger, frustration or even sadness. I am reminded of this quote: “The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.” I appreciate the opportunity to connect with these students: to allow them to express their emotions in a safe environment, to show them that they are cared for and valued, and ultimately, to show them their own self-worth.

What an awesome influence we hold. This is why I love to teach.

My answer is books!

We live in a confusing world. Some days I watch the news and shake my head. I myself don’t know how to process the events, let alone explain them to those in our care who are young and impressionable.

Books have always been my answer when it’s time to have difficult conversations with kids.

When discussing death, I tend to read the picture books The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup, That Summer by Tony Johnston or The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson all also effective.

When discussing prejudice or intolerance, I read Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles, The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson or Don’t Laugh at Me by Allen Shamblin and Steve Seskin.

When discussing messages of kindness, The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates, Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson and The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig are excellent choices.

Books generate such wonderful discussion. And, I guess that’s why I love working with children. Children have the ability to frame things with such humanity and hope. “While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” Angela Schwindt

Olympic Musings

Every time the Olympics roll around, I find myself thinking about the role of sport in our society.

I played several sports as a kid and I have as an adult, as well. I see value in the camaraderie, the activity, the discipline, the health benefits and the inevitable lessons about winning and losing.

And like many Canadians, I enjoy watching the Olympics: everything from the athlete profiles, to the events themselves. I find myself feeling proud of these athletes that I only know through television. I admire what the Olympic and Paralympic athletes do to get themselves prepared to compete at such a high level: the training, the sacrifice and the discipline. Often, these athletes have overcome great hurdles through incredible dedication and hard work.

But there is one thought about the Olympics that I can’t ignore. When I hear how many billions of dollars are spent, I wonder… are they billions well spent?

Many of those dollars are spent on infrastructure. And depending on what is done with the infrastructure after the fact, there could be value. Often though, the newly built stadiums and venues are under-utilized or even left abandoned. And a considerable portion of the money is spent on making sure the host country is shown in a positive light to the world; some have even called it one-upmanship from one Olympics to the next. Even the bids for the Olympics run into the millions of dollars.

Yet when I think of the millions of people living in our world in dire conditions – without adequate food or housing, without access to clean water or health care – I struggle with the billions spent on the games.

Not to be a downer. I just think there must be a way to engage in a world event such as this, encouraging patriotism and fostering world unity, but also to be more cognizant of the money poured into the event. To find ways to eliminate some of the exorbitant spending.

So as we cheer on our athletes, let us also remember to advocate and support those in our world who go without.

Wilma Rudolph has said, “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit.” In sport or in life.


We write for life.

One of the things I love about teaching writing to kids is that it is a skill they will use throughout their lives.

And even though it is something I love to do, I know that not all of them like it and many of them never will. But, I want them to know how important it is. And if they learn to love it, or even like it a little more, wonderful.

One day, they may write a poem, a thesis, a job application, a blog, a journal entry or a love letter. They will find their voice and they will write.

We write for life.

A Difficult Day

Today, a friend will experience the funeral of her husband. Her daughters will say goodbye to their father. They have journeyed with him over a difficult four years. I admire their love, patience and devotion.

The gravity of this day for them reminds me of the precious nature of life. We simply don’t know what is to come and when.

Hold your loved ones close. Tell them that you love them. Live life today.


Please, speak up.

After listening to the news last week, I found myself infuriated. Again. It happens more and more these days. But neither the sting or shock of last week’s news have subsided.

I believe in the positive power of words but I also recognize the ugly side, too. Words can be used to hurt and humiliate. Words can be thrown about carelessly. They can be used maliciously and deliberately to insult, intimidate and divide.

Call me crazy, but when leaders use words, I want their words to uplift and unite, to provide hope and comfort in uncertain times, to inspire us to reach our potential, individually and as a collective. One of the reasons I admire leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama is that they were deliberate in the words they chose to say, recognizing their power.

Lately, it feels like years of effort to educate, unite and build bridges, have collapsed in mere seconds when words of ignorance and bigotry are spoken on a world stage. These words have the potential to cause others with similar beliefs to become emboldened. That thought terrifies me. Therefore, I can’t keep quiet. I feel like now, more than ever, we need to speak up. To use our voices for good. Barack Obama says this, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Monday, January 15th is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I leave the last words to him: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”


Since the new year began, I’ve been trying to decide on my word for the year. It’s not that I’ve been procrastinating, it’s just that the right word hadn’t found me yet. I’ve heard other people’s words and I’ve contemplated a few of my own (balance, aspire, write, breathe) but none have felt exactly right.

And then I thought about the word live. The verb. Too simple? Sort of inevitable? I don’t think so.

What I mean is this: I want to live deliberately, live in the moment, live my best me, live my dreams, even. Every so often we are thrown a reminder that life is short. Therefore, to live, is something I want to make the most of, each and every day.

Yup, that’s it. Live.