Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On making plans

Lately, I have been thinking about John Steinbeck's statement in Of Mice and Men: "The best laid plans..." You know how it goes.

When I left my job in professional hockey communications, I planned on focusing on finishing my thesis. I put my life into storage for a year and moved back into the family home to save on costs. I was so intent on getting my work done by the next convocation date. I remember how determined I was.

And then, the NHL lockout started. Which really, shouldn't have affected my plans, except that my thesis was on professional hockey and players' use of social media. And the players I had earmarked to interview for my thesis were either not available or I couldn't contact them because of communications restrictions during the lockout.

So I bid my time and when the lockout ended, I jumped on the opportunity to move forward with my plans, albeit one semester later than I'd planed on finishing the thesis. And then, I was diagnosed with ridiculously low iron levels. We're talking so low that my doctors wondered how I was standing straight, let alone working out three times a week. This also explained my chronic fatigue, and why every time I tried to work on my thesis, I'd basically fall asleep at my desk. Or on the couch. Or in bed. Sometimes literally.

I took more iron supplements than an average pregnant lady must take, and eventually got myself to a manageable energy levels. By then, I had already decided that I was due for a career change, and had applied to, and gotten in to, the Faculty of Education at Queen's University. That gave me the summer before my programme started to try to finish my thesis. I worked like a horse (or insert your favourite hard-working analogy here) and submitted what I thought was a well-rounded, mostly complete draft to my supervisor just two weeks into my new programme. Note the word "draft". My new plan was shot, as was the opportunity to graduate in the winter of 2013.

All year, I've worked on my thesis between Education homework and teaching assignments, hoping not to let this next opportunity to graduate slip through my fingers. My thesis is currently days away from being ready for the defence process. This plan finally seems to be going well!

But then there's the career plan. As we all know, there are no teaching jobs in Canada, especially not in Ontario. Or so say all the government and union representatives. And yet, there are plenty of opportunities for teachers with French skills. As I am fully bilingual, I planned on taking my French as a Second Language course this spring, so that I would be qualified to apply to the only teaching jobs a new teacher can get: those in French.

Indeed, my plan was to settle down and teach in Kingston for the rest of my life. But you know what they say... One minute I'm covering all my bases by attending a career fair at school that provided options for careers outside of traditional teaching jobs - including overseas opportunities - and then, after a brief conversation, and 20 minutes of more formal conversation, I was offered a teaching position in Sweden. Within 24 hours, I had accepted the position, and I am very much looking forward to teaching math at the Internationella Engelska Skolan in Sundsvall, Sweden for the next two years.

As much as this latest change of plans is exciting, it also means I have to make a bunch of other plans: visa applications, wrapping up my life in Kingston, moving overseas... And I've got until August to figure it all out. I cannot express how eager and happy I am to be stepping into this new adventure! My only reservation? I have no idea what to expect. And I think I've finally learned my lesson about making plans.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On 2013

Oh, I know. I could've come up with a better title for this post. But you know what? It's not important.

That's something I learned in 2013. The small details we worry about? They're only worth losing sleep over if they make an impact on your or someone else's life. Of course, everything makes some sort of impact, but the past year has taught me to manage my energies and focus on things that truly matter.

But this post is not about the past. Because while 2013 was full of great moments and lessons learned, the whole point of living is to keep getting better, stronger, happier. And dwelling on past mistakes is not, I have found, the best way to keep you motivated and moving forward. So here are some of my most meaningful accomplishments of 2013, with a new goal for pushing myself further in 2014.

1. "Be gentle with yourself." - Yup, I'm still working on this one. All my health practitioners, friends, family... This is what they repeated to me throughout 2013. When you're dedicated to your work (as I am) and have a tendency towards perfectionism (as I do) and are stubborn about meeting real or self-imposed deadlines (as I am), well... You tend to forget that a healthy, happy life requires balance. Not necessarily in every moment of every day, but overall, balance, or a rhythm of balance, is key to longterm success. And part of that is learning to say "no", which I'm also still working on. So, in 2014, I will endeavour to be gentle with myself in actuality, not just say that I will and then forget to build in "me" recovery time when I'm trying to make everything fit into my schedule.

2. Learn from past mistakes but don't let them bring you down. - Oh, y'all should see my Pinterest boards. There's one called "Life Lessons". Half of those are about finding love. The other half are about making mistakes, learning from them, and not letting others' actions hurt you. In 2013, I finally learned my lesson about friendship. Don't invest into relationships that your counterpart is not investing in. Don't set expectations or make assumptions that your understanding of this friendship is the same as the other person's. Don't let your kindness, love, and thoughtfulness turn you into someone else's puppet. So, in 2014, I will endeavour to make time to pre-assess, assess, and re-assess (that's a teacher joke!) my relationships and voice my concerns early rather than let them build and explode into messy fireworks.

3. Stop doubting yourself and take risks. - This one is about all the new things I tried this year and found I actually enjoyed. Competing in Dancing with the Stars for Easter Seals Kingston. Painting acrylics on canvas for the first time. Writing songs on the guitar, with the intention and the inspiration for the song coming from playing the guitar. Meeting new people, who are now a huge part of my friend-family. Going to new places, because I've always wanted to, and because I could, like re-visiting Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC. Making last minute decisions instead of always planning everything out. A lot of these great moments come from learning to manage my anxiety, so this point is also linked to points 1 and 2. I owe a lot of thanks to my support system, both friends and family and things - yes, things! - because sometimes, you just need to watch your favourite cheesy movie and eat waaaay too much chocolate, and then chips, and cry it all out. And then move on. So, in 2014, I will endeavour to keep taking risks and to stop talking down to myself. Because who is going to stand up for me if I don't even stand up for me? 

4. Just go with the flow. - Surprisingly, while this has always been one of my guiding ideas, it occurred to me this year that I wasn't actually doing this. In moments, yes. In some situations where I found myself confident and comfortable, yes. But overall? HA! You're looking at a perfectionist workaholic planner, here! You think I can just "go with the flow" without thinking it through first? In 2013, I made last minute decisions. I didn't book hotels for my whole trip to the States in advance, and used Hotwire once I figured out, just 2 days beforehand, how I would deal with an unplanned chunk of my trip. That was awesome. That was going with the flow. And it was so rewarding. I also made spur of the moment decisions that go against my usual personality trend. Like deciding to go out after I was already in my PJs, after the time I usually like to get home. Why? Because good friends encouraged me to. And while I like to say they peer pressured me into it, I peer pressured me into it. Why? Because the only way to be comfortable outside of your shell is to actually break out of it. They're baby steps, sure, but it's better than no steps at all. If I can do it while troubleshooting under pressure in my work life or during emergencies, why can't I do it in other situations without triggering a "fight or flight" response? So, in 2014, I will endeavour to just "go with the flow" in unknown situations and try not to freak out or make such a big deal out of it when I do. Everything always works out in the end if you have good intentions. 

5. Love is the answer. - Again, this is something I've always felt. In 2013, I actually found the right words to express it. So, your life sucks. You're broke. Your shower takes forever to heat up, and then gets cold within minutes. So, your friends are actually not your friends (again!) So - and y'all know you feel this way too - 5 friends got engaged, 3 got married, and 2 had babies. Oh, and another one just announced she's pregnant. Oh, and so-and-so got the job of their dreams, and this person from high school you just Facebook stalked is a doctor now?! What?! Yeah. We've all been there. We've all felt that way. (PS: those were fake stats.) It's okay to not be happy all the time. It's okay to be happy for someone yet, oddly, also not. This does not make you a bad person. Love is the answer. Love is always the answer. It's just that sometimes, you have to love yourself more than you love others. Most people, it seems, have the opposite problem: they love themselves more than they love others. For me, 2013 has been about realizing that I've gone too far on that path, and need to come back to me. Put myself before everyone else. Yup, we're back to saying "no" more. But realizing that you're doing it with love, for yourself, and respect, both for you and for the other person you're telling, in advance, that you wouldn't be at your best if you agreed to do yet another thing on that already busy day. Hopefully, that other person is also living with "love is the answer" as their guiding principle and they don't hold it against you. So, in 2014, I will endeavour to trust myself more. To reach into my heart, feel what I feel, allow myself to feel what I feel without prejudice, and let my instinct guide me. Because I know that by holding on to the belief that love is the answer, I can do anything. We can do anything. I can make my little world better, and hopefully inspire someone else to do the same, and this idea, this fundamental truth that love is the only way that it gets better... Hopefully, 2014 will see it spread to those who need it the most.

I don't make New Year's resolutions. First of all, I technically celebrate, like, 4 different new years? So it's hard to know when the "new" year begins and ends. The truth is, it doesn't. There is no clear-cut line in space and time that says, HEY! STOP EVERYTHING. CLEAN SLATE! every time the Earth orbits around the Sun. So this is probably the closest I get to making resolutions. I kinda just make them as I go, as life teaches me new lessons and as the opportunity arrises for more personal and professional development. (This is also why I don't diet, or believe in diets.)

Still, I'm looking forward to seeing what new challenges 2014 brings, and I'm hopeful for new experiences, good and bad, that will help me grow into a better, stronger, and happier person.

Here's to happy continuings! 

PS: Friends don't let friends drink and drive. Or get high and drive. Or drive when fatigued. Be safe out there tonight, friends. Don't take unnecessary risks! Hope y'all have a Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On the Art of Learning

In the past couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to immerse myself in various forms of art, and it has been a truly marvellous experience, one that has left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

Last Friday, my dance partner/teacher Claude Marc Forest and I competed in Kingston's Dancing with the Easter Seals Stars fundraising event. And we won! (You can see our Judges' Choice dance here.) Earlier this week, in my role as Producer of the annual Bachelor of Education Musical at Queen's University, I had the opportunity to listen to so many talented future teachers audition for singing roles. On Thursday, I tried painting with acrylics for the first time (and was amazed at the results!), then went to the opening of the Juried Art Exhibition at the Studio Gallery at Duncan McArthur Hall and chatted with some of the artists about their work and their creative process.

Together, these experiences had me thinking about how I perceive, interpret, learn about, produce, and actually learn to do art, in all its forms. The Faculty of Education at Queen's University does an excellent job at teaching us how to teach, but they also teach us to think about how we learn, so this metacognitive thinking thing has been happening to me a lot, lately. One engagement strategy that comes up in several of my courses is cross-curricular integration, or, in other words, teaching one lesson that meets expectations for several subjects, or simply one that uses another subject to make the lesson engaging. I sincerely subscribe to this idea. For me, anything that can make my lesson more accessible to my students is worth trying.

Recently, though, my visual arts professor presented the difference between doing an art lesson (for the sake of art) versus doing a lesson with an art component, and counting it as an art lesson. It made me think candidly about my own approaches to teaching art and introducing my students to various forms of art that may not ordinarily be accessible to them. It also made me explore the resources that exist in Kingston for students and teachers who are interested in incorporating art for the sake of art by going outside the traditional classroom and into the local community.

I knew that Kingston Symphony offered a "Backstage Pass" to young adults 35-years old or younger - and I have taken advantage of this awesome, massively-reduced deal several times before. What I didn't realize is that the Kingston Grand has a similar deal for young adults under the age of 30, called IMPACT, which means that I can take advantage of "student" perks even once I'm (finally) done earning university degrees! Now that I'm finding myself more drawn to the Kingston art scene, I'm really excited to discover that you don't have to be a student to take advantage of all these awesome deals, like in most other places I've lived.

But that's not even the best part! While doing this research, I also discovered that the Grand offers a fantastic deal for educators who want to take their class (or the whole school!) to an artistic performance, and that it costs just $8 per student! There's a whole brochure indicating which shows would be best suited for students, and it even includes cross-curricular links. I honestly did not expect to find that such ready-made opportunities already exist in the community. I thought that, as a (future) teacher, I would have to do a lot more legwork to make such a great learning experience come to fruition for my (future) students.

My trusty calendar tells me that today is World Student Day. With the week of art immersion I had, and the wonder and amazement I felt at being able to explore so many different art forms, I think that one of my goals for my students will be to make sure that they always know what their options are in terms of taking advantage of the rich arts and culture scene in Kingston. I want each and every one of them to be able to feel this wonder and amazement too! Plus, I'm really hoping that I discover other amazing ready-made resources for educators in Kingston, and for other curricular subjects as well. I would love for my students to become truly connected to their home city through the exploration of curricula subjects in a community setting. This way, I can hopefully instil the idea in them that learning is a lifelong process that can continue well beyond one's school-aged years.

Happy World Student Day! :)