Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Here's To a "Sweet" Year

          My new year doesn't begin on January 1st. I'm not really one to make New Year's resolutions and as an early riser, staying up until midnight is pretty much a Herculean task. For me, my new year has always started in September. Amidst the deluge of "back to school" commercials, as the days begin to shorten, and the evenings become crisper, it is during this time that I typically set my intentions and goals for the coming "year". And it's not only as an educator that I associate September with new beginnings. Rosh Hashanah, commonly referred to as Jewish New Years, also occurs in September. Growing up with an Irish Catholic mother, and a Jewish father, I've been fortunate to experience a wide range of holidays and traditions. I don't think I'll offend either branch of the family when I say that at their core, they both incorporate the same essential elements: food, family, and of course, a healthy dose of guilt!
          For me, Rosh Hashanah is primarily a time of reflection. It is an opportunity to examine past *mistakes, to make amends, and to learn and grow from these mistakes in order to do better in the coming year. To ensure a "sweet" new year, we eat apples dipped in honey (fortunately, amongst his many other professions, my dad is also a beekeeper), and challah, a braided sweet bread that on Rosh Hashanah is rolled into a circular shape to symbolize the cycle of the year. In my family, after we eat, we take turns going around the table, sharing something from the previous year that we are thankful for. To be honest, some years this is more difficult than others. But ultimately, whether it is a new job, renewed health, or a new bicycle, we each take a moment to express our gratitude. 
A variety of honey to choose from. Courtesy of Allen Garr apiaries!
          Fortunately, my blog serves as a helpful reminder of the past year. As I have commented in previous posts, it was one of challenges and opportunities. For me, the two typically go hand in hand. This year, my professional and personal goals are intermixed:
- To listen more and speak less.
- To move through each day with patience and gratitude.
- To recognize and support the emerging talents and skills of those around me.

          And so, with September only a week away, I wish everyone a happy new year! May it be one that is filled with much sweetness and joy. 

*For an interesting perspective, check out the NPR Ted Radio program- Making Mistakes

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Going It Alone

          So, I have a confession to make. I'm a bit of a loner. I like to hike alone, I like to bike alone, and I like to spend a great deal of time, on my own. And so why is this a bit of a confession? Because I am also a passionate proponent of collaboration and connectivity. As department leader of Learning Partners, a program that facilitates and supports peer-mentoring, inter-departmental collaboration and teacher inquiry, I have experienced first hand the amazingly powerful impact that connecting to, and being supported by ones peers and extending professional learning outside of the classroom can have on growth and innovation. As an educator, I truly believe that our greatest resource is each other.  And so how do I reconcile my personal preference for solitary pursuits with what I also know to be true-- that amazing learning and growth often results from collaborative endeavours.
View from the handle bars!

          I've spent some time reflecting on why it is that I prefer to hike on my own. I'll begin by saying that many of my family and friends are a bit horrified by my weekly solo treks into the woods, especially when I return with a few scrapes and bruises resulting from a rapid descent. Logically, I know that it is safer to hike with others, and so why is it that I continue to take the risk of these solitary excursions? Simply put, it's easier. I can decide when and where I go, I can set my own pace without worrying about hastening or slowing my steps to accommodate anyone else, and I can decide how much time I want to spend at the top of whatever peak I have reached, enjoying the view. I know what you're thinking- control freak. And yes, absolutely, to some extent that's true. It's been an ongoing challenge of mine, both personally and professionally, to learn to relinquish some control to others. Hiking with others, and collaborating with others, can be hard. It requires trust, open and honest communication, and oftentimes, compromise. 
          And so given the "challenge" of hiking with another individual, why would I ever even consider this as an option? Because the reality is, that if I only ever hike exclusively on my own, at some point I will stop progressing. I will have learned all that I can on my own, and my growth will stop. As well, without the healthy competition of hiking with someone who is more physically fit than myself, it's likely that I'm not actually pushing myself as much as I could, resulting in slower growth. 
          Recently, I was descending from one of my favourite spots, peak 2 of the Stawamus Chief in Squamish. It had been raining a bit. For those of you who are familiar with this hike, there is one particularly challenging section where a chain is required to lower yourself down between two large boulders. As a "height challenged" individual, with the resulting slippery rocks and chains, it took some concerted effort, and a few attempts to safely lower myself down this section. In the midst of this, I realized that if I'd had someone with me, we would have been able to help each other through this challenge. If I was hiking with someone who was more experienced, they would have been able to provide some useful tips and strategies.
A challenging section of peak 2 of the Chief.
          Next summer, my goal is to summit Mt. Baker in Washington. A friend of mine, after offering some words of encouragement and knowing my love of solo excursions, immediately cautioned that I can't do this alone! As a novice alpine climber I will need to rely heavily on the expertise and support of experienced and trained guides, as well as the strength and endurance of fellow climbers to ascend the 10, 781 feet up the Colemen Deming glacier to the summit. This will require trust, open and honest communication and yes, compromise. 
          And so as August slowly winds to a close, my solitary summer excursions will help to inform and clarify my goals for the approaching school year. As a bit of a "loner" and someone who sometimes struggles to compromise and relinquish control, it better equips me to recognize some of the challenges that are inherent to collaboration. I still think that sometimes, it's ok, even preferable, to "go it alone". But ultimately, for real growth and innovation to occur, we need to extend our own learning by connecting to those whose knowledge and expertise helps us to reach further, to progress more quickly, and to perhaps move beyond what we are capable of achieving on our own. 
Top of Peak 2. Photo courtesy of accommodating stranger.