Reaching a Crossroads


An amazing opportunity has presented itself. Although I’ve worked in the field of education for over twenty years in a variety of different roles, one thing I have never done is filled the role of classroom teacher. Sure, I’ve spent countless hours observing and assisting in classrooms, co-taught lessons, created and done presentations for students and facilitated lots of inservice days and training programs for teachers – but I’ve never had the total responsibility for a classroom for a whole school year. So when a term position opened up for an instructor in my college’s Social Service Worker program, it seemed like a no brainer. My two loves – social work and education – married together. What could be more perfect?
Except that I love my job. I work in a Mature High School program with adults who have often had to overcome incredible challenges to get there. I get to watch them learn and grow – often discovering that they are much more capable than they ever realized. It’s truly a magical place – how could I leave that?
As I struggle to make the decision of whether or not to apply for this new position, I realized that what was really causing me difficulty was not which job I wanted to do – but rather, being in limbo not knowing what picture to focus on in my head. I was reading William Glasser’s biography this morning, and was struck again with the idea that the outside world doesn’t cause feelings and behaviours – it’s our internal world that creates these. And my problem is that I have two clear pictures in my head – one of me working as a classroom instructor, and one of me working in my current role – and they both are incredibly need-fulfilling in their own way. I know that no matter what happens – whether I am chosen for this position or not – that I can choose happiness and fulfillment. I just don’t know what decisions are going to be made by external forces outside of my control. If I’m not offered the new job – I know I have the power to choose thoughts and behaviours that will make me feel relieved that I can remain with my current colleagues and students and continue the important work we do. And if I am offered the teaching position – I will feel excited about the opportunity to face a new challenge and expand my experiences and skills.
I could choose the opposite. I could focus on feelings of rejection and lost opportunities should I not be offered the position. And if the opposite were to occur, I could lament all the extra time and work that is going to be required, not to mention my lost hopes of a winter vacation this year!
This is the gift of control theory – having the knowledge that no matter what the world throws at me, I have the control to determine what I’m going to do, think, and feel about it. And with that knowledge, I can always choose happiness.
I’ll keep you posted! I don’t know what I’m going to be doing next school year – but I know it will be a great year!

Our Amazing Brains

Fight-Or-Flight

I LOVE this time of year. There is nothing I find more inspiring than an early morning bike ride. The world is still asleep, everything is calm, the air is fresh, and the view amazing as the sun creeps over the horizon in a million shades of colour. I feel strong and healthy with the physical exertion.

And then suddenly – WHAM! My front bike tire kicked up a huge stone, which hit me directly in the eye! I didn’t even see it coming! End to that peaceful, picture-perfect scene.

After the initial shock and realizing I was fine, I started thinking about what an amazing thing the human brain is. Because even though I had no conscious awareness of this thing flying towards my face, somehow my body knew enough to blink. Imagine how ugly this could have been if that stone had hit me in the eyeball!

It’s so cool that our brains have developed this ability to protect ourselves. We don’t have to stop to process and think about what to do. Our reflexes just kick in and defend us from harm.

The thing is, sometimes this wonderfully adaptive feature backfires on us. I think about the many students I’ve worked with over the years who lived in situations of constant fear. Their brains were always on high alert. And their reflexes were firing like crazy to try to shield them from danger.

These kids were in constant “fight or flight” mode. They would either shut down completely or strike out. And often they were labelled with such terms as uncooperative, non-compliant, bully, or violent. The adult response to these labels? Frustration, anger, punishment.

While I am a huge believer that the one thing that we truly control is how we choose to behave in any given situation, I do believe that there are some behaviours that are not chosen. I didn’t choose to blink – my brain kicked into auto-pilot to protect me.

And sometimes I believe that students’ behaviours are no more chosen than my blinking. They are the body’s response to danger.

And instead of creating safety for that child so that they can begin to relax and get in conscious control of themselves again, the labels we attach to them often serve to make them feel even more threatened.

What can you do today to help create the safety that your most at-risk students so desperately need?

Comparing Pain

tired-emoticon-240

It was a really long day at work. There was a million people all demanding my attention at once. There were deadlines looming that I couldn’t envision possibly reaching. The computer wasn’t cooperating, and I couldn’t figure out why nothing would load properly. Couldn’t anything just go right?

And to top it off, I had an hour long commute after this crummy work day was complete. By the time I got home, I had a pounding headache and I still had to deal with a disaster of a kitchen before I could even start thinking about preparing some kind of sustenance for supper. By the time the family was fed and watered, I was thoroughly exhausted. What a day! My poor husband got an earful that night about all the stress that I was feeling!

Ever have one of those days?

Don’t we all?

Now, I know that I have a lot to be grateful for. I live in an amazing country, with amazing freedoms, and amazing opportunities. I am blessed with a fantastic family and a group of incredible friends. I love my job. I have a beautiful home. I have a wonderful life.

I am not fighting cancer. I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. I don’t have to live in fear for my life because of political unrest in my country. There are a million things that I take for granted every day.

But that doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t just feel overwhelmed and tired.

This week, our Prime Minister’s wife expressed that she is overwhelmed and feels that she needs some additional help. And a whole firestorm of public outrage ensued about how someone who leads such a privileged life has no right to complain.

And then I thought about my day. Did I not have a right to feel the way I did?

I often have students come into my office that share the burdens they are living with, who feel they have no right to their pain because there are people much worse off in the world. I always tell them – it’s not fair to compare pain. Pain is pain. It hurts. If you break your arm, does it mean that you have no right to feel that pain because there are people in the world who have no arms?

Of course, it’s good to keep things in perspective. It does help keep me grounded to remember that I have much to give thanks for. I don’t want to turn into a person who chooses to be unhappy and wastes their life with constant complaining.

But at the end of the day, when it’s been a challenging one, it does ease my load to share my thoughts with someone who cares, and have them wrap their arms around me and tell me they understand, and that it will be ok.

When someone shares their load with you, do you validate their feelings, or tell them they have no right to feel that way?

Abe Was A Wise Man…

Abraham-Lincoln-

I had this one teacher that drove me crazy.  He would give us the stupidest assignments.  They were always half-thought out, and never clear.  We struggled like crazy to know what the heck he wanted from us.  I was a very driven student and wanted to do well, but I never knew what I had to do to please him.  It was probably one of the most frustrating classes I ever was in.

Looking back, I think he was brilliant.

It was the first time that I ever was forced to create a project that I set the standards for myself.  I had to self-evaluate, and create something that I thought was quality work.  I wasn’t simply vomiting up what I thought the teacher wanted to hear; I was thinking for myself, and it was probably one of the classes in which I learned the most.

 It also taught me an important lesson:  Whenever you think someone is a complete idiot or a terrible person, if you really take the time to get to know them, you will usually find something that explains their behaviour in a way that changes how you feel about them.  He knew exactly what he was doing.  He knew that we were a group of dedicated students, and he wanted to give us the opportunity to be the best we could be.

Anyone else out there have a story of how someone they thought was evil turned out to have motivations that you just didn’t understand at the time?  Please share!

Why are We So Afraid?

I had an interesting conversation this week with a friend about making mistakes.  We were both frustrated because of recent interactions we’d had with people who had screwed up, and instead of taking responsibility, tried to defend themselves and maintain that they were correct in their actions.  Everyone involved knew otherwise, and these people ended up looking really foolish.

Makes you wonder – why do people do this?  It’s obvious that the reason for the defensiveness is that they don’t want to lose face.  How ironic that their actions actually make them lose more respect than if they had just owned up to making an error in the first place.

But I know when it’s me whose in the wrong, I feel that urge too.  It’s hard when you want to be a good person, and you care about being competent and you do your very best – and then things don’t come out as you planned.

As luck would have it, I then stumbled across this quote:

im not who i was before

It reminded me that every experience we have shapes us.  When things don’t go as we planned, it’s a opportunity for growth, and we can become a better person than we were before.

So, the next time you feel defensive, or ashamed of something you’ve done, remember that you don’t need to make excuses or try to justify your actions.  Embrace the fact that the experience gave you the opportunity to become the new and improved you that you are today!

 

Not Always The Merriest Time of Year

The excitement is building!  The decorating is done, the presents are wrapped, there is a Christmas drink with friends or get together with colleagues from work happening almost every night.  Soon, family will be arriving, and all the good food will be stuffing our bellies.

In the midst of all this holiday busyness on my mind, a student walked into my office with tears in her eyes.  She is having trouble facing this next week.  She’s away from home, and can’t afford to travel to see her family.  She doesn’t have any close friends in the city.  The idea of spending Christmas alone is almost more than she can face.  On the surface, it’s going to look like any other boring day of the year – waking up alone, making a meal out of whatever she’s managed to stock her shelves with on her meager income, filling the day with everyday chores and distractions.  Deeper down is the knowledge that everyone else is seemingly having the best time of their lives, and she has somehow been left out of this celebration in which the rest of the world gets to partake.

It hurts.

For those whose needs are not met this season, let’s not forget that little things can make a big difference.  At this time of year when so many of us have so much, there are a million different ways to help people feel cared for, important, that they can have little fun and escape from the ordinary.  What are you going to do to make a difference to someone who really needs it this year?

 

How Can People Be So Mean?

Every day, I hear people say things like “That guy is just an ass!”, or “She’s such a bitch!” I have to admit, when I get frustrated with someone’s bad behaviour, I partake in this as well. We just write people off as being bad people.

But if you were to walk into the nursery at a hospital, and look at all the babies, could you pick out which ones were bad people?

I can’t look down at an innocent baby, and see any evil in them. I simply can’t believe that some people are born bad.

This hit me in a new way when I attended a conference recently on Aboriginal Mental Health. The presenter was talking about the horrible things that the colonizers did to people. It’s scary to me to think how it’s possible for people to be so cruel to other people. How does this happen?

The presenter talked about how the only way people can participate in such acts is if they have experienced trauma themselves. That’s what happens between that time that someone who started out as an innocent baby starts to behave in such a hateful way towards others.

I sat in amazement as I listened to him talk. This man had every right to feel bitter and angry about the people whose actions had resulted in him having to face overwhelming challenges in his life. But, instead, he was filled with compassion. He wondered what must have happened to those people to make them shut off their emotions and lose their humanity.

It’s humbling to think of how he can do this, when I can call someone a horrible name for being rude to me on the phone, or for not following through on a commitment that they made to me. These things hardly have any real impact on my life. Yet, I can lose sight of the fact that everything people do, they do for a reason.

Instead of calling someone down when they behave badly, perhaps I should step back and remember that I don’t know their whole story. Bad behaviour comes from unmet needs, not from someone being a bad person.

If this man can show understanding to people who tried to wipe out his entire culture, perhaps I can find some compassion for the people that frustrate me in my day to day life.

Can you?