Letting Go of the Past


I can’t believe 2017 is here!  This time of year always makes me thoughtful about the year that has passed, and excited about the year that is about to begin.  The words of one of my clients came back to me today… he told me that he’d decided that it was time to look forward and not backward in his life.  This makes so much sense – after all, we can’t change what’s already happened, but if we put our energy into things we can control, we can make amazing things happen.  Yet, so often, it’s not that easy.  I hear people talk all the time about wanting to move forward, yet in reality, I see people struggling to do this.  What is it that keeps drawing us back into the past when what we really want is a happy future?

I’ve felt this pull myself recently.  This year, my youngest child turned 18 years old and moved out.  My life has been incredibly rich because of these two amazing people that I got to be a mom to.  I’m so proud of them, and excited for the lives they have ahead of them.  But at the same time, it’s the end of an era.  I’ve found myself looking through old home movies and picture albums, and it’s bittersweet.  What a wonderful life I’ve had!  It’s hard to believe that those childhood years are gone. 

I used to get belonging from cuddling up and reading bedtime stories to my kids; from packing picnic lunches and spending a family day at the beach; from roasting marshmallows together over the fire while camping.  I felt pride when my children showed kindness to others, when they achieved success in school, when they nailed their part in the musical production or stood on their head goaltending on the hockey ice.  We joked with each other; we laughed together; we played together.  We had amazing family vacations.  It’s easy to let myself get overcome with sadness of those days that I will never have again.

As we travel through life, we find ways to meet our needs.  And being a mom was very need-fulfilling.  And I think that’s the draw to the past.  It’s hard to find new ways to get your needs met – especially when the old ones were so darn effective. 

But I’ve also learned that even when they aren’t that effective, it’s still hard to figure out a new way.  The alcoholic knows that drinking is destroying their life, yet can’t find another way to relieve their stress.  The abused woman knows that her life is in danger, but goes back to her partner because she is so incredibly lonely without him.  It’s hard to move forward when you can’t even picture another way that you could find happiness.

            So whether life has changed on you – with the death of a partner, the loss of a job, or your children growing up – or whether you want to change your life – going back to school, leaving an unhealthy relationship, learning to control your anger – the key to achieving your goals is in creating new pictures for yourself.  You will need to let go of how you did things in the past, and find new ways to meet your needs. 

So – my wish to you in 2017 – may you allow yourself to be creative, try new things, take chances, and create many new pictures for yourself that will bring much happiness and joy to your life!  Happy New Year!


How To Truly Help


I’ve been working my way through a really cool course… it’s all about how those of us who work with Indigenous people can cultural safety in our practice.  I have to admit, I was skeptical about how painful it might be to do an online course – but it’s really well done, and I’ve quite enjoyed it  If you are interested, you can learn more about it here.

However, it’s not to plug this course that has led me to this post today.  I had a bit of an “aha” moment when I was working my way through a section today that I really wanted to share.

They were talking specifically about the experience of Indigenous people with the health care system, and how so many times, people’s different experiences, perspectives and beliefs are not valued.  The comment was made that we should not approach Aboriginal people as if we know what’s best for them.  The importance of listening, and working to understand where a person is coming from and what is important to them is key in truly helping a person.  For example, it’s easy to tell a person that they should be eating a healthier diet, but without listening, you might not find out the challenges of doing so in a remote community where fresh fruit and vegetables are not readily available or financially reasonable to purchase.

What struck me is that this is really true for every person in a helping relationship.  It’s so easy to think that we have all the answers and know what’s best for a person.  But each person is truly unique – with a different balance of basic needs, and different preferences about how to achieve these needs.  What works for me to fill my need for connection with others may totally backfire for someone else.  The things that make me feel powerful and like I can make a difference in the world are not the same as they are for others.  My idea of fun and freedom is not skydiving out of an airplane – but it is for many other people.

Yet, it’s so easy when we are working with people to make judgments and think we know the answers to people’s struggles.  I know I catch myself all the time thinking “If only this person would….”, without really honoring the fact that whatever they are doing they are doing for a reason.  If only I was able to slow down and explore the reasons, perhaps I could be a better helper….

Perhaps those of us in the helping professions need to ask ourselves – are we simply telling people what to do, or are we seeking to truly understand and help people find what’s right for them?



Twas the Night Before School….


Here we are again – the night before the first day of school.  I’m excited about the upcoming year, and full of anticipation for all that is to come.  I’ve watched as my new students have walked through the doors to register – many are nervous and unsure of themselves, and I want to make sure that each and every one of them leaves at the end of the year confident and capable in their abilities.

But I know that this can be difficult.  While school is all about learning, mastery,  and achievement, and is designed to reward and celebrate those things, I also know for some of my students this year, in spite of having a great need for power,  they might not be able to satisfy that need easily.  How does someone feel a sense of accomplishment when they work hard and still fail that test?  Or when they are sitting in a class trying desperately to understand algebra, and it’s just not connecting for them?  If they are to leave feeling confident and capable, how can we create the conditions for this to happen?

So tonight, I’m thinking about ways that people can gain that sense of power in ways other than strictly academic achievement.  I want to ensure that there are leadership opportunities for them- so that even if academics are a challenge, that people still know that they are important to how our school functions and that their efforts really make a difference.  I want to ensure that my students learn that no one has all the answers all the time, but that they have figured out where to go and how to get the answers and help that they need when they inevitably hit a wall.  I want to teach them how to honestly reflect on their own progress, and to take pride in their own growth instead of focusing externally and comparing themselves to others.  I want them to know that when they have lent a helping hand to someone else, that they may have changed the course of another person’s life.  I want them to know that achievement and success come in many different ways.

What ways do you help to create opportunities for your students to fulfill their need for power?

Does Money Make The World Go Round?

I had the great pleasure of hearing Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band and the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation at a conference this week on the topic of Aboriginal education and business.  He passionately shared his experiences of the changes in his community that he has been a part of during the ten terms he has served as Chief.  His story is truly inspiring – the band proudly operates a vineyard, a winery, a golf course, a conference centre, among other things.  He has been central in creating economic prosperity that has benefited the community in many, many ways.

One of the statements he made was that when people talk about emotional, spiritual and physical health, that he thinks at the centre of that all should be a dollar sign.

At first, this statement shocked me a bit.  But then I realized, he wasn’t really saying money was all that was needed.  In fact, he argued that welfare is one of the worst things that ever happened to his people.  What he was talking about was the ways that economic prosperity can impact people.  He talked about the pride that he sees on the teenager’s faces when they earn their first paycheck.  He described the sense of purpose that the community has in creating something amazing that draws the world to it’s doorstep.  He talked about the ways these initiatives have brought people together.  He talked about the feeling of pride in being independent and self-sufficient.  In creating your own future and destiny.

He was talking about belonging.




He was talking about how emotional, spiritual and physical health comes from people meeting their basic needs.

It made me reflect on the neediest students I have worked with.  Have I at times contributed to their feelings of inadequacy by doing too much for them in the name of “helping”?  Are there ways that I could instead have created opportunities for them to take control of their own lives, and feel pride in their achievements?  To feel that they are a part of a group that is doing something important together?   To become strong and independent people?

How can we do a better job of this with our students?

Why Do You Work?

work_experienceI was listening to an age-old debate about social assistance this week. It all sounds very logical: If you pay someone to sit around and do nothing, why would anyone have any motivation to work? As a society, we shouldn’t give people hand-outs because we need people to be contributing members of society and not just learn to take and take and never give.

It sounds logical… but my experience tells me it’s not quite this simple….

I work with a lot of folks who are on assistance, and many of them are overcoming significant odds every day to try to get their education. They have dreams of achieving a meaningful career, and are quite vocal about the fact that they don’t want to be on assistance for the rest of their lives. Why are they not satisfied with sitting back and collecting cheques?

I’ve also worked with a number of colleagues who were counting down the days until they were eligible to retire. And yet, when the day finally came, they didn’t. They had no financial reason to continue working, and yet, they just couldn’t go.

And what about all the unpaid work that people do? I attended the YWCA Women of Distinction awards ceremony this year, and I was completely blown away listening to the stories of the amazing work that volunteers in our community are doing. I don’t know where these women could fit all their work into the day, but it exhausted me thinking about all the time, energy and commitment that these people demonstrate.

And even within paid employment, I see people every day who go beyond the call of duty in their work. They take on extra projects, work overtime, and really go the extra mile – knowing full well that their efforts will not garner any extra financial reward. Often times, their labours will not even be noticed. But they do it anyways.

So if it’s not just money that motivates us, what is it?

I think many of us have this fantasy that if we won the lottery, the first thing that we’d do would be to quit our jobs. But I wonder… would you really? If push really came to shove, would you simply walk away, or is there something else you get out of your work that you might not be willing to give up?

It’s obvious that our work provides us with something more than simply money.  So I thought it might be interesting to do a little research.  I’ve created a one question survey that will only take you 5 seconds to complete.

Click here to anonymously share what motivates you!

Let’s see what we might learn…

Thanks for helping!

Lessons from a Great Supervisor


It’s always stressful when a supervisor that you have worked well with resigns.  Will the next person “get” you the way this one did?  Will you have the same synergy?  Will they understand and support you?

It’s high stakes.  Because having a supervisor that doesn’t support, understand and “get” you can turn an awesome job into a terrible one.

I’ve faced this situation numerous times in my career.  And on those occasions when things turn out well, it’s such a relief.  But regardless of whether the experience is positive or negative, I’ve learned a lot from watching these folks step into a new leadership role.  There’s the standard stuff about taking your time to learn about the system before making any radical changes or about the importance of getting to know everyone as a person and what their role is all about.  But one supervisor I had really stands out to me.

He was great.  Immediately, we connected.  He was always interested in my opinion on things, and seemed to really value what I said.  He made me feel smart.   He often told me that he had learned a lot from me.  He really built my confidence, and inspired me.  I would do anything for him.  He made me feel special… kind of like the teacher’s pet.

I had a teacher back in elementary school that made me feel this way too.  She used to give me secret gifts and cards with motivational messages.  I never told any of the other kids, because I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad that she liked me best.

It was years before I figured her out.  She did this for every one of her students.

And after a while, I noticed the same about this supervisor.  He made everyone feel important and valued.

Our team became highly motivated and effective because under his leadership, all our basic needs were met.  Obviously we felt belonging, because he made it clear that we were important to him.  Our power need was met because he constantly gave us messages that the work we were doing was important and valued.  He trusted us to make decisions and didn’t micromanage, fulfilling our freedom need.  And because we all liked him and had a good relationship, we had fun.  We did a lot of teasing and laughing together.

So often when someone enters a position of authority, it seems that their main concern is to demonstrate that they have the skills and talent to be the boss.  They feel the need to prove themselves.

How ironic that it’s actually when you shift the focus off of yourself and instead appreciate others that you become an awesome leader.

No matter what our job, all of us at some point find ourselves in a higher position in the hierarchy.  Think about how you interact with parents, the support staff, or the custodial staff.  And no matter what your position, we are always in a position of power with our students.

In these situations, do find that you more concerned with people recognizing your talents, or do you make a point of recognizing theirs?

Shout Out To The Bus Drivers!


Bus drivers are a hardy breed.  I don’t even like driving my husband’s truck because it’s so big – I can’t imagine maneuvering a vehicle the size of a bus.  Not to mention that fact that you are maneuvering it around small and unpredictable children.  And to top it off, while you accomplish this feat, you are also responsible for managing the behaviour of all the children already on the bus – with your back turned to them!

I had the pleasure of working with a great group of bus drivers from Evergreen School Division this month.  We had some amazing conversations, and wrangled with some difficult questions – and ran out of time!  So – this post is to fulfill my promise to them to continue our conversation, and hopefully to engage some other folks out there who can relate to the pressures faced by these dedicated professionals.

So often when we talk about using Restitution, it conjures up images for people of intense counselling-like sessions that help children understand the needs that drive their behaviour, and provide them the opportunity to think about how they could meet their needs in better ways.  I often hear classroom teachers lament that they don’t have time to work through problems with their students – so how on earth can you do this as a bus driver?!

I can tell you from talking with the bus drivers in Evergreen and elsewhere – there are people out there who are dedicated to using Restitution.  They have figured out that Restitution isn’t a formula that you must use to work through a problem.  All the tools and strategies that we teach are not the heart of Restitution – they just provide guidance that can help us navigate challenging situations.  At it’s core, Restitution is really about how you think about behaviour.

Do you feel that behaviour is either good or bad, or do you see it as a person’s best attempt to meet a need?

Do you see inappropriate behaviour as a bad thing, or an opportunity to teach?

Do you believe your role as the adult is to punish, or to help?

When you truly embrace the principles of Restitution, it’s not something that you “do”, it’s just who you are.  It’s not about needing a half-hour counselling session to work things out, it’s about connecting with kids.  It’s about letting them know that you care, and that you understand.  It’s about working together to figure out how we can make things work for everyone.

That doesn’t change the reality that our time and opportunities are limited.  It takes some creativity.  The little things count – greeting kids every morning by name, commenting on the score of the hockey game to the kid who is a big fan, giving a smile and a “see you tomorrow” as kids leave.  When issues arise, instead of yelling or punishing,  a quick 30 second intervention might serve to get things back on track.  These are some of my favorites:

Is what you are doing right now helping or hurting?

Is what you are doing ok?

What can I do to help you so you can….?

What’s you job right now?

What are you supposed to be doing?

Of course, there will be times when these quick questions aren’t enough to help kids reflect and adjust their behaviour.  I know some bus drivers who have called home in the evening to have a bigger conversation.  Or who have taken a few minutes before school starts to problem-solve with the child.  Or schools who have come up with collaborative ways to have principal, teacher, parent and drivers work together to support each other.

There’s no one right way to do it.  But at the end of the day, if our kids know that we care, and they are stronger for the intervention we have chosen, we can rest assured that we are on the right track!