Monday, April 27, 2015


Last night, Carey Price, goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, stopped 43 shots en route to a 2 – 0 shut out of the Ottawa Senators to clinch the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, four games to two.   Given that the second Montreal goal game at 19 : 58 of the third period into an empty net, Price and his teammates faced unrelenting pressure from the Senators in the last three and a half minutes of the game.  To ratchet the normal level of frenzy up a few notches as a desperate team endeavored to catapult the game into overtime, the Canadiens had to kill a penalty until just over a minute before the end of regulation time.   Coach Michel Therrien admitted after the game that the last minute seemed to stretch forever, and he couldn’t wait for the final siren.  Price saw the end of the game differently.

After the game, reporters asked Price, too, about the stress of the final minutes of the game.  “That’s fun,” Price replied.  “It’s not stressful.  When you’re living in the moment, it’s just fun.”  Maybe he sees it as getting to block shots in a maelstrom rather than having to.  What a ringing endorsement for the benefits of play, not just in the hockey world where  it seems that people get paid just to play, but for the rest of us as well.  If we bring a mindset of play to what we perceive as our “work,”  we, like Price, can be in the zone, shielded from stress beneath an umbrella of positive energy.  Imagine the  possibilities if our talk changed, if we got to teach a lesson, rather than having to, or got to mow the lawn or clean the bathroom, or sort through boxes or prepare reports.  How might our lives be transformed!

Indeed, Marsha Sinetar describes Price’s zone of play in very similar words.  In Developing a 21st Century Mind (1991, New York :  Villard Books), she says:  "Those who can play with self-abandon, who can put their whole bodies and minds into an activity, rid themselves of tension.  Time, space, and self-consciousness evaporate." (p. 49).    Sound familiar?  She goes even further than stress relief.  When we play, she says, that is, “stop trying, competing, comparing, intellectualizing, criticizing, judging and brutalizing ourselves and others” (p. 50), we can experience a rebirth of our creativity, gain needed insights in the very field of our work-turned-play.  Imagine the power.

For many years now, I have been on a mission to turn my “work” into play.  I began slowly.  I  ironed (in the days when I still ironed) while watching a movie.  I compacted my “work” into small bites interspersed with variety.  I focused on the smile on my face, no matter what I was occupied with, even if I had to paste it on at the start.  At school, my playful mentality brought rich rewards.  There, too, I inserted movement breaks between focused sessions of  what students perceived as ”work.”  We group-juggled small soft balls, played ping pong with styrofoam plates,  and shot arrows with styrofoam ends to understand the elements of the plot of a short story.  I added zany options to exams. Inspired by Kyle MacDonald’s attempt to trade up to a house from a red paper clip, I used the gambit  to help students understand bartering.  The day a student from another class thanked me for doing the paper clip activity, I had yet another confirmation, had I needed one, of the power of play.

Now, my own focus for play has expanded just a bit.  I apply it consciously to my music practice and performance, to my writing, and to my contract work.  I strive to let go of the judgment, the censor, and the comparisons, so that I can concentrate only on the joy of the moment and the task at hand.  Time dissolves; insight trickles through, and my mind sees only the image I try to capture in word,  sound, or deed. 

Hats off to Price for figuring out the power of play while still in his twenties.  You can’t argue with the results—more wins than any other goaltender in the storied history of the Montreal Canadiens.   Thanks to his generosity, the rest of us can benefit from one of his secrets.

Monday, April 13, 2015


On the road again, it’s time to fuel up and change drivers.  I take the service road off the freeway, curve along its length, around the mall, past Boston Pizza, to the pumps.  We take care of business, and my husband takes the wheel.

Immersed in a square of my Sudoku puzzle, I don’t notice my husband has turned left, east, back the way we came, instead of right, west, further along the service road in the direction we are headed, to rejoin the highway.   

“Why not go right and continue on the service road?” I ask, as we wait at the traffic lights, facing east, ready to turn and double back onto the highway heading west.

“It’s about the same thing,” he replies.  “The other way, you travel more slowly on the service road, make a left turn, and then yield and merge onto the freeway.”

“So you can go backward to go forward,” I comment.

“Seems that way,” he concludes.

After that exchange, my Sudoku puzzle forgotten, I mull over his statement.  Does that apply in other contexts, I wonder.  Can you move forward by going backward?  Even more important, can you move forward only by going backward?

The examples I generate look like this:

·  In the teaching, it’s critical to access the learner’s prior knowledge and to help the learner make connections to lived experience as he or she interacts with new knowledge.

·  With each lesson, it’s important to give the learner the opportunity to reconnect with what has just come before.  These key steps assure the learner’s progress.  Omit them to move forward more quickly, and, ironically, you can expect to move backward.

·  A thorough knowledge of history helps decision-makers avoid the errors of the past.  Time spent looking backward helps societies move forward.

·  Demolition of a space precedes its renovation.  Once the debris is clear, new construction can begin.

·  Mess and chaos often accompany deep cleaning.  To overcome the feeling of moving backward when I sort, I must keep my eye on the progress that will inevitably follow.

·  Leaders that come into an unfamiliar environment, be it a school, a parish, a company, an organization or a business, sometimes want to move forward quickly with their vision for the future, without taking time to understand the context in which they find themselves.

·  I wonder if the adage, “Things have to get worse before they get better“ grew out of analagous situations.  

It seems, then, in my experience, that going backwards can be an important factor in moving ahead.  Sometimes, we fixate on the goal and forget the steps needed to get there, the first of which might be a step or two behind the start line.   If we neglect the key backward look, any forward progress we might make can be illusory.  That progress can be fragile, not having the underpinning of a solid anchor in what is already known.

The solid foundation that a look backward provides can even justify the conclusion that time for a careful analysis of the past and an orientation to the present context is vital to move forward.  Although it was the humorous look at typical Saskatchewanisms that sent it viral, the Insightrix video made an even more important point, as far as I’m concerned.  The original focus group facilitators represented in the video, not having taken the time to understand the Saskatchewan context, failed in their mission to acquire the information they were sent to collect.  They tried to move forward without taking the time to lay the groundwork that would assure success, that groundwork being a knowledge of Saskatchewan-speak.  In the promotional video, Insightrix, the rival company, took that time (or already had the knowledge, the video doesn’t clarify).  The final scene in the video implies the success that strategy assured.

An ordinary driving decision and a corresponding simple question, then,  led to a conversation that reminded me of an essential truth:  To move forward, take the time to lay the groundwork for a project, even if that groundwork might appear to be a step back.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


“Keep me safe,
O God,”
I sing.
“Keep me safe;
you are my hope,
my God.”
I sing
“Keep me safe” in the shower,
while I bake muffins,
at the wheel,
why, I don’t know.
I’ve just learned the hymn
for the Triduum,
and it itches in my head

I sing, though, without expectation
of protection for myself.
I don’t find Christ
in the trappings
of the traditional Church—
gold-fringed red collars,
crystal toppers for candles,
a large monstrance.
Heresy, maybe, to some,
I know.
Impiety, at the very least,
that forfeits petition.

I do find Christ in people—
my husband’s killer questions,
my son’s integrity,
my daughter’s strength,
my son’s courage,
my colleague’s compassion,
a student’s struggle,
the lab tech’s kindness,
the cashier’s fatigued eyes.
No worries.  It’s all good.

But him,
your servant,
who preached your mercy
for decades,
opened people’s hearts to you
and opened his own heart to them,
Why not keep him safe?
I wonder why,
my God, my God,
why have you abandoned him?

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Everyone is a leader: the four-year-old in a play group, the adolescent at school, the teacher in the classroom, the politician on the stump, the quarterback on the gridiron, the orchestra conductor with bâton poised and the section first chair, the consultant in the office.  Our actions and decisions have the power to influence others, for the better or for the worse.  In that they reflect our values and character to the world, those actions and decisions are the foundation of leadership.   

Given that all of us lead through actions, then, it is critical that those actions match the values we preach through word and deed.  So, for example, if I expect my French Immersion students to speak French at all times in class to me and to each other, I need to do the same with my French-speaking colleagues in the school, whether there are students present or not, or when I attend meetings, sessions, or conferences where French is the language of facilitation.  In the same way, the dress code in the school applies to me as much as to students.   Otherwise, I am guilty of a double standard.

My responsibility extends beyond the classroom and the school to activities outside school hours where I still wear my teacher hat and represent the profession.  Should I be participating in a teachers' hockey tournament, could I agree to a team name that masks profanity, a name like “Falcon Awesome”, for example, given the very good chance that a name with similar lewd connotations would not be allowed to designate a team in a school-sponsored context?   As an educator, whenever I expect behavior from students to which I myself do not adhere, I lose credibility.  My actions do not match my talk.  I abdicate my responsibility as a leader.

We are leaders because we are people. No matter our age, state of life, or line of work, we must strive to align our words, our practice, and our values.  Any less is not worthy of us as human beings.

To remind myself of the goal, and to express my conviction in another form, I have reposted a poem (Mis/Alignment) I wrote on the subject, added to this blog for a short time, and then removed for reasons that seem quite cowardly now.  Alignment requires discipline, mindfulness, and courage.  We can’t lead without it. 


At a workshop for school division leaders,
the facilitators
With planned redundancy,
they emphasize that
strategies known to enhance instruction
must be the very same ones
that drive school division
practices, meetings, sessions.

They themselves walk the talk.
Participants converse,
give feedback,
within a flexible structure.
Technology funnels questions
and respects privacy;
charts list demonstrated strategies
for application in the local context;
every voice can be heard that risks expression,
thanks to embedded opportunities and techniques.

For the last activity bridging to lunch on the final day,
we are lined up, one hundred strong, along three sides of the room,
having voted with our feet in answer to
“Where would you rather be?”
Our chosen spot has sealed our destiny for the next hour.

Anchored rock solid in the present,
I head for a spot in the room’s front right corner.
Here, I acknowledge the three men on my right with whom
a penchant for the moment? 
discomfort with change?
has partnered me for a reading and synthesis task.

One of them, a fortyish fellow on the end,
avoids eye contact.
Article and notebook in the right hand,
left hand in his pants pocket,
he floats away from our foursome,
like an untethered canoe on undulating water.
Nonchalant as the groups form, 
he rides the waves
into the crowd and a more
amenable? comfortable? known?
We, the rejected three,
let the elephant be,
find a space to work,
introduce ourselves,
reshape the task for our failed quartet.

All the while,  I percolate.
I want so much to believe 
a positive presupposition that
a student in similar shoes,
matched with workmates in that same teacher’s class,
and, like him,  seeking a more
amenable? comfortable? known?
would be allowed to slip unchallenged under the radar,
hooked up with friends rather than classmates,
no matter the ramifications for others.

But, from deepest recesses of my being,
a word surges, defying suppression.
It pulsates in bright neon behind my eyes:
Not.  Not.  Not.