Sunday, May 31, 2015


I last posted on May 2, almost a month ago.  What has been so important that I could sacrifice reflection and writing?   During that time, I have been targeting one corner of the house for sorting and cleaning.  I apply this vendetta with a satisfaction even more merciless in the reprieve its victims have been granted over the years.  The day of reckoning has, however, arrived.

Mess will be involved.  Garbage bags of it.  And shredding.  And decisions, for sure, as I pick through the detritus of my childhood and my teaching career with the same dread I untangled the plants from the weeds of the neglected gardens of my young adulthood.  No matter, it has to be done.  I prep the downstairs living area as I imagine a chef would a professional kitchen, or medical professionals an operating room.   Shoeboxes, the physical mnemonics of my goal, collect by the wall to collect mementoes.  Strewn next to them, garbage bags, a lowball estimate, I suspect.   By the footstool, next to the plug-in, the shredder, ready for the marathon.  Last, ranked by importance, three remotes: Signal box and TV power, TV functions, and DVD.  Their mission:  to entice me to the depths below and to save my sanity while I’m there.
I retrieve my childhood from the boxes spread like lego blocks over the downstairs kitchen floor.  It has lodged between the repository of French teaching materials of my forties and classroom memorabilia of my fifties.  A death-row of obsolete teaching material and stuff whose stay of execution has run out.   As I sort, I find

·      the oriental-themed black jewllery box, royal blue, pink, green and opal on ebony, a gift from my godmother when I was ten.  A keeper—for the joy of someone knowing that I would need to feel grown-up.

·      a square headscarf from Canada’s centennial year, folded and stored in a plastic bag.  Another keeper—some value, maybe?

·      my Grade 3 class photo—timid unsmiling me, prim and stoic at the end of the front row, neat in one of my mother’s flawless creations.  My children might want to see that.

·      a collection of holy cards with images of saints on the front and prayers on the back.  Shred, all except one signed by Aunt Gert, whom I never met, who sang at my parents' wedding and died young. The boxes are filling more quickly than the garbage bags at this point.

·      cards with signatures of my maternal and paternal grandparents, signed Grandpère et Grandmère but alive in my memory by their aliases, Memère et Pepère.  How can I shred those today?

·      a certificate of appreciation from local Chamber of Commerce in recognition of musical service to the parish.  Shredded without pause.

·      tiny plastic religious statues offered as rewards in school—garbage.  I’m sorry.  Mea culpa.

·      my high school report cards—keep, maybe the kids might enjoy them, and then they can shred them. 

·      letters—mine to my parents,  and my sister’s and roommates’ to me.  Shredded without rereading.  The past is the past, gone, and I have no desire to relive it.

·      the valedictory address I wrote for my high school graduation, an outgrowth to my idealism and my hopes for the future, which a local businessman liked so much, he had hundreds of copies printed and distributed.  I keep one of those, and the white satin pocket my mother made for my notecards.

·      a poem my sister handwrote for me on rough paper.  Keep and return.  We have always been writers.

·      Grade 2 penmanship notebook.  Really?  Shredded.

·     The green-bound History of Willow Bunch 1870 – 1970,  English version,  that I helped translate one adolescent summer.  My first published work.  Keeper.
·      my internship report, just for fun.

·      letters notifying me of scholarship awards.  Keeper: the satisfaction still wells up.

·      Piano and theory examination results and certificates—I shred them all, those reminders of mediocrity.

The artifacts of my self that my mother’s careful and respectful management has preserved for decades have been dispatched.  They await labelling and storage in this family room turned repository of memory, those relics of a valued past,  filaments knotted into the threads of the current me.

That’s about as much time as I have for sentiment.  There’s not even a dent in the garbage bags, and rows of boxes in the next room await their summoning.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


I am lucky to know many true professionals who exhibit all the qualities I mentioned in my professionalism checklist yesterday. These individuals care so much about what they do that they get discouraged when their efforts might not yield the results to which they aspire, or, at least, not as quickly as they might wish or expect.

To those individuals, I offer the peace I have come to in my own deliberations on that subject. All I can do is what I can do. I can put in my brick to build the cathedral. I don't have to finish the whole building on my own. I may not even see the structure finished. I can, however, pick a solid brick, make sure it fits with the pattern, make it straight, and mortar it well to last for a long time.

The story of the Chinese bamboo offers consolation to those for whom results seem slow in coming. I encountered this story in sessions with Jacqueline Caron, an educator of renown in Quebec, who passed away last year. Where she got it from, I don't know.

To grow bamboo, you must plant the seed, water it, and fertilize. The first year, nothing happens. The second year, you water and fertilize, and again, nothing happens. Same thing for year three and year four—nothing ever happens. During the fifth year, in less than six weeks, the bamboo grows 90 feet.

Did the bamboo grow 90 feet in six weeks or in five years? The answer has to be five years—because the seed would have died if, at any time during those five years, you had stopped watering and fertilizing.

Any change takes time, effort, and perseverance.

Et, en français :

Si on veut faire pousser un bambou, on plante la semence, on l'arrose et on la fertilise. La première année, rien ne se produit. La deuxième année, on l'arrose et la fertilise, et de nouveau, rien ne se produit. On répète les mêmes opérations la troisième et la quatrième année, et il ne se produit toujours rien. Au cours de la cinquième année, en moins de six semaines, la bambou pousse de quatre-vingt-dix pieds.

Le bambou a-t-il poussé de quatre-vingt-dix pieds en six semaines ou en cinq ans? Il faut répondre cinq ans, parce que la semence serait morte si, n'importe quand pendant ce cinq ans, on avait cessé de l'arroser et de la fertiliser.

Tout changement dans la culture d'une organisation exige du temps, de l'effort et de la persévérance.

Friday, May 1, 2015


When I witness a lapse of professionalism in myself or others, my spirit droops like a parched plant.  Whenever, during my career,  I myself have said something untoward or taken the easy road, I feel I’ve let down the side, maybe like the Islanders who allowed a goal at 19:58 of the third period of a tied hockey game yesterday to lose the seventh and deciding game of their series against the Washington Capitols.  It takes me a long time to recover, and the best thing I can do is own it and move on.   

In the last few months, lapses in professionalism have impacted me.  Each time, I felt disrespected, as I imagine being slapped in face might, had I ever been subjected to that indignity.  Those experiences have prompted an examination of conscience on my own conduct as a professional.  Here is my 7-point professional checklist. 

1.     Walk the talk. 
Whatever we as professionals expect of others, we must model ourselves.  In my case, as an educator, that means embed the pedagogy of most promising practice in the sessions I facilitate—the communication skills, the strategies, the philosophy.  In addition, I must contribute and engage in sessions I attend, given that I appreciate those behaviors in my sessions.

2.    Be prepared.
Clients’ time is precious.  We need to respect and maximize it—whether our clients are students, colleagues, patients, or customers.  How can we not have gathered the materials we need for a lesson, reviewed documents for a meeting, read the files, or helped to find a product?

3.     Be knowledgeable.  
Professionals stay current.  They read, experiment, attend seminars, and assimilate research.   They are open to different ways of doing things.

4.     Practice the code of ethics of the profession.   
a.     Not all professionals do, so we must read and reread and rereread that document throughout our careers.
b.     Maintain confidentiality. 
c.      Address any grievance with the individual concerned before talking to that person’s superiors.  Communication skills make those conversations possible (see #5).   Enduring tension or talking behind the person’s back out of fear of a confrontation are not options.

5.    Hone communication skills.  
If we are not yet confident enough in our ability to navigate through a problematic situation, we need to develop the requisite communication competencies.  Can we use paraphrase?  Mediational questions?  Tentative and neutral language?  The Crucial Conversations program is a great resource to build know-how in this critical area.

6.    Be “unfreakable”.    
Keep a calm, steady demeanor, and smile through the rough waters.  Rise above the turbulence, in the words of Liz Prather (How to Be a Teacher Leader, April 27, 2015).  Marsha Sinetar writes that “unfreakability,” a term coined by Timothy Gallwey in The Inner Game of Tennis, to describe the ability to maintain a clear head in the midst of challenges, as one of the keys to developing a twenty-first century mind.  The idea is to “enjoy the climb,” enjoy the challenge that problem-solving requires.

7.    Deflect credit. 
Professionals are the last to take credit for any accomplishments.  They acknowledge their role as part of a team.

The incidents I experienced are a great reminder for me, to reflect on my own behavior, to refer to my checklist, and to keep myself honest as a professional.