Archive | November, 2012

Fifty-Two Weeks Begin Now: Week Eleven: Writing About an Issue in the Valley

24 Nov

52 Weeks Begin Now:  Writing About An Issue in the Valley:

Quotes with permission

The Elephant in the (Class) Room

Recently, I asked my teacher advisory (TA cross-graded group of students grades 8 to 12 that meet once a day) at Isfeld Secondary School what topic most impacts them as young adults.  We inquired together about the topics that impact adolescents globally, and then, in North America, and after considerable deliberation over multiple sources (one link we referenced was http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-issues-facing-our-youth-today.php), the students felt illegal “drugs and alcohol are a big problem for teens” (Dylan Loyst, Grade 10).  “Teenagers think they are not doing anything wrong, and so they keep on taking drugs” (Matt Sadler, Grade 12).

This group was also interested in pointing out that many teenagers, unlike the stereotype, often do know to “stay well away from drugs and are smart enough to know that they have a bright future ahead of them and don’t want to throw it away” (Vail Zerr, Grade 9).  However, many of the students felt that “parents, teachers and students should [focus more] on the students that are involved in drugs and alcohol…because [drugs] are bad for your health and may ruin your or somebody else’s life” (Maddi Eaton, Grade 9).  This topic is timely in light of the multiple debates being raised and responded to politically in the United States, and in turn, Canada.  People are pretty protective of what they perceive to be their “lifestyle choices”.

Although we need to appreciate the diverse backgrounds, abilities and challenges of our students (School District 71 has multiple resources for addressing this complex topic, see http://www.sd71.bc.ca/ysup/), I do not think that educators can easily sit on the fence of such an important topic.  We have to trust our experiences and observations working with students.  I cannot speak for all educators, but will provide a perspective about how substance abuse impacts how students do in school, weaving together my research about “drugs” (illegal drugs not prescribed and monitored by a medical professional and/or alcohol); the comments of the students; and my observations and experiences as an educator of 26 years and a parent of 20 years.

In essence, I have never seen a student learn and truly understand his or her studies better because he or she was doing drugs.  As well, none of my students have come back and told me, “Boy, I wish I had done drugs in school.”  More often than not, I have had alumni confess that they were so glad that they had people in their lives (parents, mentors, teachers, community support) who helped them not use or stop using drugs and stay clean in a world of multiple stressors and temptations.  As I have explored this issue in more depth, talking to students, parents and educators, there seems to be an elephant in the educational room that people know about and are not sure how to talk about or address.  In some cases, there is a belief that this situation is just “the way it is” in our culture.   For example, “There isn’t anything we can do about drugs or alcohol” (Rob Fish, Grade 11).   “They will never be removed from our lives” (Austyn Mullen, Grade 8).

I like Eckhart Tolle’s definition of addiction:  “A long-standing compulsive behavior pattern may be called an addiction, and an addiction lives inside you as a quasi-entity or sub-personality, an energy field that periodically takes you over…” (pp.s 246-247, 2005).  Over the years, the students that I have worked with who have fallen off of the educational grid due to substance abuse, have most often felt that they were able to keep drugs separate from their school performance.  They have conveyed a belief to me that they were not addicted nor would they become addicted by their after or during school activities.  They felt that they were “okay”.  Usually this story changed as things became more chronic, distracting and intrusive than they were able to manage and their education fell behind.

Students comment on societal influences and say that “we see our parents drink so we think it is okay for us too” (Matt Sadler, Grade 12).  There is a powerful dynamic and in some cases, disconnect between what students are taught in school about drugs and alcohol and what they see modeled in the community.  For example, I have found that as a parent, what I model or value has had a powerful effect on my son.  Over his twenty year life, I have been humbled to learn that he often defaulted to my weakest behavior and would justify them if questioned, “Well, you said a swear word yesterday”.  Because of that observation of the power of my influence, I walked my talk with him about drugs and alcohol.  Will it keep him clean his entire life? Maybe not.  Will he think twice about choices that distract him from his natural potential?  I believe so as he has confided that this is the case.

My bottom line continues to be that students who come to class sober and have not used that day, the night before, or the night before that (etc.), are clearer thinkers and learn better than those who are under the influence (regardless of the type of substance).  They are able to think, and also lucidly think about their thinking (metacognition).  Brain-based research is pretty clear that anything that messes with the brain while it is growing up can impede its functioning in the short and long term.  “The habits and choices associated with the use of drugs and alcohol slowly become ingrained in the wiring of the brain” (http://samafoundation.org/youth-substance-addiction/effects-of-drugs-on-adolescent-brain/).  Technically, our brains are always growing, so to do it at any time, is not a good idea, but especially in our formative years that can extend into our twenties.  Drugs change brain development.

The school plays an important part in educating students about what drugs and alcohol do to their brains and in turn, their behavior and educational outcomes.  Many of this student group confirmed this comment about the role of the school:  “I think that there should be more guest speakers who have let drugs and alcohol take over their lives and tell the kids about good choices” (Ashlee Hincks, Grade 9). “I think Isfeld Secondary needs to occasionally have an assembly addressing this issue” (Austyn Mullen).  Students “need to be aware of the dangers of drugs” (Daniel Carlson, Grade 12).

People are creatures of habit, and if students succumb to temptations, it hijacks them from their essential purpose to learn and grow into their best potential.  I have also observed that anyone, regardless of their age, can be vulnerable to using drugs depending on their mental health, life experiences and any challenges that they may be going through.  People who stay clear of addictive substances have learned to be resilient and work through their emotions and stress without resorting to artificial means.  “Drugs are the easy way out, but sometimes the easy way isn’t the best way” (Claire Brown, Grade 8).  They have learned that all emotions teach them something about themselves instead of needing to “numb out” and escape challenging thoughts and feelings.

I want students to learn to read, write and do arithmetic, but more importantly, I want students to know how to be critical thinkers about what best supports or hinders their education.  The students in my TA group seem to know the complexities, and in some cases, dangers that face people once they choose to use drugs.  “I think it is a huge problem.  It’s not good to do it this young!” (Dylan Russell, Grade 9).  “Teens have been dying from drugs and it would be a shame to see another student pass away because of something that could have been easily prevented” (Dylan Loyst, Grade 10). “I personally think [drugs] are a stupid idea” (Kyana Larocque, Grade 10).

Our youth that are involved in drugs require the educational community to look out for them and keep them safe and healthy, and to mentor them about how to make better choices.  We need to support our students to know how to “take a stand and stop using drugs and alcohol” (Ashlee Hincks, Grade 9).  It is a complex issue, but it is refreshing to have students speak so candidly about it, and I believe that we have much to learn from their input.  We need to encourage this type of dialogue with our teenagers wherever possible.

Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 10: The Rubber Hits the Road

3 Nov

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 10: The Rubber Hits the Road.

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 10: The Rubber Hits the Road

“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.”
Deepak Chopra

Imagine Having to Think About Breathing: Imagine that instead of being able to breath in and out automatically without having to think about it, you had to think about every inhalation–every exhalation. When starting new and being immersed into a new culture, nothing is automatic. There are no routines. I have found that all processes have to be re-invented from figuring out where to put things in my home and office, and then how to operate within the newness of each and every decision. Each choice, whether it is small or large, has implications because it affects how I live today, and how I might choose to live tomorrow. It makes me realize how much of my previous life I took for granted. After defining myself for so long in the same place, things just happened. It started to feel a bit like walking in circles. I always remembered the polar bear at the Calgary Zoo in the 1980’s that went crazy walking back and forth over the same territory. He simply could not pull himself off his relentless path of sameness and we all watched him from his windowed cage.

Because I want to be successful in my life change, I am making decisions carefully so that I don’t fall into old habits. I ask myself whether to re-adopt old systems that have worked for me in the past, or whether to consider a new way of operating so that I am healthier and happier. However, not everything is new. As I hang each of my old pictures (from trips around the world) on new walls, I am excited to see them through new eyes. Like me, these little treasures are coming to life again in new light in my new home. How nice to have the familiar amidst the new.

I am beginning to accept that as much as we shun the idea of being reified by our daily habits, having a few familiar working systems makes things manageable. I am finding that full scale second order change is exhausting and at times debilitating. I need to find or make a few solid paths that I can call my own. For example, I want to find a breakfast diner that will become my regular hang-out in the early hours. I am already gravitating to favourite places like the Filberg Lodge http://filberg.com/ and the Black Fin Pub. I sometimes return to places because I am really tired of getting lost. Yes, it is relatively easy to do in a Vancouver Island town in the dark on wet roads in what feels like the middle of nowhere. Addresses, and street lights seem to be at a premium here.

The Fish Bowl: On top of all of the changes I make in my new little world, it is a bit of a fish bowl in a small town. People recognize me in the grocery store or the gas station. It seems that people are politely watching to see how it all turns out for me. As welcoming as some people have been (a few special people in particular), I can see many speculating on the odds of my success. They both relish in me trying to fit in with them, but they take some pleasure in reminding me that “it is different here in BC”. They love telling me that I am going to get depressed in the rain, despite this being something that I am really loving. The other night I savored the sound of the rain on the sky light and my two little kitties purring on either side of me as I wrote on the computer. I realize that true acceptance from the people in this new culture, will come with time. A wise mentor once told me, “Trust equals action over time”. People need to learn to trust me, and I need to know who I can trust.

Pioneering and Paper Trails: The paperwork continues as I now find new doctors, and manage my new benefits, financial, insurance and utility transfers. All processes have required one, two and three phone calls to insure that things actually happen. I am often suprised at how often people will say when I phone back that something was overlooked, and excuses are made that a step was forgotten. I dread going to the mailbox as I wonder what paperwork has come or not come. As well, my house in Calgary still has not sold, so the juggling of multiple finances is taxing…literally.

This pioneering may not be as tough as it was for my great grandparents who emigrated from Ireland (1908) and my grandparents from Finland (1930’s). Although they left everything behind, they truly had to “build” a new life from scratch. Both families experienced incredible hardship. My mother’s parents lived in a tiny shack on the side of the train tracks just outside of Golden BC before they finally got their own land. My father’s grandparents and then parents lived on a small homestead in the town of Etzikom just south of Medicine Hat. This family did not survive it successfully like many pioneers in Southern Alberta. The isolation was too much for my grandmother, and the children were all adopted out. Despite my move being at a time in life where I am more established, I still feel the elements of risk and stress as I attempt this on my own.

Experiences: Feeling the slight tremor of the 7.7 earthquake emanating from Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) last weekend, was a wake-up call for me. I felt the whole earth move, and I got pretty queezy in the episode. Another new experience was watching the salmon run on the Puntledge River. I was so overwhelmed by the smell of the dead fish and the sea gulls swooping in to eat them, that I almost fainted. The elements challenge me to see my vulnerabilities here. Fortunately, people are stepping out to help me and this kindness is appreciated, but ultimately, the buck stops with me. The aloneness (not the loneliness) is palpable. This is new. This is true change. This is pushing me to understand who I truly am as a person. I have to enjoy my own company because guess what? I am my only company most of the time.

The Piano Man: I sit writing this in the Griffin Pub on a rainy Hallowe’en night while everyone sings with a piano bar singer who is pretty amazing for a small town entertainer. His tunes are familiar and everyone is relaxed. It is that time in the night when the Irish tunes are starting up. Hands are clapping. People are dancing all around me. My computer is my companion tonight. I sit on the periphery watching the customers come in from the rain to escape giving out candy to excited children. Writing comes easily to me amidst this jovial white noise. There are some universal truths in every culture. People like to drink, sing and dance. They forget everything else when they are doing it. This feels familiar to me, and for awhile, a bit of familiarity is good.

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 10: The Rubber Hits the Road

3 Nov

52 Weeks Begin Now:  Week 10:  The Rubber Hits the Road

“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.”
―    Deepak Chopra

Imagine Having to Think About Breathing:   Imagine that instead of being able to breath in and out automatically without having to think about it, you had to think about every inhalation–every exhalation.  When starting new and being immersed into a new culture, nothing is automatic.  There are no routines.  I have found that all processes have to be re-invented from figuring out where to put things in my home and office, and then how to operate within the newness of each and every decision.  Each choice, whether it is small or large, has implications because it affects how I live today, and how I might choose to live tomorrow.  It makes me realize how much of my previous life I took for granted.  After defining myself for so long in the same place, things just happened.  It started to feel a bit like walking in circles.  I always remembered the polar bear at the Calgary Zoo in the 1980’s that went crazy walking back and forth over the same territory.  He simply could not pull himself off his relentless path of sameness and we all watched him from his windowed cage.

Because I want to be successful in my life change, I am making decisions carefully so that I don’t fall into old habits.  I ask myself whether to re-adopt old systems that have worked for me in the past, or whether to consider a new way of operating so that I am healthier and happier.  However, not everything is new.  As I hang each of my old pictures (from trips around the world) on new walls, I am excited to see them through new eyes.  Like me, these little treasures are coming to life again in new light in my new home.  How nice to have the familiar amidst the new.

I am beginning to accept that as much as we shun the idea of being reified by our daily habits, having a few familiar working systems makes things manageable.  I am finding that full scale second order change is exhausting and at times debilitating.  I need to find or make a few solid paths that I can call my own.  For example, I want to find a breakfast diner that will become my regular hang-out in the early hours.  I am already gravitating to favourite places like the Filberg Lodge http://filberg.com/ and the Black Fin Pub. I sometimes return to places because I am really tired of getting lost.  Yes, it is relatively easy to do in a Vancouver Island town in the dark on wet roads in what feels like the middle of nowhere.  Addresses, and street lights seem to be at a premium here.

The Fish Bowl:  On top of all of the changes I make in my new little world, it is a bit of a fish bowl in a small town.  People recognize me in the grocery store or the gas station.  It seems that  people are politely watching to see how it all turns out for me.  As welcoming as some people have been (a few special people in particular), I can see many speculating on the odds of my success.  They both relish in  me trying to fit in with them, but they take some pleasure in reminding me that “it is different here in BC”.  They love telling me that I am going to get depressed in the rain, despite this being something that I am really loving.   The other night I savored the sound of the rain on the sky light and my two little kitties purring on either side of me as I wrote on the computer.  I realize that true acceptance from the people in this new culture, will come with time.  A wise mentor once told me, “Trust equals action over time”.  People need to learn to trust me, and I need to know who I can trust.

Pioneering and Paper Trails:  The paperwork continues as I now find new doctors, and manage my new benefits, financial, insurance and utility transfers.  All processes have required one, two and three phone calls to insure that things actually happen.  I am often suprised at how often people will say when I phone back that something was overlooked, and excuses are made that a step was forgotten.  I dread going to the mailbox as I wonder what paperwork has come or not come.  As well, my house in Calgary still has not sold, so the juggling of multiple finances is taxing…literally.

This pioneering may not be as tough as it was for my great grandparents who emigrated from Ireland (1908) and my grandparents from Finland (1930’s).  Although they left everything behind, they truly had to “build” a new life from scratch.  Both families experienced incredible hardship.  My mother’s parents lived in a tiny shack on the side of the train tracks just outside of Golden BC before they finally got their own land.  My father’s grandparents and then parents lived on a small homestead in the town of Etzikom just south of Medicine Hat.  This family did not survive it successfully like many pioneers in Southern Alberta.  The isolation was too much for my grandmother, and the children were all adopted out.  Despite my move being at a time in life where I am more established, I still feel the elements of risk and stress as I attempt this on my own.

Experiences:  Feeling the slight tremor of the 7.7 earthquake emanating from  Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) last weekend, was a wake-up call for me.  I felt the whole earth move, and I got pretty queezy in the episode.  Another new experience was watching the salmon run on the Puntledge River.  I was so overwhelmed by the smell of the dead fish and the sea gulls swooping in to eat them, that I almost fainted.  The elements challenge me to see my vulnerabilities here.  Fortunately, people are stepping out to help me and this kindness is appreciated, but ultimately, the buck stops with me.  The aloneness (not the loneliness) is palpable.  This is new.  This is true change.  This is pushing me to understand who I truly am as a person.  I have to enjoy my own company because guess what?  I am my only company most of the time.

The Piano Man:  I sit writing this in the Griffin Pub on a rainy Hallowe’en night while everyone sings with a piano bar singer who is pretty amazing for a small town entertainer. His tunes are familiar and everyone is relaxed.  It is that time in the night when the Irish tunes are starting up.  Hands are clapping.  People are dancing all around me.  My computer is my companion tonight.  I sit on the periphery watching the customers come in from the rain to escape giving out candy to excited children.   Writing comes easily to me amidst this jovial white noise.  There are some universal truths in every culture.  People like to drink, sing and dance.  They forget everything else when they are doing it.   This feels familiar to me, and for awhile, a bit of familiarity is good.