Ode To Things That Bring Us Joy

It’s so important that at any age, each and everyone of us have interests and hobbies that spark joy in our lives. One of my go-to’s has always been music. Singing in the shower or in places where the acoustics make you sound amazing even though you’re subpar. Playing the flute in the high school band or the sax in jazz. Belting out my favourite hits on the radio. Music has always been such an immense part of my life.

My love for music comes from my family, mostly my mom’s side although my dad is a phenomenal drummer too. Growing up, there was always music on, especially when we were washing dishes by hand. Back in the early days, records, then later, cassettes and CDs. Neil Young, Eric Clapton, America, Jann Arden, James Taylor you name it, we played it!

The Mireault’s (my mom’s side) have always been such a close knit family and whenever we got together for a special occasion or weekend pool parties on the farm, guitars were sure to make an appearance around the fire late at night and three part harmonies followed suit. It’s a running joke in town- “You’re a Mireault-music is in your blood” they say. Whenever there’s someone added to our family, they can’t believe our rendition of Happy Birthday! It’s one for the books! In fact, we even have our own songs book! It’s coil bound and 288 pages long! That’s my Mémère and Pépère on the cover!

Needless to say, growing up in a small town, my mom and her siblings all learned how to play guitar, mostly by ear. When someone’s fingers are on fire, there’s usually someone who can take over. I’ve always wanted to learn this instrument-it’s been on my bucket list since I can remember. I love how you can bring a guitar anywhere. It can instantly change the mood of a party and I love how you can sing while playing at the same time. Try doing that with a sax or a flute!

My parents always wanted to teach my brother and I to play so when we were in our late teens, they each bought us a Yamaha guitar for Christmas. We had all the intentions in the world to learn from them during our Thursday night dinners at their place, but those guitars never came out. Instead, we’d play a board game or talk until the wee hours of the morning.

My desire to learn how to play the guitar increased when I had my kids. I wanted to play them lullabies and kids’ songs for them to sing along to- but I never took the time to take lessons. There was always a reason not to: no time, too expensive, assignments to hand in for my M. Ed., mom guilt, and the list goes on.

Since I’ve decided in the past few months to do more of what brings me joy, I’m so excited to share that I’ve taken my first guitar lesson tonight! Do you know who gave me the push to make it happen? Three grade 7 and 8 girls who were practicing their guitar in our school’s main learning commons!

It’s so much harder than it looks and it’s really stretching my brain, but I’m so incredibly proud of myself. It’s nothing like playing the flute or the sax or the piano! So tonight I dusted the same guitar that was gifted to me over a decade ago and learned six notes! Check it out! (You can laugh at me, cause I’m laughing with you!).

I feel like I should have done this years ago, but it’s never too late. It’s kind of hilarious because all of the students in the time slots before me are on average 8 years old. But I don’t care. I believe you are never too old to learn something new, especially something you’ve dreamed about, that speaks to you, that sparks joy. It’s not foolish to try something new, it’s foolish to never try at all. So I keep trying…

Allow me to change the tone a bit. As a teacher, it was really interesting for me to be in the passenger seat and learning at my own pace. I was instantly immersed in the environment that my students live day in and day out. I felt so many emotions. Ok, it was my first lessons, but even with a music background and already knowing how to read music, I struggled, but I didn’t and won’t give up. I immediately empathized with students when they are learning new concepts and skills in my class. Some have previous knowledge but all learn at their own rhythm. They need to be praised and encouraged through the learning process and need time to practice, practice and practice. Practice makes permanent.

As I was looking our Mireault songbook, I came across a tune from Doris Day- Enjoy yourself. I feel it applies well to the message in my post.

So do it. Find time for things that make you happy. Put time aside for yourself and start crossing those items off your bucket list. You’re never too old to learn something new or try the things you’ve always dreamed of. Life’s too short! You won’t regret it! Ode to things that make you happy! Ode to joy!

My first ever song played on my guitar after my first ever lesson (learning notes B, C , D, E, F, G) and about twenty minutes of practice! You gotta start somewhere! Note my husband wasn’t there to film me (who can blame him) 🙂

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Leading or Leaving?

We’ve all heard the stats before-next to half of all teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching. Of course this statistic varies from province, state or country but regardless, the numbers are high. When I applied for my very first teaching job in 2009 fresh out of the Faculty,  I asked my future employers during my interview, “What’s your advice for new teachers as they embark on their career full of hope, energy and purpose? What advice do you have for me to make sure I don’t become part of this statistic?”. Their answer, “Find balance”, which is ironic because most scales in this profession are tipping (and I’m not talking about our salary scale, although that’s up for debate!). We are over achievers and set high standards. We care so deeply that we put the needs of the people we serve before our own and our own families. We sacrifice so much of ourselves for others. Educators are a special kind of creature.

I was hired last year to be part of the amazing staff that opened École Sage Creek School in the Louis Riel School Division in Winnipeg, Canada. An experience not every educator has the opportunity to take part in. This group of determined and driven innovative educators were hired because they are forward thinking and prove it. At École Sage Creek School, big ideas are brought to fruition and the students own the stage. The students’ storyline is spectacular as they lead front and center. They put on a great show, but no one sees or even understands what’s really happening behind the scenes.

The time. The mornings, the lunch hours, the “prep” times, the evenings. The weekends. The emails. The decisions. The brainstorming. The research. The meetings before, the meetings during, the meetings after school hours. The meetings to make meetings. The cars parked in front of the school on weekends. The stress. The skipped lunches. The EA’s running marathons. The planning. The connecting. The networking. The worrying. The communicating. The back and forth. The non stop hustle and bustle. It never ends. We tell ourselves it will be better after report cards, of after the winter concert or after the month of February (oh the month of February! – Valentine’s, I love to read month, Olympics, Festival du Voyageur, Hundredth day of School, Report cards anyone and may I mention all in 19 teaching days!!), but it’s just a line we use to trick our brains that things will get easier. Truth is, it does not. I believe we are numb and get used to the constant demands from students, parents, colleagues, school initiatives, divisional priorities and policies because that’s what we do. It’s what we have to do. To be an educator who has a meaningful impact on the lives of the of learners they teach, it does not get easier. Each calculated decision has a meaning, a value, a purpose. Some years are harder. Some years seem shorter. Some years are smarter. But the job is not getting easier. We’re fools to believe it does. Maybe it’s just me and my personality because I can’t accept mediocrity and I continuously want to better myself. I work hard. Others may say, work smarter, not harder…. I just secretly chuckle to myself as I politely nod and smile. They have no idea.

I’ve worked in two other schools and this one is completely different. The stakes are high, the pressure is on and we are all feeling it.

So how do we find balance as teachers/leaders?

It’s next to impossible for me. I realized I can’t be a great wife, mom and teacher all at the same time. Last month, I decided (not by choice, but for the sake of my mental and physical health) that I would put my Master’s on hold. I am so incredibly close to completing it- in the final stages – and I temporarily (key word) gave up my personal goal to better balance my home life and work life. This is never seen before footage from me, just ask my husband.  Never have I ever not met a goal I set for myself. Never have I ever not been able to juggle all parts of my life, until this year. SO when I actually dropped it, my husband knew it was serious. I have even considered becoming a full time substitute teacher to be more present for my own family. To raise my own kids. Yes it’s a significant salary drop, but not really, when you break down my teacher salary into an hourly wage and consider the evenings, weekends, and weeks of summer spent planning, prepping, creating and reflecting. I’d be the awesome wife I once was, a way better mom who witnessed those milestones and a teacher in different ways. It does seem pretty inviting. After discussing it with someone who I admire more than words can express and who has shaped me into the teacher I am today, he said “Nycol, I support you in whatever decision you make, but you wouldn’t have the same impact you have if you left the classroom”. And, he’s right. This man is always right. He reminded me of my purpose. It’s sometimes hard to remember your purpose when you have all of these extras and to do lists you need to attend to. We need to remember to open our eyes and see what’s in front of us day in and day out- our very students. They are our purpose. The struggle is, that I have three of my own along with the 22 others I play a part in raising.

In order to make it as a teacher, collaboration is key. We can’t work in isolation. George Couros says it himself, “Isolation is now a choice educators make.” Personally, I’d rather get in the canoe and paddle together up this “creek” because doing it alone is not an option. It’s actually impossible.

This morning, I came across these illustrations on social media by DestinyBlue. I feel they capture my feelings perfectly, when I think of how fortunate I am to work alongside a team of people who consistently strive for success and offer help when they too are in need of help. The staff at École Sage Creek School is a true team who “work smarter” in the good times and the hard times.

The picture above illustrates exactly how it feels when you have no choice but to do it alone. You feel trapped, stuck, powerless, worthless, inferior.

This second illustration by DestinyBlue portrays exactly what happens when you and your colleagues work as a team. They pick you up, give you wings, they offer help, and see your worth. They do not let you fall through the cracks. What I also love about this illustration is that it can also be compared to the relationship between a student and their teacher. The teacher reminds their students of their sense of purpose and their worth. Inspires them to take flight and discover what the world has to offer. It can also be viewed as the relationship between two friends, helping one another, because we all know students are teachers too.

Bottom line, it all comes down to relationships-having someone you can count on when you are feeling defeated, empty, alone, worthless, tired and uninspired. Having that someone who sees your strengths, who believes in you, who values you, who cares about you, who understands you and who will stand by you no matter what. We all need those relationships, adults, children, educators and students alike. So if you’ve lost your sense of purpose or feel as though your efforts aren’t worth it, know that you are not alone. But before you consider leaving the profession – really think of what you are leaving behind. You’re leaving your mark on those you serve everyday. You’re making a difference. What are you leaving?

Mental health maintenance

I am fortunate enough to be spending the last week of my winter break in Phoenix, Arizona with my family and great friends. The husbands work together, the wives are both teachers and our children are similar in ages. When we get together, conversation is easy, outings are relatively stress-free and we naturally just get along. On Sunday, we boarded our flight and went through the motions of airplane safety and security. When the overhead recording came on, we listened attentively and watched the flight attendants in action while I was reminded, in case of an emergency, to put my oxygen mask on first before those of my children. It’s an analogy I’ve referred to countless times to my dad when he had his heart attack and wanted to shovel the snow, to my mom who has been overworked and to my dearest friends when they needed the affirmation that their needs matter.

On that flight, I was reminded of the importance of taking time for me and want to remind you of doing the same for you as the new year begins. It’s far too easy to get caught up in work, meetings, emails and apps and tell yourself you’ll set time aside for you in your already over-scheduled agenda, knowing far too well that you will probably put it off because there’s one more detail to take care of for your next learning experience, collaborative assignment or project.

Before having a family, my husband and I had all the time in the world to follow our passions and interests. We often laugh at the thought of sleeping in well into the afternoon like we used to do before having kids. The mere thought of being able to do anything you choose at any given moment is hysterical because being part of a family, you know you’re not the only puzzle piece that counts. Although I have always been able to make time to nurture my relationship as a couple, once I had children, my self time sat on the sidelines. Being a teacher is much of the same. You have 20 something students and their families to respond to, which you do with great pleasure, because as a parent you would want the same in return. Not only do you have this group of students who you are directly responsible for, but you may have past students come in your classroom at lunch to share with you their latest news, clubs to supervise, emails to send or meetings to attend. You have deadlines and expectations to meet and in order to do so you sacrifice your “me” time before and after school because you wouldn’t ever allow yourself to not meet the needs of your students/children.

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To be able to have it all and do it all, you have to be on top of your game. To me, that means you are a team player who not only makes goals but sets goals. You step in when a teammate needs help. It’s being able to realize when you need a break yourself and returning to the field after taking a moment to hydrate and catch your breath. It takes an understanding family, supportive friends and a work environment that thrives on collaboration. I work and have worked with excellent teachers who put forth their lives and all of their personal time for their students, who never put themselves first and forget to take the time to nourish and replenish themselves. It’s no surprise that almost half of teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching.

Mental health plays a big part in education. We are constantly tuned into the social and emotional well being of our students and make sure every need is met to the very best of our ability. We ensure that they feel important, valued and know they matter. We make sure they are comfortable in their learning environment to take risks and confident to try again when their first attempt failed. We work tirelessly into building significant relationships with our students that we (sometimes or too often) neglect taking care of ourselves.

With that said, set a goal. One that allows you to pencil yourself in and stick to it. No matter what life throws at you, where you live or what you do there will be some great days to fall back on and others that will challenge you beyond belief. When I feel I’m running on empty, I breathe. I know that perfection doesn’t exist and that the small details are just that, details. I surround myself with people who lift me up. Even on the most difficult days, I always take time to reflect on the positive points and the highlights of my day. They are there, you just have to open your mind to see them. What went well? How did my students contribute to their learning? How did I pay it forward?  When we take care of ourselves as teachers, we are better fit to take care of our students. We can better support them, guide them, inspire them and ignite those sparks of curiosity and compassion to foster learning and i.d.e.a.s.

So regardless of the field you are in, when you’re running on empty and your fuel light is on – fill yourself up. The distance you’ll travel will be far greater, and the time it took to do so will be insignificant in comparison to the amount of time you’ve spent running around in circles, stressed, and unfocused. You’ll be able to move forward efficiently and accomplish much more on your never-ending to do lists. Running on overdrive is too hard for your soul. As I sit here in my pyjamas in the crisp cool desert night with my feet up and a steaming cup of tea at my side, I remember… You can’t pour from an empty cup. My puzzle piece matters to making the big picture come together and so does yours. You’ll be able to return the favor and your team will thank you for it.

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