Revisiting Four Themes

UPDATE: Due to Twitter’s buying and shutting down of Posterous, Malyn’s 10minutes sketchbook blog has been moved to WordPress, The Sketchbook Project 2012 – 10 minutes. Please visit the new site, enjoy Malyn’s sketchbook and sign her guestbook.

Deep passions never die

Last night I had an incredible Twitter conversation with Malyn Mawby about her Playing in Public sketch featured in my last post.

I asked her, since she is part of a sketch tour, whether she was just newly learning how to sketch or if she had started when she was younger. She proudly confessed the latter, and you can tell from the quality of her sketching.

Malyn also mentioned that she had stopped sketching for several years a little while back. For her, the Art House Co-op Sketchbook Project was an opportunity to revisit her sketching and renew her passion for artistic play.

This led to discussion of my passion for creative writing, which I also have enjoyed since childhood and also took a hiatus of several years from.

Hiatuses lead to inspiration

Of course, Malyn asked why I stopped. And I explained my heart transplant to her.

This led Malyn to draw a new sketch … about me.

And here it is. Wow!



For the colourful story behind this sketch, please read Malyn’s post about this sketch.

Camaraderie expands horizons

I developed many friendships using Twitter. I use the term PLN often, because most of my friends are teachers and most of our communication is professional. But it would undervalue my activity on Twitter and other social media, like this blog, to dismiss the camaraderie developed in my learning journey. My social and professional circles have definitely expanded since I started developing professionally online.

Resparking passion

In addition, I have another blog, maintained much less often than this one, which I dedicate to writing and my writing in particular. This is where I occasionally write about writing.

Last month, I became the new leader of the Write Group. This role is rather daunting, since I am replacing the quill of a great leader who served for 29 years. I expect that as my new duty takes hold, I will post more to my writing blog, particularly since I am designing a resource wiki for the Write Group.

I will also do more writing with the encouragement of my duties, much like Malyn is sketching more with the encouragement of her participation in the Art House Co-op Sketchbook Project.

So from a conversation last night, I have expanded my horizons some more and so has Malyn. Now that is social networking in action.

How about you? What is your passion? And how do you encourage yourself to expand and never lose it?

This post is cross-posted in my writing blog.


Engaging Kids: Outside of the Classroom and into the Club

The first section of this post is cross-posted in my writer’s blog, Stefras’ Bridge.

I have had three deep passions throughout my life so far and the good fortune to experience them all. I love nature, so I became an ecologist. I love learning and sharing my passions, so I became a teacher. And I love storytelling and storycrafting, so I became a writer.



In a previous post, I discussed the change in teaching style when one engages with students outside of the lesson and in camps and clubs. About a month ago, I attended a Don’t Hibernate Fair in my town. This fair is designed to connect clubs and people. I attended a table and recruited new members into the Write Group.

This was an exhilarating experience for me. I have been in many clubs and organizations, but this was the first time I recruited new members to a club. I had thirteen people sign up and express keen interest. Best of all a few of these are students I sub.

My Students: Engaging Passions

Imagine if you will how profound

It is nice to see students and witness their talents outside of the classroom. We often forget how rich, or conversely how poor, our students’ lives are. And though we spend much time preparing and considering the lessons we teach them, we typically forget in the daily details of our jobs how small, and yet how big, our classes are to our kids. Our influence is cumulative, each class a small part of each school day, yet so important to our students over time.

This in itself is a good argument for making our classes as memorable and impactful as possible, so that our students consciously identify with the concepts we try to help them learn. One of the big goals of our teaching is to contribute to the richness of our students’ daily lives, to keep that excitement that should be every day alive in the people we are raising.



The hidden factory-style curriculum of traditional education attempts to quash this anticipation so students docily accept factory-style jobs and even factory-style lives.

Our students deserve better, better than turning content, geared curriculum, contrived exercises and lectures. Isn’t the whole point of life to experience and wonder? Shouldn’t our classes go beyond “this is today’s content” to “imagine if you will how profound”?

Imagine if you will how profound. Better starts today, each day, in how we teach each class our students attend. It might be our eighth class we teach today. It might be their eighth class they attend. But it is the one class, the class right now, where we can excite them about learning, about participating, about the concepts we teach and about the possibilities and opportunities and wonders, even about the horrors, of life. We are teaching their lives now. We are teaching their lives in their futures. They deserve the best in this class. So, we have to engage them and rile their passions.

This is certainly a lesson I keep learning. And sometimes it is hard to figure out how to do that with the lesson plans I am given. Sometimes I am exhausted or under the weather. This happens. But I try to remember the key, the key, that this class, this class here, is part of my students’ lives, a part they deserve to be fired up about. Attitude begets attitude; passion begets passion.

Meeting them where they live

I remember when I first really decided to write. It is not the first time I wrote. It is not the first time I slung stories. I was already well into these, for others and for fun. But it was the first time when I thought that writing was really, really, really neat and something I wanted to do more regularly than occasionally, and more for fun than for others.



I started seriously, playfully, writing when I was eleven, a year older than the lowest age of the students I am teaching. (I currently teach 10 to 21 year olds.) In my time, where I lived, there were no clubs to encourage my writing, no community of people passionate about the same passion. Those of my students who joined the Write Group get to share and grow in their passion with like-minded people of all ages in an environment where, unlike school, they are not judged for the quality of their work, where they can choose to share, what to share, or not, where they can experience the work of others and where they can open their minds to new and beautiful worlds.

The Write Group is experiential. It is as good as what is shared.

In the Write Group everyone is equal and the only criteria is the love of the written image, the spoken story. I look forward to witnessing my students engaged in their passions, sharing that which stokes their pride and celebrating what they love.

The Camp, the Club and the Class

Our students require a lot from us. Sometimes they need a class. Sometimes they need a camp. Sometimes a club. A lab. A project. These types of teaching should:

  1. reflect the content of our lessons — the form of the lesson should reflect the structure of the content.
  2. reflect the knowledge, skills, curiosity, skepticism, problem solving and innovation we want our students to learn.
  3. reflect who are students are, what they are interested in and how they learn.
  4. provide authenticity and relevance of our lessons to our students.
  5. provide a variety of learning opportunities and styles to invoke and promote a variety of thinking and physical skills.
  6. invoke curiosity, awe, confidence, mastery and gratification from our lessons or their learning in our students.



A class, under controlled circumstances, explores content and skills. A lab and a project duplicate a class but invoke handling content and skills. A lab is more immediate and cooperative than a project; a project delves deeper and ranges farther. A camp combines class and lab in open and unfamiliar circumstances. And a club combines each of these in an open, guided, non-critical, low-stakes milieu.

When was the last time you taught in a club-style? What lessons coming up can best be learned if they were experienced as a club rather than a class?

9.11: Where I Was

Today is the tenth anniversary of the 9.11 attacks on the United States, the first attack on the US since the 1941 Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. The choice of that year, sixty years after Pearl Harbor, and that date, exploiting the Canadian and American emergency number 911 so 9.1.1 could be repeated throughout the day, was callous and strategic.

In Canada, the attacks came as a shock and we sprang into action, helping our neighbour where and how we could. Certainly, our hearts, our prayers and our homes went out to our American friends. And so did our anger. For several decades, Canada had built a reputation as a peacekeeping force around the World. But 9.11 changed that and we went to war, taking our stand beside our allies against terrorism. For us, our role of peacekeeping returned to that of active fighting.

Canadians take the 9.11 attack on the US seriously and personally. Not only were many Canadians killed in 9.11, but we took a defensive posture over our friend on September 11th and fought alongside them since.

As a base brat and station civ, I was certainly personally affected by the attack. My Dad served in the Canadian Armed Forces and though he retired before 9.11, I felt a deep pang for all the soldiers who were deployed as a result of 9.11. My Dad served overseas under NATO command and during his service in Germany local terrorists, the Baader-Meinhof Group, threatened American and Canadian bases and personnel.

Needless to say, I am extremely proud of my Dad’s role in the defense of Canada, Europe and the World.

On September 11, I hopped on my treadmill, one year and a couple of weeks after my heart transplant, and turned on my radio. The first thing I heard was David Rutherford reporting that the United States was under an attack of unknown scope.

My parents were in the computer room. I ran in and relayed the news. They didn’t believe me until I convinced them to turn on CNN News.

That is when 9.11 struck my home, the day when the War on Terrorism began.

My heart goes out to the families of the victims and survivors of the 9.11 attacks. Today, the whole World remembers. And this Canadian mourns with you.

May you sleep well tonight, knowing you are not forgotten.

Jack Layton: A Message for All

This morning, at 4:30 am, Jack Layton, leader of the Federal NDP and of the official opposition of Canada, died of cancer at the age of 61.

This is an excerpt from a letter he wrote and left to the people of Canada and the World.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Though I never voted for the NDP, Canada has lost a great politician today. He was intelligent, articulate and charismatic.

The quote above applies to all people, but perhaps as educators we can take its message to our classrooms.

Update: A few days have passed since Jack Layton’s death. I have moved from nostalgically reviewing his life to constructively reflecting on his influence. And I want to share one influential role he can still model for our students. In fact, this is probably his deepest legacy, for it empowers students now and in the future while they are in school.

Another message Jack left us he wrote in his high school graduating yearbook.

“I leave to become prime minister.”

Simple words, but they reverberate against our perception of education, how we teach and how students grow.

Sometimes our students, as did we, live in life rather than shape life around them and their dreams. Sometimes they have no idea what life has to offer. Sometimes they are overwhelmed by the choices we present them. Sometimes they have no idea that they can live any life they dream. Sometimes they feel tunnelled into predetermined lives.

We have to remind them that their dreams are attainable and show them how to work toward them. We have to do this, because if we don’t we crush them. What is our job? Our job is to teach, to guide, to provide and show opportunities, and to help them see how special they really are.

Like our students, Jack Layton attended school and wondered what life offered him. He had dreams and he had doubts. But he never gave up. He learned how to pursue his dreams and he pursued them.

He was a student, not different at all from each of our students. We all were students experiencing the same doubts and dreams.

What did he do differently? He believed in his dreams.

That is Jack Layton’s deepest legacy. How many Jack Laytons are in your classroom? I bet there are as many as students that pass over your threshold.

My Life Transformed

I always wanted to be three things: a writer, an ecologist and a teacher. I have lived a very good life, for I have managed to accomplish each of these careers. I just had a different plan on how I would become a teacher.

For almost two weeks I agonized about writing this post. Actually, it has been a worry since I began this blog. Of all my posts, this one is a game changer. I am not sure how you will react.

The schools I work at and board I work for know about this, but they are in a position to do something about it when circumstance requires response.

You are not and therefore knowing about this does not serve either of us, I thought.

Then last week happened.

If you could save a life, would you?

Last week was National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week (NOTDAW). It is actually an international recognition of the need for and celebration of the generosity of organ and tissue donors.

I attended a joint celebration of NOTDAW and the twenty-fifth anniversary of lung and heart transplants in Alberta in the Guru Nanak Dev Healing Garden of the Mazankowski Heart Institute thirteen days ago. At this celebration, doctors, recipients, donor families, recipient families, live donors and media gathered together to meet, re-meet and share stories. Many of the founding Alberta and University Hospital transplant doctors and the longest living heart and lung adult and pediatric recipients attended. They were all there to share in a very personal way the message that organ and tissue donation, particularly heart and lung organ donation, exponentially saves and improves lives.

My gift

The most touching moment of the celebration for me was when the daughter of a man asked all the people in the third and fourth rows to stand up. She then listed all of the organs and tissues that her father donated to various people upon his death. Twenty-eight people were saved and now live better quality lives. The daughter’s presentation was poignant, all the more so because I was one of the people who stood up.

In August of 2000, several fatal accidents killed people in Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Alberta. I had fainted two days earlier and so was in the hospital already. I had been given five years before a transplant was necessary, but, when I fainted, within a year, I was a month away from dying. I was the first person to get a transplant from the generous organ donors who died in those accidents.

My heart had succumbed to a condition called idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. Essentially, my heart grew so weak that it stretched like a balloon and was on its way to popping. On hindsight, symptoms existed all my life. But when you live with them since infancy, you are not aware of them. My cardiologists believe I was infected with an aggressive individual or colony of a common and normally unremarkable virus when I was an infant.

Transformative journey

At the time that I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, I was applying to a PhD position in ecology. I had been accepted by the University of Calgary and was waiting acceptance from the University of Alberta, where the specialists I wanted to become my supervisors taught. I never did discover whether the U of A accepted me or not.

My plan was simple. I love writing and nature. I chose to write as a hobby and study nature as a career. I engaged in different fields of study in ecology with each degree I took. And I worked so many years between my Masters and coming Doctorate studies in yet another field. I had planned to work in yet another field or other fields after my PhD, then with this breadth of skill and technology retire from ecology and become a teacher rich with academic and practical biological and writing experience. You see, I wanted to pass forward my passion. I wanted my passion to be my legacy.

But my cardiomyopathy cut this short. I discovered that I could no longer work outside, so I decided to become a teacher right away. And so I am here, with the restriction that I lack the stamina to work regularly part or full time. With much deliberation, I decided to remain a substitute teacher, where I get to experience many classes, many grades, many subjects and many schools. I chose my blog title to reflect this decision.

My heartfelt thanks

If it were not for an unfortunate and undisclosed man or woman who signed an organ and tissue donation card, I would have died eleven and a half years ago. Then I would not have realized my dream to become a teacher, I would not have met the wonderful and fascinating students who so enrich my life and I would not have met any of you. My life is indeed rich and spectacular.

I wonder several times every hour about the person who had died and saved my life in the same act. His or her sacrifice and generosity inspire me to be better at everything I can control each day than I was the day before. I never try my best, for I refuse to create a ceiling for myself. I love. I thank. I rejoice.

I have mixed feelings when I think about my savior and her or his family. I am grateful, thankful and sorry. And I almost forgot to say it enough.

Writing this post

Your heart is a wonder of physiology and evolution. It is more than just a pump, a piece of muscle that pushes fluid through your body. It has its own “nervous” system, sensors and metronomes. When it works properly, it operates non-stop for every second of your entire life. Its activity is not perpetual, but it is constant.

I was really reluctant to write this post. I saw only harm come from doing so. If this post were about me at all, I would not have written it.

But it is not about me, is it?

You see, last week I attended a celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of heart and lung transplants in Alberta. And I stood up while a furiously proud daughter of a donor listed how her father saved and improved as many lives after death as he did during life. And I wanted to say thank you, even though I never benefitted from this man until that moment.

But I benefitted from someone and that someone lost everything so I could benefit.

I dedicate each day and each act to life and my donor.

Each life saved or improved is really a ripple, for every act the beneficiary makes influences others who influence more and more.

I am a teacher and there is no better place I could be to make many big differences.

Please, do four things for me

  1. Sign your organ and tissue donation card and talk to your family about your wishes.
  2. Take care of your health. Eat well, exercise well, avoid illicit drugs, alcohol, tobacco and salt and build your personal and professional networks. Love. Care. Help.
  3. Let me know if this post moved you. I agonized over it for a long time; it feels like months since I attended the celebration last week. I hope I did not lose your respect.
  4. And finally spread the word. It is important, and I nearly forgot.

Oh, and just in case I have not said it enough, thank you, donor. You gave me a second life and I am trying to use it well. I am dearly sorry that you had to die before I could begin again. May God bless you, your family and your friends. May their memories of you be fond and their thoughts of me be kind and proud. I may not be able to donate any organs, tissues or blood anymore, but I did sign my organ and tissue card before I needed your help and I try to do well by those I meet, placing their needs (though not necessarily their wants) ahead of my own. (Okay, sometimes I treat myself too.) Thank you for giving me your life. I wish I could give something to you.



More information

I wrote another post about my transplant in response to a post from Malyn Mawby, who read this post.

Images of the Guru Nanak Dev Healing Garden

The Mazankowski Heart Institute

Tissue and Organ Donation

25 Years of Heart and Lung Transplants in Alberta

Personal Stories, Advocacy and Efforts

Dilated Cardiomyopathy