NLTA Vice-President

Dedicated to my grandfather, Baxter Langdon; small in stature but walked tall with integrity...

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Fighting the ‘Wave of Worry’ Amidst Austerity...

In this profession, especially when the evenings close in and early mornings are dark, the mind wanders. 

It wanders to a place whereby all of the tiny battles of the day become huge wars. It wanders to a place where the day becomes difficult to start and even more so to conclude. It wanders to a place whereby one often questions the capability to make a difference.

We are experiencing a time whereby our workplace, our communities, and our home life are being directly impacted...

More than ever, we have a responsibility to remind ourselves and each other that:

* We make a difference.
* Our personal and family lives come first.
* There is help out there.
* We are surrounded by colleagues that have extensive experience and have weathered many storms; these individuals can prove to be great resources.
* As seasoned teachers, we may sometimes need to look to our younger faces in the staff room for that boost of energy, enthusiasm, and motivation.
* Our strength comes in our collective efforts as a staff and an association.
* We are known to be resilient. But we will not be taken advantage of... 
* Now is the time, more so than any other time, that we must keep the passion burning.

Trust that your passion and the strength of the NLTA, will guide us through the storm.

Resilience, Passion, and Trust...

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Meditation for the Teacher Brain...

As the summer proceeds and we inch minute-by-minute toward a new school year, I figured I would share with you some of my adventures (though they be small steps) into the realm of meditation. It may be an opportune to time to try a few ideas before getting back into the teaching tornado. Now I hope that you are not rolling your eyes and saying “yeah, like I have time for that!”. That was me, by the way, a few years back.

Now for anyway who knows me, I tend to have many projects on the go both during and after the work day. I tried pulling back on some of these projects as a means of reducing anxiety and fatigue but found myself being ‘pulled back’ into them as they do offer value to me...’personality’ causes this situation for many of us and I find many of us teacher-types have this ‘get-‘er-done’ bug. So nothing has changed in terms of workload, but meditation did give me a few more tools to add to my relaxation toolkit when I needed it the most.

This heavily-loaded word (‘meditation’) means a lot of things to many different people. You have your global gurus, your hardcore crowd, your recreational user (so to speak), and your nay-sayers that make up your continuum.  For me, it has evolved over the last 3 or 4 years and, with many doubting moments and highlights along the way, I have seen some great value for me personally. I have come across the following points either through reading, scanning Twitter feeds, personal realizations, or stumbling upon things that work for me.

These are simply presented as a means of stimulating potential opportunities for you.

 I have quickly realized that the philosophy behind meditation is quite rich and is strongly-rooted in the history of many cultures and religious traditions. My response?  There must be something to this...

* Meditation can be what you need it to be, for YOU; bottom-line, it is being ‘present’ in the moment. Found this extremely beneficial while travelling in Gros Morne National Park this summer. Found myself in ‘the zone’ while standing with one leg on the railing of a boat heading back from a tour of Western Brook Pond. Think this will be my new ‘happy place’!

* I read somewhere that each and every responsibility that we have is part of our journey on this planet in spite of how menial or frustrating (e.g. meditation and a few choice words helped me survive a mini-flooding of my kitchen while installing my dishwasher). Accepting these tasks in this manner can certainly help with frustration and lack of motivation.

 Breathing – this is a key one. Controlled, deep breathing can do wonders at any part of the day. Mid-day is great or especially after an anxious episode.

* One technique that works for me is a body scan...visualize various parts of your body, how they feel and make conscious efforts to stretch or relax those areas.

* Starting your day with purposeful waking strategies such as stretching (while still lying in bed), drinking a glass of water, avoiding your cell phone (that is calling your name on your nightstand...), not allowing your mind to wander into those infamous danger zones, etc.

* Tried the yoga thing, found it good, but didn’t stick with it...hope to pick it up again soon.

* Hoping one day, to do an experiential retreat..hear there is one in Banff!

* Plan on adding a waterfall to my office...hope it doesn’t cause an incessant need to head to the washroom.

* Your space, at any given time, can be a source of relaxation if you allow it to be so.

* With kids, need to find quiet time for this...always a challenge.

So, three things to sum this up:

#1. I have posted this blog at the risk of being teased by my hockey buddies and those ‘nay-sayers’ I referenced above. May have to throw the old yoga mat in the hockey bag.

#2. To you seasoned meditators, please bear with me in my amateur journey.

#3. Our classrooms and schools will pretty much re-introduce us to the regular stressors that we left in June. Why not take control of your response to them?

Monday, 4 July 2016

A Relationship with Yourself?

I often hear families and individuals comment on the pace of life, the ‘rat race’, and the impossibility of the multiple roles we are expected to fill (that of employee, parent, spouse, care-giver, volunteer,...). 

Significant research has gone into the impacts of the roles we assume (and those we are forced into) as well as the benefits of having a strong relationship with ‘yourself’. The concepts of ‘work-life balance’ and ‘self-care’ have become cliché in many respects but do we truly know and reward our personal selves accordingly?Creating therapeutic ‘alone time’ with your thoughts, emotions, and feelings, and intentionally creating opportunities for self-reflection, renewal, and re-generation can be extremely cathartic. 

The nice thing does not require a huge monetary investment nor a plan to escape into a globe-trotting introspective journey - those Tibetan monks can be a handful! ;). It can simply mean, a dedicated hour for yourself at the local book store, a private walk along your favorite beach, or playing your music, when and where you want...

It’s about intentionality and ensuring these events make it into your schedule.

I strongly believe that an investment in effective personal time can reduce the shock of losing love ones, maintain strong mental health, and truly enable you to enjoy what it means to be ‘you’.

After all, you have so many people competing for your time, what’s one more?

Friday, 17 June 2016

A Virtuous Response to a Senseless Crime...

In "our darkest hour", to act with selflessness and a ‘belief in the greater good’ is the true demonstration of power.

During a week filled with global acts of terror and hate, we lose another one of our own - Robert Hall (taken and killed as a hostage in the Phillipines). This tragedy can be viewed through different painful lenses...that of the horrific experience of being the hostage or being the family member who waits in silence hoping that by some ‘grace of god’ the captors have a change of heart...both of which bring great pain and suffering.

When hearing of Mr. Hall’s tragic passing, I was struck with sadness for this gentleman, great sympathy for the family, and deep anger for the absurdity and asinine nature of this event. It wasn’t until I read a statement from Mr. Hall’s family that I was able to somewhat process and appreciate the impact that this man and his family have had on our country, and our efforts in the war against terror.

“Our family, even in our darkest hour, agrees wholeheartedly with Canada’s policy of not paying ransom,” the Hall family said in the statement. “We stand with the ideals that built this country; strength of character, resilience of spirit, and refusal to succumb to the demands of the wretched.”(The Canadian Press)

In his book ‘Leadership’, General Rick Hillier describes the challenge of building morale within the Canadian Forces and how each member and family’s selfless contribution to ‘the cause’ has resulted in a heightened respect for the Canadian Forces and its impact worldwide.

It is in the same light that I view the actions of Mr. Hall’s family...truly virtuous (and Canadian) indeed.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

How do we explain this one?

After my initial devastation of hearing of the shootings at a gay night club in Orlando that killed 50 people and wounded another 50+ (the largest mass shooting in American history), my mind went to my own kids and my students I work with every day.

Why did this happen? How could this happen? How do I attempt to explain this situation when the questions start...? Should I have the answers? Moreover, how do I open up discussion with my LGBT+ students?

This was a hate crime...end of story.

It is my fear that the magnitude of this act will become overshadowed (and this is starting to occur already) by the American gun control debate or “another” terrorist attack (can’t believe I just wrote that).

In discussing this with our children and students, it is vital that we keep focus where it is required...on the disregard for human life that was demonstrated and to then offer hope and reassurance that the steps we take from day to day reach out, lend a helping hand, make a difference, etc. are largely outweighing this gross display of inhumanity.

Underlying this incident, like many others in our history, is the battle that the LGBT+ community faces from day to day, striving for acceptance, respect, and equality. And as allies for the LGBT+ community, we all have a role to play in chipping away at local and traditional perspectives, that classify anything other than heterosexuality or male / female binary as being sinful or wrong.

As Newfoundanders & Labradorians, it is time to shed the ignorance and narrow-mindedness that religion and history has enshrouded us with and start seeing our LGBT+ children, students, neighbors, relatives, colleagues, citizens, for who they are...equals.

Why do 'these people' need a pride parade? Now you know why...

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The View from the 'Cheap Seats'...Inclusive Education?

As spectators at a sporting event, we have the opportunity to enter any stadium or sports facility and purchase the seat of our choice. Premium seats may be courtside, ice-level, or positioned nicely down the third base line. But on the other hand, we also have the cheap seats, or the 'nose bleeds' if you will. Fans will often choose this option if $$$ is tight, if it is a sought after event, or they simply want a low-key day or evening out; knowing full well that they will be somewhat removed from the action.

As educators, we are called upon daily to provide instruction, intervention, supports, and enrichment to students of all capabilities and exceptionalities. By virtue of their exceptionality, these students have a right to specialized service (as promised by the Government of Newfoundland & Labrador).

My biggest worry and concern within our current education system is that our students with special needs are being forced into the 'cheap seats' and they, nor their families, have any choice in the matter.

With larger class sizes, multi-graded classrooms, and limited availability of Instructional Resource Teachers & Student Assistants, students with special needs are being offered a watered-down service that at best, allows for occasional check-ins, requires a reliance upon the independence of the student, and over-extends teachers in meeting the needs of all their students.

There must be proper resourcing of the Inclusive Education Model with intensive supports for our students with special needs. This requires the increased availability of one-on-one or small group sessions and flexible service delivery (not being strangled by limited scheduling options), in addition to the co-teaching and differentiated instruction models. This approach will undoubtedly result in heightened progress for these students and their families, teachers will be able to efficiently focus their efforts, and all students in the school will reap the benefits.


Sunday, 22 May 2016

Student Absenteeism & the Present Problem: Who's Accountable?

Within each and every school in Newfoundland & Labrador lurks an increasingly larger and more vulnerable demographic of our student population: the absentee student.

I am not referring to the child or adolescent that is absent occasionally for valid reasons but the student and family that becomes entangled within in a web of school refusal, family crisis, apathy, or an inability to see the value of full attendance. In certain cases, students miss entire academic years with the result being social promotion (i.e. pushing the student on to the next grade in spite of outcomes completed). Adding to this dilemma is the fact that these students have diagnosed (and undiagnosed) exceptionalities (e.g. ADHD, anxiety, low cognitive ability, etc.) further magnifying the vulnerability of these students.

These students and their families are charting a course for significant personal difficulty and struggle with no clear response plan on the part of our social service agencies. 

Schools and teachers look for opportunities and take exhaustive steps to draw these students back into regular attendance through multiple meetings and communications with caregivers, alternate arrangements for evaluation, and attempts to include Child, Youth, & Family Services (CYFS) & medical personnel in developing response plans.

When response efforts are unsuccessful at the school level, the safety net unravels.  CYFS personnel are limited by directives that truancy does NOT fall within their mandate.

So, the saga continues for these students whereby many skip their junior high years to enter high school with Grade 5 or 6 being the last grade successfully completed.

As an educator, I see this story repeat itself year after year. It is time that this crisis be addressed and responses be driven by all players (in addition to school-based personnel). School attendance is vital to a child's growth and development and therefore needs to be part of the CYFS mandate. There is great promise in these students and families however an empty seat brings no promise at all.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Teacher 'Integrity' & the fight at hand...

As teachers, we are faced with significant challenges (e.g. large class sizes, limited resources, student mental health, supporting a multitude of student exceptionalities, etc...). It never ceases to amaze me however, how educators continue to demonstrate professionalism and integrity within their daily practice. The success and best interests of the student remain on the forefront in spite of the short-comings of the system; unfortunately, many times to our own physical and emotional detriment.

As a facilitator of the 'The Virtues Project', I have adopted the virtue of 'Integrity' as my daily mantra within my personal and professional lives.  It is my ethical and moral compass by which I strive to problem-solve, make decisions, and communicate with others. It grounds me as I face the challenges of the day, looking to make a 'true' impact. It has also served me well during times of struggle, when uncertainty and pessimism can creep in.

As an Association, the NLTA has a proud history of professionalism and integrity. It is especially during these economic times of apprehension and unpredictability that integrity will keep us on task, with clear purpose and vision, "standing up for what we believe is right".

I would appreciate your support as we continue our fight...

"To put the world right...we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right."
                                                                                                                                - Confucius

Saturday, 7 May 2016

#NL_Rising Rally - May 7th, 2016

So proud to be a part of this movement today...the feeling of solidarity amongst our public service brothers and sisters was quite uplifting during these times of worry and insecurity.

This budget has given us every reason to be skeptical and pessimistic however the 'power of our people' and the 'power of public opinion', I believe, will have great impact.

We overcome great odds each day when enter our schools and classrooms. The individual & family challenges that our students bring, our personal situations, and societal pressures, stack the cards for us however, our schools, teachers, and our children show great strength and resilience.

As teachers, we know what we need to maximize supports for our children, We now need to hold strong, as never before, to reclaim our professional rights and be heard! Let your MHAs and government know where you stand...we have too much to lose!

(Photo Credit: Gerard Walsh - Buddy & Teacher Colleague)

Tuesday, 3 May 2016


Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association's Profile Photo

I am proud to announce my nomination for Vice President of the Newfoundland & Labrador Teachers' Association for the term 2017-2019. A sincere thank you to the teachers that signed my nomination as well as to those who have already offered their support. Please stay tuned to this site as my campaign gets underway and we approach the election in December. All the best for the remainder of the 2015-16 school year!