Sunday, January 15, 2012

TorQ percussion therapy

Last night I was back down at Keyano Theatre for the third night in a row.  I am afraid this is becoming quite a habit.  Not that I intend to break this one, in fact I fully intend to feed it!  A friend and I are here on a Saturday night to see TorQ.

This young Toronto Quartet (or the shortened version TorQ) was quite frankly amazing. These intrepid musicians have hit the open road with the help of Prairie Debut and their partners to bring percussion therapy to the prairies. The artists, Dan Morphy, Adam Campbell, Jamie Drake and Richard Burrows, bring  with them musical backgrounds, degrees and a passion for percussion. They have a repertoire that has their own compositions and those of better-known and quirky John Cage to delight the audience. 
Now I do not pretend to know all the names of the instruments that they played this evening, however I don't think that you need to in order to enjoy the experience. I did recognize some of instruments from my days attending the Oilsands Rotary Music Festival throughout my son's elementary education so I am not a complete newbie.  What this group of performers did with a menagerie of unusual instruments, from a lion's roar to a conch shell, and the tamer caxixi, wooden blocks and mallet percussion instruments, was absolutely entertaining. If you have a chance to spend an evening with TorQ I strongly encourage you to block it off in your will not regret it.

And things keep getting better with TorQ.  In addition to promoting percussion they are committed to helping further music education in schools across Canada.  By performing percussion-only concerts, TorQ hopes to encourage young percussionists (and other musicians) to become more engaged in music, and to learn to seek out interesting musical experiences. TorQ is partnered with Prologue to the Performing Arts for their educational work and your school or school group can book them through Prologue. I feel that the promotion of  music is an integral part of a child's education and needs to be fostered in both the home and education system. Different musical styles are to be appreciated for their offerings and while one might have a preference of one over another there is definitely room for all. During the evening the musicians provided educational pieces in between songs which I loved.  Not only did I get to enjoy mesmerizing music I learnt quite a few things about the history of percussion and a better understanding the instruments themselves.  

I will admit that while I enjoyed some pieces more than others it was a great evening exploring the world of percussionists. There was a piece of "found music"that had two women volunteering from the audience by Ann Southam called Natural Resources(what to do until the power comes on) that I think would be fun for students to do and had the audience giggling in amusement. While I enjoyed the mellow music of "Sleep" by Eric Whitacre, which conjured up mental images of mist and rolling green meadows, I was thrilled by the flamingo inspired "El Mosquito Marron" composed by TorQ's very own Adam Campbell. 
My favorite piece was not listed on the program, but I was delighted when that TorQ came back on stage to perform Stinkin Garbage. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The righteously spectacular, outstanding and mind-blowing Banff Film Festival

The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour is something that I have attended since it first came to Fort McMurray. At first it was just my husband and myself who faithfully attended from the inaugural event 13 years ago (yes, I know I am dating myself by saying that). When our son got older we began making this a family affair.  So every year around Christmas we excitedly start looking for the dates that the migratory tour will land at Keyano Theatre.  Every year the Fort McMurray Public Library  brings this most amazing series of films to quite a diverse gathering of people here in Wood Buffalo. You would be correct to assume that you will see a plethora of North Face attired outdoor enthusiasts in the audience, however you will also see a large amount of individuals who enjoy quality National Geographic documentaries.
This is the first time that we have attended both nights.  At first we did not realize that they had a completely different line-up each night, then it was because one night was on a school night so we had to pick only Friday nights.  However this year because of a change in the school calendar there was no school on Friday so that meant for the first time ever we all got to see both nights. And a collective cheer rises to the household rafters!

On Thursday night we decide to start things off right.  A quick bite to eat at Mucho Burrito's before the 7:30 pm has been decided upon by the boys and I going to disagree with the fact I don't have to cook supper?  Shout out to  for helping us with our decision - Thank you.  While standing in line I notice that our son is kinda' confused about the ordering process and what he may want to eat so I begin the usual conversation regarding the "How to Order Sign" and menu choices.  My husband chimes in with a couple of suggestions and because we have quite a few people ahead of us we settle into our own struggle to decide on what we want to eat for the night.  In the silence of thought our son suddenly announces to all within ear-shot...." Oh...I get it! It's a Mexican Subway!"  At least he liked the food.
We arrived early at Keyano Theatre with tickets in hand so we could find parking, which is notoriously difficult on evenings that have both classes and events.  It is all smiles as we find our seats and settle in for what we know will be a stunning array of adventures. We were not disappointed and well... frankly.... there has not been a time we have attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival where we were.  Each year the quality of the films has gotten better as technology enters into the world of adventure enthusiast.  Thursday night is full of incredible images from rock climbing  in the Ennedi Desert of Chad where veteran climber Mark Synnott brings young climbing stars Alex Honnold and James Pearson to the Ennedi to explore the Towers of the Ennedi, breath-taking footage of scuba-diving beneath the North Pole to the funny animation of a skiing cave-man in "The Man and The Mammoth" (our son's favorite).  Although I like all of the night's films if pushed I would have to say it was "Ski Bums Never Die".  This was a short 4 minute film that starred a group of seniors who meet each day to carving it up. My favorite was the only woman of the group who happened to be 76 years old and could put most young people to shame. After a day of skiing, and yes...biffing.. this group of geriatric plankers pile into the back of the pickup for the ride down to get their cars. Makes you re-evaluate what it means to be a senior after watching that. We can hardly wait for the next night's line-up.
The next night when our travelling BMFF road warrior asks the audience, "Who was here last night?" I am not entirely surprised to see almost half the hands shoot into the air.  This is a dedicated group of people who attend each year.  I am guaranteed to see many of the same people year after year....some for the full 13 years.  We start off the night with an absolutely amazing nine-year-old girl, Ashima Shiraishi, from New York City who is taking the bouldering world by storm in the film "Origins".  We are inspired by Tim Cope, his band of horses, and his dog Tigon in "The Last Frontier" as they travel overland 10,000 km from Mongolia to Hungary, following the footsteps of legendary warrior and nomad Genghis Khan which takes 3 years to complete. I liked it quite a bit although our son says he drank too much vodka.  The inspiring story of Josh Dueck who was an aspiring skier and coach until a ski accident in 2004 changed his life forever and left him paralyzed.  Not to give up his dream he came back to win gold in the Paralympic Games in his sit-ski. The end of the film festival had more than one person in audience shaking their heads over insanely fearless slack liner Sketchy Andy and his nude antics. The one that all of us could agree on was the hilarious 8 minute one man quest to revolutionize the world of animal avalanche rescue through the use of the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Cat Association. Not to give away the ending or anything, but the rapid deployment method of avalanche cats was a cannon full of fun.
All of us had another fantastic mind-blowing evening of the most righteous and spectacular kind.  Thank you to everyone at the Fort McMurray Public Library and all the local sponsors who work so hard to get the Banff Mountain Film Festival to Wood Buffalo.  I know that our family looks forward to this yearly family tradition. And with Radical Reels looking like it will be an annual event we are more than happy to add this to the family tradition list.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Convoluted Reflections

It is the year 2012 and the world is still spinning.  The world did not self destruct in some Mayan apocalyptic calendar reset. And if you have stock piled a bunch of supplies....well... good excuse as any to throw a party I suppose.
As for most people this is a time for reflecting on the past year and making resolutions. Me?...I am not so big into resolutions as I think that we constantly need to strive to be more than we are so saving it up for one big burst is pretty much pointless. Life constantly challenges me and each time I need to decide to either accept that the universe's gauntlet has been slapped down in a direct challenge or carefully step aside. In life, we do both.
Life has dealt me some pretty big challenges this year...some new...some old.  Life has also dealt me some big blessings or gifts this year as well...some new...some old.  Sometimes it is hard to see where the challenge ends and the blessing begins and vice versa.  I guess it is just how you look at it.
Like many other people I could list everything off like life's laundry list, but what would happen if I missed someone or something? How could I explain that they or that was just as important?  I could make this blog into that yearly Christmas brag letter that some people write every year, but what would be the point?  No one likes a braggart.  Besides who am I to brag about something?  It could be that my brag moment is another person's she's a bitch moment. So what can a person do?
So what do I do about putting down those yearly reflections and resolutions that happen each year around this time....nothing. I will carry on trying to do the best that I can do regardless of the date on the calendar or what year it might be. I know that sometimes I will accept the challenge and sometimes I will chose not to, and in the end it was my choice.  I will understand that at times I will fail, and I fully expect to, and that's OK. I will understand that sometimes I will not, and to accept the victory with humility and gratitude.  I will understand that people come in all personalities, shapes and sizes and I don't have to fit into someone else' cookie cutter ideology of what a person should be. I will continue to make new friends while understanding that not everyone who enters my life is one. I will accept that life can be both a cruel and giving task master and enter into it with the reckless abandonment of one who is grateful to be alive.
To everyone who has made this past year know who you are.... I  give you all a heart-felt thank you. I will keep you close to me forever and love the joy you have given to my life.  To everyone who has made this past year challenging and times painful, I thank you as well.  That's right.  I said thank you. How else am I suppose to know what not to do?  Each person that has entered my life has shaped that path I walk, lessons I have learnt and all the steps that I will take in the future. Hmm...I guess I did have some reflecting to do after all.
Come on 2012...Bring it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Parent Engagement: Creating a Shared World; excerpts from research paper by Debbie Pushor

When we think of the word "protectorate" I would imagine that a picture of a school would not be the first thing that pops into your mind. However the typically historical way school has been done and in some places continues to be lived out makes this an interesting parallel.  Basically the concept goes like this in a colonialist structure, those with strength (the colonizers) take charge on order to protect the weak (the colonized). Extending this concept to apply to education is one where the holders of knowledge of teaching enter into a community, claim the ground labeled school and design and enact policies, programs and schedules for the children of the community on behalf of the parents.  Often this is done in isolation from parents and community using their professional knowledge and experience as a rationale for this claimed position as sole decision-maker.  To be honest, this position is claimed with the best of intentions - to enhance student achievement, have safe and caring schools and to prepare students for their roles as citizens in a global society.
To be completely honest this historically scripted role has been perpetuated by both educators and parents.  By accepting their positions both parties have reinforced  it and are constrained and shaped by the self-imposed constraints that accompany it.  It is time for both parties to realize that both the complexities and challenges of student outcomes are too large for one party to claim.  Things are changing as educators seek to find ways to bring parents into the picture and parents, who have been marginalized by the historical boundaries of the school landscape, seek to establish their voice and establish themselves.
This brings me to the difference between parental involvement and parental engagement.  There is a distinct difference in both meaning and implications for both educator and parents.  Often the terms of involvement and engagement are used interchangeably and at times are used in general terms to describe all activities that involve parents in some way.  This only serves to muddy the process of parental engagement.
Parental involvement is a means of rolling into an existing system.  So the question remains; Does this move parents from the "protected" role?  Typically parents who are involved serve the school's agenda by doing things that are either asked or expected from them.  They serve mostly in roles of audience, spectator, fund-raiser or organizer, while leaving the knowledge and decision-making with the educators. The role of protectorate does not change as the school decides the role that the parent will play leaving the hierarchical structure firmly in place.  Parental involvement is can the parent do for the school, rather than what can we do do together to help students and parents realize their full potential and family dreams.
Parental engagement by comparison means to mush together and make a moral pledge to work together.  When a person is engaged they are an integral part of the process brought there because of both care and  commitment.  That the structure has been flattened out and parents can take their place along side educators by sharing their knowledge of children. By engaging parents you bring with this the relationships from the community, the knowledge that they have in children, the skills and expertise from the companies the either run or employed with and the intelligence that they possess.This is a world where parent knowledge is respected with mutual determination to have the best outcomes for children, families, community and school thereby benefiting all.
The body of literature has been growing at a rapid pace. There are more links , books, journal articles and initiatives that one person can possibly cover.  All point to the positive links made between parent engagement and standardized student achievement, higher grades, higher enrollment, higher successful completion rates and credits earned, lower drop-out rates and the greater likelihood of movement into post-secondary education. (Epstein & Van Voorhis, 2001; Fan & Chen, 1999; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Hoover-Dempsey etall, 2005; Jeynes, 2005; Redding et al, 2004; Sui-Chu & Willms, 1996). In a land as diverse as Canada this is a telling note.  It says that engaging families in schools has the potential to serve as one means of reducing achievement gap in student population. We need to move beyond mere lip-service and understand that authentic partnership has its centre trust and communication.
While Jeynes(2005) found that particular parent actions such as attending school functions, establishing household rules, and checking on the student's homework yields significant effects in relation to student achievement, it was things which create an attitude  or atmosphere which is formed for a sense of standards and support that yield the strongest results.  This is done by engaging parents in the core work of teaching and learning rather than involvement activities of fundraising and bulletin board decorating.  What children achieve academically is the result of more than they learn in school, but a wide variety of factors including home, community and economic conditions both within and outside the boundaries of the school grounds.  the provision of opportunities for parental voice in  personal practical knowledge and strengthening students and parents sense of personal power and autonomy has a much greater promise for educational achievement..

To create this counter-story of hospitality and welcoming environment one may indeed reverse the general assumption.  Instead of teachers and administration needing to invite people over to their place, that they are guests in the community.  That as good hosts they receive their community guests with everything that that entails....relationships, culture and history that were there long before they arrived and will continue when their guests leave the school.  Hospitality and invitation will remain empty gestures until they are made with genuine intention.  Trust is made through consistent and intentional efforts to build quality relationships over time and context.  It cannot be legislated into existence.
So what might this look like?
  • parents invited to professional development days
  • review of the district and school budget with parents
  • sharing and discussions around standardized test  and the results of said tests
  • parental input on the annual education results
  • asking parents how they would like to be engaged in their child's education
  • providing opportunities to share knowledge
  • involving parents in the creation of policy
  • creation of both school councils and district school councils( e.g. COSC) as outlined in the school act.
  • inviting businesses into the schools to engage students, parents and staff
To strengthen parents' engagement within your community there needs to be a sense of contextually to it.  While in some communities it may be more about supporting parents to develop cultural or political capital or to develop a connect between families and educators, in other communities that had people living busy lives and parents that spend extended time away from their home, it can take on opening the school for community meetings at unusual times or providing technology so parents can attend events or meetings via Skype or video streaming directly into their homes, place of work or whatever hotel that home might be for the evening.

There are challenges as well.
  • Very little in the way of preservice teacher education in regards to the development of knowledge, skills or attitudes around engaging parents.
  • Allocation of time and money.  Parent engagement will not happen in a school, district or province unless it becomes the focus of a concerted effort.
  • Literature is predominantly American.  More Canadian, provincial and local research is needed to bridge the gap and reflect the community of those jurisdictions more closely.
  • Research continues to be through the eyes of the educators, rather than through the eyes of parents.  It gives the educators point of view on how parents are to fit into the school landscape.  Basically, it is research "on" parents, rather than research "with" parents.
  • While there is an extensive body of work on teacher knowledge, there is no corresponding body of literature on parent knowledge.  When we understand and create research around parent knowledge, how parents use that knowledge and what it is then new possibilities will emerge.
After all of this only one question remains.... Do you want involved parents or engaged parents?

Building relationships for student achievement; Views from Larry Lezotte

Larry Lezotte wrote about the first and second generation of effective schools research. The need to build relationships with all families has never been more critical to student achievement:
The First Generation: In the effective school parents understand and support the school's basic mission and are given the opportunity to play an important role in helping the school to achieve this mission.
The Second Generation: During the first generation, the role of parents in the education of their children was always somewhat unclear. Schools often gave “lip service” to having parents more actively involved in the schooling of their children. Unfortunately, when pressed, many educators were willing to admit that they really did not know how to deal effectively with increased levels of parent involvement in the schools.
In the second generation, the relationship between parents and the school must be an authentic partnership between the school and home. In the past when teachers said they wanted more parent involvement, more often than not they were looking for unqualified support from parents. Many teachers believed that parents, if they truly valued education, knew how to get their children to behave in the ways that the school desired. It is now clear to both teachers and parents that the parent involvement issue is not that simple. Parents are often as perplexed as the teachers about the best way to inspire students to learn what the school teaches. The best hope for effectively confronting the problem—and not each other—is to build enough trust and enough communication to realize that both teachers and parents have the same goal—an effective school and home for all children!
Lezotte, Lawrence W. Correlates of Effective Schools: The First and Second Generation. Effective Schools Products, Ltd., Okemos, MI, 1991.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Santas Anonymous Delivery Day

On December 16th I had the best job of the Christmas season.  I got to help deliver Santas Anonymous hampers in the city.  I arrived early at Father Mercerdi High School for the 9 am Liturgy, so I had time for a cup of coffee and a chance to talk to people before it started.  There were students busy working on getting the out-of-town hampers all loaded up for the volunteers to take as far as Chip. Lake.  Even had a chance to talk to my favorite blogger before settling in for the morning's Liturgy and Assembly.
During the Liturgy Father talked about the importance of the work being done and the impact that these students will have on our community. I do believe that the students lives have been transformed by Santas Anonymous, just as much as they are changing someone else's.  I have talked to the students and some of the teachers who talk about students blossoming and growing in confidence through the work that they have been doing.  Year after year students run this worthwhile event.  And I know for a fact that each year students who have graduated come back to help with Santas Anonymous saying that it is not Christmas until they have helped out.  I almost made it through the Liturgy without crying.  It was when the students spoke and offered up their prayers that I lost it.  I think I covered pretty good and no one noticed as the lights were low. 
Photo by McMurray Musings

Photo by McMurray Musings

Soon it was time for delivering hampers.  I had brought my Matrix so with all the seats laying down flat, we piled the car full of hampers, toys, turkeys, oranges, milk, margarine and buns.  With list in hand and a little GPS fun we made it to each house to deliver some Christmas joy. There is nothing quite like spending a day delivering to houses across the city to make one appreciate what these students have achieved.  In retrospect, I should have listened to seasoned veteran and brought a box of Kleenex. On more than one occasion I had to tell myself... you will not will not cry.  It worked until I got home later that day and let my emotions and exhaustion overtake me.

Thank you to everyone who has made this 27th Santas Anonymous day happen.  Without the tireless dedication of students, parents, staff, donors and volunteers none of this could happen.  I thank you for letting me be a small part in this project and I am forever grateful.  You are amazing!

Check this video out -- COUNTRY 933 SANTAS ANONYMOUS WRAP UP.wmv by clicking on the link below;

Santas Anonymous Promotional Video 2011 from Father Mercredi School;

"Potiche": Taking trophies off the shelf and finding your voice.

On December 14th I attended a Toronto International Film Festival (tiff) Reel Performance in the Rectial Hall at Keyano Theatre. Potiche is a 2010 French-Belgian comedy film directed by François Ozon, based on the play of the same name by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy. It stars Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godrèche and Jérémie Renier. Set in 1977, the film tells the story "trophy wife" Suzanne Pujol  coming to grips with her own self-worth in this international comedy. When her husband is taken hostage by his striking employees, a trophy wife (Deneuve) takes the reins of the family business and proves to be a remarkably effective leader. Business and personal complications arrive in the form of her ex-lover (Depardieu), a former union leader.
In French, a "potiche" is a decorative vase, but also roughly means the same thing as "trophy wife".  This is a journey that one woman takes to break free of the supplied mold that society and her husband have trapped her in.  At first she is unsure if she can take on the challenges in front of her, but as she gains more self-confidence she realizes that she cannot go back.  In the end she not only becomes a strong woman, but enters the political ring as an independent to beat out her former lover for his MP job.

Here is the link to the movie's trailer.

I had moments where I laughed out loud and giggled silently.  This was a film about a woman coming into her own.  A story that has been told many times over the years, but somehow remains in the shadows. I have over the years talked to many women who have for one reason or another doubted that they had it in themselves to stand up for themselves.  Everyone has moments of doubt and I myself am not immune to such insecurities.  The difference lies in whether a person believes the opinion of others in their heart and makes them who they are. I have had a colleague tell me that he basically will give me my opinion as I had no degree in the field  therefore making my opinion less valuable and wrong.  Let me tell you, that did not sit well.  I could believe that person or chalk it up to an eye-opening experience into today's chauvinism. Guess which one I chose?  I will always have an opinion and although I may be wrong on items so has the person with that degree on his wall. I am not saying that all men are wrong and all women are right, because women can tear each other down just as much as men.  Been on the receiving end of that too.  The point I am trying to get across is that although words can hurt and people can be forgiven..... the words stay.  It is up to each person....woman or man... to decide if that person's words define who you are.  When you place too much value on others opinions of you rather than believing you are good, strong and worthwhile, then you have given too much to others. The last thing one needs to do is set them a place at your dinner table.  When the person's words take up time with your family and friends you have given over too much time and energy on the subject. Take back your life.
I have spent a fair amount of time facilitating and writing manuals for self-esteem, anger management and stress management and let me tell you I have seen the damaging effects of words on grown individuals.  It is not just "trophy wives" that need to understand that they are more than sum of someone else's opinion, but children, women and  Sometimes people seem bent on changing someones opinion because it did not match their own.  That somehow because it didn't match that the other person is wrong. That person then needs to overpower the other by undermining their intelligence, insulting them or maybe yelling loud enough to intimidate. One cannot talk their way out of a situation they have acted their way into. Not everyone is like this, nor is it my intention to apply a broad brush to paint a disparaging picture. The reality of life is that we meet all kinds of people in our life. And I have meet some wonderful people over the course of my life who are amazing conversationalists. Tackling an issue from all angles while holding two opposing ideas within the discussion. That is not an easy task. I do not have all the answers nor do I claim to.  I am just one person trying to find my way, messing up, apologizing, trying to stand strong,and trying to do the right things in life. Not unlike many people I know or really that unusual in any particular way.

I leave you with a story that has made many a grown woman and man weep.

Nails in the Fence

There once was a boy who had a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence.  Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all.    The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.  He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one.  You can put a knife in a man and draw it out.  It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.”

The little boy then understood how powerful his words were.  He looked up at his father and said “I hope you can forgive me father for the holes I put in you.”

“Of course I can,” said the father.