Monday, 26 December 2011

Resolutions to Move You!

New Years is traditionally a time for making resolutions.  Webster's dictionary defines a resolution as a "firm decision to do or not do something" Every year hundreds of people take stock of their situation, make a firm decision and promptly fail. Most resolutions are what Mary Poppins called pie crust promises - easily made - easily broken.

Its the keeping, not the making, of the promise that often proves difficult. provides excellent tips about how to make a resolution stick. The site suggests folks come up with a plan, do it quickly and write it down. Make sure the plan has some depth and length and is flexible enough to roll with any adversity that might impede progress. Add to these ideas the development of a support group. Let others know about the goal and the possibility of the resolution lasting more than a few days increases dramatically.

Dr. Mike Evans has a resolution for consideration. Watch his Youtube video 23 and 1/2 hours where he outlines "the single best thing people can do for their health". Dr. Evans is an advocate for walking one's way to better health. His 9 minute video speaks for itself, but its main message asks people to resolve to be active at least 30 minutes per day. Evans comes at his topic the other way round, suggesting people limit sleeping, eating and sitting to only 23 and 1/2 hours a day! Sounds easy, but as mentioned, promises are easier to make than to keep.

Resolutions have implications for education too. The resolution process is simply effective planning, followed by acting in a person's best interests. Getting active has its own rewards in improved health, which in turn leads to improved capacity for learning. Being organized and fit for success gives everyone a better chance to deal with education matters!

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Best Present Ever

" All the stockings were hung by the chimney with care
    In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there"

With the holiday break now upon us, all that remains is the anticipation of opening some special present Christmas morning. Or perhaps, with work commitments complete, there's some last minute shopping still to complete in the search for that perfect present for someone else.  Regardless of whether its trying to figure out what someone has picked for you, or pondering what to get for someone else, everyone would like to find the best present ever.

One way to go is to give a better you to the world. Dr. Leslie Becker- Phelps of Psychology Today summarizes this approach nicely. Concentrating on the four domains of better organizing personal and professional commitments, taking care of one's health, accepting present personal limitations and setting realistic goals for the future can help make a person more present, and subsequently more of a gift to be around.

Diane Dutchin makes a different pitch at The Positivity Blog. She suggests that time is the greatest gift people can give or receive, and using it wisely is the best way to reward ourselves. So this holiday, now that we have some time away from the work place, I encourage everyone to give themselves some time for reflection on how to improve things for ourselves and for others. I'll be following my own advice and taking a break from Education Matters too. Watch for my next posting just before New Year's.  May the Christmas holiday be all you hoped for and the New Year bring you much joy and laughter!  
"And I heard him exclaim, ere he rode out of sight,
      Merry Christmas to All, and to All a goodnight!"

Saturday, 10 December 2011

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen- Reducing the Stress of the Season

"God rest ye merry, gentlemen
                      Let nothing ye dismay!"
                                                      Victorian Christmas Carol 

The Christmas countdown is nearly done. A few more sleeps and the holidays begin. For some the break will be a welcome change. For others it may be like leaping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Holiday breaks can sometimes be more stressful than the work place! It is not uncommon to hear relief in people's voices when they get back to work when they say that the stress of the holidays is finally behind them!

It need not be that way. The whole point of a break is to allow folks to relax and recharge, not run themselves ragged with a rush of holiday events and travel. Christmas can be a particularly stressful holiday.  With its continuous messaging of family togetherness and the need to give the perfect gift, Christmas can become a pressure cooker, magnifying personal and family issues to the boiling point. 

Signs of Christmas stress in both children and adults can include emotional outbursts, anxiety, anger, physical illness, withdrawal and depression. Despite the calls of carols wishing a merry Christmas to all and exhorting "Joy to the World", mental health workers consistently cite December as their busiest month. Christmas has the dubious honor of being both the most anticipated and most dreaded holiday on the calendar. A recent blog in "Psychology Today" reports nearly 50% of people polled about holiday stress, experienced a significant degree of Christmas anxiety.

So what's to be done? Moderation, organization and staying connected can be key to a happy holiday. Not doing anything to excess, maintaining a good balance of recreational, restorative, social and festive activities, and keeping one's expectations and commitments in check can reduce the holiday pressure. Planning ahead and being selective in maintaining regular routines, and doing things with people you like and trust will also help keep the holidays from becoming overwhelming. Sharing the good times is important, but keeping in touch with folks who care about you can be vital.

Being sensitive to stress, and finding our own ways to deal with it, can help to make the holidays the break we all hope for. Check out a list of ways to reduce Christmas anxiety at 65 Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress. Better yet, develop your own set of sure fire stress busters. Whatever your holiday plans, here's wishing you a calm, restful and joyful holiday season so that after the break you can return to education matters healthy, happy and ready to take on the challenges of a new year.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Christmas In The Classroom

December is here, and with it comes a building anticipation for the holiday season. This year some people will no doubt be looking forward to the holiday break  even more  than usual. Increasingly, however, there seems to be a question of just how much influence the festive season should have on classrooms. 

First, there is the annual discussion around what to call the break. While most of mainstream Canadian society continues to refer to the vacation period as Christmas break, there is a rising sensitivity to other traditions and cultures. Such sensitivity is recognized in the BC provincial government's official designation of the time off in the standard school calendar as the "Winter Vacation Period". Santa may reign supreme on tv, and in commercial advertising, but December also hosts a number of other festivals and observances including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Pancha Ganapati, the Christian Nativity and even Festivus! Regardless of name or purpose, some time away from school to spend with family and loved ones is most welcome at this time of year.

Just how much classroom time should be dedicated to learning about and/or celebrating such events before the holidays also generates considerable debate. Some jurisdictions have gone so far as to ban Christmas celebrations from instructional time. The Fort Worth Independent school district recently put the kibosh to all forms of Christmas cheer within the boundaries of the instructional day. ( see School District Bans Christmas ) According to a district spokesperson, the reasons are twofold: Classroom time should be reserved for learning and the district doesn't want to alienate non-Christian students. Children and staff are free to observe holiday traditions before or after the bell, just not inside the instructional day.

However, the Fort Worth district's position appears to be very much in the minority. A Google search of  "Christmas in the Classroom"  returns over 119,000,000 possible websites. Like a child let loose in Santa's workshop, a teacher seeking Christmas resources has nearly endless options.  Tying activities to curricular learning objectives is easy. Many websites make the connections quite clear. 

For example, consider teAchnology. This site bills itself as "the online teachers resource" and being "all about the art and science of teaching with technology". Here educators can find links to hundreds of Christmas lesson plans. Many of these combine elements of popular culture with curricular learning objectives across a wide range of subjects and grades. Intriguing examples  include steps for proper care of reindeer, plotting the speed and trajectory required for maximum efficiency for Santa's sleigh and the utilization of Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" to teach elements of literature as well as ethical questions of human nature. With a little imagination, seasonal themes are co-opted to make learning more interesting, fun and engaging.

Like any resource, online websites need to be selected and used with care. Just because something is on the internet doesn't make it a good fit for classroom use. As always, it is the teacher who needs to determine what, why and how a resource fits into prescribed curriculum and appropriate classroom use. Rather than debate the value of seasonal activities, educators can use and adapt the opportunities the holidays present. Perhaps like the Grinch, we should spend less time considering how to keep Christmas from coming and invading our learning time, and find ways to embrace the season and enhance the learning of all !

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Finding the Help We Need: The Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre

Many of us have heard the expression "it takes a whole village to raise a child. Sometimes the  combined effort can get complicated. The family of a student with special needs for example, will, over the course of the child's school career, likely deal with a bewildering number of well intentioned people and agencies. Our complex social service network can include multiple levels of contact from a myriad of ministries, community organizations and service providers.  Just knowing where to start can be a daunting task, especially if the challenge is in the mental health or addictions area.

Increasingly families are turning to the internet for information. Even online the search for help can be bewildering. What sites are reliable? Which ones can truly direct and assist families in search of help? Fortunately in BC there is a site based out of BC Children's Hospital that can offer help. The Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre is a provincial resource centre working to link children, youth and their families with appropriate resources and information in all areas of mental health and addictions.

The Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre is designed to support BC children, youth and their families to find and use the resources they need in order to make informed decisions and gain access to appropriate services. The Centre, located at Children's Hospital in Vancouver, but accessible from anywhere in the province, is a free, actual and virtual resource for all BC families.  The Centre offers information and resources on a wide range of mental health and substance use issues affecting children and youth. These include, but are not limited to; depression, anxiety, attention deficit and behavioural problems, child/youth eating disorders and substance use.  

A visit to the Kelty's website @ immediately shows the depth and breadth of resources available not only to families, but also to educators, health professionals, individual parents and youth. Convenient pull down menus provide a visitor with straight forward direction to resources and connections around the topics of healthy living, substance use, mental health and, perhaps most importantly, how to find help.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Kelty Centre is that is can provide parents and youth with direct, live peer support. A Parent Peer Support Worker from F.O.R.C.E. (Families Organized for Recognition and Care Equity) is available to support parents/caregivers on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10am - 5pm. A Peer Support Worker for Eating Disorders  is available to support anyone struggling with disordered eating and eating disorders on Monday 10am-1pm and Thursdays 1-4pm (other times by appointment).

Dealing positively with issues of mental health can be a challenge. Getting connected with accurate and helpful resources can help but knowing where to start and what to believe can be a bewildering roadblock. The Kelty Centre can help. Whether one needs information, direction to resources or even more immediate assistance, the Kelty Centre is a place to start. Take a look at their site and spread the word. The Kelty is a resource that's there for the whole province. When it comes to looking after the health of our students we may be from from and wide across the province, but it still remains for all of us to work together to raise our children with all the support they need.