Strengths and Values

Admittedly, I have been apprehensive about writing more on this blog. Lately it has felt very exposing, since I have made new friends that have access to think link through my social media. I don’t want to shy away from these parts of myself because I tried to conceal and repress them all my life. But I am also cautious about being too open and honest. Will this honesty affect my future career? Friendships? My romantic life? Perhaps. My temporary conclusion is that there is power in vulnerability, and I am only sharing things on here that I would be willing to share in conversations in real life.

I am currently trying to map out the intersecting aspects of my life. How winter camping meets my identity journey and my acceptance into a Masters program. I have been riding on a high since winter camping and there are so many elements of that trip that I wish to explore. I will attempt to discuss how this trip intersects my identity journey. This post is really just a way for me to organize my ideas about myself and to construct a more cohesive understanding of the identities I currently claim. Maybe it will help inspire others to consider these things as well.

Through a Leadership course I am enrolled in, I have been asked to reflect on my strengths, values, and goals; all personal and professional. My top three goals, according to the Gallup StrengthsFinder include: “Input” (my inherent curiousity motivates me to perpetually collect/crave “more” of whatever interests me, leading to frequent knowledge-seeking journeys), “Ideation” (I feel deeply connected to, invigorated by, and fascinated with contemplating, entertaining, learning, and debating ideas), and “Connectedness” (Being able to relate all information, ideas, people, and things is the way I structure my knowledge. Further, I have faith in the links between these things). My top three values include: Healing (recovery, health, harmony, rest), Wisdom (knowledge, leadership, usefulness, journey, appreciation), and Integrity (endurance, truth, follow-through, audacity, courage).

These elements of myself work together in complicated ways. I learned in the course that people express their strengths and values uniquely. For myself, I compiled a list of the ways in which these elements are expressed on a regular basis:

  • I structure my time to prioritize restoration and recovery.
  • I respect my body and mind, exemplified through food, water, exercise, socialization, rest, isolation, challenge, and passion.
  • I am enabled to collect information, organize ideas, and contemplate courses of action.
  • I form deep bonds with people quickly through learning and discovery processes.
  • I engage in deep learning about new ideas (e.g. rabbit hole of “Risky Play” research).
  • I am empowered to be a good researcher, strong student, and a fairly excellent writer.
  • I am, typically, a high-achiever.
  • I show up to events alone and make new friends as we learn together.
  • I am excellent at reflective exercises… to the point where I think I know all the models that exist.
  • I write sentimental music.
  • I search out feedback, and critically consider new and olds ways of being, knowing, and doing.
  • I believe I have healthy intentions but I am aware that impact is not always as intended; I try my best to reconcile any differences.
  • I gravitate towards those who express the wisdom that I am seeking and who resemble the integrity I respect.
  • I can spend a long time dwelling on and going deeper into a topic without feeling able to “wrap up” until I have made it full circle in a spiralized curriculum fashion.
  • I am fascinated with the hypothetical and can be hesitant to commit or move more intimately in one direction with complete transparency.
  • I can become absorbed with ideas at the expense of true reflective practice/inner work/ output.
  • I think I am most inhibited by my “input” strength, because it that means, at times, I struggle with output, and by my “integrity” value, because it means that, at times, I have decided to be loyal to too many things and I end up not appearing to be integral.

Nevertheless, being aware of my strengths and weaknesses means that I can tune in more closely to the areas I can excel in, and hope that others give me the grace and space to do so.

What I learned on this winter camping trip was that when faced with adversity, exhaustion, and fulfillment, it is not just the art of gathering that kept me sane and content, but also the ability I had to influence the group through knowing myself better. Being more self-aware and in a process of self-love, I showed up in new ways; for example: I was able to share my knowledge (beyond that of self-knowledge). Knowing something intimately – such as: to go lay in the middle of the lake and look up at the stars, or to wear boots and coats a size too big to account for the space for dead air to keep our bodies warm – made me feel like I could meaningfully contribute. Knowing what is currently happening with the Wet’suwet’en-pipeline situation and having an opinion I was willing to share, made me feel like I could contribute. Knowing books to recommend to those interested in bushcraft such as What the Robin Knows and Coyotes Guide were my ways of sharing all the stored information in my brain. All the years of input and contemplation combined with the healing and therapy and brain/nervous system re-wiring has led me, finally, to feel like a competent human being who has shed an inferiority complex. And further, knowing what people meant when they were trying to express themselves, like when they said how captivated they were by seeing the sun on the lake for the first time – I know that feeling and it was absolutely delightful to hear others speak of it so highly. Younger Kim was not able to access all of these tools or to bring her goals to fruition. She required hands-on experience, suffering, and failing before she became curious about the things that would make her able to give back to others in deeply meaningful ways. On this trip, I felt that I was able to exist and be embraced as my paradoxical self (e.g.; ex-vegan, now flexitarian). My peers seemed to inherently understand that humans are complicated and that we all have unique strengths. It is on trips like these that our quirks become the things we love about each other: one person’s clever wit, another’s musical abilities; someone’s fire-making approach, another’s back country survival tips. Like I discussed last post, there was something romantic about suffering and working together, and that kept us warmer than any fire, wine, or down-filled sleeping bag. Being able to finally show up as my authentic self and experience life clearly through that identity was novel and relieving.

I am so excited for round two next week, and to wiser Kim responds.

Moved by Meaning; Keeping the Romance Alive

A Personal Reflection, Recalling John Telford’s Keynote Presentation at the Horwoord/Canadian Student Outdoor Education Conference

Ten years ago I submitted my application for a grade 12 outdoor education program that a friend of my Dad’s, Mike, (or Elroy as came to call him) was facilitating. Once accepted, I confidently showed up on day one with my family canoe tripping experience in mind, wearing second-hand wool attire, and beaming with eagerness to show my new peers my passion for camping. Quickly realizing my classmates each had their own strengths that I admired and envied over, I became captivated by each and every individual in my cohort in one form or another. I recently consulted my journal to reflect on some of these feelings, but unfortunately I don’t have much recollection or written records of the activities we participated in that fostered these deep and lasting emotions. Instead, I began to consider maybe it was less about the educational activities and more to do with some other aspect of the program that facilitated such deep and lasting emotions. I embarked on a process of realizing that I was unaware of the most meaningful elements of my outdoor education experience, and that I may not have even had the words or capacity to capture what I was experiencing at the time. The space that Elroy created to foster connections and relationships ran so deep that it was inherent to the program. Moreover, this experiential learning opportunity landed in our lives as we were in the midst of the young adult journey of exploring romance, sexuality, and friendship in intimate and deeply meaningful ways. “We were so in love with each other”. I believe Elroy knew this would happen. And he used this to intentionally and subtly shape significant life experiences to foster lasting teachable moments.

I am reflecting on this experience for several reasons. First, in November of 2019 I attended a ceremony that honoured my mentor, and the community leader, teacher, father, brother, and husband that Elroy was, as it marked the 10th year since his passing in 2009 – 5 months after my outdoor education program came to an end. This event ignited a much-needed healing process for me, as I had put many of these memories and feelings on pause after Elroy died. Consulting my journal from this time was part of this healing process. In addition, the end of 2019 marked other significant events: I was entering my last semester as an undergraduate (for the second time), I would be completing a thesis investigating outdoor play, and I was accepted to present at an outdoor education conference in January with my Dad. Further, this all felt like a rebirth of sorts, as I resurrected hobbies and interests that I had not engaged in for 10 years, such as writing songs, enduring winter camping, and embarking on a women’s wilderness adventure. I was re-experiencing these, but this time with intention and precision (see previous post for details; consider also: Stacey’s “spiralized curriculum” and the adapted Learning Cycle images below). I welcomed 2020 with excitement and anticipation (much like the naive and tender feelings experienced at the start of outdoor education 10 years prior) as I had been accepted into a leadership intensive cohort for January, would be registering as an early childhood educator this summer, and was beginning graduate studies in the fall. I felt as though previous versions of myself were integrating and synthesizing into a fresh, well-rounded, and multifaceted woman; I was “generalizing” my previous learnings, so to speak.

Stacey, S., 2009. Emergent Curriculum in Early Education Settings: From Theory to Practice. p. 15.

And then, mid-January, during day one at the leadership intensive training, my new framework and vision stalled. We had completed a strengths assessment and were engaged in discussion about identities. We were encouraged to think of “different ways of being, knowing, and doing, as we move in and out of claiming various identities”. This idea both validated and challenged my recent understanding that I was experiencing a “coming into myself”. I started to instead consider what it would feel like to “come out”, which made me feel even more confused. I reflected on my previous Indigenous roommate who taught me the meaning of “two-spirit” and the intersection of this identity with veganism. Yet the heteropatriarchy ran so deep that through the intimacy and romance and obsession we shared with each other, never once did I let myself consider the love we experienced. But their life-lessons and teachings live on in very personal ways. Whether or not I choose to claim the identities of straight, bisexual, bipolar, female, educator, yogi, skier, songwriter, blogger, photographer, researcher, songwriter, and/or learner, I will critically consider all of these journeys as part of who I continue to become.

The Learning Cycle Approach, adapted by: Riffert, F., Hagenauer, G., Kriegseisen, J., & Strahl, A. On the Impact of Learning Cycle Teaching on Austrian High School Students’ Emotions, Academic Self-Concept, Engagement, and Achievement. Research in Science Education, 1-19.
Although in this approach romance is not meant literally, I believe in some cases it may.

When I arrived for day one at the outdoor education conference with my Dad , I realized I had never envisioned “returning home” to this facet of my life. Tainted and jarred by Elroy’s passing, and magnified in feeling from reconnecting with people from his life, I felt confused about how this conference fit into my current and past journeys. I spent that whole weekend absorbed with ideas and picking out the pieces of the program that were reflected in my own outdoor education experience 10 years prior. I started to understand some of Elroy’s intentionality pertaining to the shared deep connection with my peers, and this helped me make peace with my long healing process surrounding Elroy’s death. As one teacher presented about the outdoor education program he was running, he mentioned purchasing only enough beanbag chairs for half the class, in order to facilitate problem-solving, intimacy, and sharing. He discussed the benefits and challenges of running such a program, and finished off by sharing that “you don’t know when it will come back… but something challenging needed to happen” (referring to alumni of the program returning to give back in some form or another). I felt that this made sense of my own returning to outdoor education 10 years later, and was validating that the process takes time. This further inspired me to reach out to the educator teaching that program and offer to volunteer with the students during this semester. This is likely both an element of healing and a “returning home”. Although this conference and reaching out process started to help me make sense of and make peace with some aspects of my identity journey and the intersection with outdoor education/experiential learning, there were still missing links. It wasn’t until I attended a second – unplanned – outdoor education conference this past weekend, this time for students, that truly was able to process all of this.

I showed up, again, for yet another day one experience – this time with less anticipation and a little more intentional curiousity – on January 31st, for the spontaneous student conference. By the first evening gathering I found myself engaged in a deep discussions with 4 other women about environmental activism and politics. No “real adult” had facilitated this discussion, and, going home that night, I realized that tomorrow was a force to be reckoned with. Sure enough, bright and early, we were sharing “good mornings” after knowing each other for less than 12 hours, and discussing headaches and anxieties about day two. We asked each other about our intentions for attending the day’s workshops, and when we ended up at the same ones, we again found ourselves in conversations about everything from the implications of defacing a Sir John A. Macdonald statue and decolonization, to food sustainability, ethical dilemmas, time spent in Africa, and mental health. A good educator, I realized, (like the outdoor education/experiential learning experts who facilitated the student conference) fosters “enduring knowledge for life”, is curious with others, and makes appropriate space for memory-making. Such memory-making likes in meaning-making by way of evoking feelings of fascination with people, places, or things – including others who share similar knowledge and passions, and yet are uniquely strong and brave. Meaning is fostered during shared, yet, ordinary moments such as teeth brushing, meal eating, and laughter. We know that all great environmental advocates shared 2 main things: a special place in nature where significant time was spent, and a trusted adult/mentor. I am starting now to wonder whether another key ingredient is the serendipitous romance of exploration, and the fascination created from learning with/from others. Specifically, I wonder whether the element of “romance” is literal.

In the past, when I returned from outdoor education and experiential learning adventures such as tree planting, living in Africa, or camping in BC, I had a hard time reconciling my experiences with the norms of Canadian society. I remember feeling alienated from my own culture. I have come to understand that when significant life experiences foster meaningful memories with others, we fall in love with each other in ways that are not recognized in our conventional, colonial world. Something magical happens when you are given space to share hard work and meaningful moments, and also when we have the time to stumble upon conversation that is both safe and challenging. I believe that prioritizing relationship-building and intentional, teachable moments is the magic that creates the reflective learning process occurring in education, sports, and experiential learning programs.

On our final day together this weekend at the student conference, I reflected on the way in which I had embraced January’s arrival with a keen sense of adventure and with intentions of peace-making – but what I did not expect was to make new best friends in less than 48 hours despite feeling like I have no idea who I am or what identities I can claim. At the end of this weekend, as we were saying goodbyes, the last thing I expected was to have a group of 3 women run back to me to give me one last hug. I’m so in love with these women all over again, and so grateful for what we learned from each other. This romance reassures me that no matter my claimed identities, I can be loved and love others throughout learning and healing journeys.

“A person who is quiet, works hard, and keeps their head down and paddles all day has a huge impact on everybody else. The person who does this in the classroom does not have the same effect.”

John Telford, 2020.

Follow my journey…

My insights, critical conclusions, and frustrations with early childhood education and care in Canada.

Our task is to help children communicate with the world using all their potential, strengths, and languages, and to overcome the obstacle presented by our culture.

— Loris Malaguzzi

I just wanted to introduce myself to anyone who is reading this – and say thank you! My name is Kim (she/her) and I am Registered Early Childhood Educator, Masters of Science student at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada, and passionate sister, friend, daughter, skier, and cat-parent. I am known to occasionally do a back-country canoe trip or two as well. I completed a BSc in Psychology, and two years later, chose to complete a BASc in Child, Youth, and Family in order to register as an ECE. Prior to this, I have worked as a respite provider, inclusion counsellor, day camp director, emergency supply teacher, research assistant, tutor, outdoor education facilitator, and administrative assistant. I have volunteered in a speech and language pathology clinic, childcare and learning centre, classrooms, as an experiential learner in research, and as a graphic designer. I travelled in my teens and early 20s to Kenya, Australia, Europe, and the UK, but Guelph has been my steady home for my whole life. As a researcher I am investigating Ontario educator’s well-being, and as an educator I am learning how to instruct and give feedback at the post-secondary education level.

I created this blog because I have begun to engage in multiple reflective practices, and I wanted to start to share some of my insights regarding ECEC in Canada. Learning and growing with children has given me a deep sense of purpose and meaning in my life. Learning about what is meaningful for child development, various pedagogical approaches, and how to be a co-learner is something I am deeply curious about. As I learn the best practices for working with young children and how the administration of programs for children, social policies, and political climate affects children, I wanted to document my most valuable insights surrounding early childhood care and education. This blog started in the fall of 2019 for my course FRHD*4210 . I occasionally document my insights and attempt to pose interesting questions, ideas, or considerations for any readers. This blog is how I plan to contribute to advocacy for and the professional recognition of the ECEC sector, as well as keep a pulse on the ways in which my thinking and practice has been transformed as I engage in my lifelong learning processes.