Goal Progression Reflection

Here, I will be reflecting on my progression towards achieving the goals I set for myself this semester. For context, my goals are included here:

Goal 1: By the end of this semester, I will be able to facilitate a 20-minute interaction lesson with students through zoom. To achieve this, I will implement activities in my micro-teaching session, including menti, jamboard or kahoot, which ask the learners to contribute collaboratively to answering questions or reflect upon the information that is being discussed. If I can implement these tools, receive student engagement through their use of these tools, and if I am able to respond to my peers’ answers, I will feel I have achieved this goal.

Goal 2: By the end of this semester, I will be able to implement one teaching strategy for online seminars that is culturally responsive to Indigenous students’ needs and that is aligned with Indigenous pedagogical practices. To do this, I will review four to five peer-reviewed articles on Indigenous pedagogy and teaching approaches and create short summaries (much like the ones in the SOTL snapshots) for my own learning and reflection. I may decide to post them on my blog. While I would like to gauge this goal by getting feedback from an Indigenous student, I also feel that asking such a thing may be inappropriate at this time. If this is not possible, instead, when I create my teaching philosophy statement, I will integrate my new knowledge about an Indigenous pedagogical approach into my statement. I will feel successful in this goal if by the end of the semester I can describe, in detail, one teaching strategy that I can use virtually that is rooted in Indigenous pedagogy and that is appropriate for me, a white settler, to implement in a University class setting.

Goal 3: By the end of the semester, I will be able to create assignment instructions that are rooted in inclusion and equity, such that the grading criteria is as universally accessible as possible to students from diverse cultural backgrounds, lived experiences, disabilities, and identities. I hope to learn more about universally accessible learning strategies through this course (such as the “late bank” article from SoTL snapshot). My aim is to take what I learn in moments like these and keep a list of ways that these can be incorporated into an assignment I make.

Have you met your learning goals checkpoints or already reached some goals? If you have not, how much have you deviated from them?

Regarding my first goal, this is something that cannot be fully achieved within the parameters of this course, since our micro-teaching session is 10 minutes. However, I have already met part of this goal, since I facilitated my mircro-teaching session using menti and a jamboard. I felt really proud of my self for using these tools in these capacities and it went well. In my role as a TA I gave 2 80 minute lectures last week using jamboard, menti, and googledocs, and I had very high student engagement. I even asked for feedback on my lessons via Qualtrics and got really positive feedback around how clear my instructing was. This let me know that my use of these tools in practice might be going quite well. Something I noticed during my microteaching session, however, that is a challenge in terms of me reaching this goal completely, is that I did not have high engagement on the jamboard. This is likely due to what I reflected on last week (too much content for a 10 minute lesson). To address this, I am making some changes to that portion of my activity, so that it is much more manageable for the 10 minute lesson. I don’t believe I’ve deviated from the goal in any other way yet.

Regarding my second goal, I have read 3 articles about Indigenous pedagogy and while I did not reflect on them directly here, I integrated several strategies into my micro-teaching session and cited the authors in my previous post. While I still have a long way to go in terms of how to implement Indigenous pedagogy without further stealing Indigenous wisdom, I am quite pleased that I was able to attempt this and that I stuck to my commitment to doing so. While I cannot meet the second half of my goal through this course since we are not creating teaching philosophy statements, I have signed up to attend the teaching dossier cafes with OTL and I hope that through those workshops that I can begin to create my teaching philosophy statement. Additionally, and for context, I created a teaching philosophy statement last year as part of my training as an educator, so I am hoping to work with that one since it already includes many of the elements of SoTL (e.g., active learning and fostering inclusive learning environments). Learning about Indigenous pedagogy has really challenged me as an educator, academic, and white person, and I am hoping that this is something I continue to learn about. I have begun to make some future plans to continue my learning journey about Indigenous pedagogy through helping to create the Catalyst Truth and Reconciliation Program curriculum on Courselink by engaging with many resources related to decolonizing academia and understanding Indigenous pedagogy in practice. Additionally, I am hoping to engage in SoTL work related to Indigenous pedagogy with a fellow masters student. In this way, this goal has expanded beyond a one-semester item to achieve, and evolved into a broader axiological commitment. The only way I have deviated from this goal, is that I have noticed a need to read articles, books, poems, and hear spoken word about Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing, culture, truth, and reconciliation by Indigenous authors – beyond SoTL articles about Indigenous pedagogy. This means reading broader texts about concepts I have to understand in order to effectively implement the Indigenous pedagogical strategies I have learned.

Regarding my third goal, I am pleased to see that I am much more familiar with UDL and UID a this time, but I feel that I have not progressed towards this goal as much as I would have liked. I feel that the closest I have come to this goal is assessing the pre-created syllabus. I have started a list of strategies that I hear about within this course (which is great), but a challenge of this, I have realized, is that I am missing the chance to actually practice these in reality. I don’t believe there is actually an opportunity for me to create an assessment within this class, and in order for me to fully feel like I have met this goal, I would like to actually try creating a few assessments in reality. In the future I should make sure that there are in fact ways for me to meet my goals within the context in which they were created. Finally, I have deviated from feeling committed to this goal, and I think this is because I have realized that in addition to UDL and IUD, relational pedagogy also plays a role in my decision-making processes related to how accessible and relevant my lessons and assessments are as an instructor. This was something Dale mentioned in a class, and something that has stuck with me ever since.

What have you learned are your greatest strengths, so far?

I have learned a lot about my strengths and areas for improvement within this course. Most obviously, I have realized that I have become a fairly brave student. Whether that is due to my age (30), number of years in higher ed (8), other life experience (living with a mental illness as a privileged white woman), or the learning I’ve done lately (related to power, privilege, and experiences of equity-seeking groups), I have began to speak up about difficult topics, hopefully in a fairly inclusive way. One challenge I have noticed in doing this, however, is that perhaps not everyone is feeling as brave as I am. Some folks may feel called-out when I don’t intend that to be the impact of these conversations, or engagement in particular topics may feel burdensome to the marginalized students in the class. One of my ideas about my future plans as a student, is to consider who has the capacity and power to be a brave student, who space safes are for, and who is excluded in these spaces or conversations and to what extent? As a fairly young, white, “mad”, queer, cis-woman inclusion of myself does not inherently mean inclusion of a non-binary peer, a BIPOC guest speaker, or an instructor who is older than me. Therefore, I plan to continue thinking about and reflecting on when, where, and why I will use my bravery in these learning environments. I would also like for my peers and instructor to continue to give me feedback on their perspective when I speak up about something or if I am sharing my opinion too frequently.

What are your biggest areas for improvement?

One thing I have struggled with in this course is fully understanding the expectations. Since this course is pass/fail and I have some of the knowledge of pedagogical best practices, I have felt a little bit like perhaps I didn’t need to read everything fully in order to grasp it. That has turned out to not be the case. I have so much more to learn about SoTL and to be successful in this course I need to ensure I still prioritize reading the materials. In particular, understanding how topics I’ve learned about previously (e.g., active learning or Bloom’s taxonomy) can be used in new contexts such as online learning or syllabi, and this proves I can’t assume I know how to do these things without fully reading the new materials and engaging in the activities. For the remainder of the course I plan to have a more open mind/growth mindset so that I can receive this new information with grace.

Do you feel that anything hindered you from reaching your checkpoints or goals? Had anything helped you?

A few things have helped and hindered me in my progression towards my goals. While I have mentioned a few things, I would like to add that my own motivation has been a driving factor in working towards my second goal outside of class. I have pretty clear and deep commitments to understanding Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing, decolonizing my own life, and fostering allyship in various avenues of my life. This larger vision and purpose has really resulted in my prioritization of my second goal, and has also presented additional opportunities within my life from which I can learn, practice, and build my skillset related to Indigenous pedagogy.

Something that has hindered me in this goal is my lack of connections with Indigenous pedagogistas, or knowledge-holders, from whom I can be mentored. Dale mentioned in a class that I connect with people on campus to continue to learn in the ways that I want to for this goals.

Additionally, something that is hindering my completion of all of my goals is poor planning when I made the goal. Several of my goals cannot be completed within the parameters of this class. Whether that was optimism on my part when creating goals, or not fully understanding the opportunities within the class, I now cannot fully meet the goals I set out.

What would you do differently if you were to write your learning goals again? Are there learning goals would you like to add? Any you would like to remove?

As mentioned above, some of the specific elements of my goals cannot be achieved within this class, so next time I write goals I would ensure that there are opportunities for me to meet them (e.g., a chance to create an assessment during this class) within the parameters present.

Additionally, my goals include several elements, so in the future I might want to include less detail in my goals so that they can be achieved in a slightly boarder way (e.g., focus my final goal on one UDL strategy). A challenge for me in doing that, means that I have to read all the course materials ahead of time, ask more clarifying questions, ask for feedback, and maybe even do some research before hand so that my goal is not so complex. Additionally, I may consider adjusting my goals slightly to include the knowledge I have now. For example, here is how I might re-write my third goal with my knowledge of UDL and UID now:

NEW Goal 3: By the end of the semester, I will be able to create assignment instructions that I believe is equitable, accessible, and fosters belonging in students. To do this, I will use a strategy that are rooted in Universal Design for Learning from SoTL. For example, I will try creating assignment instructions that include the option for student choice in how they present their assignment, in order to support the engagement and expression elements of UDL. I will also start a list to keep track of strategies like this that I might like to use, including how to use these strategies in practice and what assessment practices I may need to adopt in order have my assessments match these expectations.

I wouldn’t add goals at this time, since I feel like these goals are still relevant to me. Hopefully, in the future I can expand on these goals and continue my learning journey in SoTL beyond this course.

Spoon Theory (Extended)

Trigger warning: this post discusses mental illness, self harm, suicidal ideation, detailed accounts of emotions, job loss, and high achieving mindset.

Living with Mental Illness

Some people worry about me. I know that they wouldn’t have made the same decisions I have made a long the way. They tell me that. For instance, returning to school for a second undergrad degree. Some people worry about my finances. Some people worry about my liver due to my medication. Some people worry that I’ll regret not having children when I’m older. I hear what they’re saying, and I’ve had to time to formulate a response to it.

My mental illness took my life away from me for several years. I was alive, but not living. Sometimes I wished I weren’t alive, or that I could just press pause for a long time. I needed a break from my big emotions, from my failing hopes and dreams, and from my messy history of friendships that I was embarrassed by. I could barely live out the simplest of my goals. And in 2016 things started getting a whole lot worse for me. I lost a third job to this disease and its symptoms. I could not cook a meal. I could not cross the street to get to the grocery store. I reached cognitive dysfunction, which is by far the scariest place I’ve ever been in my entire life, scarier than panic. I know that panic ends. Cognitive dysfunction is a fog that disoriented me and disconnected me from reality indefinitely. I understand that not many people return from this place with grace, and not many people reach stable recovery. I am so fortunate. And therefore, the things I am grateful for are likely different than what most people are grateful for.

Reclaiming my Energy – Becoming Selective

I don’t meet your typical vision of a woman with a complex mental illness. Sure, I have some traces of my struggle with mental health, including self-harm scars, but I have been high-functioning most of my life. Once I reached stable recovery, I was a clear “high-achiever”. I was both creative, and “intelligent”, but by far not a struggling creative genius as is sometimes sensationalized with this disorder. I wasn’t an angry or assertive person, I was actually really easy-going, though a big hyper-vigilant. My average in my second undergrad was 95. I crushed the hardest fitness classes at my gym. I was a top performer at all my jobs. I excelled in many areas of my life. People who met me in 2018 – 2020 wouldn’t have recognized me in 2013 or 2016. I was healing so profoundly that I learned new ways of being. I smashed my goals. But not without a work hard / rest hard mentality. Hustle porn, rise and grind, and win at all costs mentalities did not work for me. And this is where the spoon theory comes in to play.

3 wooden spoons to visualize Spoon Theory

The medication I take for my disorder, which makes me groggy and sluggish, lasts 12 hours. This means that I feel a bit suppressed for half of my day – that is why I take it a few hours before bed time. This medication has forced me to slow down. It forced me to rest. It forced me to restructure my time in a way that accounted for rest. It forced my brain to pause its neural connections. And then it began to strengthen the most useful connections. By slowing down and rewiring parts of my brain, I began to tune in to more subtle emotions. Over a period of 3 years I became an “intuitive rester,” as I called it.

“I capture and refine,
smooth into flat lines
between paradise and
I train the peaks and valleys to
with the geography
of my mind”
Kim Barton, 2020
[In a song I wrote called Water (2020), I described capitalizing on my hyper- and hypo- focus – something that was only possible because I had returned to school, had a flexible schedule, and was fortunate enough to live with my parents.]

During 2017, when I started taking this medication, a shift began. I began to recognize that “being is doing” and had to relearn what productivity meant. Eventually I stopped wearing my Fitbit to track sleep and steps and heart rate. I started acknowledging when I got tired. This idea of intuitive resting was extremely novel for me. As someone who was used to rushes of adrenaline or the numbingness of marijuana, I did not know what natural exhaustion felt like. I let go of the numbers game of performance (grades, exercise, etc.), because none of that mattered if I wasn’t well or if I slid into cognitive dysfunction again. I started to spend time in nature. I returned to working with children. I started to read for pleasure (reading and I have not gotten along since my early adolescence). I started to write music again. I started to recognize the warning signs of danger – without my big emotions in the way, and with my prefrontal cortex activated, I was able to feel the subtle alarms that were present prior to crises. I could predict a panic attack. I started to notice what invalidation felt like, prior to getting angry. I started noticing the birds chirping. I started to smell the pollution in the air. I could hear the sound of a dim light buzzing from across the room. And I leaned in to all of this sensitization.

In 2019 I started to consider my mental illness as a chronic health concern. But this realization was not linear. For example, I did not require accommodations at work or school and I was not disabled by my diagnosis anymore, so I felt apprehensive about taking up space in the Spoonie world as a high functioning and high performing person. I kept my diagnosis fairly quiet, until I started to realize how it impacted me on a daily basis: mostly the symptoms of insomnia, the rare panic attack, and the battle of hyper- and hypo-focus. I had to start carving out space for myself and standing up to people who asked for my time on a moment’s notice. I only had so much energy each day and it could get drained by almost anything, depending on the many factors of that day. Sometimes it was getting dressed that was the hard part. Often, it was getting somewhere on time that took a spoon or two. The reading and writing for school usually used several units of energy. Cooking required a day to itself because that was often all my spoons for a day. Exercise became something that was unpredictable in terms of spoon use. This framework resonated with me, especially because I was so out of sync with others around me, and I had to create boundaries about when my day was finished. I started telling my professors I had a chronic health condition. Having to rest for nearly 12 hours a day definitely felt like a chronic issue of some kind, and the fact that my sleep, nutrition, exercise, and stress all affected my functioning, made me decide that it was a health issue. Mental health is health after all.

Sometimes my day would be “done” by 12pm, and other times at 12am. I borrowed a lot of spoons during this time. At some point I started to call it “being protective of my energy”. This was difficult to explain to folks who do not have experience with a chronic illness. I was told that my rest time is a luxury. That others do not have time to end their day randomly at 5pm. They tell me that they could only dream of a world where they could decide to call in sick for a shift when they weren’t bed-ridden by the flu. This is what I mean by carving out space for myself. Few folks without experience with a chronic health issue seemed to understand my protectiveness of my energy. And because I did not feel comfortable sharing my diagnosis, I felt really invalidated by this lack of understanding. There is such little space for invisible illnesses in this world.

So I started to change my language. I said that I am “being selective with my energy”. I wanted to reclaim my Spoonie identity in a way that was empowering. I have the ability to choose how I am going to spend my energy, especially as a woman. Yes, my able-bodied, white privilege is showing, and I am working on that.

But when I say I am selective, I do mean this quite pervasively, including: the time of day that I exercise, whether or not I consume alcohol/caffeine, what TV content I consume, the people I engage with, when and where I will go on dates, which high-sugary and high-protein foods I will eat and when, and when I engage in rest and recovery. Resiliency is my biggest focus, and that requires being protective of my energy. I am finally okay with that.

Beyond Spoon Theory

I was fortunate to have been introduced to Miserandino’s compassionate Spoon Theory in 2015 by my previous roommate who has a connective tissue disorder. I was familiar with their daily battle with energy and their struggle with pain. This theory resonated with me at the time, but became even more relevant a few years after receiving my diagnosis – once I truly understood the complexities of both “high functioning” as well as high achieving. Once I was comfortable being selective with my energy, I realized that it wasn’t always enough. Sometimes out of nowhere an incident would still cut me off for the rest of my day. But I was energized. I was dysregulated. I was hyper-focused on the wrong thing. And that is when the Fork Theory started to make sense.

A utensil drawer with knives, forks, and 2 sets of spoons.

In the Fork Theory, external factors are recognized for their ability to build up and inhibit functioning. Everyone has a “fork limit“. That hit home for me, because if and when my big emotions were triggered, I would be done for the day. And maybe for a few days. You could still view this as spoon theory, in that it took all my energy, but it was a different feeling than being out of daily energy. It was a deeper sense of being stuck.

I sat with these two mindsets for a few days before I realized that something else was missing.

Carving Out Space – Knife Theory

As someone who has struggled with her identity, and as someone who has claimed several intersecting identities, I spend unnecessary time and energy on carving out space for myself. As an ally, and as someone who had to learn assertiveness skills, I began to feel the burden of naming my needs, setting and maintaining boundaries, and confronting racist/misogynistic/heteronormative views. Further, as someone who is both high-functioning mentally ill and high-achieving, continuing to carve out space for my way of being was difficult. Academia is an able-bodied, colonial, capitalist system, that I am resisting in my daily life. Online dating was a whole other story, and one that I have opted out of for the foreseeable future. But I began to realize the ways in which my energy was depleted, my experience invalidated, and my identities reduced to being an “SJW”. I was getting dysregulated by trying to recognize and manage ways to carve out space for myself.

I know I get it, I am stretching this utensil analogy a big far… but bear with me for a moment longer.

It is important to recognize that there are several spaces I am well supported, and do not need to carve out space. But in my everyday life, my family, friendships, past relationships, work, and hobbies, there is little space for the multifaceted, intersecting, complicated, paradoxical, and hypocritical aspects of myself.

A large knife, a large spoon, and a salad fork.

So I started to decide that I only had 1 knife for every few days to carve out space. I only could handle 1 tough conversation every few days around why I could not attend a social event, or calling out misogyny, or requesting an extension on my school work. Otherwise, it was both the fork situation and the out-of-spoon situation magnified.

This theory, I think, might be helpful for folks of many intersecting identities, because these ways of being, knowing, and doing, often challenge aspects of western culture and are given no space in everyday conversations, as well as no space in high-profile discussions, events, and movements. A good example is the generally all-white climate action movement in Canada. Representation matters, and when we are discussing what is best for the land, we also must discuss what is best for the people; i.e., Indigenous communities and relationship with the land. Larissa Crawford discusses asking the hard questions, but she does so with intentionality. Asking hard questions does not mean arguing with every injustice you come in contact with. We are not savage vigilantes. Instead, we are wise warriors who choose our battles.

This theory is therefore potentially helpful for folks who spend time engaging in social media discourse. Reading comments and memes can be both energizing and infuriating. Fuelled by sensationalism and catchy headlines, we can easily be absorbed into spaces where there is no acknowledgement for our ways of knowing, being, and doing. I urge you to think critically about where and when you are going to carve out space, by also thinking critically about the spaces you visit.

This theory is relevant for me in one other final way. This disorder can distort my perception of the number of spoons that I have, and can stick forks in me that I don’t feel. The knife theory reminds me of my limits even when I cannot feel them. Living with these symptoms means that I am grateful for my daily routine, and I am focused on living a fulfilled life. As a Millennial who is bisexual, self-partnered, childless, feminist, mostly sober, and in academia/childcare, and whose hobbies include song-writing, skiing, running, blogging, photography, and yoga, AND who is a daughter, cat-mom, sister, friend, colleague, masters student, ECE-in-training, and employee – I have enough identities to manage, and I am not worried about my finances, my liver, or my future without children; but thank you for your concern.

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.