Monday, May 9, 2016
Learning in the Long Run
Tonight I am to speak at Richmond Ignite, an event that our school district has organized. There will be about 15 speakers, each with only 5 minutes to share something they feel to be important with the attendees. Here is what I plan to say.
I'm very pleased to be able to talk to you about two of my passions and three things they have in common: Public Education and Long Distance Running, ultra marathons, mostly on trails, as you can see from my slides.
I started running at the same time, not coincidentally, as I began my teaching practice. In 1990 I was a stressed out single mum, a student in the teacher ed program at UBC, living in my parents' basement. I needed cheap and easy therapy and running fit the bill. I started a bit at a time, until I could run about 5 km to The Gates and back. In the spring I heard about the Sun Run. My brother had done it and he said - if you can run 5 km you can run 10. So I did and was overwhelmed by the feeling of joy crossing the finish line, feeling proud of my own accomplishment, but also part of something bigger than my self. So I just kept doubling my distances.
The first lesson from the long run I'll share is to be present, to show up. Our students and colleagues deserve nothing less than our full attention, our full engagement. I time when being present really paid off for me in running was when I entered my first 100 km race. We started in the pitch dark and the field of runners quickly spread out. With 92 kilometres under my belt, the race director pedalled up to me on his bike and said, "Ok, Margaret, the next woman is 15 minutes behind you and if you keep up this pace, you will win and set a new women' course record." I looked at him in astonishment! "What about the fast girls who signed up," I asked. "They didn't show up," he replied.
I could not have completed that race, (anything over 42.2 km is called an ultra marathon), without a plan and a support crew. My second lesson from the long run could be called collaborative UBD. Beginning with the end in mind and having planned with a colleague. In teaching these days, collaborative and planning give us the best odds of ensuring that our students are engaged in the kind of deep learning we want for them. Running without a plan is called junk miles. A time when I had an epic fail in a race was when I had trained all year to run 100 miler. What I failed to do was plan for a pacer, a partner to run with me through the night. I was too shy, too stubborn to ask for help, And in the night, in the dark, scare and alone, I pulled the plug and quit. Collaboration makes the seemingly impossible, possible.
The third lesson from the long run I will share is to remain ever hopeful. There are a lot of irritants in the long run, from bugs to blister to bears, muscle cramps and gastrointestinal distress. What I now know from finishing over 50 long distance races is that you can feel like hell, like every fibre of your being is telling you to stop, but it can get better. A friendly smile from a volunteer, having something to eat or drink, everything can change for the better. And I think this is the greatest gift we can give our students - the gift of hope. I think of the children of Attawapasat, of my own dear friend who's 15 year old somehow lost hope on the night of March 3rd. We need our kids to know that there is hope - that things can and will get better. There's an aid station just around the corner.
So in your work, be present, plan with a buddy, promote a growth mindset, and we will all cross the finish line and make a difference in public education. Thank you.