One Drop Can Change Everything

“Mom, last year my classroom had tables – do you think we’ll have tables or desks in grade 3?”  This is a conversation I overheard on Labour Day between a mom and daughter cycling on the waterfront trail.  It reflects the atmosphere in so many homes this past weekend as we wonder what the new school year will bring. Every educator, parent and student begins with expectation and hope as they set off for school on the first day.

I want to share a simple thought.  Former Governor General of Canada David Johnston shared a story a few years ago at an event I attended that included this image.

Fill a glass of pure, clear water. Add one small drop of food colouring. What happens? That’s right, the whole glass transforms. 

You can be that drop in any child’s life, from the one who looks forward to sitting at a table to the one who dreads going to school. What action can you take? What words can you say?

Let me leave you with wisdom from Mother Teresa. She knew the enormity of change needed in so many places in our world and she worked tirelessly to make a difference, no matter how small, to people’s lives.

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

You make the world more through your efforts and your presence. Have a great year!

How I Organize My Life

August brings a new year for my bullet journal. I buy a gorgeous new Leuchtturm 1917 dotted notebook and begin planning and organizing using this “analog system for the digital age”.

I’ve gone through lots of different systems over the years. Once upon a time it was a Daytimer. I loved my little binder with its looseleaf pages and used it through many years of teaching. Later, I was given a Palm Pilot which was pretty cool at the time. I started to get into the whole electronic calendaring thing. Fast forward through BlackBerry, First Class, the iPhone and MacBook and now into Outlook 365 for work. Each one is full of interesting features and I used them all diligently for planning, reminders, calendaring, and note taking.

About 8 years ago, I found “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity” by David Allen. This book is worth reading to help you deal with the whirlwind of our daily lives. Allen advocates a pretty simple system. I remember taking about 5 hours to completely re-organize my filing cabinets, reminders, calendar etc. One of his key concepts is to set aside times to deal with your to-do list, like last thing on Friday before you head home for the weekend. I’ve heard this idea referred to as “power hour” (not the drinking game!) by others where you schedule an hour to deal with the important but mundane tasks that need be done. Another Allen idea is to go through your task list and do anything you can do in two minutes or less – everything else is organized for a future time. This reminds me also of the “one minute rule” where if something can be done in one minute, you just do it – no procrastination. It’s useful for me as I am a procrastinator extraordinaire!

But despite all these great ideas, tools and systems, something was missing. I first heard about the bullet journal from Frances Nicolaides, a teacher in our district. She was experimenting with a bullet journal on Instagram and it looked intriguing. So I dove into the website. Something about this way to get stuff done and know what was going on my life really appealed to me.  I love notebooks, pens, coloured pencils, in fact, office supplies of all kinds. (It’s a bit of a weakness, like socks) My digital systems had robbed me of that. The bullet journal gave me permission to go back to them in clear, organized way.  Each year, I use the Future Log, the Monthly Log and the Daily Log. I experiment with different headings and different colours. It makes it a bit more fun. The photo to the left is a sample of my daily task list.

I also take many notes during meetings, conferences or key notes using my bullet journal. I can incorporate fun little sketchnotes (another trend creatively exemplified by Beth Woof, a principal in our district as well as Sylvia Duckworth). The photo below shows my attempt to take these kinds of notes, which I really enjoy.

I still use my digital calendar and OneNote, but they’re better integrated into my life and make more sense for me now.

I’ve shared the bullet journal concept with colleagues and some have found it really useful too. If you’re looking for an analog way to get yourself on track, you might consider the bullet journal.

How to Unlock Your Creativity

Kevin Ashton says creativity isn’t magic. His book, How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention and Discovery explores many examples and shows that humans don’t wait for some kind of divine inspiration and then mystically start creating. The idea comes first, but it’s only a seed. Tenacious hard work through a series of small steps creates the final product.

When I create, I make something new. Most of us have some experience of this through cooking. We get the idea, we assemble the needed materials and we work through the steps of a recipe to make something yummy. But becoming a good cook doesn’t happen magically. You need to create many dishes, and you’ll have some failures (maybe some spectacular ones – like a cake I made as a teenager where I used salt instead of sugar. Oops!) before you can call yourself a cook.

Yup, I made this!

My writing is the same. I love it, and it’s a satisfying way to take an idea, expand it and synthesize previous thinking. But I’ll tell you, it’s hard work. Successful writers back this up when they talk about the discipline and time needed to create an article, essay, poem, novel or story.

I have lots of ideas from many different sources. Ideas are easy, they’re lying all over the place. I’ll confess that there are 37 draft ideas waiting in my blog draft folder. It’s another thing to work them up into a post.  I try to nail down the purpose of my post and sketch out a framework before I begin. I want to write a good lede.  What actually happens is a lot of back and forth. I write, I delete, I cut and paste, I preview the post, I re-read and rewrite until finally it’s good enough. Once I hit “publish” there’s a lot of satisfaction. I created something new for me.

Creativity isn’t something only special people are born with. We all have it. It’s in the ideas we see and seek out. It’s in the time we insist on setting aside and spend working through the steps to figure things out and make something new.  We cultivate it by trying and failing and trying again.

Maybe you’re an educator creating a blog for your classroom community or an amazing learning experience for your students. Maybe you want to write a YA story. Maybe you want to check into the maker community.  Go for it. Start with the idea and get tenacious.