I used to really, really love roller coasters. I was one of those kids and teens who would hop off of a ride, only to run back into line, ready to ride it again. Some of my happiest days were those at theme parks, when the crowd was so small that the line was non-existent and I could twirl my finger around in a little circle to the ride operator, and they would send me through the coaster again.
In LA last fall, I rode a Universal Studios roller coaster four times in a row, just like this. I can’t believe I used to be able to ride all day. It took me hours to lose the dizziness I gained in four minutes of joy.
The last year of my life has been a real-life roller coaster, of the emotional variety. It’s been a roller coaster in the best possible way. It’s the emotional roller coaster of following my dreams.
You’re going to join me on a walkthrough of my ride, and the emotional ups and downs I’ve experienced. This is possible with the power of imagination, which I’m going to ask you to use for the next few minutes.
My ride started much like many roller coasters do. I had to slowly, laboriously walk up to the top, then trust the ride vehicle to take me safely up and down hills and through spirals and loop-de-loops. For twenty-two years, I walked towards the line-up for this rollercoaster. Along the way, I passed through schools and relationships. Then, I got in line for the ride. The line took me ten years. In those ten years, I passed through more schools, more relationships and got to bring hundreds of students with me on the journey up those stairs. I found a steady job, bought a house, got married, could explain my job in one word: “teacher” and felt pretty comfy.
Then I got to the front of the line. A few things happened to change my momentum completely. I got a book deal and my husband got a new job. The book deal took hold of the operating controls of the rollercoaster and sped up all my dreams. Captain Handsome’s new job was in a new city. I took a 100% pay cut and undexpectedly, found myself in the seat of a ride vehicle without a seatbelt. The ride I thought I knew was history. Getting to the front of the line, I realized the ride I’d planned to take many years down the road was now was the one I was about to embark on, but at a much faster speed and without the security measures I’d expected. I’d always wanted to write a book. I like new challenges and new adventures. I was ready to see where this ride took me.
My husband had already started his ride and, taking a deep breath, I followed.
The ride has taken me ten months so far. The first drop was stomach churning and heart wrenching. I had to leave my amazing grade ¾ students, The Gladiator Snails, two months before the school year ended.
Several months of the ride were incredibly boring to anyone watching from the ground, expecting screams of terror or joy. My rollercoaster was quiet, passing through coffee shops, libraries and cafes. I rode, laptop burning a hole in my lap, fingers flying over the keyboard as I poured my heart into 115 000 words of my first book. Days, weeks and months on the coaster were quiet.
There were bumps and turns as deadlines loomed, editors gave feedback and my Alpha and Beta reader teams dissected my words. Despite what looked so dull from the outside, my screams came. Some of them were silent. Some were witnessed by my most trusted friends and family. I screamed with frustration. I screamed with self doubt. I screamed with relief.
Some days, the coaster brought me high into the sky. I’d always wanted to share my stories and ideas, and my students’ stories and ideas with a larger audience. Getting to write a book allowed me to do that. Those days, all I could see what the big, blue sky.
My roller coaster has taken several long, low dips. I have had my breath literally taken away with really bad viruses that slowed down the speed of the ride and dragged me very low.
Some days, my stomach was in my throat, as I freefell. I questioned everything I did and everything I thought and everything I wrote.
Some days I dreaded having to face my computer and my thoughts. Some days I just wanted to get off the ride.
Some days, the tracks were heading upwards, yet I felt like I was being pulled downwards. I got mad at myself for not being grateful for the ride I was lucky enough to be on.
For months, my ride was intensely private, almost as if the tracks of my rollercoaster took me through dark, lonely buildings. I felt quiet and invisible. Sometimes I forgot the world. Sometimes, it felt like the world forgot me.
Then, the coaster would surprise me and I’d flip over, seeing the world in a new way. I realized that the coaster tracks were ones I’d built over the years and that, even though it felt unsafe and scary at times, that there were things guiding me on a strong path. I realized that the highest parts of my track were supported by people who love me and believe in me. I could see my former students and their families holding up the track. My husband was there to push my ride vehicle back up the tracks when it dipped and slowed. He could even lift it back onto the tracks when one wheel, or all of them, came off. My family and friends were there to build new supports as unexpected turns appeared. There were people there to believe in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.
Suddenly, the roller coaster stopped. My manuscript was finished, but not yet a book. The writing process was over. I had time to steer the rollercoaster in a new direction. I reconnected with people and with the world. I got outside more. I went on a trip. I worked to build other people’s rollercoasters and cheer them on as they rode.
A few days before I expected it to, the rollercoaster abruptly started again. My book was released. People who I hadn’t heard from in years started to stand alongside the rollercoaster tracks and cheer me on.
After the months of a quiet, solitary routine, I was riding through a bright, noisy world. It was the scariest part of the ride. People could see me now. They could even see into my head and heart through the words in my book. My track was being built faster than I could comprehend and I couldn’t come to terms with the new ride fast enough. I felt like I was watching someone else on the ride.
Trusted family and friends stepped in and slowed down the ride. They hopped into the ride vehicle next to me and rode with me. Through their eyes, I began to see more clearly where I had come from and what I had accomplished. They pointed out incredible directions that my ride could take next. I started to feel some of the pride they felt for me for myself. I began to breathe more easily.
I was launched into the sky when I got the first photos of people reading my book. People shared what they were learning from my words. My students were excited to see themselves in the pages. Suddenly, I couldn’t describe my job in one word anymore. Now, I was an educator (out of the classroom) and an author.
The book finished, I was no longer actively authoring and I was happy to stick my hands in the air and be taken on a ride, celebrating what I had accomplished. Even though I was feeling more relaxed, there was no end to the ride in sight.
I had to start building a new track. I had to steer my rollercoaster to somewhere new. The first, defined ride of writing a book had finished, but my journey had not. Once again, I found myself facing a huge drop into the unknown.
Even though the first part of the ride had its ups and downs, I feel so grateful to have had the chance to get on. I feel so lucky that I got to the front of the line. I feel brave for having taken the risk of getting on a new ride.
Right now, I’ve taken the fast-track once again. My ten-year goal of opening a school feels to far away. I don’t want to stay on the same ride for ten whole years. Instead, I’ve skipped over the track I thought I’d ride and am creating a new one. Looking past the dip to the track of my new ride, I can only see a fuzzy picture of it. I know that there are lots of dips and bumps, spins and flips. I like the future I see ahead.
My job, once again, has become harder to describe. I’m becoming an alphabetical list of roles. I am now an author, a blue sky thinker, a consultant, a designer and an educator.
After a deep breath, the coaster starts again and I fly past the huge dip, stomach threatening to come out my mouth. Right now, I am riding directly up, looking into a big blue sky, seeing dreams begin to materialize in the clouds above me. I don’t know what will come next, but I can’t wait to see.
In my previous life, I worked as an auditor in a public accounting firm. One of the companies I audited was Telesat Canada. Now as an auditor, one very important aspect of the audit is to understand the background of the organization so that you’re better informed when looking at the financial statements. For some reason, the history of Telesat and the milestones of the company (i.e. satellite launches) really left an imprint on me. Perhaps because as a telecommunications company, launching a satellite is so significant that it’s like giving birth to a child. The event is memorable, and has significant impact on how the company progresses. Being able to reflect on these significant moments, celebrate the achievements and continue to forge ahead in the vision of the company is valuable.
Likewise, I think as an educator, recognizing and reflecting on milestones in our teaching career is important for our professional growth and development. Being able to see significant moments in our journey, helps to shape our vision moving forward.
As I reflect on my teaching milestones, several significant events come into mind: My first teaching position at Joyce Public School that helped me to realize the impact that a school can have on a community; Participating in the Multiliteracies Research Project with Dr. Heather Lotherington that helped me to discover the power of action research in the classroom; Using a SMARTboard for the first time in my class that launched me into my passion for educational technology; Moving 12,000km away from the familiarity of a great school community to realize that my perspective of the greater global community was so limited; and most recently, attending the Google Teacher Academy #MTV14 (now Google Innovation Academy) that exploded my PLN and conception of Professional Development.
As I write this blog post and reflect on my amazing journey as a teacher, I’m thinking, “All of you might not work at Joyce P.S., or be interested in a SMARTboard in your classroom anymore, or think of teaching overseas, but I sure hope all of you consider applying to and attending a Google Innovation Academy.”
It’s been a week since the freshly minted innovators from the first Google Innovator Academy graduated in Mountainview, California. I had the privilege of being a coach at the academy, but secretly felt like a participant myself, as I was swept away by the inspiration, encouragement, camaraderie and general AWESOME-ness of the event.
Being a part of the shaping of the academy in itself was a privilege, as the process was project based learning at its BEST. While the vision of the Innovation Academy was spearheaded by Project Managers Becky Evans, Mark Wagner, Wendy Gorton and our very own #Maplesyrupedu Michelle Armstrong, the shaping of the academy was extremely organic and involved the input of all of the coaches (Kevin Brookhouser, Monica Martinez, Mark Hammons, Jay Atwood, Danieta Morgan, and myself). The strengths and skills of all the leaders were considered and infused into the formation of Sparks & Sprints session throughout the academy. The innovators were encouraged to dream big MOONSHOT size dreams, to be BreakoutEdu creators, to connect deeply and collaborate with their Tribe, to dance with their fears, and to consider their Hedgehogs, Toasts and BigRocks when pursuing their innovation projects. And of course, dashes of Googley-ness was sprinkled throughout the academy to inspire and excite (e.g. X-The Moonshot Factory, Dan Russell, Google Expeditions). The coming-together of the event was AWE-inspiring. But the most exciting part is that this is #OnlytheBeginning. All newly graduated innovators will be working on their innovation project throughout the year, while supported by an experienced Google Innovator. The journey continues for our amazing new innovators. This is how ALL Professional Development should look like.
The next Innovation Academy date will be announced soon. If you are not yet a Google Certified Innovator, I hope you will consider applying. It has been a significant milestone for myself and many veteran Innovators, I know it will also be a significant milestone for you.