Tag Archives: life

Do You Have Time?

We all have time.  But how much?

And how will we spend it?

As an educator, I struggle with doing too much.

As a teacher, I packaged content endlessly, provided feedback on everything, read tirelessy, reflected on everything.  It consumed me. It consumes many.  Balance, alignment, living a rich life away from school – all of these things can be hard when there are no “hours of work” or boundaries of work.  There is always more that can be done.

Many of us work really hard – too hard perhaps.  But the passion for what we do, for changing life trajectories, is hard for others to understand at times.

It takes intention to stop and rethink the effectiveness of the effort and the purpose in how we spend our most valuable resource – time.

John Sills and Ben Kelly share the career of Jim Fry, NWO Regional Director, MNRF June 2016. Photo by Kira Fry.

Recently, two dear friends spoke at my husband’s retirement celebration.  They shared a timeline of his outstanding career in protecting Ontario’s natural resources.  Then they focused on what is left in the timeline, and how we need to be intentional about how that time is used.

Leo Suazo shares his understanding about the value of time. June 2106. Image by Kira Fry.


Retired US Fish and Game Officer Leo Suazo spoke eloquently about the value of time, and how after retirement, we have the opportunity to choose how we will share our gift of time.  What life trajectories will we impact? What changes will we enable?

How will we use our time to support those doing good in the world?

Kira Chloe retirement
Kira and Chloé. Image by Jake Avery.
kyle shannon jim
Shannon and Kyle with Jim. Image by Kira Fry


So then, how does this help us decide how to spend that precious time? Perhaps a recent commencement address by Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean James Ryan helps us think this through.


Dr. Ryan proposes five good questions we can ask in all that we do.

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From Five Good Questions by Dr. James Ryan http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/16/05/good-questions

The last question?

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Late Fragments, by Raymond Carver http://allpoetry.com/Late-Fragment


From Dr. James Ryan:

My claim is that if you regularly ask: wait, what, I wonder, couldn’t we at least, how can I help, and what really matters, when it comes time to ask yourself “And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so,” your answer will be “I did.”


How will you use your gift of time?

Featured image of Diane Corbett, Ian Anderson, Doug Hyde and Jim Fry (Ontario Provincial Peer Support Program) by Kira Fry, June 2016.

This post is dedicated to my father, Melville Charles Miller, who would have been 81 years old today, on this Fathers’ Day 2016.

His dedication to the natural resources of this province inspired many of the people who have continued that legacy.


Good Questions



donna jim
Image by Kira Fry, June 2016

EdCampWR (part 2) – Everyone Has Something IMPORTANT to Share

This past week, I have been explaining the concept of “EdCamp” to a lot of people.  It’s on a Saturday, it’s free, it’s open to anyone wanting to learn, and “everyone has something to share”.  The program is driven by the learning needs of the people in attendance, and the smartest person in the room is the room.

What I love most is the “hunger to learn”.

Recently I attended #Educon in Philadelphia.  While sessions are determined in advance, it does rest on the principle that “everyone has something IMPORTANT to share”.  This is captured very clearly in this video.

A few of my favourite quotes that capture some of the thinking from #Educon:

David Jakes: “The first step in redesigning a classroom is discarding the notion that it has to be a classroom.” (2:36)

Chris Lehman: “What schools can become, are the places where we come together to learn…” (4:14)

Jose Vilson: “Trying to get education to be more about what kids can do instead of what they can’t do…” (5:30)

Ayla Gavins: “..I would eliminate ACCESS as the reason for not choosing to use technology.” (6:23)

Diana Laufenberg: “The one thing that teachers can do proactively is to share, everywhere possible, the positive things that are happening with our kids…” (7:14)

What is #Educon?  It’s a global tribe of support – 24/7.

It’s what EdCamps can be too.  Passion, learning, sharing, bringing hope for positive change to make our schools places where we support communities of learning.

When Learning Has Nothing To Do With It

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.38.53 PMLast week, Jan Wong, currently an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Communications at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, wrote an article for the Chronicle Herald outlining her concern about her Journalism students cheating on quizzes.

The sentences from her post that most resonated with me are below.

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It should be no surprise at all that some students at a university are “conditioned to work for marks and only marks”.

The only criterion for acceptance to the university is “high marks”.

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When universities filter applicants based on marks, so that only students with really great marks can enter the institution, the students who arrive and attend class there will include those who have learned to play a game very well, and who will continue to play that game when they arrive.

Any senior high school teacher can attest to the fact that learning is not the priority for many grade 11 and 12 students.  The priority is getting the highest two-digit number possible through whatever means are necessary so that he/she can get access to a university program.

The ramifications of this selection process are numerous, and often do not relate to learning at all.  Some are, in fact, very negative.

  • Parents may bully the teachers who don’t give the needed or expected grades.
  • Students may select courses based on who they know will give them the marks they want.
  • Parents will track down a Principal in the summer and demand that their child’s marks be changed.
  • Students tell teachers that the mark they have received for their assignment is “unacceptable” and that they will need something higher.
  • “Cheating” is rampant on tests, exams and assignments.
  • Students learn to seek out exams from previous years, tests and student notes from previous years.
  • They learn how best to get as many marks as possible on every test and exam.
  • They will do almost anything for “bonus marks”, and they learn to manipulate a teacher to offer those “bonus marks”.

Students and parents figure out how to play the game.

Alfie Kohn has been writing about the problem with grades for many years.  One of his best articles is “From Degrading to De-Grading”  (http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/fdtd-g.htm), where he explores, among other things, the observations that grades reduce a student’s preference for challenging tasks, the quality of their thinking, and their interest in learning.

The lack of interest in learning by students who have been told that marks are what matters is well-documented, as in the observation below from Janice Fiamengo:

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Those who do well are called “good students”.  Some schools give out awards to students with the highest marks, encouraging competition instead of collaborative learning, and reinforcing that marks are what is really important at that school.

While there is a large and growing movement to put learning at the centre of the what school is about, as long as that final mark is the only requirement for university entrance, marks will remain the focus.

And universities will get what they have selected for.  When students don’t get the marks they want at university, they will react exactly as they have learned to react.

Once again, Janice Fiamengo:

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Fortunately, even the straight-A students are questioning  their school experience and why “marks” are seen as so important. Afraj Gill from “An A+ Student Regrets His Grades“:

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Learning to manipulate teachers to get good grades becomes an art form in itself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8s13_yOLeE

We need to deeply question a system with these values.  Is this the best way to graduate innovators and entrepreneurs?

I believe that we are rethinking what schools are for, how to nurture natural curiosity, and how to use focused innovation in our teaching in the K-12 sector.  I also see evidence that some post-secondary schools are beginning to understand that marks are not the best predictor of learning.

But as long as marks are the sole filter for entrance to university, we will be challenged to put learning, not grades, at the centre of what schools are for.

*Add-On -> A favourite post from @KarlFisch: http://thefischbowl.blogspot.ca/2013/10/your-gda-is-more-important-than-your-gpa.html

@sethgodinblog: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/02/doing-what-gets-rewarded.html

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Every Single Day is Special

It’s December 19th.

For years, this has been one of the most difficult days of the entire year.  Last year it got even harder.

On December 19, 1999, my friend, Patricia Fry Anderson (who became my sister-in-law when I married her younger brother), was killed in a car accident on the way home from watching her sons play hockey.  She went to the game because she had spent the previous years so focused on becoming a nurse practitioner, that she missed many of the boys’ hockey games.  So even though the van was in the shop, and there weren’t enough seat belts in the front seat of the truck, all four people in the family crowded into the front seat to go just a few miles down the road to the Mindemoya Arena.  On the way home, they were in a horrible accident.  Patricia died at the scene.  Her husband and two sons were critically injured.

2013 12 19 Patricia
Pat Anderson with her husband, Ian, and my nephews, Ryan and Erik. From the book “Game Wardens”.

My husband (her brother) was the Provincial Lead for the Ontario Public Service Peer Support Program at the time.  Whenever there was a critical incident involving an employee of specific ministries, my husband was called to send out a peer support team to the family.  I was beside him on December 19, 1999 when the dispatcher called our house.  How could she have known that the person she was calling was the brother of the victim?

Patricia was a very special person whose life was cut far too short.

She had just accepted a position with the  First Nations on Manitoulin Island as the primary health care worker.  She believed so strongly in promoting health, but at the same time she worked tirelessly to be an exceptional mother, a gardener, and master cook.  She was all about quality of life, and every day was full of activity – gathering berries, gardening, picking flowers, catching fish.  She lived.  Every single day.

2013 12 19 Carrot Salad

Patricia was “aunt Pat” to my children. She loved them like her own, and they knew it.

We still miss her desperately, and I wonder how much good she would have done on this earth had she survived that night*.

Last year, early in the morning of December 19, we received the call we were dreading.  Our 2013 12 19 Lesley and Darrendear friend Lesley was calling to say that her husband, our nephew, 52-year-old Darren Smith, had succumbed to ALS after a 2-year battle with this horrible, horrible disease.

Darren was a true leader in the Metro Toronto Police Force.  He was incredibly knowledgeable about learning, and a pioneer in e-learning in the province.  I have written about him here.

Darren was a “go big or go home” kind of person.  Everything he took on, he did with full out effort and an eye for excellence.  There was no half effort for Darren, ever.

Even while ALS took away his ability to breathe, to write, to feed himself, to drive, to walk, to sit, to sleep, he kept on, reminding us that life is precious.  Reminding us that we don’t have a minute to waste.

At Darren’s funeral, we were treated to a video that he had made when he was still able to speak, a message to all of us to remember to treasure life and love, and to live large.  Each member of the family received a personalized cookbook, written by Darren as he struggled with his health.2013 12 19 Darren rib sauce

Whenever I have a “bad day”, I think about Darren and Patricia, because at least I am having a day.  

I often think about all of the good they could have done if their lives had not been cut short.  Sometimes I feel like I need to do the good of three people to make up for the loss of these exceptional people.

2013 12 19 Darren front of cookbook
Opening page in “Smith’s Kitchen Sink”, by F. Darren Smith.

But what I do know is that life is far too short to waste a second of it.  Why wait to stand up for what is right?  Why wait for “the right time”?

We have no idea how long we are here for.  Every single day is special.

Make the most of it.



Featured Image: Bridal Veil Falls, Kagawong, shared by http://www.flickr.com/photos/13613374@N00/3899561215/


  • Name: (Wanda) Patricia FRY
  • Given Name: (Wanda) Patricia
  • Surname: FRY
  • Sex: F
  • Birth: 4 Sep 1953 in Campbellford, Ontario, Canada
  • Death: 19 Dec 1999
  • Burial: 19 Feb 2000 Kagawong Cedars Cemetery, Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada
  • Change Date: 21 Jul 2013 at 12:34
  • Note:

    Obituary, uncited
    Wanda Patricia Anderson
    In loving memory of Wanda Patricia Anderson, September 4, 1953-December 19, 1999
    Pat Anderson a resident of Kagawong, died on Sunday, December 19, 1999 at the age of 46 years.
    Pat was born in Campbellford, daughter of the late Fred and Maudie (Hay) Fry. She worked in many capacities as a registered nurse and was known far and wide for her love and dedication to her profession and the people she worked with, both colleagues and patients. She spent countless hours in her job, working and learning for the benefit of health care. Her contributions to her profession will improve the quality of care for people not only on the Island, but in the health field throughout the province. Although Pat was very involved in her work, she took time to enjoy hobbies such as gardening, and growing flowers and plants, and she loved to cook for family and friends. One of her greatest joys was spending time with family and friends at their cottage on Cockburn Island. Pat was a loving and caring wife, mother, sister and friend. Many wonderful times and memories will be shared by family and friends, and the many people whose lives she touched.
    Dearly loved wife and best friend of Ian Anderson. Proud, loving and loved mother of Ryan and Erik. Dear sister of Jim Fry and his wife Donna of Minden; Connie Richardson (husband Ross, predeceased) of Port Hope; Sharon Soenen (husband Luke, predeceased) of Port Hope and Bonnie Lee Preston of Belleville. Also survived by nieces and nephews Kyle, Kira, Darren, Dale, Steven, Tracy, Scott and Leanne and many aunts, uncles and cousins.
    The funeral service and celebration of Pat’s life will be conducted at the M’Chigeeng First Nation Complex on Saturday, February 19, 2000 at 1:00 p.m. with Reverend Iain Macdonald officiating. Spring interment in Kagawong Cedars Cemetery. In remembrance, bursaries are being established and may be arranged through the Culgin Funeral Home.

    Pat Anderson Cherished by all
    By Toby Clarke
    Manitoulin-The life of Patricia Anderson was remembered and celebrated on Saturday, February 19, 2000 at the M’Chigeeng First Nation Complex.
    Pat Anderson was born on September 4, 1953 in Campbellford, Ontario. She joined her husband Ian, a Conservation Officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources on Manitoulin in 1974. She began her career here as a Regisered Nurse at the Manitoulin Health Centre in Little Current and soon thereafter took on the responsibility of Evening Supervisor. When Pat was there, you just knew things were going to go better, said Dr. Jack Bailey.
    After 17 years working at the hospital, Mrs. Anderosn left that position in 1991 to broaden her nursing experience. As a visiting nurse for Home Care for aobut seven years, she entered the life of seniors. “Never in my 93 years can I say that I have met a couple, or a person, as kind as Pat,” says Don Lanktree. “She was wonderful, kind and compassionate,” adds Jean Lanktree. The couple clearly appreciated the care Mrs. Anderson took in both her work and in them personality.
    “She treasured her contracts with so many patients over the years and often said that she had learned so much just by listening particularly to the elderly,” explains husband Ian Anderson.
    Patricia was so special to so many. She had such a gift of making everyone she came into contact with, feel good about themselves. Her smile was sincere and endless and her patience for others equally so.
    Pat Anderson’s home and garden was a constant source of quality time. Preparing fine meals and entertaining friends were another cherished interest. The family cottage on Cockburn Island was a special retreat” Heaven on Earth.
    With the full support of her family, Mrs. Anderson decided to pursue her education in the Health field while still working. She balanced the demands of earning her degree in nursing while maintaining her trademark devotion to her on-going nursing career, family and friends. Then came her personal triumph. Pat Anderson graduated with Highest Academic standing from Laurentian University in November 1999 as a Nurse Practitioner.
    It was the realization of this dream that gave Patricia her wings. She was like a butterfly unfolding.
    In as much as this career pinnacle gave Pat Anderson joy and personal satisfaction, her family was clearly the jewel she cherished most. It seems impossible to mention the boys without someone adding how proud she was of them. Pat was just about the epitome of a mother. She brought her sons to young adulthood with solid values in place.
    It is clear, upon reflecting on the life of Pat Anderson that Quality of Life what she gave each day to every encounter, every task, every relationship and every dream was heartfelt and genuine. Pat Anderson was truly blessed in the life she chose to lead.
    Pat Anderson died on December 19, 1999 in an automobile accident. Her husband and sons are physically mending from injuries sustained in the same accident.
    In remembrance, bursaries have been established for the Manitoulin student Aid Fund, for a student becoming a nurse, or the Pat Anderson Memorial Fund at Laurentian University school of Nursing for a student becoming a nurse Practitioner, and may be arranged through the Culgin Funeral Home.
    The late Pat Anderson BScN, NP proudly displays her name plate indicating her successful completion last fall of the Bachelor of Science program in Nursing and her Nurse Practitioner’s program.

    Memoriam, Manitoulin Expositor, December 18, 2002
    ANDERSON–In memory of Pat Anderson, December 19, 1999. “A truly remarkable human being who exemplified what we all should strive to be.”

Unplug*ing to Learn

I am a voracious learner.  I can’t help myself.  I am interested in almost everything.

I remember complaining about this personal trait to one of my professors, Fred Helleiner, when I was an undergraduate student.  I could not focus on one area to major in.  I wanted to take everything.  He said to me, “And you see this as a problem?”.

It can be.  It can be a problem if all you ever do is learn, and never stop to do anything with the learning.

I was reminded of this while sitting at my nephew’s funeral last week.  One of the officers he worked with asked of us, “What will you learn from his life, and what will you create with it?”.  It can’t end with learning.

One of the things I most valued about the time I spent with Darren was his fresh approach to learning.  We were both teachers – me in the K-12 system, and he in a police college.  I “hang out” with K-12 teachers all the time, and our thinking can get stale as we “preach to the choir”.  Darren questioned my practices and shared his in a way that kept me looking at what I did from new perspectives.

It also taught me that sometimes we need to change it up, to stop our regular routines and be open to what can be learned where we may not expect it.  So after an exhausting month of watching Darren succumb to ALS, and working as the only non-OSSTF educational worker in my school, I knew it was time to pull the plug(s) and change the beat for a few days.

The last time I “Unplug*d” was in August at #Unplugd12, and the connections and learning will last a lifetime.  This time I unplugged to have time with family without distractions.  We are all so busy and spread out, that giving them my full attention was a no-brainer that I have been guilty of ignoring in the past.

Learning seed stitch together.
Learning seed stitch together.

And wow, did I learn a lot.  My daughter was deep into a knitting project for a friend’s baby.  We worked together to design a carriage blanket and then found a pattern online for a beautiful baby hat and scratch mitts.  We shopped and shopped for the perfect wool, then knitted together together to save each other the stress of ripping out stitches – and we did a lot of that anyway (FAIL – First Attempt in Learning!).

Sharing a love of reading.
Sharing a love of reading.

We shared our love of reading.  She reads far more than I do now, and she makes sure that the time I do have for pleasure reading is not wasted. She is my library (that [luckily] doesn’t charge late fees!) and personal literary critic.

Thunder Bay needs some snow!
Thunder Bay needs some snow!

And even though there is almost no snow in Thunder Bay, we found a ski hill where we could rekindle our love of snowboarding together (even over rocks and grass) and pay for it in pain and bruises the next day.

Generations of wisdom.
Generations of wisdom.

I watched carefully and learned much while my trapper daughter taught me the things she learned from her grandfather about harvesting from the forest, and our dogs got all the hunting and adventure they needed!

2012 12 27 dogs played out

It is so easy to get wrapped up in routine and obligations.  What a gift to be able to take time to step away completely, and rekindle old passions in the company of those closest to us.

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Happy holidays and all the best in 2013.