It’ in the Attitude

For years I was a painter — I put myself through university and spent a few years afterward running my own company painting houses and commercial properties. At one point, the company had 20 summer students and 3 full time people besides myself. Like many ventures, what started off as a way to make some extra money turned into to a full blown job which led to an entrepreneurial endeavour. I learned a great deal about what life was like outside of education.

At some point, the work I was doing went from being something I enjoyed and took great pride in doing to being “a job”. I don’t know when it changed. It wasn’t necessarily what I was doing that changed but my own attitude about what I was doing. In my early twenties, I was sure there was “more”.

They made it Better

I worked one commercial job that still stands out for me. Not because of the work I did but because of two other people who were on the job. One was Tony, a tile setter and the other was Mike, a drywaller. I don’t remember much about them but I remember how they made me feel. Some people do something and the way they do it and the attitude they have forever changes the way you see things. It may be a commonplace thing but afer you see them do it, it becomes different. It leaves an impression on you that lasts a lifetime — you are made better by that exeperience. It’s not necessarily their passion for the work/thing they are doing that sticks with you but the passion for life that they have that permeates the work they do.

For me, as I worked along side these two who were doing hard , backbreaking work, I was impacted at their amazingly positive attitude. They had a presence that was ‘incredible’! They were happy and took pride and pleasure in what they were doing but it was more — it is still hard to describe. The world was made better by being with them. For that time, I once again enjoyed what I was doing.

These two would be, I think, what Liz Wiseman would call “multipliers” — they made other people better — not because of what they did but because of who they were. They had a positive effect on others. There were some people, however, that weren’t as impressed — they seemed threatened and were down and hard on them. It would make me mad sometimes but Tony would tell me to “Tend my own garden, plant my seeds and not let the weeds take over”. It took me a long time to figure out what he meant!

Attitude is Important

                                                          Mindset is important

George Couros asked this question the other day —

I think I understand what he was getting at — that what students do needs to have relevance, be connected to their lives, connected to their passions, meaningful to them as individuals — it needs to matter. I agree. I also know that there are many things that need to get done that can be drudgery and can seem like a waste of time. There were many things that I did while painting that were drudgery — but they were drudgery mostly because of my attitude. Over time, I’ve come to see that how I approach things, my mindset, makes a huge difference — in fact, it might make all the difference.

Writing for….value if…

As a student myself, very little of what I ‘produce’ sees the light of eyes. Even work that I have created and put online for an ‘authentic audience’ has seen little exposure — with a limited amount of feedback. In fact, as I type this, I look over to see a shelf full of papers I’ve written and, if I were to open a few files, there would be posts that have been published with zero views. In reality, much of the work I’ve done hits the “waste bucket” if I look at the ‘authentic interaction’ it has received. Does that means it’s a waste? Or is there value in the learning that I did? Can we always separate things into ‘value/no value’ piles? Do all the things we do need to have some immediate value to them to be worth doing? I write here to work things through myself and maybe get some feedback, maybe. But if there is no feedback, is there no value? Does the value have to be immediately visible? What if I were to return to this idea at a later date having grown and rethought things? What if others disagree with me? Does it now have less value? Or if they agree — more value? Does their status matter?

It’s part of LearningPart of my learning and growth has been to realize that being different and seeing things differently isn’t a problem or an issue or a “career crippler” as I have been told for most of my life. As I stumble, make errors and mistakes, take missteps, and agree and disagree with others, I learn so much about the world, about myself and the people in my life. Much of what I have done has been discarded, like assignments in a waste basket, recycled for other purposes. But the learning — that’s stayed with me. Sometimes, it’s what I’ve learned by having to push myself through, to not just quit and walk away that has allowed me to see things differently on the other end, to see the greatness in others who do ‘ordinary things with extra-ordinary attitude’.

The Story is in the Stones

Often, when I visit the mall in Saskatoon, I can still see the stones that were laid by Tony — worn from years of use. The shops where Mike did his drywalling are still there as are the headers and other work. Covered over — no one the wiser. And I smile — it makes me feel different/better — and I’m thankful because I was changed by my relationships with a stone setter and a drywaller — and I can see that now.

I wish I could thank them.

The relationships with students and the impression we leave with them aren’t because of the ‘great assignments or the amazing lesson plan’. It’s not the ‘great BYOD policy and walkthrough report’ you wrote. It’s those mistakes I made early in my career. Yes, having students do work that is meaningful is important; having them interact with authentic audiences is important; having them create and produce instead of consume and respond should be an essential part of what students do in schools. But do you do ordinary things with extra-ordinary attitude? I know I didn’t.

Some people are able to work with their life passion while others are able to bring their passion for life to their work.


  1. Pat


    I enjoyed your ideas Kelly. Engagent comes from authentic learning; however, even when our learning is not collaborative or our dialogue does not elicit many responses, we can still learn for the intrinsic value of learning for ourselves.

    I also like how you establish a firm foundation on relationships. It is how we, as educators and leaders, make others feel is paramount!

    • Reply

      Thanks Pat. As an administrator one of the things that I really tried to focus on was the relationships. It wasn’t always my strongest asset so I really had to focus and reflect on how I was doing. One of the things that I would recommend for other administrators is to take a risk and get honest feedback about how you are doing as a leader – ares of strength and areas where you are “blind” and need to focus.

      Thanks for the feedback. Learning should be about a journey with no end.

  2. Reply

    Your kind words about Tony and Mike are powerful ones. RuPaul holds my favourite quote: “what other people think of me is none of my business.” When we spin our wheels going after impressing everyone, it’s easy to lose our own way and feed into a negative cycle. It’s far better to embrace our own positive qualities and go forth by doing our best. They live that philosophy, and hearing about those who do provides a nice gut-check to ask if we’re doing it ourselves.

    For the valued tasks, I think a lot about my high school years. I was generally someone who loved to learn just to learn! (Which explains why I’ve never really left the school world ever.) But I do remember something “shifting” later in high school and falling into the trap of asking “is this for marks?” and starting that game. It’s hard for me to pinpoint when that started to happen, but it took a long time to break away from it. Going through the ECE Summer Institute last year – which were pass/fail courses, and all ‘assignments’ were unmarked – was a sometimes painful reminder of the damage that had been done. I’d like to feel that I’m able to help my young students see learning as important for the sake of it, but I don’t think I scratched the surface on what was possible when I was in the middle years. Maybe someday!

    • Reply

      Thanks for the comments Amy. There is a great deal of change taking place and many people are beginning to ask if “what we did is what we should still do?” As we are seeing, there are more and more people questioning if what is happening in schools is what we really want. Although there is still a dominant ‘testing’ mentality held by certain people who are making decisions, there are more and more people who are questioning that view. Unless you watch Fox News! As so many teachers just like you continue to question our traditional mode of schooling, there is hope that the top-down, test-focused, mark-oriented mode can be shifted and changed.

      As we continue to support each other and grow together as learners ourselves, the power of this type of learning is being transmitted to others. Sharing and collaborating are the best things we can do – thanks for taking the time for such a thoughtful comment. I appreciate your passion for what you do!

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