Monday, July 17, 2017

Volunteer Life Highlights

Alternate titles for this post:
- Maker Events Post-Mortem
- Ups and Downs of the Volunteer Lifestyle
- Pay Some Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Done and done!
The first week of July didn't feel like a holiday to me because I was busy working - for free.
Let me tell you about three (what? 3? last week I mentioned 2!) major projects and how hard-core volunteering impacts your experience of an event.

1) MakerEdTO (July 5, 2017)

MakerEdTO was bigger and (dare I say) better than last year. The tickets were sold out just a few days after opening registration, and Toronto's mayor John Tory even tweeted about the event. We had a great turnout for the opening Ignite talks and we still had a solid showing at the end for our closing keynote. We had more people exploring and tinkering in the Playground than we did last year, which made me happy. The pacing of the day was wonderful and everyone that I encountered, from the food truck workers to the vendors to the participants were pleased with their experience. Here are just a few of the tweets and photos from the event.




Teresa shows Munazzah some cardboard tips

David, Arianna and Mark support some bridge building

Creatures from the loose parts station (manned by Denise!)

I loved Larissa's creature! So cute!


Tim, Mark and David prepare everyone for the day

Adding our handles to the Twitter wall

Speaks for itself!

Andrew's creature was as active as he was!

If you compare my reflections from last year's event to this year, you'll notice a distinct lack of detailed descriptions on sessions and workshops. That's because I really didn't get the time to sit on any for long! My assigned duties involved supervising the Twitter Wall and ensuring that the food truck lines went smoothly at lunch. I also presented a session on Cosplay MakerSpaces with my daughter, who was kind enough to take the day off from her volunteer stint at the ROM. There are always many "little" things to do at a conference that crop up, from distributing the stamps for the passports, to taking photos, to counting attendees for statistical reflection later on, to ensuring that fellow core team members eat and drink, that need doing so the day runs well.

I thought it was a brilliant idea to have the core team members wear red shirts for easy recognition (wait - don't red shirts typically die in Star Trek?). I especially want to call attention to the efforts of two particular "red shirts": Tim Cooper and David Hann. We held MakerEdTO at Tim's school and he was everywhere, doing everything. Because he knew the building better than anyone, Tim had the answers to many of our questions. He played the role of organizer as well as tech support and trouble shooter. David is the main man behind MakerEdTO, although you would never guess it because he is so modest and humble. David takes this conference seriously and his commitment shows. He is constantly reflecting on how to improve the conference, increase the networking, and make everyone's experience the best it can be. It was.

2) Maker Festival Toronto (July 8-9, 2017)

The dates for the grand Maker Festival Extravaganza at the Toronto Reference Library seem short - just a weekend - but in reality, days and days of planning went into this event. I've had weekly meetings with our subcommittee since May and the days leading up to the actual event are intense. I spent more time with the core team members (some of whom I wrote about here) than I did with my own family during the final days. (Don't worry - absence makes the heart grow fonder!) One of our volunteer orientation sessions had to be rescheduled at the last minute and so we created two options. Fellow Volunteer Coordinator Nathan and I spent time at Andrew's house building huge paper mache balls. Between Friday (set-up) and Saturday (first day), I only got 4.5 hours of sleep. Despite of (or because of) the super-human efforts, Maker Festival Toronto was a big success for the majority of attendees. I think these two tweets may be the only photographic evidence that I was at Maker Festival Toronto 2017!


We had specialized lanyards to indicate that we were on the core team (which we ran out of, but that was a learning experience) with nick names added to them. Mine was "Mother Hen", because I worried about my brood (consisting of over 200 volunteers, plus my own "baby chick" and another relative who saved my bacon by pinch-hitting at the last minute for a critical task). I also fretted about the core team's needs - were they eating and drinking? Did they get to go to the bathroom? Were they stressed? Thankfully, this was not a one-sided street. I remember our amazing core team member Paul asking if we wanted him to watch the desk while we at the Volunteer Desk got a chance to experience the festival. I turned him down - one, because that was right before a big shift change and we had to check people in, and two, because I found that it was hard to let my mind go "off duty" to take in the exhibits. It was important to take a break - I found that just a few minutes outside gave me some much-needed energy, although it was hard to "stop working". When I left my station, I caught myself scanning the crowds to examine the volunteers. Do they need a break? Are they doing their job? Are there enough volunteers here at this spot? Are volunteers needed elsewhere?

There were many areas where we can improve but there were also many areas where we triumphed. Two of the areas I wanted to focus on with my new role in 2017 as Volunteer Coordinator was high school outreach and inclusivity. Nathan and I personally phoned every secondary school in the TDSB and TCDSB to encourage guidance departments to promote Maker Festival Toronto as a fun way of earning volunteer hours, and we had many youthful participants. (I also want to add that we had a lot of teachers volunteer their time as well - thank you educators!) We also made a good start on supporting our volunteers with visible and hidden challenges, but this will take a while to develop. When I saw a super-shy helper find a way to assist that made them feel valued, or when I noticed a volunteer who may have been on the spectrum grinning as they partnered up with someone to complete a task, it made me so happy. It was the thank you notes Nathan and I received afterwards that really made it rewarding. (Thank you Peter! Thank you Nicki! Thanks everyone!)

I had some great volunteers taking photos (looking at you Chloe, Khush, Kat, and Nathaniel!) and that's why I have some wonderful pictures to share of the event.

Friday world-building

Behind the scenes as we get the globe out!

Our other-worldly blimp prior to lift-off

Catapult with lights, created during a workshop

Dozens of things to make and do at the Festival

Puppets like this one hung from above

Our globe made it out of the room!



Sailing boats made by kids in the TPL pool inside the Reference Library!


Making with a social justice stance - display for MMIW






Different view of our silver centerpiece

Whale puppet promoting the current ROM attraction

Famous face at Maker Festival Toronto

Scene from the Glowatorium
There are SO many people I need to acknowledge that it could turn this lengthy blog post into a book. Let me limit myself to three areas:
  • "The Big 3" = all of our core team members were incredible (Tarik, Amy, Andrew, Josh, Ceda, Trevor, etc.) but my hat goes off especially to Jen (our executive director), Aedan (our logistics manager) and Eric (our director of festival programming). Imagine a barrage of demands, requests, and queries blasted at you rapid-fire, non-stop. These three took it in stride.
  • Our Toronto Public Library liaisons = Ab, Ted, and Jonathan - thank you so much for all of your support and understanding. I knew that if I phoned one of them with a question or favour, they'd respond. These librarians rock!
  • My "partner in crime" = Nathan was absolutely incredible. He was yin to my yang. We made a great team, if I do say so myself. He was calm, cool, and organized. He was the one that found us the Volunteer Management System we used to track and sort our helpers. He knew when to object and when to acquiesce. He played interference and protector when I needed it. I am truly grateful and I hope he returns to Maker Festival as a core team member focused on volunteers.

3) The Teaching Librarian (Volume 25 Issue 1)

I don't write much about TingL on this blog (the last time I devoted a post entirely to The Teaching Librarian was way back in 2010 or a part of a post in 2013). It's not because it's unimportant; it's because it's been such a regular staple in my life that I practically don't notice it. I've been the editor since 2006 and recently the magazine celebrated its 25th anniversary. Usually we wouldn't be working on the magazine in July. Our fall issue often gets done by the end of June. This time around, more people needed writing extensions (especially me) and I got caught up in the end-of-the-school-year chaos as well as the Maker Events. Thank you so much to those who were able to do last-minute editing while on holiday (Derrick, Caroline, and Allison in particular) and to my very patient OLA liaison, Lauren. I'm going to quote myself from Volume 24 Issue 2 ("25 Years @ Your Library") about the highlights of volunteering on a project for as long as I have with the magazine:

There are many "best things" about being the editor-in-chief - the leadership opportunities, the chance to network with talented library professionals beyond your own school board, the thrill of seeing a project from start to finish and having the printed results in your hands, and the ability to reach out to fellow school library staff members so they know they aren't alone. Thank you so much Ontario School Library Association and Ontario Library Association for supporting The Teaching Librarian for all these years. [page 11]
 To conclude, I can see why high school students have forty hours of volunteer service to do prior to graduating. Volunteers make the world go round! It's also a habit that is worth cultivating. Volunteering can be very rewarding, especially when you can admire the end result. It alters your appreciation of an object (like a magazine) or an event (such as a conference or festival). It even changes how you experience them. Reading back on past issues of TingL remind me of how long it took to edit or how much nagging it took to obtain an article. Getting glimpses behind the scenes of how groups operate and how catastrophes get averted or dealt with means that your awareness increases. I enjoy those events but on a different, more complex level. Thank you to everyone (especially my patient family and my wonderful husband James) for making it possible.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A long-overdue tribute

There are so many things I could write about for today's blog post - MakerEdTO, the final days of school, Maker Festival Toronto - but some of these are just too recent and fresh in my head, so I need time to reflect and process my thoughts carefully. I decided to write about something that's been percolating for over twenty years and deserves my focus.

My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary on July 5.


This celebration coincided with all the chaos and intense time demands of being on two organizing committees with events occurring the same week. People suggested we celebrate on a later date, but for us, commemorating it on July 5 together was important. We wanted to do something memorable, so we booked reservations at 360, the restaurant at the top of the CN Tower, and overnighted at the Soho Metropolitan Hotel nearby. It was a wonderful meal, a beautiful view, and the restaurant staff surprised us with an anniversary dessert that actually checked off something on my bucket list!







(When I was a little girl, I thought that only rich people ate chocolate mousse. I also thought that going to Hawaii was also only for the wealthy - which is why my husband has said that for our 25th anniversary, we are going to go to Hawaii, despite his usual lack of enthusiasm for extensive travel.)

Let me tell you just a few things about my husband. I don't want to overshare. He's a private person and has also had some unpleasant online experiences. Those who know me can tell I'm quite extroverted and gregarious. My husband is extremely tolerant of me, my quirks, and all the crazy plans, events, and trips that I get myself into. To be frank, I would not be able to do 90% of the things I commit to without his love and support. James is my rock. He is exemplary of the type of love described in the famous scripture from the Christian Bible.
 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
He does more than his fair share, which makes it possible for me to do things like presentations across the country, or volunteer as the editor-in-chief for a magazine for twelve years.  If the house is clean, it's because of him. He is the stay-at-home parent, making sure that our children had someone on-call and devoted to their well-being all during their elementary years and beyond. We have two wonderful, thoughtful, responsible, caring teenagers and much of the credit goes to James. These accomplishments happen without fanfare and without recognition. I want to acknowledge it and to show that I need him quite desperately (and not just because I'm hopeless in the kitchen for anything except breakfast or baking).

Happy anniversary, my beloved!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Canada Day Celebrations and Contemplations

The school year is now over and we top off (or end) that whirlwind final week with the anniversary of Canadian Confederation.

I confess that I didn't do much at school to recognize this historic event. (I'm usually not much of a rah-rah-holiday person to begin with, so my lack of enthusiasm isn't much of a surprise.) I wore red and white as part of our Spirit Day and during the assembly, we watched this video narrated by Mike Myers.


To acknowledge the 150th birthday of the country known as Canada, my daughter and I plan on doing our own little research assignment (which probably won't make it into the "A Kids Guide to Canada" national project). The task is inspired by an American "What If" project, which wondered who would win in a mass knife fight to the death between every president (see https://faceintheblue.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/in-a-mass-knife-fight-to-the-death-between-every-american-president-who-would-win-and-why/ or this forum discussion https://www.quora.com/In-a-fight-to-the-death-between-every-American-president-who-would-win-and-why). We realized that we struggled to know enough about all our Canadian prime ministers to be able to answer this question, and so we aim to answer this hypothetical question: "Who is the toughest Prime Minister of all time? If all the Canadian Prime Ministers were alive, at the same time, at the peak of their health and fitness, and had to fight 'Hunger Games' style, who would emerge victorious?" It may be an unusual project, but it's something that's piqued our interest, so we are running with it.

On July 1, I wore my "Invasion Free Since 1812" Second City comedy troupe t-shirt (the only vaguely patriotic article of clothing I own) and visited my parents for dinner and fireworks.






This is all well and good but I'm more aware now that not everyone is in a celebratory mood about Canada Day. Our FNMI population and their allies can't ignore how the unification of Upper Canada, Lower Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into one country 150 years ago accelerated some extremely unfair treatment - broken treaties, racist policies, and the horrors of the residential school system. I know there was a huge controversy about the money spent on the giant inflatable rubber duck that will sit in Toronto's harbour and how funds could have been used to support other, more worthy, causes. Should we rejoice or resist?

I found this post on Twitter that eloquently spoke to the odd contradiction that is Canada Day, and why (and possibly how) we can celebrate but also stop and think.

Monday, June 26, 2017

What do they all have in common?

I tried to find a unifying thread to connect all the incredible events and activities that happened this past week. See if you notice any trends!

Monday, June 19, 2017 = So You Think You Can Dance

This annual event showcases the best dance groups from every junior and intermediate class and features "celebrity judges". This year we had some of the members of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Gamora, Rocket, and Groot).

Tuesday, June 20, 2017 = Volunteer Tea










I know I just posted nine photos of cupcakes - but they were gorgeous, and made by a talented baker who is also a parent at our school! (Email me if you'd like her contact information to hire her for your dessert needs.) Our annual recognition event salutes the great helpers who devote their time and energy to our school trips and other tasks.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017 = Cultural Games Day


To coincide with National Aboriginal Day, the Student Council organized a day of outdoor fun that introduced us to different kinds of recreation from around the world.

Thursday, June 22 and Friday, June 23, 2017
Yearbook Distribution, Maker Festival Decorations, Fan Letters, and Graduation Rehearsal

Our yearbooks arrived from Picaboo, to everyone's delight and I spent quite a bit of time ensuring that everyone that ordered their keepsake received it. While making corrections to report cards, I realized that my media students never responded to the "fan mail" they received after sharing their "What Is Media" videos on YouTube, so classes collaboratively wrote replies to send out this week. Grade 8 graduation is Monday June 26, 2017 so we had to rehearse for the big day. We were also really excited to get huge balloons, corn starch, and other neat supplies to help Andrew Duff and his team from Maker Festival create decorations that will adorn the atrium of the Toronto Reference Library for the big extravaganza on July 8-9.







Saturday, June 24, 2017 = Mrs. Morgan's Retirement Party (Part One)

Aileen Morgan, a fixture of Agnes Macphail Public School, will be retiring at the end of this school year.

Aileen's departure signifies the end of an era. When I first came to my school, we had someone retire every single year five Junes in a row. Aileen was the last of that group of tight-knit educators - but she was also more. Mrs. Morgan would claim that she didn't understand the new technology that came into our building, yet if you peeked in her classroom, she was integrating use of her interactive white board with her students - and she was one of the first primary division teachers to get her own Twitter account. She was the staff member with the most seniority, but her energy and passion didn't indicate a person in the twilight years of their career, but someone much younger. (I think the students still believe I'm older than Mrs. Morgan.) I was really startled when I first heard her refer to a student as "my favourite" - until I realized that this was a rotating role and the "student of the day" held this title. When I occasionally meet young adults who had Mrs. Morgan as a teacher, they often reflect back fondly on their time with her and mention some of the hallmarks of her tenure, such as her penchant for knitting, teaching kids how to sew plastic canvas (which fits well nowadays with our focus on mental health, self-regulation, and well-being because it is such a calming activity), and her enthusiasm for folk dancing and teaching about pioneers. Here are a few photos from her last division-wide trip she organized to the Pickering Pioneer Village and final Pizza Lunch.

Mrs. Morgan (left) with parent Mrs. Ibanez (who made her retirement cake)
Final pizza lunch - and Room 117 held it outside!


Mrs. Morgan will be recognized at our school by the students and the wider community on Wednesday, June 28. We had a staff celebration on the weekend.

So how are all these activities connected?

1) All of them are celebratory. We are celebrating excellence in dance education, in community service, in diversity within Canada, in our accomplishments this past school year, and in a teacher's 25 years of work in the classroom.

2) None of these tasks are meant to be time-wasters. As my old blog title for this post used to say, we aren't trying to run out the clock - we're running out of time! There's so much to do and only a few days left!

3) All of these events are specific to my school, its culture and traditions.

4) Learning is still a part of these activities.

Happy final days of the school year to all who are still in their buildings, and happy start of summer vacation to all who are done for 2016-17!