Happy New Year!
Three years ago, today, we announced to the world that we would open a school.
The echo of those words still, every time, sounds so strange in our ears, "Open a school"?! I think we still follow that up with, “who does that?” Because honestly, who does that? Did we really actually do that? I guess we did! And really, it turned out to be everything we dreamed it could be, plus some. Which really was a gamble, don’t you think?
We recognized that opening a school would be the riskiest, scariest, bravest, most unheard-of thing we could do at the time for our teaching careers and lives. It would change everything in our lives, from personal to professional, and everything in between. But, with a special blend of trust in each other and our skills, a strong dose of perseverance, and great amounts of passion for what we believed education could be, we took that big leap of faith and announced to the world January 1st, 2016 that we would open a school. (We didn’t realize that that would be first of many great leaps of faith we’d be making along the journey of entrepreneurship, but that’s besides the point)
So, looking back, has it been scary? Was it really a big deal? Yes, 100%. Managing people, money, time, resources, clients, families, our own beliefs and values, goals, ideas, and our own families is no easy feat. The toughest part is reminding ourselves that it’s okay, it’s not easy, and there’s no perfect way of doing it. We’ve made it through, with smiles on at the end of each day. And what’s even better, we’re still going strong with that same recipe for motivation that we started with.
So, yes, all of that was big and scary. But what’s bigger to us, what really gets us saying, “Wow”, is when we’re standing in the back lobby right after snack time when the kids are hanging their coats and rushing off to their next class. You see 58 pairs of boots lined up on the shelf, older ones stopping to tie a little one’s shoe, a younger one stopping to say hello, and they all bustle past and then suddenly, it becomes quiet as classes get started – that moment of quiet, when we both look at each other and know exactly what the other one is thinking. Wow. What is it, you ask? What is it about that moment that gives us goose bumps, wide eyes and is immediately followed up by a deep breath? It's when we both realize that all of this just wouldn’t be without that that great leap of bravery 3 years ago and the continued leaps every day since. It makes every once of effort worth it. These students wouldn’t have made new friendships, wouldn’t be aware of how different a class of 10 can be. They wouldn’t be bouncing to math class with the skip in their step, lining their boots along the shelf with care. They may not be confident in their ability to speak up, or even acknowledge the needs of someone else to tie a shoe. This all happens, day in and day out, which we think is quite amazing and awesome, because of a big decision we made, and truthfully continue to make every day, to push through barriers, go against the grain, and open Via Vita.
We, now, get to be apart of each of these students’ lives and play a role in shaping their future. They inspire us daily to be better and try harder, and we are forever grateful for that. We have met and continue to learn from the most amazing educators, parents, and community members who teach us everyday the value of working as a team.
To all of the wonderful teams of people who we’ve come to meet along this journey, and those we will get to meet in 2019, thank you, thank you, and happy New Year! Thank you for supporting us, challenging us, motivating us, inspiring us, and most importantly, reminding us stay true to who we are. It truly takes a village, and we are beyond proud of the village VVA has become.
Think about your day… how many times to you find your head going through the “to-do “list? How often do you find yourself completing a task and yet immersed in thoughts of something else? How often do your thoughts spiral into the realm of the negative? Now…ask yourself this…how often do you allow yourself to live completely in the present moment?
We’ve been exploring the topic of mindfulness at Via Vita and the ways in which we can incorporate even more strategies to help our students live self-aware, fulfilling lives. Before we can dive into the “how to” of mindfulness, it's important to first understand what it is, and why we here at Via Vita, feel it will be a game changer for our students.
We’ll begin by debunking what mindfulness isn’t. In his book Growing up Mindful, Christopher Willard outlines some common misconceptions about the practice of mindfulness. We thought we’d elaborate on some of our favourites:
Myth #1: Mindfulness is selfish. There are better uses of our time.
Reality: Mindfulness is a health practice. One of the most important lessons we can teach our children/students, is that in order to for us to take care of others, we must first take care of ourselves. Putting your own health first is never selfish!
Myth #2: Mindfulness indicates weakness
Reality: Mindfulness strengthens and empowers! Mindful practices teach us to cope with difficult situations and help us to form resilience! It’s easy to fall prey to our natural “fight or flight” instincts, but mindfulness teaches us how to be the calm within the storm!
Myth #3: Mindfulness = magic
Reality: Okay, so it may not exactly be “magic”, but it is pretty powerful! Mindfulness helps students to become in touch with their emotional reactions. It builds an awareness of body, mind, and spirit. People who practice mindfulness have incredible tools to deal with stress and adversity. Moreover, mindful people are more intuitive decision makers. Thus, while it’s not “magic”, it’s an amazing life skill! Forget invisibility and x-ray vision…let mindfulness be your super power!
So, now that we know what mindfulness isn’t…what exactly is it?
Mindfulness encourages us to zero in on the here and now. We let go of past sadness (depression) and future worry (anxiety), and focus on the present. Mindful practices encourage us to become aware of our own thoughts and emotional patterns. When we stop, listen, and feel, we suddenly become privy to self-knowledge that was once concealed or over-shadowed by negative thoughts. When we take stock of where are minds wander, we ultimately unveil the truth.
Christopher Willard sums up the process of being mindful with the “4 R’s”:
Rest awareness on a particular focus or “anchor”
Recognize when are where your thought/focus wanders
Return awareness gently to the focus/anchor
Now that you have a general sense of what mindfulness is, perhaps you can see why we feel it’s so important for our students here at Via Vita. If you’re still not sold, here are some of the incredible benefits that we see emerging from mindful practices:
Practicing non-judgment: Our inner critic…we all have one. For some of us, our inner critic carries a megaphone. Adolescence in particular is unfortunately a time that is often plagued with insecurity. With the prevalence of social media, youth are bombarded with images of comparison. Mindfulness encourages us to examine the words we speak to ourselves and find contentment in where we are right now. We become aware of all aspects of ourselves…without judgment or comparison.
Learning ‘response-ability’: We’ve all been there…our “fight or flight” takes over and suddenly we lose all control. In Growing up Mindful, Christopher Willard points to the importance of teaching youth to respond rather than react. A reaction is thoughtless, impulsive, and often regretful. A response on the other hand, is controlled, thoughtful, and with purpose. When students become in tune with their emotional reactions, they can develop mindful strategies to coping with anger, anxiety, and sadness. Willard deems this act of mindful response, teaching our youth “response-ability”.
Teaching how to be alone: Loneliness is unfortunately a growing concern amongst today’s youth. Young people are often overscheduled with little downtime. They are constantly plugged in and connected through social media, and yet, there is a growing disconnect with their own thoughts and feelings. The reality is, that so many of our children and students don’t know how to be alone with themselves. When they are alone, they are suddenly bombarded with thoughts and emotions that they are not used to, and don’t know how to cope with…this leads them to go looking for distractions. Teaching children how to be alone is thus an essential life skill. Susan Turke perhaps explained this phenomenon best when she said: “If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they’re only going to know how to be lonely.”
So hopefully at this point you can see why we are so excited by the topic of mindfulness. There are many aspects of these practices that we already use here at Via Vita and have seen the results in our students. We can’t wait to learn more about the topic and implement more practices on a daily basis! Like any skill, mindfulness takes time and practice to develop. Mindfulness also pushes students to confront their emotions, which can lead to some resistance at first. However, we all feel that the benefits of daily mindfulness will empower our students in ways in which they couldn’t imagine! We look forward to sharing more about our journey with mindfulness over the course of the next year!
Ms. Meghan, Ms. Zoe & the Megaladon Class (Grade 7-9)
Please welcome Ms. Ally! Oh, we are super excited to have Ms. Ally join us for teaching in the fall! After doing a student teaching term with us, it was love at first sight! We knew she would be a fantastic addition to our team as she fit in immediately - with our staff, students, and parents, and philosophy of learning. How lucky are we that she chose us!? Take a read to learn more about VVA's new teacher, Ms. Ally Vansnick!
For me, the perspective of having a unique family didn’t click until I hit about grade 10.
My mom lost her eyesight to a still unknown cause when I was in grade primary. She woke up one morning with blurry vision in her right eye and within the next few months it spread to her left eye. By the time I was in grade 5 she lost her sight completely.
I know this might sounds kind of bleak but I assure you it’s not.
Thinking back on it now, the most definitive memory I have of my mom losing her eyesight was when I had a “groovy" themed birthday party. Didn't we all? I was 7 years old and I wanted coloured peace signs and smiley faces everywhere. I had told my mom to colour a peace sign purple and she got half way through before I looked over and she had coloured in grey. She laughs about this now but I can only imagine how terrifying it was for her at the time. I cannot imagine gradually losing the ability to see things I have my whole life, Not seeing colours, not telling light or dark, not seeing the faces of loved ones.
People see my mom and circumstance and don’t understand how she cooks, cleans and does everything anyone with sight can do. I often find myself explaining that she hasn’t always been blind, that it happened later on. I can imagine some people who might experience this kind of loss might become dependent on others, but not my mom. She still walked us to and from school. She still took my brother and I out to do things. She taught us how to help her while being independent problem solvers from a young age.
It’s interesting to me, how you can manage to find strength and positivity in the hardest moments life has to offer you. My mom is the most positive person I have ever met, and has been dealt a great deal of difficulty. I don’t know how she does it, but she does. And she is my inspiration for just about everything. Her zest for life gives me so much to strive for every day.
I know not everyone has a mom or someone in their life that they can they look up to and I recognize that despite the challenges my mom faces, that I still get to have such an inspiring mom. It is because of this that I teach. I aspire to be that person for the many children and youth I get to teach. I am grateful to my mom for all she has done and continues to do and hope to pass on to my students that kind of inspiration, dedication, and determination she puts forth on a daily basis.
I often realize every day how much we can take for granted if we aren’t looking closely. I am thankful that I will get the opportunity to spend my days teaching and helping young children grow into great leaders of tomorrow. I am thankful to be able to do this at Via Vita, an environment that I feel aligns with the kind of inspiration my mom had on me. A place where kids get to learn to be independent, understand how the world around them works, to problem solve, and see the positive side of any situation.
Welcome to Our Blog
Each post is written by a supportive member of Via Vita Academy, be it a teacher, parent, student, community member, who is invested in the topic of education. Take a read and comment below!