Our VVA staff is truly something special. Up until the years of VVA, we had never worked with such diverse, supportive, and passionate group of educators who truly take risks together, share and reflect together to build such a positive work and learning space. Another dream conquered - a work environment that feels like home! Every day we see new layers of ourselves appear because we feel so supported and apart of an amazing team. Thank you VVA staff. Truly, thank you.
An extra special thank you to Mr. Ryan for writing this beautiful post, describing a very special day for all us of at VVA, the day we decided upon our Vision Statement. A couple year's into operating, and we still hadn't narrowed down our vision statement enough to confidently share it with the world, that is until this wonderful summer's afternoon. It was a day none of us have forgotten, and often long to create again. The wonderful mix of mindful reflection, nature at it's finest, and clear and confident minds that came together that day has truly left a beautiful mark on all of us.
Now that it’s January, I thought I might share a flashback to this one day that our teaching team shared back in August, when things were warmer, and our vision for this school first officially took shape...
Mid-August arrives, and the Via Vita Teaching Team gathers to envision how our year of learning together is going to look...
...But before we can start, there is a major list of tedious to-do’s to be done; rooms need rearranging, schedules need straightening, forms need filling, protocols need punctuation, new staff need to be shown the ropes, plus-this-plus-that and then some, among a bunch of other one-last-little-items. Phew. The first days of our first week back have us feeling a bit hectic, straight outta the gate.
Then comes a surprise: we’re invited to spend a day together out of the school, well removed from our list of to-do’s. There’s this place, on a lake, away from the whirring, clunking sounds of the city. A place surrounded by trees, whose leaves will be gently rustled by the crisp winds of late summer. A place where the year ahead might be more comfortably envisioned.
Also we’ll be fed dinner.
Away we go.
Upon arrival, everything that was promised comes to life. We are alone on the lake, where all but the Judas Trees are still green with the vivacity of August’s bittersweet ending. We set up shop in a wide oval on the deck, and for that day’s first hour, we do little but breathe this place in together, and exhale the last few days away. This place. This is where we’ll truly begin our year.
Working comes easily. We have a list of to-do’s for this day, too, but here, getting things done flows as readily as the lake lightly rippled by the breeze. So we explore things that might’ve been harder somewhere else--our personal strengths and struggles, how we can be more mindful in our learnings and teachings, and how to move forward as a new team, together. These talks are challenging, but they are beautiful, and as we share, our vision of the year ahead becomes ever more clear.
There is one item left on our list, but the day is young, so we stop to eat and laugh. Above us, clouds waver indecisively about whether to rain, while late summer sunbeams promise to keep things warm regardless. After several helpings of delicious food, we’re feeling ready to take on that last to-do: make a statement about the school, one that encapsulates, in one line, what it is we’ll be ever-envisioning for our school as we learn, teach, play, and work alongside our students.
Our team is in full swing; we’re especially pumped about this line, and it shows in our approach; in pursuit of something simple, true, and achievable, we take to willfully weaving our ideal pursuit. Somehow, what we envision has to fit into this one clear-cut sentence. It sounds heavy, it sounds intimidating, and yet for us, melding likeable minds lakeside, under the shifting summer sky, the day’s last to-do is done not long after we’ve begun:
Our vision is a culture empowered by community, compassion and wonder.
We’re finished, but, because we’re feeling pretty great about our day, we decide to keep it going. So into the lake we finally go. Some dive straight in, while some dip toes. Some swim to the raft, and some soon after leap off in a rush after spotting spiders. While we’re laughing and treading water together, The sky finally makes up its mind, and we watch as the wind pushes a warm rainfall across the lake toward us. And we stay put, and keep treading water, and laughing together.
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)
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!