You have to walk the dog.


Me, 40 years since I walked into my Grade 1 classroom not knowing an A from a B. Having learnt a few lessons along the way and experimented with different types of writing, I wonder what the next 40 years will bring?

My third takeaway from writing is that… You have to walk the dog. (Part of the ‘3 for Me’ project by @AmyBurvall)

I think that I learnt the necessity of keeping focused on the things that really matter, like familial responsibilities and using those times to really take a break. For many parents this may be soccer practice or parental taxi duties. The one that sticks in my mind was walking our dog. Soba was his name, a beautiful Vizsla who loved to run on the Ara riverbanks in Tokyo. I was in charge of these escapes and my daughters often came. There were times when university deadlines approached, the fragile novel seemed at a standstill and work (my real job as a principal) was busy and one or two hours in the evening that it took to walk the dog seemed like precious time indeed. At these moments, I consciously lengthened his walk rather than shortening it. This time was as therapeutic for him as it was for me. I took the time to let my mind wander and oftentimes, out of the blue, an idea would come. I carried a little notebook with me always and jotted down whatever came up. In this sense, the takeaway was to embrace those responsibilities in your life, use them as a time of escape from your creativity – a forced procrastination of sorts. Enjoy these times away from your projects and you’ll probably find them surprisingly productive.


Creativity requires us to cultivate our procrastination, not reject it.

Damian_Shaun Wedding

Me, roughly 15 years after learning to write. Just finished a degree in English Literature. All dressed up and nowhere to go, literally. I had published not a single word outside of a classroom, but this was 1990, before the internet. Was there such a time?

My second takeaway from writing projects is that… Creativity requires us to cultivate our procrastination, not reject it. (Part of the ‘3 for Me’ project by @AmyBurvall)

I had always assumed that procrastination is a devilish state of being, just a step above throwing away good food – waste, waste, waste. However, just like all other physical responses, our brains do things for a reason. I tired of thinking about my PhD in the very early stages. I could have cleaned my room, but decided to start writing a novel, or at least the first chapter of a story that I had been talking about with my daughters on our evening dog walks. It seemed so much more interesting than a literature review of discourse patterns in International Baccalaureate classrooms, as surprising as that may seem. I was on a timeline and had to get my literature review done. Writing the first chapter of a yet to be named story at that specific time was pure procrastination folly, but my brain was telling me that I needed a break from academic literature. After writing the chapter, I needed a break from fiction and it felt great to get back to a world of pretend facts. My brain was telling me that I needed a break. I bounced back and forth like this for about five years, reveling in my productive procrastination. My room was only cleaned when I became completely desperate and needed a break from them both. I think that we need a small bank of diverse creative work to continue with, so that we can cultivate our procrastination like this. Trust your brain. You’re never so focused on one thing, as you are when you’re trying to avoid another. We know this. Select a few interesting projects. Jump around, but keep coming back. Procrastinate, and be productively proud of it.


We decide whom we see in the mirror tomorrow.


Me, on the right with a green shirt that says, ‘Here comes trouble’. I had just started Grade 1 which meant, in the early 70s at least, that I had yet to learn how to write. This photo was taken in Papua New Guinea with my brother (the tall one) and a couple of friends. We didn’t write, we played.

My first takeaway (what I’ve learnt from writing) is that… We decide whom we see in the mirror tomorrow. (Part of the ‘3 for Me’ project by @AmyBurvall)

This comes back to our old friend self-doubt (Loved your bubble sketch of that one by the way Amy, from your Bursting Bubbles, Trashing Trolls post). Writing the novels and even more so with an academic monster like a PhD, taught me that doubt is all about self. In fact, in order to doubt someone else, you have to care pretty strongly about what they are doing and in my experience at least, people are too wrapped up in their own bubbles to  take the time to doubt you. Yet, we continue to perceive it, invent it. If they do doubt you, take it as a compliment as they are seeing beyond their own bubble. Self-doubt is self-defeating, it is self-depreciating, it is self-inhibiting and it is self-denying. However, it is not self-destroying, quite the opposite, in fact. It is actually self-preserving, which is very safe, but it is preserving the old you, the one that you saw in the mirror this morning. It is holding back the one you could potentially be seeing in the mirror tomorrow. This is your choice. In this sense, I came to understand through my inner struggles during the writing process that we decide whom we see in the mirror tomorrow by rejecting the self-preserving self-doubt, as safe as it may seem. We do this by taking the plunge, despite the doubt. How bad could it be?


A few notes on ‘3 of Me’ – an upcoming project by @AmyBurvall


My old friend Soba, responsible for takeaway number three. I loved our walks.

I was recently asked by the inspirational @AmyBurvall to contribute to a project that she has dreamed up. Selecting from a series of prompts, I am getting some ideas together related to a specific learning journey. My task is to describe three big takeaways from my hobby/passion/art. I have chosen the general term ‘writing pursuits’ which touches on different aspects of my life. To find out what Amy will do with these ideas, you will have to stay tuned.

Firstly, I needed to address a problem of definition because I do write as a hobby, but I get slightly obsessive about it so I guess you could call it a passion. As an English teacher I would also consider the process of bringing a new idea into the world, in whatever form, art. However, I won’t waste any more of your time or this precious electronic font on the problem of definition. Writing to me is all of these things. Here are my takeaways. I’ll address each in a separate post, framed with some images of me along the way on this writing journey.

First takeaway… We decide whom we see in the mirror tomorrow.

Second takeaway… Cultivate your procrastination.

Third takeaway… You have to walk the dog.


Keep Writing!


Recently, I was asked by the irrepressibly creative @AmyBurvall to say a few words about things that I have learned through one aspect of my life. The first questions that come to mind are which part of life can be chosen and is it possible to isolate an understanding to a single aspect? Parts of my life that come to mind are my work as a principal, my life as a surfer, my penance as an author and my joy as a father. I can’t seem to identify a single understanding of life that can be traced to one of these parts in isolation. I can, however, trace some of these understandings back to the writing process as the stories we tell connect all of the ways that we come to understand the world, or at least an initial glimpse of them. It is story that ties it all together.

This is the greatest benefit of writing, whether it be a tweet, a blog, a personal letter, a diary, a poem or a work of fiction; it helps us to get to know ourselves better. It is simple to get to know someone else. Ourselves, harder. For this reason, keep writing.


‘Service for Learning’ or ‘Learning for Service’


A popular site for our kindly forced-volunteerism, the MS Garden.

As an IB school we have a strong commitment to service, but as with many schools translating the idea of service into the realities of action needs some thought. One of the issues that we have bumped into is the question of what came first, the learning or the service? An infamously difficult question to answer. Also, which one is the driver?

Currently, our school system of requiring students to participate in community service – a kindly forced-volunteerism – is based on the idea that learning will happen through the service projects that we are engaged in. While this may be true, as a school we would hope that the learning we carefully plan for in units of inquiry would further enable students to contribute to the community, to take action, to have a voice.

So it seems that we may not need to answer the question, rather recognize the cyclical nature of the service/learning relationship. Next year, we hope to follow through more consistently with action originating from school based learning and some of this will be in the form of service. Identifying some of the great action that our students are involved in independently and supporting this with further learning incorporated into our units of inquiry is also important. In this sense, the process should incorporate an element of ‘service for learning’ as well as an element of ‘learning for service’, but only if we widen our focus.