Being Lifelong Learners – Episode 8

In this episode Beth talks with her parents, Ron and Elaine Cougler, and her brother, Kevin Cougler, about being lifelong learners and how that has presented itself in their family. Listen for ideas to take into your own life and relationships – with family, friends, or colleagues – about how to be and support each other as lifelong learners.

The Cougler Family also explore:

  • Learning when we’re ready to learn and seeking out learning
  • Supporting and being supported by people in our life
  • The effort it takes to be lifelong learners
  • Taking risks and learning from failure

Engage with Ron, Elaine, and Kevin Cougler

Other Links from the Episode

Connect with Beth

Connect with the Facilitating on Purpose Podcast

Podcast cover art by Emily Johnston of Artio Design Co.
Podcast production services by Mary Chan of Organized Sound Productions

Show Transcript

[Upbeat music playing]

[Show intro]
Beth
Welcome, to Facilitating on Purpose, where we explore ideas together about designing and facilitating learning. Join me to get inspired on your journey to becoming and being a great facilitator wherever you work. I’m your host, Beth Cougler Blom.

[Episode intro]
Beth
Hello, I am so glad you’re here. This is Episode 8 and in this episode I want to introduce you to three very important people in my life. These are my parents, Ron and Elaine Cougler, and my brother, Kevin Cougler. I decided to do this episode as kind of a special episode. I was never intending to drop a second episode in December. But I’ve gotten so excited about podcasting that now I’m thinking about all the people in my life that I could also interview [laughs] and put on the podcast. But I wanted to start with my family because my parents were high school teachers, my brother and I both went into education in different ways, and I was ruminating and thinking about how the example that our parents set for Kevin and I really led us both on the path to becoming lifelong learners. And I was wondering what they would say about how they did that, even if they did it intentionally, or not. So in this conversation, we talk about lifelong learning, what that looks like, the elements within. Sometimes we talk about hard work, we talk about confidence. We talk about the importance of thinking for yourself, about taking a risk, how we seek out lifelong learning throughout our life and what that looks like informal and formal ways. I really enjoyed this conversation, both because it helps me kind of record for our own family some of the things that we almost never get a chance to talk about or never make the time to talk about, but I hope it’s helpful for you too maybe in your family interactions, or with your friends and peers, or maybe even with the people that you work with. How are you supporting each other in your efforts to be lifelong learners? How are you creating environments around each other so that you can thrive and be confident and grow? So settle back, have a listen to the four of us kind of riff with each other about lifelong learning. You’re going hear us kid each other around a little bit as well, get an insight into our family life together. I hope you enjoy the show.

Beth
I thought I could start out by asking each of you to introduce somebody else in the room, because I feel like my listeners are going to know a little bit about who I am, but I was wondering if you’d be game for me asking each of you to introduce one of the other? And then just tell everybody a little bit about what you think people need to know about the other person. Okay, so Kevin, can you introduce Dad for us? What do people need to know about Dad? Ron, otherwise known as Ron.

Kevin
I would prefer to do, Mom.

Beth
What? [They both laugh.] Okay. Sure, be difficult right off the bat! [laughs]

Kevin
Sorry.

Beth
Okay. [laughs] Kevin, would you introduce Mom, Elaine?

Kevin
So, Elaine Cougler is my mother, who was an awesome teacher for many, many years, her entire career in the education system. Then she took a new challenge under her wing and became an author of some historical fiction novels. But I think the best way to describe my mother in relation to me, if I am introducing her, is that she is my educational champion. She is the one that always pushed me. Didn’t always, you know, achieve success with that pushing, I will freely admit. However, she is definitely the one that you know, always championed that educational path for me. Not to say that Dad didn’t, but Mom was a little more insistent in a very encouraging and nurturing way.

Beth
That’s so nice. Thanks, Kevin. Mom, would you introduce Dad for us?

Elaine
Yeah, I think I could probably take 10 hours to do that. But probably, I should just say that he’s the best man I’ve ever known in my life. And he’s the one that listens to people, cares about people, is more interested in other people’s thoughts about things than his own. And he’s just a really positive, positive person. He was a high school business teacher, taught law and those types of subjects. And his students loved him because he was so positive with them and encouraged them to be the best they could be. And we’ve been married 56 years now, and he’s spent all those years thinking about what he can do to help the rest of us in the family and in the larger world. So yeah, I’m a pretty lucky woman. Ron Cougler. [Ron laughs]

Beth
Hmm. And Dad, that leaves you with Kevin. I’m sorry, I didn’t plan it that way. [They both laugh.]

Ron
That’s OK.

Beth
Can you introduce Kevin for us?

Ron
I’m happy to introduce Kevin. And so I’m not sure how I make this short because we have such a long life together. I’ll try to pick some highlights on top of my memory if I can I guess. The first time was really when Kevin was born and when he was born and they wheeled him out of the operating room, in those days, men…husbands didn’t go into the operating room when their wives were giving birth or whatever. And so they roll Kevin out beside mom, and he looked up at me, and I thought, this is pretty cool. I think he recognized me or something. And so that was the start of that, that long, long relationship. And so fast forwarding to all the school, it’s been a delight to watch Kevin. And watching all those years in elementary and high school and all the stuff that Kevin was doing, and you know, and I think I think Kevin felt his oats. And I think that was exactly what we wanted him to do. He was involved in all kinds of stuff. He played baseball, and he played basketball, and he was involved in different things. And certainly, some of the stuff that was musical of course, Kevin went on and got his degree from McMaster [University] in music. And now he’s been in business for years, doing a fantastic job in business. And so it’s fun to see somebody that took a stream and went through a music program and ended up totally doing a 180 and taking whatever he could from his learning and being successful in the business world. And so that’s been fantastic. The only other thought that comes to mind, I think, was that special year in Grade 13. The OAC, as we called it then, is that when Kevin went to transfer to CASS to, to take a program up there. We had that whole year where we drove in and out together every day. And so those were special conversations that I think of always. I’m not sure that we’ve had those kinds of conversations since because we just had that experience, day in and day out, talking about life and talking about his goals and all that kind of stuff. And so that was a really highlight of me as being a dad, and being able to share that time with him and to see what he’s become now. And heading up this not for profit corporation, which he’s done so well at. I’m just tickled to death. And so very lucky, all that time period. And I think where we are today, how can I get much luckier than this already?

Beth
I feel like we could just spend all day introducing each other. I love that!

Kevin
But nobody has introduced you yet, Beth.

Beth
I was just thinking, maybe I should give you a chance to introduce me, to tell people what they might not know about me.

Elaine
We have two children and our two children are very, very different in many ways. But in many ways, they’re similar. And Beth was always the one that pretty much was a good kid, did what she was supposed to, and so on. But she, all the time she was growing up she was taking in those lessons of life. And she has become this amazing person who has confidence, who supports other people, who does anything she can to help anybody. And she’s especially wonderful to us, her parents. So yes, she’s a businesswoman, and she does all that stuff, and so on. But she’s an amazing person. And I happen to think that the best thing we do in our life is to raise our children to be good, contributing, and wonderful human beings. And both our kids have done that.

Beth
Thank you. I love that. And I think that’s why I wanted to have this conversation with you three today, because I was reflecting…I guess especially when I wrote the book and I was thinking about the impact all three of you made on my life. You know, you go to write the the acknowledgments, and you know, it’s Mom and Dad, you kind of showed me the way of being an educator, and I don’t really even knew if you knew you were doing that. But then I was thinking about you, Kevin, too, and how, you know, Dad talked about the way you shaped your career. And I was always kind of watching you as well. So you’ve you’ve all been very impactful for me in becoming an educator in the way I became an educator.

So Mom and Dad, maybe we can start with Dad. I mean, you two were high school teachers. And I’ve actually talked on the podcast before about how I did want to be a high school teacher at one point, but I kind of got knocked off that path. But I eventually found my way back to education. Of course Kevin is in education in a different way. Did you realize at the time that you could make an impact on us in that way, being educators?

Ron
My background story on this one, Beth, is maybe I haven’t talked about much of the family. But of course, when I went into the business world, into accounting, and working on my accounting degree for two years, and that, in that particular field of endeavour, we ended up working, I think it was like four weeks in a row. I worked Saturday and Sunday, I worked seven days a week for four weeks in a row. And your mother said, you know something? This isn’t really what I signed up for. And so that made me sit back and reflect and think about what that was doing to us and to our marriage. And your mom said, you know, I can almost remember the night we had the conversation, your mom said, you know, have you thought about teaching? What do you think about teaching, because she said I think you’d be good at that and then I wonder if we should go down that road? She had taken two years to finish her degree and so it was the best change, whole change in my life that I could have expected to happen. I had talked about teaching and then a university history course turned me right off teaching and I thought well that’s not going to happen. And so then I went into the business world. And then I had this reflective moment with your mom.

And so then, so fast forward all those 30 years kind of thing. That’s all because your mom sort of led me down that path. And I appreciate all her nice comments. I think it was a real changing point for me to experience that and find out what that was like. And I think she pointed me in the direction that literally was the best place for me to be. I liked the holidays, I thought that was great. I thought the kids were okay, you know. And I think more than that, it was good, the topic of your session with us today, Beth is about lifelong learning. And I think that particular profession, if you embrace it, and endorse it for the world it opens to you, is amazing. And so I think that’s the part that your mom and I really love to do, because we we didn’t figure out our lessons for year one and think oh we’re going to do this for the next 30 years. Every year was a new challenge for us. New kids, new programs. And so that was that was the best part of that whole thing, was going through all those 5000 kids and meeting all kinds of different wonderful teachers and six schools. And so I wish everybody could have that experience. We don’t need everybody to be teaching of course. But it is been fabulous for me. I feel like I’ve digressed off your question, now, because I’ve rambled on. And so I hope I’ve answered what you were trying to ask me to to answer for you.

Beth
Well, maybe I’ll ask Kevin about it too, because I think what I’m hearing in what you’re saying, Dad, is that you were kind of figuring it out along the way. And you found teaching and you know, you were I think fulfilled by that, but you did kind of different things, in your teaching along the way as well, and you kind of figured it out. But maybe by osmosis, Kevin and I saw this example in the both of you, of you being lifelong learners, and you you know, you were always going to courses and kind of trying to better yourselves, but it was not just the professional side that we saw of you. It was the personal side, it was the the way you brought lifelong learning into our family and into you know, having fun together. Kevin, anything coming up for you here about what we saw in Mom and Dad as we were growing up?

Kevin
Yeah, the first is that, you know, these things kind of happen just because they happen in the house. So, you know, for starters, there was never any question, Beth, and you probably agree with me, that at some point, Mom and Dad just assumed we were going to university. [Beth laughs.] You know, there was discussions around the dinner table about that, in the car, you know, and other various, you know, places as we were growing up. So I mean, it was never a question of, oh, well, maybe you’ll just graduate and go work for, you know, a local company or something. No, we’re, I don’t even want to use the word expecting because I never felt pressured. It was just, you know, this is just the next evolution of your educational path is that you’re going to end up in university. Having said that, you know, I wasn’t sure for a while that that would actually happen for me and, you know, applied for colleges out of Grade 12. So I think it started there with that expectation. And I remember car rides where we would tour the University of Western Ontario campus. And as we toured through, and Mom and Dad would point out certain places where they maybe spent a date or you know, were in residence or whatever it happens to be, or went to functions that took place at, you know, various buildings or whatever within the campus, it was, you know, this is where you might end up, you know, was the, the underlying current, I think of that intention behind those drives. The other factor there was, you know, just in what Mom and Dad did every day. We saw teachers who prepared the night before for, you know, whatever their lessons were the next day. We saw them marking and, you know, doing whatever needed to be done on the weekends, late at nights. So we saw that work ethic that was attached to that, which I think is a key component as well to all of this, you know, to this discussion. So, you know, they trailblazed for us in that respect, they, you know, I don’t recall any conversations about that, but it’s just it was there by example, right, they’re leading by example, and we are seeing what their commitment was and their path, you know, toward that goal. So I think that was that had a, an effect on us as well, you know, just just seeing two professionals, and knowing that they got, you know, to that place through their commitment to lifelong learning.

Ron
Normally I let your mom do this, Beth, but I’m gonna do this this time, because what Kevin just said about Ben, our grandson, his son, Ben and our grandson of course, and we were in London, we had a few minutes to spare. So I took Ben up to the Western campus. So something’s repeating itself in here because I just took him around, showed him my old business school and I thought, let’s just get the flavour of this. He’s, he’s 13. But it’s, it’s exactly what Kevin said. We just we don’t talk about it much, I don’t think, with our grandchildren, but we just assume both of them will go on to university because they’re bright kids and that’s just kind of the way of life, is just just kind of what our family does, I think which is which is fabulous to have that feeling.

Beth
It’s not that we think that people who are smart, you know, always have to go to university. But that just was the path that you chose, the both of you, and so we we saw that happening. And I think, you know, it just laid the groundwork for us. Mom, what’s going through your mind now? Were you conscious that you were role modeling for us? And did you do that intentionally or was some of it accidental?

Elaine
I think our family is like so many families, that we’re all individual people. But one thing that has come to me over the years is to realize how much each of the four of us are more artsy type people. So for your Dad and I, I mean, we were always having discussions about this, that and the other thing, and one of the wonderful things about teaching for us was that every year, yes, we got new kids and that was great. But every year, we maybe got a different subject we could teach. So there was always lifelong learning involved in that. And every time you wanted to do something, you had to go and take a course and figure it out. And I’ve taken so many courses, and not all of them academic type courses, but have never taken a course that did not help me in some way. And I think that’s just the way the four of us are. That we’re really lousy at science and that kind of stuff and thank goodness that other people are good at that, but we’re not. But we are good at the words and the thinking of ideas and the idea of how beautiful a sound of a word can be and those types of things. And we use our words. And that’s how I grew up. My mom was that kind of person too. And I really believe that in our society, it would be nice if we gave equal weight to those of us who are word oriented people. Because it’s, you can read anything, you can read stories, you could do all of this stuff and you can learn so much. Never spent any time in my life where there wasn’t a whole bunch more things I wanted to learn. I always said I’d never live long enough to learn all the things I wanted to learn.

Beth
I’ve said that, too. Probably because I heard you saying it, too, and I took it to heart. Yeah. I feel like I should let Kevin jump in because, you know, you’re in a business where science is very important to your business. And I think it’s not that we’re, you know, maybe we were not great, you and I, in school-based science. But I think informally, both you and I have been interested in science, scientific types of things, news, you know, astronomy, maybe particularly I kind of see in both of us. So we found a way, I think to get to science that worked for us eventually. What do you say about that, Kevin?

Kevin
Yeah, I think it’s a deeper issue for me, you know. And I think about human beings, and how we learn, and our brains and the complexities of the brain. But I think it’s very interesting to your point, Beth, that perhaps, you know, we didn’t really pony up to science as one of our favorite courses, you know, as we were going through school. But isn’t it interesting that something evolutionary based, perhaps, you know, comes into our brains later on, where we can embrace something that, earlier in our lives, we weren’t able to or didn’t have much interest in. Now, I’ll give you an example of that. You know, in one of the courses in high school, my Grade 12 advanced math – I was terrible at that. I did not understand these fundamental concepts of whatever the teacher was trying to teach me. I ended up taking the general course so I could get my credit, you know, the next term. But then, years later, when I was not in university but had graduated and I was working at McMaster, and something in me made me take that Grade 12 advanced math course, again. You guys probably forgot about this, but I did that. And it was fine. You know, so there’s something, my brain perhaps wasn’t ready at the at that time, in, you know, grade 9, 10, 11, and 12, to do well at science or math, but later on, you know, I was I was able to do it, and I don’t recall what my mark was, but it wasn’t horrible. [Laughs] So that’s good. You know, so I think there’s something to that. The other point I wanted to make, just to go back to Mom’s previous point, she mentioned that she was taking courses and, you know, I completely forgot about that. But that has an impact as well, because both Mom and Dad took courses as adults. And that was just a natural thing for them to consider to do and that as adults, you know, when we take professional development courses, or, you know, when I redid my Grade 12 math, or I think I redid a university course at one point as well, but it’s not a thing for me to…it’s not a barrier for me to think about, well, why would I ever take a course as an adult? Of course, I’m going to take one because I had the example there in front of me that this is just a natural part of learning and a natural part of life. So I’m very thankful that we had that example.

Beth
Yeah, I think I remember, Mom, you took me to Wilfrid Laurier [University] I think one time as a little kid, when you were doing a course there, and it was probably just because you needed a babysitter or something, I don’t know. [Laughs] Maybe she canceled at the last minute. But I remember being there, and I ended up going to Laurier for my own degree, my first degree and so who knows, right? I just, but I remember distinctly being in that building, because it was perhaps such an unusual experience, but an impactful one.

Elaine
That’s a really interesting thing, what you just said, I forgot I did that. But what Kevin said about later on, he was ready to learn those things. And I think that’s something that we, as parents have to do in our families, is we have to realize – maybe the education system isn’t that good at realizing this – but certainly as teachers, Ron and I knew that girls developed at a certain rate in certain things and boys developed a certain rate. And so later on, you’re ready to do things that you weren’t ready to earlier on. And that brings up the point of lifelong learning. I was terrible at science, I was the only person in that, when they used to tell you what you had to take, and I was the only person in Grade 11 and 12 who did not take physics and chemistry, because I found out that they you really didn’t have to. The Ontario government did not require you to do that. And I was the only person in that great big school in Grade 11 and 12 who didn’t take those things, because they didn’t suit me at that time. But when I went to university I had to take a lab science, and I absolutely loved it. So what does that tell you about my brain development? You know, and so I think we have to maybe have a bigger picture when we’re looking at what our kids are choosing and so on, and not think that what they’re choosing in grade nine is what they’re choosing for their life. They’re not.

Beth
That’s such a great point and it makes me think about how great you two were in just letting us figure it out for ourselves. I mean, you see in the movies, and you know, there’s all this conflict in families because, you know, parents are telling their kids what to do. And, and I don’t think you really did that with us. I was just laughing with with my daughter Chelsea the other day about how I worked in housekeeping at UBC for the first month after I graduated [laughs] with my Bachelor’s degree, because I wanted to work at the front desk of Gage Residence, it was called at the time. And I look back and go, yeah, I said to Chelsea, Grandma and Grandpa never said anything about how I was going into housekeeping, you know, just having graduated from my degree. And you didn’t even remember that Mom, because we talked about the other day. And not to disparage people that you know, are housekeepers, of course, but it was something I just kind of fell into. But you never said anything, either one of you, about almost any of the career choices I made. But I felt like you were always there to be able to support me and talk about it. But you never said, What are you doing? Like, what are you doing with your life? [Laughs] Or, What’s your plan? But somehow I knew that you were always going to support us, both Kevin and I. Dad, any comments?

Ron
Yeah, a couple of things come to mind. My first thought is about, I wrote down the word failure here a second ago, I think, because after Kevin said something that kind of triggered my memory about failure. And I think one of the things we really liked to impart to our students in education was the idea that failure was okay, you know. And you hear this from a lot of people who are entrepreneurs now. Don’t worry about failure. If you learn from it, that’s what you do. And so when I went off for my accounting degree, I failed a couple of different courses there. And then when I took my new accounting degree, the CMA, by correspondence, I failed the first exam, the first time I tried that. I thought, holy cow, am I batting my head against the wall, what the heck is this? And so I thought, No, I’m gonna stick with this, because I really, I need to prove myself I’m not as stupid as these results seem to think I am. And so I finally did get this. And when I did write the final exam, one of the final exams for my CMA, I got a very high mark in it. And I had a fairly good ranking across the country, as a matter of fact, I had done well. So I think the good thing about that experiencing that on your own, and your mother’s had that as well, you know, because, of course, she took at university. And so we’ve both gone that route. And so we’re able to say to you kids, you know, it’s okay, failure is okay, what do you learn from it? Maybe that’s not your path. Look for something different out there. Maybe that’s not really you. But I think that’s just one of those human characteristics that if you pick up it’s good to pass along. And so lifelong learning doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful at everything. It really doesn’t. You may experience that block, what’s the end run? Where do we go from here? What’s my next choice? Out of all the life lessons I think we sort of hope we passed along to our students. That’s one that I hope that I left a really good imprint on their minds and say, It’s okay, move on, put it behind you and see what else is around the corner.

Kevin
Sometimes the learning, Dad, is that we learn that we’re not good at something. [Ron laughs.] And that’s okay, because we’re still learning. [Laughs]

Ron
When I took my old departmental courses for grade 13, I got a 50 in Chemistry and a 51 in Physics. I found out after that the way the marking went, they actually gave me that 50 didn’t really earn it at all! [Laughs] And I thought, well that’s not good news to know. I think it was I thought at least I was getting something but it’s too funny.

Kevin
Well, we’re finding out some things about you, Dad, on this podcast, that we didn’t know before! [Ron laughs] This is very interesting! [Laughs]

Ron
This is like a catharsis for me today, just to cleanse my soul and my spirit for everybody!

Kevin
You know, Beth, one of the points that I wanted to bring up, if I can just kind of switch gears real quickly here is, you know, the other groups that influence, you know, this concept of lifelong learning, and what are those groups and, and one of those groups along the way, certainly Mom and Dad had their influence, and, you know, sometimes as teenagers, you tend to tune out the parental influence. Which is why your peer group is so important. And Mom and Dad fought to keep me in that advanced stream in high school and so therefore I was with a peer group, you know, either intentionally or unintentionally, that all had, you know, designs that they were going to go into some post secondary institution somewhere. Some of them were from the farms, and they would go to Ridgetown or go to a college and that was their career path that they chose, and they wanted to do, and others were going on to different universities, you know, across Canada, in one way or another. So I think that’s super important as well, if you can get in with that peer group that kind of reinforces what your parents are, you know, trying to teach you, you know, that really helps you influence that decision as well.

Beth
Yeah. And you’re making me think, too, you know, peers, but also other maybe older mentors that are helpful along the way. And I know, Kevin, you benefited from working with Ron Calhoun. I feel like he was one of those people, too, along with Mom and Dad’s guidance and other guidance you were probably getting from other supervisors and stuff you’ve had along the way. But maybe, Ron Calhoun was one of those people for you?

Kevin
Yeah, it’s interesting. He wouldn’t be the first actually. You know, I had two mentors during my time at Partners in Research, and one was certainly Ron. Ron encouraged me by allowing me to try new ideas and learn and fail. You know he was very supportive that way. So when I came to him with a new idea and said, Hey, I think we should go in this direction, even if he didn’t agree with it he would allow me to learn from that failure. They weren’t all failures, by the way, I had some successes. But the gentleman I’d really like to point out is Dr. Doug Jones. Doug was a researcher at University of Western Ontario, now Western University, of course. Doug was the chair of our board when I was the Executive Director of Partners in Research. And he came to me after I got the job, and he said, you know, Congratulations, we’re so pleased to have you into this, you know, take on this role. What courses will you be taking? And I said, What do you mean, what courses? Like I’m the Executive Director, I have arrived. Okay. This is this is my this, we’re going forward from here. And he says, No, Kevin, you’re just at the start of what you’re about to learn. And so I really encourage you to maybe start with, you know, some leadership courses, because now you are the leader, and everybody is looking to you. I was resistant a little bit because I thought, well, I was hired because I am a leader. But no, he was right. And I continue to learn this day, every day, in fact, you know, from the lessons that I learned from taking those leadership courses at Western University. So big shout out and a thank you to one of my mentors, Doug Jones, along the path of my journey.

Beth
I guess I’ll make a shout out myself first to a woman named Anne Schlorff who I worked with at Region of Waterloo Public Health. And this was going back, you know, 20 some odd years ago. Doesn’t seem like that long, but Anne was my Director of Public Health. And I think I was the youngest person on the management team and there must have been 20 or 30 managers, I’m trying to remember. It was a very big public health unit. And Anne came to me, we were in the unit that was the administrative support for the department. And we were, you know, a pretty big unit ourselves within public health but Anne said, Beth, I want you to run the management meeting with all of these 20, you know, 20-30 managers. And inwardly I thought, Me? I’m the youngest person on the team! [Laughs] Why me? Right, it was kind of scary, I suppose. Kind of stressful. But for some reason, Anne saw in me that I could do that. And of course, outwardly, I just said, Yes, I’ll do that. And I did. And I somehow was able to wrangle these much older people than me in this meeting. But it was definitely one of those, you know, maybe maybe there was a bit of failing forward there, but just kind of sucking it up and going, Okay, I’m going to do this, obviously, Anne sees something in me that I’m going to be able to facilitate these meetings and who knows, you know, years later, I haven’t kept in touch with her, maybe she’d be interested to know that, you know, I became a facilitator and maybe she helped me get my start in some way, shape or form.

Mom, you mentioned your mother, Alice Garner, and she has definitely been someone I’ve thought about over the years as showing you and your family the way of being a lifelong learner. What’s maybe coming up for you about, about Grandma and Grandpa about how they role modeled for you?

Elaine
Both of them had a huge effect on me but especially Mom. In that book, the latest book that I wrote about the first 20 years of my life growing up in a farm and I was one of 13 children. And, you know, people always thought that because we were from the farm that we didn’t have this and we didn’t have that. And it just shows you how silly people were back in the day. They labeled you. And I think we still label people for that matter. But my parents, they opened the door for us, and let us decide whether to step through or not. You know, I tell the story about my dad, when my guidance teacher had said, you know, we’ve got test scores here that show you should be going to university, but maybe because there’s so many children and blah, blah, blah, I don’t know what he said. He said, maybe what you would like to do is become an elementary teacher, and then you can work off your degree, while you’re working, and you’ve got some income coming in. It sounded like a good plan. I went home and I told my father and he said, Do you want to be an elementary teacher? And I said, No. And he said, Well, you’re going to university. And that’s the kind of support that I had behind me. And my Mom, she was always there and showing us, you must do this. And it was very much an in the box sort of thing as far as that’s concerned. But you know, there’s safety and comfort and learning that goes on in the box, too. And it allows you then eventually, to be able to step out of the box.

My mom, when she was 11, I’ve told you guys a story before, she went into the radio station in London, or in Stratford – that would have been in 1934. And she was 11 years old, she went into the radio station, and she got a job being on the radio, singing. She had her own program. It was a 15 minute live program that she did every week. And she had to learn new songs, and perform them on the radio. And this was a shy girl. And this is what she did. And I’m blown away today by that because how many 11 year olds do you know that would have the guts to do that? And that’s who she was. She quietly saw what she wanted to do, and found the way. And back to Dad…Dad was always the one who, when we’d all bring our kids home and we’d be there on a Sunday afternoon or something and we’d all be chat chat chatting and we had so many opinions about this, that and the other thing, and Dad would wait till we all said our piece. And then he would come out with something just so clever. And he would just tie up the topic. I knew then why he had the political career that he had, and so on, and why he was so well respected. And I’ve tried to do that myself. I still, you know, want to be jumping in there. But I learned a lot from both my parents.

Beth
Well, your mom, she also ran for office in the early 70s, didn’t she and this was a woman, people won’t know that you know, she and your dad had 13 children. You were one of 13. And she also, going back to what you said before, Kevin, about effort. I mean, you don’t have to run for political office with 13 children of you know, there were various ages, of course, and some grown up by that point. But that that is an effort thing that I saw her particularly doing. I mean, of course, in hindsight, I wasn’t born at that time, I don’t think. But the effort piece was there in those two, and I think that trickled down to all of us.

Elaine
I think that our job as parents, then, from my parents for Ron and me, and for you guys with your children, our job is to show our children that there is a way to be and it’s not to just do what everybody tells you to do, it’s to think for yourself and have the courage to step out on your own and that’s what I saw my parents do.

Kevin
So you know, if I relate this to science, let’s use a term like chromosome or enzyme. Okay, so what is it about one’s ability to take the risk of doing a new course, learning something new, putting yourself out there? What is that based on? Is it something that is biological? Is it something that’s environmental? Is it something that’s chemical? I don’t know. But what is that, what do they call that, the boys particle, that they discovered at CERN?

Beth
Kevin, we have no idea! You know that we…[laughs]

Kevin
They call it the God Particle.

Beth
We’ll look it up after. [Laughs]

Kevin
OK. [Laughs] But what is it about you know, what, what happens and you know, certainly, you know, of course, it’s environmental and you know, your parents have an influence on you as well. But there is a humongous risk to that isn’t there? Like, I’m gonna take another course in my mid…let me use my wife as an example. She is an amazing person, right? So she taught for eight years. And you know, once she got into her late 20s, like 29 or 30, she decided to go back to school to be a chiropractor. Like, didn’t go for a basket weaving course. Went for chiropractic. Four years intense, you know, medical, akin to medical training. What is that chromosomal element that allowed her to take that risk to then, you know, take it to the next level for her lifelong learning chapter? And there’s something there as well. Neither one of her parents were university graduates, her stepfather also not if I’m not mistaken. You know, she was a university graduate, but she took it one step further, like that’s a humongous amount of risk that could have ended very badly and had some detrimental effects. And obviously we all know it didn’t and she’s a very successful and a very smart lady. But you know, there’s something there that, and I don’t know what it is, that drives certain people to take that chance.

Beth
That’s so interesting. I mean, we’ve been talking a lot about the sort of nurture piece of nature versus nurture. And so you’re bringing up the nature. I mean, what was it that was within all of us, within the your wife, Leanne? Is there something just that we happen to get that made us questers or something? And risk takers, because we learn a lot, and we kind of get juiced and jazzed on that learning, don’t we, by taking a risk? Dad, you we haven’t let you speak for a while [they all laugh], what’s coming up for you?

Ron
Just another day in the life of our family, I would say. [They all laugh again.] I was thinking as your mom was talking about her, like her background with a big family, I came from a smaller family, as you know, with just three of us. And I was the youngest. And so there was something about the way I was raised that gave me inner confidence. I think it stems from my mom, just because she was such a terrific lady and she somehow she just inculcated into me somehow, you know that I was going to be okay, whatever I was going to do kind of thing. And so, my parents never worried about me succeeding. They somehow left the impression on me that I was on my own, ever since I was really young. And as I reflect on, I think that’s probably why. As I remember, one particular story, since you’re looking for stories, Beth, about when I was working in Banff in the summer of 63, I’d finished first year university. And I called home to my home in Preston and Dad, the marks had come from Western. He said, Your marks came from Western. I said, Well, did you open them? He said no. He said, I can’t do that they’re yours. I said, well open them up. He opened them up and there was this long pause. And I thought, well, what is that? And it turns out, I just eked through first year university apparently, and I had a better time than I thought! [Elaine laughs.]

Kevin
Another story that’s coming out! [Laughs]

Beth
Another tell all! [Laughs]

Ron
It was great. And he never said boo. He said, his remark, his comment was just calm as day, Well, you could have done better. And I had a D average too. And so I thought, well, holy cow. First of all, I shouldn’t have got a D. I better smarten up when I got back, which I did the second year that I’ve learned my lesson, but it was so telling that he would just think, you know, it was saying to me again, it’s up to you. We’re not doing that for you. Either you smarten up, or you get through university or you know, there’s nothing we can do. So I think that was the back behind the scenes message that the kind of thing I was raised with. It’s you know, it’s up to you, Ron. What do you what do you want to do with your life? You, you figure it out?

Kevin
Can I just point it out in a very loving way, Dad, that it looks like you had the lowest first year average out of the four of us? [They all laugh.]

Beth
Confirmed!

Ron
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because look where I am now! [Laughs]

Beth
But I think you know, maybe they just kind of kept back so that you could, you know, do your own thing there. Because I think innately within you, Dad, I don’t have enough fingers to count all the times, you’ve kind of walked into a room and said, I got a great business idea. [Ron and Beth laugh.] You know, like you’re always thinking, there’s just something within you to drive you forward. You know that curiosity, I think is in both you and Mom and Kevin and I somehow got it. And the curious piece has been something I’ve really reflected on. Like, I’m a curious person. I think that really behooves me in the work that I ended up choosing to do and still do. Does that bring up anything for any of you?

Elaine
Your dad got me thinking too that I think it is so important – and his mother was a phenomenal lady in so many ways. And the number one way she was is that she always made everybody in a room with her feel good about what they were doing. And she gave her children that confidence to be who they were going to be. And I hope that’s what we did for our children. And I don’t know, I sound like I’m on a soapbox here, but I feel this is the most important, we as people, and certainly as parents, it’s the most important thing we can do is impart that to our children, that they are all right. It makes me think of your cousin Sherry’s concert the other night, and she titled it, she turned 50, she titled it, I Am Enough. And I think that is an amazing message to give people. Because we spend far too much time in our lives thinking about our shortcomings. And you know, we need to not take other people’s assessments of us so much, but we need to look at ourselves and decide, is this who I want to be? Is this what I want to be? What do I want to do? And then have the courage to move on those thoughts. And that all starts with little children and reading to them and giving them books and opening their minds up to ideas. So I’m very big on that whole thing about reading to your kids. Yeah.

Kevin
That really resonates with me, Mom, especially when you talk about confidence and how to impart confidence on your children or on others that come into your circle of influence. So I’ll relate this to the world of sports. You know, when I coach basketball I don’t expect, you know, one of the athletes on the first day to be able to leap through the air and create a slam dunk. So you know, you have to take that approach, in my opinion, in parenting, in leadership and all of its aspects, and put people in positions where they can succeed more often than not. And by doing that, and you make those goals realistic, so that they can achieve those goals and develop that feeling of confidence in themselves that makes them want to try for that next rung on the ladder. What does that happen to be and what does that look like? You know, so you take them through that pattern, and through their life or through their childhood. And it doesn’t stop there, of course. But that feeling of confidence really needs to be nurtured and supported that way.

Beth
It’s funny that it’s come up because confidence comes up a lot in my work, I’m kind of realizing that now. That you know, a lot of my clients come to me and, and we’re talking about the training they want to create with or their groups or whatever. And a lot of times the talk is about confidence. It’s so key.

Kevin
So you get the report card back. Right, Dad talked about his first year, and how his father handled that. So you know how many and this is a very simple one, how many of us parents know that our children are capable of doing much more than actually appears on the report card? Well, a lot of us. But we have a choice when that report card comes home. Do we say, You met the expectations, well done. Here’s what you could maybe try a little more, you know, next time? Or what do you think you could do better? Or do we say, you know, you only got a  72 in this course, that’s unacceptable. All right. So it’s more about you know, what did they think should be their targets? And you know, where they can go. So try and support them and say, Well done on the 72. But what do you think you should get on that course? And if they say, you know, I studied every day, I just couldn’t do any better, I’m so frustrated. You know, then you support them in that moment, and say, well, good job, great job on the 72. You know, and let me know if I can help in any way. But if it’s 72, and they say, Well, you know, I didn’t really work for it and I just kind of showed up the day of the exam. Well, what do you think you could maybe do a little better next time, right? So it’s those expectations tempered with success versus failure. And, you know, and how do we measure that in ratio terms to build confidence I think.

Elaine
Kevin said, to build confidence. I think that’s one of our big jobs too. And when Kevin was in Grade 10, he was like so many kids in Grade 10. Of course, we taught those grades so we knew what we were dealing with, you know. He said to me, he got his report, and he said to me, or maybe both of us, I can’t really remember. But he said, you know, he had failed science. And we never said anything to him about it. And a couple of weeks later, he said, I thought you would really get mad at me about that. And I said to him, Kevin, you are this old. You’re a smart kid. If you want to do better, you will. It’s up to you. And at that point, I think he knew that his dad and I just figured whatever was going to happen in school, he knew what to do. We knew he was smart enough. He just had to make up his own mind. And I think the best lesson that we, as parents, can give is that our kids have the ability to shape their own path in that way.

Kevin
Just using myself as an example, we seem to be doing that today, which is fine, however… [Laughs]

Elaine
Beth was the best kid in the world! [Beth laughs]

Kevin
Yes, yes. Kind of feeling a little sibling envy here but anyways! [They all laugh]. As I think about my own high school career, you know, I was very focused on, you know, having making friends and, you know, the sports teams and all of the extracurriculars that came along with that. But there was something in me that turned it on, you know, in the middle of Grade 12. Yeah, failed that course in Grade 10, failed another course in Grade 12. But something clicked and went, geez, I really need to get my act together. Now it’s time to really start studying, it’s time to really make an effort, because my ultimate goal is that university that I want to get into, and I think, if Mom and Dad were describing me at that age, they would say, there was a switch that flipped once I went to CASS, and, you know, was in that Grade 13 year, there was there’s definitely a lot of maturing that happened, you know, from one year to the next, essentially.

Beth
It’s that failure thing that I think Dad was talking about earlier, right? It’s like a little failure is actually a really good thing. And as a parent, to see my my kiddo fail, you know, my typical response is, Well, I think you know, what you need to do. [Laughs]. It involves me supporting but not doing for her. And I see a lot of parents kind of getting in there and really doing for and I don’t mind her failing at something if it teaches her a lesson to work a little harder next time or whatnot. So yeah.

Kevin
I have a question for all of you. I feel like I’m taking over the host role. Sorry, Beth!

Beth
Can it be our last question?

Kevin
Yeah, yes.

Beth
That would be good.

Kevin.
You’re gonna love this one, you’re gonna love this one. So my question would be, since the topic is lifelong learning, what are each of you going to do next?

Ron
Aside from the stuff I’m doing for the [STEM Camp] Foundation, which I think is a fabulous organization that Kevin set up. And so that’s my main thing is to try to do something with that for the benefit of students and teachers. But on the side, I am working with this fellow in British Columbia about another business that I’ve had, curiously enough, tried to get going for 20 or 30 years, I guess. But we’re working on a new concept now called digitization, and how we take learning and I think it’s going to be elementary and/or high school to a next level kind of thing. And so I’ve been dealing with this guy for about a year just in my spare time and having conversations with him. He’s extremely bright. Keeping with your theme of lifelong learning Beth, I still think, I’m excited about this. I’ve been working at this with this fellow for 12 months, I see another 12 months on the horizon, just trying to…because I think what we have is a nugget of a fabulous idea that’s going to make changes in education. And so I get really excited about that. I’m not involved in teacher education, and certainly not the way I used to be 30 years ago kind of thing. But I, I embrace this whole idea about thinking about this, if I could do something for education at this stage of my life at my age, how fabulous would this be. I don’t care about a legacy, that word doesn’t really interest me at all. But if we could do something between this gentleman and myself and make some changes that are going to change how kids learn, well, what a fantastic feeling that would be. It’s a selfish thing. I’m doing this for me. And the end result is you know, will we help education, help kids out. So I think to say that to all of you, that this stage of my life is is pretty cool stuff. And so I’m hoping that sort of embraces why you brought us all together here.

Beth
Thanks, Dad. Mom, what’s next for you?

Elaine
Well, I’m not really sure what’s next for me, but it won’t be scrubbing floors and dusting. [Ron laughs] I’m very excited about this new book that I’ve got going because I’m a flagwaving Canadian. I think we live in a wonderful country and we’re very fortunate to be here. I look around at all the people that I’ve met over my life, and how many of them have come from other countries and have come from situations that they had the courage to get out of. And so that’s a whole thing about personality there, too, isn’t it? You know, that they found a way to get out. And then aren’t we, as Canadians, lucky that all of these people came here with all their different skills and their abilities and so on. So I’m very excited about this book. So the next six months is going to be trying to get that out and trying to get it as big an audience as I can because I’m a flagwaving Canadian. I think this is a great place to be. It’s wonderful for me to be always thinking of new ideas. I did the books about the Loyalists and stuff and I loved doing that. But I think I’m almost…I need new things to write about. So that’s why this particular anthology, with all these other writers coming on board as well and so on and hearing their personal stories, I think it’s it’s going to be my gift to the world. Well, their gift too because they’re giving to me. Money isn’t the interesting thing to me. Being able to leave something behind and Ron said he didn’t really care about that but I’m very happy that that aspect of my writing has left so far six books that my grandchildren and my great grandchildren can say, this is what my Grandma did. You know, when you read a book, you get an insight into a person, don’t you? And so I think this is what I’m most interested in now.

Beth
And you said you need something new to write about. But I think basically what we all say to ourselves all the time is we need something new to think about in the way we live our lives, right, and do our work.

Elaine
Yeah

Beth
For me, I’m trying to figure out how to grow my business. You know, I’m very lucky, I guess I’ve worked hard for it, but you know, feel lucky in that I have a growing amount of work coming my way. And, you know, I’m building a team and Kevin and I were just talking about that the other day. Kind of he was, I was asking him for advice on this, and figuring out how to do that, and what that looks like for my company and what that means for the future. But I also have another book idea in me. I’m just trying to figure out how to have, you know, how to make the time to actually get started on it. So I’m not sure when I’ll do that, but probably sometime in 2023. And it’s just one of those things. I mean, writing the first book was fantastic, because I was able to spend all that time thinking, you know, and thinking of new ideas and kind of looking back and engaging with concepts in my mind and the act of writing really jazzed me up. And I want to do that again. So I, I feel like I’ll always, maybe following both of your examples, Mom and Dad, always figure out how to write to be able to toss ideas around and maybe share them with others as well. Kevin, what about you, what’s what’s next for you?

Kevin
I’m taking a very active role in activity developments here for STEM Camp and Camp STEAM this fall. So currently, this is an audio podcast, so you can’t see my background, but I’ve got a 3D printer, I’m learning how to use CAD software to create some activities that I think will be fun for the kids. And I’m also learning some coding as well. So that I can: a) speak more intelligently about it, and b) actually, you know, provide some support and resources to the team. So I’m kind of excited about that. It’s a little bit outside of my comfort zone in certain respects. So that would be something that’s tangible. An intangible goal of mine, which I would try and convince everybody to make their own goal as well is to end every day by thinking about how you need to learn more to handle every aspect of your life. So I try and have a conversation with myself at the end of each day rethinking conversations or moments that I had with my staff or with my family or with friends and ask myself, did I handle that situation properly? Did I, was I the best version of myself? You know, what could I have done better or said better and can I learn from that? Tangible learning where you go to a class and then there’s introspective learning where you can just try and be a better person. So I’m going to continue to make that a goal of mine for the rest of my life.

Beth
I love that. It’s a great practice. Well, I want to thank you three for doing this with me. I mean, talk about a legacy. I guess one of my ulterior motives about asking you to do this was that we could leave this behind. I wanted to have the conversation, but I kind of wanted it to be left behind for the four of us, for the future, right, for our children. But it kind of gave us, you know, having the purpose of doing this kind of gave us the opportunity to have this conversation. Because sometimes we you know, we don’t talk about this stuff. So it’s been, it’s been wonderful to dive and explore this topic with you and, and really get to know you a little bit better through it. So thank you.

Kevin
And, you know what? That is a good point, right there. Thank you. Thank you to Mom and Dad, you know, for, for paving the way and always believing in us and giving us the light to, you know, clear the path or make the path brighter for us to follow. I really appreciate that.

Ron
That’s a nice thought. I want to say about my legacy. As I reflect back on that comment that I made, my legacy is right here. It’s what our marriage has been over all of our 56 years and having you two. And to go through this process together today, that’s a pretty nice legacy for me.

Elaine
Yeah. I think, I think so. I’ve said it many times, the best thing you do in your life is raise your children to be wonderful, contributing, thoughtful people in the world. And I think Ron would agree with me that that’s one thing we’ve succeeded in.

[Upbeat music playing]

[Episode outro]
Beth
On the next episode of the podcast, I talk with Hannah Brown. Hannah is a learning strategist and design consultant and she’s just written a book called Training that Clicks: A Virtual Design Playbook. In our conversation together, Hannah and I dive into so many of the good concepts that she’s written about in the book And one of the strengths that I really see in the way that she’s written the book is that she’s used learning design concepts in the actual writing of it. You can see that she’s a professional in learning design simply because of how she’s laid out the book. So if you’re someone who facilitates virtual training, whether you’ve been doing it for a long time, or you’re just getting started, I think some of the concepts that we explore together and that Hannah has written about in her book are really going to be beneficial to you. I mean, it’s not a bad thing that we have yet another book in the training field, is it? I love it. I’m so glad that Hannah did this work, and I’m really excited to share our conversation with you. We’ll see you then.

[Show outro]
Beth
Thank you for listening to Facilitating on Purpose. If you were inspired by something in this episode, please share it with a friend or a colleague to help them expand their facilitation practice too. To find the show notes, give me feedback, or submit ideas for future episodes visit facilitatingonpurpose.com. Special thanks to Mary Chan at Organized Sound Productions for producing this episode. Happy facilitating!

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