Author Archives: Kelly Carlson


Last week I was in my favourite place on earth, Chapters, and I came across a book that brought back not-so-pleasant memories of where I was just a few short years ago. It's called "The Brain Fog Fix" and the tag-line says "Reclaim your focus, memory, and joy in just 3 weeks." I am happy to say that my brain is no longer foggy due to some important changes I've made over time, but I was curious to see what Dr. Mike Dow had to say, so I bought it.

Reading through the first part, which focuses on what your brain needs, and what fogs it up, he talks about some of the changes I have made that have really helped me both mentally and physically:

  • limiting processed white flour (I've gone gluten-free)
  • limiting sugar (which I've done and also what sugar I use is organic)
  • limiting inflammatory foods (i.e. processed foods, artificial ingredients, preservatives)
  • buying only organic meats (including eggs), fruit and vegetables, and dairy products
  • eating sprouted, flourless bread (I buy "Ezekiel" bread, found in the freezer of the organic section at my regular grocery store - it's delicious)
  • increasing intake of Omega-3 (salmon is great and should be wild, not farmed; I also take a supplement)
  • choosing foods that are non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms)
  • using a filter for tap water (I actual buy reverse-osmosis water and replace the electrolytes and minerals)
  • using cast-iron, stainless steel or ceramic cookware rather than chemical-laden non-stick pans
  • using environmentally-friendly, non-toxic cleaners for everything

He has some other suggestions too, however, that I plan to try.

  • cutting down on "blue light" from excess time with computer, TV and phone screens
  • eating more vegetables, fruit, fish and beans
  • using cinnamon (suggestion: sprinkle it in coffee instead of sugar)
  • using olive oil as much as possible, in cooking and as a natural salad dressing (good quality olive oil + nice vinegar + lemon = yummy!)
  • eating vegetables raw or slightly cooked
  • whole, organic milk is high in Omega-3 (helps with vitamin D consumption)
  • Folate (a B-vitamin) - from spinach, Brussels sprouts, romain, asparagus, broccoli, lentils
  • Vitamin B12 - from organic fish and eggs
  • Vitamin D - from salmon, fruit and vegetables, and the sun!!

Some good news?  Unsweetened coffee or tea is actually good for you! It gets bad when you add all the sugar and non-organic dairy to it, and artificial sweeteners are really bad for you! I buy a delicious fair-trade organic coffee bean at my regular grocery store called "Kicking Horse Coffee", that comes in different flavours (the one I currently have is called "Smart Ass").

"The Brain Fog Fix" then talks about lifestyle readjustments that make your life more joyful and rewarding. I found the book extremely informative and easy to read, as it explains the role of food and the reasons why these things are essential to good brain health. Knowing how certain foods are going to affect me physically makes it easier to "Just Say No" and to make good choices. That doesn't mean I don't sometimes buy the oat fudge bar at Starbucks, but I'm human too! A recommended read for anyone feeling unfocused and looking for a way out of the fog and into the sun.

#cohort21 #wellness #healthy eating



Have you ever watched a hamster running on a wheel?  He just runs and runs, but eventually he gets tired and hops off for a rest.  I feel sometimes that in our culture of busyness, we are like those hamsters, vision focused forward to what is coming, blinded to what is going on around us.  Only, when we get tired, we don't get off the wheel; we keep going until we are exhausted and our brains are bogged down in a deep fog.  Over time, this wears us down and the fog becomes a part of our existence that we don't question.  It is what it is, right?

I began my journey to wellness five years ago at a time when I was in a deep, deep fog and feeling utterly disconnected from everyone around me and, especially, from myself.  As a mother of two young boys, a partner, a teacher, a coach, a facilitator, and a perfectionist, my "To Do List" was never-ending.  Somewhere at the bottom of the list was "Take care of me" but I never got there. Things have changed so much since then and, over time, I've become much better at putting myself first.  I'd like to share some of the things I've learned that have helped me to get here.


We don't take breaks.  We push through because there is just so much to do, and we believe we don't have the time.  We eat at our desks.  We push ourselves until we are so exhausted there is nothing left over for friends, for family, for ourselves.

  • Take a 10-minute tea-break mid-morning.  Go away from your desk.  Find a quiet space alone, preferably with some natural light.  Bring a book or a magazine, for pleasure.  Sip and allow your brain to unplug.
  • Take your lunch away from your desk.  Spend time with colleagues talking about anything but work.  Or find a quiet place with natural light, and spend some time alone.  Breathe. Allow yourself to just be.
  • Take the time throughout your week to be alone with yourself, and mindfully choose to do something that brings you joy and that is creative and/or meaningful for YOU.  You might need to reflect a bit on what this would be.


  • Spend some time alone to get in touch with yourself and discover what is important to you. What brings you joy? What makes you feel creative? What reboots your brain and recharges your battery? If you had to backwards plan from the end of your life, what goals are non-negotiable and must be met? Narrow this down to 3 - 5 things.
  • Take the schedule of your week and put in these important things that you've identified. Be realistic and make sure the goals you've set are reasonable for where you are right now in your life. For example, my biggest non-negotiable is that I want to be physically healthy and strong. So my minimum goal is Hot Yoga every Friday night + 2 visits to the gym each week. If I can fit in more, I do so. (By the way, it doesn't always happen.)
  • Share your goals with your partner or a friend. Make a commitment to yourself and do your best to stay with it. Forgive yourself when it doesn't happen and know that this is a long process and that the journey is a life-long one.

I feel that in our culture, taking care of ourselves first feels selfish. Doing things that bring us pleasure but that don't add to our career can feel somehow frivolous. We feel guilty when we are not being "productive" enough and we are harder on ourselves than anyone could ever be on us. What we need to remember is that, by taking care of ourselves first, we become happier, calmer, more understanding versions of ourselves and thus, better parents, partners, teachers, colleagues and friends.

Get off the wheel. Look around. Connect with others. Connect with yourself. Find quiet time, quiet places, sunlight. Reach out, because we are all in this together.

Take Care of Yourself,


@vhcivan @jmedved @gnichols @adamcaplan

#cohort21 #wellness #time #life balance



Have you ever looked back on the day, the week, or even the last month and asked, "Where did the time go?"  I feel so busy all the time and yet if asked, I would be hard-pressed to tell you exactly where my time went.  I set goals at the beginning of the week, feeling optimistic about getting it all done, and yet it somehow doesn't.

The 5 Choices caught my attention because it claims to be a tool that "increases your productivity and empowers you to make high-impact choices about where to invest your valuable time, attention, and energy." I'm still reading it, but so far I've been able to make some changes, reflecting on how I spend my time and being mindful about how I choose to do so.

According to The 5 Choices, we spend our time in one of 4 quadrants:

Quadrant 1: NECESSITY [Where things are "urgent" and important.  This means that they must be done now or there are serious consequences.]

  • crises, pressing problems, unforeseen events
  • deadlines
  • emergency meetings

Quadrant 3: DISTRACTION [Where things are "urgent" but not actually important. This means we believe it must be done now, but there are no serious consequences if we don't.]

  • needless interruptions, other people's minor issues
  • irrelevant meetings
  • unimportant emails, tasks, phone calls, status posts

Quadrant 4: WASTE [Where things are neither "urgent" nor important. This is where we go when we are burned out from being in Q1 and Q3, to escape. Our brains go unconscious and we fill our time with excessive and unproductive relaxation. These activities are OK, in moderation.]

  • excessive television
  • aimless Internet surfing
  • gaming

Quadrant 2: EXTRAORDINARY PRODUCTIVITY [Where things are important but not urgent. This is where we take charge of our own life, doing things that make a real difference in terms of accomplishment and results. This is the only quadrant where you have to consciously choose to be here - the others happen to you.]

  • proactive work, planning, prevention
  • achieving high-impact goals
  • creativity
  • relationship building
  • learning and renewal

So how do we get to Q2 and spend as much time as possible there?  They propose a skill called "PCD" (Pause, Clarify, Decide).  It's about taking a moment to make conscious choices about your time; to ask yourself which quadrant this would be in and choose to do something that is productive and moves you forward. Relaxation is essential, and is part of Q2, but it's about being thoughtful about your "rest" time, too.

The 5 Choices is a good read for anyone feeling overly busy and wanting to take charge of our time, in order to achieve our professional and personal goals and become as productive as we can be, both at work and at home.

@adamcaplan @jmedved @gnichols





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A month ago I left the first Face to Face session with Cohort 21 feeling motivated, energized, creative and looking forward to the second Face to Face. But when I walked in on Saturday, I felt quiet and somber, and there was a strange pit in my stomach. Not only was the project I had come into this experience with no longer front of mind for me, but I had had absolutely no time in between the sessions to do all of the wonderful things I had planned to do (blogging, reading articles to put on Diigo, Twitter chatting with new colleagues). Where did the time go? I was feeling frustrated and, even more, confused, as I couldn't clearly say what I did in those weeks to make time just magically disappear.

So on Saturday we were asked to think about something important, something urgent or pressing, that we wanted to work on this year. I tried to focus on the original student-centred classroom goal I had started with but all I kept coming back to was how frustrating it was to have so many goals and be so excited and motivated to work on my personal and professional development, and somehow not be able to find the time to do so. But personal time management couldn't constitute a year-long project, could it? I started to write down ideas and then to bounce them off of people around me, and came to a startling realization - though I know now I shouldn't have been surprised. It turns out that we are all feeling the same way. That we are all stressed and pressed for time, and that most, if not all of us, have accepted it as an unchangeable part of what we do.

Suddenly, my lens had widened dramatically to a point where I was no longer thinking about "Me", but rather about "We", about all teachers, and how we put so much of ourselves into our careers, because we care so deeply. I started to think about where I was four years ago, before I started working hard on my own wellness and mental health, and about colleagues and friends who are struggling to find that balance between the high demands and responsibilities of our chosen careers, and our desire to be present with our families at home. I still struggle with it, as evidenced by my difficulty making time for things that really matter to me. So then the question became an even bigger one, from pure time management, to general wellness and life-balance.

In the past few years, many schools have opened the discussions on student wellness and we have been making big strides in putting supports into place to help students live healthy, balanced lives. I have felt for a while now that it is important to begin this discussion for teachers as well. So many suffer in silence, slogging through when things get tough, afraid or unable to ask for help, and worst of all, feeling alone. Drowning.  "I'm fine," has become our trigger response when asked how we are, but it's often just not true.

When I started my journey towards wellness, I carried the Serenity Prayer around inside me as a mantra.

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

The Courage to change the things I can.

And the Wisdom to know the difference.

As teachers, and especially working in the independent school industry, there are many expectations and responsibilities that cannot be changed and that are a part of what we do. But I have to ask myself, what could be changed, if we really put our minds to it? What could we do to add supports and guidance for those who need it? I think the first step is to identify where the needs are: where teachers feel they need help, whether it be training, professional development, mentorship/coaching or simply, time. This is an individual thing, as we all have different strengths and different areas where we feel inadequate or ill-prepared. I have to believe that if we could find a way to identify the needs, surely there would be someone else with opposing strengths, and we could be there for each other.

So now I am moving forward and I am nervous because this is so much bigger, and so much more important, than I had envisioned coming into it.  There is that little voice of doubt inside saying, "Who are you to take this on? You're just a teacher." I push the voice aside and remind myself that I am that and so much more, and I search for the "Courage to change the things I can", because there is a need, and I feel that there is something I can do, to make a difference, if only for one person, however small it might be.

So back to my original frustration: Time. I am mindfully working on my time management, planning ahead, scheduling in the things that count first and setting priorities so that the important things get done. I'll keep you posted, let you know how it goes. Wish me luck, and don't hesitate to send me some of your own Wisdom along the way. Starting the conversation is the first step.

Thanks for your input, @adamcaplan @kanderson @rsutherland @egelleny



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Hitting 40 two years ago set off a chain reaction of growth and reflection that is taking me to unknown places.  I'm not even sure yet where I'm heading, and I strive daily to remain OK with the not knowing.

As an educator, I'm the one at the front of the room, the expert imparting my knowledge, so it's hard not having an end goal in mind.

So I'm opening doors.  I'm trying new things, learning new skills, making connections, in hopes of narrowing down all of the things that I'm passionate about and finding out what I'm meant to be doing.  Teaching.  Coaching.  Leadership.  I don't know where it will take me but I take comfort in remembering that Life is a Journey and in knowing that I'm on the path. @adamcaplan @mneale

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c21_logo_mediumWelcome to Cohort 21. This is the first post on your new blog. This journal is an integral part of your Cohort 21 experience. Here you will reflect, share and collaborate as you move through the C21 learning cycle towards your action plan.

Cohort 21 is a unique professional development opportunity open to CIS Ontario teachers and school leaders who are seeking to explore  what it means to a teacher in the 21st century.