Because Sometimes Life Happens

DonnaGraysonI haven’t blogged for awhile. There’s a number of reasons for this. Those who know me know that I’m a huge advocate for inquiry and PBL. And after the past few months, I’m an even bigger advocate. Why? Because sometimes life happens.

You never really know what life is going to throw at you. Sometimes there is only one right answer. But rarely in life is that the case. And rarely in life is the answer found in the back of the book, although too often that’s what our students learn. Maybe as teachers we’d like to believe that too. It’s easier.

Sometimes there’s an economic downturn and you lose your job.

Sometimes your marriage falls apart.

Sometimes you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness.

In my case, it’s the latter. Four days into the school year I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and put on medical leave. The short version of fibromyalgia, for me, is that almost every muscle in my body is in pain all of the time. Often, it’s exhausting. There are multiple theories as to what causes it, but no one really knows. There’s no cure. There’s no medication for it, although there are medications that have been developed for other things that sometimes help alleviate symptoms. There’s not even a “typical” fibromyalgia case. Each is distinctly different. I’ve had to learn a lot.

Some people are able to manage their symptoms successfully and live a pretty normal life.  However, approximately 1/3 of people who suffer from it are unable to work or are severely limited in their daily activities.

So what does this have to do with inquiry? For the past four months my life has become my inquiry project. Those who manage to live successfully with this syndrome are those who take control of their life.  They research. They create a team of experts to work with. They exercise & eat properly. They rest. They become their own advocates. This is what I’ve spent the last four months doing.  Western medicine has little to offer those with fibromyalgia, so a lot of alternative therapies are necessary.

If you want to plunge into a mountain of research that often contradicts itself, fibromyalgia would be it. I’ve had to wade through the minutiae, trying to figure out what I believe to be true and what works for me. And more times than I’d like to count, I’ve learned what doesn’t work, rather than what does.  And I’ve learned it the hard way.

When it doesn’t work, it’s more than getting a bad grade. It means I can’t get out of bed. Or I miss my daughter’s skating practice. Or I don’t feel like eating for three days. Getting it wrong really matters.  And along the way you have to have the tenacity to pick yourself up and try again. Are today’s schools instilling this in our kids?

Furthermore, it’s a highly emotional process, just like any inquiry project. When I work with teachers around the topic of PBL & inquiry, I always make sure to emphasize this point. It really matters. The most important job I had as an inquiry teacher was to be aware of the emotional climate of my classroom. Emotions can derail you.


There are days I feel optimistic about the future because I’m ambitious and strong. I’ve overcome a lot in my life. I’ve worked hard, and I love trying new things. However, there are days I feel overwhelmed, frustrated and doubtful because my mind is as sharp as ever, but my body won’t do what I want it to. It leads me to wonder, “What if this is as good as it gets?” “What if the rest of my life is like this?” Do most classrooms prepare students to deal with these emotions?

And after 6 months at home, I’m bored. I like to be challenged. Thankfully, I have a masters in Ed Tech to fall back on, and I’m able to work as an instructional designer for two post secondary institutions designing on-line courses, mostly from my kitchen table. As an instructional designer, I’ve been able to learn new content and skills. But I miss teaching. I would love to be able to teach on-line, but currently, that’s not something my school division really has. So if you’re looking for an online teacher, let me know. I’d love to talk.

I’ve come to realize that I may never be able to go back to the classroom, and that I may not be able to resume my PhD work. It’s hard to let go of something you were pretty good at, and that you really loved to do. I’ve had to learn to hold these things in an open hand. To figure out what really matters. And in some ways, redefine myself.  Do our current school systems foster this type of resilience?

 I know that being an inquiry teacher has greatly benefited me throughout this process. It’s made me more flexible, thoughtful, curious and bold. Fibromyalgia can’t be fought, only embraced.

I haven’t blogged lately because I’m not sure what to do in this space.

But I’m more aware than ever that our students need inquiry classrooms. They need to know how to research. They need to know how to check sources and try out what works. They need to know how to advocate for themselves and others. They need to know how to think critically, creatively, and to evaluate multiple viewpoints. I honestly believe the most important skill we can foster in them is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn, as Alvin Toffler so wisely stated.

Because someday, their lives may depend on it.

About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. Furthermore, I am Buck Institute for Education National Faculty member
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50 Responses to Because Sometimes Life Happens

  1. Leaving you a boat load of wellness wishes! You are an inspiration to so many!!


  2. Thank you for sharing, Shelly. I will keep you and your family in my prayers. I appreciate your writing, and I hope you will find the energy to keep that up.

  3. Shelley it is hard to know what to write to encourage you to keep fighting, scratch that, embracing the fibromyalgia. When I clicked the link tonight I thought I would learn of your latest chapter in finding the right fit between your teaching and learning roles – I had no idea you were facing a bigger challenge. You are resilience personified and I hope you will use this space to share with us as you redefine yourself. There is much we can learn from you on your journey and hopefully we can support you through the most frustrating days.

    • Thanks, Jeannine. I appreciate your support. It’s definitely not the way I thought my fall was going to turn out. I was looking forward to returning to the classroom and jumping into new adventures with my students. This is definitely been the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to face, and I know that, eventually, there will be many good things I can take away from it. Thanks for your kind words!

  4. Neil MacNeil says:

    Shelley, I’m so sorry to hear about your diagnosis. I have no words of wisdom to offer, but can let you know that you will in my thoughts and prayers.
    As well, I’d like you to know that your blog was seminal in my own decision to take up blogging and using my Twitter account. Your posts are thoughtful, thought-provoking and inspiring in their honesty. I’ve recommended them to many of my colleagues.
    We will all so be hoping that you are able to make headway against your fibromyalgia. Please forgive my having nominated you for a “sunshine blog” post tonight; of course, I’d just done so prior to reading your own post today.
    Do take care of yourself as best you can.


    • Thanks, Neil. Don’t worry about the sunshine post, I’m actually looking forward to it! I never would have thought of doing something like that, but I think it will cause me to reflect in a different way than I have been. Thanks for your kind words and well wishes; I deeply appreciate them 🙂

  5. chrislehmann says:

    So sorry to hear about your illness… thank you for writing about it so powerfully… my best thoughts are with you. — Chris

  6. Shelley,
    There is not a better call to action to make sure that our students can find the information that they need than this blog entry. Truly information is power and it will set us free. The Alvin Toffler quote is one of my favourites as it inspires us to continually be a state of learning flux.

    In 2012, I spent my entire summer in bed and in physiotherapy with a herniated disk in my neck that caused extreme pain and limited use of my arm and hand. I know those moments of despair where there seems to be no light. I am thinking of you and your family and sending you my best for the management of your fibromyalgia.

    “Sometimes grace works like water wings when you feel you are sinking.”
    ― Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith

    Take care,

    • Thanks, Lisa. I love the Anne Lamott quote. I’m currently reading her book Plan B. It’s interesting how injuries or sickness can cause us to change, and hopefully learn more, or how to do things differently. Thanks for your well wishes. They’re greatly appreciated 🙂

  7. Sarah Powley says:

    Shelley, I am so sorry, so sorry, so sorry. Thank you for writing about what has happened. I’m a fan, too, and had been wondering where you were. Keep searching, writing, and designing. I, too, will be thinking of you as you fight this battle and redefine yourself in the process. Courage!

    • Thank you, Sarah. I am deeply enjoying working as an instructional designer. I didn’t realize how different, stretching and satisfying it would be. Although I miss the interaction of the classroom, I’m thankful that I can still contribute to education. Hopefully, it will allow me to continue to blog and think differently about education 🙂

  8. lisamnoble says:

    Thanks for the powerful writing, and the courage to share. You make a hard-to-ignore argument about the life skills we’re giving our students. How are we preparing them for what life might throw at them?
    I’m so glad you’ve decided that this is something you can write about. We are all better for it.
    I’ll wish you more of the good moments. When my dad and I used to talk about our struggles with depression, we would define days by whether they had more good moments than bad ones. Keep wrestling, and know you’ve got a huge cheering section out here.

    • Thanks, Lisa. Lately I’ve had many more good days than bad. I’ve had to really learn to listen to what my body is saying and respect that. Too often in the past, I’ve pushed it beyond what I should be doing. I’m starting to wonder if that isn’t a skill that kids need. When our body needs rest, we need to respect that. When it needs exercise and stimulation when need to engage.
      If I weren’t an inquiry teacher, I’m not sure I could have dealt with this as well. Sometimes it’s very discouraging, but at other times I’m thankful for how much I’ve been able to learn and change.

  9. glichtman says:

    So sorry to hear about this, and I know what you are going to do, Shelley. You are going to keep on keeping on, and hopefully sharing that difficult journey with the rest of us. We get stuck in the rut that “this” is it, that education is about education, when it is not; it is preparation for life; “it” is life. You have a great mind, and that mind is needed as much when you translate how to manage your health problems as it is when you translate for us how to manage learning in a classroom. Keep translating life, and sharing that with all of us! Best of luck.

  10. Shelley,
    I have been following your blog since I first came across your blog post on the flipped classroom while researching an assignment. Currently, I am enrolled in the Online Learning and Technology program at Vancouver Island Uiniversity. We have corresponded in the past, as we both were teaching a phtoography clourse and I was very interested in your PHD work. I was hoping to be one of the classrooms you needed in yoru research.
    I am also a believer in inquiry and PBL. Like you, I have transformed my teaching and philosophy on education dramatically in the last few years. As I begin to embedd technology and social media into my classrooms, I continue encounter new experiences in teaching that reinforce my stance on inquiry-based learning.
    I urge you to carry on with what inspires you about teaching and spreading the word on the importance of an education that teaches students to think, create, collaborate and deomostrate their learning.
    When you continue with your PHD work, know that I would love to collaborate with you and woud offer up my classrooms for your research work. Take care Shelley and push forward!

    I have a colleague who sahre your story this year of being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. She has had quite a journey and it finaly back at work teaching one block a day with hopes of returning to

    half time

    retretruing to

    • Thank you, Jean. I’m hoping in the Spring that I’ll be able to return, at least part-time, to my PhD work. I would love to work with you, if that happens. Thanks for your encouragement; it’s greatly appreciated!

  11. Please excuse numerous typos as the site kept freezing as I typed!!

  12. If this many people have already commented and have sent their well wishes (myself included!), you have to know that you’ve touched so many others! Like the fans who’ve shared their thoughts, I too hope the best for you.

  13. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your inspiring posts. Please have a look at The Paleo Mom blog:, a biochemical researcher turned stay-at-home mom who suffered from numerous auto-immune diseases. Best wishes to you.

    • You’re welcome! Thanks for your well wishes. I haven’t seen this site before, but I’ve spent awhile looking around it, and it’s really wonderful. Thanks for the resource!

  14. Robin Pizzo says:

    Well written! Praying that in discovery of your NEW journey you will find peace, grace, and all the answers you need to reinvent yourself. This challenge is an opportunity to be successful in new and unexplored ways. Many Blessings.

  15. Samantha Parker says:

    Hang on there. I too teach and have Fibro. Diagnosed about 17 years ago at a young age. There is a lot that can be done…you just have to find out what works for your body. It can take time though- be patient with yourself. It is amazing how mentally strong one can become.

    • Thanks, Samantha. It’s great to hear from someone who is living well with this illness. I’ve had to do a lot of research and trial and error. Lately, I feel stronger. I’m starting to listen to my body and am getting pretty good at figuring out what it needs. Sometimes I get it wrong, but it’s given me a great deal of hope. Thanks for your encouragement!

  16. Jane Chadsey says:

    Hi Shelley,

    I (like others here) missed your blog and was so excited to see what you are up to. So sorry to hear about this new challenge! What an inspiration you are to the rest of us. We spoke on the phone about Educurious at least a year ago – at the time a new start up thinking about a new approach to high schools. We are thinking about developing additional content. If you are interested is helping us think this through let me know. You have such wonderful expertise.
    Best wishes to you and your family.


  17. thehunni says:

    I missed your voice this fall. I am so sorry to learn the reason why. Carol Mayne introduced your blog to me last year – in her words she says “she [you] is amazing in her approaches to student learning/engagement”! Your voice is compelling and important in education – in teaching teachers too, and you have a plethora of knowledge and experience to navigate us via the laptop, when you are able. I hope you find a way to keep the candle lit for us who value learning from you. The energy, enthusiasm, and zeal that you brought to the classroom will guide you on this very challenging journey, yet I believe your important voice will continue to light our way via your blog, twitter, etc… Take care of yourself! I will send you love and gratitude as I enjoy my Earl Grey tea now. Big virtual hug sent!

  18. Wishing you the best, Shelley. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sharing your journey. You continue to inspire.

  19. Misty says:

    What an incredible, honest, and sensitive post-Thank you! Although I don’t have a chronic illness, your words have resonance when it comes to change and wholehearted living. It’s hard! I had the pleasure of watching you speak in West Vancouver and I think you are truly inspirational. I’m so sorry to hear of your plight and wish you self-compassion, hope, and energy as you continue on your journey.

  20. Scott Hazeu says:

    Oh, Shelley. I read your two January posts out of order, and now I’m sheepish about leaving a comment on “Academics: What’s it good for?” first. Much has already been said, but I’ll add my prayers to those already being raised. You have shown your courage in this and several other posts and that courage will serve your well on your journey. Blessings for each day.


  21. Just like the others here I was looking forward to another post by you and very sad to read why you have been silent lately. I wish you all the best. Even if you are not in the classroom you have so much to offer in your writing. I often think of you when I’m working with my students in our global classroom. You have inspired so many with your work and your writings. I hope you still will be able to be a voice in advocating what is best for our students.

  22. Shelley, I speak for many in the UK who are avid followers of your posts, and like everyone else here, we are so sorry to hear of your diagnosis and of course, the pain and misery you must have experienced over the past few months. Knowing the person you are and given the limitations that this condition may impose, we hope very much that you’ll find the strength to continue to write and inspire so many .. indeed, this post is already testament to the positivity that you always seem to impart in your writing, which is quite a gift. Our wishes for you include a more positive start to 2014 and perhaps a clearer view of where the year might take you. On behalf of many in the UK, we send our love and best wishes to you and your family.

  23. Suzie Boss says:

    I’ve missed your wise voice and am so sorry to hear why your blog went quiet for a bit. I hope you’ll continue sharing your experience and insights. You’ve always been an inspiration–now, for a different reason. Stay curious and bold. Best to you.

    • Thanks, Suzie. It’s been difficult to accept my limitations at times, but at the same time, it’s opened other doors. I’m really enjoying working online at home and being able to use my Masters degree. It’s given me more time with my family. And currently, I’m at the BIE training bootcamp. This has really been the test that I’m getting stronger everyday. I look forward to seeing you in April!

  24. Suzie Boss says:

    Great to hear about BIE connection! Look forward to seeing you in Chicago. Meanwhile, hope your recovery continues. Be well.

  25. Frances Barnes says:

    You are resilient and I really admire that in you. I agree with your thoughts on the skills we need to teach our students. You are a great role model and I hope you make it back into the classroom. We all need you there.

  26. julie says:

    Hello Shelley I’m also from moose jaw sk I was wondering if you knew of any kind of support groups as I am also fighting the battle with fibromyalgia thank you

  27. Amazing story! I know that I often take for granted the things I have in life. I know that I work constantly with my college teaching, my regular 9-5, running a small writing business, and running 9 websites. This is something I will learn to treasure more after reading of your tragic, but heart melting story. Keep up the great work and keep your faith!

  28. Candice Somers says:

    I happened to come across your blog and it stood out to me. I am a Master’s Ed student in the US and I am currently taking a technology class. We were told to look for two blogs to read and follow. I picked yours! I recently learned about PBL and I loved it, I think more students should be taught this way. Because you are right, the answers to life are not found in the back of a book, and students need to learn how to figure things out for themselves. I’m am sorry to here about your current condition and I hope that you will be able to continue with your work. From all the comments I have read wishing you well it seems that you are a truly inspiring educator and I wish all the best for you. I will continue to follow you and catch up on all your past posts as well.

  29. Annie says:

    I just found your website and am so inspired by the work you have done. PBL is very close to my heart. I would like to offer you this resource to help you with your healing journey. Blessings of health to you!

  30. Kathryn Murphy-Judy says:

    Hi Shelly, thanks for sharing. I got slapped with MS and did much what you are doing to recover. The nutritionist (integrative medicine), the acupuncturist, the DNS chiropractor + massage therapist and most recently, the godsend myofascial release therapist keep me moving, importantly with NO relapses, no downward spiral. I continue to do my full load of teaching and just took over the directorship of a program. Metagenics FibroPlex is great for pain. My brain is finally recovering more of its capacities with Xymogen Brain Sustain: I’ve had no brain fog for 5 months. Of course, I do the vitamines D3, E, etc. etc. I’m more than happy to chat with you more about possibilities. One important thing the nutritionist discovered from her blood panel (not that of the MDs, which find little of use) were high levels of arsenic. It’s really important to find out what precipitated your autoimmune illness. Peace and best wishes from a fellow geek’n’teacher.

  31. Stephanie Thurston says:

    Your writing is so inspirational and you are so full of passion and talent. It comes across in your articles and I found myself being very inspired by you. It takes a lot of work and bravery to so poignantly, write down your personal reflections as you have done here. Thank you for sharing and please continue to do the work that you do and be the person that you are…what an honor it would be to have you as a teacher!

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