Thriving: Weaving Professional and Personal Narratives as an Educator

October 06, 2022

Katherine Mulski, Doctor in Educational Practice graduand, shares her experiences as a student in the education faculty and the process of reconnecting with herself and fostering resiliency, telling her story through photography. Dr. Mulski shares how she researched through her discovered practices of well-being both as an educator and personally.  

Carol Mulski (circa 1975 at SFU convocation)

My mum was a graduate of Simon Fraser University at a time when not a lot of her colleagues from high school were carrying on into graduate coursework. She graduated from SFU with her B.Ed. and began working as a Secondary School French teacher in North Vancouver up until her forced retirement due to her long-standing battle with complications stemming from a Lupus diagnosis not two years after her graduation. 

My Mum’s slow loss of mobility over the years pushed me to generate as many opportunities for professional growth as I could, as I felt compelled to not miss out on anything. As an SFU student myself, I realized that my potential for professional opportunities through multiple lenses of graduate work post-PDP was right in front of me. After graduating with my B.A. I applied and was granted admission to PDP International Teacher’s Module (ITEM) and traveled to Trinidad/ Tobago for a part of my practicum. This was an experience I will never forget, and I still maintain some amazing collegial friendships from this time. When I returned home and completed my B.Ed., I packed a bag and was back out the door within three months to South Korea on another internship hosted by Simon Fraser University and worked as a Faculty Associate with the University of Cheongju. 

Upon my return, I immediately began teaching in French Immersion programs in a district in the lower mainland and returned to SFU for my graduate diploma through Field Programs (Professional Graduate Programs). I became a mentor in these very programs and continued my academic pursuits by enrolling into the Master of Education in Educational Practice (MEd EP) a year later.

After completing my masters, I was seconded from my school district and returned to SFU as an In-Service Faculty Associate for the very programs I had been a student. The scope of experience and learning during those years working with teachers of whom were looking to improve their own classroom practices through a lens of self-study methodologies was invaluable to me. It was one of the most rewarding times professionally for me. Upon return to my district, I began work as a Library Learning Commons teacher, applying my knowledge of classroom inquiry practices to support students and staff while beginning my last leg of formal academic research in the Doctor of Education in Educational Practice Program, again, at SFU. 

It has been an amazing ride, not without strife, struggle, but extreme professional and personal satisfaction as well. I never envisioned that on the first day of walking the AQ, that SFU would present so many opportunities for me to contribute to my own professional and personal growth over the last twenty years. 

My father has been an avid fisherman since he was a boy growing up in Hope, BC. His understanding of sustainable fishing practices because of his connection to his community helped teach me as well about the importance of catch and release practices, appreciation, and education for the land upon which we fish and the importance of future stewardship of the land. 

I began fishing with my father in my late teens and as we both leaned into fly-fishing, we both aptly adventured out exploring new lakes and taking in the beauty of the interior of British Columbia. Over the course of many years, and my research taking shape around how fly-fishing sustains my well-being and its parallel learnings into my professional work as an educator; I am continually humbled by the landscapes and waters I have had the privilege to fish. I also acknowledge that through my research and the time spent on the waters of British Columbia, my wellness and well-being were intricately connected to being outside. Being on the land and experiencing time away from my professional life to better nurture my personal one brought forward feelings of wellness and highlighted the importance of needing to change how I was approaching my professional and personal pursuits to maintain a better level of well-being while being an educator. 

In 2016, having given a very public talk on the need for better professional and personal balance in my life, I realized that this was one of the biggest turning points to prioritize my well-being. If I had told the world (YouTube) that applying boundaries to my professional life could mean better possibilities to foster my well-being in my personal life, then I needed to put the practice in action. I began my journey of educational practice with academic foundations which have served me well over the years. I have pushed the possibilities of educational practice and mentorship with fellow educators in a short amount of time. 

On my journey, however, I found places of practice where the betterment of others came at the detriment of my own health. Now, looking back, I sense I always knew the importance of taking care of myself, yet I had not acknowledged nor implemented any sustainable ways which would allow my health to come first while in the service of others until I was in my own

state of crisis. It was existentially, my biggest wake up call, when I considered giving up my life’s work as an educator. My journey to reconnect with myself and foster resiliency developed slowly over time, while experiencing the profound loss of my mum and acknowledging, healing with grief. 

Now, in knowing what I know, I needed to reconnect to the land and to my own sense of humanness to stay for the sake of the colleagues and students I serve in educational practice. I know that I can make a difference and that I have had impact in my work with teachers and students.

I began writing about my experiences while out fly-fishing solo, or with my dad. I started to tie my learnings on the water to those of my experiences in classrooms and in educational practice. There is a continued feeling of stewardship while fly-fishing just as there is the same relationship to the importance of our work in classrooms as educators. 

Last day of school reading all the well-wishes from students with Nora.
Nora and I out for a float in our Watermaster Raft waiting for trout, 2022

Today, with urgency and a profound invitation, I invite you all to find practices that reconnect you to yourself and that can be sustained, keeping you feeling well while helping others. Please know in your heart, that you matter. I know in my heart, that you matter. To my colleagues in Education and those coming to know the calling of this complex and noble profession, accepting that you matter will allow you to impart this very message to the children and adults you serve in education as well. I know now, as a direct result of my research that the practices that I live will continue to sustain me in resilience and well-being as I move forward in this transformative journey. 

I send my very best to the graduating class of 2022, may you all experience and invite opportunities of connection to self, community, and good health while in pursuit of all your professional and personal endeavors yet to come. 

Dr. Katherine Mulski wishes to acknowledge that she has had the privilege to live, work, and fly-fish on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the Musqueam (xʷəәθkwəәy̓əәm), Semiahmoo (Semyome), Squamish (Skwxwú7mesh), Stó:lō, and Tseil-Waututh (Səәl̓ílwəәtaɬ) First Nations. She is a FishingBC Ambassador and fly-fishes as many lakes as she can with her Dad and Bulldog Trout Associate, Nora. You can follow along on her literary and line casting journey on Instagram @kathonthefly