Bus to the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival Sat., April 6, 2024

I enjoy inviting my international students at Conestoga College to take part in community activities and feel connected to their new home.

This week in class, I’ve shared information about the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival is on Saturday, April 6, 2024.  It starts at 7 a.m. and runs through the day.

Upwards of 70,000 people are expected for the one-day event.

I remember my visits to the Elmira Maple Syrup festival included the chance to take a trip by wagon to see a maple syrup production in a “sugar bush” wooded areas.

It’s been years since I’ve been to the festival in Elmira. I tell students it celebrates Maple Syrup, which is made from sap harvested from maple trees in the spring in the rural areas of Waterloo Region.  

It’s held in the town of Elmira, north of Waterloo. Usually, I wouldn’t share an event that’s outside the urban area of Cambridge, Waterloo or Kitchener, because students don’t usually have a car.

Rural bus service in Waterloo Region is limited, compared to urban areas. But Grand River Transit has a regular bus route to Elmira – and has added extra buses for the festival.

Man pours maple syrup onto a plate containing a pancake at the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival

The Elmira festival is run by volunteers, to raise money for community events. 

I tell students to expect to pay for food and activities, but I remember also having fun just walking around and seeing the displays a sunny early morning in spring.  

I tell students to expect to be able to buy pancake breakfasts and other food.

Maple Syrup is a sweet sign of spring in eastern Canada.

Your day not going as planned? Look for your three wins

Three wins? Perhaps this is the mindset I need on days when things aren’t going well.

As of noon today, I’ve reached two of Neal Foard’s three wins:

Spiritual Win

I’ve been out with the dogs walking under the trees to start my day, with no electronic device in hand.  I could have also meditated or prayed or cleaned my desk to help restore my spirit.  And I’ll head out for a walk at noon again in the sunshine.

Human Win

I shared my time with a good friend over coffee and talked about things neither of us can change but can learn from. And I shared an insight that might help his business.  I shared my kindness.

Physical Win

Later today, I’ll expose my body to some good stress.  I’ll spend some time on an exercise bike, getting ready for the summer of trail riding with my wife—then my daily isometric exercise and stretching before bed.

Two of three so far.  That’s a win, even if the rest of the day is bumpy. 

What will your three wins be today?

2 job fairs for my international students at Conestoga College, February 2024

Help Wanted sign in window

I often hear about the desire for part-time work from the International students I teach at Conestoga College, in downtown Kitchener.

Here’s what I shared with my Technical Communication classes this week, as I do whenever I hear of job leads:

Thursday, February 1, 2024 – Multi-Employer Hiring Event hosted by Lutherwood, at Cambridge City Hall, 50 Dickson Street, Cambridge, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mostly full-time positions on offer, but some part-time opportunities are promised. Organizers suggest arriving with resumes in hand.

February 7, 2024 – P4E Career and Job Fair is an online event, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s a collaborative effort among the University of Guelph, the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College.  Employers generally offer full-time, co-op, and summer roles.

And I’ve heard of another on-campus job fair at Conestoga’s main campus:

March 13, 2024 – 2024 Conestoga Job Fair, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the recreation centre at the Doon Campus. It’s also focused on full-time, co-op, and summer seasonal positions for students and alumni. 

The Conestoga Talent Hub at the Downtown Kitchener Campus is a resource for students in their job search and career planning.

And I always encourage students to use employment guidance from Student Support Services at the college.

I can’t find jobs for students, but I’m always ready to pass along suggestions and point them toward whatever good news I hear about.

Santa Claus Parades offer International Students fun in Waterloo and Cambridge

Santa Claus on parade float with child
Santa Claus and a young helper ride the final float in the Hespeler Santa Claus parade in 2017.

I encourage my international students at Conestoga College to enjoy Santa Claus parades as the weather turns colder.

Every Canadian city, town, and village seems to have a Santa Claus parade in late November or early December. They’re community gatherings where parents and children gather to watch marching bands, floats, and usually fire trucks.

December 18, 2023, two big parades in Waterloo Region offer different experiences. In all, eight Santa Claus parades are planned for autumn 2023 in Waterloo Region.

For my international students from past semesters in Brantford, that city’s Santa Claus Parade starts at 6 p.m. on November 25, 2023, along Dalhousie Street. 

Kitchener and Waterloo parade

The first Santa Claus parade on November 18 is the Kitchener-Waterloo event, along Weber Street. It starts at 10 a.m. at Frederick Street near the Downtown Kitchener Campus of Conestoga College. The parade passes near the Waterloo campus of Conestoga. It ends at Erb Street in downtown Waterloo.

It will probably take about an hour or so for all of the floats and displays to pass any location on the route. By tradition, Santa Claus rides a float at the end of the parade, waving to children and wishing a Merry Christmas to all.

Cambridge parades

At 6 p.m., November 18, the Cambridge Santa Claus parade follows Hespeler Road, I startes at Dunbar Road, travels north, and ends at Lang’s Drive. It features illuminated decorations on floats.

Cambridge also hosts a smaller parade on December 2 at 12 p.m. It is in the former Hespeler Village downtown, north of Highway 401. That parade follows Queen Street, starting near Groh Avenue and finishing in Forbes Park on Tannery Street.

Cambridge was formed from three different communities 50 years ago, including Hespeler. The community there celebrates its independence from Cambridge whenever it can, often with its own Hespeler-named celebrations.

Personal Parade planning

Plan to arrive earlier than the start time at the parade route, perhaps an hour or two in the case of larger parades that draw large crowds along the sidewalks. 

People often arrive early with bring lawn chairs, hot drinks in thermal cups and bags of snacks. They position themselves along the curb edge of the sidewalk, and wait. People may then stand behind them in second and third rows.

If you’ve never watched a parade in cool or cold weather, I advise dressing more warmly than you first think you need to – even if the weather seems pleasant. If there’s wind, I always feel much colder while standing still. Rain or snow always tests the best of my warm-weather clothing.

I’ve never found running shoes practical footwear when standing on a cold concrete sidewalk. My feet always get cold. I feel miserable, shuffling and stomping my feet to warm up.

Donation requests at parades

Don’t be surprised to see donation requests from some groups passing along on the parade.

Volunteers from local food banks walk the parade routes, collecting cash and food donations people brought with them.

There’s also a good chance you’ll see people carrying buckets and asking for cash donations to help pay for organizing the parade. Marching bands, for example, usually charge a performance fee to cover their travel and operating costs, even if the musicals are volunteers or students.

Christmas holiday parades are a part of local traditions that I genuinely hope my international students can participate in and enjoy.

Buses to parades

The Kitchener-Waterloo parade is easy for students in Kitchener and Waterloo to access using Grand River Transit buses or ION Light Rail Transit. There are several tram stops near the parade route.

The Cambridge parades are also accessible by GRT buses for my students living in Kitchener-Waterloo. 

For the November 18 parade, it’s likely most efficient to depart Kitchener from the Fairview Park Mall station using the Route 302 Express bus.

That route stops along Hespeler Road in the middle of the parade route, at Cambridge Centre Shopping Centre transit station. City crews usually start closing Hespeler Road to traffic at about 5:45 p.m. That detours the 302 Route buses to the east along Conestoga Boulevard.

Leaving Kitchener on December 2 to reach the Hespeler village parade, the most direct transit option also starts from Fairview Park Mall station.

Take the Route 302 or Route 206 buses to Sportsworld Station, then transfer to Route 203 buses. The 203 Route has several stops in the Hespeler village area, which shuts to traffic for the parade.

Zoom? Zoom! Online college teaching puts my communication skills to the stress test

Updated November 5, 2023

The room 235 classroom clock never changed during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo by Kevin Swayze

The clock on the wall showed 14 minutes to 11.

That’s what I remember from March 12, 2020.

That was the last day I stood in classroom 235 at Conestoga College in Kitchener. I said goodbye to my business communication students, complained about the broken clock and walked out the door. 

My first winter teaching contract was over. I was looking ahead to returning to that room in May.

The world had other plans.

On Friday the 13th, 2020, Ontario Premier Doug Ford started talking about how Ontario would respond to something called COVID-19. Four days later, the province was locked down.  Everyone was ordered to stay home.  My wife and oldest daughter started sewing surgical masks from cotton fabric originally planned for wall hangings and quilts. 

The first time I went for groceries wearing a floral green mask, I snatched the last two packages of toilet paper from the shelves of my closest Food Basics store.

Coveted Covid toilet paper in March 2020. By Kevin Swayze

And stood in line for an hour to get to the checkout. It felt like I was in a store in Florida under a Hurricane watch.

Lockdown learning

I did return to teaching in May 2020. Call it lockdown learning: My classroom reopened on Zoom.  Thirty international students and me managed the stuttering “high-speed internet.”  I was in my basement. They were jammed in little apartments and basements across Waterloo Region.

Nobody turned their cameras on.  Little black squares for students.  I was teaching into the abyss.

I was learning how to communicate all over again. I was learning and modelling business communication in the new online world.

I thought I was an effective communicator before.  Now, I was a drill sergeant in a supportive communications boot camp. No yelling. No pushups. No 20-mile marches.

I poured on patience and empathy.   Laughed a lot.  Commiserated.  Modelled effective communication tactics, like active listening and open questions.  I offered what felt like decades-long pauses after questions, offering addled students space to reply through audio distortion.

How much impact?

I now wonder how much difference my efforts actually made, considering how unfriendly zoom is for inter-personal communication.

My personal dislike of video communications came through, as my anxiety increased. I can only wonder what three hours of a talking head filling the screen for students did to their stress and anxiety.

Now, after I’m back to teaching in-person classes all the time, I see more research into the profound differences between in-person and online communication.

Researchers tracked brain activity when two people interacted, in person and online. The results didn’t surprise me: it’s harder to connect with someone online.

“In this study we find that the social systems of the human brain are more active during real live in-person encounters than on Zoom,” said Hirsch, the Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Psychiatry, professor of comparative medicine and neuroscience, and senior author of the study.

“Zoom appears to be an impoverished social communication system relative to in-person conditions.”

When I’m teaching, it’s all about inter-personal communication. Without trusting me, socially, I doubt students – or anyone – will consider what I share.

My communication style

After I completed a Toastmasters International communication style survey, it was no surprise how I responded to online teaching stress. Here are my results, all scored out of 10.

  • 9 – Supportive – patient, cooperative, and sympathetic. Active listening. Calm and steady – I don’t like tension! (There’s also anegative aspect to the score: I am sometimes indecisive).
  • 2 – Analytical – cautious, precise, and disciplined. Diplomatic. (negative: I can be a perfectionist).
  • 1 – Initiating – sociable and enthusiastic.  Easy communication. Respond to praise (Negative aspects: I tend to talk more than listen).
  • 0 – Direct – results-oriented, focused and competitive (Negative aspects: impatient and demanding)

Confirmed: I am a supportive communicator.  

I don’t push technology to solve problems. I rarely order people around.

Instead of struggling with my class PowerPoint, I tend to talk more about prefer talking Poutine and burritos to keep student attention. Sharing favourite recipes!

I ask questions.  I want to hear about a student’s life experience before logging into the classroom.

Minimal lectures.  I encourage students to share their knowledge.

Their success is my success. 

Online connections

Over six Covid semesters, students respond out of the ether, from overcrowded apartments, or using iPhones while riding a bus home from work on a winter night.

Even during the most stressful online days of Covid, students gave me more than 90 percent positive results in school-wide class experience surveys.  

And I thank them all for teaching me how to improve.

My new normal  – teaching in real and virtual – is all about doubling down on collaboration and conversation.

Classroom 235 looked pretty well the same before Covid lockdown, as after. By Kevin Swayze

I was zooming again in September 2022, but one of my three classes was in person. In the same classroom, I walked out of two and half years ago.  Weird. Very Weird.

The clock on the classroom wall still showed 14 minutes to 11 as the students walk in and I greet them wearing a paper surgical mask.

A lot happened in the 914 days since I last walked back into room 235 – and a lot stayed the same.

This post is based on a speech presented – online – at Cambridge Toastmasters Sept. 15, 2022.