Normally, a 2am text is a cause for alarm, but there’s an 8 hour difference between here and Barcelona, Spain, and that’s often the time that our son has been messaging me. He is on a trip with a group from our town, travelling to Spain, southern France, and Italy; and for the most part, besides being tired and having one rainy day, he is having an amazing time.
Which is good, because travelling doesn’t always bring out the best in people. You are exhausted, it’s stressful, and things aren’t like home. We’ve travelled with our kids a lot, almost every summer to the USA, and they know that in small and big ways people are not the same all over. So when we first found out that they were paired up with a group from Pittsburgh, we talked about being patient and polite. When they met the other group, it was 1/3 kids and 2/3 adults. He still had some reservations, so our text conversations shifted to giving people the benefit of the doubt, and that first impressions aren’t always as they seem. Things seemed to settle in for the kids.
The adults in the other group? A whole other story.
Whenever I hear complaints about “kids these days” I take them with a grain of salt. Granted, some of them will be valid, but after twenty years, I know that kids are literally just kids. They have such limited experience with life, that they make a lot of mistakes. They can misinterpret situations and misjudge their reactions. They are impulsive and often their filters don’t work consistently. But they are also full of wonder, kindness, questions, and concern for others.
I have infinite patience when kids mess up. They’re still learning. I’ve written before that an area I continue to work on is remembering that adults are learners too. That they need differentiation just like kids do. I totally get that.
But……it’s tough to remember when this series of texts starts rolling in at 2am.
Only 9 kids with the other group and the rest are adults. They have made us late and make a real fuss about everything. We talked about this at supper and this morning as well. Today we are supposed to leave at 9. It’s now 9:16….
And it didn’t get better.
Just saw the La Sagrada de Familia and it was awesome. But of course we lost one of the americans so now we get less time to see the city and some of Gaudis architecture. I’m trying really hard not to let it ruin my trip but when I have to rush or only get a few mins at some places now it really does wreck it.
Yah found them. The tour guide just ripped her. It was an adult. Classic American tourist wants to go to Europe then complain that it’s not America when they’re here.
We’ve encountered that a lot in our travels, and that’s not to say that all Canadian tourists are amazing either. Of course they aren’t. But we’ve tried to practice the ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ attitude when we travel, and to take in as much of the local culture as possible. We balance seeing the sights with getting off the beaten path.
As our kids got older, we also tried to appreciate the sights that we see with the knowledge that so many of these amazing structures and places were built with the power and money gained from the oppression of other people. That sometimes getting off that beaten path was literally as close as a tent city of the homeless a block or two away from the great opulence. It’s not about sucking the fun out of travel, but at a minimum, acknowledging the reality of the place we were in, and appreciating our privilege to both visit these places and to come home again.
To differing degrees, you can see most kids get that. They understand what the social norms are depending on the situation or place they are in. They say good morning. They use their manners. They hold doors open (even when adults suspiciously go to the next door instead of one being held open!?)
Of course there are kids that don’t get it.
I wonder if they just haven’t been exposed to many different situations? Yet another reason why we always took our kids out with us to restaurants when they were little.
Never had the norms of that place reinforced? Ahem, just because it’s a rink, doesn’t mean that you get to run wild.
Never had anyone model that behavior? Plausible, but make sure I catch myself from making assumptions about their lives.
A better check: am I modelling that behavior myself?
Which is why, in a world that is more technology-dominated and less physically-connected than ever before, I strongly believe in working with kids on social and emotional learning. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about restorative alternatives when they don’t. It’s all those things we want from them as adults in the ‘real world.’
Hmmmmmmm…..like being on time on a tour??
Maybe it’s the hypocrisy that gets me most when adults complain about kids.
Kids are late? Lock the doors. Reem them out for being late without ever asking why.
Adult late to a meeting? Comes in and sits down. No interrogation.
Kids don’t have a writing utensil? Huuuuge deal. You’ll have to do without.
Adult forgets a pen for that same meeting? Quietly asks to borrow one.
Kids need to use the washroom during class time? We just had a break. You can wait until noon.
Adult needs to go? Doesn’t ask admin for permission, quietly leaves and returns.
Kids don’t have assignment done on time? Late marks or don’t accept it at all.
Adult didn’t complete that form for the SPTRB? Email reminder to get it done as soon as you can.
Kids get an essay assigned to complete over the holiday week?
Adults….okay, I can’t even imagine this one. I would have had a few choice words if admin had assigned some mandatory reading or a project over the break.
*And just to be clear, you won't hear those lines in my classroom!
The Easter Sunday sermon wasn’t on the golden rule, but it’s one I try to remember: treat other people as you’d like to be treated. And for me, that’s something I live by in my classroom. Honestly, the real world is the one we are in right now. The ‘fake one’ is really the contrived rules and expectations, and our responses, that we set up for kids in school that simply don’t exist anywhere else.
To the adults who I will never meet, but who are causing stress to my kid somewhere in Spain, get your shit together and act like…well, act like your responsible kids….and show some courtesy to your fellow travellers.
And to my education colleagues, enjoy the break and recharge. Get better, some of you that were sick! And read if you want to, not because someone made you. I’m hoping my students are doing all of those things too. See you next week!
As I was struggling with what to write about this week, I decided to come back to some notes I’d made from Dr. Roset’s dissertation. Instead of just copying them in here verbatim, I decided to reframe them as verse, and the occasional sets of haiku lol. So kinda like a found poem, none of these words are my own…none…but they are some hopeful words as we head into another week! (Page numbers and other authors referenced!)
Children tend to come to school hopeful,
with conceptions and ideas that are
personally meaningful and
significant to them.
the child does not expect
that most of what goes on in
(thoughts and feelings and
questions and hopes and
desires and fears)
will have to remain
- PRIVATE -
- off limits -
in the social world of the
The prescription for
a dull, uninteresting
and boring classroom
for both students and
teachers is to start where you
want to start, pour in
what you want the child
to learn, pace that instruction
according to a
determined and the pressure of
the school calendar
and then ignore the
inevitable and brute
fact of our students’
I N D I V I D U A L I T Y.
If the conditions
that make for productive growth
and learning do not
exist for teachers,
teachers will be unable
to help to create
and sustain those same
conditions for their students.
Because when the juice
stops flowing for the
teachers, the juice will not flow
in students either.
Hope is the
precursor of action
in the move toward the
realization of desires
Hope is the
precondition for action.
Hope is not itself a force,
But it is a condition,
existing in varying degree
that may SPARK
---> toward goals.
Hope does vary
in the sense that it may be
Coerced from outside oneself
or initiated from one’s own
It may be
Hope grids action.
It is not
Optimism and hope,
like helplessness and despair,
can be learned.
The individual who hopes has
a worldview that looks beyond
the present situation and
there is a way out to a more
that when you
what is in your
it will be
it will not
We cannot achieve
commit ourselves to the
love thy neighbor as thyself.
these are sacred words,
but then again,
COMMUNITY is a
Development of hope
is a process
and stands as the most
Life without hope
carries more trauma
than the human spirit
is an essential condition
for being human.
This past week we hosted our annual Heritage Fair, where students choose topics they are interested in and passionate about, and present their research in a display board and speech in front of judges. It’s a big deal and no small feat.
As we gathered in the gym that morning, our VP talked to the kids about the importance of knowing Canada’s history and heritage. About not understanding our present until we know our past. Of celebrating the good things about who we are as a country and learning lessons from the things we’ve done wrong.
But he started by asking, “Who here is nervous about today?”
Just about every hand went up.
And he let them know that that’s okay. That it means you care about what you’re doing. And that we’d be worried if they didn’t feel that way.
I came across a tweet by author/speaker Brett Bartholomew that had the same sentiment: I still get anxious every time before I speak at a large conference. Used to think it was a weakness, the truth is I’m anxious because I care enough about wanting to do a good job. Never take one moment for granted, and learn to use your emotions to focus your work.
It’s also one of many lessons I’ve taken away from Brene Brown:
Are vulnerable experiences easy? No.
Can they make us feel anxious and uncertain? Yes.
Do they make us want to self-protect? Always.
Does showing up for these experiences with a whole heart and no armor require courage? Absolutely.
I was really proud of all of our students, and knowing the whole journey of how they got there made it even more impressive for some kids. That two days before, I had students asking me to stand beside them for support as they did a dress rehearsal in front of the class. That one student absolutely froze and was convinced she was going to faint. That a display board was literally unassembled a day before, not because the parts weren’t all there, but because this student has some roadblocks getting work to completion.
The day arrived.
I didn’t have to stand beside anyone as they presented. That student didn’t faint, and in fact, came to tell me how well her speech had gone. And the board came together, with the help a big sister and a confidence boost from home the night before.
It’s not often that we ask students to be so vulnerable. It’s scary.
Even more so for the kids who had two RCMP officers in uniform sitting in front of them as judges!
Brene Brown writes that “Choosing our own comfort over hard conversations is the epitome of privilege.” I was also proud of the students who chose tough topics, ones that challenge our narratives and call attention to colonial practices. Residential Schools. Highway of Tears and MMIW. The Sixties Scoop. LGBTQ Pride Awareness. A student who chose John A. Macdonald as a topic and didn’t ignore his racist policies. A student researching the Canadian Pacific Railway WITH HER SOLE FOCUS ON THEIR COLONIAL PRACTICES AND THEIR HARMFUL EFFECTS ON CHINESE AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLE. Wow. I sometimes forget these kids are 12 years old.
They give me hope.
The Canadian Pacific Railway was finished on November 7, 1885. The last spike was pounded in by Donald A. Smith in Eagle Pass, British Columbia. It was a huge success for Canada. All that was seen at the time was the railway, a sign of unity, power and a quickly developing country. What wasn’t significant in the minds of Canada – or the rest of the world – was the price that others had paid for their benefit. The Chinese and what could almost have been called slavery. Half of the population being called upon to hand over resources and money to a cause that had nothing to do with them. First Nations being forced off their land by white settlers that had just come to Canada and still were favoured over the people native to the country. Those are the things that nobody sees. And sometimes, they are the things that matter most. Some people look only at the good history, the things that Canada has done well and done fairly. But to get a true picture of Canada’s history and who we really are, I believe that we need to look deeper. The only way to learn is to learn from our mistakes. And I believe that the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway is an opportunity to do just that.
When we care, and make ourselves vulnerable, disappointment can be soul-crushing. And because we are only allowed to send six projects out of our 53 to the next level of competition, I had a lot of disappointed kids.
And for different reasons, none of the examples I mentioned above were chosen by the judges to move on. There was a range of reactions to that disappointment: some were angry, some wanting to place blame, and some literally already planning for next year.
It was a good teachable moment, made even more poignant when a student asked, “Well if we didn’t move on, what was the point of it all?”
We asked “why” so often through the process, I never anticipated we would be asking it at the end.
So we answered that together too.
Like I said, they give me hope.
It’s difficult for me to write essays and present information to you, because like most of you I’m scared to be judged. Today I’m talking about LGBTQ+ movement. This topic needs to be discussed more. Yes, gay marriage has been legalized and yet there are people who still don’t understand the community. There are parts of the world where being gay will get you killed. I believe most people understand and accept our community and yet sometimes that’s all they see when they look at gay people – they forget we are human beings. Our gender and/or sexuality is not all of who we are. It does not define who we are, just like your gender and sexuality are not what you are…I hope you will have gone home with a little more knowledge than before. Remember that no matter who we are or what we do, we are all equal. One day I hope sexuality isn’t what people think define us all. I hope we accept everyone for who they are. And remember, ‘open your mind to wonder instead of closing it with beliefs.’
Till next week, tervetuloa, tawâw, welcome.
One of my guiding quotes for life is by Maya Angelou: Do the best you can until you know better. When you know better, do better. But what I’ve been stuck thinking about lately is, if I am doing the right thing, do the reasons why I’m doing it matter?
This week I was able to take a few students to a leadership workshop put on by the WE Day group. In it, they talked about the difference between simply taking on an awareness or fundraising project, and learning WHY the project is important. Essentially, that context is crucial for empathy, understanding, and long term changes in attitude.
For most of us, it’s not that hard to do the right thing. And usually, the right thing is pretty apparent. What is more difficult is getting to that WHY part.
I’m a self-professed rule-follower. A lot of the time I am doing what I’m supposed to, well, because I’m supposed to do it. For our students, we have a multitude of expectations in terms of behavior and work habits. So does the world. Most kids will follow these out of compliance. Most adults will too. But is that good enough? Is it good enough that you are following the norms if you don’t understand why we expect the courtesy of not interrupting? Is it good enough if you can’t translate that into another space and place? (*rink behavior anyone?*)
Consequences work, but should we do the right thing simply out of fear? I don’t need the RCMP to be at every construction zone running radar for me to not speed through them, and my heart rate jumps a bit when I see them, even though I’m not doing anything wrong! But do I slow down for the speed cameras in the city? I sure do. I don’t want to pay a ticket any more than the next person. Does it make lasting changes to my driving habits? That’s more debatable. In my classroom, I’m not big on using rules, and try to reframe them as ‘courtesies’ instead, with one exception. If a substitute teacher takes the time to leave your name for misbehaviour, it’s an automatic detention. The expectation is clear. Yet knowing full-well there is a consequence, why are there always names on that list?
I don’t think we can underestimate the power of obligation either. Maybe this is more for adults, but even though there are worthwhile endeavors, both in and out of school, I find myself committing to things out of guilt. Feeling that I need to do it, because no one else can. Doing things because you know it will make it easier for another person, even if not for yourself. For our students, even when given a lot of student voice, choice, and ownership of their learning, it can still feel obligatory. They will do things for a myriad of reasons, but not the main reason we want them to: because they care deeply about it.
For the most part, I try to do the right thing because I try to be a good person. But there’s a line somewhere where the things we love become chores. Where the passion plummets.
Rekindling that desire isn’t easy, but it’s doable.
But what really scares me is seeing kids who don’t care about anything. Not issues. Not people. Not the world they live in. And definitely not the world beyond themselves.
Doing the right thing is infinitely harder if you don’t value anything. What happens when you know better, but don’t choose to do better?
Last week, I felt really bad, and I don’t feel that way very often. I try to be cognizant of other people’s feelings, mostly because I feel really guilty when I hurt someone, even inadvertently. But this wasn’t just a guilty-bad. Nope, it was more than that. And I didn’t like that feeling. At all.
For the first time in a long time, I truly thought about the power of restoration. It was a feeling so strong that I knew I would do whatever I could to put things right.
And maybe that’s what is missing in those times we don’t choose to do the right thing, or we do the right thing, but not for the right reasons…the restorative aspect. The “why.” Looking someone in the face and seeing them as a person. Looking beyond what was happening to consider why it happened. Looking beyond my own perspective. Not just saying sorry because its expected, or because you feel guilty, or because you should… but because you understand why you should. Like I was reminded at the leadership conference, understanding how/why your behaviour impacts others is an empathetic response that leads to long term change.
“Emotional regulation isn’t instinctive, it’s learned.” Which is why we make our own children say sorry when they are little. Excuse me, when they bump into someone. Please. And thank you. We need to continue to do the same thing with them as they grow, but with the additional understanding of who they affected and why.
I’ve ordered a book by Maynard and Weinstein that talks about working with students around the values of: respect, relationships, responsibility, repairing the harm, and reintegrating back into routine. “Holding students directly and personally responsible for their behavior is what sparks intrinsic change. Mediations give students insight into the real impact of their behavior. Combine them with restorative practices and you have the formula for empathy, positive culture, and lasting change.”
If I am doing the right thing, does it really matter my reasons why I’m doing it? Yep. Yep, it does.
Hang in there everybody! Tervetuloa. Tawâw.
Sports are hard on the heart. And I mean that in both the literal and figurative sense. Hands clenched and teeth gritted. Blood pressure definitely up. But also that dull ache in your heart itself when you watch a game start to slip away. Emotions running high. Penalties. Bad passes. Goals. But not ours.
Last week I wrote about being on a bus trip for game one of the Provincial Northern Final in hockey. Our boys had a 5-0 lead that disappeared in the final handful of minutes in the third period. They still came away with a two goal advantage in a two-game, total-point series. But it weighed on our minds that it could have been an almost insurmountable five.
The return series was last night in our home rink. I texted my daughter and some friends the play by play. Here’s my half of the convos:
Omg I shouldn’t feel so nervous!!
Dewey already in box. Like a minute in…
And now they have a 5 on 3.
Whew killed them off.
2 more penalties. Frick.
1-0 for them
2-2 back to square one lol
3-2 us. Finally.
4-2. Feels like we are rolling.
4-4 uh oh. That one was on the D.
Starting the 3rd w a penalty.
Wait they just called that back.
Momentum is not on our side rn.
5-4 for them.
5 mins left.
Gram is so nervous. Me too.
Going to provincials!!!
But just as interesting were the supportive texts I got back as the game went back and forth:
Hang in there!!!
Just remember u have no control mom.
The boys will find a way.
Nail biter time. Keep it simple boys, keep it simple.
Nothing gets behind the D!!
Step it up boys
Oh my stressful! It must be a full barn!
Fantastic! Tell the boys congrats.
What a roller coaster. In the end, we won the series 9 goals to 8, and so our kids are headed to the provincial final! These next two weeks are not going to get any easier lol.
I read something on twitter this week along the same lines. I couldn’t find it again, but here’s the gist:
Working with student behavior and emotion is like a roller coaster. As teachers, it’s our job to stay on the platform, not get in the car with them.
Well, that’s easier said than done.
When we are watching our kids play sports, it’s hard not to be personally invested even if I’m not out there on the ice. With our students, it’s the same. To see them hurting. Struggling. So much of that I can’t control, anymore than I can control what’s happening out on the ice. But I feel it just the same.
Teacher and staff wellness has become a more prominent issue on social media recently. As it should be. As educator Kelly Gallagher wrote, “Today I feel more like a social worker than a teacher. Of course, we are social workers every day, but I have these moments where I feel a bit overwhelmed by the trauma my students are experiencing. Today is one of those days.” So true.
One tweet by a Saskatchewan educator/writer got a lot of traction this week. She was tweeting a thought from a keynote speaker at a conference she was at, and it read, “Administrators: Your number one job is to be in a great mood. Your staff takes on your mood.” Well, there was definitely some pushback on that, and I think she spent a lot of time clarifying that it was just one quote without its larger context.
I understand the sentiment. It’s similar to one I heard this summer from Davin Hildebrand and Cory Rideout: the school looks like the principal. Administrators help to shape the culture, model language and behaviors, and generally set the expectations of the school. In a similar way, teachers do the same thing in our classrooms. Do we start with a good morning and sharing or just start the lesson? Do we talk to kids in those in-between spaces and places in your day? Do the words we choose show that we value and care about them?
But here’s the rub. Teachers and administrators…we are all human too. There is no way that we can come to work every single day in a great mood.
We ride our own roller coasters too.
So I like the response by a Regina educator, Kelly Christopherson. “But I’ll push back – this evokes the superhero image of being beyond human, able to bury all life’s happenings to be in a good mood. Maybe, let’s share leadership, humanize the position, so that when the principal isn’t in a good mood, others can empathize and step in…As I look at the retweets and likes of this one tweet, I wonder about the message that is being emphasized and the effect it has on people especially those in admin positions. If things don’t work out, and everyone isn’t happy, it’s a burden one carries for a long time…It’s a good conversation. The complexities of teaching are increasing in ways no one imagined. This exponential change requires different approaches to teaching and leading that embrace the complexity while celebrating the very human side of what teachers do.”
We don’t need to jump into the roller coaster car with kids. We can’t ride that ride for them. But we need to recognize that being on the platform isn’t easy either. We need to take care of ourselves and be aware of the emotional toil that watching them on their journey has on us too.
Because what we do is hard on the heart. And I mean that in both the literal and figurative sense too. Just like the friends who were talking me down through their texts, we need to support each other in the difficult work we do. To help us remember that for all the times the dull ache of disappointment is there, that there is also the heart-pumping joy of small successes and victories. That no matter what happens, no matter the result, we are all in this together.
And.........GO DELISLE BRUINS!!
As we head into this week, everyone is welcome…cheer loud! Tervetuloa! Tawâw!
This past week I read an article called, “The Breath-taking, Life-altering Power of Being a Dork” by Jennifer Gonzalez.
It’s like she was looking across the table, pointedly staring me in the eye. And that’s okay. It’s who I am. There are days even my husband tells me I’m being a dork, although I’m not always sure that is meant quite as complimentary lol.
In her story, she recalls a boy from high school, a trombone player. Instead of jamming out to a song with a little air guitar, this guy fully committed to an air-trombone solo. Just being a dork.
Jeez. I even played the trombone in band.
I don’t know if I realized how dorky I was growing up. Being in band. Playing the piano. Always having my nose in a book. Being a total nerd about school.
Not sure what other criteria there was, but pretty sure I met it. But so did everyone else in my family, and in the farms around us, so maybe I just didn’t know any differently.
Not to say that I wasn’t aware of the social hierarchies, even in our small town school. Oh, I was. But when I hit university in the music department, well, I found my home. So many like-minded people who just did their thing. And were totally cool about it. My fellow dorks, I still love you all.
This past week, I signed out two books out of the STF library. I read a lot, so really this isn’t worth mentioning. But this time they were Master’s and Doctoral dissertations on ‘Hope and the Instructional Leader.’ Even people who I book-swap and book-talk education with thought this was dorky…okay, they didn’t say that exactly….but I’m pretty good at inferencing.
Especially when their actual response was:
Yep, I know. And that’s okay.
Gonzalez says dorkiness means to ‘embrace your real passions without apology.’ I love to read and I love to learn. No apology from me there.
But to walk my dorkiness back a little bit, these weren’t random dissertations I was looking for. One of the most amazing teachers and human beings EVER, Dr. Sharon Roset, taught at the elementary school beside us for many years. Despite her vast education, she never left the classroom and used her immense knowledge to help decades of students.
Not unsurprisingly, her studies focused on hope.
And if there is anything I believe more passionately for our students, it’s that we should be harbingers of hope, not the destroyers of it.
I’m only halfway through the first book, but I’m realizing that in 1999, how much ahead of her research is applicable in our classrooms today. Here’s just a couple of snippets:
Gonzalez says dorks are inspiring people. They love learning. They ‘free the dork in others’ by going first. And they put a dent in the status quo. “The world becomes more interesting when brave people put themselves out there.”
I think they are also hopeful people. In order to act, you have to hope and believe in the outcome.
Right now I am riding in a bus full of over fifty hopeful people, travelling almost four hours to our destination halfway across Saskatchewan: provincial hockey semi-finals. I always have hopes before games. Mine are usually more about no one getting hurt, and my son playing his best. But now that it is playoffs, like everyone else, I’m hopeful for a win.
I’m also hoping there will be some wi-fi there so I can get this blog post out to you too. This week, it was one year of blogging for me…I’m thankful for the personal growth it has given me, and hopeful that I’ll continue to find things to share too.
Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome.
Bare with me. This post is a bit different than most.
We are just home from a Celebration of Life for our next door neighbor, who passed away this week at a much-too-young age of 63. There were cowboy hats and boots on a lot of people there, alongside shirts from the Sturgis motorbike rally, and Bruins hockey jerseys. There were laughs, tears, and even some occasional swearing in the speeches. It was a unique service for a unique man.
His daughters played a duet of an Aria, and a niece played Beethoven’s Fur Elise on the piano, a song from his favorite movie The Man from Snowy River. Beside them, his Harley Davidson gear. A display of his many awards from marathon horse races.
His boots. His hat. His saddle.
Behind us, before the service started, I overheard a man say he had no idea how many worlds a person exists in without the others knowing. As we looked around, there were people from our own distinct worlds that we saw and wondered, ‘How did they know Jerald?’
He was a true modern Renaissance man.
As his family detailed in many stories, he lived his life fast and furious, determined through setbacks, creating opportunities where there were none, and always seeing the positive in every situation. And there were multiple cow situations as examples!
A man whose kindness in helping an elderly gentleman with his bag on an airplane turned into receiving a phone call from Bobby Orr wishing him a happy birthday.
A man who was an imaginative child with made-up Batman adventures complete with costumes, who loved to draw and create, and who read Tolkien to his own children growing up.
A man with a Harley. A cowboy through and through. An avid reader.
A man who loved learning his whole life, but didn’t love school because “it told him what to learn.”
In today’s educational jargon, Jerald was a true lifelong learner with the ultimate growth mindset. The educational system we went through in the 70s and 80s wasn’t set up with these ideas in mind. Quite the opposite. Compliance. Submission. If you didn’t fit that mold, or eventually mold to the mold, school was a rough ride.
And not every person has this internal passion and drive. This resilience. How many young people’s dreams and aspirations were quashed by that mindset? How many paths through life were altered and tamped down?
On the drive home, I saw an article on Twitter than caught my attention, partly because it talked about the Finnish education system but partly because the words “Progressive methods don’t work. Simple.” jumped off my screen. It proceeded to make claims from a Finnish/Asia correspondent that essentially touted Asian success for these reasons: they “start their education earlier, work harder, and work longer.” That “Finland’s education system lowers the bar accordingly to match a student’s talent and skill set.” That in Finland, “open competitiveness is less socially acceptable” and that when Finland “strives to make learning fun and creative” it sacrifices “long-term educational gains if success is always measured on a student’s instant gratification.” (bigthink.com)
I just don’t even know where to start on this one, and don’t think I could possible disagree any more vehemently.
To the article’s credit, it did give a cursory look at the other side of those issues at the end, and acknowledged that there is a short-term gain to the Asian ‘uncompromising schedules and test-driven milieu’ and that any takeaways from the Finnish education system should “harmonize with an understanding of Finland’s culture, its history, and a wider range of evidence.”
When I see how excited students are to choose their own topics for Heritage Fair, how they self-advocate and start talking about making a movie for it, or sketching out how they want their display to look, I can’t help but be excited with them. I don’t want kids to hate school because it told them what they could learn and how to learn it. The service today was proof of a life well-lived when you never quit learning, or loving learning. Full stop.
The family talked a lot today about Jerald’s ability to tell stories and to get to know other people’s stories. Even in a trip to the bathroom! We shared a lot of our own stories about our neighbor today, and realized how fast twenty years has gone. In lieu of a guest book, the family asked people to share pictures and thoughts in a memory book for Jerald. Sometimes words just don’t suffice:
There are few people that come to mind as connected to the land as Jerald. With his horses and his dogs…with his not-locking-the-front-door style of country living…with J’s castle and zipline…his love and pride for his family was obvious. Jerald was our go-to neighbor when we had questions and needed help, and he was always gracious and generous with both. We will miss him very much, and our rural life of stray animals and snowstorms, of seasons and sunsets, will always be connected to thoughts of him as well.
His wife finished the tribute by challenging us all to visit with a stranger we didn’t know, and to get to know their story. Just like Jerald would have.
As we head into this week, everyone is welcome. Tervetuloa. Tawâw.
When I was taking my Master’s classes, there was a lot of research about, well, research. Quantitative. Qualitative. Triangulation Mixed Method Design. Action Research. And although I’d sometimes get lost in the statistical and mathematical aspects of it, not all research is just about numbers, as we also learned about the importance of story in indigenous methodologies.
This past week, after reading a tweet thread by one of my favorite authors, I was thinking about how we often try to quantify other aspects of our life. Here is it below:
“There are whole industries dependent on our anxieties – over ageing, over weight, over our lack of status, over money, over relationships. Every year there are new things to worry about. Should I eat more protein? Have I done enough steps on my app? It’s relentless.
“From school we are placed in a data machine. A grade machine. And then our life becomes numerate. How much money we earn. How many followers we have. How old we are. How many steps we’ve done. How many calories we’ve consumed. A sad mathematical life.
“By constantly being encouraged to quantify our worth, we devalue it. We are infinite. Life is infinite. The miracle of witnessing it is immeasurable. We are all enough.” @matthaig1
There are so many immeasurables this past holiday week when we traveled to Calgary to visit our daughter. Things we could count: How many kilometers it was. How many hours it took to drive. How many days we spent. And I’ll definitely have a quantifiable amount on my credit card next month!
But, just like the Mastercard commercial says, some things are priceless. I can’t put a number on how many laughs we had, or the ridiculous silly banter between siblings. There’s no measurement scale to tell when the older sister has had enough of her brother bumping into her on purpose while shopping. (But it’s a higher amount than I would have had patience for!)
When we went skiing in Banff for a day, the temperature was measurable, and the windchill too! But how can you calculate the absolute stunning beauty of a sunny day in the mountains, the luminous blue of the sky, and the adrenaline rush of finishing a run that was probably a bit outside of your skill (and comfort) level?
We also took in two Calgary Flames games. There’s a lot to be measured there! Seat and row numbers, goals and penalty minutes, and the number of really annoying people who talk very loudly like they were in their living room watching the game on tv. (Two. In both games!) Not quantifiable? The collective gasps and cheers from the crowd, the home team coming away with two wins, and the cool ‘just being there in person’ feeling.
Annnnnd then there’s leaving. Inevitably, tears. The pep-talk that it’s not that long until Easter break. Mom being strong on the outside for everyone else, but my heart breaking on the inside. And the sudden realization that the next time I’m driving away from Calgary, in late August, I’ll be leaving both my kids behind there.
You can’t measure that.
When I did ELA interviews with my grade 7s in January, they brought a portfolio of evidence for different learning objectives. When I’d ask them how they felt about each piece, a common (and unexpected) response was, “Well, I worked really hard on it.” Hmmm. Okay. What specifically do you like most about it? “I put lots of effort into it. It took me a long time.” Alright. I need to ask better questions! And we did get there, talking about the complexity of their piece, or the word choice or main idea. But it did strike me at the time how it’s really hard for kids to separate quantifiable aspects from other non-measurable ones like time, effort, and emotion. And I do mean non-measurable…it’s really irrelevant to the final piece how long you’ve worked on it. Does it sometimes correlate? Sure. But there have been blog posts I whipped off in no time and others that I’ve agonized for hours writing, and I doubt that the reader could sort which was which. Same goes for effort. And I would never EVER give a mark on the heart and soul that a student poured into their piece. Not unless I wanted them to never write from their heart again.
Positive comments for growth. No exceptions.
I stumbled across some feedback that I had gotten at the end of Grade 10 ELA. I really wish my old teacher was on Twitter to give him a shoutout. (He isn’t. I’ve checked!) But here’s what he wrote as a final comment for my journal collection of 20 writing pieces.
Edla: Never, well almost, would I have believed in awarding a perfect score for journals – even if there was paraphernalia included. But, here it is – never! Lots of possibilities, here, if you want to risk, share, take abuse, and maybe glow! Enjoy your summer holidays! 12:15am. E.C.
So there’s a couple of things that make me laugh. I love that he used the word paraphernalia and I have ABSOLUTELY no idea what that was about! I wonder what the heck I attached to my journals, although I can assure you that it’s not the paraphernalia that the word itself conjures up. I also love that he made a point of telling me what time he finished marking. Lol. Some things just don’t change over time for teachers! Yah, it focused on what mark I got and in those days I was OBSESSED with getting good marks.
But mostly, I love the confidence he gave me as a writer, and how he was honest about what happens when you share your writing…and these were pre-internet and pre-Twitter days. He would have had no idea what kind of risk that is and how much abuse is out there now. He also wouldn’t have had any idea how much his feedback always meant to me, and how influential my memories of him as a teacher continue to be.
As we head into another week of freezing weather, let’s try not to live a ‘sad mathematical life’ focusing on the ridiculous windchill numbers, but remember that, “We are infinite. Life is infinite. The miracle of witnessing it is immeasurable. We are all enough.”
P.S. If anyone knows Mr. Ed Chow who is now a Vice-Principal at LA Matheson School in Surrey, British Columbia, wish him a (belated) Happy Teacher Appreciation Week from an old (very old) student!
Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome.
World Read Aloud day was on February 2, a day to celebrate and recognize the many benefits of reading out loud to children. My 7 and 7/8 ELA classes had chosen some picture books, and we walked next door to read to the Kindergarten, Grade 1s and 1/2s. In the first class we paired up, it didn’t divide up evenly, so I grabbed a book and sat down on the floor with my little partner. She instantly crawled into my lap like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Which, of course, it is.
It’s been a while. To be honest, my own kids aren’t really kids anymore, and I’d forgotten what that was like. I read out loud a lot in class, to model all the important things like asking questions, making inferences, using expression. But the proximity of someone sitting there, pointing, giggling, helping to turn pages, making the animal sound effects (and there were lots of them!)…well…there’s nothing that really can describe that.
Happiness doesn’t even quite encapsulate it.
Joy is closer.
And that feeling was there for both of us, which is kind of the point of the day. As the Kids and Family Reading Report says, “research reveals (reading aloud) is a highly interactive experience—it’s a partnership…This interactivity fuels the child-parent bond that children express when asked to describe why they love read-aloud time.”
I remember mom reading with us every night, often from the “Story a day” book. Three little girls likely all clamoring for space to see the pictures, and to be closest to mom. For my own kids, I remember the cuddles at bedtime and taking turns for whose bed we were reading on that night.
My daughter recently had a university nursing class that was discussing the idea of narratives and analyzing what impact stories have on us…for example, how caring is a concept, not a concrete thing, and how everyone interprets that differently. They were supposed to think about a children’s book from their childhood and the professor picked a few students to share.
To be honest, she has had a crazy three weeks of quizzes, midterms and finals, a research essay, preparing care plans for the two clinical days in the hospital each week, and more. She is tired! And so, lucky her, she was one of the people called on in class. She said she barely got out the title of the book before she was overwhelmed by emotion…thinking about the book made her think about home and missing us. Between teary sobs, she managed to squeak out an apology, trying to insist she wasn’t normally so sensitive.
But therein lies the power of books. The moments we share aren’t just about words on a page. They are so much more.
It probably didn’t help that the book she thought of was Robert Munsch’s “I’ll Love You Forever.” That story is a blow to the heart, no matter what age you are.
But when I think about the time we spent reading together as a family, I carry a lot of guilt too. There were nights that it became a chore, especially when they hit school-age and the nightly readers came home. There was pressure to get through the required number of pages, and to have them do the reading. Which is fine, except that my son really struggled with reading, and by the time that whole frustrating exercise was over, he was often mad and his interest in sitting and listening was done. And if we reversed the order, he knew that his turn to read was coming, and it clouded the whole experience. Add in the weekly spelling lists, where he would get half wrong on Monday, then we practice them all week only for him to get those words right, and the ones he originally had correct, all wrong on Friday. It’s no wonder that we sucked the love of reading and books and words right out of him.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the end of grade 4 that a specialized eye exam revealed he had an accommodation issue with his eyes, which meant they weren’t working in tandem and things like letters and numbers were jumbled. Soooo much lost time.
Like I said, a lot of guilt.
That joy of reading is a hard thing to find when it’s lost. Research shows a huge drop off in reading aloud to our kids once they are reading on their own, but it also says not to stop! When I think of all the benefits for students - the word exposure, the listening and comprehension skills, the empathetic response, the beauty of being sucked into an enthralling read-aloud - it’s something that I will continue to do as a teacher, no matter what age of students. There’s nothing like coming to a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter, and the collective “NO! Don’t stop!” from the kids to fully appreciate the author’s power to make us feel.
And all is not lost. Reading truly is a lifelong journey. In the past two years in ELA, my son has been encouraged and helped in finding books that fit his interests. He has been given dedicated time every single day at school to read. He has talked about books. He has bought his own books. And he has had strong reading role models that show it’s not only okay to read, but to be a reader.
Since it’s Teacher Appreciation Week, it’s a perfect time to say thank you for giving him the gift of reading again. And thanks to all the teachers who bring joy to students in so many ways, each and every day.
Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome.
“It’s undeniable that it is hard to fit everything needed to raise a child into a single day, or even week. But I urge you, parents, grandparents, caregivers and educators, to look closely at this powerful data and to see the opportunities that will open up for the child in your life. Parents tell us they are incorporating read-aloud moments into routines, using them at impromptu times throughout the day, reading aloud to foster quiet time or as a part of an already boisterous playtime. And while the study shows that it is still the mother who reads aloud most often to her children, let’s make a new commitment—as dads, as men, as grandfathers, as siblings— to read more often to the children in our homes and in our care.” Pam Allyn, Senior Vice President, Scholastic Education Innovation and Development
This past week we made some changes. And in case anyone was under any delusions, change is hard. It pushes people outside of their comfort zone, takes away their status quo, and generally makes us “un”…uncooperative, uncertain, unconvinced, and a whole bunch of uncomfortable. But the message I kept repeating (to myself too!) is that there is no growth without change.
Try to imagine a situation where there is growth but everything is stays precisely the same…I googled it…it’s not possible lol. Growing always means changing. It’s whether you choose to look at that change with a growth mindset or not: is this an opportunity to set new goals? Have higher hopes? Just reset and start again?
I made a big change in terms of assessment in ELA for progress reports this year. It was not without a lot of “un” words too! I had aspirations, then doubts, then regained confidence in the process. More than anything, I know it allowed for growth. Here’s what we did:
Essentially, my students prepared a portfolio of evidence around five main ELA goals to determine their January progress report mark. Everything else in my gradebook was set to ‘feedback, not for marks’ and then we sat down for a one-on-one interview. In it, we went through each goal and discussed strengths, things to work on, and agreed on a 1-4 assessment level.
I can’t even begin to put words to how powerful those conversations were.
I’m pretty confident that I generally give fair assessments…lots of opportunities for student choice and voice in their writing, but I also encourage videos, presentations, sketchnotes, PowToons, and other ways to show their learning. We do a standardized reading assessment that breaks down areas of main idea, recalling facts, vocabulary, inferences, and author’s approach. We explicitly show how we use reading strategies by annotating text. And more.
But the difference here? It’s not just me marking their work. It’s not just me looking at their evidence.
It’s them explaining their thinking. Detailing what they liked about their writing. Describing their process as they look at a brand new piece of text. Going through their reading test and seeing if it was a variety of small errors or a big area to focus on.
Not me. Us.
Hearing them describe their work in their own words was something else, and it made them think deeply too. We moved away from the ‘I put a lot of effort into this so it’s my best’ into more specific and detailed answers with a few ‘how does effort show in this piece then?’ and ‘why is this stronger than something you’ve written earlier?’ questions.
Suddenly, we are analyzing descriptive language and dialogue. We are discussing the use of transitions in between video clips and photos, and what they would have done differently so their sketchnote would make more sense to someone else. We are talking.
When I think about triangulation of data, having the formal interview with students and bringing in their strongest recent work, I am only missing documenting my observations of students throughout the term. You’re probably wondering, ‘Don’t you already do that while students are creating those pieces?’ Absolutely. There’s a ton of side-by-side work and formative assessment happening in the moment. But I plan to set up a notebook with our five big goals in it, and have a quick record of what I am seeing occasionally as well.
We also did interviews in Social 8 and it was even more striking to me how effective this format is. For the main areas around culture and identity, I used the curriculum outcomes and Concentus.ca to compile a list of 16 questions for students to consider. They weren’t simple. They were complex questions that required detailed answers. Some students required a bit of ‘tell me more’ prompting, but most of them blew me out of the water with thoughtful responses that I would never have gotten from them in any sort of written format. I gave them the option to bring in a cheat sheet if they wanted. Some did and some didn’t. Only one student even looked at theirs, and really just for confidence. They didn’t have to answer all 16 either as I was hoping for quality of understanding over quantity. When they came in, they drew out five numbers, corresponding to the numbers on the questions, and when given an opportunity at the end to answer a question that they didn’t pick, no one hesitated.
None of this was my own. I totally took Erin Hill and Brett Kirk’s ideas of final interviews and projects. They have been doing amazing work in this area for a while. I even literally used their rubrics and format, and adapted them to work for me and my students. And as we prepared for our interviews in the week before, the questions that students had for me were already helping me re-shape what these will look like when we do this again at the end of June.
Here’s where it really hit home.
I only did this for certain classes and subjects. Not across the board. Many of the subjects, like Social 7 and Arts Ed were still an average of their assignments and tests across the two terms. So the student who didn’t complete those first two assignments in September, or did poorly on them, asks the question all students ask when they see their mark: why did I get a…? even though his most recent work is stronger, more detailed, and completed. I know that some educators solve this problem by weighting assignments or terms, but to me that just muddies the assessment waters even more. And even when I keep my PowerSchool as simple and straightforward as possible, it’s software, and sometimes I’m even baffled by what their algorithms do to generate a mark. How much clearer it was for students to be a partner in their assessment – no surprises, just honest collaborative conversations.
So what were the challenges? Yah. There were a few! First, it’s hard to do this quickly and meaningfully. I set a timer on my phone to keep (myself and) the interview on track, but every single one went longer. Which was okay. I used up every period of the day whether it was ELA or not, plus the whole noon hour, and yanked kids out of another class during my prep period too. I was lucky to have the support of a substitute teacher that was available to help supervise students after his exam was done. Of course, Murphy’s Law had it that several buses didn’t run due to weather and so I spent the next day(s) trying to finish up.
I teach a split class with the Social 8, so I have fewer students and was able to have longer conversations with them. I really tried not to do a disservice to the process, but it was definitely starting to feel rushed towards the end. I also know through our talks that we will be doing a lot more around the area of self-assessment and goal setting, which means I’ve got some reading to do myself lol.
This was top on my sheet to students: Why assessment conferences and reflection? Because you are more than just a number…because not one piece of writing can show everything…because your ELA abilities are defined by improvements and needs, not averages…because reading and writing skills are lifetime of work, and much more than a checklist.
In June, I’m adding …because there is no growth without change, and you have both grown and changed this year…this is where we show it.
Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome. Tawâw.
Stay warm this week!
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