You can tell that summer is coming and things are winding down, not the least of which is that hockey will finally be over with the Stanley Cup final starting tomorrow night – go Vegas!! But I’m thinking more about the dance recitals, swimming competitions, band festivals, and my own two nieces kicking butt and winning awards in Karate Nationals in Ottawa recently. I have seen gold plaques, gold medals, and lots of proud social media posts by parents, directors, and coaches in the last week. Award season is most definitely in full swing!
So inevitably I started thinking about why we give awards...what the purpose is…how we determine the criteria…who we give awards to…who we are leaving out.
And there it is.
I really didn’t know what I was going to write about this week, until someone suggested that we had been discussing how to honor more students at our annual Education Celebration and recognize the hard work that they are doing. When I looked back at the posts that I had saved this week, I could see the trend was there all along.
1. “What is real, what is true, what is of value? Then how do we teach that and how do we recognise it, as you say? Then remunerate for that.” Mandy Ross @eskicatepillar
2. “What sense does an honor roll make if a student who didn’t have to work extremely hard to their grades got A’s and B’s, yet a student that works extremely hard and surpasses expectations to get C’s gets no recognition?” Brad Weinstein @WeinsteinEdu
3. “I wish I had a way of noticing every time a stronger kid stands up for a weaker kid. That kind of character deserves some sort of special medal. I’ll take that over ‘honor roll’ any day of the week.” Danny Steele @SteeleThoughts
4. “Fleury: ‘It’s still fun to come to practice, it’s not hard to get up for it.’ The attitude of a guy who just loves to play hockey.” Vegas Golden Knights @GoldenKnights
5. “I’ve had my share of disappointments…it doesn’t mean I wasn’t good enough…it just means I wasn’t my best that day…or maybe someone else was just better than me…no matter how good you are there is always someone better…as I have matured I’ve realized that I care less about accolades, recognition or prizes and that the only one I am in competition with is myself…the goal is to be a better person today than I was yesterday…disappointments…I’ve had a few…it builds character and character breeds respect…it starts with you…be love and be loved…ekosi.” Rodger W. Ross
That’s why I love twitter. It always makes me think.
Each year, celebrating the great students in our building and the amazing things that they are doing is a work in progress, and there is no doubt that it’s an imperfect vehicle for student recognition. But I also believe that each year we make changes to improve it, and this one is no exception! Since I borrowed words from lots of people to make up this week’s post, I’ll finish with words someone lent me today: “In the end, creating a learning-focused culture requires an organization to answer this question: Are we here to ensure students are taught, or are we here to ensure that our students learn?...Is our work about building walls and documenting who climbs over them, or making sure all our learners have the tools and supports to get over any wall life places in front of them?” (Katie White @KatieWhite426) As we make award decisions in the near future, these are good questions for us all, not just about student learning but in recognizing student learning.
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
Looking at social media posts, everyone has had a fabulous long weekend! Or I guess I should say, it looks like everyone has had a fabulous long weekend.
That’s the rub with social media – we create the story we want to tell and craft it carefully. I suppose that’s how it always has been; even pre-internet, people were only privy to the information you offered, so private matters often stayed that way. Now, many young people have separate lives on display as they run two Instagram accounts, for example; one for your larger group of friends, and one that is much more intimate and confidential for people close to you. Two completely different online identities. As we share more and more online, we shape those social media personas to an extent not seen before.
But does it really matter what we show the world? Not long ago, someone following me on twitter said that it looked like I was having a great school year. My response was that it had been a great one! And it has. But I did admit that someday I should share all the moments that didn’t go as planned, like a ‘real lives of’ reality show. To a certain extent, I think there is some value to an honest and transparent sharing of struggles online. I follow people like Matt Haig and Tyson Williams, who are very frank about their personal issues and they have valuable lessons to share. When dealing with teens, there is a lot that doesn’t go the way you think it should, and there sure wouldn’t be a shortage of reality...but publishing it for what purpose?
None of us live perfect lives, so why hide when we're not at our best? Well, for starters, pride. This week, my teenage son almost missed an important school field trip, because he didn’t pay attention to crucial details like what time they were leaving. It was only because his teacher texted me to make sure he was coming that he made it there. (Thanks Erin!) I didn’t post it because it was embarrassing; I hadn’t personally paid attention to the specifics and it was not my proudest parenting moment. But I also don’t like the idea of publicly shaming our children when they mess up. You can’t learn lessons in a place where humiliation and reproach also reside. (If the irony of me now posting that story here is apparent, it’s mostly because very few people read this blog lol. And I asked my son’s permission!)
As a teacher, I absolutely have days when I feel lacking. When a student hates reading. When they say they’re bored. When I inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings. When someone lets me down. When a parent is upset with me. When I haven’t been heard. When I haven’t listened. When a student lies to me. When they need help and refuse it. When they needed help and I didn’t realize it. There are many failings in any given day. These are sometimes hard to acknowledge, let alone publicly declare, and I carry them nonetheless. So if, in the telling of it, it helps to set some of the weight down, that’s a good thing. But I am always aware that the message I am sending is still a positive one: that although there may be disappointment or discontent in the details, the story still needs to model hope.
Because that’s important.
A book I read this weekend by Harold R. Johnson speaks both to the importance of story, and setting that positive tone for others. “We also learned how to pay attention. If we came from a family with grandparents and parents who carried themselves with dignity, who behaved morally and ethically, we learned to be good people. If we lived in a good story, if all around us everyone behaved in a good way, we developed our own personal story to match the stories of everyone around us.” Although Johnson’s lessons are not about Facebook and Twitter, I think they are applicable. By telling positive social media stories, our individual stories may develop accordingly, or at least it may help us aspire to work for more.
As for all those long weekend Facebook posts? I hope that even if there were parts that you didn’t share with the world, parts that weren’t picture-perfect, that you had time to relax, recharge, and come back refreshed. Have a great week ahead!
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
As an aside, if you’re not familiar with Kendal Netmaker of Neechie Gear, listen to some of his podcasts. “If I can share this story with you, I really hope it inspires you to do the same…tell your story to take you from where you are to where you want to be.” https://www.kendalnetmaker.com/podcast/netmaker-show/driven-episode-5-using-power-story-staying-positive/
Harold R. Johnson's book is called Firewater: How Alcohol Is Killing My People (And Yours) and here’s one more excerpt: “This is what I think we must do and we must do it now. We have to change the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves and about alcohol…but changing the story doesn’t mean stopping, or censoring, the story that’s out there; it means telling a new story, a better story…Perhaps we will get to the point where we will see truth-telling about alcohol, and perhaps this too is a way to change the story about alcohol. The next time one of our relatives gets run over by a drunk driver, or stabbed to death in a drunken brawl, instead of offering condolences, we will speak instead of how our cousin was murdered by alcohol. This will be the new Facebook status update until the story changes.” It's a powerful book.
“Late Arrival: You just got here, you're not entitled to have us explain the entire plot to you up to this point. Unless we're feeling generous, that is.” Clipd.com
I don’t watch a lot of movies (no spoiler alerts here) so I have to admit that the hype around Avengers: Infinity War was lost on me. I know that I saw Iron Man eons ago and I liked the first Thor, but I tend to get lost in sequels with sudden character changes and completely different tones to the movies. We won’t even talk about what Pixar did to the Cars franchise. In this one, they apparently weave a decade worth of movies together while simultaneously dropping cliffhangers for the next one.
It grossed a billion dollars in a week and a half. There’ll be a next one lol.
For anyone who was only coming into the franchise at this movie? Well, there wasn’t much point unless you did some binge-watching for homework, or you have a very patient friend who will answer all the questions you blurt out in the theater. Really, it’s no different than someone jumping in to read the script of Romeo and Juliet in Act 5 and wondering what an apothecary is, why a quarantined monk with a letter is so important, and what possessed Romeo to kill Paris. (Oh, and Juliet’s not actually dead?) Of course, if you watch the Zefferelli movie version, all of those plot events are left out anyway and it’s debatable whether you’ll be more or less confused!
I started thinking about this when I was scrolling on my phone and this meme popped up: Don’t judge a student’s story by the chapter you walk in on. Most of the people criticizing the new Avenger movie were ones who simply weren’t familiar with the characters and plot lines. Many people outright dismiss Shakespeare when they’ve never seen it performed or considered the deep themes of humanity it expresses and the universal truths it carries 400 years later.
In the same way, I really feel for parents as their child moves through the school system. We don’t have the background knowledge of that student that their parent does, and like the binge-watching movie fan, we have a lot of catching up to do. I can only imagine how frustrating that must feel, like a looping ‘groundhog day’ scenario of repeating your child’s story – their strengths and their needs – over and over, year after year.
Constantly advocating. I know that’s hard.
Although we have transition meetings between schools and pass along student portfolios with exemplars of their work, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The work of Dr. Debbie Pushor and the Walk Alongside parent forum happening in a few weeks, will be a good starting point in addressing that piece. As their vision states: “Together we will work to interrupt the taken for grantedness of schooling to create a landscape on which parent knowledge is honoured and used alongside teacher knowledge to shape curriculum, teaching, and learning.” We are coming partway into a student’s story. Parents have been there since word one.
To state the obvious, as a teacher it’s so important to know your students. Not just in their reading and writing skills, but as people. For the most part, I feel that I do. Besides visiting with the kids and hearing about their sports, when you live in the community you tend to hear about more events that they’re involved in, or see their parents post updates on social media. So when we did our visible goal setting at the end of March, one of mine was to do individual check-ins with students. I knew it was significant, but I didn’t anticipate hearing much from them that I didn’t already know. Boy, was I wrong.
Sitting and talking one-on-one with students, a few were ‘all good, everything’s good’ conversations, maybe a bit guarded. But more were not. I just listened. I didn’t write notes. But they added pages to their stories that I never knew before that conversation.
Unfortunately, because our system is linear, I’m going to feel like I’m walking into the middle with every student, every year. Having said that, it’s far better to walk in at chapter 10 then to never consider their story at all. Playing catch-up is simply a reality. So as we head into this last month of school, I’ll be thinking of other ways to help pass that knowledge on to the next year, even if it means being that annoying friend at the movie theater. “Why would they cast Woody Harrelson in the new Star Wars? That doesn't even make sense. And is this a prequel? Does it fit between the 2nd and 3rd installments, or the 3rd and 4th? There was a boom mic hanging there. Did you see it? That’s totally not what happened in the book. In the book…”
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
Haha. This happens a lot. Just this last week even! I take it as a compliment every time, although I wasn't quite sure when someone called me grandma once lol. Happy Mother's Day!
The other morning before school started, our principal’s four year old son was sitting at his dad’s desk waiting to head off to playschool. He was in front of the computer, busily writing on post-it notes and sticking them down! It was the cutest thing, watching him work so seriously, trying to be just like his dad.
We know that kids watch us, that they pick up everything from the world around them, and that being a strong role model as a parent is paramount. When our daughter was born, mom gave me a bookmark with the poem “Children Learn What They Live” on it, and it hung on our fridge for years. I remember when our kids were very little, they would occasionally say or do something that would be out of the ordinary in our household and I’d wonder, “Where did they learn (or see or hear) that??” My husband and I had two very different childhood experiences, and that purposefully shaped our parenting decisions. An important one for us was that we consciously didn’t yell or swear in our house, because we didn’t want our kids to yell or swear back. It’s not a judgement thing – we all choose what works for us. But once in a while I’ll think of this when I’m out shopping. A kid is having a meltdown in a store and a parent is yelling at them to stop yelling. Ah, the irony. And when our kids came home from the babysitter or school with ‘new vocabulary’ there was a teaching moment in there too. Modelling doesn’t always work, I get that. My teenage son will not eat a single vegetable, and it wasn’t for lack of exposure or modelling, so it’s a strategy but not an infallible one!
In our school division, I often hear the expression “You cannot not model.” I can’t even credit where it came from, as I’ve heard it from many different people, but it is so true. When I used to teach band, modelling was the primary mode of instruction. I play. Now you play. Listen. Did it match? Try again. I play. You play. I’ll never forget trying to get brass players to match a pitch, when it’s possible for them to hit MULTIPLE notes depending on how tightly they buzz their lips. And those poor French horn players have it even harder. If you know a band teacher, they need lots of hugs and Tylenol in that first month with beginners!
So if you learn to play music by playing music, and my role in modelling is crucial, the same is true in other subjects. Recently I had the chance to facilitate PD sessions for fellow ELA teachers with two amazing educators, Michelle Lockinger and Charmain Laroque. Michelle modelled quick writes during a video and Charmain modelled ‘reading as a writer’ by annotating text. Some of the most positive feedback about the sessions were these modelled activities. As a teacher, it’s helpful not only to see strategies modelled in action, but it’s also good to remind ourselves what it feels like to be a student. Plus, if we are expecting students to do something, are we actually doing it ourselves?
And that is the most important modelling of all. If we are asking our students to take risks, we need to take risks. If we are asking them to be kind and respectful in their language and actions to others, we need to do the same. And if we are asking them to use a growth mindset and not say “I can’t” then we need to remove those two words from our vocabulary too. Or change it to “I can’t YET.”
This week we did some video-making in ELA where students were doing on-camera interviews. Some of them were very reluctant despite knowing that it wouldn’t be shown outside of the classroom. I haaaate being on camera too, but I partnered up with a student and we made our video. That was hard. I’m going to cringe inwardly when we watch it in class, but I’ll refrain from making self-deprecating remarks even though I’ll be thinking them…positive modelling…because I wouldn’t allow a student to put themselves down, so I can’t do the same to myself. In music class, I sing. It’s not amazing (and I’m always mindful that there are no cellphones or kids putting me in their snapchat stories) but if I have grade 8 boys that are willing to sing and perform, then I need to be modelling that same confidence.
This last week I was also fortunate to shadow an amazing administrator and observe some fantastic teachers at Rosthern Elementary. (It’s been busy lol.) One of those classes was a math class. As I sat and talked with different students, I had to remind myself not to say “I’m not good at math, or I don’t do math.” What message does that send if an adult doesn’t do math? And really, what adult doesn’t use math in some capacity? So I was cognizant to phrase it this way: “I’m not a math teacher, but I remember fractions. I actually use them all the time when I bake. Can you explain what they are asking you to do here?” And off the student would go, giving me a mini-lesson (sometimes complete with drawings) of fractions and decimals. And when they have the answer…So how do you know that’s an equivalent fraction? How do you know ¼ is smaller than ½? *How*do*you*know?* And off they go again, explaining their thinking.
So how do I know that modelling is important? I look at our school division’s leadership and know that they are models of lifelong learners. At meetings, workshops, and in their online presence, they walk the talk. I look at our school administration and think of the initiatives they have lead this year like instituting school-wide reading. It’s not just the realm of ELA teachers to talk about books or think about reading comprehension. We are now ALL reading role models. And I look at my own kids. I know I’m biased, but they have grown into good humans. Mostly lol.
As we start another week, it’s vitally important to model, give feedback, encourage, model some more. But it’s also important for us to be consciously making an effort in our ‘role modelling’ as well. Children learn what they live. They absolutely do.
p.s. I started with a quote by Jimmy Casas. I’ve just started reading his book Culturize and it’s awesome. I know I’ll be writing about that later!
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
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