This is the 105th blog post I’ve written. Not really a celebratory number, but the 100th one passed by without my noticing. I don’t need to skim back through them to know that there are a lot of common themes that pop up, and a lot of things that didn’t go exactly to plan!
When that happens - often - I try to concentrate on the positives. There is always, without exception, something to be learned from the experience, but I find it isn’t productive to just fixate on all of the things that went wrong.
A goal in making my thinking visible each week through my writing, was that it helped me process and give form to the lessons I learned for my own sake.
Do I fixate sometimes? Of course. Some lessons take longer to process than others.
Sometimes, I’m just stubborn lol.
But for all that, and especially if consider that some of my audience may be people who are just starting out in education, I’m not sure that it’s always clear that I didn’t arrive here in one day.
Truth be told, “arriving” is just an illusion. And so is “here.” There really isn’t an education station (a la Platform 9 ¾) that we will ever pull into. It’s a continual journey that at some point I will leave, you will leave, and others will join.
And it will keep going.
Lest this really spiral into existential thinking, let me return to my point and reassure you: I have made many mistakes.
I have written copious notes on the boards. Given worksheets. Given zeros. Given marks for behaviour. Taken off marks for behaviour. Taken off marks for late work. Taught from a textbook. Taught from a binder. Given feedback only at the end, and either for impact or tradition, put it in red pen. I’ve done rote and repetition. Handouts and homework. Puff-projects. Nothing personalized to the people in front of me.
When I think about it, the ones that really hurt are the voices I silenced or the ones that weren’t empowered to speak because of the structure of my classroom.
And even just the fact that I thought of it as mine. Not ours.
I could continue, but it does actually give me a palpable reaction to go down this path.
Has it been a very long time since those things were part of my educational philosophy?
Am I constantly striving to learn, follow research, and try innovative approaches?
Will I continue to make mistakes?
Part of my opening work with new classes is this: If you get to the end of this course without having made any mistakes, then you haven’t learned anything new at all. If I allow myself one more existential thought: if nothing else, when I get to the end of my life and the list of mistakes seems extraordinarily long, I will confidently say that I learned a lot along the way.
So for me, just like anyone starting something new, it can be overwhelming to look at where others are and feel overwhelmed.
Social media exasperates that with our curated Instagrams and Pinterest-worthy posts.
But remember: everyone started at the beginning at some point. For you it might be today. For someone else, it was last year. For others, this shows a decade of growth.
I might be starting something new today, that you have been doing for a long time.
You might be starting something new today, that I have been doing for a long time.
I wish I knew how many times I’ve written this quote in my 105 entries…it will be a lot. But I’ll write it again because these words guide me not only at work, but in life:
“Do the best you can until you know better. But when you know better, do better.”
Here’s one more via Simon Sinek from Nikolai Vavilov:
“The outcome is uncertain…But still, I want to try.”
Have a great week everyone! Start small, but start something new today.
Growing up on the farm, we spent quite a bit of time driving to fields to pick up my dad, move equipment, or just generally ride along with him to check crops.
Of fascination to us was the most exciting and portable pieces of technology available at the time…the CB radio.
Mounted under the dash of our ¾ ton farm truck, we had multiple unsupervised occasions to play with it, using our best trucker and farm lingo.
Okay, not trucker language per se lol.
But “That's a 10-4 buddy!” was definitely part of it.
We would press the button and talk, and spin the dial to different channels. I have no idea if dad had to put it back every time, but it was always a shock to hear someone else’s voice on the airwaves too. I’m sure we likely panicked and stopped playing immediately!
I don’t think anyone at the time could have fathomed self-driving combines and smartphones. The amount of change, even in a rural farm setting, has been staggering. And yet, so many other aspects of farm life are virtually frozen in time.
Not being able to go to the farm for a family Christmas (or Easter or Thanksgiving) has made me nostalgic and wistful for a visit.
To our sledding hill.
The old barn.
The empty hangar where Dad’s plane used to be.
The noisy cacophony of kid and adult voices mixed together, although I prefer to recall it sans talk of politics. If I never hear Donald Trump’s name again, it will be too soon.
There’s a line in the song “July” by Noah Cyrus that says:
You know I,
I'm afraid of change
Guess that's why
we stay the same.
It’s a sentiment that’s probably found in innumerable song lyrics and is probably a survival technique deeply rooted in the human psyche.
It’s also true.
I try new things all the time. I’m not afraid of change, but it’s also much easier when you are the instigator of the changes.
2020 thrust so much change upon us.
And being in the passenger seat for changes happening around you, is a much different feeling, not unlike the helpless fear of sitting with your own child as they learn to drive. It’s not impossible to manage it, but it’s definitely more challenging.
So as I write this on the cusp of a new year, I’m really proud of the people I am surrounded with at work. Our division leadership. Admin. Colleagues. For persevering in what were unfamiliar and unchartered areas for most people. For working hard and long hours. For keeping the kids in our building as engaged as possible, despite so many restrictions.
For keeping them safe.
I know that 2021 will not suddenly be a panacea for all the ails the world. In fact, even when COVID is more contained, the societal disparities it has exposed (and exasperated) will remain. We will need each other more than ever.
I think that’s the quintessential post-midnight new-years-eve feeling, regardless of the year: realism mixed with hope. After surviving 2020, the hope aspect may well feel in short supply. So that’s when I go back to Dr. Sharon Roset’s dissertations for guidance.
“Authentic relationships with significant people are a means of acquiring hope; creative dreams that come from within a person and focus on a better world have been cited as a source of inspiring hope.”
“Hope undergirds action, it is not the action itself.”
“There is no such thing as idle hope.”
“Hope is stronger than despair for it enables one to persevere and not give up. It is mightier than cynicism and apathy, for it activates enthusiasm and passion for a specific purpose. And it is tougher than selfishness for it instills compassion, empathy, love, and a sense of justice that in turn build vibrant, strong families, schools, and communities.”
“Hope cannot sustain itself on its own.”
You there buddy?
That’s a big 10-4.
Thanks for checking.
I think the kids have moved on from playing the “Among Us” game on their phones, just when I had started to understand how to play it! The gist of it is one or two people are designated imposters, trying to kill off the other characters on the spaceship as everyone else is trying to find the “sus." It’s like Clue but more interactive.
I was thinking about the imposter idea over the past two weeks. And part of that is why I never got a blog post written last week.
I’m not sure how many people have heard of “imposter syndrome” but I’m going to hazard a guess that a lot have felt it at some point or another: the feeling that despite being completely competent at (x) you feel that you’ve got no idea what you are doing and people just haven’t figured that out yet!
It’s not that I feel incompetent at things. In fact, I have adequate skills in a few areas. Years of lessons and education and practice do have their payoffs! Where I do lack confidence is in sharing those things with others, especially when the audience includes people far more qualified than I am.
These weeks leading up to Christmas have really exposed that for me.
Playing some Christmas music on the piano? No problem.
Playing some Christmas music to share on FaceBook Live?
Sure, except that I have numerous career musicians and at least two professional pianists on my friends list. Yikes.
Making sets of painted Christmas characters to decorate our yard? Love it. It’s a yearly tradition, plus I haven’t stopped making things since I was a kid.
Taking those sets to the Pike Lake festival of lights for other people to see?
Not prepared for the compliments and congratulations, considering it’s just tracing, cutting, and painting.
Writing this blog? Cathartic. There are words that build up inside me that don’t have any other outlet. Once I week, this sets them free.
Writing this blog for the internet? Much more difficult. The audience might be no one. Or a student. Or a colleague. Or a stranger. Or someone infinitely smarter than I am that wonders who the hell do I think I am to put ideas out to the world?
You probably won’t want to hear about the internal debate I had on sending out our annual Christmas letter! I never kept baby books for my kids. My recollection isn’t always the best. And so it’s the one thing I do each year that preserves memories for my kids’ sakes, but mine too. It also feels like a completely self-absorbed exercise that probably comes off as entitled and narcissistic.
Yet, I did every single one of those things.
For two reasons, mostly. First, because I know that it brings people joy. It makes them happy.
“Such a beautiful selection of the oldies and goodies, putting me well into the Christmas spirit. Thank you!”
“Thanks so much for the Christmas memories! Only made me cry a little.”
“Great job on your display! We drove down to put us in the Christmas Spirit (maybe more so to alleviate some covid stress) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even drove through it twice!”
“We saw this tonight! It was wonderful! So thankful for people who make these things happen!”
Oh, and two phones calls from aunties to remind me how much they appreciate a card and a letter.
At this point, I start to think that I won’t post this. Because sharing things, whether it’s a picture of the display at Pike Lake or the dialogue going on in my head, means that you open yourself up for feedback.
For someone who relates to imposter syndrome, critical feedback isn’t just welcome, it’s expected. You are anticipating that someone will tell you what you needed to do better…which is fine, because you already have your own list of a dozen things you should have done differently.
It’s the positive feedback that is hard to take.
Weird, right? And so, there is a fear of sharing in case it is interpreted as fishing for compliments…which is the exact opposite of what someone with imposter syndrome is actually looking for.
But there’s a second reason.
And it's one that is strong enough to override those fears. Actually, it’s a quote that says, “Use the talents you possess: the woods would be silent if no birds sang except the best.”
It’s okay to do the best that you can, and be mediocre.
It’s okay to do something that you like, without striving to be the best at it.
It’s okay to try something and suck at it.
It’s okay to not be okay.
And it’s okay to just be okay.
If I only ever played music, created something, or wrote when I was sure that it was going to be amazing….I’d never do any of those things.
If we waited for only the very best musicians, artists, or writers to fill the world with their skills…there wouldn’t be much music, art, or literature in our world at all. Of course, this isn't just about those things. It's about all the things.
Our kids used to do the Kids of Steel Triathlon when they were very little. Before they would start we would tell them, “It's not about being first. It’s about finishing.”
And doesn’t that apply to us all? And in so many aspects of our lives?
Which is why, even with great trepidation, I’m pressing publish on this post!
And why I’ll see you again next week too.
I don’t like rollercoasters. Actually, I don’t like amusement park rides in general, although the ones that spin you in circles are particularly nausea-inducing for me. I knew that from my time on merry-go-rounds in elementary school!
That doesn’t mean I don’t go on rollercoasters. In fact, I’ve been on enough to say that I much prefer a modern coaster, even with its corkscrews and inversions, to a classic wooden coaster. The latter clatters and hurks and jerks you to the point of minor concussion symptoms. Not a big fan, although the rides that take you to the end and run the whole thing again in reverse?? Sadistic.
Then there’s also your physical response to it: do you stay loose and try to go with it, or tense up and brace yourself for the inevitable physical impacts?
To say that this past year has been a rollercoaster would be an understatement. A rollercoaster on fire with the last part of the track gone? That’s getting closer to the truth!
And just like my coaster strategy, I seem to alternate between trying to go with it, and bracing myself for impact.
There are days that I need that Dr. Jody kick-in-the-butt you’ve-got-this message, and then days that I don’t want to see another positivity meme because it feels so inauthentic with everything that is happening around us.
There are days that I am grateful for the nudge a global pandemic gave us towards innovating our thinking, and days that I know I’m not doing everything that I can for the students in front of me.
There are days that I tell myself that I'm staying as safe as possible and know I don't need to panic, and days that I watch the news and see COVID-denialists gather en masse (and maskless) putting us collectively in jeopardy.
There are days, and there are days.
And today is one of those days.
I have no ideas in my brain to write about, and I have too many. I also have a lot of planning for the week ahead and two projects that need to be finished, so tonight, this is all I can muster.
But I will leave you with this:
“You say that you trust no one, but I don't believe you. You trust constantly - even when you don't realize it. At the intersection, you trust that the other drivers will stop when their traffic lights are red; you trust the architects and builders when you walk into a building, the engineers when hopping onto a roller coaster, the cook when you're eating the meal prepared for you. To some extent you trust countless strangers on a daily basis. Just as you would have an extremely tough time surviving in this world with a full trust in all people, you would have an extremely tough time surviving in this world without any trust for any people.” Criss Jami
First, I trust science. (Wear your mask.)
And second, I trust (and am grateful for) so many amazing people, especially here in PSSD. This rollercoaster will eventually end and we will have survived it with each other’s help and support. Just hang in there.
File this under ‘things I read but don’t remember where.’ Again!
Usually I try hard to bookmark or cite articles that stand out to me. I didn’t with this one, mostly because I read it, dismissed the idea, and kept scrolling..
The gist of it was this: All learning feels inauthentic at first.
Not just ‘some’ learning. ALL learning.
Pfffft. I doubt that!
It's why I have had the same quote at the top of this blog for over two years: You see, some things I can teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well, you have to see and feel."
So I think I rejected it outright because if that was true, then trying to provide students with real-life learning experiences and tangible opportunities to practice was no more authentic than slapping down a worksheet and calling it a day.
And there is no way that is true.
So I scrolled on.
But it stuck in my head, and the idea rolled around until I came to the conclusion that it was right…all learning does feel inauthentic when you are starting out!
(That worksheet? Sorry, that tends to be more like compliance so we can set that aside.)
But actually learning something?
I started to think back on the big things I’ve learned to do over the past few years: snowboarding, playing the fiddle, and trying rock climbing. Did any of those things feel authentic when I first tried them?
No. No. Annnnnd no.
Strapping both feet into a board was frighteningly vulnerable, with the urge to get a foot down for balance, stripped away.
Tucking the fiddle under my chin while simultaneously placing my fingers in very specific places, at very specific angles, and at very specific times was awkward and forced.
And gripping rock with frozen fingers while one toe bore my entire weight and kept me from plummeting off the rock face…uhhhh…yah. Nothing innate about that.
So even though I was in completely authentic learning situations, the beginning stages of learning something new did not feel authentic in itself.
And that’s when I realized that the concept was right.
There was nothing about learning those things that felt natural or familiar. No muscle memory to fall back on. No prior experiences to tell my brain that it was going to be alright.
We know how this goes: the more that you do the thing, the better you will get at it, regardless of what the thing is. I remember hearing once, that it is physically impossible to try harder at something and get worse at it. I believe that.
Because as time has gone on, my snowboarding skills improved.
As the weeks passed by, I actually got better at playing the fiddle.
And even after just two climbs-worth of experience, I had a better understanding of what to do and how to overcome climbing obstacles because I had done it.
But what about new learning situations that are LITERALLY less authentic scenarios than those examples? What about learning MLA formatting and essay structure? Reading your first chapter book? Crafting and punctuating dialogue in a fictional story you’ve written?
We need students to know that we are always learning, and that our ability to learn something isn’t predetermined.
We need students to understand why that growth mindset is important.
And we need students to understand that all learning will feel inauthentic at first. The first attempt at any of those tasks is not going to feel easy. Or intuitive.
I know that we operate within the confines of many things, not the least of which is now COVID, and that not every learning experience will be as tangible as the skills I was learning. I will continue to try and find as many 'authentic' experiences as I can for my students. But if we embrace that all learning will be messy and frustrating and maybe even feel contrived at first?
We will get better.
And that, I don't doubt.
My cell phone is broken.
It’s almost comical, if it wasn’t so tragic lol. The bottom 1/3 of the screen is completely whited out, which means that I am literally pressing random parts of the screen, hoping for the correct response.
I have had a few panicked moments when I am trying to exit a page, only to find myself opening random posts or making sure I haven’t inadvertently ‘liked’ something that I most certainly do not like.
So my solution has been to draw on my screen. With marker.
But that isn’t ideal either, as every app has their buttons in different, but overlapping, places. It’s a mess of markings and, like I said, would be comical if not so frustrating!
And that sums up my mood. If anyone’s social media feed looks like mine, it’s probably best that I give my phone a break, because I’m definitely not laughing.
It’s also making it difficult to write tonight.
So, as a bit of a cheat, I titled this with the name of the song that I’m listening to, pulled a few of my favorite books off the shelf, and scanned for some passages that resonated.
They are a bit random, which matches what my mind is doing too. (And computer. 23 tabs are literally open.) I sometimes tell the kids that I play connect the dots with my thoughts, but there’s no big picture to reveal at the end tonight. Just a short found poem with some beautiful words from the writers below.
Hang in there this week! I’m thinking of you.
“In today’s world, we are hyper-exposed to other people for practically all our waking hours. We pick up on our coworkers’ stressed-out energy all day in our open-plan offices. We constantly absorb depressing or anxiety-provoking news articles, or nasty or negative comments on social media.
We viscerally feel the tense, urgent body language of people on subways, buses, and planes. These forces are inevitable and unescapable in our modern world. This is why it is crucial to not only find Positive Influencers to surround yourself with but also to DEFEND against the inevitable negative influences in your environment.
And unfortunately, there are more of them today than ever. Our news is heavily skewed negative. Our stressors at work and school are at historic levels. Depression and anxiety rates have risen dramatically.
Moreover, it takes only a single negative in our life to imbalance the entire system… “roughly 90 percent of anxiety at work is created by 5 percent of one’s network - the people who sap energy. And Harvard Business School research shows that a single toxic person has a much greater impact than a superstar on a team.” Big Potential by Shawn Achor
“Ethical fading (engaging in unethical behavior while believing that we are still acting in line with our own moral code) is a people problem. And counterintuitive though it may seem, we need people - not paperwork, not training, not certifications - to fix people problems.
The best antidote - and inoculation - against ethical fading is an infinite mindset. Leaders who give their people a Just Cause to advance and give them an opportunity to work with a Trusting Team to advance it, will build a culture in which their people can work toward the short-term goals while also considering the morality, ethics and wider impact of the decisions they make to meet those goals.
Not because they are told to. Not because there is a checklist that requires it. Not because they took the company’s online course on ‘acting ethically.’ They did so because it’s the natural thing to do. We act ethically because we don’t want to do anything that would do damage to the advancement of the Just Cause. When we feel a part of a Trusting Team, we don’t want to let down our teammates. We feel accountable to our team and the reputation of the organization, not just to ourselves and our personal ambitions.
When we feel part of a group that care about us, we want to do right by that group and make our leaders proud.” The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
“We normally think of hope as something individuals hold in their heads and in their hearts. But people can build hope together. By creating a shared identity, individuals can form a group that has a past and a brighter future.
‘Some people say if there’s life, there’s hope…But for us, it was the opposite: If there’s hope, there’s life.’
Of course, hope by itself isn’t enough. Many of the passengers had hope yet still lost their lives. But hope keeps people from giving in to despair. Researchers find that hope springs up and persists when ‘communities of people generate new images of possibility.’
Believing in new possibilities helps people fight back against the idea of permanence and propels them to seek out new options; they find the will and the way to move forward. Psychologists call this ‘grounded hope’ - the understanding that if you take action you can make things better.” Option B by Sandberg and Grant
“I am a human being, meant to be in perpetual becoming. If I am living bravely, my entire life will become a million deaths and rebirths. My goal is not to remain the same but to live in such a way that each day, year, moment, relationship, conversation, and crisis is the material I use to become a truer, more beautiful version of myself. The goal is to surrender, constantly, who I just was in order to become who this next moment calls me to be.
I will not hold on to a single existing idea, opinion, identity, story, or relationship that keeps me from emerging new. I cannot hold too tightly to any riverbank. I must let go of the shore in order to travel deeper and see farther. Again and again and then again.” Untamed by Glennon Doyle
“Being unsure about how to proceed is the most natural feeling in the world. I feel that way all the time. Asking for input is not a sign of weakness but often the first step to finding a path forward.” Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
These forces are inevitable
in our modern world.
The best antidote - and inoculation -
when communities of people
generate new images
I will not hold on to
a single existing idea,
that keeps me from emerging new…
the first step
to finding a path
Today I was so honored to receive one of 68 Minister of Veterans Affairs commendations. What started as sharing Grandpa’s story of serving in WWI (a Lewis machine gunner who survived Passchendaele and Mons) turned into many wonderful memories with Veterans and colleagues and students, as we learned more together over the years.
And it was definitely done together. The ten years of Legion Teas will always hold a special place in my heart, especially the one with Danny Artnsen’s poetry and the last one with Bob Mason’s writing. Having a new cast of students re-do the performance for Bob in his hometown of Perdue last year will be something I will never forget. Val and I taught WWI and WWII classics to grade 4 students for well over a decade, and it was always heartwarming to see them remember the lyrics and sing along even when they were in high school. Who couldn’t love K-K-Katy and Tipperary! An amazing group of colleagues puts together a phenomenal service each year; Barb, Sandra, Pat, Miranda, Cheryl. I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone. As we go virtual with it this week, I’ll really miss visiting with the Color Party and having tea in the library afterward! Ken at the RM Review has published our student writing each November for so long, I’ve lost count. This year was the first that we weren’t deadline ready - darn COVID - but it’ll be back.
As a teacher, we are fortunate there are so many resources out there to support bringing Remembrance to students: Veterans Affairs bookmarks, posters, and publications at all grade levels; the Legion poem, essay, and poster contests; and Discovery boxes from the Canadian War Museum that lets students touch and wear artifacts and uniforms. Having the opportunity to stand on Juno Beach and to see the gravesite of my Great-Uncle Chester Cunningham who is buried with 2000 other Canadians at Villiers Station Cemetery just outside of Vimy, was a life-changer. If we ever get to travel again, the EF student tour of Canada and the World Wars is something to put on your list.
I was really humbled today, seeing the amazing work of just six of the other recipients. As Minister MacAulay said (paraphrasing here, it went by really fast lol) that these things aren’t done for recognition, but by recognizing individuals, it will inspire more people to do something as well. That is so true. Let us all do whatever we can, in whatever way we are able, to keep Remembrance alive. I am continually learning myself, especially in the important roles that Indigenous soldiers played and the discrimination they faced upon return. For me, the work we do with students is vital, because what we understand and learn as children, we will remember as adults. And in the tumultuous world we live in, the importance of understanding and remembering can’t be overstated.
One last plug: both levels of government announced funding for struggling Veterans groups today, but if you are looking for a way to help on a personal level, the Legion website now sells a variety of items from bunnyhugs to beautiful beaded poppies, or you can make a donation through mypoppy.ca and make a virtual poppy in remembrance of someone.
Or, just take those two minutes at 11am tomorrow to say a silent thank you for the Canadians who have served, and who continue to serve, to preserve the many freedoms we enjoy.
As most readers of this blog are also avid social media consumers, I’m sure you are all aware of upstream thinking. I’ve heard it in slightly different variations, but the gist of the lesson is this:
Two people are standing by a river. A child passes by them, drowning, so they jump in to pull them out. But then another child needs rescuing, and another.
At some point they have to decide: do we keep rescuing the children or do we go upstream to see why they keep ending up in the water?
That is the basic premise of upstream thinking: how can we move from just responding to things that are happening around us, and proactively act to prevent some of these bad things from occurring in the first place?
And therein lies the difficulty. No one wants to abandon a drowning child. Or to stop trying to put out a raging fire. Or to change directions on handling a pandemic.
Because all of those things are important.
I keep quoting Maya Angelou, but she nailed it when she said: if we always do what we’ve always done, we will always get what we’ve always gotten. How long do we keep going into the river before we decide to go see what is causing the problem?
I remember hearing the phrase ‘social determinants of health’ when my daughter started nursing classes at university. For the first time, she was realizing how health issues were much more complex than simply treating a disease. In education, I think we understand this premise well. For as many factors as we can control in a school setting, there are untold more that students arrive with everyday that affect their ability to learn.
Mental health issues.
Lack of safety.
Lack of sleep.
I could go on, but it’s an endless and extensive list, and COVID has served to exasperate these issues for many children and families. The role of the school is ever-changing as we support students with so much more than their academic needs. Upstream thinking will require all levels and multiple governmental departments to collaborate and cooperate…all of which is way beyond my understanding and control.
Or is it?
Whose job is it to do the upstream thinking anyway?
<all of us>
I am still reflecting on the quint-semester that just finished, and looking ahead to the next one. Part of that process is gathering feedback from students, and I’ll share some of that below.
But the big piece for me is constantly being aware that *I* am responsible for upstream thinking in my classroom.
This is where portfolios come in. I’ve learned a lot (with a long way to go) but thankfully there is great work in this area by Sandra Herbst, Anne Davies, Brenda Augusta, and more.
Because despite multiple upstream efforts, some still fell in. There is more to be done, but the feedback is encouraging, so I’ll be presenting portfolios as an option with this semester’s group too. For now, I’ll leave you with a few of the student thoughts from this semester. Have a great week!
Do you prefer having grades/marks provided throughout the term, or were you okay with a gradeless approach?
How did you like having a personal portfolio instead of required assignments?
What level of feedback or assistance did you feel you received throughout the portfolio process?
What aspect of the portfolio was easiest for you or did you enjoy the most?
What aspect of the portfolio was most challenging or you did not enjoy?
How do you feel about the 2.5hr block class?
This week, Google Music ceased existence. Although it let me transfer my playlist over to YouTube music, all of the podcasts I listened to on my trip to Calgary have disappeared. So unfortunately, that means the paper scrawled full with quotes and ideas isn’t citeable, and without the list to look at, I wouldn’t even know where to start.
Consequently, I apologize that I don’t know who said this, but it’s totally true:
“Every system is perfectly designed to get the result it gets.”
I thought on that for a long time. It runs parallel to the idea that, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” I’d cite that too, but the internet is undecided on who actually said it lol.
So what do we want for our kids?
To be creative? Critical thinkers? Innovators? Problem-solvers? Relentless passion-pursuers?
And when they aren’t as creative or innovative or passionate as we hope they would be AND we are doing what we’ve always done, is the system getting the exact result it was designed for? Hmmmmm.
This fall, so much was new.
With the quint-semesters, everything was compressed into 2.5hr classes and 35 days.
Masks. Seating plans. Movement restrictions. Nothing felt the same.
But also a perfect opportunity to clean-slate it. So with our focus on social issues as seen through a media lens, we began.
In the first few days, the students and I (muddled) our way through the curricular outcomes to come up with individualized portfolio plans. They chose how they would meet each outcome on their own, or in a collaboration with others.
We took the 2.5hrs and broke it into small chunks. We kept the workshop model and the things we value in ELA at our school: booktalks, daily reading, quickwrites, student table talk, mentor media pieces, daily writing.
We went completely gradeless with a focus on learning. We side-by-sided it everyday. We built community with thinking classroom activities and language-based games.
We learned Google Classroom, flexing between whole-class instruction and Google Slide lessons referenced individually as needed. We equally valued product and process, creating a reflective artist statement on every piece.
We shared ideas and put up examples from our classmates as people completed their work. We brainstormed what “good” infographics, photography, writing, visual art, oral presentations, etc. looked like. We had flexible schedules, some working straight through and taking their break at the end, with others needing their 10 minutes mid-morning to squeeze in a game or two of “Among Us.” (Google it lol.)
I know that’s just a list, and not a reflection. We aren’t quite done yet, and I’m still getting my head around what differences those changes are actually tied to.
But I can tell you this much.
Attendance has been a challenge for many of these students in the past. They were there almost every single day.
Physically getting words written down, is also not easy for some. Instead of a handful of sentences, they used the Google Voice Typing feature and regularly got 450-500 words in their reflective pieces. Another student used Screencastify to record his voice and walk me through what he was thinking for his writing work.
Student choice was huge for some, difficult for others. Some had a singular social issue that they were passionate about, and they weaved it through all of their portfolio pieces. Others had different topics for each.
Juggling multiple tasks at once had its own challenges. From the beginning, I likened it to cooking a meal. You can’t just cook one thing at a time, it’ll take forever and things will get cold. You have to multi-task and it all has to come together at the end to eat. (Midway through the month, we watched a great TED talk on procrastination to help some of us stay on track!)
There is a huge range of ability: some of the most beautiful poetry that I may have ever seen; raw writing on Period Poverty, abuse, BLM; and a narrative on a pizza pop that I’m not 100% sure I want to know the ending to. But they are engaged and interested and I have been impressed every day watching them work.
We aren’t quite there yet. It’s hard to switch to a mindset of learning, and more than once a student wouldn’t see the value of games or activities that day, wanting to work on the portfolio to ‘get it done.’
We have a final assessment this week that is outcome-based, with a series of tasks (comprehension, composition, reflection) to complete in their 3hrs. They are given a job for the United Nations and need to create a presentation (PowerPoint and either a persuasive speech or narrative) suitable for middle years students on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It’s not a secret. They’ve seen the ‘test’ already and know what lays ahead. Then we will have individual interviews to go through their portfolio pieces and reflections, determining an overall final grade together.
That’s really nice, you’re probably thinking. But what do the students think? If the idea was to have more engaged, innovative, and thoughtful students, is that what has happened?
I’ll know more this week as I ask them.
But this was in a student’s writing notebook this week, and although there are definitely things that can be improved, it gives me hope (and some relief lol) that a system meant for student voice, choice, thinking, and creativity will get the results it is designed for too.
When school first started and we were in the classes, I was a little disappointed. All my friends were in the other class and I wasn’t necessarily that close with K<name> although we were lowkey friends. Also I saw all the boys in this class last year get kicked out every day so I’m like this class is going to suck. We started our projects and K and I vibed some more and I really enjoyed this. I normally don’t like having that much option for projects and what to do in class. I normally just like to be told exactly what to do like with our essays and not having to be creative at all, but I really enjoyed everything we did this year.
Did anyone else tape their broken crayons together when they were little? It was probably done in the spirit of not throwing anything useful away, and I'd actually forgotten about it until I was cleaning old craft supplies this summer and came across a handful of them.
I was thinking of them again this week as we did a writing activity using pieces from a game called Paint Chip Poetry. Students partnered up and used a handful of paint chip pieces with descriptive names (just like the crayons) to create their own poems.
It was actually a lot of fun! The level of engagement was crazy high, but what really surprised me was that a student stayed afterward to write her own piece. She left it on my computer over lunch, saying that it was the best writing she had ever done. Okay, wow. That small nudge from a handful of paint chips turned into an avalanche for her!
So here we go. I'm fairly confident in my ability to string words together in a coherent fashion when it comes to this blog every week, but poetry? I haven't written poetry for a very long time. It's a whole different thing lol. But in the spirit of living the vulnerability that I like to talk about so much, I pulled out the taped-up crayons as my own pre-thinking inspiration and wrote this: Broken Crayons, all.
Broken crayons, all.
cerulean blue bits
and burnt sienna shrapnel.
perfect cylindrical tubes of mass-produced David’s
for the pint-size Michelangelo
to scrawl the pièce-de-resistance-de-jour
proudly perched on the fridge.
snapped off in fits of dysregulated
or simply the resultant pressure of
pushing too hard
to get it
(but it was wrong anyway.)
Paper covers peeled off in various stages of
disarray and dismemberment,
no regard for the Crayola name
even though it should have given
some semblance of safety
when thrust roughly into the box of 64
*complete with sharpener*
when it had only known the snug security of
12 simple primary and secondary companions.
There was no plain yellow here
amongst the diente de lion and pissenlit
even if they called themselves
Waxy residue left in full view
of the other broken pieces
like a black hole smudged by fingers
Bandaged up with ragged rounds of masking tape
(rounds and rounds and rounds and rounds and rounds and)
that will simply not be
concealed by shimmering slips of metallic pink,
the bulge in the middle
giving it away every damn time.
What would you say to that
robin’s egg blue if you could?
I mean, I know that you can’t.
Because this is just pretend
and this is just crayons.
We are broken crayons, all
and a tape-weld is better than remnant-life
and much easier to hold
even if it is half-green-half-yellow,
and even if the pieces
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