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!
So I had a story to tell tonight about our family cross country skiing adventure this weekend. It was a doozy. And for a relatively simple sport, I’m returning to work tomorrow with a worse injury than my snowboarding experience from a couple weeks ago. I’m going to have to rename this blog to “Stupid Sh*t I Find Myself Doing” but then mom would quit reading because I used profanity. So I won’t.
But tonight as I was surfing Twitter and procrastinating, I mean, contemplating my blog post, I ran across this great visual on blogging. “10 Blogging ‘Rules’ You Don’t Have To Follow” by Aaron Hogan.
Oh, you know I had to read that.
It’s getting close to the one-year beginning of my blog. I hadn’t counted entries for a while. It’s #31 tonight. 26,399 words. A lot of Sunday nights spent thinking and reflecting and contemplating life and education and learning…and I’m so glad I started.
The other day we were working on a ‘BIG’ writing assignment in ELA. It was 500 words, and you know there were kids making groaning noises when I mentioned that part. I rarely ever put a word count on things. As a writer, you know when your story is done, or not done…who am I to dictate otherwise? But because the curriculum sets the metaphorical high jump bar at 500-700 words for grade 7, we were doing one writing piece with that goal in mind.
Students picked their writing style, and to model being a writer, I pulled up my blog. It was the first time we’ve talked about it. I’m not sure why, and I think that’s a whole other conversation. But I scrolled through the posts and said that I usually write 600-1000 words every Sunday night.
“That’s because you’re old.”
Ha ha ha. It’s a valid point.
But we had a good discussion about practice, and how I find it easier to write each week because I do it more often. So I found Aaron’s blog post a refreshing (and validating) read about my own writing. Using Aaron's ten points you don't need to follow when blogging, here are my thoughts! The first point was about word count.
“Blogs are always about 500 words.” I haven’t had a blog post under 500 words, and if the average reader only gets that far….well…most of you never get to the end of my stories. Which is where I try to make a point.
TRY being the operative word.
“Blogs require storytelling expertise.” I think that blogs require stories. Period. I had anticipated writing a lot more stories about my cats in these entries.
“Blogs look a certain way. Blogs sound a certain way.” I’m never convinced that anything SHOULD look or sound a certain way. In Health this week, we were discussing family structures. It was interesting that almost half of the students had non-nuclear family structures, yet they would catch themselves talking about a ‘normal’ family. What does that look like? What is normal anyway??
This blog looks like my life. It sounds like my life.
“Blogs are filled with answers.” Most of mine are filled with connections. If you have read any of my entries, you’ll know I love analogies. I see connections to education and learning everywhere BECAUSE LEARNING IS EVERYWHERE.
“Blogs make you a bragger.” Lol. Blogs make you almost debilitated with self-consciousness. Have I mentioned I’m a very private person? Next question.
“Blogs are ready to share when self-doubt has been overcome.” See above.
“Blogs must be perfected before sharing.” I re-read these blogs before posting. Once. Twice. More than I should admit. And not just for the spelling, although I would be greatly aggrieved if I missed a typo in here. No, it’s the self-doubt and questioning questioning questioning. Should I write that? Does it sound the way I mean it? I even spent quite a few minutes debating whether to put the swear in the fourth sentence, just in case mom does read this!
“Blogs are entirely original.” I’m pretty sure that almost every one of my blog ideas has been ripped off from a conversation I’ve had with colleagues, or ideas I’ve read on the internet. But despite the absolute evil that does exist in the comment sections of Twitter, I still believe that the best way for us to grow as individuals, is to share ideas as a collective.
And to the people who I am always ripping good ideas from…you know who you are. And you know I appreciate it.
“Blogs are always for a wide audience.” When we write in class, we talk about our audience. Who are we writing for? It’s important. So when we were looking at my blog, I joked that I only had six people who read it each week and that one of them was my mom. A student asked me if I ever looked at the tweet activity. I told him that honestly I haven’t. And I don’t. As I put in my very first blog post, “This is for me. You can come along for the journey if you want to.”
@aaron_hogan, thanks for the inspiration for this week.
Anyone who wants to hear my cross country adventure, well, that’ll wait for next time.
Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome.
p.s. 875 words, not even a record lol.
As one of our writing activities when we came back from break, we used the #oneword goal setting that was circulating on Twitter. Students generated ideas for their one word, and then we did some small writing snippets in different styles around it. I’m not a huge fan of making resolutions, but I do like goal setting; it might seem like it’s just semantics, but to me a goal feels like trying to visualize the big picture, not a task that is doomed to fail by February.
Seeing the variety of word choice also gave me some insight into what students value and aspire to. I was surprised by how many times ‘patience’ showed up.
Lots of annoying little brothers and sisters, I was told.
My own #oneword started with a list, just like everyone else. Picking one? Now that was harder. In the end, it was a good exercise in thinking about where you are, where you want to be, and how you plan to get there.
This past week, I had the opportunity to think deeply about my educational philosophy, working my way through the same exercise but in a more formal vein. I’ll share my #oneword another time (and once I’ve got some anecdotal evidence on how I’m doing) but for now, here is what I believe about teaching and learning.
Considering your educational philosophy comes down to knowing your ‘why’ – what you believe and value, and how that translates into your everyday practice. I believe in a holistic, student-first approach in education, where students are valued as individuals and empowered as individual learners. Our focus is always on what is best for them, and our actions are always guided by how it will best improve their learning. I want our children to be lifelong learners and believe that the way to create that mindset is by providing innovative conditions for learning, a safe space where trust is paramount, where self-efficacy is nurtured, and where students are empowered to take charge of their own learning to discover and develop their interests. I believe in the power of collaboration, building community, and embracing divergent thinking. Most importantly, underpinning and intertwining everything that we do, is relationship.
Lifelong learning is committing to a growth mindset, one where creative and critical thinking is prominent. I believe in the use of technology as a vehicle in which innovative ideas can be developed with limitless opportunities to share with others. Whether we are creating a virtual space, or the literal space in our classroom, in order for true sharing and collaboration to occur, students need safety and trust – physically, socially, and emotionally. It also must be a safe space for risk-taking, which may sound incongruous, yet is true. In order for innovative ideas to flourish, they first take shape in a caring and safe learning environment, one where children see themselves not just as a student, but as a writer, reader, scientist, or musician. Authentic occasions for demonstrating that learning are essential.
I believe that education must strive to create conditions to engage learners and their families in a collaborative manner, to develop a sense of community, and to learn within various communities both inside and outside of the school. Essential to that is building relationships: creating a dialogue with our students and getting to know them personally. We need to affirm who they are and visibly display our commitment to the success of all students. As educators, we need to model empathy and authenticity. Most of all, we need to unconditionally believe that all students can learn and do our utmost to provide opportunities for their success.
Have a great week ahead! Welcome. Tawâw. Tervetuloa.
“She read a hundred-year-old quote from a mountaineer. He was asked, ‘Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?’ The mountaineer replied in bemusement, as if the question was ridiculous and the answer obvious, ‘Because it’s there.’ Kira understood then, because why had she wanted to go to university when no one else in her family had been? Why had she chosen law when everyone had told her it would be too hard? Why? To find out if she could do it. Because she wanted to climb that damn mountain. Because it was there.” Fredrik Backman, Us Against You
There are a lot of things that I am not (or that I’m not very good at) but there’s one thing I can confidently say: I am a lifelong learner. I love to try new things…the challenge, the setbacks, the ‘seeing-if-I-can-do-it.’ I’ve written before that half of it is likely Irish stubbornness from mom’s side and the other half is Finnish sisu from my dad. But whatever it is, I don’t like to quit. For as much lake water as I sucked in trying to learn to wakeboard, and for as often as I said, “Just one more time and that’s it!” there was always one more run if I hadn’t quite got it. It might be that I’m just a slow learner, but I’m definitely a persistent one.
Hands-down my favorite way of learning most things, though, is by reading. The holiday time was very quiet at our house so I had ample time to sit and read, which was awesome. As I tweeted, my reading pile included a re-read, a deep slow read, three mysteries, a tear-jerker and a heartbreaker. Our daughter was home from university, and our son even detached himself from his PS4 and came up out of the basement to hang out. Of course, going back to the farm to see mom and dad at Christmas is like a touchstone to all things family. At one point there were ten grandkids under the age of 10 and it was chaos. Now the upper age limit is 19, so it’s calmer but more crowded. What a treat to visit and socialize with them now as mini-adults…and beat them easily in crokinole. That never gets old!
I also know I probably worked a bit more than I should have over the break. Teaching is an exhausting and complex job and we should recharge whenever possible and not feel guilty about it. But thank goodness for friends who will call you on your crap when you need it most! So when I was contemplating taking my computer to the ski hill to do some work while my son went snowboarding, I took the advice to “learn how to holiday properly…” and I decided to learn to snowboard myself.
This didn’t come completely out of the blue. I’m a competent skier but both of our kids snowboard and have bugged me in the past to try it. My biggest concern was always about breaking something, but the other, quieter, part was telling me that I just wouldn’t be able to do it. And since I’m always quoting Brene Brown to everyone else, I took her advice and reminded myself: there is no courage without vulnerability. (Although, to spare myself extraneous embarrassment from trying to keep up with a group of 7 year olds, I did book a private lesson.)
It’s a funny thing being a student.
It was physically hard. Pushing yourself up off the snow with one arm, repeatedly, was no small feat. Especially when you are on a hill and gravity is sliding you in an opposite direction. I swear snowboarders must have one arm longer than the other just for this purpose! Trying to stay up was just as difficult and my legs burned. Really burned.
But the two most difficult parts were actually not physical.
The first was asking for help. That’s not easy for me to do. My teenage instructor probably wasn’t used to having a middle-aged woman as a student, and to his credit, he didn’t mollycoddle me. He’d just casually put his foot on the edge of my board to keep it from sliding, or give a suggestion about technique. He also patiently answered all of my questions…and I had many of them! Only once, when I absolutely couldn’t get it, did I ask him for a hand up. Sometimes we need that from our teachers too.
The second difficult part was just doing it. Well, more specifically, FEELING like I was doing it. “You need to pick up a bit more speed and feel it in the turns…feel like you are snowboarding.” (As opposed to just putting the brakes on and heeling it all the way down lol. But I knew what he meant!) How many times do we lament the difficulty in getting kids to feel that they are writers, and not just ‘do’ writing? Or feel that they are readers, and not just having them read?
I spent the afternoon boarding with my 17 year old son, and I learned even more with him. He noticed I was wearing the binding wrong and took the time to repair it (my instructor said it hadn’t been set up properly by the rental shop, but didn’t show me what to do about that…) which made me think of how many times I might point something out to a student, but not ensure that they understand the WHY and HOW of fixing it. Noted!
We also ventured off the ‘bunny hill’ onto the main runs. I won’t deny that I was pretty anxious about getting on and off the chair lift, and to have competent skiers and boarders going around me on the hill like I was a pylon. But by upping the level of difficulty, I was also able to pick up some of that speed and 'feel' it too. I also felt it when I fell down, over and over again. But it was soooo much fun.
The bar for trying new things is now literally set at a six-inch continent-shaped bruise. On my butt. Even a week later. I’m not sure if it is a compilation of falls into one giant bruise, or if it’s a compilation of many smaller bruises from my many falls. Regardless, it’s a reminder that trying new things doesn’t come with instant success, but repeatedly (and sometimes literally) getting back up again. And that’s a lesson for every thing that we learn in this life.
Miyo Ohcetow Kisikaw! Hyvää uutta vuotta! Happy New Year!
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