“Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still, let this be our song, no one stands alone, standing side by side, draw the circle wide.” Song lyrics by Gordon Light.
Watching students try to arrange themselves in a circle is a surprisingly complex task. The first students quickly get their chairs in order, sit down, and eventually a pseudo-circle-shape starts to form.
Right away there’s a problem. The circle is too small and a bunch of kids still need to get their chairs in there. So what happens now?
The quickest way would be for everyone to pull their chairs back, slide them together to create space, and put those extra chairs in. But what happens is more of a social shuffling…who am I going to put my chair beside? What?? They aren’t making room! And the place there is a space, isn’t beside one of my friends. Now what?
Eventually all the chairs get in a circle and everyone is seated, but it struck me that this is a metaphor for how we operate in our lives too. Why is it so hard to draw the circle wide? To draw it wider still??
I’ll be the first to admit that I keep my circles pretty small. I don’t let people into my life very easily, but those that I do are stalwart. They are important. They are special. They are keepers.
But even online, where you don’t really need to physically or emotionally manage your sheer numbers of friends, I keep my facebook small and curate my posts. Why? Maybe it’s the old-school belief of not needing to share the (often boring) details of my life with every person I know, but I think it also comes down the ideas of trust and support. We need our online groups, just like our real-life ones, to be people and places that we know have got our back.
(Then there’s Twitter, but that’s another story lol.)
In our workplaces, we have different professional circles too. Several years ago, the PLC or professional learning community movement was very strong. I was in a PLC with two colleagues who would become some of my absolute favorite people in the world. We freely shared ideas and resources to make our courses stronger and more learner-centered. At the time, it was a new and exciting venture buoyed by mutual respect and collaboration. Best PD ever.
Where the PLC ran into difficulties in a rural area, was in specific areas like Home Ec or Band where you might be the only teacher of that subject in your school. So the circle was drawn wider, and the PLC concept transferred from the school level to the division one. For a time being, it was successful and I made a few new connections and added to my professional learning circle, but the meetings didn’t have the frequency to sustain momentum, and the PD model shifted again.
More recently, with the explosion of online PLNs or professional learning networks, our circles have moved much farther away from home. They have given me the chance to connect with, and learn from, educators all over the world; plus I am finding lots of local PSSD teachers that I have never met before and am learning from their posts as well. For the most part, I am still a consumer of their knowledge and experiences, not really a contributor. It’s like I’m there with my chair on the outside of the circle, just not sure where to put it down yet. I really believe in the power of PLNs…the more time I spend there, the more I am learning, and the more I can bring to my students each day. But it still just translates into my own small circle…my classroom.
How do I take these circles, like some convoluted Venn diagram, and make meaningful change that benefits all students in our school?
Some of you maybe familiar with Simon Sinek, or his book “Leaders Eat Last.” He has soooo many ideas about leadership and collaboration including this one:
A team is not a group of people who work together.
A team is a group of people who trust each other.
So one more acronym! For me, the all-encompassing circle is the PSN, your personal support network. To some extent, it includes my online PLN, but those people don’t know me, and aside from a click of a mouse, are only virtual support. No, these are the people up and down the hallway, and in the main office. They are colleagues with doors open, letting you pop in and out to observe, give feedback, and seek each other out with questions and ideas. These are people with their own PLN, active online, and sharing ideas from there or what they have seen in other classrooms. These are the ones you bump into at the photocopier and get that much-needed pep talk on a tough day. These are the people who come out to support our students, but also their colleagues, in activities and community events.
They are also the people who took time out of their busy prep day on Friday, to play in the gym together over noon hour…building our peer relationships with laughter, but more so building trust.
It is starting to feel different. We are slowly moving beyond the point where we don’t just work in isolation together. We have developed a shared vision of what is best for our learners. We listen. We set visible goals. We support each other and trust each other. We are viewing our work through a community lens. We are becoming a team. It didn’t happen overnight and it isn’t perfect, but the circle is being drawn wide…now to draw it wider still…no one stands alone…standing side by side…drawing the circle wide.
Everyone is welcome. Tervetuloa. Tawâw.
Hello November. It’s too bad we didn’t get to gain an hour here in Saskatchewan (since we don’t do Daylight Savings Time) because I think we all could have used it!
Okay, I’m kidding about the time change. It’s ridiculous and I’m glad we don’t do it. But the extra hour? Totally would have appreciated that today. I could have slept in a bit! Or now at the tail-end, I can always use more time to write this blog post lol. When I only start it at 9pm, all hope for a quasi-coherent piece start to go out the window.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that at this point in the year, we are all tired.
Weary, exhausted, worn-out, drained, bushed, sleepy, drowsy, fatigued…fall-asleep-on-the-couch-tired.
(I’d actually just written tired, tired, tired, tired, tired, tired, tired, tired…tired, but after you look at a word long enough, and you are tired enough, it starts to look funny so I did what every self-respecting writer does and used the right-click-synonym feature in Word. Voila!)
I know that for many teachers, in addition to hours planning and marking, our extra-curricular commitments can be heavy on our time. I’ve said it before: these things are important in building relationships and engagement with our students, but it comes at a personal cost. I looked at the last nine weeks on the calendar and ball-parked my hours at 96. In a highly scientific survey, I texted two other people to get their best estimates: 100 and 120. Another colleague has spent 48 hours in a gym at tournaments in the last 4 weeks.
That doesn’t even take into account all the time planning and marking, plus saving a little bit of it to go watch your own kid, or grandkid, in their activities. (And for many teachers, that also includes coaching or managing those community activities!)
Just to be clear: in no way am I disregarding other people’s volunteer efforts either. My one sister is on more committees than I can count, and I don’t know how she can keep them all straight! But I do sometimes just smile and nod when I see posts by tired parents that compare their 20+ hours of volunteering to a second job. In that case, most teachers would have three or four.
I often see themes in people’s facebook posts and the memes they share. This week was definitely a ‘take care of yourself too’ week. It seems overly simplistic, but that meme might be the first piece in a domino-effect to self-care. (Or cat videos. You really can’t go wrong with cat videos.)
“Keep your thoughts positive because your thought become YOUR WORDS.
Keep your words positive because your words become YOUR BEHAVIOR
Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes YOUR HABITS
Keep your habits positive because your habits become YOUR VALUES
Keep your values positive because your values become YOUR DESTINY”
― Mahatma Gandhi
I really believe that starting and ending my days with positive messaging helps to get me in the right mindset in the morning, and to calm all the worries in my head at night. (All the rest of the internet garbage and news from south of the border gets tucked into the middle of my day lol.) I can’t remember if I wrote about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s book “Gmorning, Gnight” but it’s a great place to start! Also, a shoutout to robyn_carleslarson on Instagram too. I love those posts, and everyday there is something motivational in there.
So here are two little pieces of internet inspiration from this past week on people’s timelines:
You’re allowed to walk away from the chaos. It’s not your job to fix everything and everyone. You can’t carry it all. It’s okay to rest. Brooke Hampton
Sometimes the strength within you is not a big fiery flame for all to see, it is just a tiny spark that whispers ever so softly ‘You got this. Keep going.’
This post is a little short, but I’m tired! So as we head into Veteran’s Week with services at our schools, and then a long weekend, you’ve definitely got this! Keep going! And take care of yourself.
Everyone is welcome. Tervetuloa. Tawâw.
At this point in my career, I have literally taught every grade level from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Occasionally someone will ask what the hardest level is to teach. It makes me think of one mom’s phrase, “There’s only one thing pukier than a grade nine boy, and that’s a grade nine girl.” She had one of each, and they weren’t puky at all. They were just being fifteen lol. And to be perfectly honest, grade nine was one of my favorite ages to teach – I love my grade sevens now but there are days that I miss that mid-teen quirkiness!
No, the teachers that are working the hardest are most definitely in Kindergarten.
From personal experience in both, I can attest to this fact:
Five year olds are hands-down harder than History 30.
My teaching foray into Kindergarten was an hour of music every day. An hour. Sixty loooooong minutes. Of music! I didn’t have children of my own at that point, and I had trained in the high school stream, so I was ill-prepared for the bedlam a room full of small humans can create. Plus, although I can sing and play instruments, teaching Kindergarten isn’t really about the subject. It’s crying. And running. And stories. So many stories. And tattling. And questions. Even more questions. And soooooo much randomness. Unpredictability at its finest.
Like I said, Kindergarten teachers work hard.
I was thinking about this yesterday at the football game, when I was quasi-adopted by a little guy sitting beside me.
His name is Hayden.
He was just having a really tough time staying focused on the game. I’ll be honest, sometimes I do too! So I watched as he tried to get comfortable on the bleachers, argued with his big sister about sharing her blanket, and got frustrated that he was getting dry grass pieces on his clothes. Like I said, he was having a tough time.
Our youngest niece is ten, so it’s been a while since I’ve really been around someone so small. But I dusted off my best distraction skills and made a new friend, and it wasn’t long till he had climbed on my lap. We watched several quarters that way.
I’m sure some of you will find it only slightly ironic that I explained the game of football to another person, but we did: counting how many tries the team had left by looking at the stick marker, watching for any orange flags thrown to the ground by the referees, waiting for the kicker to come out and see how far the ball went through the uprights. And always, always looking for number 38 - even if he wasn’t sure what the number 38 looked like. It didn’t matter. He was there to see his cousin Cody and cheer for the Rebels!
It left me feeling kind of nostalgic and more than just a little bit wistful.
At the end, his mom thanked me for entertaining him and was apologetic that he couldn’t sit still. I told her that that’s what four year olds should do, and that I’d be more worried about a four year old that sat still and didn’t want to run around. Am I advocating for kids running wild in restaurants? Not at all. But I’ve heard parents say they never take their kids out because they can’t behave. We didn’t go out much when our kids were little, but when we did, they came too. How else would they learn the accepted norms and manners that society expects of us all, adults included, except by doing it?
It’s the same way we learn most things in life. I learned how to bake on my own but with mom beside me until I got it. When I wanted to knit, mom’s hands were on the needles with mine, guiding the yarn in complicated loops, until I could see it. Learning to drive? Okay, that was dad sometimes, but mom was more patient as we rolled along prairie trails between fields. Whether we call it hands-on or authentic learning, there’s one thing it doesn’t involve….being a passive learner.
“Maybe you’re thinking to yourself that the boring lectures you sat through certainly didn’t engage you in using anything, and you turned out just fine. But times change, technologies change, and most importantly, knowledge changes about how to teach kids so that they can apply what they know to real life situations.” Maybe we don’t do it to Kindergarteners. But there are rows and desks and worksheets and far too much sitting that still happens in school. And without sounding melodramatic, it kinda hurts my heart.
This past week, Ms. Hill and I combined our classes for ‘Take Me Outside’ day. The grade 11 Outdoor Ed class planned a scientific scavenger hunt for my 7s and then we finished by playing a giant game of Capture the Flag. It was fantastic.
It also was a good reminder that our students are active learners, and even if we can’t physically be outside every class, not to take the ‘active’ out of the learning.
Too many thoughts are going through my head tonight and I just can’t quite get them to connect, so I’ll end with two things: if you have anyone young enough to still sit on your lap, don’t be in a hurry to let them go. And from the poster that Hayden’s sister made to cheer on cousin Cody, “Believe, be brave, be strong, play football!”
Everyone is welcome.
I used to use the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” quite a bit, but found kids just gave me funny looks…they didn’t seem to like the idea of an elephant being a meal, even in an analogical sense. It definitely wasn’t my original question; the internet attributes it to Desmond Tutu, but an ancient Chinese proverb about a journey beginning with a single step, is along the same lines.
The answer to the elephant is simple: one bite at a time.
Same with the journey. You aren’t going anywhere without that first step, and you aren’t going anywhere far except by taking one step at a time.
So now when I’m looking at a brick of text that a student has written, I tend to go with “You don’t eat a steak in one bite, do you? Let’s break that up into smaller pieces.” It seems to be more palatable to them. (lolololol.)
When I run, I sometimes find myself having gone too far and then know I have a looooong way back. It’s generally too embarrassing to call kid #2 to come get me with a vehicle, although that has happened before, so I try to persevere and think of it in smaller pieces. Just run to that next approach. To the corner. Turn the corner. Past the slough. To the next approach. Home.
Last year, we read Terry Fox’s story through the novel “Run” and I was reminded that this is how Terry viewed his journey. He knew he was going to run a marathon each day, but didn’t think of it as a whole. He just ran to the top of one hill to the next, setting small running goals that would add up to over 40km each day. A true growth mindset.
Today, I had to split wood for winter. We heat our house with a wood-burning fireplace, so the task is an inevitability of fall unless we want to freeze when winter comes! When I looked at the pile this morning, it seemed insurmountable. I knew it was going to take HOURS and HOURS.
And it did.
But I set smaller targets to get through. I’d count out a certain number of logs, then split them and take a break. I’d pile them into the wood shed until I had a wall covered, and then take a break. I set an alarm on my phone so that every hour I (you guessed it) I took a break. Lol. It might sound like I had a lot of breaks, but I also split and stacked wood for ten hours. My best guess is over 1700 pieces - I’m going to really feel it tomorrow - but that insurmountable pile of logs slowly and then completely disappeared.
Had I fixated on the immensity of the task and the size of the pile, in particular how long it was going to take me, I’m not sure I would have accomplished as much…especially knowing in hindsight that it would be the entire day! The work didn’t change, but by thinking about it in a manageable sense, my attitude toward it made it possible.
As educators, we are familiar with SMART goal setting. We take a task or problem, and word it so that it is SPECIFIC. By visualizing a clear and precise goal, it becomes achievable.
The goal also has to be MEASURABLE, although not necessarily numerical. In our school division, we are asked, “How do we know?” and I use it often with students. How do we know this is narrative writing? How do we know that the character is desperate? How do we know our goal is effective?
The ‘A’ in the SMART goal is ATTAINABLE. This is the one that I sometimes have difficulty with. If it is easily accomplished, perhaps it wasn’t the correct goal in the first place. Yet, if I have set an unrealistic and unattainable goal, I may find the whole process frustrating and give up. It’s a delicate balance!
The goal also has to be RELEVANT and to me, this might be the most important aspect of a SMART goal/task, especially with students. If there isn’t a compelling reason or authentic aspect to what we are doing, we risk student disengagement, and end up with compliance and hoop-jumping from our kids…and that’s not learning.
The last aspect is TIME-BOUND. I haven’t ran in a month. I haven’t been to the gym in even longer. I talk about starting up again but it’s in vague terms and very noncommittal. There are many excuses why: mostly it’s just been crazy busy! But thankfully I have someone who is very persistent, and we are hammering out our commitment to get back at it….and that includes a specific time aspect. (November 13, I promise!)
This fall, we did more visual goal setting as a staff. These are tied into our personal ‘passion projects’ and I have chosen to work on deepening relationships between our school and our elementary neighbors and community. It isn’t written as a SMART goal per se, but our planning definitely follows the same format. Getting it narrowed down and worded the way I liked it was just as agonizing as the first goal setting we did, but it is posted on my door and I am excited with the initial progress that is happening. (#teachernerd)
When working with kids, it’s so important to remember, and be cognizant about the fact, that they are easily overwhelmed by large tasks. This is why we look at writing as a process: the final product is just one part; why we ‘chunk’ tasks, just like Terry did with his daily run; why we use a ‘whole-part-whole’ strategy, introducing an idea and then scaffolding/working through its parts to have a stronger understanding of the ‘whole’ (and the context of the parts) when we get there.
It’s why each piece of writing, like this one, starts with an idea. Then a word. Then a sentence. And a paragraph. And another.
And a finish.
(Sometimes, it's even a good one.)
As you start your journey this week, remember it’s just a series of single steps…direct to the coffee pot….and straight through to Friday.
Oh, and everyone is welcome.
"Some things I can teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well, you have to see and feel."
I feel like I’ve told this story before. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. From Kindergarten with Miss Carney at Birsay School, I just knew. Like every fiber of who I am, was always connected to being a teacher. I know it isn’t that way for everyone, but if I woke up tomorrow and had to do another job, I’m not really sure what it would be. Maybe a copy editor? I’d be good at pointing out other people’s grammar mistakes, but that doesn’t sound like much fun. And seriously, the internet almost debilitates me some days when I am reading…I don’t think I could do it!
Nurse? Uh uh.
Accountant? Good god, no.
But isn’t that the way we think? How we ask kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was a number of years ago that I heard it reworded to: “What problems do you want to solve when you grow up?” And I’ve never asked another kid the former question again.
This past week, our son applied for university. Besides having to set aside my denial that my baby is moving on next year, the big question loomed. He’s thought seriously about different careers over the years, and although my side of the family is all farmers, on my husband’s side there are exclusively three: nurses, teachers, and police officers. I was pretty sure that two of the three were out.
He knows that you really can’t apply to any police service right out of high school, and that makes perfect sense to me. There is no substitute for life experience – I know that the older I get, and the more kids I interact with, the better I am at what I do. In our house, we don’t believe any education is wasted, so he knew that he was going to be taking, well, something.
I’m sure that our guidance counsellor doesn’t recommend this as a strategy for choosing a post-secondary institution, but his criteria was: go where his sister is. (They don’t happen often, but there are times that I know we did something right with our kids.)
So he has applied to Mount Royal University, where she is in Nursing, to study criminology. Because you can’t take anything for granted, there are other options as well. In a little bit of surprise to me, he also applied to Education at the University of Calgary. I wasn’t surprised in the sense he considered teaching; both of my kids would be amazing teachers. No, I was surprised because whenever people would ask either one of them, “Do you want to be a teacher like your mom?” the answer was always a resounding, “NO!”
I think the biggest deterrent was just watching me. All the time preparing, at home and at work; the marking; the coaching and directing. All the time taken away from my own kids, to be with other people’s kids. It’s a guilt that can still get me, even with (almost) adult children. This past week, my daughter was home from Calgary on reading week. Between a full work week, a volleyball tournament, before and afterschool practices, helping to set up and then work at a provincial meet that our school was hosting, (thankfully our community choir practice this week was cancelled), there wasn’t a lot of time to just hang out. In fact, all we had was Friday evening. One night.
It’s not that I begrudge time spent with our students. I love getting to know them better in these other ways and know that these relationships are integral to what we are doing in the classroom, that what we do is important and unique. Sometimes, it’s just hard.
One of my favorite writers, Matt Haig, has a children’s book coming out next week called "The Truth Pixie." He tweeted out a sneak peek: “If everything was perfect, every single day, you’d never know the good from the just-about-okay. The truth is, your future will often be great; it’s bad now you’re seven, but wait till you’re eight.” And from another page, “Don’t forget who you are. You are a fighter. As the dark in the sky makes the stars shine brighter. You will find the bad stuff has good bits too. The bad days are the days that make you you.”
And one more:
There will be people you love
who can’t stay forever,
and there will be things you can’t fix,
although you are clever.”
And that's a humbling truth. Have a great week! Everyone is welcome! Tervetuloa. Tawâw.
It’s Thanksgiving weekend and most of us will pause for a little bit to reflect on the things and people that we are thankful for. Probably like you, I have a list! Letting those people know, however, is a whole other thing.
And I don’t know why.
I’m not sure if it’s the reserved, reticent Finlander parts that I’ve inherited, but saying the words isn’t always easy. The people who know they are important to me, know it, without me saying so. But that’s a cop-out. I get that. Like I wrote in my first blog post, I’m a very private person so public declarations kinda don’t fit well with me, which makes writing this blog of personal thoughts every week a bit out of my comfort zone. But I’m thankful for the people who read it, who give me feedback on it, and who encourage me by their comments.
This is my twentieth blog entry, and I realized what I hadn’t written about yet is where this blog title came from…where I’ve come from. So in the interest of sharing, and saying thank you, this is what ‘rocks and willows’ means to me.
I grew up in an area on the edge of the Coteau Hills called Rock Point. It was, and mostly still is, a small enclave of Finnish farming families. Like most immigrants coming to Saskatchewan in the early 1900’s, these weren’t farmers by trade, but farmers of necessity. My grandfather’s settler story involves travelling from Finland by boat, then by rail to Dunblane, Saskatchewan. At the time, that’s where the railway ended. He had 25 cents in his pocket and didn’t speak a word of English. But he persevered, broke land with oxen, and a small Finnish community flourished, including a store, school, and post office. It was given the name “Rock Point” by one of the only English settlers in the area, Isaac Moore, because the rolling hills and landscape reminded him of a place in Nova Scotia by the same name. Only a few weeks ago, Isaac’s son Benny, along with his own son, visited my mom and dad there. Benny remembered all the other kids speaking Finnish at recesses and noon hour. He learned some Finnish so that he could know if the other kids were talking about him, plus he didn’t want to be left out! In today’s rhetoric about immigrants ‘fitting in like the old days’ it’s a good reminder of what those days actually entailed.
Rock Point is appropriately named for the geology aspect too. There are a lot of rocks in that soil! I can’t imagine how many rocks my dad has piled, dragging the rock picker across acre after acre, year after year. The one thing that these rocks are good for is the Finnish sauna. Dad says the darker the rock, the better the steam! Every farm house had a sauna, and often the sauna (a separate building) was built before the house. It’s hard to explain the spiritual importance of a sauna, when most people associate them with hotels and gyms. Many deep and significant conversations happen when you sauna with someone.
On my own? There’s a lot of reflective thinking happening in that heat.
Wednesday and Saturday nights were sauna nights, and many evenings I remember neighbors coming over for a sauna and then coffee. Finns looooooooove their coffee! I sat through many conversations in Finnish around a table, listening politely to the cadence of words I didn’t understand. That simple rural upbringing has impacted who I am in innumerable ways, and Finnish ways of seeing the world infuse every aspect of my life.
The second part of my blog title is willows, like the willow tree. My maiden name is Pajunen. In Finnish, paju is a willow tree (with the -nen meaning little) so littlewillow is often my choice for username or email. The willow is an interesting tree. In Saskatchewan, willow trees are found growing around many sloughs and lakes. The roots of a willow tree are often bigger than its base and it absorbs water like a sponge. If you cut it off at the ground (and mow over it repeatedly lol) it stubbornly sprouts new branches. And just one cutting stuck in the soil will root itself. Persistent and resilient! Like that tree, our families and communities have strong connections that hold it up. Our part is just one root in many. In a school, as people move on and others move in, if a strong culture and vision exist, it lives beyond those migrations. In our families, as I lost my Finnish grandparents, those traditions lived on and are passed onto my own children now. No matter where they may choose to live, they will take that with them. And the persistent, resilient nature? Well, I’ve written about Finnish sisu before lol.
As someone who has loved words and writing my whole life, I see the title in another way too. It’s not just ‘rocks and willows’ but on some days, it can feel like ‘rock, sand, willows.’ There are times when it feels like I’m mired in sand. Hindered by self-doubt, questioning my effectiveness as a teacher, or mom, or just having a crappy day…stuck between a rock and, well, you know the rest. So I hope that in my writing and tweets, I don’t just give the Instagram-perfect version of teaching and life…because it’s not, and that’s okay. That’s human. It just means that I’m still growing and learning, and that’s a good thing.
But I also think of the rock and the willows as anchors, symbols to what I believe and who I am. Today, I give thanks for Rock Point, Mummu and Poppa, sauna conversations, family, freedom, mentors and mentoring, a career that is also my calling, and so much more. I’m headed to the farm to celebrate with my family today. I know that they know it, but I’ll do my best to tell them too. Happy Thanksgiving! Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome!
Friday afternoons aren’t always an easy time to be productive. (Tbh, Sunday night's for blog writing aren't much better!) By that time, the week is feeling long and my energy is fading. It just isn’t the most conducive time for doing something, especially if it lands on a day when I have a prep period.
This past Friday, that exact situation happened. And because I just couldn’t get my head around doing any marking or reading emails or preparing for the next week, I went for a walk.
A learning walk, to be precise.
A learning walk, in my estimation, is a collaborative yet personally reflective experience. It involves observing student learning in other capacities/classrooms, thinking about what other teachers are doing, and considering how I might incorporate that into my own teaching….all to improve my practice and improve student learning.
If I thought that Friday afternoons weren’t a conducive time for ‘doing something’ I was very quickly proven wrong. I saw room after room of side-by-side learning, hands-on learning, and generally a lot of movement and energy and fun. In my twitter feed recently, the connection between learning and movement has been widespread, and although I don’t teach math, I follow Peter Liljedahl and was interested in his ideas of using vertical non-permanent learning surfaces. My goal last week was to get kids out of their seats as much as possible, and adapted this whiteboard approach to ELA. Granted, there are a lot of PAA classes offered in the afternoon, so they tend to be more hands-on to start with, but student engagement wasn’t limited to just Home Ec and IA. There was just very little student ‘sitting’ going on.
Obviously, I didn’t go into every classroom. I completely understand that although this isn’t a big deal for some, for others it would be a distraction and an intrusion. I get that. Plus I hadn’t asked…I sorta wandered into rooms that were open and active.
For me, my door is always open and I really like having people come in to see what we are doing. (Generally, the students don’t even balk at visitors anymore, although our VP is like a ninja…one minute he’s not there, and the next one he is!) But for the rooms I did stop to observe, I saw a lot of #prideandjoyatwork both from staff and students. I gleaned a better understanding of subject matter (got to see what kids were working on) as well as different colleague’s approaches to instruction…there is a lot of side-by-side learning going on in our school!
It really did give me a good chance to reflect on what I am doing in my room to facilitate both hands-on and side-by-side learning. One thing that has been really successful over the past three weeks has been our Friday game time. Gamification is a technological approach that totally has many benefits to it, but this is gamification ‘old school’ style. We literally break out Scrabble, Apples to Apples, Anomia, Tellestration, Pictionary and other ELA minded games, but also popular classics like Connect 4, Battleship, and Monopoly. It has been great for students to interact socially in small groups, to communicate with people who aren’t necessarily their best friends, and to play fair and follow the rules lol. Because if the banker in Monopoly doesn’t remember to give them $2 as they pass GO, or if they didn’t add their dice up correctly, they’ll let them know instantly! The first two weeks, I limited our time to about twenty minutes. This last week, they were so into their games that we played almost the whole period. It was awesome.
Part of my year-opening spiel to kids involves discussing the idea that I want students to have fun WHILE learning, not at the expense of learning. As teachers, we are constantly making decisions about what we make room for, and what we have to let go. I know that in the months ahead, I will continue to make room for movement and make interaction in learning a priority. I’ll also continue to use George Couros’s advice as a foundation – it’s posted on my back bulletin board, and I think of it often. Non-negotiables for schools: They are a welcoming and warm environment. They develop students as good people and learners. They model the learning they expect from their students. They stoke curiousity, not extinguish it.
As we head into this next week, everyone is welcome! Tawâw. Tervetuloa.
As an adult, I find it’s pretty easy to know what the right thing to do is. I’ve got a firm grasp on the things that I feel strongly about, the things I believe in. Age and experiences have shaped my worldview and my personal views. I know my “why” and generally feel confident in the decisions and actions I take.
Except in one area, especially as an educator, where I am constantly questioning and second-guessing myself. An area that I am very self-conscious about, particularly about doing something incorrectly. An area that makes me feel compelled to speak out, yet fearful of speaking out of turn. That area for me is indigenous issues.
This weekend, I finally had a chance to watch the three-part series “First Contact” online at APTN (Aboriginal People’s Television Network.) I had followed the reaction to the series on Twitter for over a week and a half, as it had aired on TV earlier in the month. Reading about it, at first I was excited at the premise: ‘average’ Canadians with very stereotypical (aka racist) beliefs toward First Nations people, spending a month sharing and learning about indigenous culture, as well as the historical injustices they have faced, and coming out of the experience with changed views.
Disney couldn’t have made a better feel-good idea for me as a Canadian.
Looking at the trailer, I knew these white Canadians. I’d heard every single one of their comments in real life before. Every. Single. One. The fact that any of them reversed course? What a feat!
Then I started to read Twitter threads, recognized I’d been viewing it through maple-leaf-red-colored glasses, and I realized, again, that perspective is a hard thing to set aside.
It was also a good reminder that even though it was produced by APTN, not all indigenous people agreed with the basis of the show. One thread in particular was very critical of the way that “you cart them around to communities and in front of Indigenous Peoples, and you make the Indigenous Peoples and communities prove their worth. That they aren’t the stereotype. That they are human beings who have been impacted by the historical trauma this country has levelled on them…we never did anything wrong, so why do we have to prove our worth to you? And why on a nationally televised reality program?” And because I had done reading before I watched the series, I could totally see it. At one point, one of the women makes a comment about wanting to get back to civilization - and isn’t that the crux of it right there.
So I alternated nodding with the honest and patient indigenous participants as they detailed their personal, and often traumatic, experiences, and wanting to punch the old racist guy in his glasses. (He did NOT change his views despite wanting ‘evidence’ and being provided with it in spades.) In fact, I wish that I could have watched it with a director’s commentary like some movies have, because I know that I would have learned even more. I could see the problems inherent in this reality-tv approach, but couldn’t quite articulate why. As someone much smarter than me explained, “because it’s still a Eurocentric exercise. Part of reconciliation needs to be about combatting those attitudes, but if we’re not also making space for Indigenous perspectives, then it’s not really changing anything.”
But there’s also the starfish effect: like the story, getting tossed back into the ocean made a difference for that one. I’d like to think that for every person who watches this show, and struggles with a little cognitive dissonance, that it might make a difference. I also think back to many First Nation presenters over the years who encourage us (as educators, in particular) to start. Just start. Wherever you may be in your own personal understanding, we can’t wait anymore. And so even if we make mistakes (I’ll never forget one presenter’s story about kids making tortilla tipis…yikes) we need to work toward education, truth, and reconciliation.
So although I am sometimes almost incapacitated with fear of screwing up, I will keep learning and keep trying. I agree with the Twitter commenter that “there are better, and more productive ways. For me, I will concentrate on the youth. These attitudes will age out. The youth will change this country.” And he is right. Even in our rural setting, in the last week, I read a student’s writing about dancing in pow wow; I heard music from A Tribe Called Red played at a volleyball practice; I had a student ask questions about the Metis flag hanging in my classroom; I heard grade 8 students insightfully discuss effects of colonization; and I know that student planning has started to recognize Orange Shirt Day next Monday.
Just like we are all Treaty People, we all need to be involved in Reconciliation. For our students, knowledge is the best way forward, toward a day of mutual respect when a reality tv show isn’t needed to educate Canadians.
Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome.
p.s. the Twitter thread was by @DaveAlexRoberts or lots of discussion on @FirstContactTV
It was grade eight, tryouts for a SaskFirst volleyball team. My memory is notoriously fickle with what it files away, but the stories it decides to keep, I’ll remember vividly. This is one. A warm fuzzy story of overcoming obstacles and making the team? Nope.
Because I didn’t.
I was a decent volleyball player, considering I was 5’3” then, and haven’t grown since lol. Gary and Lois Dodds were our teachers and coaches all the way through junior and senior. A lot of you will know who they are, so really, with instructors like that, how could I not have learned some solid skills? Like I said, I wasn’t terrible.
No, the reason these tryouts are stuck in my brain is because of something they told us just before announcing the cuts: “We can make taller players better, but we can’t make better players taller.”
I had two thoughts. The first wasn’t very nice. The second? I knew I didn’t have a chance.
I get that I probably sucked more than I’d like to think, but they told the truth, and it hurt when the tallest girl in our school, but not the strongest player by a mile, made it through that round. It’s not that I was defeated and never played the sport again. Not at all. But it was an awakening for me, an epiphany in how the world worked. Coming from a family where working hard always translated into results, whether in grades or music or sports, this just didn’t correlate for me. In hindsight, had they just made the cuts without the disclaimer, I probably would have struggled with my classmate making it, but knowing there was a hidden criteria made it worse somehow.
Weston Dressler, I feel ya.
Dressler’s one of those success stories that you want kids to learn about: to not let someone else determine how far your dream goes. This past week we watched the new Nike ad, featuring Colin Kaepernick. There’s so many great lines in those two minutes and twenty seconds, but we chose this one: don’t ask if your dreams are crazy, ask it they are crazy enough. Then a student volunteered to share his quickwrite, about how every single person has laughed at his dream to become (coincidentally) an Olympic volleyball player. And no one laughed. Sometimes I love kids so much.
As a teacher, I don’t ever want to be someone, even inadvertently, who limits what a kid thinks that they can do. What they will become. What they dream.
But it happens, and as an educational collective, there are still prevailing philosophies that are dream-squashers (especially in sports but that’s another rant for another time.) That was the only part in the Nike ad that I struggled a bit with: being the best. “Don’t try to be the fastest runner in your school or in the world. Be the fastest ever.” The flip side is that it’s important for kids to be okay with who they are too…and for almost every one of them, it’s not going to be a world champion. In fact, most kids will never be “the best” at anything. Not at a national level, or provincial level, or division level. Maybe not at a school level. Maybe not even at a classroom level. (That’s a paralyzing thought for a teacher, and one that reaffirms to me the importance of creating an environment with learning for learning’s sake, not for a number.)
You don’t need to be the best to try. Or to have fun. Or to learn skills that will stay with you for a lifetime. (Or love to play volleyball even if you are short enough to walk under the net without ducking!) I think it’s important for us to model that lifelong learning too - for kids to realize that we dream throughout our lives, even as grownups. I still have dreams. Lots of them. Some get said out loud, some shared with only a few trusted people, some whispered quietly to myself, and some just reside in my head until I’m brave enough to give them breath.
I had a mom moment this week that made me think about all of this. It’s not something I’ll share, but I can tell you that I felt like I was back in grade eight myself. And I had two thoughts. The first wasn’t very nice. The second? I want him to follow his dreams and on his terms. Period. The third? We can all be better, and be 'our best' even if we will never be ‘the best.’
Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is definitely welcome.
p.s. “The woods would be silent if no birds sang except the best.” And that would suck.
On Saturday morning, I woke up thinking about this blog. Not in a panicked or guilty way, which would be valid since I walked away from it in June and didn’t look back, but in a ‘what am I going to write about after the first week of school?’ way. The first thought that popped into my mind? “I wonder if anyone has quantitatively researched whether the end of June teacher-tired is greater than the beginning of September teacher-tired?”
Yep. Important stuff.
But in a way, it’s an interesting question. At the end of June, you are just holding on through progress reports, field trips, final assessments, checked-out students, and grad. I am usually so tired, that the first week of July is literally just sleeping. At the beginning of September, despite having stored up a little energy and rest, it’s instantly depleted from the long days and late nights of planning, PD and meetings, the beginnings of soooo many school activities, and student energy. It really is a toss up!
And although I do use the summer to recharge and rest, like many colleagues, there is a lot of work to be done too. I was fortunate enough to take the Principal’s short course at the U of S, and it was a fantastic learning experience. I can’t say enough amazing things about the week! I also had quite a pile of books that I had borrowed, a mix of professional and personal reading. My favorites are still: 180 Days by Gallagher/Kittle, Culturize by Casas, and Innovator’s Mindset by Couros. And my favorite personal read is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I loved the main character’s voice and it had some plot twists that I just didn’t see coming (and I'm a good inferencer lol.) I read a lot of curricula too, as I have some new classes this fall, plus we have a split class for the first time that anyone can recall in our building. Lots to get ready for.
So I am working through unchartered territory in many ways, and it is TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY GOOD FOR ME! At our opening institute, our Director of Education, Lori Jeschke said, “We need to get comfortable being uncomfortable.” I could have despaired over teaching a split, but tried to see it as an opportunity to rethink how my classes are usually structured. I’m hoping that inquiry is going to be the modis operandi, and after a Social class last week, where the students took the outcome/topic, generated burning questions to answer, and then broke into partners to research them, I was totally blown away by the really deep ideas that they came up with. I’m equally excited to see how they choose to present their findings too, and hope to line up an authentic audience from the larger community for them to share it.
Besides teaching a split class, I have a few other new experiences this fall too. I have an intern (only my second one ever) and it’s a needed reminder of how much planning new teachers have to do with no experience and a full slate of classes. It’s also good to remember how students feel when they are put in uncomfortable situations each day with seating arrangements, group work, talking to the class, etc. I put a lot of thought into the mixers and icebreakers we do in those first days, knowing that not everyone is comfortable in sharing or being in close quarters with other people. (Okay that’s just me lol.)
Plus I teach grade seven, and they are brand new to the ‘big school’ with lots of anxiety and fears to allay. We invited them to move in a day early, on Friday before school started, and over half of them came. It was a small gesture with a big impact. I think I felt most uncomfortable on a personal level when I volunteered to lead a session in front of fellow teachers at our PSTA convention. That was intimidating! But it went well – considering it was on technology, none of the technology failed - and I gained the confidence in knowing I could do it if the opportunity arose again.
Of course, if all of these things had failed abysmally, there still would have been lessons to learn from them. In fact, on the first day I tell students: if you don’t make any mistakes this year, you haven’t learned anything. (And I've failed in my role!) And then I showed them a video of me learning how to wakeboard. It isn't pretty. Falling, and falling, and falling, and almost drowning, and falling again. And then finally being able to stay up! And this summer, even being able to cross the wake. It’s how we get better, and it’s how we learn. I know I’m going to make a lot of mistakes this year, but I'll also become a better teacher in the process.
One last note: on the Monday night before school started, I was at work getting things ready. Another teacher came. Then another. Then another. Altogether, there was likely 90+ years of teaching experience there that night. I took a picture of us for Twitter and joked that we were either super-keen or super-disorganized. I think it speaks to the life-long learners in all of us, always trying to improve, and wanting to create the best possible learning experiences for our students. I am so excited for the year ahead, the challenges that inevitably come with learning, but the successes that happen too.
P.S. Last year I chose to learn a word in Finnish and Cree, and to close out each blog post with it. This year I decided on welcome: in Cree ‘welcome, there is room’ Tawâw (Ta-wow), and in Finnish, Tervetuloa. There is always room here for anyone who wants to share in my thoughts, and a literal welcome for you in our classroom! Come say hi!
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