This past week was a great week.
It wasn’t perfect, of course. We are imperfect human beings working with smaller imperfect human beings. In the interest of transparency (and if you really wanted to know) I could make you a list of all the things that could have gone better, or of the behaviours that could have been better, but that’s not what this post is about. Just trust me, everyday there is something. And that’s okay…it’s the whole imperfect human thing. The main goal is learning from those mistakes, and as I read on Twitter this week: the only real apology is corrected behaviour. @zellieimani
Yet there it was. A great week.
We did several lessons on sketchnoting technique in ELA, a way of compiling main ideas from a speech, story, etc. using a combination of text, images, and connectors. It’s accessible to all students, as it can be as simple or detailed as you choose to make it. One student said how much he hates taking notes off the board (which to be clear, we never do!) and that he loved being able to put what he wanted into his notes. By the third lesson, the students listened as I read a story to them with the suggestion (but option) to sketchnote along with me. Every student participated. Every one.
I’m exploring more and more with the ideas of the thinking classroom, in particular having students up out of their desks and using VNPS (vertical non permanent surfaces, so in my room that’s whiteboards.) After having sat and observed for quite a bit while my intern was teaching, it was good to remember how hard that is on students. In another tweet I read, “Behaviour issues are often students just reacting to the difficulty of remaining in this passive position for too long.” (Ariel Sacks) And even it if isn’t causing behaviour issues, it certainly isn’t engaging, and if I’m not paying attention then I’m not learning. So my new mission is using VNPS almost every day in some way, and the kids are totally into it. Just this week we used it for our sketchnoting practice in ELA, in problem solving survival scenarios for a motivational set, and in social we brainstormed solutions (plus pros/cons) for our environmental issues from last week. I’ve added a mini gallery walk to the end of the activity, so the groups do a small loop of the classroom to see what other groups were thinking before sitting down and discussing as a whole class. My timing has been a bit off since returning to full time teaching, and our discussion got cut off by the bell on Tuesday. I apologized to the kids, saying that my pacing is still a bit off, and that we’d have to finish the next day. A boy piped up, ‘That’s okay. Class went by so fast!” The engagement of the thinking classroom at work!
To go backward one week, I want to mention that we also took the thinking classroom and combined it with the walking classroom to make a ‘walk and talk’ activity. There was a set of 10 separate questions on chart paper in the hallway. Students were in pairs and given different starting numbers. Then because our school is a perfect square, they literally walked a lap of the school talking about their question. When they came back, they added their thinking to the chart paper, looked at the next question, and started on their next lap. As I circulated, it was great to see students who wouldn’t normally talk to each other, walking and talking about the issues. Sometimes when students are to discuss something with their ‘elbow partners’ they will talk for a minute and then wait till the time is up, so I’m curious why it was easier to walk and talk. Is it because we do this all the time naturally? Was it because it was awkward to walk beside someone and NOT talk?
The next class, we put the papers back up in the hallway and students got to choose three different ones to read the responses on, plus a news article that I had added to the chart papers, before we debriefed as a whole class again. It was a success both days, as students were asking if we were going to ‘walk and talk’ the next lesson too lol.
So just to allay the idea that it’s a teaching utopia in the middle years, here is Arts Ed 8. We are doing some music skills right now, and I had the students choose an instrument to become a mini-expert in (as much as you can become a mini-expert in three hours lol.) Then I set up a schedule where the expert group teaches their classmates as learners. To be honest, it was a bit hit-or-miss. Some groups were well prepared and did a great job of instruction but there were kids not trying or had their phone out or were just generally not working with the ‘teachers.’ Wow. That was an eye opener for some of them to be on the flip side! But each time they taught a new group, they revised their instruction and got more confident, until this week it really clicked. I sat in with the ‘voice’ group as they had been struggling more. They finished a bit early, so I grabbed a boy in grade 12 who I knew enjoyed rap. He came and (without even realizing it) taught a whole lesson on rap music, giving a bit of its history, pointing out levels of language in the lyrics, explaining what an ad lib was, and more. The kids were captivated. And at the end of class, a boy from the piano group stayed to tell me that ‘it was so much fun today. I learned three different songs and I even remembered them!’ A great week.
Finally Friday. It’s the week before the week-before-Christmas. Every day I stopped by the office to say what a great day it had been. Kids are getting exponentially ramped up, and maybe I thought it couldn’t continue. Brené Brown calls that the ‘idea of foreboding joy’…when things are going really well you’re waiting for something bad to happen! We do games day in ELA on Friday’s. Students can choose who they are playing with and what game to play – lots of language based games like Apples to Apples, Scrabble, Anomia. Visual games like Pictionary, Blokus, and Tellestrations. A group of boys who’ve designed their own way to play Guess Who with four boards lol. And I brought a new game called Spice Road that I grabbed two kids and had them learn how to play it…it’s pretty complicated but they caught on quickly (and I totally lost!) As admin was doing a walkabout, I waved him into the classroom to see two things: the level of engagement kids had (lots of laughing and having fun) and the level of noise in the classroom (it wasn’t loud at all.) But mostly, I still love to see them interacting socially with each other – talking, taking turns, relationship-building, strategizing.
More than ever, I’m committed to having students move more, sit less, with as much engagement as possible in both strategies and content.
Yep. There it was. A great week.
Tervetuloa. Welcome. Tawâw.
There are not enough teacher memes out there about school life in December. It is harried, and tiring, and exciting, and frustrating, and joyful, and…it’s essentially a paradox of emotions where time is moving too fast yet simultaneously not moving fast enough. Today was evidence of both lol.
The weekends are no different, thus the reason I didn’t manage to get a Sunday night blog post written. Late night hockey games and getting home at 11pm doesn’t really help for motivation either.
Because I am insistent upon not missing a week of blogging, but can’t manage to formulate a complex thought in my head right now, I’m perusing my phone for some recent posts I’ve saved from social media to share with you. Of course, tonight when I was checking my bookmarks in Twitter, I realized that nothing was saved from beyond a week ago. I’m hoping a quick update will find them again. (IT DID! Whew.)
So here is my collection, an homage to the perennial Christmas classic ‘My Favorite Things’ from “The Sound of Music” which, to be honest, I have never once seen from beginning to end. This is the part where I’ll see if my younger sister actually reads my blog…she is a musical aficionado and will likely be mortified that I’ve never watched it. This is likely a good time to add that, despite a couple of catchy songs, I can’t stand the musical “Grease” either. Ha ha.
“The kind of teacher you will become is directly related to the kind of teachers you associate with. Teaching is a profession where misery does more than just love company – it recruits, seduces, and romances it. Avoid people who are unhappy and disgruntled about the possibilities for transforming education. They are the enemy of the spirit of the teacher.” Christopher Emdin @chrisemdin
“The importance of focusing on behavior: A student’s behavior is a much stronger predictor of future success than test scores are, according to a large-scale study encompassing 574,000 ninth graders. Teachers who helped students improve their behavior (measured by things like attendance and suspensions) were 10 times as effective at improving their students’ graduation rates and GPAs as teacher who focused on test scores.” @edutopia
“Social justice teaching is not a lesson or a unit. It’s about building a lens for students. So that students may look for social justice in all content areas and all classes and their personal lives and then some.” @PresidentPat
“I always hear that our job as teachers is to prepare students for the “Real World,” like it’s some magical land far off in the future where kids and their experiences actually matter. My question is always “isn’t their world real now?” Brett Kirk @brettkirk97
“Each school is a unique organism comprised of the collective struggles, history, & hopes of the community it serves. There’s no sweeping ‘fix’ for education just as there’s no curriculum that’ll work for all students. The only ‘fix’ is getting knee-deep in the humanity of it all.” Amy Fast @fastcrayon
“We are not just teaching history as some detached narrative. If we do our jobs right, we are teaching our students how to see history around them, how to confront it, and ultimately how to see themselves in it. In those moments, the past and the present collapse.” Kevin M. Levin @KevinLevin
“As writers we live life twice, like a cow that eats its food once and then regurgitates it to chew and digest it again. We have a second change at biting into our experience and examining it…This is our life and it’s not going to last forever. There isn’t time to talk about someday writing that short story or poem or novel. Slow down now, touch what is around you, and out of care and compassion for each moment and detail, put pen to paper and begin to write.” Natalie Goldberg
“Continually ask yourself: what’s important? To you? To the author? To others? What’s interesting? New info? Connections? Surprised?” Tanny McGregor @TannyMcG
“Fill the page with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth
“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” Gretchen Rubin @gretchenrubin
“Things that are good for your planet are also good for your mental and physical health. Clean air, walking, working less, oceans, forests, plants, avoiding artificial chemicals. A kind, vibrant, verdant world is good for us. The ultimate act of self-care is to protect the planet.” Matt Haig @matthaig1
“No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.” George Evans @kruevans
“This is the path. These are the ingredients. But none of it is possible until, as the great theorist David Hawkins once said, we realize that ‘the more magic gift is not love, but respect for others as ends in themselves, as actual and potential artisans of their own learnings and doings, of their own lives, and thus uniquely contributing, in turn, to their learnings and doings. Respect for the young is not a passive, hands-off attitude. It invites our own offering of resources. It moves us toward the furtherance of their lives and thus, even, at times, toward remonstrance or intervention. Respect resembles love in its implicit aim of furtherance, but love without respect can blind and bind. Love is private and unbidden, whereas respect is implicit in all moral relations with others. Adults involved in the world of man and nature must bring that world with them to children, bounded and made safe to be sure, but not thereby losing its richness and promise of novelty.” Sam Chaltain @samchaltain
Tervetuloa. Welcome. Tawâw.
Is it what happened that’s making you mad? Or is it the story you’re telling yourself about what happened that’s making you mad?
It’s not a bad idea everyone once in a while to check yourself.
Sometimes we live in a little echo chamber, either in real life or online. It’s easy to gravitate to ideas and people that you agree with, and then reinforce our beliefs with their validation. It feels good because it’s comfortable and safe.
But after a while, the story we tell ourselves isn’t always the most accurate. The memories we have are probably being recalled through blissful rose-colored glasses, or conversely, whatever color the opposite emotion might be. Grey? Black? Was it really as good as we remember? Was it really as bad?
When we use reading comprehension strategies with students, we encourage them to make connections to their lives, to other things they have read, or to the world around them, in an effort to both make sense of what they are reading and to internalize it in some way. To make it stick. It feels like our memories work that way too. I’m not always remembering just the facts of what happened, but how it made me feel, and the ripple-effects it had.
And therein lies part of the problem: it has been colored. It has been changed.
And in my remembering, often over years, it has changed me.
So once in a while, it’s a good idea to separate facts from feelings to get nearer to the reality of the story. I needed to do that this week. *Correction: I needed help doing that this week.* It’s hard because it requires some intense personal reflection. Working out my own biases and perceptions helped to clarify why I was upset: not to discount the emotions involved in it (those are real) or to diminish the anger (I was still mad) but to see things in as clear a light as possible.
Meeting with my liaison students this week, this came up for some of them as well. Thinking about our own part in relationships, not just putting it off onto the other person. Recognizing areas that we haven’t been honest about, especially being honest to ourselves. And most importantly, thinking of how to move forward…mending broken connections, making a plan to catch up on work, advocating for ourselves, and (sometimes sheepishly and reluctantly) acknowledging our own failings and thinking of ways to make it right.
It’s important to question all the stories we hear. I picked up a copy of “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” for reading time. It’s a true story, and although not one of the most captivating books I’ve read recently, it was interesting. (Not sure how it ends yet…I’ll be done it on Monday!) I also follow the Auschwitz Memorial on Twitter and was surprised to see that they don’t endorse the book. “Due to the number of factual errors it cannot be recommended as a valuable educational reading to understand the history of the camp…the book is an impression about Auschwitz inspired by authentic events, almost without any value as a document.” The story is colored by memory and feelings, and had I not come across that, I might have taken everything in the novel as fact. As I lend my book out, I’m copying the caution from the Auschwitz Memorial in it so that people read it with a more critical lens than I did.
In Social 8, we have been using Concentus.ca and Tolerance.org to examine our Canadian stories, specifically to determine how Canada’s identity has been shaped by our history. It has been interesting to watch as students wrestle with the idea that Canada has always been a welcoming and open-hearted country, juxtaposed with the facts….Acadian deportation, internment of Ukranian and Japanese Canadians, treatment of indigenous people in residential schools and the 60s Scoop, the Chinese Head Tax, turning away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, and much much more. Cognitive dissonance in abundance as they weighed the story and the facts.
In an era of fake news, it’s a horrifying thought that we are undoubtedly forming new stories in our lives based on information that isn’t even true. There are days I really long for pre-internet ignorance when things were never in doubt. (But then I need a recipe off allrecipes.com, need to know how to get water stains out of cowboy boots, or dm someone overseas and I wonder how I could live without it lol.)
I’ll finish with a tweet by Ashley Semrick (@HelloSemrick) where she poses the following questions:
Who is telling the story? Who is being left out of the story? Why are they being left out? What do we do with parts of our history that make us uncomfortable? Who gets to decide which parts of history are told? Does telling your story give you a voice? Does not telling it take your voice away?
As we go into this first week of December, write your own story (good job Lori N. on starting your blog!) and make everyone welcome. Tawâw. Tervetuloa.
Friend: You’re having your staff party at PBR?
don’t say it
don’t say it
don’t say it
don’t say it
don’t say it
don’t say it
me: It’s not my first rodeo.
Ha ha. That line was thrown around quite a few times last night as we gathered as a staff and went to the Professional Bull Riding finals. It really wasn’t my first time at a rodeo, but it was the first time watching PBR and they put on quite a show! It didn’t take long before someone made the connection between teaching and bull riding, and because our staff are nerds, I mean creative lifelong learners, we came up with some great analogies!
Take the bull by the horns:
Riding the bull is like teaching, with twists and turns and bumps. There is a crowd cheering you on but there is also a crowd cheering on the bull. When he gets bucked off, the rider has no choice but to get back up and try again.
Whether you are ready or not, or successful or not, you just jump in. Just in teaching, you are hanging on for dear life for the whole year, not just 8 seconds.
Unpredictable. Challenging. Nerve wracking. Rewarding. Takes practice.
Bull riding and teaching both require you to make changes on the fly. You have to have lots of flexibility, and sometimes you just have to throw out the lesson plan and be in the moment.
Take it a day at a time, just like they take 8 seconds at a time, and then stay on that bull till summer.
Bull in the china shop:
Education is the bull. Kids are the bull riders, just trying to hang on.
Our students are the bull riders: jumping on and hoping they don’t fall off, and learning something along the way. The crowd is the public and parents giving feedback and being fans, and teachers are the roper on the horse making sure that stuff stays on track.
Bulls are the teens. 100 percent unpredictable.
Teachers are the guys helping in the chute, roping the bull, and sometimes being the clown. The guy on the tractor, harrowing the arena? That’s our administrators, cleaning up, smoothing things over, and preparing all the conditions for our school to be successful.
Mess with the bull, you get the horns:
I really didn’t understand a lot of what happened in the arena, aside from the fact that they needed to hang on for 8 seconds…I’ve seen the movie! It was exciting and heart-stopping at times, watching the sheer strength of the bull, and the rider, and the unpredictability of each ride. I asked a lot of questions which was likely completely annoying (sorry Barb) but as we know, that’s how we learn.
If I had to pick just one moment for comparison, it would be the time in the chute. The rider and bull, both ready to go out, ripe with anticipation. For 8 seconds they will be tied together as one. And even though their tasks seem contrary, they will be working toward the same goal…a wild bucking and rearing ride. For us, I think sometimes we are the bull and sometimes the rider. Which means that our students are also sometimes both. And that’s okay. The roles of teacher and learner are ones that we should share. As we hang on to each other educationally, it does get harried, it isn’t always easy. In fact, it feels as though we are having 8 second rides over and over and over. Throughout a day. Over the year. And in the end, our championship is ultimately the learning and success of that student (without flying cowboy hats and fireworks lol.)
Last night someone had said, “You think you know what you are getting into, and it seems like a simple concept, but when you actually watch it happen, none of it is simple.” To me as an outsider, it seems like they just have to hold on for 8 seconds. How hard can it be? Obviously, it’s hard!! And it’s not just about holding on. Likewise with teaching. It may seem like a simple enough concept, but it is a complex and challenging job that we do.
My colleagues made some great connections between teaching and bull riding. For me, when I look at the many different people involved at PBR last night, I think that teachers play every single one of those roles. Simultaneously. Consecutively. Consistently.
We guide. We redirect. We protect. We announce. We cheer. We entertain. We prepare. We open doors. We hang on. We get bucked off. We get back on. And as a someone pointed out last night, we also need to remember that there’s a support team down there too. You are never on your own.
Have a great week! Everyone is welcome. Tervetuloa. Tawâw.
Confession time: I can be very tenacious. I don’t doubt that my teachers when I was younger would probably have described it as being arrogant and stubborn. I chalk a lot of that up to surviving as a middle child surrounded by even more ‘tenacious’ siblings! But over time I’d like to believe that it’s softened into persistence and determination. As someone who loves solving problems, I love a good challenge. And when I come across something that stumps me (iPads, I’m looking at you) I don’t give up easily.
Tenacity is also a foundational trait in the “It’s Not Lost Until Mom Can’t Find It” file. It's no different as a teacher - just today I helped three students find missing documents on the computer….we really need to work on saving our files with more descriptive and accurate titles!
But on Sunday, I just wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t manage to accomplish anything around the house or for work. That night when I just couldn’t get out of my living room chair, let alone get my blog written, I knew I was in a funk. I’m sure it was missing my daughter after visiting her over the break in Calgary. I’m sure it was being alone all day when my husband and son were at work. I’m sure it was because I’m feeling a bit run down and likely coming down with something. I’m sure it was the cold, crappy, overcast weather. And the one thing I am most sure about: on any given day, a lot of people in our lives are feeling the same way.
Including our students.
Even big kids have days like that. Okay, especially big kids, sometimes. My daughter is in Nursing at Mount Royal University, and she’s had a stressful few weeks with midterms and papers. Her Sunday wasn’t going much better than mine, and in our phone conversation, my attempts at cheering her up kept falling flat. I finally (almost) gave up trying and told her: This is really hard. I don’t know what to say and I don’t know how to help you solve this.
Her response: I don’t need you to fix it. I just need you to hear it.
And maybe that’s all most of us really need, not just on the bad days, but every day. Someone to talk to. Someone to hear us.
One of my favorite educators to follow, Amy Fast @fastcrayon, tweeted this out this week: “The best way to manage your class is to like your students. It’s not a feeling; it’s a choice. Make the choice to connect. I’ve never spent time getting to know a student and liked him or her less as a result.”
Or another by Paul Ketcham: “What if school leaders shared these words with staff members each and every day? I believe in you. Your work makes a difference. How can I help you? Thank you. I value you. What do you need? What if teachers shared these same words with students every day?”
This week’s goal? Make sure I say them. Make sure I hear them.
Since that wasn’t actually what I planned to write about this week, here’s a 10 point condensed version.
This past weekend, I ate an Oreo candy cane.
1. Yes, November is a little early to be eating candy canes.
2. Yes, Oreo flavor in a candy cane is disconcerting at first. My brain was expecting one thing but my tastebuds relayed a totally different message.
3. It wasn’t as awful as you’d imagine.
4. Somebody, in a candy lab somewhere (maybe the north pole lol) thought this would be a good idea and pitched it. Someone in a position of authority trusted or believed in the idea, and approved it. And Oreo flavored candy canes arrived (yes, in November….) to a store near you!
5. Honestly, they weren’t amazing and I doubt that I would buy them again. But thank goodness for people who don’t just think outside the box, they throw the box away and start from there.
6. We didn't come up with the Oreo candy cane idea, but we have some amazing, creative, and innovative thinking happening at DCS right now. I really need to write more about it because I only have four points left on this list, and this is only a few! But in the interests of sharing, these are my favs.
7. School-wide reading time continues to amaze. Every person. Twenty-five minutes. MWF. Reading. It’s like a literacy marvel.
8. Multi-level senior ELA classes based on interests/themes. What a gift of choice for students. No offence to Hamlet, but selfishly thankful my son had this opportunity.
9. We love our DES neighbors and my 7/8s are awesome. Best part about prepping and serving daily breakfast this past week? Community building…everyone pitches in…no arguing…just doing…just visiting. Feels like a family Thanksgiving in my mom’s kitchen. (Did I mention without the arguing? Just kidding!!)
10. Staff passion projects. Mine will be a post for another day, but touching base with others at Monday’s staff meeting just reinforced that I work with some really great educators who are passionate about student learning and about making our school a great place to learn.
Only five days till Sunday, so keeping some thoughts till then lol. Have a great rest of the week!
Tervetuloa! Tawâw! Welcome!
“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.
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