Yesterday, the water pump in our well quit. Died. Crapped out. Over 18 hours later, we have no running water and since it is Sunday, there is no end in sight.
If you follow this blog, you’ll likely know that we heat our house with a fireplace, which means that I am chopping wood and splitting kindling every day. We wake up to 13 degree Celsius mornings throughout winter, and there is a pail of snow gathered last evening for emergency water that didn’t even melt overnight.
In other words, I am one power-outage away from living an authentic Saskatchewan-in-1952 life. If I wear an apron to work tomorrow and have cooked my own supper, someone had better come for an intervention.
Sometimes things end very abruptly. We don’t see it coming, can’t prepare, and after an initial shock of emotions, work our way through the aftermath.
Life before COVID, that’s totally you.
Sometimes things don’t end in any concrete way. They slowly disintegrate, fade, or morph their way into non-existence. I think of waking every morning for weeks last year, trying to decide when it was the day to put our old family dog down. The end was never clear to me, even when the day arrived.
I also suspect that is how COVID will end…not in an armistice day to remember, but an overlapping of life with restrictions and life without, until at one point everything has resumed.
Maybe not as before, but resumed nonetheless.
In visual art, students have been researching an artist as an inquiry project, and realizing that art styles do not have a hard and fast existence. Artists do not appear out of nowhere. Musicians, scientists, architects, writers…all are shaped by what is happening around them, and build on the work of those who have come before.
I was fortunate to listen to an amazing educator, Linda Rief, present this week, and I was thinking about this as she guided us through quick writes with mentor texts. When I was younger, my own writing voice parroted that of Stephen King. I was a huuuuge Stephen King fan and read his books voraciously. It wasn’t until my English teacher in grade 9 had covered one of my pieces with “SF” all over it in red pen, that I learned what it meant. He explained sentence fragments to me, and when I protested (which I often did when given advice I didn’t agree with lol) by telling him that Stephen King used sentence fragments all the time, his response to me was this:
You aren’t Stephen King.
It’s a good thing that he was the best English teacher that I had, or would ever have, as I didn’t hold his criticism against him.
But I think of it often.
When I asked students to respond to the questions, “What criteria can we use to ‘judge’ artwork? What things would you consider important? What does creativity, craftsmanship, and complexity mean for an artwork?” this was one Grade 10 student’s answer:
Linda Rief gave us many multi-modal examples. Let us not be the limiting beliefs on our own students’ creativity as they convey messages of their own.
So this is where an unstructured blog can go wrong lol.
I really WAS thinking about endings. Thinking about how I’ve written this blog for three years as of next week, and maybe it was time to wind it down. Thinking about the end of this quint semester on Wednesday, and reflecting on changes that I need to do to improve the experience for students next time. Thinking about starting my week un-showered and about bringing my toothbrush to work.
But writing, particularly writing quickly like I do with this every week, can go in directions I hadn’t anticipated. To steal a quote from Donald Murray that Linda used in her presentation, “Write fast - write badly - so you will write what you don’t yet know you knew, and so you will outrun the censor within us all.”
Maybe this doesn’t feel like the end quite yet.
Have a great week everyone.
This past week I took a belaying course. It was kind of important. If you don’t take the course and pass it, you aren’t allowed to belay. And I want to be able to do that!
So what is belaying, you might be wondering?
When you are rock climbing, the belayer is the person on the ground. As your partner climbs, you are moving the rope through the belay device to get rid of the slack. You also control the brake so that if they slip, they won’t fall very far…ie. plummet to the ground.
Thankfully, my nephew graciously signed up with me to avoid having to partner with a stranger in COVID times. I was fairly confident that he would be a good student and not let the above example happen!
It’s always good to have a reminder of what it is like being on the student-side of things: to remember that learning something new is not easy. At one point, I had asked so many questions that I apologized to the instructor, saying that as a teacher I should be a better student. But I was actually being a great student:
The 2.5 hours were all hands-on with a 3:1 student to instructor ratio lol.
And it was STILL hard.
I can’t imagine how much I would have taken away from the course if it had been us sitting in a room, with the instructor just telling us about the knots to tie. No rope. No demonstrations. No climbing.
Answer? Not much.
As it was, we practised every skill that a belayer needs. The most fun, of course, was the falling - that millisecond of exhilaration as you are near the top…and just let go.
At first, we would tell our partner that we were going to fall, so that they could mentally and physically prepare for what needed to happen.( KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE BRAKE ROPE!) After a bit, we practised unannounced falls, because I can tell you from experience, you don’t always know in advance that you are going down!
The most important skill, though, is likely communication. Verbally, there are a few universal commands to learn, to confirm with your partner what is happening or what you want to happen. But there is also non-verbal communication, keeping your eyes on them and being aware of what is happening.
Like with most things, as I was on the wall or belaying my nephew, I had school-connections running through my head! Here’s three things we could transfer to our classrooms:
1. Let kids fall off the wall more often. Purposeful falls. Accidental falls. I didn’t practise belaying for ‘if’ someone is going to fall, but ‘when.’ (You will fall!) We need to let kids know that learning happens when we take risks and push ourselves; and we learn when mistakes happen because we are learning from those mistakes.
2. Communicate and watch. I was really thinking about triangulation of data as we went through the night. We spent a lot of time in observation and conversation. We watched the other pair as they climbed, listening to the instructor’s feedback. We watched each other go through the intricate steps of knot tying; sometimes I helped my nephew and he helped me, but more often it was just talking and working through the steps together. I think in our classrooms, that is another important lesson: it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to talk it through with someone. It’s okay to listen in when the teacher is working with someone else. Learning is not done in isolation.
3. I’ll repeat that once more: learning is not done in isolation. When there is a climber and a belayer, you are a team. We depend on each other to be safe and have a successful climb. We have different responsibilities in each role, and we need to understand them both because we will do both. In the classroom, I am a learner as much as I am a teacher. And I want our students to be teachers as much as they are learners.
(Something happened in Visual Art before the break that was so cool: one student had learned a technique, promptly showed it to another student, who in turn taught it to another student lol. When a fourth student asked me about it, I sent them to the last student who had learned it so they could teach it too.)
And for the “BUT IN REAL LIFE!” counterargument, the interesting thing about the night was that it was all practice. Just feedback and learning. When we are ready, we will go back for a ‘test’ to show them our skills. We will try until we’ve demonstrated that we know what we are doing.
And then…climb on!
Hope everyone enjoyed a short break. Have a great week!
Hmmm. Close, but that feels too random.
Sort of, although that’s only part of it.
But that doesn’t quite have the energy in the word that I’m looking for either. I need something that captures the essence of all three of those things together!
This week is staff appreciation week in Saskatchewan, and I am feeling very <lucky-privileged-AND-fortunate> to work with the amazing people that I do. This week is about them.
When I even look back on the last week, without exception I saw adults learning everywhere: talking about the professional books they were reading; furthering their learning through workshops in areas of content, assessment, and leadership; contributing to groups on staff wellbeing, and brainstorming fun ideas for us to stay healthy together; talking to each other and seeking input and advice.
Innovating and taking risks.
Continually growing in their craft.
That’s a lot of -ing words, and I didn’t write it in past tense on purpose because it is a continual process: the people in our building are learners, and are modeling themselves as learners.
But that’s not all.
I am also so <lucky-privileged-AND-fortunate> to be working in my other position with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. They are also incredibly modest and would deflect the compliment, but it is true. The best learning happens in relationship and collaboration with other people, whether that is virtual or with someone across the hallway. It happens when we consider the experiences of other grade levels and subjects. It happens with feedback from mentors. It happens with critical self-reflection and goal setting.
And to my collegial friends that are a bit farther away, or virtual educators that I will never meet, I learn from you as well. Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences. When we are honest and vulnerable (including on the internet!) it can leave us open to judgement or criticism, but it also allows others to learn and grow with us.
I don’t know how many times in a week that the weight and scale and complexity of what we do as educators can feel crushing, but it is through the amazing teachers, EAs, teacher candidates, division-office leaders, administrators, substitutes…all of us together…that we continue to serve our students best.
So on Staff Appreciation week, I am sending my appreciation out to each of you!
What we do is important.
YOU are important.
Thank you for all that you do.
Perpetual amateur. Lifelong learner. Vice-Principal. Teacher. Musician. Mom. Annnnd if you're reading this, then I'm still a blogger.