Wednesday, 1 July 2020

A rocking chair, a Saturday night and some fireflies

It's the first day of Summer.  Not the summer solstice, actual first day of summer, but the first Saturday after the last day of school.  The 2019-2020 school year is done.  What... a .... year.  So many professional and personal struggles in a year filled with some pretty huge world wide challenges.  I will be reflecting on many of these in the days and weeks to come, and that's a good thing.  But first I need to let it go.  All of it.  

Today I am free of everything.  Today the summer stretches ahead of me like an ocean of opportunity.  Today I am ignoring the phone and the to do list and the pile of need to's.  Today I begin to recharge.  

As the sun starts to go down on this blissful day of abandon, I find myself on the deck.  With every motion of my rocking chair, I can feel peace washing over me.  I'm watching the breeze as it weaves gently through the leaves on the trees.  The birds are cooing sweet lullabyes as they settle into their nests for the evening.  In the pond, the bullfrogs are billowing out their throats in full force, hoping a mate will join them on a moonlight tryst.  

At the very edge of night, the first firefly appears.  Then another and another, until the grass and the trees sparkle with them everywhere.  For an hour, they twinkle in a way that makes the stars dim in deference to their artistry and grace.  I am lost in their dance.  When the fireflies settle for the night, there is the rising moon and the sky full of stars to keep me company.  I rock gently back and forth.  

I have found my peace.

May you find what brings you yours.

Our Dad Shoes: Work Boots

Our Dad Shoes: Work Boots

It was a post inspired by Chris Cluffs @chrisjcluff.  He was starting a website about dads: being one, having one, knowing one.  He called it Our Dad Shoes and invited anyone who wanted to, to contribute to it.  There are so many amazing tributes to dads and being a dad here.  I encourage you to check out all of them .  It even has it's own Twitter handle: @ourdadshoes  and hashtag: #ourdadshoes. This is not just a Father's Day website - contributions continue to be most welcome, maybe you have something you would like to add to this collection.  Thank you to Chris for including my post.

The title got me thinking about the shoes I associate most closely with my own Dad, his workboots.  My Dad didn't work in an office, although he always had a home office.  He started his career finishing concrete and then went on literally build his own business first in concrete finishing but eventually into a custom home building and land development company.  I thought about how his truck was often his office and all the memories I have of riding in that cornucopia of construction equipment, concrete dust and all things "Dad".  

I remembered a picture of me as a very young girl, standing and trying to walk in Dad's work boots.  They were huge and heavy and balancing in them was hard enough!  As always, Dad was there to catch me when I fell out of them.  I always think of my Dad as he was then, in my childhood.  While I know he is now in his late seventies, I still think of him as a 30ish, larger than life man who would always catch me when I fell and always be someone I look up to and admire.  My head knows the truth.  My heart prefers not to do the math.

Here's the link to the finished post: Work Boots

Sunday, 8 March 2020

100 Episodes: Looking Back and Learning Forward

Monday, March 9th, 2020, is the release of my 100th Episode of the I Wish I Knew EDU podcast on VoicEd Radio.  You can also find it on iTunes, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Spreaker - but the community of podcasters is it's home.  I'm honoured to be a part of this inspiring group of educators.

My first episode was broadcast on VoicEd Radio on February 5th, 2018. I blogged about that first podcast experience in a post titled I'm a Podcaster! Then last year when I hit my one year/50th Episode Podcast-aversary, I blogged again in a post entitled: 50th Episode - I Wish I Knew EDU learning.  You might think I had nothing left to say about podcasting... but you would be wrong.

Two years and 100 Episodes in and I am still talking, listening and most importantly, still learning.  

The idea behind the podcast has always been to share the journey of educators at any given point on the EDU-career timeline - pre-service teachers, first year teachers, veterans with 5, 10, 20, 30 years in the business to those who have retired and continued their EDU-journey in a variety of ways.  I always ask my guests to give me a look back at the years and experiences behind them, and to share what they have learned over that time that they wish they knew sooner.  Then we have a look forward and share what their hopes for Education are. 

The podcast has been some of the most
amazing Professional Development I've ever done.  I've spoken to educators who have been so generous with their time and have honestly and openly shared their adventures with me.  I've gained knowledge about programs, resources and career paths that would never have occurred to me to research or use or find out about.  I've tried new strategies in my classrooms that they've shared with me, and met or followed other educators they recommended.  Each guest has expanded my thinking and opened new galaxies of opportunities for me.  Thank you to Tony Vincent for being my guest for Episode 100.  If you are one of the 100 Educators I have had as guests on the podcast so far, I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the gift you have given me.  I am a better Teacher because of all of you.

If you are a regular listener, thank you so much. My hope has always been that the podcast gives you something that you want or need to hear.  Maybe a new activity or resource for your students, a different way of looking at things, a career opportunity that you hadn't thought of, a spark of inspiration or even just a moment of collegiality.  On a day when you come home feeling lost, alone, mentally and emotionally exhausted and are thinking of giving up on teaching, I hope that you find something in the podcast that reminds you we all have those days and that it gives you the strength to keep fighting the good fight.  I open each show with the comment that Teaching is the best job in the world.  I absolutely and completely believe that those words are true.  But it isn't easy.  And somedays, it can be the toughest job in  the world too.   

So where do I go from Episode 100?  

It's been almost 26 years since I graduated from Teacher's College, and just over two years and 100 Episodes of podcasting.  There are still so many Educators I'd love to talk to and so many things I want to learn.  Maybe you are the person I'll learn them from.  I really hope I'll be talking to YOU soon on I Wish I Knew EDU, where we are looking back and learning forward.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions below.

Friday, 21 February 2020

The Best 75 Minutes of My Day.

Music is magic.  It can be intensely personal and it can also be a shared bond between us.  It can make us dance with joy, bring tears to our eyes or bring back a moment in time with just a phrase or a gorgeously arranged group of notes and melodies and rhythms.

This year, as it is every year, my class is a group of amazing and wonderful students.  If you know me, or read this blog regularly, you know that I work in a congregated special education class with students who experience the world through the lens of Autism, Down's Syndrome, Global Developmental Delays and more.  This year's class has a commonality of struggling with communication and expressive language.  But come to our music class, and you would be hard pressed to see that.

Each day, I break out my guitar, the song books and some communication/language aids and we jam for 75 minutes.  We work on social skills; taking a turn, being part of a group and making a choice.  We work on our reading by following along in the song books and choral reading.  We learn how to find the beat in music and clap or dance along.  We learn how some songs are meant to be sung softly like a lullaby, or sung with exuberance like a campfire favourite.  We talk about what we think a song is about and how the music makes us feel.

Songbook Choice Board
Choosing a song

Our songbook is an ever-growing mix of about 200 songs for young children, classic rock favourites, campfire songs, and present day requests from the class.  On any given day we may move from Skinamarink, to Crocodile Rock, to the Backstreet Boys, Garth Brooks, Bon Jovi and Green Day.  If they request it, and I can figure out how to play it (and in some cases, find a clean lyric version), we do it.

The set up is uncomplicated.  I supply the guitar, they supply the energy.

Each day, one student takes a turn as helper and is in charge of taking the choice board around to their classmates.   Each student can pick a song by physically pulling an icon for that song off the choice board.  Some songs have visuals that go with them.  For example, The Wheels on the Bus has a set of visual pieces and each student gets one or two,  so that when that point in the song comes along, they add that piece to the board.  For example, when the lyric says "The babies on the bus go waaa waaa waaa," there is a visual of a baby crying that they stick to the board.  When we sing Alice the Camel, there are detachable visuals of each hump with a number on it that they pull off the camel on the board, as Alice loses her humps.  For Aikendrum, each food-body part is assembled on the board.   When the choice is for the Hokey Pokey, we all get up and do the Hokey Pokey.  During Yellow Submarine, we all become the rhythm section by drumming along.  In Three Green and Speckled Frogs, they click on a frog on the SmartBoard and the Frog disappears.  For I Know and Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, they touch the SmartBoard and the next animal to be eaten floats onto the screen.    If we've got a good rock anthem going, we bring out the instrument set and play along.  During the Cat Came Back, we have a stuffed cat that gets tossed from owner to owner.  Sometimes we simply sway to the soft melody and other times we dance.  And we sing!   Boy, oh boy, do we sing!


Every day, Students who are considered non verbal, hum, clap or vocalize along with the music.  Students who are not usually emotionally expressive laugh, smile and dance with an energy that is contagious.  Students who barely move or participate in Phys Ed class will dance until sweat is running off their faces.   Students who struggle to read written language, follow intently along in the songbooks and those who cannot read, will singalong to a song they love, knowing every word.  I wish I was a better writer, so that these words could truly show you the jubilation that fills our classroom during Music class.

There are all kinds of curriculum and IEP goals that we are working towards in our music class.  But, if I'm being completely honest, it's the pure joy I see and feel from my students that fuels that 75 minute period.  And it's the best 75 minutes of my day.


As always, I welcome your questions and comments below.  I'd love to hear about how you incorporate music in your class and some of the songs that are big hits with your students.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

3 Identical Ornaments

I've been away from this space for a while.  In June, we lost my friend, Leanne Hanson.  My closest friend's Mom passed away a week later and she was a lady who was so dear, and so kind to me over the years.  My Mom went into palliative care during all of this, the first week of June.  Mom left us in late September, after a ten year battle with Multiple Myeloma.  The silent, invisible storm raging around me and inside me left me with no words.  I've tried to come back to this spot a few times since June, but my words were not ready.  I think they may have finally have come back to me.

Two weeks ago, I was over at my Dad's house.  He's in the midst of a nasty bout of gout and isn't getting around so well right now.  I went over to help him with a few things like laundry and meal prep.  While I was there, I was putting out some Christmas decorations to make the house feel a little more festive and a little less empty.  I went to the linen closet to get out my Mom's favourite poinsettia table runner and as I took it out, I could feel it was heavier and a little bulkier than it should be.

I unwrapped it carefully to find a little white bag.  Inside it were 3 identical Christmas ornaments.  This is not where the Christmas ornaments are kept.  If you knew my Mom, she was a meticulous house keeper.  Everything had it's spot.  For her Christmas ornaments, that spot was in the basement with the Christmas tree - not the linen closet.  As well, for the last 15 years, her own tree has been an Angel ornaments only theme.  So my first thought was, "this is odd."

With my next breath, I thought of my two sisters and of Christmases past.  Every year at Christmas, for as long as I can remember,  Mom would give us each an identical (or close to identical) ornament.  Sometimes they were found on a trip she took, or in a local shop.  But every year, there they were.

3 Identical ornaments.

There was no note with them, no dated receipt, nothing to tell me why they were there.  I asked Dad if he knew where they came from.  He had never seen them before. 

I can only guess that last winter, or in the early spring, before she got so sick, she found these 3 identical ornaments somewhere and bought them with her three girls in mind.  She wrapped them in paper towel, put them in a bag and left them in a safe spot where she would be sure to find them come Christmas time; with her favourite Christmas runner.

I've wrapped them in holiday paper, addressed them to my sisters 'from Mom' and placed them under the tree.  They will be the last ornaments we receive from her.  Our last tangible gift from Mom, after a lifetime of so many intangible gifts given to us.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, 15 June 2019


I think I've talked a lot about how online connections and my online PLN have made me a better teacher, pushed me to think deeper and brought so many new ideas and opportunities to my classroom.  Between Twitter and VoicEd Radio...well the learning has been expanding at an exponential rate.  But it's been more than just learning, it's been the birth of some pretty amazing professional and personal relationships.  I haven't met a lot of these folks in real life...I haven't met hardly any of these people in real life.  But, the bond we've formed is real.  The friendships are real.  These people are my tribe: my biggest supporters, my trusted and honest critics, and in some cases, my kindred spirits.

Leanne Hanson and I met through VoicEd Radio and Twitter.  To say that I had found a soul sister doesn't do our relationship justice.  If my life was a Soap Opera, it would be akin to finding my evil twin.  Except we were both evil twins.  We instantly clicked.  We tweeted, we DM'd, we Google Hangout'd, we guested on each other's podcasts, we #MADPD'd, we shared resources, we told stories from our lives, we sent each other the craziest gifs, we engaged in bizarre, yet loving - social media terrorism attacks on our friends and we made up ridiculous hashtags (She was much better at this than I was).  We talked teaching, music and poetry.  We got silly.  We LOL'd...a lot.

We talked about meeting irl one day.  It would have been great to do that.  I would have loved to see her home and meet her family in Queensland.  I can imagine there would have been a big welcoming hug.  There would have been jokes and laughter and likely a fair bit of whiskey.  But an irl meeting wasn't really necessary to us.  We were able to connect digitally as if we were in the same room.  I didn't think of her as "this teacher on the other side of the planet."  She was simply, my friend, Leanne.

Leanne lost her battle with cancer this week at the age of 45.  My heart goes out to her husband, Grant, and her children Michael and Elizabeth.   

I am flattened by this loss. 

Educator, poet, podcaster, dreamer, friend. 

Links to Leanne Hanson's podcasts, poetry and more:

Leanne as a Guest on the podcasts of her VoicEd family:

Her published poetry volumes:
Odd Verse Effects
Ghost Dreaming

Leanne's Bitmoji - one of my favs from the many she sent me.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Be a part of #BIT19

It hasn't been the most Educator friendly spring in Ontario.  The political climate has changed and that has left a lot of us unsure of where we will be in the fall.  How our schools will look and run this September will absolutely be different.  Professional Development will be...likely a lot different and in some cases, like the OTF webinars and Summer Workshops, gone.  There may be disruptions to how we work and learn in response to these changes in our Province.

But that doesn't have to change our belief in life long learning.  It doesn't have to curtail our learning and sharing.  Maybe now is the time when we lean into the wind a bit more and rely on each other for opportunities to enrich ourselves through our online PLN and through those irl meetings at conferences that make a big difference in our classrooms and in our own need for growth.  In a time when outside forces try to divide and conquer us and beat down our morale, maybe we need these spaces of collegial learning to help build us up and make our bonds even tighter.

The call for proposals for the Bring it Together 2019 Conference is now open.  I know that I have encouraged many to submit their ideas to present.  Some have taken me up on this, many have not.  Some have told me they are worried about a work stoppage or other disruptions this fall.  If that happens, the Conference is prepared to move to a date outside that window of time.  I've had others tell me they are unsure they will be able to get release time to be a part of the Conference.  Perhaps, but it might be easier to get that release time as a Presenter, someone who is eager and willing to share their learning with others.  Some are still unsure of where they will be and what they will be doing in the fall.  There are no easy answers.  But, don't let that stop you from submitting that proposal.  No matter where you are, you will be doing great things, things that you can share and that we all can learn from.

The Bring It Together Conference (#BIT19) is November 6-8 in Niagara Falls. I'm hoping it is a time for us to lean in to the storm that surrounds us, to lean on each other a little, to get together and grow in a season that isn't giving us the best growing conditions.  Maybe it is a bit of a leap of faith, but I hope you will make that leap with us.  Submit your proposal for #BIT19 here.