Saturday, 11 November 2017

How a tough read became a powerful 75 minutes in my classroom

Friday.  Period 3.  I was dreading it.  It was going to be a tough read.  But, it became a powerful 75 minutes in my classroom.  It was an experience unlike any in my 23 years of teaching and I can't stop thinking about it, which means I should write about it...

This is my first time participating in the Global Read Aloud (GRA).  And it has been awesome in so many ways for my students and for myself.  I promise in a future post to talk about all the ways it is awesome and how to get involved and why you want to be a part of it.  But this post is about that 75 minutes we shared in my classroom on Friday.

We have been reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd.  It's a rich novel (Spoiler Alert!) about a young man named Conor who is dealing with his mother's battle with cancer.  When I signed up for the GRA this summer, I read the the assortment of books we had to choose from and was beyond moved by this story of dealing with illness, self isolation, survivor guilt and dealing with losing someone you love.  All the books were inspiring, but this one really touched me.  I didn't choose this particular novel lightly.  There is a lot of darkness, some violence and some really gut wrenching emotions in it.  I knew it would be tough.  I thought about it for a few days, and decided that this was the book I needed to share with my students.

I knew it would be particularly tough for me because my Mom has been fighting an eight year battle with cancer.  The type of cancer she has is called Multiple Myeloma and while treatable, currently there is no cure.  It is a long journey of unimaginable pain and suffering, with treatments that have given her more time with us, but have often been as horrifying and debilitating as the disease itself.  While we don't know just when or how her battle will end, we do know that it will.   It isn't a secret that my Mom is ill.  But, it isn't something I talk a lot about.  I wear a sticker that says "I'm walking for my Mom" in the Terry Fox Run at school, and the fact that my Mom has cancer has come up in class, but mostly in passing.  It has been a fact of my life, but not something I discuss often or openly with many.  I never imagined I would be blogging about it.  Sharing something so personally painful, is no easy task.  So, when I chose this book, I knew it would be emotionally tough on me.

Fast Forward to Friday.  10 chapters from the end of the Novel.

On Friday, we got to the chapter called "100 Years." I don't want to give too much away if you haven't read the book, but it is a heart breaking moment in the story.  I'm tearing up right now, just thinking about it.  I was dreading reading it with my students because I knew I would not be able to hold it together and that my own emotions would wash over me like a tidal wave.  Thank goodness I had purchased the audio book, and was letting it read to the class, because I was right.  I did lose myself in the moment and would have been unable to continue reading to them.  I let it play on into the next chapter where Conor reveals the feelings that have been eating him alive.  I regained some composure and when that chapter ended, wiped my eyes, stoped the audio and looked up at my beautiful, wonderful, thoughtful class.

Not a dry eye in the house.

Some were trying to hide their tears, some were letting them drop like rain.  My Educational Assistant suddenly remembered he had urgent business in the office and rushed out, Kleenex in hand.  But we all felt Conor's loss deeply and on a personal level.

It was a tough read for all of us.  No matter who we are, where we come from, or what our history is, we all experience loss.  The discussion that followed went deep into not just Conor's story, but into our own stories.  The way they were able to apply Conor's experience to their own lives and emotions  was inspiring to me.  There was no judgement, no put downs...just open, empathetic and honest sharing.  It was a pretty powerful and emotional 75 minutes.

It was 75 minutes of literacy instruction that went well beyond my expectations. It expanded their understanding of the novel, opened up discussion on how we deal with grief in many different ways and strengthened the relationships in our classroom community.  They were realizing through sharing that everyone in the room was fighting their own battle that we knew nothing about.  And I almost missed it all, because it would be tough for me, personally.

You know that quote, "I didn't say it would be easy.  I said it would be worth it."  That was Friday.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Always put Passion in the Driver's Seat

Always put Passion in the Driver's Seat
Some final thoughts on The Innovator's Mindset and the IMMOOC experience as it comes to a close. 

I've been thinking a lot about this quote: 

"If we reduce what we do to numbers and letters to measure our achievements, then we forget that it is (or should be) passion that drives us."  (p 224 George Couros, The Innovator's Mindset)

Such an important statement, because regardless of whatever else is going on in my classroom, school, district, or the education world around me, it's my passion for learning and teaching that gets me in the car and starting the ignition.

There are plenty of others in the car.

Fear is always trying to be the backseat driver.  Fear tries to push me onto the road more travelled.  It's back there nagging at me, reminding me that this could all go terribly wrong.  What if the wifi goes down during an exciting collaborative but tech dependent lesson?  What if no one else is doing the same thing and I look like an idiot?  What if my Students aren't engaged or even remotely interested?  I have to remind myself, that it's okay to listen to those fears and keep them in mind as I travel, but I can't let them take over or I will never get anywhere.  Fear wants to my excuse for staying home, binging on Netflix...playing it safe, and where is the adventure in that?

My learning and training are the navigation system and road maps.  They show me possible bumps in the road ahead and warn me about accidents and dangers to avoid.  They help me apply the curriculum to new ways of teaching and learning.  They remind me to scaffold and differentiate and help me prepare my students for their own journeys, as they guide me on my own.

Past experience is the seasoned traveller.  It reminds me that taking a certain route didn't work well in the past, and probably won't help me on this trip either.  It tells me to start early and do my research so I don't get bogged down in rush hour traffic and works well with the navigation system to help me find a detour when I hit construction.

My Professional Learning Network peeps are always up for a road trip.  They are in the car talking about all kinds of different routes to take, interesting side trips, places they've been and would like to go.  What I like best about having them along for the ride, is they are always encouraging, no matter what route I choose.  If I make a wrong turn, they help me get back on track.  If the car breaks down, or I get a flat, they help fix the problem so the car gets back on the road quickly.  If I am tired or discouraged, they listen.  They know the best places to stop along the road to refuel or take a break and recharge.  They will be cheering me on to my destination, where ever that is, hanging out the window with their arms in the air screaming "Yee Haw!"

But passion is the driver. 

It's that same passion that was ignited for me on my first day of Kindergarten when I came home and told my Mom that I was going to be a Teacher when I grew up.  It was passion that gave me resilience when I was supply teaching all those years and wondering if I would ever get a permanent teaching job.  It was passion that gave me the grit to get through days when things were not going well, and the strength to deal with the death of a student.  My passion has pushed me to try new things in the classroom, to take courses, to share my learning, learn from others, to push myself to be a creator and not just a consumer.  It is passion that builds relationships with my students and colleagues and propels learning.  It is passion that leads me to new adventures and encourages new experiences.

On this wild and winding road trip of life, wether it is a professional or a personal journey, it's my passion that will never steer me wrong and will get me to my destination safely.  No matter who else is in the car with me, I'm going to let her drive.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Fanning your Own Flame

Fanning Your Own Flame

#IMMOOC Season 3, Week 5

This week we have been challenged to create 250 word posts in our blog.  Here's my first kick at the can:

"Do our Professional Learning Opportunities mirror the learning we want to create for our students?"

When we are programming for our Students, we are encouraged to give them choice, help them find their passions, differentiate our instruction and expectations and create a personalized and meaningful learning experience.  A lot of time is spent building relationships with them, getting them to realize their own potential and to reflect on their own learning and goals.

Do we take this approach with the Professional Development of staff?  Traditionally, and likely still in a lot of cases, the answer is probably either a "not very well" or a "no".  There's a lot of "have to", "let's just get through this," and "one size fits all" activities on Professional Development Days.  I'm not laying blame or ranting here.  There's just not a lot of time to fit all the things we need to get done collectively and the things each of us is passionate about individually into the few days of the year we have to do it in.

So how can we ignite our own passions for learning and teaching with the constraints we are given? Some "inside the box" solutions seem to be needed here.  I've got a few ideas...
1.  Professional Learning Networks - online (like Twitter), in your building or at conferences.  Find others who will push your thinking and support you on your journey.
2.  Getting out of the building to mentor, be mentored or see what's happening in other buildings and classrooms.
3.  Take a course, read a book, investigate what you are passionate about.  Don't let that spark go that flame in whatever way works for you.

Please add a few of your own ideas in the comments section. 

 I'm running out of words, but want to leave you with one thought.  If we won't accept "one size fits all" learning for our students, why would we accept it for ourselves?

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Get Outside and Play!

Get Outside and Play!
                           Picture from:

It's autumn and it's a sensual wonderland out there.  The leaves have put on their brightest and best ball gowns for their last dance of the year, before free falling to crunch beneath our feet.  The colors of the landscape have morphed from the fresh greens of Spring and Summer to the deeper and golden tones of fall: red, brown, yellow, orange.  The songbirds have started their migration to warmer places, but our hardier, year round winged friends like the BlueJays, Crows and Cardinals are still loud and proud, filling the airwaves with their caws and squawking.  Inhale deeply.  It's earthy aromas like a pile of crisp leaves, bright colored mums, and damp soil.  The days are getting shorter, and the sunset comes earlier, but rewards us with a spectacular display in the sky, followed by a Harvest Moon.

I count myself lucky to have grown up on a dirt road and to still live in a rural area. I spent a great deal of time outside as a kid.  My sisters and I built forts, climbed trees, chased rabbits out of the garden, picked wildflowers, explored and raked the leaves into gigantic piles so we could launch ourselves into them, only to have to rake them again.  Of course, there were times when I would be fully absorbed in a new book, and my mother would have to shoo me out the door with her warning: "The weather won't stay nice forever!  Get outside and play!" Now that I'm an adult, I can still hear her saying that in my head, and I put aside the laundry, or the lesson planning or the latest book I don't want to stop reading, and I take my tea in a travel mug, put on my jacket and go for a stroll through leaf covered paths, letting the sounds and sights of fall quiet my inner turmoil and heal my soul.

On one such walk last week, I was thinking about how my students need this connection with nature as much as I do.  I was reflecting on our recent field trip to the Jaffa Outdoor Education Center (@JaffaEEC) near Aylmer, Ontario, and how my mostly urbanite class of students gets such joy from these outings.  Most of them live in the city, many of them in apartments or housing complexes.  Few of them have access to nature other than city parks, sports fields and the small patches of grass around parking lots.  In Elementary School, they have some time outside at recess, but my Secondary School kids spend the day inside and often their only time outside is getting on and off the school bus.

On this trip,  they were scooping up mud from the bottom of the pond and then sifting through it for creatures.  We found snails, tadpoles, bugs and one enormous beetle! 

 We walked the trails through the Carolinian forrest, looking for wildlife.  We saw several types of birds and lots of chipmunks and squirrels.  Alas, our troop was a bit too exuberant to see deer, but we marveled at the canopy of colors above us as we walked, and at the sounds you can hear, when you are far from roads and civilization. Our connection to the curriculum was investigating invertebrates, but my students got so much more from their day outside than just a learning objective.  In the spring we go back to see Mother Nature wake up from her long winter, and to go fishing (catch and release).  When they look back on the school year, these are the days that my students talk about and remember.  

The Thames Valley District School Board has three outdoor Education Centers, staffs them with fantastic Environmental Education Teachers (like Dan Arrpe and Shannon Queen at Jaffa), and even has a fund we can apply to that will help pay for transportation to these sites, as well as Conservation Areas and other places where students can experience Outdoor and Environmental Education.  But even without this support, it is so important to get our students outside.  Call it a math walk, a science exploration, a Historical tour, plant some trees or just getting some exercise. 
 But, Get Outdoors and Play.

That's enough from me for this post.  Winter is coming, but today there's a big pile of leaves in my yard that I want to jump in a few times.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Beginning of Some Beautiful PLN Relationships

The Start of Some Beautiful PLN Relationships
#IMMOOC Season 3, Week 4

Only a very short time ago, when it came to my PLN, I was reliant on the Teachers in my building, ones that I met at Board Professional Development Sessions, the Teachers in my gigantic Dutch Family (we make My Big Fat Greek Wedding look like a small, quiet, family gathering) and a few that I was lucky to meet in my travels or at the odd conference.

All that changed when I decided to take the Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction Online Course through Western University (or IICTI - because that name is a mouthful!).  Our Instructor was a guy named Rodd Lucier aka the clever sheep, and right away he got us using Social Media to develop relationships beyond our classmates.  The class was a little reluctant: much safer to stay within the confines of our close, closed, online course discussions.  Some were fearful.  There were many discussions of the dangers of Social Media via Trolls, inappropriate posts, unprofessional behavior, misinterpretation, Union and College of Teacher Directives, but also the benefits that could be reaped from the power and potential of using things like Twitter for our own networks and for student learning.

At the time, I had a Twitter account.  But, I really wasn't using it.  And, I didn't really understand how to use it either.  Rodd gave us some ideas of how it could be used, made a few recommendations of folks to follow and encouraged us to give it a try.  I had never met Rodd, but I was loving the course, and I figured Western U wouldn't have given him the Instructor job if he didn't know a little about what he was teaching.  Myself and a few other intrepid classmates jumped into the Twittosphere, and we were off.

Honestly, it was like I had been let loose in the world's biggest and best bakery, and everything was free! (Perhaps I should pause here to reveal that I have a love for all baked goods, and that bakeries are second only to bookstores and golf courses on my list of happy places).  Sometimes I gorge myself on Twitter content, and other times, I scroll and enjoy a cup of tea.  The best part is, it's always there, always open and always free to explore.
New to Twitter, I followed Rodd's recommendations and was introduced to the ideas of George Couros, his brother Alec CourosDoug PetersonDean ShareskiChris Kennedy and of course, my fellow intrepid classmates, T Scott and Agi Orban.  From there, it's like that old shampoo commercial  spoofed by Mike Meyers...

I have become...Twitterpated!

The connections I've made on Twitter have grown exponentially.  My PLN has exploded.  My own learning has expanded dramatically.  I'm blogging and reading some really awesome EduBlogs that I never knew existed before.  My classroom has really changed for the better.  Things like the Global Read Aloud, Passion Projects, Innovator's Mindset, Digital Citizenship, Growth Mindset and our classroom blogs and Twitter account have all come to my students because of Twitter.  I'm in this IMMOOC, thanks to Twitter.  I've made awesome connections with teachers I have never met face to face (and some I have met) and there is a lot of online sharing and discussion going on.  I'm modeling what I've learned and encouraging colleagues to get on Twitter even if at first they are just lurkers and not creators.

And, I have The Clever Sheep to thank for it all. 

Now that I've completed all three IICTI Courses, I don't chat with Rodd quite as often.
  But, "We'll always have {Twitter}..."

P.S. Other Great Twitter Accounts to follow:
I've mentioned a few folks to follow in my post above.  Here's a few more great ones to follow (in no particular order) if you are not already following them:

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Just say "No," to the Status Quo!

Just say "No," to the Status Quo!

#IMMOOC Season 3, Episode 3 

This week as part of the IMMOOC for The Innovator's Mindset, we've been asked to blog about..."What is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in? Why the change?"

There are probably many technological changes over my 20 plus years in the classroom that I no longer use, like ditto machines, filmstrip projectors and VCRs.   I sometimes miss the acetone smell of freshly duplicated dittos.  But I don't miss the agony of having the page mangled by the machine, or the look of boredom on the bright little faces of my learners when faced with, {aghast} 'another worksheet'.

And in reading chapters four and five of The Innovator's Mindset this week, the words that jumped off the page for me were in the section on the Power of "No" versus a culture of "Yes."  As George Couros writes..."The problem is that when you say "no" to innovation - for any reason - people feel reluctant to attempt trying new things in the future....Sooner or later, the innovators will get tired of asking for forgiveness.  They'll move on to places where they're trusted to use their creativity and passion - or, perhaps worse, they'll settle into the status quo.  In either case, learners will be deprived of their ingenuity." (p.72-73)

I used to be that "status quo" teacher.  I was young.  I had worked hard to get that first job and I sure didn't want to do anything that would rock the boat, or even worse, cause me to look bad to the folks in the office, or jeopardize my job when still in probationary status.  But, as I looked around my classroom, I saw so many ways I could improve the learning environment for my students.  And most of them involved new technology or teaching methods, or classroom environment (like seating) that required me to look for funding outside of my meager classroom budget, or invest in my own learning through courses and workshops.  

So, I started to take some risks.  I tried some new things.  I wrote grant applications, I entered contests, I asked for additional funds from non traditional sources.  I ran fundraisers and got colleagues and parents on board to help me.  We wanted a SmartBoard and computers in the room.  So, I sold a lot of cookie dough, pizzas and bargained with my Principal to match any funds we raised.  We got that SmartBoard and each year added more desktop computers in the room.  I saw the value of 1:1 iPads, so I wrote applications for them and we got them.  I've worked a lot of Bingos.  My family cringes when they see me coming with yet another fundraiser.  I spent weekends and nights on the computer taking courses and going to workshops so I could learn how to use this technology effectively in my classroom.  I pushed my own envelope and sometimes I failed, but more often I succeeded and my students benefited from our trials and tribulations.  

So what is it that I no longer do in education because I don't believe in it?  I no longer accept the limits of my classroom budget, or the twenty year old lessons of Teacher's college.  I no longer worry about a plan that might not work, or a new method that might be a bit scary for me.  If I want to try some new technology, but I don't have the budget for it, I don't accept that as a reason to stop trying to get it.  When it comes to innovation and change, I'm an early adopter.  I'd rather beg forgiveness for a failure, than not try at all.  I just say "NO" to the status quo.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

We have the technology...We can build Schools of the Future

We have the technology...We can build Schools of the Future
#IMMOOC #IMMOOCTVDSB Innovator's Mindset Season 3, Week 2

I may be dating myself here, but when I read George Couros' prompt this week,  asking us to blog about what a school we built from scratch would look like, the opening to a classic Seventies t.v. show: The Six Million Dollar Man, starting playing in a loop in my head.  In my defense, I was very young when this show aired.  Have a listen, but it goes like this...

"Gentlemen, we can rebuild him.  We have the technology.  We have the capacity to make the world's first bionic man.  Steve Austin will be that man.  Better than he was before.  Better, stronger, faster."

So, I asked myself why this particular ear worm was taking up space in my brain and why my dendrites and synapses were connecting it to my school of the future.  This is a topic I've thought about and explored a great deal in the last year or so.  I teach in a 90 year old building with declining enrollment, one that may well be replaced with a new school very soon.  As someone who may be working in a school built from scratch in the near future, I've given a lot of thought to how I hope that new building will look.  I also recently took a course on Technology in the Classroom through Western University in Ontario, where we were asked to think deeply and plan not only our classroom of the future, but a school of the future as well.  If you want to dive a little more deeply into my thoughts on this, check out my post from January 2017 on Designing a classroom of the future and my March 2017 Post on Schools of the Future and the Internet of Things.

To give you the short version of my vision, it would include:
- flexible, sustainable, learning environments where Inquiry Learning is the norm, not the exception
- Internet of Things Technology that meets the needs of all learners and runs seamlessly (with WiFi that never goes down, 1:1 devices that either don't break down or are instantly repaired by IT Robots)
- Innovative Educators that are facilitators in an engaging and passion filled classroom, helping students find their own questions to explore and reflect on
- Makerspaces, Learning Commons, and Community Partnerships
- a culture where taking risks is expected and failures are just steps on the journey to empowerment
- World wide connections through activities like the Global Read Along, IMMOOC's, online learning and charities that show our students that they can make a difference in this world

If I was writing the opening theme to my Six Million Dollar School, it would go something like this:

"Everyone, we can rebuild our schools.  We have the technology.  We have the capacity to make Schools of the Future.   Our schools will be ready for the next century.  Better than they were before.  Better, Connected, Innovative."

Students would be banging down our doors, begging to come in and learn.  I wanna teach at THAT school.