Giving it up (for a while)

It’s Mardi Gras as I write this.  Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday.  It’s the day on which, historically, you wanted to use up the things in your pantry and larder that you were not going to be able to eat during the 40 days of Lent, which, historically, most people observed. According  to Wikipedia, this idea of fasting for 40 days got its start around 331 CE. The idea, originally, was to have only one meal a day, and to avoid meat, dairy, oil and wine (doesn’t that sound fun?). Gradually, that expanded to a small “collation” or snack in the morning and evening, and the main (meatless, oilless, dairy-less) meal at lunch.  In many places, fish and seafood were allowed, and in Canada, historically, you could also eat beaver. So, eating pancakes and sausages on this day kind of makes sense, to mark a stretch when, historically, you couldn’t eat those things.

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This could have been your way around a meatless meal in early French-Canadian culture. photo credit: flickr user Space Age Sage via cc

 

Over time, the idea of “fasting” or “abstinence” during Lent has evolved into giving other things up – maybe chocolate, or beer, or coffee. Followers of this practice are often asked to think about something that draws them away from God that might be given up, or to think about whether they could add prayer or devotional time to their day, rather than giving something up.

This year,  I’ve decided that I need to try a self-imposed social media fast. Particularly during this self-funded leave year, I find that I can happily spend a lot of time down the rabbit hole of my Twitter and Instagram feeds. Without my daily face to face connections with colleagues, I find myself craving connection through my digital networks, and seeking that next hit of dopamine from a like or reply. I need to wean myself away from that, and hopefully find some more time for writing, knitting, spinning, working out, and yes, prayer and meditative time.

I’m also interested in seeing whether stepping away from social media helps with my expectations (my OneWordOnt). I was intrigued during Tina Zita’s OTF workshop on wellness in a digital world to hear one of the participants admit that being on social media actually raises her stress level as a teacher. She feels like she sees all these great ideas, and creates some unreasonable expectations for herself in terms of using them all. I have had other friends share this thought as well. Perhaps taking some time away from the #edtech social media world will help me focus in on the things I already know I want to do with my class next year, rather than worrying about what the hot new activity might be. We’ll see.

One thing I’m pretty certain I’ll accomplish is lowering my yarn budget. I had no idea that Instagram was the true home of yarn porn. So much hand-dyed loveliness, so many women of Star Wars colourways, so much money…..

 

So, this is a farewell for the next 40 days or so. If you need to reach me, e-mail will probably be easiest, although I will also check Messenger, and Twitter DM. I will still be blogging, and will share those posts via social media. I hope to be “talking” to some of you via your blogs. I hope you’ll let me know if there’s something big happening with you that I might miss if I’m not on Facebook. Maybe we can get together over a cup of tea…..

 

Let the sparks fly

 

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Why not go? (and some ways to get there)

Why not go? (and some ways to get there)

If you were paying attention to my social media postings over the past week, you know that I was at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference (#OLASC) from Tuesday night until Friday. This is a huge conference, with around 5000 participants coming from all over the country, and from every sort of library (medical, public, school, archives) you might be able to think of. It includes a trade show with many authors available for signings, a huge offering of workshops in different streams, and spotlight speakers for each stream as well as keynote speakers designed to appeal to all attendees. This year’s theme was “Fearless by Design”.

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I had an amazing time. I presented on Wednesday morning, on the topic of “Dishcloths, Design Thinking and Knitted QR codes”. I was thrilled to have an enthusiastic, engaged group of learners who were ready to participate in the activities I had prepared, ask some great questions, and try their hand at knitting. The photos and tweets shared by participants showed that people were having some “aha” moments, and that there was a lot of mentoring going on by some of the experienced knitters in the crowd. It was a terrific way to start the conference.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend all 3 days of the conference, and I learned an immense amount. I got to watch amazing educators share their knowledge, hear some remarkable speakers (and have my thinking really pushed by some of them) and be a “fangirl” for a favourite author or two.

Most importantly for me, I got to spend some precious time with old friends, while making connections to new ones. Relationship-building is what this kind of event is all about for me, because connecting with those people is what can help me keep that “conference high” going. It was a terrific recharge and  this is a great time for it – a boost to get you through the “middle stretch”. I came home with much to think about.

And then I thought: “why don’t more people go to things like this?”, and then I had to check my privilege at the door, because I know there are a ton of reasons why people can’t/don’t attend conferences.

Economic barriers are huge – conferences are not cheap, and if you’re an out of towner, you’re paying for transportation, accommodation and meals. You also have to figure out release time, which, I learned, is WAY more of a hassle in some boards than in others. Time barriers are huge: if you have dependents of any size and shape, leaving for 3 days can be impossible, and then there’s the major chunk of time you’re going to spend prepping for a supply teacher. I hadn’t realized how much that was a factor until this self-funded leave year, when I went to a conference and it hit me that I didn’t have to worry about how thing were going in my classroom, or check for supply feedback, or adjust plans, or call a parent or…..(I know, you get it). This year, OLASC overlapped with my board’s elementary report-writing day. I would have been heading home Thursday night if I’d been teaching, or I might have decided not to go at all, in order to have time to complete reports. I think a third barrier is that people genuinely don’t know a) what conferences might be available and b) don’t know what a conference can offer them.

 

 

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There can be a lot of barriers to attending a conference. How can we work around them? photo credit: Matteo Parrini via cc

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about teacher mental health. Partly because I’m on a year off, and I know I’m emotionally and mentally healthier without work stress; partly because of the growing concern about violent incidents in the classroom; partly because I’m part of this community, and I know we don’t do enough for ourselves. At report card time in particular, we’re often hanging on by our toenails, as we try to keep all the balls in the air and meet everybody’s expectations. I’d like to propose that time away from your work routine for some self-directed learning, even for a day, might be one possible mental health strategy.

So how do we get around those barriers?

  • Check the workshops your provincial union might be offering – many that ETFO offers cost $50 and include release time, transportation, accommodation, meals and dependent care coverage (and yes, you have to apply). Summer workshops offered by OTF are multi-day events with transportation, accommodation and meal allowances, and you get your registration fee back after the workshop (yes, that’s right, it’s FREE!) and are open to all teachers in Ontario. (and they’re offered all over the province, so many people combine learning with a family holiday, if you have another adult who can help you make that happen).
  • If you’re looking for a lower registration price, put in a workshop proposal – we all have great ideas to share. Many conferences offer free registration for the day you present, or a discounted conference rate, if your proposal is accepted.
  • Release time an issue? Check if your union local offers funding for learning opportunities. Shoutout to KPRETFO, who will cover release time and up to $400 for accommodation and registration until that budget line is depleted. Yes, you will have to fill out an application and have your principal sign it. Worth it? I think so.
  • Find out where conferences are taking place. Can you stay with someone? OLA was downtown Toronto, and my best friend lives there, close to a transit route. I just hugely lowered the cost of my event, and got to spend time with my best friend. Win-win.
  • Check dates – find an event that’s happening when you feel like it might work for you to have a break.
  • Ask a friend to go with you – you can go to different workshops, and share resources (and if you share accommodation, your costs go down). And you’ll always have someone to sit with at lunchtime.
  • Find a conference that you really want to go to. Going to a conference won’t feed you unless it’s something you choose. Tech, subject area associations, indigenous learning, mental health, art, early learning, inquiry – it’s all out there.

Yes, it’s still a hassle to prep to be away. That’s a reality, and probably a whole blog post. You may still struggle to find child/parent care, which may mean that this post is a “not now, but someday” for you. You may be the kind of person who’s going to add to your stress  by going to a conference and getting overwhelmed by all the things you “should” be doing (yes, I’ve been there). You know what you need. But maybe, just maybe, it’s worth a try for moments like this that you can hold in your heart to get you through the next rough spot.

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The reason I really go to conferences. Spending face to face time with my personal learning family. Thank you, Diana, Alanna and Dawn!

 

What’s your favourite conference? How do we make going to conferences more manageable for a more diverse set of learners? How do we find opportunities for people to share what they learned, if they want to do that?

 

Let the sparks fly!

Is this enough?

Is this enough?

Monday morning, as I checked my e-mail, I found a message from my director of education. She talked about our board’s focus on student well-being over the past few years, and introduced a new initiative, specifically targeting staff wellness. I admit, I got a little choked up reading that.

I have been that annoying person, every time we have professional development on student mental health, who participates fully, but always asks, “and what about staff mental health?”. For me, the two are inextricably linked. All teachers, and particularly those working with high-needs populations, need support to keep themselves healthy (physically, emotionally and mentally) in order to best support their students. They need to be working in spaces that feel safe, with supportive colleagues and admin, and have access to strategies and supports to help them when life is not going exactly as planned. I know I’m not alone in saying this has not always been my experience as a teacher. I was thrilled to see the e-mail.

I was less thrilled to read on and discover that the new focus on staff well-being comes in the form of a partnership with a particular research team, which “has over 20 years of experience working with some of the world’s highest performing individuals and organizations. They specialize in research-based strategies that improve health and wellbeing in challenging environments, including schools and boards.” I’m not saying that sounds bad – because it doesn’t. Teaching, and staying healthy while doing it, can define the phrase “challenging environment” . So, why did I have such a negative reaction?

Maybe I’ve become a cynic in my old age, but my experience has been that when we align ourselves with one particular program, a) we’re paying a lot for it and b) it doesn’t make for a lot of opportunity for differentiation. And I’ve wary of that at this point. I’m wary of anything that comes “pre-packaged”, that is supposed to meet a multitude of needs.

However, I try really hard to be a positive person, so I went on to the accompanying video.

 

And that’s when I really got frustrated.

I’m not going to go into all the things I struggled with in the video – those are probably for a conversation with my director, who I respect as a fellow educator. But I have to say that I felt like there was a gaping hole in the whole “pitch” (and yes, that’s my sarcastic voice coming through – it did feel like a pitch). There was no mention, really, of emotional well-being (other than as “stress”). In the interests of transparency, I need to say that my spouse is a couples and family therapist, who uses an emotionally focused approach. That definitely colours my thoughts on this.

The approach indicated in the video suggests a major focus on physical health, and I cannot argue with the importance of sleeping well, eating well and moving more, because those are strategies that work for me. I believe in the value of mindfulness practice, especially when it’s adapted to different people’s needs (some of us are helped by moving meditation). But for me, unless this program makes space for learning about the importance of our emotional health; for learning about our relationships – with ourselves, with our family and friends, with our school community – we’re missing a huge, vital, piece of the puzzle.

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It’s all about relationships, really. Photo credit: flickr user Robert Eede via cc

My other main struggle is that this program will come to us, as teachers, every couple of months, as a package in our in-box, including videos, podcasts and articles. Again, I’m thrilled at the thought of more resources. However, the expectation that teachers will need to take another piece of their constantly shrinking “own” time, and dig into those resources, and hopefully benefit from them, is not a realistic one. How many colleagues do you know who rarely access their school e-mail, because they already feel the demands are too much? Surely, if this is really a priority, we could spend the occasional staff meeting working through a module together? Maybe find some PLC time during the day to gather with a small group and listen to a podcast or watch and discuss a video (maybe even with snacks)? Staff well-being is incredibly important, for bigger reasons than reducing absences.  I think it’s the bedrock we build on. A well staff means a well school, which means more ability to work with students, and their families towards their own wellness and, at its strongest, means being able to model what health and well-being looks like. Having been in the job for 25 years now, and currently experiencing the lowered stress level that comes with a self-funded leave, I know that many of us struggle with balancing our own emotional needs with the needs of our immediate and extended families and of our students, with the stress of deadlines and paperwork and trying to build safe spaces for our students. 

I think that we deserve more than a package in our in-box.

I’m going to end in hope that this focus will grow. I’d also love to know what other boards are doing. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Let the sparks fly……

 

Leaving Kansas…

Leaving Kansas…

 

 

In December, an exhibit opened at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, focused on the work on designer Christian Dior, and particularly his role in resurrecting couture fashion after the Second World War. I’m not a huge follower of fashion, as anyone who knows me would assert, but I am fascinated by the links between popular culture and history, and this fits perfectly in there. My family is lucky enough to have an out-of-town membership for the ROM (worth getting if you visit Toronto a couple times a year), and I was able to register for a member experience involving the ROM exhibit.

 

Dawna Pym, who is part of the education staff at the ROM, and who has a personal deep and abiding passion for fashion, gave us a hands-on provocation with textiles from her own collection, helping us situate Dior historically. White-gloved, we lifted lace, examined the construction of corsets, and envied zippers on girdles.

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Yes, really – that’s a zipper on a girdle. How great would that be?

 

Dawna then took us for a guided tour of the beautifully curated Dior exhibit. The ROM has the 3rd biggest museum textile collection in the the world, behind only the Met and the Victoria and Albert, some 55,000 items. We got to see scrapbooks, fabric samples, finished products, and learn about the way in which the resurrection of couture also helped save the disappearing arts of hand beading, embroidery and more. Anyone who doesn’t think sewing machines have a spot in the makerspace needs to come and see some of the astounding work on display in this exhibit. More on this adventure in another post.

After 2 engrossing hours, I headed down to the cafeteria in the bowels of the ROM to reflect, and really try and absorb some of the amazing stuff I’d learned, and then the world tilted.

Because on her way out of the cafeteria, on her way to her session with Dawna, was a friend I spent a magic summer with 33 years ago – and who I’ve really only seen a few times in the interim. But that summer, and that experience, was one of those that binds you to those you share it with. It connects you and despite communicating via Facebook, when you see each other 33 years later, you call each other’s names, and laugh, and hug each other, and do a 5 minute update, and get teenaged girls (who can never imagine that they will be this old someday) to take your picture , and then, if you’re me, you sit down, and get a little teary, because that bond is still there, and it’s magic.

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Old friends – we’ve aged surprising well, I think!

 

So, I thought, why, after all this time, is that connection still there?

In July of 1984, when I was 17 years old, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of about 30 Ontario kids to go on an immersion experience to Germany. There was a cost involved, and I know I paid some, and my parents somehow came up with the rest (which would not have been easy). We would be boarded with families, most of whom had a teenaged child, and would go to German classes in the morning, and then have the afternoons free for social and cultural activities. We soon realized this was code for eating much bratwurst and poppyseed cake, drinking much beer, lying in the sun at the town’s outdoor pool complex and dancing at the local disco, with the occasional castle and cathedral tour thrown in for good measure.

I had done a fair amount of travelling as a kid. The requisite long road trip out west, lots of camping adventures with my family, a year spent living in Florida the year I was in Grade 9, while my dad worked on his Master’s in Media Literacy (yup – on his #selffundedleave – I come by it honestly). But prior to this trip, in the summer of Grade 12, I had not really been away from my family for very long – maybe a week at a time at a summer camp. And suddenly, here I was, on another freaking continent, with money of my own to budget (my dad set me up a ledger), and really, no accountability to anybody except the charming grandparent-age couple who were housing me.

I think that was the key.  That “out here on my own” thing we were all experiencing together, with no opportunity for helicopter parenting – no cell phones, no e-mail, no Skype or FaceTime. I sent a couple of postcards, but my parents were very far away – literally and metaphorically. If somebody got a dear John letter from his girlfriend in Canada, and was trying to self-medicate himself to solve it, nobody but us was going to dig him out of that hole. If somebody truly fell in love, and didn’t know how they were going to say goodbye, we cried it out together. If someone was mixing pain meds, paprika chips and apple schnapps a little too liberally, it was up to us to solve that problem. If I wanted to have my hair cut down to an inch all over my head, there was nobody who was going to say “no, that’s a bad idea”, and lots of people to encourage me. We became each other’s family, and we took that responsibility seriously. We grew up a lot, that summer, and we helped each other do it.

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Dear heavens, but we’re young. Summer of 84, Kulmbach, Germany. That’s me, in the mushroom cut (before I cut it all off!). We were fierce, and brave and gorgeous!

And that’s why I had a little “verklempt” moment. Because seeing, and touching, and talking to my old friend reminded me of the fierce, brave, gorgeous women we were becoming in the summer of ‘84, and of all the things we didn’t know yet were going to hurt us and give us joy.

Being me, I am left with some questions.  What was that defining experience for you – when you knew that you weren’t in Kansas anymore, and that you were okay with that? Who were the people you shared it with? Are they still part of your world? Please share in the comments, or your own writing – I’d really love to know.

Second batch of questions: Do those opportunities still exist for our students and our children in this ultra-connected world? Do we encourage our students and kids to take them, and then get out of the way? How might the technology that enriches our lives be getting in the way of this kind of adventure? How do we help our parent/teacher selves let go?

 

Let the sparks fly….

It’s “check-in” time

 

This weekend’s bitter cold where I live had me thinking about the importance of check-ins. Everywhere I looked, there were reminders to check in: check in with your vulnerable family members and neighbours; make sure there isn’t a pipe break  threatening your business (Bluestreak records flooded); don’t leave your pets outside too long. 

My neighbour, upon leaving for holiday, asked my boys to do a walk through of her house each day, making sure that the heat was on and nothing disastrous had happened. We asked friends of Mr 16 to do the same when we went away.

That made me think about how lucky I was to be able to do that. I have neighbours, and relationships with them. I have family members to check in with (shout-out to my Oma, who was 97 on January 6).

Many in our communities don’t have those privileges. I did my first volunteer shift at our local emergency overnight shelter just before Christmas (that will be another blog post, when I can manage to put it into words). I knew that many in that community  would be moving from whatever warm spot they could find to another during the day, and couch-surfing or at a shelter overnight. I know that I can’t check in on everybody, but I have adopted the practice of carrying extra new warm socks in my bag when I’m downtown, and offering them to those who are asking for money on the street. I have also carried grocery store or Tim’s gift cards in the past. If you have a relationship with people in your local underhoused community, please check in, in whatever way works best for you. Make a donation of money, food or time, or just stop to make sure that someone on the street knows where the local shelter is. This article  has some suggestions in the school context. I occasionally encounter former students in my volunteer work at our local meal program, and I have found that they hugely appreciate me recognizing them and taking the time to check in, without judgement (and yes, I often cry later). 

So, all this thinking about check-ins made me think about those who are returning to school today (or having a snow day, if you live where I do). Brian Aspinall’s brain was running along the same lines yesterday.

And I was happy when another tweeter responded, suggesting that we remember this applies to staff, too.

I need us all to take a minute and think about how this weekend felt. Were you thrilled to have a weekend to cocoon? Knit, read, binge-watch your favourite show (or mixed doubles curling ), bake, prep food for the week? Did you bundle up and get out in the cold, like my husband and kids did, with a cross-country ski? Did you connect with a friend for a hot (or cold) beverage?

Or were you one of those tossing and turning last night, because you didn’t want to go back this morning? One who spent the weekend getting the marking and planning done that you had ignored over the last 2 weeks? One who woke up this morning, and were hit with that feeling of dread about going to work? Or were you in that completely different category, like the woman in my church community yesterday morning, who had a completely unforeseen tragedy strike her family over the break? Did you spend much of your break putting out fires for other people? Were you coping with toxic family time? Are you heading back without feeling you’ve had a break at all? I have, at different times, been in most of these categories, heading back in January, and I’m sure many of you have, too. So, of course, have our students.

Most of us are really good at checking in with our students. We have class meetings, or we start or finish our day with a quick check-in. We meet our kids at the door because we know it makes a difference. We’ve learned that along the way.

 

I don’t think we’re anywhere near as good at creating opportunities for a genuine check-in with our colleagues. We’ll ask the generic “how was your holiday?” or even “Did you have a good break?” as we pass in the hall, but we’re often not truly listening for the answer, and we’re rarely vulnerable enough to give an honest one. It’s not how we’ve been raised, and it’s not easy, but is, without question, worth the effort. If we know that check-ins help our students feel visible, understood and valued, imagine how extending that same care to ourselves would make us feel.

So, there’s my challenge to each of you. Today (especially if it’s a snow day, and you have a chance for a quiet moment), or some time this week,  try – even with one colleague – to do a genuine check-in. Ask how things are. If you know there’ve been some challenges (and really, when aren’t there?) maybe that’s the question to ask. Maybe this is the week to organize a potluck for Friday lunch, just to give people the chance to sit down together. If you have a colleague, as I do, who’s off on long-term disability, or who is off being a caregiver for someone they love, remember them, too. They would probably greatly appreciate someone in their professional life  remembering that they exist. We need to be seen and heard, just as our students do. Check in. It’s important. 

 

Let the sparks fly.

My #OneWordOnt 2018

Last year my word was fuel. I had been inspired by a late November evening conversation (via Twitter) with Colleen Rose (@colleenkr) and Amy Burvall (@amyburvall) about people whose work kept us going, who provided light in the darkness. I realized I wanted to think consciously in 2017 about who and what fuels me, how I could best fuel my students, and how I could also fuel my relationships with other people. I felt like there were a lot of activities and people that required my time, and I wanted to work on making sure I was fuelling me enough to provide fuel for others. I also knew that I would be heading into a self-funded leave year, beginning in September 2017, and I wanted to make sure that a big part of that time was spent fuelling me for the last 5 years of my teaching career.

And it was in that process, of figuring out how to fuel myself, that I ran smack into this year’s word: expectations – both my own and others – and began to realize that I need to do some exploring of these before I can totally benefit (and pass on the benefits) from the choices I make to fuel me.

I’m a first-born child, as well as first grandchild on my mom’s side. I am a second generation teacher on dad’s side, and 3rd on my mom’s. Couple that with being a first-generation Canadian on my dad’s side, and you know, if you share any of those identifiers, that I have some experience with expectations. If you are also a parent, you know that it can be challenging to not lay some of those (sometimes difficult) expectations on your own kids. Continuing that journey of balance with my spouse is one of the reasons expectations is my word for this year, as my older son is in Grade 11 and thinking about what comes next. I want him to be able to feel free to explore what fuels him without my expectations creating a barrier.

I also want to explore how I deal with other peoples’ expectations of me. Every time I explain that no, I’m not going on a long trip on this year off, and no, I’m not pulling my teenaged children out of school, and no, I’m not going anywhere warm, and no, I’m not doing a Master’s degree, and yes, I’m doing the math PD my board is offering, and yes, I’m occasionally helping out and visiting friend’s classrooms, and yes, I can sometimes be found working on planning in a quiet corner of the board office, I shrink a little. A little bit of me feels like I’m doing my year off wrong, because I’m trying to use it to live my everyday life at a slightly deeper level. I’m trying to use it to put structures and planning in place to help my family and I weather my return to work next September. I need to do some work on why it’s hard for me to advocate for that. Why it’s hard for me to deal with the expectations many people have of what a year off work should look Iike (and trust me that I will never ask another person on leave if they’re travelling).(Check out my #selffundedleave hashtag on Instagram if you’d like to leave your expectations at the door). This is a symptom of a larger issue for me, where I sometimes feel like I’m not living up to some phantom list of other people’s expectations.

Which leads into the expectations I place on myself. I tend to do a fair amount of beating myself up for not being/doing enough. Not a good enough parent, spouse, teacher, planner, exerciser, blogger, presenter, musician, housekeeper (that’s a big one for me, and largely self-inflicted). There’s a lot of shame going on in my head about the expectations I don’t measure up to, despite the many loving people in my world who assure me that I do, and I’d really like to work on letting go of some of that. I know I’m not the only one in the profession who lives with this, and I’d love to hear from others about their struggles and successes.

All of these things of course, tie into how I work in the classroom. How do my expectations of myself affect my expectations of my students. What expectations am I putting on my students, consciously and unconsciously? And how do they feel about that? How do my expectations of my colleagues affect our ability to learn together? One of my husband’s excellent questions on this journey has been about what expectations I’m willing to let go of in the classroom next year, so that I can have a bit more of a life. I have way more questions than answers right now, so that’s probably a good place to stop.

So, onward, bravely, into 2018, hoping to let go of some unhealthy expectations, and find some reasonable ones to help fuel my journey forward.

My #5BestEd decisions

 

This post is Inspired by the many educators who accepted Jonathan So’s (@mrsoclassroom) invitation to share the 5 defining moments in their teaching lives. Jonathan has collated them here, and they’re very much worth the read. If you wanted to see a differentiated approach to a task, look no further!

  1. Influencers: I’m going to break the rules right off the bat, and say that my first defining moments as a teacher came as a learner, and that had to do with the teachers I was lucky enough to learn from. My pedagogy is heavily influenced by my Grade 13 experience in integrated studies at South Secondary in London, Ontario. This was a multi-disciplinary, scaffolded approach to learning first about our neighbourhood, then our city, province, and eventually country through as many lenses as possible. It involved many of those competencies we’re trying to incorporate today, including communication, collaboration and critical thinking. Final projects were completely passion-driven – I still have the suite of poems I created. It remains my gold standard for what an engaged learning experience can look like, and it was 1985, so it was largely engagement without the “bells and whistles”. Shout-out here to Ian Underhill and Pete Telford, who created and taught the course. Also thanks to my mom and my Grade 5 and 7 teacher, Murray Young, who helped me understand that teaching is about building a community and relationships first, and covering curriculum second.

2.Marrying my husband.:A day does not go by without me thinking about how lucky my students are that I married the person I did. I married someone who cheers me on when I’m taking on a new challenge, but is also willing to call me on my need for approval, and who regularly reminds me to set my parameters of what is “enough” in terms of how much I give of myself to my job. He is my foundation, and works to help me find work/life balance, survive through my ADD and (sometimes)self-sabotaging behaviour, and always, always, work on being a better partner, parent and teacher. I am amazed at his ability to work through things patiently with our teenage kids (when I’m ready to throw things), and I often think that he would have made a far more effective teacher than I sometimes am. I would not be able to be a risk-taker in my classroom and professional life, without knowing I had the abiding love of my spouse to come home to when an activity crashes and burns.

 

3. Becoming a parent. Putting the impact of the arrival of Mr 16 and Mr 14 on my teaching career into words is extremely challenging. It meant that I had less time to give to my classroom, but I also had a richer life experience to bring. I learned what kind of things engaged my own children, and that helped me figure out what might engage my students. When my boys began to attend school, and I started to see the ways their teachers impacted them, I really began to understand how much effect even my smallest action could have on my students, and I became much more aware of the kind of feedback I was giving. I also know (as many of you do) that sometimes I was a less patient parent because I’d been a patient teacher all day, and I love my kids for understanding and surviving that. The boys continue to impact my teaching every day. They share positive and negative learning experiences of their own, they let me bounce ideas off of them, they keep me a little bit in the pop culture loop (I teach Grade 7 and 8). They have made me a better learner, through the things they are interested in, and that has made me a better listener, and a better teacher.

4. AIM: Until the past school year, when I finally took the leap into teaching my own classroom full-time, the only constant in my teaching schedule had been Core French. I would not have been able to do that job for 20+ years without the help of Wendy Maxwell’s Accelerated Integrative Method. When my board opened up a pilot project several years ago, it was a lightning bolt for me – a way to help my Core French kids genuinely dive into expressing themselves in their second language, without relying on machine translations or dictionaries. It also opened me up to using drama, music, and movement more in my FSL classroom than I had before. For the first time, really, in my teaching career, I was hearing hugely positive feedback from parents and students. My students were engaged, my parents were noticing, and it rejuvenated my practice. One of my greatest regrets is that the program didn’t catch on in applied level secondary French – I think it would have made a huge difference. The other big “a-ha” for me through AIM was that I was willing to take on a huge learning curve in order to really make something work. I hadn’t really known that about myself as a teacher until then – and it helped me understand my students more. Many years after that extremely well-done pilot program (un gros bel merci to the late Carole Meyette-Hoag and to Jennifer Sampson), a group of women I met in that PD are still among the teachers I rely on the most for realistic feedback and shoulders to cry on. They were, and continue to be, educational “risk-takers” when it makes a positive difference for their students.

(one of my students’ favourite versions of an AIM song)

5. Powerful Learning Practice: In the 2011-12 school year, I was given an opportunity that changed me as a learner, thinker and teacher. I volunteered to be part of a board team participating in a year-long, action-research-based inquiry, run by Sheryl Nussbaum Beach (@snbeach) and Will Richardson (@willrich45). I had never done anything like this, and I remember almost bursting into tears at the first session, because I had no idea what was going on (there was a speaker, and a backchannel, and…). I was, in Sheryl’s words, immensely “whelmed”. What I came to learn, over the course of that year, with the help of an incredible community of co-learners, is that being “whelmed” is necessary for a learner like me. I need to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” in order to not get stuck. My experience with PLP introduced me to new ways of reflecting on my thinking, to new people to share with and learn from (a lot), to the whole framework of iterative teaching/thinking, and to really thinking about why I felt driven to effectively integrate technology into my classroom. I started to blog, I started to share my learning about these ideas with my students, I fell into a deep and lasting love affair with Twitter, and I began to seriously think about shifting from Core French to my own classroom, in order to go deeper into critical thinking, in particular. That switch came last year, and could easily be my 6th point. The connected learning I do with my students, the joy I get from my PLN, my learning opportunities attending and presenting at conferences, my willingness to dig into new learning and think deeply about how best that learning can serve my students? All of that had its genesis in my PLP experience and I can never thank the random forces that picked my name to attend enough.

This photostory was prepared by me for my PLP learning cohort.

Like Diana Maliszewski (@MzMollyTL) and Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca), I want to think about “what’s next?”. I’m currently on a teacher self-funded leave year, and I think if I were to reflect on my defining moments in the years to come, this may be one of them. The joy of time – to think, to plan, to write (as I’m doing now), to participate in activities that I simply can’t do, as a teacher with a full-time job – is so beautiful it’s a little overwhelming. I’m passionately interested in ways to help myself and my students make our learning visible to each other and the world, and I’m also really interested in figuring out how to make feedback work effectively, both for my students, their parents and my colleagues. Lots to keep learning about as the path unfolds before us.

Thanks for the writing prompt, Jonathan.

If you’re reading this, and haven’t written about your 5 moments yet, please join the conversation.

Let the sparks fly.