A Little Sunshine to Start the New Year

Thanks to Sarah and Claire for giving me the purpose to write a blog post in the form of a little “sunshine”. What does this mean, you ask? For those who haven’t seen it yet, there is an internet/blogging/Twitter meme going around and Sarah and Claire were kind enough to include me. Sarah explains what this meme is about perfectly in the following excerpt from her recent post:

Here is a description of this blogging, twitter-generated, meme-type task:

The Sunshine Award gives others an opportunity to learn about me as a blogger and then, in turn, I will send sunshine the way of 11 (or so) other fine bloggers for you to get to know! Although I know every one is busy at this time of year, I hope the bloggers I nominate will be able to share a few interesting things about themselves. They can then highlight bloggers that they have enjoyed following.

Here are the rules:

Acknowledge the nominating blogger. Share 11 random facts about yourself. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition! Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

Thank you Sarah for that perfect explanation! So, here’s my Sunshine Award info:

11 Random Facts about me:

  1. As a child, I lived and grew up in Kitsilano and the West End in downtown Vancouver.
  2. I spent almost the entire year from the time I was two to three years old in and out of oxygen tents in the pediatric ward of Vancouver General Hospital. Asthma wasn’t so controllable in the days before Ventolin and inhaled steroids. Back then you received a shot of adrenaline in the behind. Not fun when you’re two. I have vivid memories of my hospital stays during that time. Horrible.
  3. During my childhood, my mom and I spent many years scouring used book stores in Vancouver and Victoria looking for old editions of Nancy Drew novels and I have a fairly complete collection. It was special time spent with her searching for the books and also a shared passion to read them.
  4. I was on the pit crew for my husband and his best friend when they used to race our 1949 Willys pickup truck in Mud Bog Races. You should try changing 40″ plus tires caked in thick mud – character building 🙂
  5. My husband often says that he knows when dinner is done (if I’m cooking) by the sound of the smoke detector alarm going off. Sadly, this is true.
  6. My current/former pets include dogs, fish, cats, rats, a tarantula (inherited class pet) and a ball python.
  7. I haven’t been able to engage with non-fiction since completing my Masters Degree in 2011, yet I continue to purchase the latest education must-reads, which then sit on my book shelf looking pretty and unfortunately not interesting to me in the slightest.
  8. I like going camping. Real camping where there is no running water, no numbered campsites and no other humans anywhere near where I’m camped with my family.
  9. I like to spend time looking out windows, but there has to be some space beyond to look at. A window that is close to and faces a wall seems like a terrible waste.
  10. I like to bake. I grew up in a house that always had something home made sitting on the kitchen counter for the kids to enjoy and my kitchen often offers the same. It relaxes me too and I enjoy the creative aspects of taking a bunch of ingredients and transforming them into something completely new.
  11. I have never been on an airplane.

11 Answers for Sarah:

  1.   What is your middle name and why do you have it? My middle name is Leigh. I love it. I also have no idea why I have it, my mom isn’t around to ask the reasoning behind why she named me that, and nobody else seems to know the reason behind it either.
  2.   Who is your favourite female family member and why? That’s easy. My one and only sister is my favourite female family member. She’s actually one of my best friends in life, regardless of the fact that she is much younger than I am, and I love her to pieces.
  3.   What do you do that you wish you didn’t? Get up early to get to work on time. If my job started at 11:00 each day, I’d be a much happier and healthier person.
  4.   What is your secret addiction? or a confession you are willing to make. Hmm…what to share, what to share… I guess I have a simple but serious addiction to tea. My day is not complete with one cup of earl grey tea.
  5.   If you could do any other job what would it be? I fantasize about having a job that I leave behind each day when I go home – a job that isn’t so important that I go through life without the heavy burden of some sort of professional responsibility 24/7. That said, I did go to fashion school after high school and earned a Fashion Merchandising diploma. I still love the world of fashion and would love to work in the industry. I think that I’d like to be a librarian in a big, fancy college/university library. I could see myself being a solitary professor living the life of an academic. I would also like to write – that’s actually one of my plans after I retire – I have all sorts of plans for various novels/books/stories.
  6.  What is your favourite breakfast meal? I’m a cereal person. I have to have cereal in the morning. Something healthy, crunchy and gluten/nut free with a moderate amount of nice, cold milk.
  7.  What sport would you love to be good at? My first thought is  softball because I love the satisfying crack of the bat when it connects with the ball and it’s fun to play with a team.
  8.   Do you watch the Olympics on TV? Why or why not? Yes, or, if I’m working or away from home I ‘watch’ on Twitter. I like the Olympics because I am a proud Canadian and love cheering for Canada’s athletes plus I enjoy watching the amazing athleticism that some humans can achieve.
  9.  What is in your freezer right now? All sorts of food (bread, beef, chicken, frozen bananas, melting chocolate wafers, blueberries, french fries, apricots from my tree last year, tomatoes from my garden, etc.) because I have two always-hungry, growing boys. Bait because my husband loves fishing and there are many great places to fish around here. Ice packs because I have two always-active boys who often need to ice minor injuries from skateboarding, biking, running, trampoline-ing, wrestling, and whatever else they do to hurt themselves in a day.
  10.  What were you afraid of as a child? Being kidnapped, which, in retrospect, was possibly the result of reading Nancy Drew novels and other mystery stories all the time.
  11. What is your favourite colour? Why? I’ve never been able to choose only one colour as my favourite. My favourite colour shifts between greens, purples and blues so I guess I feel most comfortable with cool colours if you want to think along the lines of the colour wheel. More specifically, kelly green, emerald green, and a nice bright clean spring green. I also really like forest, dark and hunter as shown here. For purples I like both purple and violet equally but prefer the medium tones and darker shades over the lighter tints. Blue is my comfort colour – it’s throughout my house and I wear it all the time – and although I never wear it, blue and orange is my favourite colour combination.

11 Answers for Claire:

  1. What lead to you becoming an educator? That’s a long answer! The short version is that because my parents were teachers, I rebelled against what I wanted to do (teach) and went to fashion school. After three years in retail management making money for someone else selling clothes people didn’t need, I was frustrated and disillusioned as to my purpose in life. After a day of soul searching with my husband, I realized I really did want to be a teacher and work with children and I needed to swallow my pride and go back to school to do what I had always wanted to do.
  2. If you hadn’t become an educator, what would you have done instead? Please see #5 above for some thoughts on that!
  3. Are you concerned about student privacy and security with regards to cloud computing?  For example, do you have any reservations about students using Google Apps or other cloud based services?  I don’t trust Google. I admire them and love using many of their online products but I don’t trust them. I have big concerns about privacy and security in regards to cloud computing and everything online. There are too many people out there driven by greed and other selfish urges for me to trust that my data/my students data/my children’s data is safe.
  4. What was the first ‘real’ job that you had? My first real job was as a sales clerk at the Fields Store here in town. That was my Friday night/Saturday morning job for four years through high school.
  5. What is your current favourite book, movie and / or album? I watched Silver Linings Playbook this week and loved it! Wonderful actors, a great story, fantastic composition on the filming – very good movie!
  6. What did you always want to be when you grew up? I had a pretty strong desire to be a teacher, then a doctor, then a writer, and then a fashion designer, in that order.
  7. What is the strangest food that you’ve ever eaten? Cow tongue in Home Ec 11. It was horrid. I didn’t eat for a week afterwards. Blech!
  8. If you could sit down and talk with any person, living or dead, who would it be and why. My mom because I miss her. Simple.
  9. How far away do you live from where you grew up? I grew up in Vancouver until I was nine, so that’s about 400 kilometres away from here. But at the age of nine, my mom moved us here for her teaching career and I grew up about two kilometres from my current home.
  10. What is your favourite way to unplug and unwind? My every-other-day run. No headphones or music for me! Just the birds singing and the quiet of the rural roads in my town!
  11. Salty or sweet? Sweet!!

Now the tagging part (or not so much tagging as sharing the sunshine while I break the chain):

This is the part where I break the rules and break the chain. When I was looking for people to tag last night, most of the people I wanted to tag have already done their homework and completed fantastic sunshine posts! You are all very diligent people. Instead of tagging these people, I’m acknowledging them as very important to my PLN, people I’d love to meet and spend time talking with or people I have met that I’d like to learn more from in the future.

Check out the sunshine homework posts already done by some of these amazing people. Or check out their blog. Or follow them on Twitter. Connect somehow because they’re good people:

  1. Dean Shareski
  2. Michelle Baldwin
  3. Chris Kennedy
  4. Tia Henriksen
  5. Sarah Soltau-Heller
  6. Chris Wejr
  7. David Truss
  8. Claire Thompson
  9. Brooke Haller
  10. Iram Khan
  11. Cori Saas

Now that I’ve broken the chain, I should add that if you do want to continue and post the answers to my questions, I’ve come up with, for the most part, simple choice-type, random questions. Feel free to explain your choices, or not!

  1. If you could choose would you prefer to live in a city or a small town?
  2. If you had the space, would you plant a flower garden or vegetable garden?
  3. Would you rather drive a sleek, fast European sports car (one example – Ferrari) or a sleek, fast classic car (one example – Corvette stingray)?
  4. Do you prefer cats, dogs or neither?
  5. Are you a night owl or an early bird?
  6. What’s easier for you – writing using paper and pen or writing using word processing?
  7. Have you ever climbed a tree or had a tree fort?
  8. What is your favourite season?
  9. What was the first or best concert you’ve ever attended?
  10. Would you prefer to attend a backyard barbeque or go to a fancy restaurant?
  11. When was the last time you drew something?

That’s it! If you do decide to answer my questions and continue to spread the sunshine, here’s a summary of the homework assignment:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. Choose to:
  5.     a) Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you, or,

b) Break the chain like I did and end it however you like.
That’s it! Thanks again to Sarah and Claire for giving me a reason to blog and get my head back into ‘work’ mode as the end of winter break draws near!

Learned Something New About Myself

I came to an interesting realization yesterday. Well, interesting to me at least. I was thinking about how good it felt to write my last blog post. I was thinking about how, when it’s quiet and I have some time, I like to write blog posts.

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Then I took a look back at my blog and realized that, while I don’t post as much as many (rare to get more than one blog post a month from me), I have posted about once a month for several years years now. And then I started thinking about all the other writing I do/have done: narratives, my gigantic thesis, proceedings paper for conferences, private journals, various essays. And then I thought about how writing has been a constant in my life since I wrote a winning entry and went to the Young Authors conference way back when I was twelve years old.

And I had this sudden realization that I am a writer.

That was a major shift in my identity. Subtle too though because I think I’ve always been a writer but just didn’t know it. As soon as I had that, I guess I can justify the word here, revelation, it felt right, like a puzzle piece fitting into the empty space where it belongs.

And then so much about what I do and who I am made sense. I LOVE to teach writing. It’s one of my favorite things to teach. Why? Because I’m passionate about it.

When it’s quiet in my home (rare these days…thankfully!), one of the activities I find a deep sense of personal fulfillment within is writing blog posts. Why? Because I’m a writer.

I want to earn my PhD some day. Why? Partly because I want to learn more, of course, but also because I want to write more about what I started writing about in my thesis. Crazy to my husband and many others but now perfectly sensible to me. Why? Because I’m a writer.

So, big deal, right? What does this have to do with anyone but me? Well, not much, except that it does speak to this little phrase “life-long learner” we toss around all the time in the field of education. We want our students to become, or remain, life-long learners. But how do we do that? How do we ensure that throughout their lives our students are going to continue to try new things, and push outside their comfort zone, and reflect on what they are doing and critically think and rethink what they are doing in life and why?

Those answers are huge, complicated, and multi-layered. But I think that one key is to model to our students that we are learning too, and loving all the joy, difficulty, discomfort and accomplishment that comes with learning at any age. Kids aren’t stupid; they know what an adult learner looks like. So you can’t fake it. You have to find a way to work in what your passionate about into your life as a teacher and a parent so kids can see for themselves what it looks like.

Another piece is to help kids find what they are passionate about. Help awaken that. I would hope that finding one’s passion or calling in life would be an important part of what teachers call ‘teaching’ each day.

Finally, make sure that the kids are enjoying themselves enough and feel safe and relaxed enough to allow for self-discovery and a love of learning in the classroom. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times; we force children to go to school, the least we can do is make it a fun place to be. Our students are, after all, children. It’s a good exercise to watch how they act and what they do when left on their own and then compare it with how they act and what they do in a school or classroom.

So a huge realization led to deep thinking about teaching philosophy on a Saturday morning and also, surprise, surprise, a whole bunch of writing…

Photo accessed September 21, 2013 from Flickr: My Most Treasure Gift.

What I Learned this Summer, or the Study Renovation Detour

School starts in two days. I’m ridiculously excited to see the kids and get started on our year together but I do feel the need to transition through and say good-bye to my summer holidays first.

At the beginning of the summer, I had great intentions to blog for two months. As summer rolled along, my plans changed. I had an absolutely wonderful summer, thinking about work very little, which led to my feeling, at this point, as if I did have a real holiday. Personally, I don’t think summer is the time for me to read books about teaching, blog about teaching, tweet about teaching (although I was guilty of that a bit), or stay in a work mindset. It’s a time to relax, spend time with my children and other family, read for fun, swim at the lake, sort out my thoughts, realign my beliefs and rejuvenate my body and soul.

But while I didn’t ‘work’, I did learn. And the major learning experience for me this summer was my study. I never started out saying, “hmm, I think I’ll do a three room swap in my house and renovate the study, all on my own, without any help,” but that’s exactly what happened.

The summer detour this year  (the opposite of my previous summer detour because it was completely unplanned and happened all on it’s own), started when I decided to read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I’d heard about this book, and the blog that goes with it, and started reading it at the end of June. I’m only a couple of chapters in (more on why coming up), but I highly recommend it.

Gretchen looked at happiness from a writer/researcher point of view and tried out the different themes she discovered in her research. Each month she tested out a different theme centered around making herself happier and then wrote about her experiences. The first theme is Boost Energy and that chapter includes a section on the benefits of reducing clutter in one’s physical space. I decided that I was not continuing on to chapter two without test-driving all her themes myself. I took one look at my home and realized how draining all the clutter was and decided to do something about it.

I told my husband of my plans. I was going to take EVERYTHING out of my study. Then I was going to clean the room top to bottom and move our teenage son into that room, taking ONLY what he wanted out of his old room. Then I was going to take EVERYTHING out of his old room, clean it top to bottom and move our younger son into that bedroom. Then I would take EVERYTHING out of that son’s room, clean it, and turn it into my study. Then I would move the essentials into my new study, purging all that I (and they) no longer needed. I thought this might take about two weeks and told my husband he didn’t have to worry, that I would do all this myself (with the boys’ help).

I’m sure you can imagine the look he gave me, but, being the nice partner he is, and understanding my stubborn independence, he told me it was a good idea and let me run off to get started.

First off, let me say that is was quite obvious I’ve been teaching for almost twenty years when the pile of stuff I moved out of the study filled up the majority of our living room space. Anyone walking into my home at that time must have suspected I was a hoarder. So much teaching stuff. And sewing stuff. And craft stuff. And art stuff. Ridiculous. But, I didn’t look at the pile too long as I instead shampooed the carpets in the old study, filled a couple of nail holes and moved my ecstatic teen into his new, ‘teenager’ bedroom, taking only the possessions he couldn’t live without from his old bedroom.

I then added to the living room pile by moving everything he didn’t want out of his old bedroom. I love my son, but his room, like many teenagers’ rooms, I’m sure, was disgusting. Once everything was out and cleaned up, I moved my younger son in. Or rather, one day, when his friend was over, I said, in my best enthusiastic-teacher-voice, ‘hey guys, how would you like to set up all the furniture in the new bedroom???!!!’ and they actually went for it. They spent all day happily moving furniture around and, I have to say, did a great job of setting up his new bedroom, taking only what he absolutely needed to keep.

Much to my husband’s growing distress (he hadn’t anticipated the hoarder-style living arrangements), I then removed everything from the younger son’s room. Now, this room was the original nursery all those years ago. Amazingly, there were still things in there from when it was the original nursery all those years ago. Why? I have no idea. I took everything out of that room and let me say that it was a good visual to see all the stuff piled in one place that had NOT been moved back into either bedroom. We are not big consumers, there is no big box store mall here, but we still manage to accumulate a lot of useless stuff. Many lessons for our family in that alone.

Once that last room was empty, I decided that if I was going to finish this properly, I was going to renovate to truly claim 9372974631_a6465de62b_zmy space as my new study. I primed the walls, filled the holes (helpful advice…never put a dart board in a little boy’s room…many, many holes to fill), removed trim and painted. Then, against my husband’s advice, I ripped out the carpet. Laminate flooring can’t be that expensive or difficult to do, right? Yeah, no. I learned all about flooring, subflooring, and how much it costs a square foot – staggering what you can spend on the stuff you walk on everyday. I had no idea. Many lessons for me there.

As you can probably see, I’d learned a great deal by this point, but the most profound learning was still to come. I decided to purchase click together laminate flooring. I installed the subflooring and started piecing together the flooring myself. My husband, ever watchful from afar and helping me from the  9647707185_c8763b45b9_zsidelines, set up his radial arm saw and jigsaw so I could cut the pieces to the right length/shape. The first few rows of flooring went really well. No problems. But somewhere near the middle of the room, I started to run into problems. Pieces weren’t fitting together properly. I’d get a few rows done and notice a gap and have to undo and redo the rows. I made a horrible mistake on a cut and worried I was going to run out of flooring. What was supposed to take me a few days started to take more than a week.

Finally, a month after I’d started my three room swap and a week and a half after I’d started the flooring, I, full of frustration (but still not asking for help), wandered into the den and sat down to watch TV with my husband. He took one look at me and said ‘I’m going to help you, let’s get that floor done,’ and he took my hand and stood me up. Being a patient, but kind, person, he had watched me stubbornly try to do this task all on my  IMG_6167own and when he noticed that I was ready to break, he stepped in. Much learning and many parallels to teaching there.

I instantly became the student and he quietly slid into the role of the master teacher. Now, I should share with you that my husband can build anything and fix anything. He is amazingly talented in this way. So, not surprisingly, with his help the other half of the room was done in two hours. Two hours. And he basically took apart about 1/4 of the flooring I had done before continuing on. It was a humbling experience, to say the least. More lessons, adding in a dose of humility too.

Once the floor was done and the trim back on the walls, I spent several days moving the essentials in. It was a huge task to  photo-1go through the pile in the living room and only move in what I couldn’t live without. But, after all that work, I’m proud to say I have a beautiful study that is an efficient, organized space to work, think and just be me. My ‘life’, including my life as a teacher, feels more organize than ever before. And, as a bonus, I have a lovely view of lilac bushes, an apricot tree andFountain Ridge out the window beside my desk.

In the end, while I didn’t ‘work’ at all this summer, I did end up working very hard and I am so proud, and happy, with the results. I can finally continue on with reading The Happiness Project. I do hope that no other chapter takes me two full months to get through, but if it does, so be it. I was humbled as a learner and will carry that experience as a reminder into my classroom this week, along with all 9616820643_e6f4f65159_zthe other learning that came out of the three room swap. And I’m so thankful to feel settled and organized in my new space. Check out my Flickr set for a few more renovation photos.

While I am a little disappointed that I didn’t blog about all those topics I listed in July, I am really happy with all that I accomplished this summer and I am ready (almost!) to say good-bye to the hot, sunny summer days and say hello to a new group of energetic, curious young minds. I can’t wait to hear about what they learned this summer, too!

All photos taken by me.

20/20 Reflections on TEDxWestVancouverEd

I couldn’t find time to write this before the summer and, although the event happened over two months ago, I can’t shake the desire to share a few things from that day. Certain things have stayed with me so clearly. I’m curious to explore blogging from this long-term memory perspective as there seems to be an unusual tension between the strong urge to write about a fantastic experience and the perception that, because that learning experience occurred so long ago, that it’s too late to write about it. Think of the relevance to teaching and learning in that statement. Guess I have another blog post to add to the list…

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I have to congratulate the organizers of TEDxWestVancouverED for creating a wonderful day of professional development. While it was my first TED experience of any kind, other than watching the videos online, of course, I can appreciate the organization that goes into an event like that and I think they did a great job. I was most impressed at how the topics, ideas and questions raised during each speaker’s talk throughout the day seemed to scaffold into each other as the day progressed. It proved to be a masterful organization of sessions that led to a powerful but seamless learning experience.

Secondly, I LOVED hearing the speakers. I have wanted to hear Dean Shareski in person for years! He did not disappoint. My visual notes on his talk are here. AND I was lucky enough to get to meet him! Not surprising that one of my most lasting memories from that day was being a part of one of his famous jumping photos with all the amazing (and fun!) people I met from #SD36learns. No doubt in my mind that fun = lasting memories. Who wouldn’t want to add that equation into a learning environment?

Saying that all the speakers were wonderful is an understatement. Chris Kennedy, also a speaker that day, lists links to many of the speakers in his own TEDxWestVanED post if you’d like to see for yourself.

Another person I’ve wanted to meet for years was Shelley Wright. I think there are many parallels between our experiences as educators and I admire, and am inspired by, her passion, her bravery and her steadfast belief and trust in her students.

Aside from the speakers and all that I learned from them, the other big takeaway for me was meeting and talking with people in general. The opportunity to say hello to the speakers was made possible due to the fact that it was a smaller event.

I have to say, meeting all the enthusiastic people from #sd36learns was another highlight of my day. Not only did I do my practicum in Surrey, but I was also attached to a Surrey cohort for my graduate diploma coursework that led to everything I do online and with technology. Because of those reasons, I feel a certain attachment to the district and I’m thrilled to see the progress the district is making. No doubt this is due to the amazing educators working there and it was a pleasure to finally meet so many pln members face to face that day! The bonus for me was hanging out with Iram Khan, a pln member who turned out to be an old friend of my first brother. Reminiscing and comparing stories made lunch extra special for me!

Finally, I have to mention my visual notes. I was extremely frustrated that I couldn’t connect to the wifi at all that day. Neither my phone, nor my laptop, would connect. Luckily, I had a notebook and my pencil case with me so I decided to take ‘visual notes’ instead of tweeting during the talks. I’ve defaulted to this visual form of note-taking, or doodling, all my life and its interesting to see it becoming a more popular way to record and share notes.

The ‘stop’ moment for me occurred after I posted photos of my doodles as a Flickr set that night. The impact and re-sharing of my visual doodles online seemed much, much higher than the impact and re-sharing of professional tweeting I’ve done at events in the past. There were almost 200 views of my Flickr set within 24 hours of posting the photos. Would a set of my tweets get that many intentional views? Probably not. What is it about visual notes that increases engagement? I have many thoughts and questions on this, all stemming from my interest in visual literacy and my MEd research.

So, not only is hindsight 20/20, it also appears to allow for added reflection and gives ideas the time needed to expand.

 

Photo of TEDx sign and screen by me

Curious brain, a set of inquiry questions and my first TEDx coming up

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on the Elementary Connected Classrooms (ECC) blog about how a student prompted me to think. It was a full-on, stop in my tracks, instantly-forgot-everything-else-I-was-thinking-about moment and one of the coolest side effects of it was that the student who caused me to stop and think watched me process through the whole thing. He absolutely knew that he was the reason for making his teacher start a learning project. His ownership of the whole thing is pretty amazing.

As the questions are closely related to the upcoming TEDxWestVancouverED (more coming on this later in the post), I wanted to share the questions that I typed out as Evander watched my curious brain think the questions through. Here they are:

  1. How do other teachers ‘teach’ inquiry-based learning?
  2. Are there any good articles, books, blogs, etc. on inquiry that I can read and share with my ECC colleagues?
  3. Are there any good examples of students’ inquiry projects online that I can share with my colleagues and students?
  4. How can I capture the amazing learning my students have done through their inquiry projects to show other students in upcoming years?
  5. What are the strengths of the ECC inquiry project?
  6. What are the aspects of the ECC inquiry project that we can improve upon?
  7. What are my colleagues doing that is working really well?
  8. How can I make the ECC inquiry project even better?
  9. How can I better communicate to parents how this project works and what it’s all about?
  10. What other ways can I narrow this topic to learn more?
I think I’m going to start a google doc with this right now so that I can actually start working through it. I can see now that a number of the questions are very similar and I’m already wondering how deep I can go on this professional learning project.
A good sign of how excited I am to learn about this is that I’ve already started gathering resources. The ECC team is going to read Learning in Depth together, book club style, and have, I’m sure, some great conversations starting in the late summer on that book.
The most exciting part of all this for me, at the moment, is that this weekend I am lucky to be attending TEDxWestVancouverEd and several of the speakers and attendees have been working with inquiry in the classroom for a few years. I cannot wait to meet these wonderful people that, up until this point, have been virtual colleagues, people I learn from online but have not yet been able to talk with face to face. I’m also very interested to finally see, and hopefully meet, Dean Shareski. I’ve been reading his blog and enjoying his tweets for years and I can’t wait to see him start off the day on Saturday.

 

Inquiring about Inquiry-Based Learning to Straighten out the Path

This post is years overdue. Literally. I think it’s like a dam ready to burst in my head and I’m guessing it will be a learning experience to even just write it out. Writing about it will be therapeutic, at the very least, and, at the other extreme, this post could quite possibly cause a snowball effect – I’m almost hoping for that to be honest. Interesting, too, that I’m finally deciding to post it now, especially if you read my last post or have followed my thoughts in various online spaces over the years.

For three years, the Elementary Connected Classrooms (ECC) project has run a year long, collaborative inquiry project. At my first planning meeting, as a brand new, member of the ECC, I was handed the article, ‘Learning in Depth: Students as Experts’ written by Kieran Egan. This article was the first piece I’d ever read on Egan’s take on inquiry-based learning. While I had constantly enjoyed project-based learning before reading that article, and I had read An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, another of Egan’s popular works, my practice since reading that article has not been the same.

The ECC team read through and discussed how we could integrate the whole idea of an inquiry project into our collaborative learning space. We decided to devote each Friday’s video conferencing lesson to the inquiry project. We would take turns planning lessons and being the lead teacher, which meant that every three weeks each of us would be responsible to teach the next lesson in the unit. Student choice was built in as a crucial ingredient and we quickly realized the the context of the inquiry project would also be a great way to teach students a variety of other skills such as how to effectively search for information online and how to evaluate websites. We also recognized we could merge curricular content from Social Studies, English Language Arts, Science and more to create a truly cross-curricular learning opportunity full of multiple ways for students to connect ideas and experience deep learning.

One area that still proves to be a challenge is explaining how this all works to parents. They want to know how it’s marked (it isn’t – weekly assignments based on the task at hand, e.g. can you find a primary and secondary source of information and explain the differences between the two?, are marked, but the overall project is not), what subject this fits into (a whole bunch depending on the topic the student chooses and the way in which they decide to learn about their topic) and where this ‘curriculum’ comes from (the provincial Integrated Resource Packages and each individual student). It’s great to have all the questions and communication lines opening between home and school and it sure keeps me on my toes as far as being able to articulate exactly what we are doing, how it all comes together as the year goes along and why we are doing it.

A quick and accessible document created to help parents understand what the inquiry project is all about can be found here. It needs to be updated as the project has evolved each year based on the students but that document has proven to be an invaluable starting point for planning purposes as well as communicating with others. Thanks to my colleague, Brooke Haller, for giving me permission to share that as she’s the one who originally wrote it up.

One tricky aspect to all this is that the inquiry project never looks the same two years in a row; it doesn’t even look the same from student to student within one lesson, not to mention from week to week and class to class. Inquiry is a path of learning that leads into the unknown every, single time. It can be really challenging to lead thirty students down thirty completely separate learning paths, and it’s about as non-traditional as any method I’ve explored as a teacher, but it is amazing when the learning starts to deepen and kids start getting super excited about what they’re learning. It’s the palpable positivity of the learning process during inquiry working time and the pride and ownership that students show once they get rolling along that makes it a tangible, worthwhile project to embark upon.

There’s much more writing to come on this. I needed to start somewhere, but I’m thinking I need to stop somewhere too, for now, at least. If you have any experience teaching from an inquiry-based point of view, I’d love to hear from you. Or, send this along to anyone you think may have some thoughts to contribute. I’m officially embarking on my inquiry about inquiry-based learning, something I unofficially started three years ago when I read that first article. The fact that it’s taken me three years to get to this point and actually write about it attests to the messiness of my own learning process here. I’m hoping that the writing will straighten out my path, just a little bit.

Cross posted on The Elementary Connected Classrooms Blog here.

Imagery – Night Falls 3 by thebmag and Nature Trail #4 by Chalkie_CC, both accessed on April 15, 2013 from Flickr.com and used with Creative Commons permissions.

The Calm After the Storm, or Complete Life Slowdown

I usually take a long time between posts. I am a mother of two extremely active boys (active as in their energy levels – not active as in over-enrolled in too many activities – good to distinguish between those two), I’m a teacher who’s never figured out how to do the job efficiently and I always seem to have some added bits to my job that I like to include as a growing professional but that do take up some of my time. Aside from that I have my private life, something I rarely write about on here, which needs time as well for running, reading, napping, among other things. I have a full life and I’m grateful for it, but I’ve had to shift gears recently and before I get back to blogging solely about work, I need to transition my mindset with this post. So, while I usually have lots going on that gets in the way of blogging, this past three months or so of quiet in this space reflects the overall quiet in my life for a  very different reason.

The simple reason for the downshift is that I’m sick. I’ve been very sick since December, but was getting sick from last August on. It’s a recurrence of a simple but all-encompassing condition that has led to a huge simplification in my life. Am I taking medication? Yes. Is it working? Sort of. Will I get better? Yes. That last question and answer are the only two that really matter and once I figured that out I was able to relax and be thankful that it is the type of illness that can be treated either through medication, a procedure or surgery. Until I’m better, I just need to relax and chill out and let a bunch of things go. Not easy for a person like me. I don’t do “sit and relax and do nothing” very well.

I was a bit startled, in the midst of being sick and still at the mopey, panicky stage about not being able to function at my usual 110%, to read a couple of posts by others who were going through rough times too. And not just any others, but people I look up to in the education world. First, after being forced to cancel my registration at a conference I’d been looking forward to attending, I read George Couros’ post I’m Tired. George wrote that post while at that same conference that I was supposed to be at.

When I get tired, or rundown, or sick like I am now, I always think ‘why can’t I be like ____? They can go, go, go, go, go and accomplish all sorts of things and never get tired or sick. Why can’t I do that?’ and George is one of those people that I watch and think that about. His post made me realize that maybe even those super-productive and mega-successful people out there that I watch and try to learn from aren’t quite as perfectly indestructible as I think they are.

Soon after reading that post, I saw a tweet about Shelley Wright’s post I struggle: lessons I’ve learned from being an inquiry teacher. Shelley is another one of those productive, ‘how does she do all that’ people that I watch and learn from. To read about her struggles, in connection to George’s post, stopped me and made me think. Not only do those super-achievers crash and burn once in awhile, they also experience the same (in Shelley’s posts on inquiry – exactly the same) challenges that I try to ignore and work through. And when I ignore and plow headlong with positive determination through day after day of tough, hard emotional and physical work, it takes it’s toll. I’m not indestructible, nobody is, and while I realize that at some level, it’s not getting through that stubborn, ambitious, must-keep-going, thick head of mine, hence illness that will last for at least 3-9 more months.

Two connected posts, at a time when I needed to realize that it was time to stop and just ‘be’ for awhile and let my body and mind have some time to heal, were enough. I found a way and stepped back at work. I stepped way back at home. At first I thought I just needed physical rest, but after two months of that not working I discovered that it was holistic – mind and body. Not only a quiet, rested body, but a calm, relaxed mind – that final piece in place was the magical ingredient.

Letting go in total has finally allowed my system to start recovering. I’m sleeping 12-14 hours a day. I’m still taking the medication. I still have to pace both my body and my mind. But I do, after months of wondering what I was going to do with my ailing body and scattered mind, feel some hope. I’ve found, at last, a sense of calm that things are going to be okay.

I may have little to no cognitive clarity or anything resembling mental acuity but those who know and care about me are patient and seem to be enjoying, for the most part, my scatter-brained, laid-back, who-cares, attitude towards life these days. Thank goodness I’ve been teaching for 17 years and still love it, as that experience and love for what I do makes it possible for me to continue to work, something, up until last week, that I wasn’t sure I’d be doing after Spring Break. And thank goodness for a supportive, if small, network of family and friends who love me and are helping to pick up all the slack I’m just happily leaving behind me.

So with that, I’m hoping that now I can move along and start getting things back to normal, professionally and personally. I’m thinking this is now the calm after the storm. Hopefully it doesn’t take me another three months to post, but if it does, I would wish that it’s because my life is back to normal and not because of a health-enforced, complete life slowdown.

Imagery: Morups Tange by sramses177 and storm a brewin’ by Steve took it, both accessed March 22, 2013 from Flickr.com

Reflections on New Leadership Roles

Way back in September, I posted about my new leadership roles this year. A couple of weeks ago, Aviva Dunsiger posted this comment about my last post:

I found this to be a really interesting post! I love what you’re doing now in terms of leadership, and it’s definitely clear that you have a lot to share. I’m curious though: now that you’ve begun these leadership roles, what do you think of them? What other leadership opportunities do you want to explore? I’d love to hear more.

Aviva

Life, as usual, took precedence over my free time to do things like blog, but I did promise Aviva that I’d think on her questions and post a reply! So Aviva, here goes…

Role #1: Lead Teacher of the Elementary Connected Classrooms Project

I think of this role as my first taste of administration. I’m in charge of the team (our Elementary Connected Classrooms (ECC) blog with tons of info here!), in charge of the budget, responsible for running our various meetings, and I’m the one reaching out to other teachers for the expansion of the project into communities in our school district. I’ve also been responsible for submitting proposals to present at conferences. I lead the ECC team and feel more responsible for the overall success of this project since becoming the lead. There is a great deal of paperwork and added responsibilities that I had never dreamed of before entering into the role. I am very thankful that Brooke, the former lead and still a close colleague of mine, has been a mentor to me as I continue to learn this role.

One aspect of the role that has been great professional development, a real eye-opener, as well as just plain enjoyable, is the seat on the District Student Achievement Team (DSAT). This group, led by the superintendent Teresa Downs, is made up of the eleven project leaders in the district. All are full time principals or part-time/full-time upper admin in the district; I am the only full time teacher. We meet once a month, participate in a book club (we’re reading Karen Hume’s Tuned Out – a book right up my alley!) and participate in a certain level of decision making concerning student achievement. It’s a day I look forward to and the experience offers a nice insight into many aspects of the profession that I wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. I feel fortunate to be included as a member of this group and do what I can to learn from it and contribute as well.

Role #2: Mentoring a Teacher Candidate

This role has been a real mind-shift for me. I’ve had to let somebody else teach in my classroom!!! That is a tough thing to do, and strange, and difficult to get used to for me as I LOVE to teach my students. That said, my teacher candidate is wonderful and what I miss out on teaching is made up for in a new type of learning. I’m forced to articulate clearly the most essential elements when answering her question or making an observation. How do you simplify 17+ years of experience into a few sentences or a discussion or written observations? It’s challenging me to be concise and be aware of my pedagogy in almost abstract terms ( I’m thinking abstract as in the visual arts in which an idea or image is reduced to it’s most simple/basic form).

Aside from the personal shifts in mindset, I’m also gaining insight from a new educator’s fresh perspective, I’m watching new lessons unfold before my eyes as she teaches and I’m enjoying the chance to work one on one with students while she takes the lead. Being able to work with small groups and spend time with individual students is a luxury with a large, complex group such as the one I have this year and I’m looking forward to that for the next three months. Finally, being around a new almost-teacher like Tracy is a motivating and inspiring experience. She loves working with kids, she is full of fresh enthusiasm and she and I share many similar perspectives on how to work with children in a school each day.

One last, interesting note is that I’m a local who grew up and graduated in this small town, only to return to teach and now mentor another local (Tracy) who also grew up and graduated in this small town, only to return to be a student teacher here. I think that’s a pretty unique situation to be involved in!

New roles to explore

As far as new roles, I’m not sure on that yet. I’ve always thought that after my children grew up, graduated from high school and left home that I would want to go into administration. These new leadership roles have given me more insight into that possibility. I’ve also found that I don’t like being out of my classroom, although I do enjoy the DSAT meeting days and the opportunity to collaborate with others. It’s a tension I’m guessing that many administrators have dealt with and I know for certain now that I want to teach for a long time to come still.

I’m sure that if I wanted to move into administration that that route would be open for me, if not now, then at some time in the near future with a bit of ambition on my part, but I’m even more sure that, at this point, I want to teach and walk into that room and work with those amazing, brilliant, energetic, bursting-with-potential kids each day. I’m teaching my dream job and happy to be here for awhile. The leadership roles are pushing my thinking, making me, I think, a better educator to those kids and for that, I am extremely grateful and thankful.

Well Aviva, I hope that answers your questions. Thanks for pushing me to think this through. I am also grateful and thankful to you 🙂

New, official leadership roles for the first time

For the first time in my teaching career, I am officially in a leadership position! I’ve always thought I’d work towards that eventually, but also have always said no, or shied away from working towards that type of position. I have had many reasons – children at home, Masters studies to complete, the desire to focus only on the act of teaching – and yet this year, for the first time, I find myself in not one, but two, leadership roles. I’m finding priorities are shifting and I have a few new things to focus on in relation to the number one priority of my students.

First Role: Connected Classrooms Coordinator/Lead Teacher

In June, Brooke, my amazing colleague and then lead Connected Classroom teacher made a parallel move within the district to become the lead Connected 8 teacher. That move resulted in a leadership shift in the Elementary Connected Classrooms with me becoming the new lead! I met with Brooke in mid-August to learn about my new role and was excited to see all that I would be responsible for. It’s a definite change in mindset and now I have a real reason to start learning about leadership. It’s something I’ve always thought I’d eventually turn towards at some point in my career and this is a great way to ease into it a little more gently. Interesting how personal relevancy can so profoundly change one’s perspective.

Second Role: Mentoring a Teacher Candidate (Student Teacher)

On the first day of school this year, for the first time in 16 years of teaching, I’ll have a student teacher (or, as she is called through her university, a teacher candidate). Although she doesn’t actually start her practicum until Tuesday, she and I have been working together all summer via texting, email, twitter, several sessions at the school and one evening tea in my kitchen. There is so much more to being a teacher than showing up at school. To me, and to many, it is a lifestyle, and that, I think, is one thing that I want to share with her. It’s a lifestyle that I love (most of the time!) and I want her to understand so much more than the curricular learning outcomes and strategies to use for teaching place value.

One bonus for me is that I feel motivated and excited already. I’m already benefitting from the opportunity to be a teacher mentor. She keeps thanking me for taking the time to involve her and communicate with her, but I keep thinking that I need to thank her for the injection of added interest and excitement she’s bringing to my practice. I think she is going to be a great teacher, and I’m excited to help her along and watch her take these last final steps into the profession.

Where do I start?

Leadership is one of those words that’s everywhere. I always paid attention, but always felt that it didn’t really apply to me. We all, however, can be leaders and I understand how I fit inside that definition, but personally it felt as if the real leaders were the administrators, upper district administrators and others in that type of position. Suddenly, I fit under my own umbrella and a whole new tangent of research, learning, reading, people and possibilities are meaningful. There is a lot that I want to learn, but with time becoming scarce as school goes back in next week, I need to choose my first few steps carefully.

So, books to read, blogs to find, tweeps to follow and a long talk with my dad (a high school administrator for 30 years and the president of a large teachers association for a few years too) to help me get going! What do you think? Any ideas on where I should start?

 

Imagery by Plug Us In and used with permission from Flickr.

Questions

?

I’m supposed to be preparing to travel, but my head is spinning with thoughts and ideas. Where did the school year go? How am I going to fit in all the things I had planned with the time that’s left? Have I missed any important lessons, lessons not in the curriculum that my students needed, need, to know? I guess the thoughts and ideas are really questions.

At one point in the year, my admin started a meeting by asking the staff to describe their mindset in one word. My word was ‘questioning’. Since the masters coursework last year, that’s my mindset. It’s kind of driving me a bit crazy because I constantly question, think, think from a different direction, add another layer to my thinking or the issue at hand, etc., etc., etc. I do this to all conversations and thoughts. As I do that, I continue to learn how the coursework last year impacted me on a professional and personal level.

I still can’t quite wrap my head around the way the that year has changed me. I thought I’d go to SFU, learn some things about teaching, work that learning into my teaching practice and that would be that. But I’m still processing my learning, and as I process I’m discovering that this new mindset is more a mindset of change and questioning rather than a new static level of teaching practice.

So, instead of getting ready for my trip, my mind spins with questions. Instead of joining in on conversations in the staffroom, I sit and listen and wonder, sometimes, if I can actually say what’s on my mind. Instead of going to work each day and leaving happily tired, I leave with questions and wonderings that go unanswered. It’s unsettling, scattered and uncomfortable.

I guess I’m still getting used to the new outlook, mindset, and way of thinking. I wonder how long it will take to get used to…