The Learning Power of Educational Video (as taught to me by my son)

Here’s part of the prompt for this month’s Blog A Month Challenge found here:

Our optional topic for March centers on the learning power of educational video.

Great movies challenge our thinking, speak to our emotions, and take us to distant worlds both historical and fantastic.  Integrating the power of videos into your classroom, professional development, and/or school culture offers even greater potential impact as there is the opportunity to reflect, discuss, and critique the quality and message of the video.

Suggest one to two of your favorite videos (Ted Talks, YouTube Clips, Vimeos, Movie Clips…etc) that you have used in your school setting, and share how you used it. Explain how incorporating this visual into your presentation or lesson has helped you to achieve your goals.

Now I’d better admit right at the start; I’m not a ‘video’ person. It’s not my first choice of media to learn from. I rarely click on links and watch videos. I will, however, gladly read an article/blog post/etc., and I almost always click on links to photographs or images. I’m not even really a movie person anymore, much to my husband’s dismay. I think it has something to do my notion that a video or movie will take too much time. I would need to think on it a bit more to figure out the resistance and general disinterest.

You may be wondering how the direction of this post is going to turn around to the learning power of education video, the topic for the month shown above. I’m getting there through the lens of motherhood and leaving the obvious direction that the topic above seems intended to take. Hope that’s okay. It’s the way my mind went…

Like many of our youth, my teenage son is a video fanatic. While he would barely read a book to save his life, and he hates reading in general, he devours youtube videos like no one else that I know. He’s one of ‘those boys’. He’s really, really active, he’s really, really quick & bright, and he’s really, really horrible when he’s bored. He doesn’t like school and he’s a bit of a nightmare to engage in a classroom (understatement of the year), but when he wants (key word here – ‘wants’) to learn or do something, absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, can stop him. He’s more than a little intense and has this indefinable quality that I love and can only describe as his ‘edge’. I love him to pieces.

So what does this have to do with the learning power of educational video? Well, for him, and for many of those lumped in with him into that demographic that we want to keep in school and engage and help succeed, for him and those like him, the fact that the content can be engaged through video as the media IS the learning power. I’ll expand on that, and hopefully it will make sense.

Lately my son has been watching TED and TEDx talks. All on his own. No prompting from me about educational value. He watches them on his phone, anywhere, anytime and at home on his computer. He watches them first on his own and then, if he feels that it’s worth it, he’ll invite me to watch with him. He also shares links with friends. I’ve noticed him quoting the speakers from the videos in general conversation. The topics of the videos usually make sense to me. I understood immediately why he wanted to watch Rodney Mullen: Pop an ollie and innovate with me and why he’d want to watch Forget what you know: Jacob Barnett but he branches off and engages with other, seemingly random, topics too. Vine, Instagram videos and his own youtube channel round out the multimedia aspect of his lifestyle.

He’s paying attention. He’s learning independently and making meaningful connections to his life and his interactions with his peers and his family. I’ve been analyzing it a bit because it’s obviously deep learning and it’s interesting to me because he is a really tough kid to ‘teach’. It’s tough for teachers to get him to learn. It’s also interesting to me because video is such a foreign way for me to learn. Yet it’s so natural and easy for him, not to mentions a complete and total contrast to trying to get him to learn from a book or virtually anything written on a piece of paper.

I should mention at this point that my two sons are being raised with a high critical awareness of the content they consume and participate with online and elsewhere. Anyone who knows me will understand the passion for (digital) citizenship that I carry around deep seated within me, and that has been an important contributing factor to my childrens’ behaviour online and in general. We talk about gaming, social media, online interactions, etc., all the time. And don’t get me wrong, he still watches his share of ridiculous content too (he is fourteen and stupid humor is at an all time high with him) but the fact that he’s choosing to watch high quality educational content is noteworthy. And it makes me proud, and hopeful. Maybe this is how he will get through the next few years and find success after high school. Maybe video is the key.

I didn’t exactly take the prompt and answer the questions above. But I did make a powerful connection between video as being key for some children to engage with content and learn in a meaningful way. For some students, like my son, the learning power of educational video is the fact that because it is multimedia, it is more likely to engage. For whatever reason, multimedia content will make some students pay attention. Is it their ‘language’? Their learning style? Their literacy? I’m not sure, but if your goals are to engage and help your students to learn, then the type of content is something to attend to. A small shift, but potentially huge gains for our students.

I have many, many more questions on this but I think that’s enough for today. I’ll keep paying attention to learn more and I’m looking forward to the Blog a Month Challenge topic for April! Thanks for reading!

Afterthought – if you’d like to check out some great videos with educational content, check out the Rodney Mullen and Jacob Barnett links above – lots of interesting bits that relate to learning and the field of education! 

Visual Arts and a Lasting Impression

Once again, using arts-based methods to enrich student learning has left a lasting impression.

52973366_7176dfba1b_zThis year, I have a student (let’s say it’s a girl and I’ll call her Bree – not the actual name of course), as I do every year, who needs a individual education plan with modified objectives to fit the child and ensure success with learning. This year, as I do every year, I’m working really hard to try to ‘learn’ each of my students so that I can do my best to teach them for the next 8 1/2 months. And this year, as I do every year, I do my best to ignore all the labels and pre-packaged notes that come along with kids until I formulate my own thoughts on who each child is as a person, as someone’s precious son or daughter, as a human being like me.

Today my students learned all about using dry media to create tonal development so that 2D shapes on paper look like more realistic 3D objects. This lesson was to prepare them to create still life pieces a couple of weeks from now using locally grown squash and vegetables. We talked about light direction, about the importance of shape to convey an object, about how blending light, medium and dark tones can make a simple shape ‘pop’ out of the page and trick one’s eye. Students practiced blending using stomps, art pencils and kneaded erasers. They once again showed how engaging art is. My favourite student comment of the day was “Who knew that drawing a circle and colouring it in could be so much fun!?”

At the beginning of the lesson, I did a demonstration and was reviewing the assignment. I asked one last time if there were any comments or questions. Several hands went up, including Bree’s.

Now I’m still ‘learning’ Bree. I do make time to talk with Bree regularly, and I’m working hard to create a trusting relationship so that Bree and I can have a good year of learning together. It’s sometimes difficult to understand Bree although she does seem to enjoy contributing to class discussions and lessons. Often the contributions, while clearly sensible to her, seem to be connected by the slightest of threads and it takes a bit of work to figure out the overall relevance and how her thought processes work.

After Bree raised her hand and shared her thoughts, I was thrilled to see that Bree’s comments showed a complete understanding of the concepts of light direction, tonal development and the value scale. She totally ‘got it’, better, I think, than most of the class. And she knew it, too. There was some confidence there, which isn’t always the case with her when she’s sharing her ideas and thoughts out loud.

I was even more thrilled when, at the end of the lesson, Bree showed me her completed artwork. It was great. Really great. Like fully-meeting-expectations-with-a-little-added-personal-artistic-flair great. And again, she knew it. She brought it up and showed me. This is a kid who struggles to initiate conversations. But once again, confidence and happiness and pride at a job well done was conveyed in a kid who doesn’t always have the opportunity to experience and/or show that in school.  As happy as it made me to see her that way, I’m guessing she felt even better than I did from the whole thing.

So once again, I was reminded about how important the visual arts can be to empowering a child. I brought home a lasting impression that this learning experience was powerful for that child in multiple ways. Not only did she create a great piece of artwork that she was proud to take home and share with her family, she shared her understanding of the related concepts orally in front of the entire class. I can’t stop thinking about how much I learned about her through this today and I’m still wondering how this experience will change her as a learner in my class.

Art isn’t just about the drawing. It isn’t just about the shading or the shape or the fancy pencils that blend and smudge. Art is about confidence and empowerment and an opportunity to speak up and share your ideas with others. It’s about a different way of thinking that allows the openness needed for all kids to find their space firmly within it’s wide open boundaries. It’s a vital component to a child’s overall cognitive, social, and emotional development. It’s a way of teaching and learning that kids love. It has the potential to create a powerful lasting impression.

Photo by moostive accessed October 24th, 2013 from Flickr.

Remembering, Honouring, Healing: Truth & Reconciliation Education Day

Today is Truth and Reconciliation Education Day in British Columbia. I’ve been watching the tweets all week to see people sharing photos and experiences from the events. Today is a special day in the week of events because today is the day that thousands of students from around British Columbia, including many from my school district and community, gather at the PNE exhibition grounds for a day tailored to them. For those who don’t know what this is all about, the Truth and Conciliation Commission of Canada website is a good place to start.

I would have loved to have gone. As a person with Aboriginal heritage, I would have been honoured to go. And yet, as a person with a direct family history of residential school experience, I could not bring myself to go. I’ve written next to nothing in this space, or anywhere online, about my great-grandmother’s (Nanny) experiences in residential school. There is only one post that even talks about Nanny. There are many reasons for this.

The strongest thing holding me back from sharing her story online is that she didn’t want anyone to know that she had gone to residential school and she didn’t want anyone to know that she was Aboriginal. She was a perfect example of the desire to assimilate indigenous peoples into the colonial vision of what Canada’s people should be. She died with her Aboriginal heritage her secret and it was only through my aunt’s curiosity that my family learned of our Métis and Cree family in Manitoba years after Nanny’s death.

So while the week’s events that center around a formal attempt to heal and educate about Canada’s residential school history are of direct importance to me, I could never bring myself to go. Is that shame still lingering in my blood? Or is it respect for Nanny’s wish of privacy that holds me back?

While I am not there physically, I am certainly there in spirit. I’ve been following as much as possible online and reflecting on how I can honour and remember and help with the healing in my own way. I have both a personal and professional approach to this, and while, thanks to my Masters research I feel at peace with the personal, I feel the need to do more professionally.

In the past I’ve included Aboriginal and indigenous themes in my classroom in a variety of ways. I’ve made sure we had novels on residential schools in the ECC online literature circles. I’ve connected my students to others learning about Aboriginal heritage in an inter-district moodle project. I’ve planned out and taught lessons on indigenous artforms from around the world. I’ve happily headed off to the St’at’imc room when invited to sing and dance with my students. Every time I’ve brought this topic into my classroom, I’ve thought it was important and every time, in all grades, I’ve inwardly steeled myself for resistance. And most times there has been resistance of some sort, from a quiet rejection of the novel because of the topic to all out emotional outbursts from high school students about ‘why do we have to learn about this stuff in art anyway’?

This year I’m going to try something different. I’m going to honour and remember my traditional indigenous heritage and take a completely child-centered approach. I’m going to ask the kids. What do they want to learn about Aboriginal topics this year? What units would they like me to integrate Aboriginal and indigenous content within? How would they like to honour the people that have lived in the place on which the school is built for thousands of years within our classroom this year? How would they like to learn about all the different family backgrounds that walk into the room with students and adults each day?

The longer I teach, the more this approach seems to be embedded within what I do. And the more it seems to lead to powerful learning and engaged students. On this day of Truth and Reconciliation that honours the kids, I’m giving my word to remember, honour and heal by starting with honouring the kids first.

 

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

Intentional Summer Posting Plans

This isn’t going to be much of a blog post. Sorry to disappoint right at the outset. I am intentionally posting this for two reasons. One – I need to set my thinking straight before I begin what I hope will be several blog posts in the next couple of weeks, and two – I need a bit of a disclaimer for those few who do happen into this space so they will know exactly where my delayed and scattered topics are coming from. Phil Macoun recently reminded me of the importance of intentionality in a recent post of his, so I’m approaching blogging this summer with that mindset.

Last summer, I purposefully engaged in a detour from work, or, more specifically, a summer detour in the form of a what I called my ‘detour bag‘. This summer I feel that I’m finally beyond the bulk of the processing about my Masters degree and I’d like to do some professional development over the summer. More specifically, I’d like to blog and re-acquaint myself with all those wonderful people who originally pushed my thinking way back when I started all this online pro-d years ago.

I have various blog posts cooking in my head and in half-written posts waiting for that publish button to be clicked. I will, however, honor my family as my first priority this summer so I’m not sure how much flow and continuity I’ll be able to create with my blog posts. I’ll be spending most of my days biking, hanging out at the lake, watching movies and attempting to fill the stomachs of my always-hungry boys. I do though, feel a need to read others’ posts, comment, write my own posts, and release thoughts out of my head to clarify. Here’s a list of what I intend to write about in the coming weeks:

  • my own blog post inspired by Michelle Baldwin’s recent post, No More Rock Stars
  • reflections on TEDxWestVancouverED
  • thoughts about my first edcamp, #edcampwest at UVIC
  • the Edmedia experience, including presenting in a lecture theatre, the Darth Fiddler experience and seeing/meeting the brilliant Helen Keegan
  • the past school year and how being a former high school art teacher helped me figure out my grade five students
  • the past school year and the incredible results of the inquiry project
  • the past school year and being a mentor x3
  • next steps and new changes in the Elementary Connected Classrooms project
  • saying good-bye to a great principal, waiting to say hello to a new one and welcoming back a former mentor

Now that I’ve written the list, that’s a rather intimidating goal to work towards while I’m supposed to be hanging out with family and enjoying downtime! It also speaks to how much has happened in the last ten months and makes me understand the need to unpack it all.

Now if I only had an iPad so I could blog while relaxing at the lake…

Windy day complete with waves splashing onto the shore.

Windy day complete with waves splashing onto the shore.

Photo by me.

Summer Detour and the Detour Bag

At the start of the summer holidays, I wrote about a detour. I wrote about my purposeful move away from thinking about teaching all summer long, something I had done for years. I love teaching, and I love learning about learning, and I love reading about new research, and it’s easy to get caught up in spending summers in an altered working mindset. This summer, I detoured off that path and, as tomorrow I start back to work full-time prepping for students next week, I thought a little reflection would bring closure to my summer.

The detour was a bit of a bumpy ride to begin with, but I was determined to shift my mindset so that being a teacher would fade into the background. I admit it didn’t fade easily. I had to push it aside for awhile. In retrospect, it was wonderful to focus on nothing directly work related and instead put all my energy into everything else in my life. The struggle for balance was blissfully absent once I’d pushed aside the temptation to stay in the teacher mindset all summer.

I did all the things I listed in my original post. The boys and I read, biked, swam, and made things. We watched movies together, made cardboard box forts in the living room and spent time being bored.  We traveled through this beautiful province to visit family and friends. We spent rare, special time with the oldest of my nephews. We laughed, fought, goofed around, teased each other and tested one another’s patience. We grew closer. I hope everyone had a chance to do that – my students, my friends, my colleagues near and far. It’s that relationship piece that people always talk about working on in their classrooms. I hope we all remember to work on it at home, too.

The best part? I was able to focus on being a mom. I let my two energetic, growing boys have all my attention. I used to think that working full-time made me a better mother. I used to think that I’d be bored being a stay-at-home mom with kids. I wondered this summer how I could have ever thought that at all. What was I thinking? Was I delusional? Young and foolish? Trying to convince myself that working was better for me and the kids? I love staying home with my boys. It’s precious time that could not be better spent.

I did do one thing on my own. Because I like a challenge, and love to create, and knew that I’d need something interesting and novel to grab my attention and focus on this summer, I made a knitted, felted bag. This may not seem like anything interesting or special to you, but to me, through the summer, as I carefully interlocked yarn stitch by stitch, it became a symbol of my detour. It was the one goal that I set out to achieve this summer, not to read the latest ed leadership book or finish my Masters degree, but to simply finish a bag.

I think I learned a lot more from the process of knitting that piece than I ever thought I would. First off, it was much more difficult than anything I’d ever knitted before. I had to jump in, just do it, take the risk. Also, I made some mistakes and had to figure out how to fix them, or, in a couple of cases, learn to live with them because I couldn’t figure out how to fix them. I had to persevere when it started to get boring. I had to pay attention so that I wouldn’t miss a stitch. Tonight, to finish the project, I went through the process of felting – another thing I’d never done before and one of those things that you realize you have no control over, you just have to do it carefully and hope it all works the way you wanted it to. Many teaching and learning metaphors can be found in the process if you look just a little bit closer than most would.

So, in the end, with work tomorrow, all I really have to show for my summer is a bag. A little, knitted bag, that’s a bit crooked, and according to my older son, looks like a hat upside-down. I call it my detour bag.

It was only a little project, but not so little of an accomplishment. To me, it symbolizes a summer where, day by day, as with stitch by stitch, I slowly bound my family closer and closer together. A little project which gave me the reminder that I was detouring from work to focus on family, and symbolized my priority on having a closely knit family at the center of it all.

 

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Sometimes you have to stop teaching to learn the lesson

Today I felt like telling a story. This story has waited a long time to be told, almost 20 years to be honest.

It’s shaped who I am as an educator and stays close to my heart even now.

The day started as most Tuesdays started for me at the time. I woke up early, caught the bus, and arrived at Charles Dickens Elementary, an inner city school in Vancouver, to do my weekly volunteer work. I was learning how to be a teacher and I needed volunteer experience in a classroom to gain entry into SFU’s very competitive PDP program.

I loved Charles Dickens Elementary. The old brick school was demolished a few years ago and was rebuilt to modern standards. If I could, however, teleport that old brick school with those teachers through space and time, I would work there forever and make sure my children went there too. The school was led by a nationally recognized, award-winning principal and the librarian had been my grade three teacher. She was kind enough to bring me in, introduce me around and arrange the volunteering schedule for me. But that’s another story to tell.

Back to the Tuesday morning. This particular morning I was to spend time in the grade 2/3 classroom. As I arrived I noticed that Blaire (not his real name), the teacher, was busy speaking with a family I hadn’t seen before. The family, I soon learned, were refugees to Canada who had recently arrived from a war-torn country in Africa. This was their second day in Vancouver, the first day for their children to attend school.

Soon after the day started, Blaire asked me to work with the little refugee boy registered into grade three. To this day I cannot remember his name but I can picture his face like I saw him yesterday. He was fairly tall for a boy of that age, stocky and strong. His skin was a rich, dark brown and his eyes looked sad and overwhelmed, yet curious. He had thick, curly, springy-looking hair. 

I immediately asked Blaire what he wanted me to do as I had not been in this situation before. Blaire told me to see if I could figure out anything about the boy, if he could read, talk, draw, count, etc. so, with that broad, yet helpful, direction, I asked the little boy, with both words and gestures, to accompany me to a circular table at the back of the classroom.

I soon figured out the boy could not speak any English. He would point to himself and say his name when I pointed to myself and said my name. He couldn’t read English, couldn’t count from what I could tell, didn’t seem too interested in books and didn’t draw when I put paper and pencil in front of him. As it was math time for the rest of the class, I soon pulled out some math manipulatives, cards, dice, counters, etc., and decided to teach him to play a math game.

I knew a few different dice games and spent the next twenty minutes trying, and failing, to teach him a math game using the dice. I kept reminding myself that this was his first day in school in Canada and that I needed to show patience and kindness. It was extremely frustrating to me and seemed futile. He didn’t seem to understand anything I was doing but still sat there looking at me and trying, sort of, to play along, even though I could tell he had no idea what I was doing. I wonder now what he thought that day – what he thought about me, what he thought about what I was doing, what he thought about his first day at school.

I admit that after twenty minutes I was discouraged and a part of me gave up. I stopped trying to teach him and instead just rolled the dice around with him.

In was then that I learned my lesson.

After about five minutes of rolling dice around, I noticed a change in his behaviour. I’d noticed earlier that he did a certain movement with the dice and some counters, but I had misinterpreted that as him not understanding the game I had been trying to teach him. He did that certain movement again, and this time I also noticed that his body posture had changed and he looked right at me. He seemed to have a purpose, to be trying to show me something.

I stopped trying to be a teacher and started being a student.

The boy was trying, had been trying for quite some time I realized after reflecting on the whole thing, to teach me a game using dice and counters. It didn’t take long for me to begin to understand what he was trying to teach me. After that, he, being a great teacher, taught me how to play a very simple game, something young children would play, I’m guessing, in his home country in Africa. There were no words, no shared language between us, but suddenly, after nearly an hour together, we were having fun and playing together. At one point I was rewarded with a huge smile that reached all the way to his eyes – I’ve never forgotten that.

Even though we couldn’t talk to each other, he somehow managed to teach me a game. With no words, he managed to teach me. Just think about that from a teaching point of view for a minute. But, and this is the important part, he wasn’t able to teach me until I stopped trying to teach him. As soon as I stopped, as soon as I paid attention to him, he taught me.

Sometimes you have to stop teaching to learn the lesson.

I’ve never forgotten that little guy and that lesson that day. It speaks to me and my teaching philosophy still. Children have so much to teach us, if only they have the chance. If we stop trying to get through that lesson, or finish the unit before the end of the month, if we stop all of that and just pay attention to our brilliant students, they do, I believe, have a lot to teach us.

 

Imagery: Portrait “Untitled“ by Michiel Van Balen from Flickr.com, photo of the old Charles Dickens school taken by Rom@nce and accessed from http://www.panoramio.com/photo/9961621 July 25, 2012.

 

Detour

I am trying to keep away from the field of education this summer. Despite my mindset to avoid anything work related, I keep getting drawn in – reading a blog post here, checking twitter there (okay, all the time), and thinking that, hmm, maybe I should finish reading one of those books I bought and started during my Masters last year. The Masters year and thesis writing last summer are two reasons why I need to avoid a work mindset this summer.

Every time I start to get drawn in to professional development, I remember a tweet by Alec Couros that I saw on the last day of school:

I have a great deal of respect for Alec. He’s a smart guy, and he’s right. I need to resist the Ed literature. I need a detour. I need rest. I need a summer with a different purpose. I want to focus on learning “something outside of the expected”. And through that, I’m going to keep my mind open to the relevancy and connections I can make to becoming a better teacher even though the purpose, the focus, will be far removed from work. Detours do connect back eventually, though, and my learning will connect back too, I’m sure, in late August when I’m preparing for the next school year to begin.

So, (don’t laugh), I’m knitting, (yes, knitting…) and just started a project that is well beyond my comfort zone. I keep thinking about how I like the challenge and how I don’t care if I make a mistake because I’m a beginning knitter just learning and it’s a project purely for my own satisfaction. There’s a whole blog post applicable to teaching just waiting to be deconstructed in that last sentence right there.

I’m also bringing my sons along on the detour. One is working on mastering the art of juggling, and not just three juggling balls, but a screwdriver, and two other, both-different, round objects. Watching his energy, enthusiasm and determination while trying to master that feat is joy to watch.

The other son is focused on reading. I’m hoping this is the summer he’ll finally start to read on his own for pleasure. He’s also focused on friendships and learning how to be a better friend. And finally, one thing he wants to get better at this summer – pretend wand battles with the magic wand his dad made him. Kids are so darned cute…

Other plans for us all are to draw, to build, to make crafts, to create. Also to move – bike riding, swimming, running, walking – all things the luxury of time affords. And to read, and write (I’ve decided blogging doesn’t count – another post on that hopefully soon), and organize, and plan, and cook, and bake. Lots of diversions to choose from now that I’ve decided not to work this summer.

The detour is engaging so far. It’s a refreshing change from the norm. It’s a breath of fresh air from the heaviness of thesis writing last summer. And it’s only just begun!

Detour used under creative commons license and accessed July 10, 2012.

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Disillusioned

Not sure if disillusioned is the right word. According to the Apple Dictionary, disillusion means “disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed”.

I don’t think it’s disappointment I’m feeling. Searching deeper, according to the Apple Thesaurus, disillusion has a similar meaning to “disenchanted, disabused, disappointed, let down, discouraged”.

Discouraged, yes, but that’s only part of it, although, that idea fits. Disabused, absolutely not. Let down? Maybe. Disenchanted sounds promising. The same source as above defines disenchanted as “free (someone) from illusion”. Hmm, getting closer, and the idea of ‘ignorance is bliss’ comes to mind. The origin of the word is basically the reversal of enchantment. Interesting thought. Thinking backwards helps to get closer.

The thesaurus, once again, helps to focus the flavour in my mind, suggesting that “fed up, dissatisfied, discontented; cynical, soured” hold similar meanings as disenchanted. The fed up, dissatisfied, discontented all fit. Cynical, I hope not, and upon inspecting the definition of the word, thankfully not. Soured, no. But that makes me think of people in the job too long, unhappy with the job to long. Soured describes them well.

After all that, still not sure how I feel. Now that the first school year since completing my masters degree is nearing the end, what is this state of mind that I’m in? I don’t recognize it, it’s new. It has settled in, I think, as a result of the masters learning. It creeps in, despite the fact that I still love working with students in the classroom each day, enjoy helping them, teaching them, learning alongside them. I take comfort in that. I do enjoy the kids and the learning.

So why do I feel so apprehensive of this new mindset? And what does it mean for me, my students, my future students, the career I love and feel so ‘right’ in?

 

Image by gingisklown and accessed from Flickr.