Renewed Sense of Purpose

There has not been a regular public day of school in BC since the middle of June. Between the strike and the summer holidays, we’ve pretty much had the entire summer season out of school.  

During this extended summer, I can count the number of times I got up to start my day before 8:00 a.m. on one hand. I am not an early bird, though strangely I have the most energy and seem to be at my most positive and peppy first thing in the morning. So, being off work I slept in. I told myself because I was staying up later at night that it was okay if I took my time getting out of bed in the morning. I worried a few times that I was falling into a pattern of being lazy. I worried that I was falling into depression. I was happy enough and I had a fantastic summer, but there were many times when this nagging sense of doubt entered and I worried about my discipline and overall motivation in this seemingly endless summer.

Fast forward through that endless summer to last Friday, the first day of work for all public school teachers in BC. Last Thursday the majority voted to accept the tentative agreement offered, thus ending the teacher strike. So, at 9:30 last Thursday night, approximately 41000 teachers realized that they had three days to prepare to teach students as students are back in school tomorrow, Monday morning. If you’re a teacher, or live with a teacher, you can imagine how overwhelming that Thursday night was. For me, personally, I was super excited to be going back to work, and super freaked out about how in the world I could possibly be ready for students on Monday because I usually work at least 7 full days at the end of August to prepare for the first day of school.

One of my main concerns at that time was simple – how am I going to get up in the morning? Would I be able to get to sleep at night? Strangely, Friday morning at 8:00 I was already in my car driving to school. I’d been up since 6:30. I was wide awake. I was excited. I was full of energy.

As I was driving, I thought about everything in that last paragraph. I thought about all the days I’d slept in. I thought about my worries surrounding my sleep cycle. I thought about how great it felt to be up and almost at work. And as I was thinking all that, one word popped into my head.

Purpose.

With a return to work came a renewed sense of purpose. I love being a teacher. It is much more than a job to me. It is a calling. My calling. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing, has been for the last 25 years. Longer actually, but I initially refused to listen to that calling because my parents were teachers and I told myself that I wouldn’t follow along in their shoes (can you say teenage rebellion?).

I was ecstatic, joyful, and motivated Friday morning as I drove to the school earlier than I’d practically driven anywhere in the past three months. I need to teach and be surrounded by children and help them learn and help them along in their path in life because without it, I’m a little lost. And this is third major reminder in my life that yes, teaching is where I should be at this point in my life.

I must say that my own two children are an even stronger calling and I do find my life’s purpose in them every day. But I have said many times that I wouldn’t be a good stay at home mom. I need more. I’m a better mom when I’m a teacher. So for their sake, and my own, I’m glad that I have this renewed sense of purpose to motivate me and get me out of bed earlier every morning.

 

To be a teacher

I spent yesterday at a wedding. It was a beautiful, intimate event at a cabin on a lake. No cell service. No 3G. No road access. Boats carried guests from the dock a few kilometres out of town for a ten minute ride down a glacier-fed lake to the cabin. All this on a gorgeous late summer day.

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No big deal, right? People go to weddings all the time. The thing was, though, that I’m not related by blood and I’m not best friends with anybody from the wedding party. My connection to the event was through my job as I taught both the bride and the groom when they attended the local high school years ago.

Now, when I say I’ve taught the bride, that’s an oversimplification. She entered into the art room in grade eight when I taught art and photography. She never really left until she graduated in 2010. While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, as she did take other courses, there were many, many days during which I spent more time with her than I did with my own children. She took every art course, every photography course, worked with me on the school yearbooks, helped me set up several student art shows for the community and she worked closely with me the year she graduated on everything from fundraising to transforming the gym with decorations for prom and graduation. She’s an incredibly talented artistic person and it was a delight to teach and watch her turn into the wonderful young lady she is today.

A year ago she contacted me to go for tea. My standing offer with all students after they graduate is that they can contact me anytime to go for tea and visit. Many do, and she has. More than once. The visit last year though was special as she shared her recent engagement and asked me to save the date for her wedding.

I was honoured to be there yesterday. To be invited, as a former teacher, to share in such a special time in someone’s life is humbling to say the least. All other guests were either family to the bride and groom or close family friends. I looked around at one point and realized that of all of the young adults sitting at the table, I had taught every one of them.

I couldn’t help thinking about all the connections as the day went along. I sat through dinner with a former student who earned her teaching degree last year after completing her practicum in my classroom last year. I was lucky to spend time cuddling with an adorable 6 month old baby boy, the son and nephew of two sisters I taught all through high school. I also visited with a handsome little guy who just celebrated his first birthday – another son of two talented former art students. At one point, I introduced myself to the boyfriend of the maid of honour (twin sister to the bride and another student who practically lived in my classroom through high school) and he recognized my name as it’s come into conversations – it was instant recognition on his part. Finally, when I thanked the bride, her parents and the groom, for inviting me, they were so authentically happy that I had come to share in the special day.

And it wasn’t just today. This wasn’t my first wedding where the connection was through having taught the bride or groom. I’ve also been invited to and attended baby showers and first birthdays. I’m guessing that maybe it’s a small town thing, but maybe not. I’m pretty sure that this happens to teachers because to be a teacher is to have an impact that matters in someone’s life. And you don’t have to look up at the moon to realize that an impact leaves a mark that lasts.

Teaching isn’t just a job. It isn’t just lesson plans, curriculum and helping kids learn a list of outcomes. Well, it is all those things, but it is much, much more. To be a teacher is to have a lasting impact on someone’s life to the point where, when a guest list for a wedding is being written up, your name is brought into the conversation. To be a teacher is to honour someone’s life in such a way that you become a part of their life and the life of their family, even long after they leave your classroom. To be a teacher is, at times, to become something  similar to extended family – someone who is remembered and included in special celebrations like weddings and baby showers.

To be a teacher is to feel joyful for a wonderful day spent visiting with former students and their families. To be a teacher is to share in the beautiful celebration of two lovely young people as they begin their marriage outside a cabin, on a lake, surrounded by mountains and family and friends.

And so today, in spite of chaos all around, I am more thankful and honoured than ever to be an educator. Amidst a teacher strike and a bargaining impasse with the employer, I’ll hold on to the beauty and the joy I experienced yesterday because I decided to be a teacher.

Photo taken by me from the dock at wedding yesterday.

 

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Sunshine, Family Fun and Happy Summer Adventures

If you read my previous post, I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I ruined your day, brought you down, made you think the world was a little more dark and sad than it should be. Truth be told, the world, and those living on it, have suffered greatly this year. The horrors occurring in Gaza, the Mount Polley tailings pond breach here in BC, the recent death of Robin Williams – the world has been hurting.

Strangely though, amidst all that, my life has been overwhelmingly happy and fun. The theme of this post is the opposite of what I wrote about yesterday, and the remaining bit of my desire to reflect on and share my “incredibly full” summer in order to prepare my head to move into the upcoming school year.

I have had a fantastic late spring and summer. Late in the spring, there were some major positives occurrences in my life. I’ve written at length in one of my professional journals about a trip to Victoria to tour the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII) with a group of colleagues. What a fantastic trip and an amazing school. If I could transport myself directly there with my children attending and me teaching, I’d be in heaven. Also during that trip we attended a radically different institution designed around neuroplasticity. Both schools left my mind reeling and I’m hoping to go back next year with the ECC team.

Then there was a fantastic weekend in May during which I was lucky enough to attend and present at both the Networks of Inquiry and Innovation symposium and the Growing Innovation Symposium at UBC. Another mind-blowing professional development weekend that I also wrote pages and pages about in my journal. Not sure why I was keeping those thoughts to myself, but I’m guessing it had to do with the need to protect myself somewhat during that difficult time which I wrote about yesterday. Makes me think that I was very turtle-like at the end of the year, retreating into the safety of my shell as needed.

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Summer holidays hit with record high temperatures in July! The little town where I live was the hottest place in the county more than once this year. The best way to deal with temperatures that high is to load up floaties, a picnic lunch, a good book and head to the lake that’s only 10 minutes out of town. My sons and I spent the better part of July doing just that and it was awesome. There is nothing that says ‘summer’ more than cooling off with a long swim in a beautiful, cool, clean lake surrounded by mountains and fresh air.
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Another thing that says ‘summer’ in BC is skateboarding and, as both my boys love skateboarding, we joined a group that travelled to two nearby communities for a day of skateboarding and sightseeing. The boys loved it! They were able to skate a very new concrete park about two hours from our town and then skate another older park in a city known world wide as a tourist destination. After they skated for hours, we enjoyed a group dinner before driving through the mountains to get back home.

Then there were the times spent with my siblings. So. Much. Fun. I hugged, laughed with, cried with, hung out with and ate with (I won’t even get into all the food – so good!!) all four of my siblings. I also had a lovely trip down to the city to see my dad and step-mom. Finally, I have four nephews (aged 10 months – 11 years) and I got to spend a bunch of time with all of them this summer. It was an absolute blast – quite literally actually, as during one visit, a massive storm blew through the valley and one of my brothers saw a lightning strike actually hit one of the mountains and start a forest fire. Crazy. At one point there were 12 people in my little home, most camping out in the back yard. All of my father’s grandchildren, six boys, were running all around my house and my yard and it was complete chaos. I loved it. This was a summer of treasured family time and I’m very thankful.

14770046313_74a4f2cf38_zAnother highlight was a family trip with my husband and boys to a sports/music festival. Again, super fun. Even though you can see it on TV, seeing a guy on a dirtbike do a back flip in the air a few metres in front of you is amazing. That trip ended off with my teenager’s first concert – a chart topping DJ who has worked with some of the biggest singers in the world. It was also my first experience at a DJ concert – all the other concerts I’ve attended have been an actual band on the stage. It was super cool to see the visual show; whoever created all those incredible graphics so perfectly matched to the music is a genius. The DJ, who’s from the UK, only did the one show in Canada this year so we were fortunate to see him and enjoy his music first hand.

One of the last big events was a trip down to the city with family to see my sister off to grad school in Ontario. That trip was an emotional roller coaster and, like the rest of the summer, packed with fun. Great food, fun activities, and, one of the highlights of my year so far, a trip to an author signing for one of my favourite novel series. The author is actually a history professor in southern California and her talk before the signing was more like a lecture than a book talk. It was fantastic to meet her! The next day, after another lovely family dinner, I hugged my sister one last time before she headed off on an airplane to begin her Masters degree halfway across the country. I miss her so much and have no idea when I’ll get to hug her again, but I’m super proud of her and excited for this next phase of her life.

A camping trip with my younger son finished off the list of summer adventures. He invited a few friends to an overnight campout birthday party at a local campground. We were lucky to enjoy ‘smores and hotdogs over the fire as the local forest service lifted the summer-long campfire ban that day. The boys had lots of fun and I’ll never forget the feeling of peace and calm that I experienced looking up at the stars on that beautiful summer night.

All the negatives from my last post and the world around just seemed to slide off this summer because I was surrounded by love, happiness and fun. It’s been an incredible few months full of renewal and rejuvenation. I’m thinking that can only mean more good times ahead with the new school year starting soon.

All photos by me :)

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Stormy Skies, Rough Seas, Deluge

I’m thinking that this has been the longest gap between posts in my blogging history. Not surprisingly, the reason for that is that life has been incredibly full. That’s not an excuse, just my own reasoning and, as this space is for me to share as I choose, that’s as good an explanation as any.

The phrase “incredibly full” is a simple statement that encapsulates a very complex five months of life. Last year was one of the most difficult of my career due to reasons beyond my control. During the last few months of the school year, when the stress I was under manifested as medical issues, there was a personal tragedy within the family of old, very close friends and this affected our entire community. At that point, my body and mind went into survival mode and I had to make my health a priority. Life was pretty dark and rough for awhile.

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On top of a difficult year end, personal tragedy and medical issues, there were months of chaos and uncertainty surrounding contract negotiations between the teachers in British Columbia and our employer. A breakdown in this process meant that the school year ended suddenly as teachers in BC walked out on a full scale strike two weeks before school was supposed to end. Even now, two months later, there is no resolution in the dispute and while the beginning of the next school year is scheduled to begin in less than a week, teachers may still be on strike.

I like to keep this blog a positive place full of ideas and thoughts that need to be clarified, deconstructed, remembered and shared, so it was a conscious decision not to write and pollute this space while in a negative deluge of life. I only share these thoughts now because it’s time to move forward and to do that I need to clear my mind by consciously placing the struggles and negativity behind me and firmly into the past. Basically, acknowledge and shift forward.

Tomorrow I’d like to shift my mind further into the renewal that comes with a new school year (even if we are still on strike) by remembering and sharing all the goodness that came with the summer. And there was a lot of it – “incredibly full” from above also refers to a whole bunch of fun. I had a wonderful summer, the best in years. I’d like to end such a great holiday by reminding myself of the abundance of blessings in my life and then carry that feeling as I move on into the transition ahead. So, another post tomorrow I hope, full of fun and happy times, to balance out the darkness I let in above. Until tomorrow…

Photo Storm Light by jekrub

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.