Summer Reflections Part 3 – Feeding Teenagers, Driving your Husband Crazy and How to Lose Your Voice at the PNE

I started working and preparing for the upcoming school year this week. I had one full day of collaborating and planning with the ECC team last week, but, at that point, the first day of school still seemed very, very far away. After that collaboration day, I went on a short holiday to visit family and have some summer fun before the return to work. Since arriving home, it’s go time. Time to get ready, time to start thinking about all those expectant kiddies who will walk (or skip, or run, or something) into the classroom in eleven days!

Unfortunately, I hit a block today. I can’t organize another pile of ideas, or write another email, or even think about work at all. I’m going blank. All I want to do is write and think about the summer which gave me a perfect reason to sit and think about summer while writing the final instalment of my summer reflection blog posts…sounds so fancy when I write it like that!

So, in addition to part one and part two posted earlier, here are a few more things I learned this summer:

1) Never, ever, ever, buy a puzzle with the words ‘endless skies’ in the title. Don’t ask. Just take my word for it. What was supposed to be a pleasant diversion ended up being a project that was equal parts frustration and enjoyment.

2) Eating carrots and tomatoes and other food grown in your own backyard is totally worth all the time and effort it takes to put in and maintain the garden.

3) The best place to swim is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. The best time to swim is right before dusk on a night when the water is smooth as glass and the beach is almost completely deserted. Oh, if I could do that every day of my life…

4) The PNE is a ton of fun! While I went every year as a little girl when I lived in Vancouver, I hadn’t been for ten years. One unexpected thing I learned is that you can lose your voice from screaming throughout the Haunted House and while on rides like the Wooden Roller Coaster. It was worth it though! So. Much. Fun.

5) When going for a long walk, it drives your husband crazy if you stop every two minutes to take photos like these:

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There are 43 more from that one walk, but those are two of my favourites.

6) Always feed your teenagers before asking them to do anything. Actually, let’s just shorten that to ‘always feed your teenagers’. Life is just so much easier.

7) I still love my job and am following the right path in my life by continuing on my journey as an educator. While I love being home with my boys, and summer is a lovely respite from work, I am excited to go back to school. This will be my 20th year as a teacher. A real milestone for me. And I’m super excited, a bit giddy, energized and ‘up’ about going back to work. That’s so reassuring and feels really good. Nice to know I’m still doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Well, I think I’ll stop on that note. Thanks for reading along as I’ve shared my thoughts and reflections from the summer. If you’re in the middle of a school year, or just returned back, or starting soon, I hope your school year is wonderful and makes real, positive change in the world.

 

Summer Reflections Part 2 – Photos Included

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a few reflections on my summer so far, including the fact that I’m learning how to use a Canon E60 this summer. It’s been fun something other than my iPhone to take photos with and I love being able to zoom in on my subject! As promised in my earlier post, I’m sharing some of my favourite photos from the summer (so far!) below. One thing, I haven’t done any digital processing on these at all – they are straight off the camera.

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A good portion of summer this year is on the road. This photo of the Tantalus mountain range (above) was taken from the Tantalus viewpoint on the Sea to Sky Highway. It was a bit hazy from forest fire smoke in the air, but other than that I’m pretty happy with how it turned out and I’m awed at the natural beauty of British Columbia.

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The blue moon at the end of July was stunning! This photo (one of my favourites – ever!!) was taken just after moonrise above Fountain Ridge just west of my hometown. I posted this to the #bcedchat summer slow chat and received good feedback!

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There is a large osprey nest on top of a local bridge. It’s a perfect place to go take photos because you have the Fraser River, an old bridge and the osprey nest complete with chicks!

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Whenever he can, my older son loves to ride his skateboard. He’ll spend hours, days, weeks, trying to perfect different kickflip tricks and I love this action shot of him attempting a no-comply pressure flip (yup, skateboarder mom). And yes, he does wear a helmet when he’s riding vert (vertical ramps/bowls, etc) but not when he’s practicing street or learning flip tricks.

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Ever summer, my younger son spends as much time as possible swimming in local lakes. He loves snorkelling or swimming completely underwater. One memorable moment this summer was when he popped up out of the lake excited that a 20 centimetre trout was right beside him!!

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If I could sum up the perfect summer, it would include something like this last photo. Water, a beach, flip flops and time to just relax and enjoy the sunshine.

I’m learning quite a bit about the camera and enjoying the quality of images as compared to all the photos I take with my phone. I don’t like the extra step of putting photos onto the computer before I can share them out on flickr, twitter or instagram but that’s the only frustration so far. That and remembering to bring the camera with me – I keep forgetting to bring it with me and have missed some great shots as a result!

More summer reflections coming soon…

 

Summer Reflections

I see today as the halfway point of the summer. July now becomes memories while August sits in the future, full of possibilities.

I’ve chosen time with my children over time with a screen lately but I enjoy blogging every summer (like now when it’s 4:48 a.m. and I can’t sleep) so here I am, sitting at the laptop, listening to a very enthusiastic rooster while the blue moon sets and the sky lightens on August 1st.

One last confession before I launch into my reflections – my urge to blog was also pushed along by the fact that my older son, a very tech-savvy teen, gave me a hard time recently about not spending enough time online. Just when I think I have the work/life balance all figured out and I feel I am being a good mom, along comes the teenager to make me question my decisions. Not surprising, really, as he’s the type of kid that constantly pushes you beyond your comfort zone in general and I (usually) love him for it.

Enough preamble…time to reflect and share about my summer so far!

Summer Reflection #1: New camera equals new learning about photography

 For the first time in my life, I’m learning how to use a really nice DSLR camera. My dad (who took up photography when he retired from being a principal ~10 yrs ago) loaned me one of his many fancy cameras so I’ve been happily taking all sorts of cool photos and learning a lot in the process. I’ve taught photography to students for 12 years now but this camera is well above and beyond what you’d work with at a school. It’s been a wonderful learning experience and hopefully I can share some of my favourite photos here soon.

Summer Reflection #2: I love summer because I have time to read for fun

 I’ve read at least 2-3 novels a week since the start of the summer holidays. I. Love. That. I inherited a Kobo e-reader in the spring and I’m learning a new reading experience through that device. I love the convenience and ease of access it offers and I’m guessing that’s one reason I’ve read so much.

I’ve also had the time to tackle the pile of books to read for school. By far the most memorable book I’ve read in that pile is We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. A great book to read during the summer. So good. Thanks to Pernille Ripp – it was her post that brought it to my attention.

Summer Reflection #3: The summer of last minute ‘there’s been a change in plans’

 This has been making me a little crazy. Okay, a lot crazy. The entire month of July was me making plans and organizing events, trips, etc., only to have them be cancelled, changed or spiral right out of my control at the last minute. After a month of what I can only call chaotic upheaval in my family life, I’m trying to adjust my outlook and just go with it. Not easy for me, I’ll admit, as I’m the planner/organizer in the family. I’m not, however, planning anything else this summer. I’m going to live in the moment and work on being more flexible. Instead of creating a summer holiday, I’m going to experience it instead. Lots to learn here.

Summer Reflection #4: The summer of drive here. Now drive there. Now drive somewhere else.

 Along with the chaotic upheaval and constant last minute ‘change of plans’ has come numerous day and overnight trips. I don’t think I’ve ever spent as much time in a vehicle as the time I spent driving around the southern half of the province in July. Now I don’t like traveling and I get fairly carsick, even when I drive, so this hasn’t been easy. In retrospect, it’s been nice to see family living in other places and I’ve been reminded of how stunningly beautiful British Columbia is. I also love that the highways around my little hometown are the only ones on which I regularly see wildlife. There’s something to be said there.

Summer Reflection #5: The summer of starting to learn to let go

This is the most difficult thing I’ve experienced in awhile. My kids are growing up fast. Both are in high school and I love this stage of family life as I’ve loved all others, but this one comes with the future of adulthood right around the corner. This summer I’ve had to let my older son go away on his own, for the first time, more than once, and it’s been really, really tough to do. The most difficult situation involved him traveling hundreds of kilometres to the US for six days with a local sports team. It was an incredible opportunity for all the boys and my son was noticeably changed (in a good way) and matured when he returned home, but wow, was it a tough experience personally, and not just for me, but for a bunch of the parents. While it’s necessary to be supportive and positive and help your children move along into this next phase of their lives, it’s hard because it also means letting them grow up and learn how to be away from home. I know it’s the next step in this parenting journey but I just don’t know how to do it. Thankfully I have some time to learn and adjust and figure it out.

Here’s hoping that the learning journey that is life is a little smoother, easier, kinder for the second half of the summer. Happy August and thanks for reading!

 

 

Scattered, drifting, lost, anchored and trying to figure it all out.

I’ve felt a little lost professionally for awhile now. Well, I don’t know if ‘lost’ is exactly the right word. It’s definitely something, though; even my blogging is unsettled, inconsistent. I feel scattered. I can’t focus professionally. It’s starting to irritate me, partly because I can’t figure it out.

There’s still, thankfully, a strong sense of purpose. A real sense of ‘right’. I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to do. But for the first time in a long time, as a professional, I feel like I have no firm direction. And it’s not as if there’s no directionality to my thinking and professional development. There is, but there’s almost too much. I’m not really getting anywhere. There are too many things I want to think about, focus on, learn. I’m at the point where I’m not experiencing deep learning and I think that’s what I’m craving. Maybe that depth is what’s missing.

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When I think about all this and try to figure it out, I keep thinking of ocean imagery. I envision drifting aimlessly along on a gentle ocean. The water is calm with subtle swells and gentle movement. I’m enjoying the ride even though I have no way to control the direction I’m headed. But I love being on the water. I’m not afraid. It doesn’t feel bad. Just a little aimless. Like I should be doing more than drifting.

Up until a year or so ago, I would regularly come up with a professional plan for learning and follow through. But lately, I move in one direction and learn a little bit, then my attention is caught by something else, so I switch and think on something else for awhile. It feels a bit like a strange, scattered holding pattern. Like there should be something more, but I don’t know what it is, but also like I’m craving a profound immersion in professional learning that will bring purpose and a sense of direction.

At this point, the only way that I can see experiencing that kind of immersive learning experience would be to go back to school. I really, really love the push and obsession that comes with formal education and there’s a big part of me that wants to go back to school eventually. But eventually isn’t now, and maybe that’s part of the holding pattern.

The holding pattern is partly the stability that comes with where I’m at in life. I love my family life and feel that each day with my sons is more and more precious. I’m keenly aware of the fact that in half a dozen years or so they’ll both most likely have moved away. And by moved away I mean different town because most young adults have to leave this small town to find their way in the world. I don’t even want to think about it. An elder told me not too long ago that I will have a tough time with the empty nest when it comes along and I’d wager she’s right. For some reason, I thought it would get easier to let my children go as they grew older, taller, stronger and more independent. It’s not.

So while I feel a little lost professionally, at the same time I guess what I’ve figured out by writing this is that it’s home life, especially motherhood, that anchors me. There’s an overall balance there. I may be drifting around professionally but I think I’m drifting around that stable little island called home. I can see all the lovely learning possibilities out on the horizon, but I’ve anchored off the place that has profound personal relevance right now and I just don’t want to travel too far away. It’s starting to make some sense. Maybe.

I guess I’m not really lost and drifting, but instead, anchored where I need to be while experiencing the ongoing struggle with the balance between home and work. And that’s okay. Love my family. Love being a teacher. Being pulled both ways but anchored at home.

 

Photo accessed February 24, 2015 and used with permission from http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-JHtCb9JrqKo/U4ZTkrt8bKI/AAAAAAAAPBM/-vwXQGjZBo4/s1600/CayoLargo-ocean.jpg

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.

 

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 :)

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.