Watershed Moments (Inspired by Dean Shareski and Chris Kennedy)

I’ve purposefully returned to reading and commenting on blogs in recent months and I read two really good (and connected) blog posts this weekend. I first read My Own Watershed Moments on Chris Kennedy’s blog Culture of Yes which led to me to Dean Shareski’s post, Watershed Moments of Learning, on Ideas and Thoughts. At the end of his post, Dean Shareski invited  his network to write about their own watershed moments of learning. That challenge was the inspiration for Chris Kennedy’s post and, in turn, they both prompted me to spend some time thinking and writing about my own watershed moments.

This task, which initially seemed pretty easy, was, in retrospect, not as straightforward as I expected and turned out to be a good exercise in thinking and ranking. I’m guessing that this list will change with time so think of this as a snapshot of my ideas at this point in my life. I decided to organize my ideas using most of the same categories as Dean and Chris: PD Event/Conference, speaker or presentation, book, tool, and person.

 PD Event/Conference:

TEDx West Vancouver ED (2013) is my watershed PD event because it is one of the PD events I’ve attended in the last few years that continues to standout in my mind. It was my first (and so far only) TEDx, the first TEDx West Vancouver Ed, and one of those PD events where you finally get to meet all sorts of people in your PLN face to face (many for the first time – it was the first and only time I’ve ever had the chance to talk to Dean Shareski!). I loved the event. It reminded me that I became the educator I am because I left my small little town and ventured out to PD beyond. It inspired me in so many ways – the speakers were absolutely incredible (see the youtube videos here). It also, indirectly, reminded me that I learn best through arts based methods. At the time I had been tweeting at conferences to record and share professional learning but for whatever reason (serendipity I think), my devices were not connecting to the wifi that whole weekend so I switched to my default, old-school method – a sketchbook and colored, dry media. My doodles from that day, and a bit more of an explanation, are here.

Speaker(s)/Presentation(s):

Choosing just one speaker or presentation is super tough. For today though, I’m going to pick Helen Keegan as my watershed speaker. Her presentation on gamification at Edmedia in Victoria a few years ago dramatically changed my thinking. She introduced me to gamification and I’ve since become fascinated by this. Because of Helen, I co-created and taught one of the coolest units I’ve ever used with students last year – the Battle of the Books: Canadian Authors. That unit is a new twist on online literature circles that uses gamification as the method through which to engage kids and trick them into loving reading novels. I also have to give credit to Justin deVries and Mike Koppes from Kamloops for their awesome workshop that deepened my understanding of gamification at the PITA conference last fall. I’m still fascinated with gamification and plan to continue learning more about how to use this as one method to engage kids.

Book(s):

I love to read and I read a lot. To have to pick just one book, ever, to answer a question that starts with “Which book…” usually seems like an impossible task to me. So, accordingly, I decided on my top four watershed books as of right this minute, today:

#1: The Arts and the Creation of Mind by Elliot Eisner – This book was recommended to me by Dr. Vicki Kelly (see my watershed person below) when I was writing my thesis. When I started reading this book, I couldn’t believe that there was a book, written by a famous Stanford professor, that summed up everything I believed as an arts educator in such an articulate, academic way. It blew my mind. It still blows my mind. I’d been teaching a certain way and developing certain pedagogical beliefs during my years as a high school visual arts teacher (that transform my practice to this day). This book fit perfectly within, and gave sound theoretical basis to, all that I had learned, experienced and struggled with as a teacher passionate about arts based methods and the integration of the visual arts into students’ learning.

#2: Look to the Mountain by Gregory Cajete – This book was also recommended to me by Vicki when I was writing my thesis. It was the first book I ever read that actually described my mother’s way of teaching. You’d have to read my thesis or sit and chat with me for the complete explanation about that. My great-grandmother raised my mother (and my siblings and I) and my great-grandmother, in turn, was raised by her Cree grandmother. Essentially, my great-grandmother’s and my mother’s pedagogy and child-rearing philosophies were rooted in indigenous ways of learning and knowing. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to read a book that actually described how my mom taught me to teach and to be with kids as a teacher. I think it will forever be one of my favourite non-fiction books for that reason.

#3: The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman – This is the same book mentioned by Chris Kennedy in his watershed post. In 2005, when this book was first published, I was starting my graduate coursework, learning about the emerging online tools, and attempting to wrap my head around the impact of what was taking place in the field of education because of the internet and the world wide web. This book really helped me to understand the changes happening at the time and pushed me to think about where learning in schools and the world in general was heading.

#4: An Imaginative Approach to Teaching by Kieran Egan – I really like reading books by Kieran Egan and I’ve admired and followed his work for a long time now. Several times when reading this book I would read a chapter at night and try out strategies the next day with my students. Many of those strategies are firmly embedded into my teaching practice. Because of this book, I often weave storytelling into my lessons and kids always seem to respond well. I once saw Kieran Egan when I was completing my MEd. He was working in a garden outside of the education faculty at SFU. I was starstruck and too shy to go say hello. I kick myself for that to this day. He looked so peaceful though, working away, surrounded by plants and I respected him and his peace too much to intrude at the time.

Tool:

The watershed tool would have to be Twitter. It’s been interesting to experience the evolution of this tool since I created my account in 2009. I enjoy spending time learning with and from other enthusiastic educators who love teaching and working with kids and Twitter allows me to do that with people all over the world from a small, rural town in the interior of BC. I can dip in to talk or comment whenever I feel like it and rarely does a day go by that I don’t check my feed to see what’s happening in the world. Of all the technology I’ve tried and use, I think that Twitter has transformed  professional learning for me (one example of how in this post here) more than anything else. Even with the changes that seemed to have come with the explosion of people using it in recent years, Twitter continues to be the tool that impacts my practice the most.

Person:

My watershed person, and someone who definitely had a profound impact on my thinking, teaching, personal life, and everything, really, is Dr. Vicki Kelly. She is one of the most important teachers of my life. Vicki was one of my professors during my Masters year at SFU in 2010-2011. I don’t think there’s any way that I could explain how much I learned from/with her and through her teaching. She is an expert teacher and one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. She helped me in a way that I don’t think any other professor could have. especially when it came to my learning about traditional Métis and Cree beliefs surrounding education and child-rearing. And it’s no small coincidence that two of my watershed books above were recommended by her.

Those are my watershed moments. Thanks to Dean and Chris for the inspiration and thanks for reading!

 

Summer Holidays 2016 – Part Two: Family Trip to Winnipeg

In Summer Holidays 2016 – Part One: Edcamp Global, I wrote about the great experience I had learning online with and from enthusiastic educators from all over the world at the end of July. Shortly after that crazy 24 hours of online fun, I left for my first real holiday ever and it too, ended up being filled with powerful learning experiences that I wanted to write about.

One of my brothers moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba over ten years ago. Last fall, my dad and stepmom invited my younger son and I to join them on their trip to see my brother this summer. At one point, my whole family was planning on driving across country, but, in the end, my son and I decided to fly with Dad and Betty and have a mom/son holiday all our own.

This trip was a big deal for a few reasons. First, family (not including me) has only ever visited my brother in Winnipeg three times before. He usually drives out to BC each summer so to have family come visit and stay was pretty special. Second, up until the trip, I’d never been in an airplane before (insert standard reaction of shocked ‘NEVER???’ here). Still not sure about flying (is takeoff and landing always like that?! Yikes!). And third, I’ve never gone away on a real holiday before. Ever. Week long camping trips? Yes. Three nights away in Vancouver or other BC city? Yes. Ten days away from home doing tourist-y things in a city I’ve never been to before? Nope.

So, off we went! It was absolutely wonderful to travel with my dad and stepmom. Since retirement, my dad has become an experienced worldwide traveler. I didn’t have to worry or stress over anything. Basically I just showed up at my dad’s with my son and we basically went along for the ride. I was spoiled rotten at my brother’s, partly because I’ve been so sick and partly because I’ve never visited him before and he was so happy to have me come stay at his house.

I have to say that I liked Winnipeg way more than I expected to. My brother and his partner were excellent hosts and we went to all sorts of amazing places. Our first destination was the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG). How to get me to love a city? Take me to the art gallery first thing!! So cool! The collections were amazing! So many incredible works of art. I literally teared up when I spotted a Lawren Harris painting (Clouds, Lake Superior). I love Lawren Harris and had never seen his work in person before. I could have looked at that painting for the rest of my life…so beautiful. And the current exhibit? Karel Funk. You really have to check out his work if you’ve never heard of him before. Seriously, google him, or click on that link above. Absolutely breathtaking, detailed paintings. Final happy surprise of the day was that some art galleries have picture books about art in the gift shop! I bought a great book that I can’t wait to share with my students!

My brother and his partner are teachers like me so, not surprisingly, we visited two very cool bookstores during the trip. The first bookstore was Whodunit Mystery Bookstore, a new and used bookstore devoted solely to the mystery genre. I limited myself to one book written by a new-to-me author or I would’ve been there forever! So many books! My mom loved mystery novels so visiting Whodunit certainly brought an emotional connection for us all. The second bookstore we went to was McNally Robinson. Not only is McNally Robinson Canada’s largest independent bookstore, it has a restaurant inside that came with a live jazz band playing the night we were there! How cool is that?!  Needless to say, I was not able to limit myself to one book there and I left with a bag that included two great pictures books I’m super excited to share with my students.

Another full day was spent at Lower Fort Garry located about 30 minutes north of the city. What a neat place that is! Lower Fort Garry is a national historic site. The original site of the Hudson’s Bay fort was situated at what is now known as The Forks in Winnipeg where the Red River and Assiniboine Rivers meet. Because of damage from flooding and a terrible fire, the fort was relocated to Lower Fort Garry in the mid-1700s. My great-grandmother’s dad worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company, so aside from being a really interesting place to visit, the site brought up all sorts of personal connections and family questions. It was a great learning experience for all of us and I was really happy that my son enjoyed it so much (you just never know how teenagers are going to react to family outings, yes?).

Our last full day in Winnipeg was devoted to The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR). I still can’t (and don’t know if I’ll ever be able to) fully articulate how much that museum affected and changed me. If you have a chance to visit this amazing museum, do it. It’s incredible for so many reasons. It’s the first museum in the world dedicated to the past, present and future of human rights. It is the first national museum built in Canada in over forty years and it is, I believe, the only one located outside of Ottawa, our national capital. The exhibits are gut-wrenching, inspiring and change the way you view the world. The use of multimedia is brilliant and the architecture is truly a work of art all on it’s own. And guess what they had in the gift shop? Yup, you guessed it – picture books! And yes, one came home with me to inspire my students.

After the profoundly emotional learning that we experienced at the CMHR, we spent the rest of our afternoon at The Forks. If you’re from BC, The Forks is quite a bit like Granville Island in Vancouver. There were all sorts of neat shops and an absolutely fantastic variety of food. We purposefully spent time debriefing over a late lunch about the museum. We were particularly aware of the boys (my son and nephew) as we wanted to make sure we could help out if they needed help processing all that they saw at CMHR. Thankfully, the boys were fine and proof of that was the fun they had playing Pokemon Go together for the rest of the day.

Summer Holidays Part Two – Family Trip to Winnipeg was a wonderful holiday for so many reasons. I am super thankful to have spent the time with my family. That was definitely the highlight and what I hoped the trip would be about. But what I didn’t expect was for the holiday to be such a great learning experience. I learned about travel, and art, and history, and human rights in Canada, and human rights around the world. I learned about a wonderful Canadian city filled with some of the nicest, friendliest people I’ve ever come across (think small-town friendly/nice/helpful but in a city!). It was an amazing experience filled with memories that warm my heart and will last a lifetime with a good dose of thought-provoking, profound learning added in.

From Teaching to Life’s Teachings

For the last few weeks I’ve been on a medical leave from teaching. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me that’s life threatening but there are still a lot of unknowns with my medical challenges at this point. Even with a few weeks of resting, I’m still sick. I don’t think there’s anything happening that I can’t recover from. I’m hoping there’s not.

My job right now, then, is to heal and commit to self care. I need to be the priority. I’m not good at that. Even feeling as rotten as I do, it’s hard to convince myself that resting is actually useful. It’s difficult for me. I was complaining at the start of all this about how much I love my job and working with the kids and how guilty I felt about the medical leave and how much I love teaching. The person I was talking to said, well, now you need to focus on life’s teachings instead of teaching. Huh. Simple shift, really. So, for the first time in a long time I’m focusing on myself and paying attention to life’s teachings.

What life is teaching me right now is that I need to sleep (10-11 hrs a day of that deep, healing sleep right now…it’s crazy…). I need to exercise – walking and yoga are part of the plan to get better. Drawing and writing seem good (time to blog? me? weird…). I’ve been reading and taking photos. I’m spending time with my kids. One big daily goal is to try to find food I can eat. That is a huge challenge. I can’t get better if I can’t eat so this is a priority. I can eat next to nothing without an allergic reaction or a variety of other symptoms but I’m learning what sits well and what I need to stay away from.

I need to stay away from certain mindsets too. I need to not become housebound and slide into an unmotivated slump. It’s my biggest fear. I’m not a good stay at home person. I get bored and disinterested when I’m not faced with a ton of external pressures and responsibilities. I’ve said before that, as much as I love spending time with my sons, I’d be a terrible stay at home mom. I have to keep my mind active and make sure I live each day and not just exist, if that makes any sense.

I was quite hesitant about writing this post because I don’t know how long I’m off work at this point and this is my professional blog. But, I’m only human and humans get sick. I’m still a life-long learner regardless and I want to write here regularly while I am off. I love writing. I’ve missed blogging. A lot. I think reflection with the purpose of writing in this space will be valuable learning and a great way to focus on what life is teaching me, right now.

New in the ECC This Year: Multimedia Teacher Introductions

I spent my Saturday morning searching for distraction. My husband and son left for a day of travelling for team sports and, because I can’t go today, I needed to distract myself from feeling sad and disappointed that I’m not on the road with them.

I decided to check out something that I knew would distract me and cheer me up: the multimedia teacher introductions created but the ECC team that we are sharing with students next week.

Sitting here now, after watching those introductions, I am so impressed!! What a great way to start my Saturday morning! It’s obvious that each teacher put a huge amount of thoughtful, purposeful effort into creating amazing multimedia files. What an awesome introduction for the students, and what a powerful way to role-model citizenship in this digital age. The kids are going to love the intros! We will most likely embed the files into our online hub, which is a moodle site at the moment, but if you’d like watch my video, it’s here on our ECC vimeo page.

There’s so much I could write about the process of creating my teacher introduction. I’ve never done anything like it. First, I am thankful to have learned a great deal about Quicktime, Keynote, and iMovie. I’ve worked with all before, but I’ve never created a multimedia file with embedded video clips and voiceovers like this one. It was a new level of multimedia learning (and frustration – oh the frustrations!!) and I’m glad I pushed myself to do what I set out to create in the first place. Yesterday morning I was ready to give up and play it safe. But then I was at school, working through this on my prep, and at recess, and when I realized my students were interested in what I was going through and they kept asking questions, and kept trying to help me problem solve, I knew I had to push through and figure it out. And I did. Late, late last night, but I did. I’m going to thank my students for that extra motivation.

After watching all the introductions this morning, I’m also humbled by the wonderful group of teachers in the ECC team this year. Those introductions are awesome. They exemplify pure teacher passion to do well, to share and to create an important piece to start building the relationships within our unique learning community. And even though we are all at different levels in our comfort levels with technology, everyone pushed to try something new and make it work. I’m so impressed, and I’m so excited to work with this team of dedicated educators who aren’t afraid to take learning risks themselves. And the content? These people are super interesting! I can’t wait to talk to them about what they put in the videos!! And if I can’t wait, I’m guessing the students will be excited to meet them too. Even deconstructing the many layers of excitement the teacher introductions will create (are already creating) in the ECC is the type of complex engagement that seems to me to be unique to this project. I’d never seen anything quite like it until I was a part of the ECC.

While we’ve always done teacher introductions in the ECC to start our year, the multimedia teacher introductions are a new idea that was proposed by Jen when we met in the summer. We had originally planned to do a live video connection between all five classes and have a gallery walk around the room with the teacher introduction files loaded up at five computer stations around each room. I had envisioned looking at the video conferencing screen to see five classes of kids eagerly rushing from station to station, laughing and talking and waving at the video cameras as they moved around and actively learned about the five teachers from the introduction files. Jen also had the idea to create a Jeopardy type game for kids to participate in after watching the introductions to see how much they could remember about each teacher. We had planned a fun, active, hands-on, multimedia, connected lesson to start the year.

In reality, things are working out a little differently, which is often (usually?!) the way at the start of the school year, especially with all the technology we depend upon to connect and learn in the ECC. There’s always that need to be flexible as a teacher, yes? At this point, only four sites can connect at once with the good quality of video conferencing we are used to and we are hoping that the tech department can work their magic and find a way to make that work with all five sites at the same time. The SD #74 tech department is a vital part of our extended ECC family; I can’t even begin to express my appreciation for all they do to keep us up and running the majority of the time.

So, in the last few weeks, after numerous emails, we decided to complete the teacher intro files as planned and share them as best fits our classes next week. I hope we can still do the Jeopardy lesson idea as I think that would be a great way for kids to communicate their learning. We’ve also decided to give the students the challenge of creating a classroom introduction next week and I’m super excited to see what happens with that too.

It’s neat to see the ECC unfolding in a whole new way this year! Thanks for reading!

This post was also shared on the ECC collaborative blog here.

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

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.

CayoLargo-ocean

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

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.

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.