A reading goal accomplished. It took four years.

Well, I’m nothing if not consistent. It’s been almost a year since I last posted here. I do think it’s worth mentioning that I write a weekly blog post to communicate all the neat learning we do in the classroom each week with the families of my students. Also, since my last post, life has been about COVID (ugh), deciding to build a house, younger son graduating and starting university, older son veering off into a new career path and more…suffice it to say that life continues to keep me busy. But, as usual, I digress and start my blog post off with inner ramblings to explain why it’s been so long since I’ve posted rather than get to the actual reason why I’m posting.

The truth is, I decided to use outer accountability to force myself to write here. Like many school districts, Comox Valley Schools asks teachers to create a professional learning plan at the start of each school year. This past September, I decided to focus my professional learning on two things: finish reading my last Richard Wagamese book (I’ll explain what that means), read one book about anti-black racism and write a blog post in connection to one or both of those books.

Last spring, I walked into my locally owned bookstore and asked for recommendations on the topic of racism. George Floyd’s death, Black Lives Matter protests and other events led me to want to learn more about racism, and, in particular, anti-black racism. My request at the local book store was met with several suggestions (there was actually a prominent display of books on this very topic) and I chose White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. As soon as I started reading, I was immediately reminded how challenging it is for me to engage with non-fiction text (I think all the reading I did during MEd year actually damaged something in my brain…so many research articles…).

By mid-summer, I had learned some valuable perspective from reading White Fragility, including some helpful definitions to help shape my understanding. After finishing the book, I wanted to learn and do more. I started looking for black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) to follow on social media. I was already following and learning from many Indigenous people online, partly because of my Métis and Cree family, partly because of my Masters research on Indigenous epistemologies, and partly because of where I grew up (my mom moved us to Lillooet, a small town located on St’at’imc Territory, when I was nine). I wanted to read more and was happy to see that How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi was back in stock at my local bookstore (shout out to Laughing Oyster Books in Courtenay – love this place!) so I purchased that and decided it would be next on my list of anti-racism reading.

Shortly after purchasing How to Be an Antiracist, school started and by October, the amount of time I was able to spend reading reduced dramatically. I also didn’t seem to have the mental reserves to adequately focus on non-fiction when the reality of teaching in COVID times set in. In November, I had to take a hard look at my personal and professional life and made some major changes in the name of self-care and overall wellness. I took a break from professional learning to thoroughly enjoy Christmas (even if it was a COVID Christmas) and winter break with my family. Last month, when the holidays were over and normal, everyday life settled back in, I decided to switch to one of my other professional goals and read the last book on my Richard Wagamese to-read list. A previous blog post from November 2018 here explains the reason behind the Wagamese books. Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations was the last book published while Richard Wagamese was still alive. Two books (one unfinished) have been published since his death but, as they weren’t published when I first took on the task of reading all of Wagamese works in the order they were published, to me, Embers was the last book on my list.

I’m happy to say that I finished reading Embers on the weekend! It took me almost four years, but I’m really happy to say that I’ve now read all works written by Richard Wagamese that were published while he was still alive. I’m not ready to read the books published after his passing. I decided this after I finished reading Embers. After finishing that last book, I’m once again saddened by his passing. Such a brilliant man and an incredible storyteller. His work has created a profound change in how I think and who I am. His stories stay with me. I carry them. I highly recommend his works to anyone (there’s everything there – he has published collections of essays, poetry and his amazing fictional pieces). I think one of my next steps now is  to call Vicki and talk to her soon. Time to check in, report on my accomplishment and see what the recommended next steps are.

So, tonight, bored with the Groundhog-Day-type of repetitive routine that is daily life these days, I decided to update my blog links (an annual task) and fulfill the last of my professional development plans by writing my blog post. It didn’t exactly turn out the way I’d thought it would but I’m glad to have continued my professional development story and get some words out of my head and onto a page (even if it is a webpage, not quite as satisfying as writing on actual paper but close).

Thanks for reading and take good care.

Hello again…

I’m quite sure this is one of the longest chunks of time I’ve gone between blog posts in over 11 years since starting this blog.

It’s been over a year since I last logged in and recorded thoughts for the world to see. Not that many actually do pay much attention to this little old blog space any more. Inspired by my children (now both very grown-up, young men, really) and my students (currently grade 5-7 students and, for the most part, very tech-savvy), I’ve often thought about shifting my online professional space into something newer. Perhaps a YouTube channel? Or a podcast? Both are surprisingly appealing to me. The thing is, shifting into a whole new online professional space would take time and, as I’ve written about before, I’ve made changes about how I spend my time online. Committing to learning and establishing a whole new space just doesn’t have a place in my home life right now. To be honest, I rarely have time to maintain this space. Growing a new branch on my digital identity tree during my time at home doesn’t seem to make sense at the moment.

That said, there are, actually, a bunch of new branches on my digital identity tree but they’ve grown while I’ve been at work. The amount of learning I continue to experience since moving and starting a new job in a blended learning program is considerable. I learn every day from either my amazing students, their equally-amazing families, my fantastic colleagues or my inspiring admin. My dad, once again, was right in saying that making a change at the ~20 year mark of a teaching career would be a good thing. It’s quite bizarre to think about. It’s like I’ve been a brand new teacher for the past few years (because I have) but with ~20 years of prior experience. Weird.

The reason for my online rambling tonight is actually connected to how crazy the world is at the moment. A global pandemic. And, important to note, the first global pandemic with the internet and social media which are, of course, hugely influential to how people are behaving towards the crisis in both positive and negative ways.

Because of the chaos, and because I’m a mom self-isolating at home with my family (a.k.a. positive role model), I’ve been working hard not to devote too much energy to things beyond my control in the time that COVID-19 has taken over the world. I certainly have enough to occupy me day to day. But as the calendar moved past the spring break halfway point last night, my thinking moved into wondering about work next week. Surprisingly, this is no different from any other spring break; I always take the first half of the break to relax and enjoy some downtime, whereas the second half of spring break has always included a bit of school work, whether it be planning, reading or marking.

As my head started to think about next week, I at first felt very ungrounded and anxious. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around any thoughts without descending into a not-so-positive ‘what if’ spiral. But then I had a few good conversations with family members and that changed my perspective. With their support, my brain was able to change gears and now I’ve shifted to keeping my mind open. I can imagine all sorts of ways to teach and learn in the current global situation and as much as I’d like to start putting some of that imagining into action, I also know that there are many, many people with different roles working tirelessly through the decision making process to decide what next week will actually look like based on all sorts of information that a) changes every day, and that b) I don’t have. And I’m not privy to any of that, which is okay. I don’t need to know any of that because that’s not part of my job.

My job next week will be to take whatever direction is given and then do what every teacher sets out to do each day we go to work: help kids. That’s the essence of being a teacher. Help kids to learn _________ (insert curriculum-specific language here), help kids to navigate friendship or peer conflict, help kids to think, help kids to question, help kids wash a paintbrush properly, help kids to find the right book to read, help kids to open a stuck thermos at lunch…the list goes on and on. In almost any situation, however dire, teachers are there to help kids. And in this situation, I’m pretty sure the kids are going to need all the help they can get.

I hope I can help them in the way they need to be helped in such a strange set of circumstances. I’m glad that my digital identity tree has lots of branches for me to climb on and access in the coming weeks. I think I’m going to need them. We all are.

Thanks for reading. I hope you are safe, healthy and well. Take good care.

Puzzle pieces, being stuck and reading through the works of Richard Wagamese

If you’ve followed along on my very sporadic blogging adventures of late, you’ll know that the last two years have been filled with big changes in my life including a huge family move and a wonderful new job. In the midst of the move, I reached out to one of my professors, Vicki, because I had a small gift for her and wanted to ensure the gift was delivered before it was lost in the chaos of moving. It just so happened that we ended up having a long conversation over dinner as a result, and a new phase of learning for me began.

To add a bit of context, when I did my graduate coursework, one strand of research was Métis and Cree epistemologies. This continues to be a topic of deep interest and meaningful connection for me. I have come to wonder if my hunger to know about traditional indigenous ways is proportional to the knowledge lost or hidden away by my great-grandmother’s time at residential school. The phrase ‘blood will out’ comes to mind. While I still have a passion to learn about my other two thesis topics (art and how to use arts-based methods with my students and my reluctant fascination with technology and digital citizenship), my continued exploration into indigenous learning sits at a different level. It’s more personal. More meaningful. More conflicted. Certainly much more complicated.

I left dinner with a long list of things to do (mostly people to meet and books to read). I think of that list as a solid chunk of informal post-graduate coursework and trust that Vicki is leading me in a direction I need to go. One thing she recommended was that I read all books written by Richard Wagamese, in order, beginning with his first book, Keeper’n’ Me.

Ever the eager student, I quickly began reading through the books. Not surprisingly to me, knowing Vicki (one of the most quietly and humbly brilliant people you could ever meet), I loved Keeper’n’ Me and wondered how it was that I’d never read any of his books before. I’d read parts of Indian Horse with my older son when he was in Grade Ten English, and I had been lucky enough to see Richard Wagamese at a conference as he was the keynote, years ago. I knew of him, but reading Keeper’n’ Me felt like coming home. It had a sense of discovery and comfort at the same time and I absolutely loved the story. I quickly moved on to the next book I could find, A Quality of Light (very different from Keeper’n’ Me), and then For Joshua.

I’ve been careful to read the books slowly and thoughtfully. While they’ve all stayed with me, a few (Keeper’n’ Me, Dream Wheels and Ragged Company, so far) worked into my heart and soul. I feel that I carry those closely. They’ve become a part of me, clicking like puzzle pieces to the edges of the indigenous blood that finds itself mixed into the outer edges of the Irish, Scottish, Métis and Cree puzzle that is my identity.

I think one reason those particular books stay close is that they are stories. Richard Wagamese wrote stories, short stories and essays but it’s the stories that I prefer and that stay. Perhaps that’s because storytelling is a traditional way to pass along knowledge so that method resonates the most. It’s an ancient tradition and remains powerful largely because, I think, our brains evolved to learn in this way. Storytelling certainly resonates with my students, but that’s another topic for another day, and now that I think about it, the times that I remember Nanny, my great-grandmother, actually talking about her past, she told stories. She rarely spoke about her childhood or early adult life but when she did, it was framed as a story.

Today I had the luxury of a professional development ‘flex’ day and chose to spend it with One Story, One Song, the Wagamese book I’m currently reading. I’ve been ‘currently reading’ it for months now. I was stuck in the middle of it, an unfamiliar feeling for me as I prefer to avoid not finishing books. Unfinished books are unfinished business and things like that nag at my conscience. So, because of the flex day and the need to complete some self-directed pro-d today, I forced myself to re-engage with the book.

I realized awhile ago that the reason I was stuck was because of one of the essays in the book called The Path to Healing. In this essay, Wagamese speaks to being a victim of Canada’s residential school system. I’ve been stuck by this topic before during my MEd year with Vicki at SFU. Sometimes the distance of generations and time isn’t enough to cushion the hurt felt when thinking about residential schools.  As soon as I start reading or thinking about residential schools, my mind turns to my great-grandmother. I imagine how it must have been for Nanny, then nine, to leave her family and her home and never return. I imagine her mother, her father, her Cree grandmother, my family, grieving her absence. I think about the fact that if Nanny hadn’t kept her Cree blood a secret, that my grandmother and her sister, and then, if they’d still been born, my mother and her sister, would have been forced to attend residential school as well. It sounds strange, but it hurts, physically and emotionally when my mind goes to that place. So I avoid it, out of self-preservation, and, maybe, out of a need for extra time to process.

After dreading returning to the book, I was happy to find that I really enjoyed reading his words and experiencing his powerful but smooth writer’s voice once again. I love his writing for many reasons and will finish the book tonight. It will be good to move onto his next book and move past the point where I was stuck. I realize now, after reading today, and thinking, and writing this, that it’s because there is a piece of me, or a few of those puzzle pieces I mentioned earlier, that also connect, indirectly of course, through Nanny, to being a victim of Canada’s residential school system.

If you’ve read through, thank you. And if you find yourself stuck in life, maybe it’s because there’s a lesson to be learned and some insight to gain that can help with self-discovery, a tiny ‘aha’ moment, or a powerful bit of learning.


Change is Good and Your Parents are Always Right

For the last month or so I’ve found myself spending a lot of time reflecting on the first half of the school year. My reflections have led me well beyond the start of the 2017/2018 school year so I might as well start way back with a conversation I had with my mom as a new teacher.

My mom was a primary teacher for over twenty years. When I was new to the profession, she told me a story of how, when she was hired, she became ‘the’ grade two teacher at a small school in the interior of BC. She told me that, although she loved teaching, after working in the exact same grade for over seven years, she was more than ready for a change. She still loved teaching and she was magical when working with children but teaching the same grade in the same classroom in the same school for seven years became repetitive and boring. From that experience, she believed teachers should move grades or teaching assignments or schools or something at least every five years to stay fresh and avoid boredom.

I’ve often thought about that conversation. The best example I can recall about seeking change in my teaching career came when I was halfway through my sixth year teaching high school art and photography (amongst a couple of other courses). I loved it. It was a really great job. But after 6+ years of teaching in the same room and having the same teaching assignment, I felt like I was in a rut. Work was too repetitive, even with different kids and different admin and all sorts of other changes. My mom, I remembered thinking, was right. A change was needed every so often, even in a good teaching situation, to stay engaged.

Fast forward almost ten years. Last year I was loving my job but, due to my husband’s work, we made a huge move to a different part of the province. I was lucky, as mentioned in my previous post, to secure a teaching position at Navigate NIDES, a really interesting school with all sorts of distributed learning and blended learning programs and some very innovative educators.

Talk about a change.

When I was in the process of accepting the new teaching job, I had a long talk with my dad, who was also an educator (mostly in high school as admin) for over 30 years. He told me that a big change at this point in my career would be really good for me. He was very encouraging and excited about the opportunity at Navigate for several reasons, and specifically talked about several positive aspects of a big career change at this point in my life.

I can’t help reflecting on the fact that both my parents, over 20 years apart, offered very similar advice on the positive aspects of change. And I’ve been thinking about how the big change has impacted me for the last six months or so.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m in a constant state of processing. I empathize with the little primary kids I spend my time with each week. They are constantly processing and learning how to draw, sing, count, be kind, read, write, etc. Just when they think they’ve figured something out, something new comes along. There are so many steps and levels and parts to their learning. I work hard to protect the level of input they are experiencing so as not to overwhelm them. I’ve made so many comparisons to my learning in this new position and my young students’ steep learning curve. It’s been an unexpected comparison that fits surprisingly well.

The shifting and stretching of my pedagogy is noticeable. I’m in a new place with new colleagues; it’s like I’m a brand new teacher all over again. I’m doing my best to pay attention to what my defaults are and when I should rethink them. This uses much more mental energy than I expected but it’s a good exercise and neat to see what’s staying, what’s shifting and what’s being thrown out the window.

In order to have the best year possible, I’ve made self-care my number one priority. While change is good and exciting and fun (one favourite weekly lesson involves learning letter sounds through using alphabet puppets – oh my gosh, so much fun!!), change is also often exhausting, uncertain and sometimes downright scary. Eating well, ensuring I sleep enough each night and establishing a new exercise routine has been really helpful in staying healthy and maintaining energy levels.

I’m living a growth mindset. All those quotes that are tweeted out and shared on Facebook have a whole new meaning since last fall. I love it. Even though I never stop processing and find myself rethinking things to the point that I’m sure I must, to others, seem indecisive, I like the push beyond what was known and comfortable. It’s new and interesting. It’s a breath of fresh air. It’s like I’m living again for the first time in a long time.

I can’t help thinking of a conversation with a colleague about a year ago. At the time I told her that, for the first time in my teaching career, I actually kind of, sort of, most of the time felt like I almost new what I was doing. Teaching, I said, was finally easy. As soon as the words popped out of my mouth, I remember thinking I’d jinxed myself somehow. And I had I guess, in a good way, well before the big family move was even a possibility.

So, now that all those ideas are out, I guess the big ideas at this point are that change is good and parents are always right. Not surprising, but definitely a fitting end for a post written on the Family Day Long Weekend.

Sent from my iPhone

New Life on the Island, New Role in my Career

I recently began a whole new adventure in life and in teaching. After living in the interior of BC for over twenty years, my family made a huge move this summer. We now live on Vancouver Island and I love it here. I lived by the ocean for many years when I was young, so in many ways, I feel as if I’ve finally come home.

I am very excited to be working in a new job with School District #71 at Navigate NIDES. I’ve known about this school for a very long time as many of the people working there were early adopters of educational technology many, many years ago. I’m super excited to be working with younger children once again (I have a lovely, energetic and insightful class of kids in Kindergarten, Grade One and Grade Two!) and I’m enjoying the professional challenge of updating my practice in this new learning community with new students and the new BC curriculum.

While I expected to love working with the kids every day in this new job, I didn’t expect to love working within the blended learning model so much. One pleasant surprise (although, in retrospect, I don’t know why it’s taken me by surprise…) is how much I enjoy working within a blended learning model. I love working with the students face-to-face in my classroom for part of the week and I love being a teacher facilitating online learning, online portfolios and other technological aspects of teaching/learning for the other part of the week. Even though I’ve never done this exact type of teaching before, I’m really enjoying it for a number of reasons. A good topic for an actual blog post at some point, I think!

Finally, one piece of the new job that feels very familiar (and that I also love) is that I am once again a member of a collaborative team of educators. I can’t say enough about these amazing people. They have been so supportive, answering all my 100s (if not 1000s) of questions, accepting me, helping me and being there when I needed them. I’m humbled by their passion, their knowledge and their motivation to do really cool stuff to inspire kids.

Now that the big family move is finally almost done and life is feeling more settled, I’d like to blog, tweet and post more online as I have in past years. There’s lots to talk about and I know the reflective aspects will help me with this new role and new chapter in life.

Evolution of Interest

I drove to Vancouver and back this weekend. As I was by myself, I had lots of time to think, which, these days, is a luxury. Being a mom to two teenage sons and a teacher who is at the end of the school year means that I have a very full schedule at the moment. Even though I’m committed to self-care, quiet time to reflect and let my mind wander is rare. I enjoyed the drive because of the beautiful sunshine, gorgeous scenery and the realizations that came with the time to think. One of those realizations was the evolution of my research interests. Here is a list of my musings in no particular order as these topics constantly jostle and re-rank themselves day to day.

Research Interest #1: Visual Literacy and Arts-Based Methods

I had a lovely day Saturday with the BC Art Teachers’ Association (BCATA) Executive. It was the last meeting of the school year and many of us went out for lunch afterwards. I’ve been a district rep for the BCATA for over ten years but only joined the executive as the intermediate rep last year. What an amazing group of people. So inspiring. I feel as if I’ve found my tribe. I want to help them advocate for the arts and love sitting at that table.

I realized, when driving home Saturday, that being a part of the BCATA Executive feeds my interest in the Visual Arts, and, in particular, my passion for visual literacy and arts-based methods. This strand of my MEd research is still super important to me and I wasn’t aware, until Saturday, that I was carrying on with learning about this strand of research in this way. I think it’s pretty neat that I found my way to such a cool group of people that can gently push me along in my continued learning about Arts Education.

Research Interest #2: (Digital) Citizenship

When I was starting to jot down the notes for this blog post, the continuation of my learning with this topic was the one that is the most obvious. Unlike the other two interests that somehow snuck up on me in a formal-research-kind-of-way, I know that I’m always immersed in learning more about digital technologies. I don’t see how a person can teach kids today and not be. It’s such a huge part of the world and a huge part of kids’ day to day lives. Being a part of the Elementary Connected Classrooms project allows me the opportunity to integrate technology into my teaching practice and student learning on a daily basis. I love that I can always learn more about technology and constantly feed my curiosity to check out the latest platform, explore a new tech tool or read the latest updates on anything and everything tech. This strand of research always seems present in my life.

Research Interest #3: Métis and Cree Epistemologies

This one’s a big one right now. Well, it’s always a big one, as it  flows through my veins and shapes every thought, interaction and behavior each day, but it subtly took over last year and is quietly and persistently refusing to be ignored.

You see, when I was off on a medical leave last year, I quickly became very, very bored. Netflix was great for awhile, but I lost interest sooner than I’d expected. And, disappointingly, I could only read so many books. What I needed was intellectual stimulation. So. I started to write.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. I attended a Young Author’s contest when I was 12 and have always wanted to be a writer.  So, because I was bored and had the time, I started to write. I also began to dive in to the whole world of being a writer. I joined writer’s groups online, bought a few highly recommended books on writing and even attempted NaNoWriMo (I failed. Miserably. A story for another day…).

I have a good, and I think, unique question that is driving my story. One Saturday night in March, sitting on the floor of my study, surrounded by all of the articles I’d read when working on this strand of research for my MEd in 2011, I realized I had slipped right back into researching again. Somewhere along the line, I started diving deeper and deeper into the Métis and Cree storyline (now and in the past 300 years or so) as that plotline crept it’s way into farther into my book. Through writing I had slipped back into my MEd research, which immediately made me think…hmm…I wonder if I can write a novel as part of a PhD? (A question I’ve since had answered. Again, a story for another day…). And so, through writing as inquiry, in a way, I continue to learn more and further my research on Métis and Cree epistemologies. And I’m over 14 000 words for my book too!

It was a powerful realization that I feel the need to continue to follow these research interests in some way. I’m compelled to do so. I can’t be me without learning more about my Métis and Cree heritage. I’m not truly happy if Visual Arts isn’t some sort of priority in my life. I don’t feel right if I’m not immersed in learning the latest about educational technology and the effect this has on children and youth growing up today. I’d had no idea what a transformative experience the Masters coursework would have on me. Thanks again to Vicki, Lynn and Leyton – the MEd experience doesn’t seem to have an end point. I like that it’s become so fully and completely integrated into my personal and professional learning in general.

The Shift that Spring Weather Brings

Somehow, it’s May. I can’t believe it. I think the very long and very cold winter has something to do with the fact that the months have slipped by quickly. Today is the third sunny, warm day this year. The third. That’s unusual in recent years. There’s still snow on Fountain Ridge which means it’s not time to plant your garden yet (according to the elders, who know what they’re talking about) so instead of working in my garden like I usually do the first weekend in May, I decided to write instead.

With the nice, sunny weather came a shift in the classroom. PE outside. DPA outside. Anything we can sneak outside, we do. I finally heard the familiar “Ms Gregory can we go read/draw/play outside?” from students several times on Friday. Also, a retired teacher of mine was in Friday as a TTOC and, during my prep, took the students for a nature walk around the school grounds. We are lucky to have a ravine with a creek flowing behind our school property. It’s a great place to take the students for all sorts of outdoor learning. I was prepared for the “He took us on a walk” comments when they returned. I was not prepared for the “We ate dandelions and he showed us how to eat certain cacti” comments! Lucky kids…I’d love to have tried the cactus. Apparently it tasted like cucumber!

With the shift we also have the year end craziness setting in. One or two major events happening every week from now until the end of June. This week there is a fish dissection demonstration (the students can’t wait!), the St’at’imc Gathering and our school carnival. Next week there are student led learning conversations one evening after school. The week after there is a really cool learning event happening at the local spawning channels called Walking with the Smolts.

And then it will be June. Poof, May will be gone.

I love the end of the year. So many fun activities. The weather is nice. I know my students well and have more fun teaching them because I do know them better and feel that I can help them to learn more efficiently and effectively.

I hate the end of the year because there is always so much that I want to finish up and do with my students and there is never enough time to fit it all in! I’ve figured out, after 21 years of teaching, and having taught many students for more than one year in a row, that teaching a student for one and a half years is the perfect amount of time for me to do all that I want to do. Anyone up for changing the school calendar?!

Anyway, the sunshine and spring breeze (not mention the hammock chair on my deck) are calling to me. Thanks for reading and hoping you have a lovely spring day!



Back to Teaching

I love that when I feel like sharing, I have this space to come to. No matter how long it’s been since I’ve decided to post, or how long it’s been since I’ve felt like I had anything useful to share, I can sign in, type away and publish for the world to see. Pretty cool, actually.


I’m back to teaching. Finally. Long story short, I became very, very ill last year in February and it took me months to get “better”. I put quotations around that word because my health improved steadily from about May onwards and, depending on who you talked to, I was better in June, or better in July, or better in August, or better in November. According to me, I’m still getting “better” because I’m continuing to improve my fitness level and haven’t yet reached the overall health goals I’m aspiring to. This is partly because it’s been too darned cold for the last 2 1/2 months to run outside (my go-to for getting in really good shape) and partly because the illness in the spring knocked my fitness levels way lower than they’ve been in awhile so it’ll take some time to get back to where I want to be.

Anyway, I should return to the ‘back to teaching’ story. I worked from September-December as a TTOC (teacher teaching on call, more commonly known as a substitute teacher) in the three schools in my little town and only started back in my classroom at the beginning of January. Now let me just say that, 20+ years into my career, to be a TTOC going in to all the classrooms K-12 in my town for four months was a very interesting experience. I stole…oops…borrowed many good ideas from my colleagues. I met almost every kid from the age of 4 to 18 in my community (many of whom have one or two parents that are my former students!). I learned so much about teaching and learning and the community and schools and leadership styles and kids that I don’t think a hundred blog posts could do the experience justice. Would I rather have been in my own classroom for those four months? Yes, absolutely. Did I make the best of the situation anyway? Yes, very much so. It was a good overview of the profession, of the system and of students. It brought perspective and depth and understanding. I didn’t realize how muddled and foggy my viewpoint had become.

One reason it was a good four months of learning and growing is that I found a way to fit my professional learning and work into my new philosophy on life. One of the contributing factors to my illness and to the fact that I was out of a regular classroom position for 9 months was that I needed to give my head a shake and make some major changes in my life. I’m hoping to share that journey in some way soon but for now I’d just like to say that I’m glad I got sick. I’m glad I went through one of the worst times of my life last year. It was a good thing for me. A very good thing. I think, in retrospect, that I was so far off the path of where I am supposed to be heading in life that I was lost, running in circles, way off in the distance far from where I should have been. Or maybe it was more like I was crashing over a waterfall. Oh! Falling over a cliff. Or maybe all three. Regardless, I was completely lost and my priorities were all messed up. I had to claw my way back to health one day at a time and rebuild my outlook on how to live the life I want to live. I had to find my way back to the path I was supposed to be on one step at a time. And patience with myself is not a strength so there were some good personal life lessons along the way. Looking back I realize that the experience was empowering and where I’m at now feels right so I believe the chaos and crash were necessary to set me straight.

But I digress. Again. No surprise, really, if you know me…

As I was saying, I’m back to teaching and I’m fortunate to be working with a lovely class of grade seven students. I was, admittedly, a tiny bit worried that after all the time off and all the time out of a regular classroom position that I’d forgotten how to teach. Or that I’d forget what to do. Or that I’d not be well enough to do it. But with my new outlook and new approach to life (which of course includes a new approach to how I fit teaching and work into my life) the last four weeks have flown by and they have been excellent! I love the job more than ever. And that’s saying something because those of you who know me, know how much I’ve always loved teaching kids every day. But it’s even better now.

It’s kind of crazy to me how much I’ve changed and how much my approach to everything has shifted. I think there were some who doubted my resilience and my ability to get back on track. But those people don’t know me very well. People who really know me aren’t surprised. Concerned and keeping an eye on me to make sure I’m still getting “better”, yes. Surprised at how well I’m doing and how far I’ve come? No. Those amazing people make up an important part of the reason why I am doing so well. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. But that’s another part of the story for another day. I’m not surprised I found my way back to the right path but there are still moments of disbelief, if that makes sense.


To the end of the earth

I’m feeling thankful, grateful and mentally energized in a way I’ve never felt before. And hopeful. Very hopeful. I guess that’s a good place to leave this story for today. Hoping each of you finds a reason to be thankful and grateful in the days ahead. Thanks for reading!

Photos above used with permission, accessed January 27, 2017 from, www.publicdomainpictures.net/pictures/70000/nahled/forest-path-on-a-misty-morning.jpg, https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3126/2551405230_c97a6000e6_b.jpg and https://www.flickr.com/photos/31457759@N00/32336204/

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.