MEd Layers in a Dream

I had a dream last night…vivid, involved, realistic. The first thing I remembered from the dream was that I was very self-aware and I was thinking. The time was a few days in the future, the upcoming weekend to be exact, and I was down at the coast for my Masters coursework. I was not at SFU (where I actually do go for my studies), but in a house. I had my binder of articles, my notes, my bag, even my lunch. Everyone in the cohort, including the professor, Dr. Kelly, was there. It was a usual weekend of study…except for the house.


The house that we were in was old and cozy. The rooms were large and opened one onto another. There was a large living room full of seating. I had a spot on one of the couches because, as in real life, I’d been one of the first to arrive for class that day. Even the couch I was sitting on was in the exact same place I usually sit in the room at SFU – I like to situate myself along the back wall facing the prof at the bottom of the ‘U’ shaped table arrangement.

The dream progressed through a normal day of Masters study. I sat on the couch, with my binder in my lap, discussing articles with the group and the people sitting near me. We broke for lunch and I wandered outside with others to sit and eat on the large patio at the rear of the house. The afternoon involved a creative, arts-based activity in the kitchen involving melting wax (haven’t figured  that one out yet) and I distinctly recall admiring beautiful owl sculptures that decorated a few of the rooms in the house.1336922714_4606f83fc6

I’ve been peeling away the layers of this dream all day and, as I’m obsessed with it for the day, it’s my musing for the week.

The first layer of interest was that I dreamed about the Masters in the first place. With the life-consuming report card deadline fast approaching, I’ve had little time to devote to MEd studies in the last week. Out of necessity, I’ve had to spend that extra time on assessment and evaluation tasks. I wondered at first if dreaming about the MEd was an indication that my mind needed to spend more time on my studies.

The second layer, too much for my half-awake brain to immediately sort out, was the house. Why the house? Why was it so vivid and so central in my dream? Once I started to wake up, I realized that the house in my dreams was symbolic of Prospect School (now called Prospect Center) from an assigned reading I finished a few days ago.

The reading is from a book entitled “From Another Angle: Children’s Strengths and School Standards: The Prospect Center’s Descriptive Review of the Child” which tells about an amazing school in Bennington, Vermont. The original Prospect School opened in 1965.  The teachers at Prospect created their own philosophy of education which included an emphasis on process and inquiry. Also, these educators were, in my mind, dedicated teacher researchers. They designed comprehensive descriptive processes through which to study not only the students and their learning, but also the educational practices taking place within the school.

When I finished the reading I was inspired and impressed by the educational environment that was Prospect School (the school closed in the early 1990s). I hadn’t had a chance to do any writing, or even thinking, on the reading. I think that my mind wasn’t ready to let go of the ideas in the reading, and a detailed, wonderful dream in which I was actually experiencing a meshed SFU/Prospect School was the result.

As I seem to rethink and question everything these days, I started thinking about the dream itself. Why was I even spending the time to make the connections above? It was, after all, only a dream…or was it…

That’s when I came to the last layer. The last layer resonates at a much deeper level and deserves explanation.

In order to better situate myself as a teacher researcher and more fully understand the paradigmatic assumptions through which I view and act within the world, I started to research those who currently influence, and have influenced, my thinking. One of the greatest influences in shaping who I am today was my great-grandmother, or, as we called her, Nanny.

62125068_3340ca4409Nanny’s mother was Metis and her maternal grandmother was Cree. She exemplified the combination of old wives’ tales from her Scottish fur trader father and the common sense based on living in connection with the natural world which, I’m guessing, she received from her Metis and Cree maternal roots. I speculate not only because Nanny passed away peacefully years ago (at the fine age of exactly 99 1/2 years old), but also because my family knows precious little of Nanny’s Metis origins. She was sent away, along with the other three eldest siblings in the family, to ‘boarding school’ (a.k.a. residential school) and never spoke of her aboriginal ties. What we do know about our large Metis family in northern and central Manitoba we have learned since Nanny’s passing. In order to learn more about myself as a teacher researcher, I felt the need to learn about First Nations epistemologies and worldviews, especially those of the Metis and the Cree.

One of the more compelling articles I have read so far is a personal narrative by Patricia Steinhauer entitled “Situating myself in research“.  The author wrote the article during her Masters coursework and discusses her ‘rubs’ connected to low achievement among students in the reserve system. She returned to graduate coursework with hopes of finding some solutions to these issues and, in particular, mentions a course in Indigenous research methods.

As an aside, I’ve been trying to find the answer to a seemingly simple question – what was ‘research’ called before the birth of the word ‘research’ in the 16th century? – since reading Denzin and Lincoln‘s introduction to The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, so the Steinhauer reading definitely caught my interest.

Steinhauer tells about the tasks assigned as part of the Indigenous research methods course:

Here we had several tasks. The first required each of us to select a living object somewhere on campus and to spend an hour with it. The second task was to spend half an hour each evening watching the moon. The final task was to make notes of our dreams.

Herein lies the final layer of my musing. My mother used to, and taught me to as well, record my dreams upon waking. Dreams were important to Nanny, too, and it was commonly believed that she would dream things before they happened. She rarely spoke of such things, but there are enough family stories to make a believer of almost anyone. Although I have no actual evidence, I think that the importance of dreams as a way of making sense of the world was a part of Nanny’s Metis and Cree heritage. ‘Boarding school’ couldn’t erase her worldview, it could only erase her acknowledgment of it.

As a result of my hidden Metis and Cree influences, I believe that dream analysis is a deeply ingrained part of my overall worldview. It’s part of how I make sense of the world, and, in this case, helps me to fully process readings for my Masters degree. I feel comfortable, and somewhat validated, with this new knowledge and thankful that the Masters coursework has helped me to understand this layer hidden for so long inside the core of who I am.

Imagery from Flickr: the swansea door by Grant MacDonald, the Great Horned Owl by Henry McLin, and Apaches in Italy?!? II by maxgiani.

Student Ownership at the Art Show Set-up

If you want to create a powerful learning experience, put on an art show. More importantly, let the students put on an art show.

I am the sole art/photography teacher in a small, rural high school. Almost 2/3 of students in the school take an art or photography course every year. Timetabling challenges mean that all my classes are multi-age and multi-course. It’s a little crazy, but it works. Student learning is hands-on and project based and, to borrow the term from a book I’m reading, student-centric by choice and necessity.

The serious art students take Studio Arts courses with a specific focus, for example, drawing and painting. To these devoted art students, I assign the organization, planning, installation, and promotion of the annual spring art show. This event is held in a central community location and is a celebration of all that occurs in the art room throughout the entire school year.

Today, a crew of 9 of us set up for this year’s show. I don’t know if it’s the blogging, or the mental space I’m in, or all the reading I’ve been doing lately, but this year I was much more aware of the students’ learning related to the art show set up. It’s obviously a rich learning experience, but today I was trying to figure out how and exactly what it was they were learning.

These students have been selecting their peers’ work for the show for the last eight months. They spent the last few weeks tagging, framing, and wrapping art work. They spent the day asking questions of each other and discussing possible solutions to the countless problems they had to deal with while arranging and installing the artwork. They worked harder in ‘school’ today than they probably have all year. There were no right answers, no easy solutions, no meaningless tasks.

While observing and listening, the one thing that I kept thinking about was student ownership. The students today were owning their learning. The were absolutely engaged and very much in charge. They were proud of themselves and their accomplishments and they are excited about the show tomorrow night.

The more I thought about ownership, the more I wanted to understand what happened today. I see ownership as learners owning their learning. What does that mean? To ‘own’ something, in this context, is to take responsibility for the learning, which, if we define ‘responsibility’, leads to an even wider meaning. To be responsible for something is to be accountable for it, to have earned or been given authority in relation to it, and to be seen as reliable in relation to the task you’ve been given.

The students today were given, and accepted, the huge responsibility of putting on an event showcasing young artistic talent to their family, their peers and the larger community. They will be held accountable for their learning by essentially everyone who attends the show (hundreds of family, friends, peers, etc) as the night is basically one big critique of feedback on their year-long project. That aspect of the show is always nerve-wracking for me, I can’t imagine how they must feel at their younger age.

They earned the authority to take charge of their learning and I handed over as much power as possible during the set up today. I wanted them in charge. I wanted them making the decisions. I backed off more during the set up this year than in any years previously and I enjoyed watching the students take over. It’s interesting to see how they accept that leadership role. In all the chaos, all the confusion, all the panicked moments, they did a great job. They are so smart; it never ceases to amaze me how clever and practical and insightful students can be. They impressed me with their work ethic and their motivation to get the job done and do it to the best of their abilities. They chose to stay late too, not leaving until the job was complete.

By having the students responsible for the set up, I was trusting in their reliability. For a student to realize that their teacher trusts and relies on him/her enough to hand over the set up of such an important, culminating event must be a powerful realization. I hope, in all the craziness of the day, that they did realize I trusted them to do a great job. I know they realized how much I was relying on them. I could see that they were feeling the pressure and I’m sure it helped to motivate them throughout such an exhausting day.

Ownership, responsibility, accountability, authority, reliability, trust. That’s a powerful learning experience. And the show hasn’t even started yet…

Imagery by Erik B on


My First and Greatest Teacher – My Mom

I’ve been saving this one for today.

Many educators write about their role models – those amazing people who we aspire to be. I’ve read many posts by teachers who want to acknowledge and pay tribute to those wonderful people they respect and admire. There is always at least one person that inspired us to follow the career path that leads into the classroom.

For me, that person was my mother.

I loved school when I was little.  I was a quiet, shy, little girl and I found everything about school very easy. I thrived with kind and caring teachers. I remember sitting at my desk looking out the window at the rainy day beyond with a feeling of safety and contentment.

I also learned at home, as all children do, but my experience was different from most. My mother returned to finish her teaching degree when I was seven. My younger brother and I became her ‘guinea pigs’ as she tried various teaching strategies, etc. on us before trying them with her students. I remember sitting at the kitchen table doing art projects, science experiments and various other activities with her.

Mom earned her degree, chose a grade two position in a small town and we moved there the summer before I entered grade four. Unfortunately, my school experiences during the next two years were almost the exact opposite of what I had previously enjoyed. I was the ‘city slicker’ and excluded by my classmates from the start. The only happy memories from school at that time are focussed on academic successes.

Many years ago, as a student teacher, I completed an assignment based on my memories of school. The purpose of the assignment was to make connections between early learning experiences and the emerging belief system we were developing as new teachers. At that time, research reminded me that the learning methods widely used when I was a child involved sitting, reading quietly at a desk, and learning by writing answers to questions in a text or workbook and rote learning.

I remember thinking that that didn’t sound like the kind of classroom that would create a love of learning! It certainly wasn’t what I had envisioned for my future students! Where did my concept of what a classroom should be like come from? 

I love active learning and getting my students involved. I am passionate about helping them discover new interests. I was confused about my success as a child in what I now perceived to be a stale learning environment which didn’t resemble my beliefs at all. Perhaps I had been successful largely because I was well behaved, a strong reader and an independent learner? At the time, I was also perplexed by the fact that although I strongly disliked school after moving, my love of learning continued throughout my intermediate years and beyond. It did not seem to make much sense. 

It was at that point that I realized my love of learning and my teaching style came from my mother.

Through that assignment years ago, I came to the important realization that my most cherished memories of learning were when I learned with my mother. I have many happy memories collecting shells at the beach, finger painting at the kitchen table and hours spent reading with and to my mom. I also realized that my varied interests, from science experiments, to a love of literature and a passion for art were the result of her influence. She had always taken an interest in my likes and dislikes. With gentle and caring encouragement, she helped me to follow my dreams, however varied they were, and no matter how often they changed.

I love learning in general and in a variety of ways and in a variety of subject areas thanks to my mom:  my first and greatest teacher.  She was the reason I wanted to become a teacher and she, as a mother and as a teacher, shaped my beliefs about teaching and learning. Her equivalent of a value statement, which was always at the front of her daybook, is incorporated into my teaching philosophy. She continued as my mentor throughout teacher training and during those first few years at the start of my teaching career. Her support was priceless.

My teaching remains completely student-centered and I still prefer active, hands-on learning largely because of her. I have a strong personal background and an intense passion for a variety of subjects because of her. Now I gently encourage my students to pursue their interests and discover passion in life, as she did with me. If I can be half the teacher she was, I’ll consider myself a success.

My mother was an educator for 22 years and was a master of her craft. As good as she was at teaching (and she was excellent), she was a better mom. She died six years ago, a slow, painful death from a horrible disease. I miss her so much, and in so many ways, sometimes grieving as a daughter, other times wishing I could consult with my teacher-mentor/mom. Her immediate effect on my teaching and my life is gone, but her influence is firmly woven into my teaching, my learning, my everything.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. This one was for you.

So Many Web 2.0 Choices…

One of my professional learning goals for the first semester this year was to learn about blogging and other Web 2.0 tools that I could use with my art students. More specifically, I want to enhance their learning associated with perceiving and responding to their own and others’ artwork.

My goal for second semester is to implement the technology to start transforming the learning in the classroom. The problem is, there are so many Web 2.0 tools, I can’t decide which technology to use! So, I decided to use technology to decide on technology. Here’s my first Wordle created from this post:

I could create a blog using Edublogs. I’d probably format it similiar to Huzzah, Technology in our classroom, and Clarence Fisher’s Thinwalls blog. These blogs are designed so that each student has their own space to work within and call their own. I believe that this student ownership over the space would lead to increased student motivation and, in turn, more engagement and enhanced learning.

I could, however, use a classroom Flickr account for the same purpose. Students could upload photos and photos of art projects and use the comments section as the space for artist statements and responses. If I decide to go the blog route, a Flickr account could be part of the blog space, too. I’d like to experiment with different ways of using Flickr as a tool regardless.

Many people I’ve discussed the project with have recommended Voicethread. Of the three, this is the only tool I haven’t used and the one that I know the least about. It looks like you upload a photo, then people leave an audio comment about the image. It sounds like a good match for visual arts. Once again, if I decide on the blog, then I could embed a Voicethread into a posting.

I have to decide…soon. Any ideas? One person (thanks Marianne!) suggested that I let the students decide. I like that option. I think it’s important that students take part in the decision making in the classroom.

What do you think – blog, Flickr, Voicethread or a combination of all three? I’d love any insight you have or helpful tips you can offer. Which Web 2.0 tool would you use?