To be a teacher

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo taken by me from the dock at wedding yesterday.


Sunshine, Family Fun and Happy Summer Adventures

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

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

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

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


Summer holidays hit with record high temperatures in July! The little town where I live was the hottest place in the county more than once this year. The best way to deal with temperatures that high is to load up floaties, a picnic lunch, a good book and head to the lake that’s only 10 minutes out of town. My sons and I spent the better part of July doing just that and it was awesome. There is nothing that says ‘summer’ more than cooling off with a long swim in a beautiful, cool, clean lake surrounded by mountains and fresh air.

Another thing that says ‘summer’ in BC is skateboarding and, as both my boys love skateboarding, we joined a group that travelled to two nearby communities for a day of skateboarding and sightseeing. The boys loved it! They were able to skate a very new concrete park about two hours from our town and then skate another older park in a city known world wide as a tourist destination. After they skated for hours, we enjoyed a group dinner before driving through the mountains to get back home.

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

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

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

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

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

All photos by me 🙂

Stormy Skies, Rough Seas, Deluge

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

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


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

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

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

Photo Storm Light by jekrub

The Learning Power of Educational Video (as taught to me by my son)

Here’s part of the prompt for this month’s Blog A Month Challenge found here:

Our optional topic for March centers on the learning power of educational video.

Great movies challenge our thinking, speak to our emotions, and take us to distant worlds both historical and fantastic.  Integrating the power of videos into your classroom, professional development, and/or school culture offers even greater potential impact as there is the opportunity to reflect, discuss, and critique the quality and message of the video.

Suggest one to two of your favorite videos (Ted Talks, YouTube Clips, Vimeos, Movie Clips…etc) that you have used in your school setting, and share how you used it. Explain how incorporating this visual into your presentation or lesson has helped you to achieve your goals.

Now I’d better admit right at the start; I’m not a ‘video’ person. It’s not my first choice of media to learn from. I rarely click on links and watch videos. I will, however, gladly read an article/blog post/etc., and I almost always click on links to photographs or images. I’m not even really a movie person anymore, much to my husband’s dismay. I think it has something to do my notion that a video or movie will take too much time. I would need to think on it a bit more to figure out the resistance and general disinterest.

You may be wondering how the direction of this post is going to turn around to the learning power of education video, the topic for the month shown above. I’m getting there through the lens of motherhood and leaving the obvious direction that the topic above seems intended to take. Hope that’s okay. It’s the way my mind went…

Like many of our youth, my teenage son is a video fanatic. While he would barely read a book to save his life, and he hates reading in general, he devours youtube videos like no one else that I know. He’s one of ‘those boys’. He’s really, really active, he’s really, really quick & bright, and he’s really, really horrible when he’s bored. He doesn’t like school and he’s a bit of a nightmare to engage in a classroom (understatement of the year), but when he wants (key word here – ‘wants’) to learn or do something, absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, can stop him. He’s more than a little intense and has this indefinable quality that I love and can only describe as his ‘edge’. I love him to pieces.

So what does this have to do with the learning power of educational video? Well, for him, and for many of those lumped in with him into that demographic that we want to keep in school and engage and help succeed, for him and those like him, the fact that the content can be engaged through video as the media IS the learning power. I’ll expand on that, and hopefully it will make sense.

Lately my son has been watching TED and TEDx talks. All on his own. No prompting from me about educational value. He watches them on his phone, anywhere, anytime and at home on his computer. He watches them first on his own and then, if he feels that it’s worth it, he’ll invite me to watch with him. He also shares links with friends. I’ve noticed him quoting the speakers from the videos in general conversation. The topics of the videos usually make sense to me. I understood immediately why he wanted to watch Rodney Mullen: Pop an ollie and innovate with me and why he’d want to watch Forget what you know: Jacob Barnett but he branches off and engages with other, seemingly random, topics too. Vine, Instagram videos and his own youtube channel round out the multimedia aspect of his lifestyle.

He’s paying attention. He’s learning independently and making meaningful connections to his life and his interactions with his peers and his family. I’ve been analyzing it a bit because it’s obviously deep learning and it’s interesting to me because he is a really tough kid to ‘teach’. It’s tough for teachers to get him to learn. It’s also interesting to me because video is such a foreign way for me to learn. Yet it’s so natural and easy for him, not to mentions a complete and total contrast to trying to get him to learn from a book or virtually anything written on a piece of paper.

I should mention at this point that my two sons are being raised with a high critical awareness of the content they consume and participate with online and elsewhere. Anyone who knows me will understand the passion for (digital) citizenship that I carry around deep seated within me, and that has been an important contributing factor to my childrens’ behaviour online and in general. We talk about gaming, social media, online interactions, etc., all the time. And don’t get me wrong, he still watches his share of ridiculous content too (he is fourteen and stupid humor is at an all time high with him) but the fact that he’s choosing to watch high quality educational content is noteworthy. And it makes me proud, and hopeful. Maybe this is how he will get through the next few years and find success after high school. Maybe video is the key.

I didn’t exactly take the prompt and answer the questions above. But I did make a powerful connection between video as being key for some children to engage with content and learn in a meaningful way. For some students, like my son, the learning power of educational video is the fact that because it is multimedia, it is more likely to engage. For whatever reason, multimedia content will make some students pay attention. Is it their ‘language’? Their learning style? Their literacy? I’m not sure, but if your goals are to engage and help your students to learn, then the type of content is something to attend to. A small shift, but potentially huge gains for our students.

I have many, many more questions on this but I think that’s enough for today. I’ll keep paying attention to learn more and I’m looking forward to the Blog a Month Challenge topic for April! Thanks for reading!

Afterthought – if you’d like to check out some great videos with educational content, check out the Rodney Mullen and Jacob Barnett links above – lots of interesting bits that relate to learning and the field of education! 

Blog a Month Challenge, or My Latest Formal Push to Learn

If you know me, you know I need/like the push and obligation of a formal learning commitment. That’s how I seem to work best. Left to my own devices, I become happily lost reading works of fiction, spending time just being with my children, making satisfying creations with my hands and enjoying frequent rejuvenating naps. Life at it’s finest.

But I like professional learning too. Problem is, I really only experience professional learning efficiently with a formal push. As I do from time to time, I’m signing up for a blogging challenge to force myself to write in this space. I love writing here, don’t get me wrong, but to make myself find the time I need a little extra outside motivation.

So, thank you to a tweet I noticed this morning from Shawn Davids, I learned about the Blog a Month Challenge. Yes, I need a little encouragement and accountability and yes, I need a formal push to post once a month, so, yes, I signed up! I can do a post a month. And now I have to.


A Little Sunshine to Start the New Year

Thanks to Sarah and Claire for giving me the purpose to write a blog post in the form of a little “sunshine”. What does this mean, you ask? For those who haven’t seen it yet, there is an internet/blogging/Twitter meme going around and Sarah and Claire were kind enough to include me. Sarah explains what this meme is about perfectly in the following excerpt from her recent post:

Here is a description of this blogging, twitter-generated, meme-type task:

The Sunshine Award gives others an opportunity to learn about me as a blogger and then, in turn, I will send sunshine the way of 11 (or so) other fine bloggers for you to get to know! Although I know every one is busy at this time of year, I hope the bloggers I nominate will be able to share a few interesting things about themselves. They can then highlight bloggers that they have enjoyed following.

Here are the rules:

Acknowledge the nominating blogger. Share 11 random facts about yourself. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition! Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

Thank you Sarah for that perfect explanation! So, here’s my Sunshine Award info:

11 Random Facts about me:

  1. As a child, I lived and grew up in Kitsilano and the West End in downtown Vancouver.
  2. I spent almost the entire year from the time I was two to three years old in and out of oxygen tents in the pediatric ward of Vancouver General Hospital. Asthma wasn’t so controllable in the days before Ventolin and inhaled steroids. Back then you received a shot of adrenaline in the behind. Not fun when you’re two. I have vivid memories of my hospital stays during that time. Horrible.
  3. During my childhood, my mom and I spent many years scouring used book stores in Vancouver and Victoria looking for old editions of Nancy Drew novels and I have a fairly complete collection. It was special time spent with her searching for the books and also a shared passion to read them.
  4. I was on the pit crew for my husband and his best friend when they used to race our 1949 Willys pickup truck in Mud Bog Races. You should try changing 40″ plus tires caked in thick mud – character building 🙂
  5. My husband often says that he knows when dinner is done (if I’m cooking) by the sound of the smoke detector alarm going off. Sadly, this is true.
  6. My current/former pets include dogs, fish, cats, rats, a tarantula (inherited class pet) and a ball python.
  7. I haven’t been able to engage with non-fiction since completing my Masters Degree in 2011, yet I continue to purchase the latest education must-reads, which then sit on my book shelf looking pretty and unfortunately not interesting to me in the slightest.
  8. I like going camping. Real camping where there is no running water, no numbered campsites and no other humans anywhere near where I’m camped with my family.
  9. I like to spend time looking out windows, but there has to be some space beyond to look at. A window that is close to and faces a wall seems like a terrible waste.
  10. I like to bake. I grew up in a house that always had something home made sitting on the kitchen counter for the kids to enjoy and my kitchen often offers the same. It relaxes me too and I enjoy the creative aspects of taking a bunch of ingredients and transforming them into something completely new.
  11. I have never been on an airplane.

11 Answers for Sarah:

  1.   What is your middle name and why do you have it? My middle name is Leigh. I love it. I also have no idea why I have it, my mom isn’t around to ask the reasoning behind why she named me that, and nobody else seems to know the reason behind it either.
  2.   Who is your favourite female family member and why? That’s easy. My one and only sister is my favourite female family member. She’s actually one of my best friends in life, regardless of the fact that she is much younger than I am, and I love her to pieces.
  3.   What do you do that you wish you didn’t? Get up early to get to work on time. If my job started at 11:00 each day, I’d be a much happier and healthier person.
  4.   What is your secret addiction? or a confession you are willing to make. Hmm…what to share, what to share… I guess I have a simple but serious addiction to tea. My day is not complete with one cup of earl grey tea.
  5.   If you could do any other job what would it be? I fantasize about having a job that I leave behind each day when I go home – a job that isn’t so important that I go through life without the heavy burden of some sort of professional responsibility 24/7. That said, I did go to fashion school after high school and earned a Fashion Merchandising diploma. I still love the world of fashion and would love to work in the industry. I think that I’d like to be a librarian in a big, fancy college/university library. I could see myself being a solitary professor living the life of an academic. I would also like to write – that’s actually one of my plans after I retire – I have all sorts of plans for various novels/books/stories.
  6.  What is your favourite breakfast meal? I’m a cereal person. I have to have cereal in the morning. Something healthy, crunchy and gluten/nut free with a moderate amount of nice, cold milk.
  7.  What sport would you love to be good at? My first thought is  softball because I love the satisfying crack of the bat when it connects with the ball and it’s fun to play with a team.
  8.   Do you watch the Olympics on TV? Why or why not? Yes, or, if I’m working or away from home I ‘watch’ on Twitter. I like the Olympics because I am a proud Canadian and love cheering for Canada’s athletes plus I enjoy watching the amazing athleticism that some humans can achieve.
  9.  What is in your freezer right now? All sorts of food (bread, beef, chicken, frozen bananas, melting chocolate wafers, blueberries, french fries, apricots from my tree last year, tomatoes from my garden, etc.) because I have two always-hungry, growing boys. Bait because my husband loves fishing and there are many great places to fish around here. Ice packs because I have two always-active boys who often need to ice minor injuries from skateboarding, biking, running, trampoline-ing, wrestling, and whatever else they do to hurt themselves in a day.
  10.  What were you afraid of as a child? Being kidnapped, which, in retrospect, was possibly the result of reading Nancy Drew novels and other mystery stories all the time.
  11. What is your favourite colour? Why? I’ve never been able to choose only one colour as my favourite. My favourite colour shifts between greens, purples and blues so I guess I feel most comfortable with cool colours if you want to think along the lines of the colour wheel. More specifically, kelly green, emerald green, and a nice bright clean spring green. I also really like forest, dark and hunter as shown here. For purples I like both purple and violet equally but prefer the medium tones and darker shades over the lighter tints. Blue is my comfort colour – it’s throughout my house and I wear it all the time – and although I never wear it, blue and orange is my favourite colour combination.

11 Answers for Claire:

  1. What lead to you becoming an educator? That’s a long answer! The short version is that because my parents were teachers, I rebelled against what I wanted to do (teach) and went to fashion school. After three years in retail management making money for someone else selling clothes people didn’t need, I was frustrated and disillusioned as to my purpose in life. After a day of soul searching with my husband, I realized I really did want to be a teacher and work with children and I needed to swallow my pride and go back to school to do what I had always wanted to do.
  2. If you hadn’t become an educator, what would you have done instead? Please see #5 above for some thoughts on that!
  3. Are you concerned about student privacy and security with regards to cloud computing?  For example, do you have any reservations about students using Google Apps or other cloud based services?  I don’t trust Google. I admire them and love using many of their online products but I don’t trust them. I have big concerns about privacy and security in regards to cloud computing and everything online. There are too many people out there driven by greed and other selfish urges for me to trust that my data/my students data/my children’s data is safe.
  4. What was the first ‘real’ job that you had? My first real job was as a sales clerk at the Fields Store here in town. That was my Friday night/Saturday morning job for four years through high school.
  5. What is your current favourite book, movie and / or album? I watched Silver Linings Playbook this week and loved it! Wonderful actors, a great story, fantastic composition on the filming – very good movie!
  6. What did you always want to be when you grew up? I had a pretty strong desire to be a teacher, then a doctor, then a writer, and then a fashion designer, in that order.
  7. What is the strangest food that you’ve ever eaten? Cow tongue in Home Ec 11. It was horrid. I didn’t eat for a week afterwards. Blech!
  8. If you could sit down and talk with any person, living or dead, who would it be and why. My mom because I miss her. Simple.
  9. How far away do you live from where you grew up? I grew up in Vancouver until I was nine, so that’s about 400 kilometres away from here. But at the age of nine, my mom moved us here for her teaching career and I grew up about two kilometres from my current home.
  10. What is your favourite way to unplug and unwind? My every-other-day run. No headphones or music for me! Just the birds singing and the quiet of the rural roads in my town!
  11. Salty or sweet? Sweet!!

Now the tagging part (or not so much tagging as sharing the sunshine while I break the chain):

This is the part where I break the rules and break the chain. When I was looking for people to tag last night, most of the people I wanted to tag have already done their homework and completed fantastic sunshine posts! You are all very diligent people. Instead of tagging these people, I’m acknowledging them as very important to my PLN, people I’d love to meet and spend time talking with or people I have met that I’d like to learn more from in the future.

Check out the sunshine homework posts already done by some of these amazing people. Or check out their blog. Or follow them on Twitter. Connect somehow because they’re good people:

  1. Dean Shareski
  2. Michelle Baldwin
  3. Chris Kennedy
  4. Tia Henriksen
  5. Sarah Soltau-Heller
  6. Chris Wejr
  7. David Truss
  8. Claire Thompson
  9. Brooke Haller
  10. Iram Khan
  11. Cori Saas

Now that I’ve broken the chain, I should add that if you do want to continue and post the answers to my questions, I’ve come up with, for the most part, simple choice-type, random questions. Feel free to explain your choices, or not!

  1. If you could choose would you prefer to live in a city or a small town?
  2. If you had the space, would you plant a flower garden or vegetable garden?
  3. Would you rather drive a sleek, fast European sports car (one example – Ferrari) or a sleek, fast classic car (one example – Corvette stingray)?
  4. Do you prefer cats, dogs or neither?
  5. Are you a night owl or an early bird?
  6. What’s easier for you – writing using paper and pen or writing using word processing?
  7. Have you ever climbed a tree or had a tree fort?
  8. What is your favourite season?
  9. What was the first or best concert you’ve ever attended?
  10. Would you prefer to attend a backyard barbeque or go to a fancy restaurant?
  11. When was the last time you drew something?

That’s it! If you do decide to answer my questions and continue to spread the sunshine, here’s a summary of the homework assignment:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. Choose to:
  5.     a) Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you, or,

b) Break the chain like I did and end it however you like.
That’s it! Thanks again to Sarah and Claire for giving me a reason to blog and get my head back into ‘work’ mode as the end of winter break draws near!

Visual Arts and a Lasting Impression

Once again, using arts-based methods to enrich student learning has left a lasting impression.

52973366_7176dfba1b_zThis year, I have a student (let’s say it’s a girl and I’ll call her Bree – not the actual name of course), as I do every year, who needs a individual education plan with modified objectives to fit the child and ensure success with learning. This year, as I do every year, I’m working really hard to try to ‘learn’ each of my students so that I can do my best to teach them for the next 8 1/2 months. And this year, as I do every year, I do my best to ignore all the labels and pre-packaged notes that come along with kids until I formulate my own thoughts on who each child is as a person, as someone’s precious son or daughter, as a human being like me.

Today my students learned all about using dry media to create tonal development so that 2D shapes on paper look like more realistic 3D objects. This lesson was to prepare them to create still life pieces a couple of weeks from now using locally grown squash and vegetables. We talked about light direction, about the importance of shape to convey an object, about how blending light, medium and dark tones can make a simple shape ‘pop’ out of the page and trick one’s eye. Students practiced blending using stomps, art pencils and kneaded erasers. They once again showed how engaging art is. My favourite student comment of the day was “Who knew that drawing a circle and colouring it in could be so much fun!?”

At the beginning of the lesson, I did a demonstration and was reviewing the assignment. I asked one last time if there were any comments or questions. Several hands went up, including Bree’s.

Now I’m still ‘learning’ Bree. I do make time to talk with Bree regularly, and I’m working hard to create a trusting relationship so that Bree and I can have a good year of learning together. It’s sometimes difficult to understand Bree although she does seem to enjoy contributing to class discussions and lessons. Often the contributions, while clearly sensible to her, seem to be connected by the slightest of threads and it takes a bit of work to figure out the overall relevance and how her thought processes work.

After Bree raised her hand and shared her thoughts, I was thrilled to see that Bree’s comments showed a complete understanding of the concepts of light direction, tonal development and the value scale. She totally ‘got it’, better, I think, than most of the class. And she knew it, too. There was some confidence there, which isn’t always the case with her when she’s sharing her ideas and thoughts out loud.

I was even more thrilled when, at the end of the lesson, Bree showed me her completed artwork. It was great. Really great. Like fully-meeting-expectations-with-a-little-added-personal-artistic-flair great. And again, she knew it. She brought it up and showed me. This is a kid who struggles to initiate conversations. But once again, confidence and happiness and pride at a job well done was conveyed in a kid who doesn’t always have the opportunity to experience and/or show that in school.  As happy as it made me to see her that way, I’m guessing she felt even better than I did from the whole thing.

So once again, I was reminded about how important the visual arts can be to empowering a child. I brought home a lasting impression that this learning experience was powerful for that child in multiple ways. Not only did she create a great piece of artwork that she was proud to take home and share with her family, she shared her understanding of the related concepts orally in front of the entire class. I can’t stop thinking about how much I learned about her through this today and I’m still wondering how this experience will change her as a learner in my class.

Art isn’t just about the drawing. It isn’t just about the shading or the shape or the fancy pencils that blend and smudge. Art is about confidence and empowerment and an opportunity to speak up and share your ideas with others. It’s about a different way of thinking that allows the openness needed for all kids to find their space firmly within it’s wide open boundaries. It’s a vital component to a child’s overall cognitive, social, and emotional development. It’s a way of teaching and learning that kids love. It has the potential to create a powerful lasting impression.

Photo by moostive accessed October 24th, 2013 from Flickr.

Learned Something New About Myself

I came to an interesting realization yesterday. Well, interesting to me at least. I was thinking about how good it felt to write my last blog post. I was thinking about how, when it’s quiet and I have some time, I like to write blog posts.


Then I took a look back at my blog and realized that, while I don’t post as much as many (rare to get more than one blog post a month from me), I have posted about once a month for several years years now. And then I started thinking about all the other writing I do/have done: narratives, my gigantic thesis, proceedings paper for conferences, private journals, various essays. And then I thought about how writing has been a constant in my life since I wrote a winning entry and went to the Young Authors conference way back when I was twelve years old.

And I had this sudden realization that I am a writer.

That was a major shift in my identity. Subtle too though because I think I’ve always been a writer but just didn’t know it. As soon as I had that, I guess I can justify the word here, revelation, it felt right, like a puzzle piece fitting into the empty space where it belongs.

And then so much about what I do and who I am made sense. I LOVE to teach writing. It’s one of my favorite things to teach. Why? Because I’m passionate about it.

When it’s quiet in my home (rare these days…thankfully!), one of the activities I find a deep sense of personal fulfillment within is writing blog posts. Why? Because I’m a writer.

I want to earn my PhD some day. Why? Partly because I want to learn more, of course, but also because I want to write more about what I started writing about in my thesis. Crazy to my husband and many others but now perfectly sensible to me. Why? Because I’m a writer.

So, big deal, right? What does this have to do with anyone but me? Well, not much, except that it does speak to this little phrase “life-long learner” we toss around all the time in the field of education. We want our students to become, or remain, life-long learners. But how do we do that? How do we ensure that throughout their lives our students are going to continue to try new things, and push outside their comfort zone, and reflect on what they are doing and critically think and rethink what they are doing in life and why?

Those answers are huge, complicated, and multi-layered. But I think that one key is to model to our students that we are learning too, and loving all the joy, difficulty, discomfort and accomplishment that comes with learning at any age. Kids aren’t stupid; they know what an adult learner looks like. So you can’t fake it. You have to find a way to work in what your passionate about into your life as a teacher and a parent so kids can see for themselves what it looks like.

Another piece is to help kids find what they are passionate about. Help awaken that. I would hope that finding one’s passion or calling in life would be an important part of what teachers call ‘teaching’ each day.

Finally, make sure that the kids are enjoying themselves enough and feel safe and relaxed enough to allow for self-discovery and a love of learning in the classroom. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times; we force children to go to school, the least we can do is make it a fun place to be. Our students are, after all, children. It’s a good exercise to watch how they act and what they do when left on their own and then compare it with how they act and what they do in a school or classroom.

So a huge realization led to deep thinking about teaching philosophy on a Saturday morning and also, surprise, surprise, a whole bunch of writing…

Photo accessed September 21, 2013 from Flickr: My Most Treasure Gift.

Remembering, Honouring, Healing: Truth & Reconciliation Education Day

Today is Truth and Reconciliation Education Day in British Columbia. I’ve been watching the tweets all week to see people sharing photos and experiences from the events. Today is a special day in the week of events because today is the day that thousands of students from around British Columbia, including many from my school district and community, gather at the PNE exhibition grounds for a day tailored to them. For those who don’t know what this is all about, the Truth and Conciliation Commission of Canada website is a good place to start.

I would have loved to have gone. As a person with Aboriginal heritage, I would have been honoured to go. And yet, as a person with a direct family history of residential school experience, I could not bring myself to go. I’ve written next to nothing in this space, or anywhere online, about my great-grandmother’s (Nanny) experiences in residential school. There is only one post that even talks about Nanny. There are many reasons for this.

The strongest thing holding me back from sharing her story online is that she didn’t want anyone to know that she had gone to residential school and she didn’t want anyone to know that she was Aboriginal. She was a perfect example of the desire to assimilate indigenous peoples into the colonial vision of what Canada’s people should be. She died with her Aboriginal heritage her secret and it was only through my aunt’s curiosity that my family learned of our Métis and Cree family in Manitoba years after Nanny’s death.

So while the week’s events that center around a formal attempt to heal and educate about Canada’s residential school history are of direct importance to me, I could never bring myself to go. Is that shame still lingering in my blood? Or is it respect for Nanny’s wish of privacy that holds me back?

While I am not there physically, I am certainly there in spirit. I’ve been following as much as possible online and reflecting on how I can honour and remember and help with the healing in my own way. I have both a personal and professional approach to this, and while, thanks to my Masters research I feel at peace with the personal, I feel the need to do more professionally.

In the past I’ve included Aboriginal and indigenous themes in my classroom in a variety of ways. I’ve made sure we had novels on residential schools in the ECC online literature circles. I’ve connected my students to others learning about Aboriginal heritage in an inter-district moodle project. I’ve planned out and taught lessons on indigenous artforms from around the world. I’ve happily headed off to the St’at’imc room when invited to sing and dance with my students. Every time I’ve brought this topic into my classroom, I’ve thought it was important and every time, in all grades, I’ve inwardly steeled myself for resistance. And most times there has been resistance of some sort, from a quiet rejection of the novel because of the topic to all out emotional outbursts from high school students about ‘why do we have to learn about this stuff in art anyway’?

This year I’m going to try something different. I’m going to honour and remember my traditional indigenous heritage and take a completely child-centered approach. I’m going to ask the kids. What do they want to learn about Aboriginal topics this year? What units would they like me to integrate Aboriginal and indigenous content within? How would they like to honour the people that have lived in the place on which the school is built for thousands of years within our classroom this year? How would they like to learn about all the different family backgrounds that walk into the room with students and adults each day?

The longer I teach, the more this approach seems to be embedded within what I do. And the more it seems to lead to powerful learning and engaged students. On this day of Truth and Reconciliation that honours the kids, I’m giving my word to remember, honour and heal by starting with honouring the kids first.


What I Learned this Summer, or the Study Renovation Detour

School starts in two days. I’m ridiculously excited to see the kids and get started on our year together but I do feel the need to transition through and say good-bye to my summer holidays first.

At the beginning of the summer, I had great intentions to blog for two months. As summer rolled along, my plans changed. I had an absolutely wonderful summer, thinking about work very little, which led to my feeling, at this point, as if I did have a real holiday. Personally, I don’t think summer is the time for me to read books about teaching, blog about teaching, tweet about teaching (although I was guilty of that a bit), or stay in a work mindset. It’s a time to relax, spend time with my children and other family, read for fun, swim at the lake, sort out my thoughts, realign my beliefs and rejuvenate my body and soul.

But while I didn’t ‘work’, I did learn. And the major learning experience for me this summer was my study. I never started out saying, “hmm, I think I’ll do a three room swap in my house and renovate the study, all on my own, without any help,” but that’s exactly what happened.

The summer detour this year  (the opposite of my previous summer detour because it was completely unplanned and happened all on it’s own), started when I decided to read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I’d heard about this book, and the blog that goes with it, and started reading it at the end of June. I’m only a couple of chapters in (more on why coming up), but I highly recommend it.

Gretchen looked at happiness from a writer/researcher point of view and tried out the different themes she discovered in her research. Each month she tested out a different theme centered around making herself happier and then wrote about her experiences. The first theme is Boost Energy and that chapter includes a section on the benefits of reducing clutter in one’s physical space. I decided that I was not continuing on to chapter two without test-driving all her themes myself. I took one look at my home and realized how draining all the clutter was and decided to do something about it.

I told my husband of my plans. I was going to take EVERYTHING out of my study. Then I was going to clean the room top to bottom and move our teenage son into that room, taking ONLY what he wanted out of his old room. Then I was going to take EVERYTHING out of his old room, clean it top to bottom and move our younger son into that bedroom. Then I would take EVERYTHING out of that son’s room, clean it, and turn it into my study. Then I would move the essentials into my new study, purging all that I (and they) no longer needed. I thought this might take about two weeks and told my husband he didn’t have to worry, that I would do all this myself (with the boys’ help).

I’m sure you can imagine the look he gave me, but, being the nice partner he is, and understanding my stubborn independence, he told me it was a good idea and let me run off to get started.

First off, let me say that is was quite obvious I’ve been teaching for almost twenty years when the pile of stuff I moved out of the study filled up the majority of our living room space. Anyone walking into my home at that time must have suspected I was a hoarder. So much teaching stuff. And sewing stuff. And craft stuff. And art stuff. Ridiculous. But, I didn’t look at the pile too long as I instead shampooed the carpets in the old study, filled a couple of nail holes and moved my ecstatic teen into his new, ‘teenager’ bedroom, taking only the possessions he couldn’t live without from his old bedroom.

I then added to the living room pile by moving everything he didn’t want out of his old bedroom. I love my son, but his room, like many teenagers’ rooms, I’m sure, was disgusting. Once everything was out and cleaned up, I moved my younger son in. Or rather, one day, when his friend was over, I said, in my best enthusiastic-teacher-voice, ‘hey guys, how would you like to set up all the furniture in the new bedroom???!!!’ and they actually went for it. They spent all day happily moving furniture around and, I have to say, did a great job of setting up his new bedroom, taking only what he absolutely needed to keep.

Much to my husband’s growing distress (he hadn’t anticipated the hoarder-style living arrangements), I then removed everything from the younger son’s room. Now, this room was the original nursery all those years ago. Amazingly, there were still things in there from when it was the original nursery all those years ago. Why? I have no idea. I took everything out of that room and let me say that it was a good visual to see all the stuff piled in one place that had NOT been moved back into either bedroom. We are not big consumers, there is no big box store mall here, but we still manage to accumulate a lot of useless stuff. Many lessons for our family in that alone.

Once that last room was empty, I decided that if I was going to finish this properly, I was going to renovate to truly claim 9372974631_a6465de62b_zmy space as my new study. I primed the walls, filled the holes (helpful advice…never put a dart board in a little boy’s room…many, many holes to fill), removed trim and painted. Then, against my husband’s advice, I ripped out the carpet. Laminate flooring can’t be that expensive or difficult to do, right? Yeah, no. I learned all about flooring, subflooring, and how much it costs a square foot – staggering what you can spend on the stuff you walk on everyday. I had no idea. Many lessons for me there.

As you can probably see, I’d learned a great deal by this point, but the most profound learning was still to come. I decided to purchase click together laminate flooring. I installed the subflooring and started piecing together the flooring myself. My husband, ever watchful from afar and helping me from the  9647707185_c8763b45b9_zsidelines, set up his radial arm saw and jigsaw so I could cut the pieces to the right length/shape. The first few rows of flooring went really well. No problems. But somewhere near the middle of the room, I started to run into problems. Pieces weren’t fitting together properly. I’d get a few rows done and notice a gap and have to undo and redo the rows. I made a horrible mistake on a cut and worried I was going to run out of flooring. What was supposed to take me a few days started to take more than a week.

Finally, a month after I’d started my three room swap and a week and a half after I’d started the flooring, I, full of frustration (but still not asking for help), wandered into the den and sat down to watch TV with my husband. He took one look at me and said ‘I’m going to help you, let’s get that floor done,’ and he took my hand and stood me up. Being a patient, but kind, person, he had watched me stubbornly try to do this task all on my  IMG_6167own and when he noticed that I was ready to break, he stepped in. Much learning and many parallels to teaching there.

I instantly became the student and he quietly slid into the role of the master teacher. Now, I should share with you that my husband can build anything and fix anything. He is amazingly talented in this way. So, not surprisingly, with his help the other half of the room was done in two hours. Two hours. And he basically took apart about 1/4 of the flooring I had done before continuing on. It was a humbling experience, to say the least. More lessons, adding in a dose of humility too.

Once the floor was done and the trim back on the walls, I spent several days moving the essentials in. It was a huge task to  photo-1go through the pile in the living room and only move in what I couldn’t live without. But, after all that work, I’m proud to say I have a beautiful study that is an efficient, organized space to work, think and just be me. My ‘life’, including my life as a teacher, feels more organize than ever before. And, as a bonus, I have a lovely view of lilac bushes, an apricot tree andFountain Ridge out the window beside my desk.

In the end, while I didn’t ‘work’ at all this summer, I did end up working very hard and I am so proud, and happy, with the results. I can finally continue on with reading The Happiness Project. I do hope that no other chapter takes me two full months to get through, but if it does, so be it. I was humbled as a learner and will carry that experience as a reminder into my classroom this week, along with all 9616820643_e6f4f65159_zthe other learning that came out of the three room swap. And I’m so thankful to feel settled and organized in my new space. Check out my Flickr set for a few more renovation photos.

While I am a little disappointed that I didn’t blog about all those topics I listed in July, I am really happy with all that I accomplished this summer and I am ready (almost!) to say good-bye to the hot, sunny summer days and say hello to a new group of energetic, curious young minds. I can’t wait to hear about what they learned this summer, too!

All photos taken by me.