20/20 Reflections on TEDxWestVancouverEd

I couldn’t find time to write this before the summer and, although the event happened over two months ago, I can’t shake the desire to share a few things from that day. Certain things have stayed with me so clearly. I’m curious to explore blogging from this long-term memory perspective as there seems to be an unusual tension between the strong urge to write about a fantastic experience and the perception that, because that learning experience occurred so long ago, that it’s too late to write about it. Think of the relevance to teaching and learning in that statement. Guess I have another blog post to add to the list…


I have to congratulate the organizers of TEDxWestVancouverED for creating a wonderful day of professional development. While it was my first TED experience of any kind, other than watching the videos online, of course, I can appreciate the organization that goes into an event like that and I think they did a great job. I was most impressed at how the topics, ideas and questions raised during each speaker’s talk throughout the day seemed to scaffold into each other as the day progressed. It proved to be a masterful organization of sessions that led to a powerful but seamless learning experience.

Secondly, I LOVED hearing the speakers. I have wanted to hear Dean Shareski in person for years! He did not disappoint. My visual notes on his talk are here. AND I was lucky enough to get to meet him! Not surprising that one of my most lasting memories from that day was being a part of one of his famous jumping photos with all the amazing (and fun!) people I met from #SD36learns. No doubt in my mind that fun = lasting memories. Who wouldn’t want to add that equation into a learning environment?

Saying that all the speakers were wonderful is an understatement. Chris Kennedy, also a speaker that day, lists links to many of the speakers in his own TEDxWestVanED post if you’d like to see for yourself.

Another person I’ve wanted to meet for years was Shelley Wright. I think there are many parallels between our experiences as educators and I admire, and am inspired by, her passion, her bravery and her steadfast belief and trust in her students.

Aside from the speakers and all that I learned from them, the other big takeaway for me was meeting and talking with people in general. The opportunity to say hello to the speakers was made possible due to the fact that it was a smaller event.

I have to say, meeting all the enthusiastic people from #sd36learns was another highlight of my day. Not only did I do my practicum in Surrey, but I was also attached to a Surrey cohort for my graduate diploma coursework that led to everything I do online and with technology. Because of those reasons, I feel a certain attachment to the district and I’m thrilled to see the progress the district is making. No doubt this is due to the amazing educators working there and it was a pleasure to finally meet so many pln members face to face that day! The bonus for me was hanging out with Iram Khan, a pln member who turned out to be an old friend of my first brother. Reminiscing and comparing stories made lunch extra special for me!

Finally, I have to mention my visual notes. I was extremely frustrated that I couldn’t connect to the wifi at all that day. Neither my phone, nor my laptop, would connect. Luckily, I had a notebook and my pencil case with me so I decided to take ‘visual notes’ instead of tweeting during the talks. I’ve defaulted to this visual form of note-taking, or doodling, all my life and its interesting to see it becoming a more popular way to record and share notes.

The ‘stop’ moment for me occurred after I posted photos of my doodles as a Flickr set that night. The impact and re-sharing of my visual doodles online seemed much, much higher than the impact and re-sharing of professional tweeting I’ve done at events in the past. There were almost 200 views of my Flickr set within 24 hours of posting the photos. Would a set of my tweets get that many intentional views? Probably not. What is it about visual notes that increases engagement? I have many thoughts and questions on this, all stemming from my interest in visual literacy and my MEd research.

So, not only is hindsight 20/20, it also appears to allow for added reflection and gives ideas the time needed to expand.


Photo of TEDx sign and screen by me

Intentional Summer Posting Plans

This isn’t going to be much of a blog post. Sorry to disappoint right at the outset. I am intentionally posting this for two reasons. One – I need to set my thinking straight before I begin what I hope will be several blog posts in the next couple of weeks, and two – I need a bit of a disclaimer for those few who do happen into this space so they will know exactly where my delayed and scattered topics are coming from. Phil Macoun recently reminded me of the importance of intentionality in a recent post of his, so I’m approaching blogging this summer with that mindset.

Last summer, I purposefully engaged in a detour from work, or, more specifically, a summer detour in the form of a what I called my ‘detour bag‘. This summer I feel that I’m finally beyond the bulk of the processing about my Masters degree and I’d like to do some professional development over the summer. More specifically, I’d like to blog and re-acquaint myself with all those wonderful people who originally pushed my thinking way back when I started all this online pro-d years ago.

I have various blog posts cooking in my head and in half-written posts waiting for that publish button to be clicked. I will, however, honor my family as my first priority this summer so I’m not sure how much flow and continuity I’ll be able to create with my blog posts. I’ll be spending most of my days biking, hanging out at the lake, watching movies and attempting to fill the stomachs of my always-hungry boys. I do though, feel a need to read others’ posts, comment, write my own posts, and release thoughts out of my head to clarify. Here’s a list of what I intend to write about in the coming weeks:

  • my own blog post inspired by Michelle Baldwin’s recent post, No More Rock Stars
  • reflections on TEDxWestVancouverED
  • thoughts about my first edcamp, #edcampwest at UVIC
  • the Edmedia experience, including presenting in a lecture theatre, the Darth Fiddler experience and seeing/meeting the brilliant Helen Keegan
  • the past school year and how being a former high school art teacher helped me figure out my grade five students
  • the past school year and the incredible results of the inquiry project
  • the past school year and being a mentor x3
  • next steps and new changes in the Elementary Connected Classrooms project
  • saying good-bye to a great principal, waiting to say hello to a new one and welcoming back a former mentor

Now that I’ve written the list, that’s a rather intimidating goal to work towards while I’m supposed to be hanging out with family and enjoying downtime! It also speaks to how much has happened in the last ten months and makes me understand the need to unpack it all.

Now if I only had an iPad so I could blog while relaxing at the lake…

Windy day complete with waves splashing onto the shore.

Windy day complete with waves splashing onto the shore.

Photo by me.

Curious brain, a set of inquiry questions and my first TEDx coming up

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on the Elementary Connected Classrooms (ECC) blog about how a student prompted me to think. It was a full-on, stop in my tracks, instantly-forgot-everything-else-I-was-thinking-about moment and one of the coolest side effects of it was that the student who caused me to stop and think watched me process through the whole thing. He absolutely knew that he was the reason for making his teacher start a learning project. His ownership of the whole thing is pretty amazing.

As the questions are closely related to the upcoming TEDxWestVancouverED (more coming on this later in the post), I wanted to share the questions that I typed out as Evander watched my curious brain think the questions through. Here they are:

  1. How do other teachers ‘teach’ inquiry-based learning?
  2. Are there any good articles, books, blogs, etc. on inquiry that I can read and share with my ECC colleagues?
  3. Are there any good examples of students’ inquiry projects online that I can share with my colleagues and students?
  4. How can I capture the amazing learning my students have done through their inquiry projects to show other students in upcoming years?
  5. What are the strengths of the ECC inquiry project?
  6. What are the aspects of the ECC inquiry project that we can improve upon?
  7. What are my colleagues doing that is working really well?
  8. How can I make the ECC inquiry project even better?
  9. How can I better communicate to parents how this project works and what it’s all about?
  10. What other ways can I narrow this topic to learn more?
I think I’m going to start a google doc with this right now so that I can actually start working through it. I can see now that a number of the questions are very similar and I’m already wondering how deep I can go on this professional learning project.
A good sign of how excited I am to learn about this is that I’ve already started gathering resources. The ECC team is going to read Learning in Depth together, book club style, and have, I’m sure, some great conversations starting in the late summer on that book.
The most exciting part of all this for me, at the moment, is that this weekend I am lucky to be attending TEDxWestVancouverEd and several of the speakers and attendees have been working with inquiry in the classroom for a few years. I cannot wait to meet these wonderful people that, up until this point, have been virtual colleagues, people I learn from online but have not yet been able to talk with face to face. I’m also very interested to finally see, and hopefully meet, Dean Shareski. I’ve been reading his blog and enjoying his tweets for years and I can’t wait to see him start off the day on Saturday.


Inquiring about Inquiry-Based Learning to Straighten out the Path

This post is years overdue. Literally. I think it’s like a dam ready to burst in my head and I’m guessing it will be a learning experience to even just write it out. Writing about it will be therapeutic, at the very least, and, at the other extreme, this post could quite possibly cause a snowball effect – I’m almost hoping for that to be honest. Interesting, too, that I’m finally deciding to post it now, especially if you read my last post or have followed my thoughts in various online spaces over the years.

For three years, the Elementary Connected Classrooms (ECC) project has run a year long, collaborative inquiry project. At my first planning meeting, as a brand new, member of the ECC, I was handed the article, ‘Learning in Depth: Students as Experts’ written by Kieran Egan. This article was the first piece I’d ever read on Egan’s take on inquiry-based learning. While I had constantly enjoyed project-based learning before reading that article, and I had read An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, another of Egan’s popular works, my practice since reading that article has not been the same.

The ECC team read through and discussed how we could integrate the whole idea of an inquiry project into our collaborative learning space. We decided to devote each Friday’s video conferencing lesson to the inquiry project. We would take turns planning lessons and being the lead teacher, which meant that every three weeks each of us would be responsible to teach the next lesson in the unit. Student choice was built in as a crucial ingredient and we quickly realized the the context of the inquiry project would also be a great way to teach students a variety of other skills such as how to effectively search for information online and how to evaluate websites. We also recognized we could merge curricular content from Social Studies, English Language Arts, Science and more to create a truly cross-curricular learning opportunity full of multiple ways for students to connect ideas and experience deep learning.

One area that still proves to be a challenge is explaining how this all works to parents. They want to know how it’s marked (it isn’t – weekly assignments based on the task at hand, e.g. can you find a primary and secondary source of information and explain the differences between the two?, are marked, but the overall project is not), what subject this fits into (a whole bunch depending on the topic the student chooses and the way in which they decide to learn about their topic) and where this ‘curriculum’ comes from (the provincial Integrated Resource Packages and each individual student). It’s great to have all the questions and communication lines opening between home and school and it sure keeps me on my toes as far as being able to articulate exactly what we are doing, how it all comes together as the year goes along and why we are doing it.

A quick and accessible document created to help parents understand what the inquiry project is all about can be found here. It needs to be updated as the project has evolved each year based on the students but that document has proven to be an invaluable starting point for planning purposes as well as communicating with others. Thanks to my colleague, Brooke Haller, for giving me permission to share that as she’s the one who originally wrote it up.

One tricky aspect to all this is that the inquiry project never looks the same two years in a row; it doesn’t even look the same from student to student within one lesson, not to mention from week to week and class to class. Inquiry is a path of learning that leads into the unknown every, single time. It can be really challenging to lead thirty students down thirty completely separate learning paths, and it’s about as non-traditional as any method I’ve explored as a teacher, but it is amazing when the learning starts to deepen and kids start getting super excited about what they’re learning. It’s the palpable positivity of the learning process during inquiry working time and the pride and ownership that students show once they get rolling along that makes it a tangible, worthwhile project to embark upon.

There’s much more writing to come on this. I needed to start somewhere, but I’m thinking I need to stop somewhere too, for now, at least. If you have any experience teaching from an inquiry-based point of view, I’d love to hear from you. Or, send this along to anyone you think may have some thoughts to contribute. I’m officially embarking on my inquiry about inquiry-based learning, something I unofficially started three years ago when I read that first article. The fact that it’s taken me three years to get to this point and actually write about it attests to the messiness of my own learning process here. I’m hoping that the writing will straighten out my path, just a little bit.

Cross posted on The Elementary Connected Classrooms Blog here.

Imagery – Night Falls 3 by thebmag and Nature Trail #4 by Chalkie_CC, both accessed on April 15, 2013 from Flickr.com and used with Creative Commons permissions.

The Calm After the Storm, or Complete Life Slowdown

I usually take a long time between posts. I am a mother of two extremely active boys (active as in their energy levels – not active as in over-enrolled in too many activities – good to distinguish between those two), I’m a teacher who’s never figured out how to do the job efficiently and I always seem to have some added bits to my job that I like to include as a growing professional but that do take up some of my time. Aside from that I have my private life, something I rarely write about on here, which needs time as well for running, reading, napping, among other things. I have a full life and I’m grateful for it, but I’ve had to shift gears recently and before I get back to blogging solely about work, I need to transition my mindset with this post. So, while I usually have lots going on that gets in the way of blogging, this past three months or so of quiet in this space reflects the overall quiet in my life for a  very different reason.

The simple reason for the downshift is that I’m sick. I’ve been very sick since December, but was getting sick from last August on. It’s a recurrence of a simple but all-encompassing condition that has led to a huge simplification in my life. Am I taking medication? Yes. Is it working? Sort of. Will I get better? Yes. That last question and answer are the only two that really matter and once I figured that out I was able to relax and be thankful that it is the type of illness that can be treated either through medication, a procedure or surgery. Until I’m better, I just need to relax and chill out and let a bunch of things go. Not easy for a person like me. I don’t do “sit and relax and do nothing” very well.

I was a bit startled, in the midst of being sick and still at the mopey, panicky stage about not being able to function at my usual 110%, to read a couple of posts by others who were going through rough times too. And not just any others, but people I look up to in the education world. First, after being forced to cancel my registration at a conference I’d been looking forward to attending, I read George Couros’ post I’m Tired. George wrote that post while at that same conference that I was supposed to be at.

When I get tired, or rundown, or sick like I am now, I always think ‘why can’t I be like ____? They can go, go, go, go, go and accomplish all sorts of things and never get tired or sick. Why can’t I do that?’ and George is one of those people that I watch and think that about. His post made me realize that maybe even those super-productive and mega-successful people out there that I watch and try to learn from aren’t quite as perfectly indestructible as I think they are.

Soon after reading that post, I saw a tweet about Shelley Wright’s post I struggle: lessons I’ve learned from being an inquiry teacher. Shelley is another one of those productive, ‘how does she do all that’ people that I watch and learn from. To read about her struggles, in connection to George’s post, stopped me and made me think. Not only do those super-achievers crash and burn once in awhile, they also experience the same (in Shelley’s posts on inquiry – exactly the same) challenges that I try to ignore and work through. And when I ignore and plow headlong with positive determination through day after day of tough, hard emotional and physical work, it takes it’s toll. I’m not indestructible, nobody is, and while I realize that at some level, it’s not getting through that stubborn, ambitious, must-keep-going, thick head of mine, hence illness that will last for at least 3-9 more months.

Two connected posts, at a time when I needed to realize that it was time to stop and just ‘be’ for awhile and let my body and mind have some time to heal, were enough. I found a way and stepped back at work. I stepped way back at home. At first I thought I just needed physical rest, but after two months of that not working I discovered that it was holistic – mind and body. Not only a quiet, rested body, but a calm, relaxed mind – that final piece in place was the magical ingredient.

Letting go in total has finally allowed my system to start recovering. I’m sleeping 12-14 hours a day. I’m still taking the medication. I still have to pace both my body and my mind. But I do, after months of wondering what I was going to do with my ailing body and scattered mind, feel some hope. I’ve found, at last, a sense of calm that things are going to be okay.

I may have little to no cognitive clarity or anything resembling mental acuity but those who know and care about me are patient and seem to be enjoying, for the most part, my scatter-brained, laid-back, who-cares, attitude towards life these days. Thank goodness I’ve been teaching for 17 years and still love it, as that experience and love for what I do makes it possible for me to continue to work, something, up until last week, that I wasn’t sure I’d be doing after Spring Break. And thank goodness for a supportive, if small, network of family and friends who love me and are helping to pick up all the slack I’m just happily leaving behind me.

So with that, I’m hoping that now I can move along and start getting things back to normal, professionally and personally. I’m thinking this is now the calm after the storm. Hopefully it doesn’t take me another three months to post, but if it does, I would wish that it’s because my life is back to normal and not because of a health-enforced, complete life slowdown.

Imagery: Morups Tange by sramses177 and storm a brewin’ by Steve took it, both accessed March 22, 2013 from Flickr.com

Reflections on New Leadership Roles

Way back in September, I posted about my new leadership roles this year. A couple of weeks ago, Aviva Dunsiger posted this comment about my last post:

I found this to be a really interesting post! I love what you’re doing now in terms of leadership, and it’s definitely clear that you have a lot to share. I’m curious though: now that you’ve begun these leadership roles, what do you think of them? What other leadership opportunities do you want to explore? I’d love to hear more.


Life, as usual, took precedence over my free time to do things like blog, but I did promise Aviva that I’d think on her questions and post a reply! So Aviva, here goes…

Role #1: Lead Teacher of the Elementary Connected Classrooms Project

I think of this role as my first taste of administration. I’m in charge of the team (our Elementary Connected Classrooms (ECC) blog with tons of info here!), in charge of the budget, responsible for running our various meetings, and I’m the one reaching out to other teachers for the expansion of the project into communities in our school district. I’ve also been responsible for submitting proposals to present at conferences. I lead the ECC team and feel more responsible for the overall success of this project since becoming the lead. There is a great deal of paperwork and added responsibilities that I had never dreamed of before entering into the role. I am very thankful that Brooke, the former lead and still a close colleague of mine, has been a mentor to me as I continue to learn this role.

One aspect of the role that has been great professional development, a real eye-opener, as well as just plain enjoyable, is the seat on the District Student Achievement Team (DSAT). This group, led by the superintendent Teresa Downs, is made up of the eleven project leaders in the district. All are full time principals or part-time/full-time upper admin in the district; I am the only full time teacher. We meet once a month, participate in a book club (we’re reading Karen Hume’s Tuned Out – a book right up my alley!) and participate in a certain level of decision making concerning student achievement. It’s a day I look forward to and the experience offers a nice insight into many aspects of the profession that I wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. I feel fortunate to be included as a member of this group and do what I can to learn from it and contribute as well.

Role #2: Mentoring a Teacher Candidate

This role has been a real mind-shift for me. I’ve had to let somebody else teach in my classroom!!! That is a tough thing to do, and strange, and difficult to get used to for me as I LOVE to teach my students. That said, my teacher candidate is wonderful and what I miss out on teaching is made up for in a new type of learning. I’m forced to articulate clearly the most essential elements when answering her question or making an observation. How do you simplify 17+ years of experience into a few sentences or a discussion or written observations? It’s challenging me to be concise and be aware of my pedagogy in almost abstract terms ( I’m thinking abstract as in the visual arts in which an idea or image is reduced to it’s most simple/basic form).

Aside from the personal shifts in mindset, I’m also gaining insight from a new educator’s fresh perspective, I’m watching new lessons unfold before my eyes as she teaches and I’m enjoying the chance to work one on one with students while she takes the lead. Being able to work with small groups and spend time with individual students is a luxury with a large, complex group such as the one I have this year and I’m looking forward to that for the next three months. Finally, being around a new almost-teacher like Tracy is a motivating and inspiring experience. She loves working with kids, she is full of fresh enthusiasm and she and I share many similar perspectives on how to work with children in a school each day.

One last, interesting note is that I’m a local who grew up and graduated in this small town, only to return to teach and now mentor another local (Tracy) who also grew up and graduated in this small town, only to return to be a student teacher here. I think that’s a pretty unique situation to be involved in!

New roles to explore

As far as new roles, I’m not sure on that yet. I’ve always thought that after my children grew up, graduated from high school and left home that I would want to go into administration. These new leadership roles have given me more insight into that possibility. I’ve also found that I don’t like being out of my classroom, although I do enjoy the DSAT meeting days and the opportunity to collaborate with others. It’s a tension I’m guessing that many administrators have dealt with and I know for certain now that I want to teach for a long time to come still.

I’m sure that if I wanted to move into administration that that route would be open for me, if not now, then at some time in the near future with a bit of ambition on my part, but I’m even more sure that, at this point, I want to teach and walk into that room and work with those amazing, brilliant, energetic, bursting-with-potential kids each day. I’m teaching my dream job and happy to be here for awhile. The leadership roles are pushing my thinking, making me, I think, a better educator to those kids and for that, I am extremely grateful and thankful.

Well Aviva, I hope that answers your questions. Thanks for pushing me to think this through. I am also grateful and thankful to you 🙂

New, official leadership roles for the first time

For the first time in my teaching career, I am officially in a leadership position! I’ve always thought I’d work towards that eventually, but also have always said no, or shied away from working towards that type of position. I have had many reasons – children at home, Masters studies to complete, the desire to focus only on the act of teaching – and yet this year, for the first time, I find myself in not one, but two, leadership roles. I’m finding priorities are shifting and I have a few new things to focus on in relation to the number one priority of my students.

First Role: Connected Classrooms Coordinator/Lead Teacher

In June, Brooke, my amazing colleague and then lead Connected Classroom teacher made a parallel move within the district to become the lead Connected 8 teacher. That move resulted in a leadership shift in the Elementary Connected Classrooms with me becoming the new lead! I met with Brooke in mid-August to learn about my new role and was excited to see all that I would be responsible for. It’s a definite change in mindset and now I have a real reason to start learning about leadership. It’s something I’ve always thought I’d eventually turn towards at some point in my career and this is a great way to ease into it a little more gently. Interesting how personal relevancy can so profoundly change one’s perspective.

Second Role: Mentoring a Teacher Candidate (Student Teacher)

On the first day of school this year, for the first time in 16 years of teaching, I’ll have a student teacher (or, as she is called through her university, a teacher candidate). Although she doesn’t actually start her practicum until Tuesday, she and I have been working together all summer via texting, email, twitter, several sessions at the school and one evening tea in my kitchen. There is so much more to being a teacher than showing up at school. To me, and to many, it is a lifestyle, and that, I think, is one thing that I want to share with her. It’s a lifestyle that I love (most of the time!) and I want her to understand so much more than the curricular learning outcomes and strategies to use for teaching place value.

One bonus for me is that I feel motivated and excited already. I’m already benefitting from the opportunity to be a teacher mentor. She keeps thanking me for taking the time to involve her and communicate with her, but I keep thinking that I need to thank her for the injection of added interest and excitement she’s bringing to my practice. I think she is going to be a great teacher, and I’m excited to help her along and watch her take these last final steps into the profession.

Where do I start?

Leadership is one of those words that’s everywhere. I always paid attention, but always felt that it didn’t really apply to me. We all, however, can be leaders and I understand how I fit inside that definition, but personally it felt as if the real leaders were the administrators, upper district administrators and others in that type of position. Suddenly, I fit under my own umbrella and a whole new tangent of research, learning, reading, people and possibilities are meaningful. There is a lot that I want to learn, but with time becoming scarce as school goes back in next week, I need to choose my first few steps carefully.

So, books to read, blogs to find, tweeps to follow and a long talk with my dad (a high school administrator for 30 years and the president of a large teachers association for a few years too) to help me get going! What do you think? Any ideas on where I should start?


Imagery by Plug Us In and used with permission from Flickr.

Summer Detour and the Detour Bag

At the start of the summer holidays, I wrote about a detour. I wrote about my purposeful move away from thinking about teaching all summer long, something I had done for years. I love teaching, and I love learning about learning, and I love reading about new research, and it’s easy to get caught up in spending summers in an altered working mindset. This summer, I detoured off that path and, as tomorrow I start back to work full-time prepping for students next week, I thought a little reflection would bring closure to my summer.

The detour was a bit of a bumpy ride to begin with, but I was determined to shift my mindset so that being a teacher would fade into the background. I admit it didn’t fade easily. I had to push it aside for awhile. In retrospect, it was wonderful to focus on nothing directly work related and instead put all my energy into everything else in my life. The struggle for balance was blissfully absent once I’d pushed aside the temptation to stay in the teacher mindset all summer.

I did all the things I listed in my original post. The boys and I read, biked, swam, and made things. We watched movies together, made cardboard box forts in the living room and spent time being bored.  We traveled through this beautiful province to visit family and friends. We spent rare, special time with the oldest of my nephews. We laughed, fought, goofed around, teased each other and tested one another’s patience. We grew closer. I hope everyone had a chance to do that – my students, my friends, my colleagues near and far. It’s that relationship piece that people always talk about working on in their classrooms. I hope we all remember to work on it at home, too.

The best part? I was able to focus on being a mom. I let my two energetic, growing boys have all my attention. I used to think that working full-time made me a better mother. I used to think that I’d be bored being a stay-at-home mom with kids. I wondered this summer how I could have ever thought that at all. What was I thinking? Was I delusional? Young and foolish? Trying to convince myself that working was better for me and the kids? I love staying home with my boys. It’s precious time that could not be better spent.

I did do one thing on my own. Because I like a challenge, and love to create, and knew that I’d need something interesting and novel to grab my attention and focus on this summer, I made a knitted, felted bag. This may not seem like anything interesting or special to you, but to me, through the summer, as I carefully interlocked yarn stitch by stitch, it became a symbol of my detour. It was the one goal that I set out to achieve this summer, not to read the latest ed leadership book or finish my Masters degree, but to simply finish a bag.

I think I learned a lot more from the process of knitting that piece than I ever thought I would. First off, it was much more difficult than anything I’d ever knitted before. I had to jump in, just do it, take the risk. Also, I made some mistakes and had to figure out how to fix them, or, in a couple of cases, learn to live with them because I couldn’t figure out how to fix them. I had to persevere when it started to get boring. I had to pay attention so that I wouldn’t miss a stitch. Tonight, to finish the project, I went through the process of felting – another thing I’d never done before and one of those things that you realize you have no control over, you just have to do it carefully and hope it all works the way you wanted it to. Many teaching and learning metaphors can be found in the process if you look just a little bit closer than most would.

So, in the end, with work tomorrow, all I really have to show for my summer is a bag. A little, knitted bag, that’s a bit crooked, and according to my older son, looks like a hat upside-down. I call it my detour bag.

It was only a little project, but not so little of an accomplishment. To me, it symbolizes a summer where, day by day, as with stitch by stitch, I slowly bound my family closer and closer together. A little project which gave me the reminder that I was detouring from work to focus on family, and symbolized my priority on having a closely knit family at the center of it all.


Sometimes you have to stop teaching to learn the lesson

Today I felt like telling a story. This story has waited a long time to be told, almost 20 years to be honest.

It’s shaped who I am as an educator and stays close to my heart even now.

The day started as most Tuesdays started for me at the time. I woke up early, caught the bus, and arrived at Charles Dickens Elementary, an inner city school in Vancouver, to do my weekly volunteer work. I was learning how to be a teacher and I needed volunteer experience in a classroom to gain entry into SFU’s very competitive PDP program.

I loved Charles Dickens Elementary. The old brick school was demolished a few years ago and was rebuilt to modern standards. If I could, however, teleport that old brick school with those teachers through space and time, I would work there forever and make sure my children went there too. The school was led by a nationally recognized, award-winning principal and the librarian had been my grade three teacher. She was kind enough to bring me in, introduce me around and arrange the volunteering schedule for me. But that’s another story to tell.

Back to the Tuesday morning. This particular morning I was to spend time in the grade 2/3 classroom. As I arrived I noticed that Blaire (not his real name), the teacher, was busy speaking with a family I hadn’t seen before. The family, I soon learned, were refugees to Canada who had recently arrived from a war-torn country in Africa. This was their second day in Vancouver, the first day for their children to attend school.

Soon after the day started, Blaire asked me to work with the little refugee boy registered into grade three. To this day I cannot remember his name but I can picture his face like I saw him yesterday. He was fairly tall for a boy of that age, stocky and strong. His skin was a rich, dark brown and his eyes looked sad and overwhelmed, yet curious. He had thick, curly, springy-looking hair. 

I immediately asked Blaire what he wanted me to do as I had not been in this situation before. Blaire told me to see if I could figure out anything about the boy, if he could read, talk, draw, count, etc. so, with that broad, yet helpful, direction, I asked the little boy, with both words and gestures, to accompany me to a circular table at the back of the classroom.

I soon figured out the boy could not speak any English. He would point to himself and say his name when I pointed to myself and said my name. He couldn’t read English, couldn’t count from what I could tell, didn’t seem too interested in books and didn’t draw when I put paper and pencil in front of him. As it was math time for the rest of the class, I soon pulled out some math manipulatives, cards, dice, counters, etc., and decided to teach him to play a math game.

I knew a few different dice games and spent the next twenty minutes trying, and failing, to teach him a math game using the dice. I kept reminding myself that this was his first day in school in Canada and that I needed to show patience and kindness. It was extremely frustrating to me and seemed futile. He didn’t seem to understand anything I was doing but still sat there looking at me and trying, sort of, to play along, even though I could tell he had no idea what I was doing. I wonder now what he thought that day – what he thought about me, what he thought about what I was doing, what he thought about his first day at school.

I admit that after twenty minutes I was discouraged and a part of me gave up. I stopped trying to teach him and instead just rolled the dice around with him.

In was then that I learned my lesson.

After about five minutes of rolling dice around, I noticed a change in his behaviour. I’d noticed earlier that he did a certain movement with the dice and some counters, but I had misinterpreted that as him not understanding the game I had been trying to teach him. He did that certain movement again, and this time I also noticed that his body posture had changed and he looked right at me. He seemed to have a purpose, to be trying to show me something.

I stopped trying to be a teacher and started being a student.

The boy was trying, had been trying for quite some time I realized after reflecting on the whole thing, to teach me a game using dice and counters. It didn’t take long for me to begin to understand what he was trying to teach me. After that, he, being a great teacher, taught me how to play a very simple game, something young children would play, I’m guessing, in his home country in Africa. There were no words, no shared language between us, but suddenly, after nearly an hour together, we were having fun and playing together. At one point I was rewarded with a huge smile that reached all the way to his eyes – I’ve never forgotten that.

Even though we couldn’t talk to each other, he somehow managed to teach me a game. With no words, he managed to teach me. Just think about that from a teaching point of view for a minute. But, and this is the important part, he wasn’t able to teach me until I stopped trying to teach him. As soon as I stopped, as soon as I paid attention to him, he taught me.

Sometimes you have to stop teaching to learn the lesson.

I’ve never forgotten that little guy and that lesson that day. It speaks to me and my teaching philosophy still. Children have so much to teach us, if only they have the chance. If we stop trying to get through that lesson, or finish the unit before the end of the month, if we stop all of that and just pay attention to our brilliant students, they do, I believe, have a lot to teach us.


Imagery: Portrait “Untitled” by Michiel Van Balen from Flickr.com, photo of the old Charles Dickens school taken by Rom@nce and accessed from http://www.panoramio.com/photo/9961621 July 25, 2012.


Digital Footprint Summer to do

Even though it’s summer and I’m purposefully not doing anything work-related, I’m going to create a Summer to do list. I already have a list full of daytrips, family events and other household necessities. This post is the summer to-do specifically related to my digital footprint. Here’s my summer to do:

  1. Change my twitter avatar. Convocation was last fall, and although I am still in that Masters mindset, and I love that photo because my dad took it, it’s time for a change.
  2. Re-acquaint myself with Google Reader. I have a great list of brilliant people. I need to read what they’re thinking. And I’d like to comment on 2-3 posts per week.
  3. Write. Blog. Post. Simple.
  4. Get back to digital photography every day. My Flickr account has been lonely.
  5. Create an about.me page to consolidate all the corners of my digital presence.
  6. Actually use the Posterous account I created awhile back.

I’m guessing that’s enough. I’m also guessing that it’s precisely because I’m not doing anything work-related, my ingrained-listing habit is feeling the need to organize some of my idle summer time.

I guess we’ll all see how much of this I get done. Did I miss anything important? What else should I add to my list?


Imagery by me.