Becoming a Teacher Researcher: Shifting, Stretching and Spiraling

330655247_a488fc76ac_zToday my identity shifted a little. Today there was a subtle stretching of who I am and where I’m headed in life. I was warned that this change would be uncomfortable.  But that’s okay, this change is by choice.

As of today, I’m officially a teacher researcher.

I started the final year of my Masters of Education in Educational Practice at Simon Fraser University this morning. Eleven months of intense academic study during which I will read numerous books, work through various articles and readings, create a proposal for an inquiry of my choosing, complete a field study in my classroom/school/school district, write a major research paper and present my learning to my cohort and professors. Dr. Kelly, the professor for this first course, described the entire MEd experience as a spiral of learning and my understanding is that readings will be revisited, ideas will reappear and the process will build upon itself with time.

It’s a fantastic challenge.

It seems to me that the first part of the process is to determine where I fit in as a teacher researcher into the vastness that is the field of education. Before that can be determined, however, I have to take a good, hard look at myself and figure out who I am as a person and as an educator. Teaching is, for those of you looking from the outside in, an incredibly personal experience and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a teacher able to separate their professional and personal self. So, a few thoughts on “Where I’m From”, one of the homework assignments for tonight…

  • I’m from Irish, Scottish and Cree people
  • I’m from the natural world and need to be a part of it
  • I’m from a beautiful part of the world full of huge mountains, breath-taking valleys, and a rugged coastline
  • I’m from a little town surrounded by a rich variety of wildlife – bears, deer, coyotes, wolves, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, salmon, sturgeon, steelhead, rainbow trout, eagles, owls and more – and I love that I share that home with them
  • I’m from a city where the mountains touch the sea
  • I’m from a succession of strong women – intelligent, passionate, intuitive, loving, wise
  • I’m from a big immediate family, but a smallish extended one

The other part of the process that I learned about today was how to read. Really read, not skim through, not decode and forget, not glide over the surface, but take-your-time-to-actually-ingest-the-text type reading. That reading requires two things often missing in our busy world – time and thought.

240234623_1d7b8b4b87To illustrate the notion of ‘reading well’, we read  The Ethics of Reading: A Traveler’s Guide. To be honest, the title makes me think of universe imagery every time I look at it. The article, by Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, expands the definition of what it means to read so widely that the universe imagery makes perfect sense and I’m wondering when during the first reading that picture appeared in my mind.

In the article, Rorty offers advice and lists questions to ask when reading to more fully understand the text. Advice such as read, then set the work aside and see how it affected you: questions to ask about the author to more completely experience the meaning inside, behind and within the words.

It was late in the day, as I was packing up to leave, that I experienced an ‘aha’ moment, or completed my first little spiral of learning. The Rorty article included details on what questions to ask about the ‘historical author’ of a piece of writing. Rorty offers the following advice:

Identify the historical author. What was his education? what had he read? What was his early environment and experience?

Isn’t that exactly what the first homework assignment was about? Hadn’t we been led through a process in which we thought about and shared who we were, where we came from, what our experiences have been? I think we were asked to identify ourselves, the future author of the final research paper, in order to situate our own thinking in preparation for the stretching, the shifting and the learning to come.

Today my identity shifted a little. Today there was a subtle stretching of who I am and where I’m headed in life. I was warned that this change would be uncomfortable, especially at the beginning.

But then, stretching is somewhat uncomfortable, isn’t it? If you don’t feel a slight tug, nothing’s stretched at all.

Imagery by SubyRex and Emdadi on Flickr.

Enough with the downtime, time for a challenge…

I’m very happy that the one week of holidays I allotted to myself this summerIMG_1647 happily stretched into one month. Proof of this is that on July 18th, I sat down on the couch, tea and book in hand, and realized that I actually felt relaxed. By early August, I had no idea what day of the week it was or what the date was. Sure, I had a dayplanner filled with camping, trips to the beach and other important summer to do’s, but I somehow managed to just blur the days into a succession of fun summer tasks without maintaining a schedule.

It was a great summer vacation, and now it’s time to transition back to reality. Looking back, I did manage to work while forgetting time. I actually did a great deal of reading and thinking to get ready for the challenging year ahead…

I read Ruth Culham’s  6+1 Traits of Writing and her more recent book, Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for Middle School. The more I think about what I learned from these books, the more ridiculous it seems that anyone would just expect students to be able to write. There is so much to teach them about writing, just like anything else, and I’m excited to focus on writing in my role with the Connected Classroom project.

sfu cropped

I spent a fair bit of time thinking about the upcoming year of study to complete my Masters in Education at Simon Fraser University. Cindy, a teacher who just completed the same MEd a couple of weeks ago, recently posted about how fantastic her experience was. If I was excited before, she increased it tenfold with her post! The first weekend of classes is September 11/12, so once school starts, life is going to get interesting (I’ll try Cindy, really, I will, to keep you updated!). Anytime I feel panic about being a mom, a teacher, AND a grad student, I remind myself that this next year is all about positive stress and challenge and I stubbornly refuse to complain or think negatively about such a wonderful opportunity.

I also managed to spend time doing nothing this summer, and downtime always allows for undirected thinking. What I think about during that blissful downtime often surprises me and this summer was no exception. The main theme that ran through all my thinking this summer, whether I was  reflecting on returning to Intermediate teaching, or planning for the last year of my MEd (or tenting for a week, by myself, with two children, a dog and a 5:45 a.m. wake-up call for hockey camp!) was challenge. Challenge seemed to creep into all my thoughts. I realized I need challenge in my life; I actively seek it out. And I realized I’ve always been that way. I thought I was just an overachiever, but I think now I can define myself as one who actively seeks and needs and enjoys challenge in life.


All that thinking about challenge left me with these questions – How do we teach that? How do we get students to enjoy challenge?  I’m hoping that theme finds a way to surface in both my Connected Classroom and my MEd research…

All photos by me. Challenge Motivator poster generated by Big Huge Labs.

The Calm Before the MEd Storm

It’s official; I’m in! In September I  start the final year of my Masters degree at Simon Fraser University. I received my letter last week and already I can feel the upcoming change. I swing between feeling extremely excited to feeling absolute panic! I’m aware that the daily rhythm of my life, which has Storm lightfinally achieved balance and is almost relaxed, will change  dramatically for the year of study. Life is fairly calm right now, but I had a sneaking suspicion that it was just the calm before the storm. I was right; the MEd storm lays directly in my path!

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to record learning, with all the accompanying struggles and successes, on this blog. During TLITE, I kept an electronic journal using Microsoft Word. That was a stretch for me as I’ve always kept a journal, but it was always with pen and paper. Six months after TLITE ended, I started this blog in hopes of maintaining professional momentum. It has served a variety of purposes since November 2008 and soon will serve as one way to record and extend my  learning the MEd year.

One thing that I found with my electronic journal was that I would lapse into personal writing at times. I haven’t done that as much in my blog because I try to stay aware of the audience that comes with writing in a public space and the digital footprint that I’m leaving with every keystroke or click of the mouse. It will be good for my brain to be forced to shuffle through and clarify the professional from the personal this fall.

Not surprisingly, even though I don’t start until September, my mind has Cotton Cloudsalready begun. Thursday morning I woke up with enough ideas to complete two years of coursework, let alone one. But that’s another post. I think I’ll let my brain enjoy the calm seas of contemplation a little longer before I share my ideas with the world…

Images from Flickr: Cotton Clouds by rob_surreal, Storm light by jekrub

Planting Seeds and Bubble Wrap

It was definitely a Monday today, the kind of day when bubble wrap (thanks Heidi!) is irresistible, even if it is virtual!
I’d like to clarify my title. I found creating a blog title frustrating, and in the end settled for ‘Just a Thought’ because that phrase often appears at the end of my journal entries. It also, however, represents significant professional growth as an educational leader during recent graduate coursework through Field Programs at SFU.

In my second year of coursework, I focused on developing my capacity as an education leader. Not surprisingly, my emerging leadership style is similar to my teaching style. I’m ultra-organized and try my best to be engaging. I use little tricks to catch peoples’ attention and then hold it, but not for too long because I think timing is key. I like to be subtle and plant little seeds of thought and watch people think.
After I grab peoples’ attention, after I get them thinking and really engaged with whatever it is I’m presenting to them, just when I’ve got them really hooked, that’s when I like to cut them loose to think on their own. That’s when I’ll suggest that “it’s just a thought…” or something similar, effectively (I hope) handing the ownership of the discussion or activity or workshop from my control over to that of my audience, whether they are students, a PAC group or a room full of teachers.

So, “Just a Thought” is my way of handing the ownership of various topics over to any visitors unknown and from anywhere. Even if you don’t choose to comment, hopefully something made you think…or smile, as may have been the case with bubble wrap!