What’s MOST Important?

There is a WORLD of possibilities for EACH of us … reach for the STARS!
Photo from Global Grade 3s

I am struggling.

I know the teacher I want to be. I strive to be the kind of teacher I would want for my own children. I am a learner and I know I was born to teach. It is HUGE work but, oddly, I bounce into school each and every day, excited for my next adventures with my amazing Grade Threes. We learn a LOT from one another. I CAN’T imagine a MORE rewarding career.

I am a reader and I am always growing. Why am I struggling? I am torn. I am inspired by all that I read through my UNBELIEVABLE twitter PLN. I see ALL the amazing possibilities. There are just NEVER enough hours in the day to truly accomplish everything I would like to experience with my students.

At this point in the year, I know my learners pretty well. They are my “daytime family”. I know where they are as readers, as writers … how comfortable they are with math … but I know them BEYOND where they are “academically”. We share who WE are … what makes us tick, what EXCITES us, what scares us … we’ve developed trusting relationships.

Still, I’m struggling.

Within my classroom is a wide range of abilities and interests. I see them BEYOND their marks and “current functioning”. Some of us are strong mathematicians. It’s just the way we think. Some of us have the gift for writing and can express our written thoughts with ease. Some are readers … I mean AVID readers who LOVE it. And, some of us are incredibly artistic. Some of us are even lucky enough to have it ALL!

It’s report card time. We don’t all FIT into “reading at level O” at this point in the school year. Developmentally, we’re just NOT ready yet. Maybe reading won’t EVER be a strength … but … there are strengths in OTHER areas. Ugh. I HATE giving 2s. I want to BUILD learner confidence … I want to delve DEEPER  into our curiosities … and passions. No matter HOW I weave all the student learner outcomes into our inquiries I ALWAYS have those Provincial Achievement Exams sitting at the back of my brain. But my heart says we’re NOT cookie cutter learners … NONE of us are.

At the end of the year, they’ll have to write a narrative story based on a picture prompt. They’ll probably do okay … most of them … but that writing won’t even BEGIN to compare to the amazing writing they do when they write for their “authentic” global audience on the classroom blog. Already I can hear their voices SHINE through into these pieces.

What’s MOST important? Relationships. Trust. Developing a safe and nurturing learning environment together where it’s GOOD to take risks with our learning.

I struggle with what I know in my heart. Helping students develop an understanding of who they are as learners … their strengths, passions, helping them to SEE that life long learning can be joyful and fulfilling … this is what I strive for … while trying to support their individual learner needs. They are, EACH of them, SO much more than a mark on a piece of paper.

How do I fit it ALL in?

I have a DREAM … I am REACHING for the stars … but … how do I fit it all in? Maybe I need LONGER teaching days … or FEWER student learner outcomes, (although I do see their value), or maybe each grade should last for TWO years … IMAGINE the possibilities with more TIME to fit it ALL in? I do!

I wonder:

  • How do you fit it all in … and find a balance?

The Power of Blogging in a Global Classroom

Photo Shared by Global Grade 3

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

~African Proverb

For the past two years, my students and I have had the life changing opportunity to work closely with a non-government organization, Mosqoy, to help make a difference in the lives of people living in a remote weaving village in Q’enqo Peru. This journey began as a “one time only” video conference with a teacher in our system who was travelling through Peru with his family.

Since then, through providing students with authentic opportunities to ask personalized questions of our experts in the field, via Skype, not only have we deepened our understanding of Peruvian culture, traditions, quality of life and physical land features, we have magically helped to transform a rundown building in Q’enqo into a beautiful, inviting library for this tiny village nestled in the Andes. We have fund-raised to help provide materials, books and furniture for this library. We have been BLESSED to work with our Non-Government Organization (NGO); they have been AMAZING role-models for each and every one of us.

Last year, for the very first time, my class began blogging about this journey with a global audience. Participating in a global education inquiry, which has a solid grounding in our Social Studies curriculum, has been one of the most powerful learning experiences I have had the chance to participate in during my teaching career. Working with our NGO has brought our “textbook learning” to life and broadened our inquiry far beyond student learning objectives and Google searches.

Through blogging, these children have discovered the power of writing for and learning from readers from all over the world. Students have engaged in powerful mathematical experiences beyond curriculum objectives by using mental math to calculate the “number of hits” on our revolver map each day, and through sorting, counting and organizing their fundraising efforts.

Digital citizenship and online safety lessons have occurred naturally as we have contended with spam and less than appropriate advertising on flag counters, all within the safety of the classroom. Life lessons in economics, discovering how much further the Canadian dollar will go in a developing country, and the challenges of “building capacity” … the real world excitements and disappointments of trying to make a difference in a developing country … the sustainability and perseverance required to have this change endure … these are just a FEW of the amazing lessons that our eight year olds discovered.

Perhaps one of the most surprising lessons learned while blogging with my students was the realization that not only are we sharing our learning with our families, we are sharing with the world. And, if you are consistent in replying to the comments left behind on a classroom blog, the learning becomes interactive, personalized and even MORE rewarding than just communicating your discoveries through your posts. Some of the most POWERFUL learning we have experienced has been through the treasured relationships with our readers and the back and forth conversation that develops through the comments and replies. I have learned that it is not ENOUGH to read a “post” … the rich conversations in the comment section is where the “deeper” learning is at!

We have learned compassion, empathy, global awareness and, perhaps even MORE powerful, that you are never too little to make a positive difference in the world. These lessons have been meaningful, invaluable and made possible because of a desire to flatten the walls of the classroom, make learning meaningful and move into the global arena. Global education ROCKS!

Sometimes we are not always LUCKY enough to have a relationship like this develop naturally with an NGO that is interested in continuing a long term relationship. What do you do THEN? If you are interested in learning more about flattening the walls and creating a global classroom for your students, you should DEFINITELY check out the Global Classroom Wiki and the Global Classroom Blog! This learning community is ALL about sharing and mentoring, and there are projects already ON the go to help you get your feet wet or to continue to enrich you and your students’ learning journeys!

I wonder:

  • how are you helping your students to become global citizens?
  • what is the most POWERFUL lesson you’ve learned while flattening the classroom walls with your students?

Spinning with POSSIBILITIES!

 Inspiration doesn't favor those who sit still

Flickr Creative Commons Photo Shared by Scott McLeod

One week in. Into WHAT, you ask? Why, #etmooc, of course! Officially, this amazing “connectivist” MOOC, (massive open online course), hasn’t even REALLY begun – it’s been an “orientation” week, of sorts. Gosh. Topic One doesn’t even begin until MONDAY! Man. If it HASN’T already begun … I can’t WAIT to see what the “official” topics and discussions unveil! ALREADY my head is SPINNING. It’s a GREAT spinning … but SPINNING nonetheless!

So far, I’ve had the opportunity to experience a Blackboard Collaborative “Welcome and General Orientation”, an #etmooc chat (#etmchat), and ALMOST an HOUR long session with the amazing Sue Waters while she shared her extensive knowledge on BLOGGING! I say “almost” because something came up at school and I didn’t quite make it to the session! RATS! As if THIS wasn’t already inspiring enough … the Google+ community has become a tsunami of sharing, collaboration and support. Everyday, through people’s inspiring posts, I bookmark SEVERAL more tools I want to explore. I don’t know if it’s POSSIBLE, but I WORRY that Google Chrome is going to tell me I have EXCEEDED the CLOUD for BOOKMARK storage!

Being a LERD, I am just SO excited by the possibilities. I ALSO love that SO many of the amazing people I learn with and from through my TWITTER PLN are involved in this #etmooc. It is, on MANY levels, like many of us experience when we first begin our twitter journeys. A LOT like drinking from a “fire hose”. Learning to “filter” and focus on where you are at and what you need at this moment in time is the only way to keep your head ABOVE water … and to NOT become overwhelmed or, worse, give up.

This weekend, I can’t WAIT to explore the first of MANY tools I have already been exposed to through the Google+ community. FIRST up on my list is to play with a tool that Dennis Richards used to share his #etmooc introduction: xtranormal Talk about inspiring AND entertaining!

Poster: Passion

Flickr Creative Commons Photo Shared by Krissy Venosdale

That, and INTENTIONALLY leaving comments on people’s blogs to more actively express my appreciation for the learning! I feel SO blessed that @Courosa, while on sabbatical, has offered SUCH an amazing learning opportunity to the world, along with his incredible “conspirators“! If you haven’t already joined this amazing journey … what are you WAITING for?

 

 

No Longer Walking this Journey ALONE

I just finished a post for the #globalclassroom January chats and thought it would be fun to do as a “celebration” of our year … collectively and individually … as globally connected educators. I was inspired by the #kinderchat tribe, as they sometimes refer to themselves. But … let’s back this up in time just a titch:

Dare

Creative Commons License  Photo by Krissy Venosdale

This is my FIRST year of involvement with the #globalclassroom chats.  Honestly … it’s my first FULL year of being inspired, DAILY, by my AMAZING twitter PLN and THAT is how I FOUND the #globalclassroom community! Over that time, I have changed MANY of the preconceived notions I held about SM.

I remember CLEARLY lurking through many twitter chats in the early days, feeling, VERY strongly, the “worry” of presenting myself “professionally” and sharing content with “valuable” educational links. Each tweet was carefully thought out. And, slowly, as confidence grew, I began to invest MORE of ME … still professional … still education focused … and my learning community began to grow. Along with that came the relationships. A shared joke, a favourite song, support during struggles, GREAT resources, INSPIRED reading, connections I never believed were possible … SO much more than I’d EVER expected. Who KNEW?

No matter WHERE you go, or WHAT you’re doing … it ALWAYS boils down to RELATIONSHIPS. The bottom  line is “you GET what you put INTO it”! I am inspired by SO many twitter communities and individuals. It was the camaraderie shared between the #kinderchat tweeps, who share, collaborate, joke, support and work hard at cultivating their relationships, that inspired my post for January’s #globalclassroom chat … a celebration of community, relationships, joyful learning and the journey.

Ignite a Fire

Creative Commons License Photo by Krissy Venosdale

I LOVE that twitter is a place where I have done some of the most AMAZING learning in my teaching career. I feel BLESSED to no longer walk this journey ALONE.

BE Quiet!

“Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe.”
― Susan Cain

A colleague recently talked with me about a new book she was reading. She had really enjoyed it and thought I might also like to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. Part way through this chat she looked at me with shock when I told her that I considered myself an “introvert”. Somehow, her response surprised me. Don’t get me wrong. I speak up during staff meetings. I eagerly share my ideas during team meetings. I am animated and “outgoing” with my students as we learn together each and every day. I am approachable and work hard to develop meaningful relationships with students, parents and colleagues. Needless to say, I raced right out and purchased Susan Cain’s book THAT night.

This book spoke to me on SO many levels. From personal experience, I could relate to many of the examples Cain shared within the pages of this book. I remember losing marks in school for a “lack of participation” and being terrified of “giving presentations”. As a matter of fact, I EVEN dropped a few COURSES while at university when I saw “oral projects” listed on the syllabus! Guess that’s IT for a Master’s Degree!

My husband lovingly laughs at me and finds it hard to believe because I don’t FEEL this way when I teach! “How can you say you don’t like presenting in front of adults … you’re in a CLASSROOM all day LONG … you CAN’T be afraid of public speaking!” I love the energy I feel in the classroom. I LOVE the interactions with my students and colleagues. But, I recharge when I come home. I like my “quiet down time”. It’s hard to explain. Like Susan’s quote above, it’s the air that I breathe.

Over the years I have given myself permission to express myself in the way I feel MOST comfortable – through writing. Somehow, ideas flow and I feel empowered when I write. Strangely, I even feel more “articulate” when I write. It used to bother me immensely that I couldn’t comfortably stand up and “present” professionally like, say, Sir Ken Robinson, for example! (Ya … I know … that’s setting the bar REALLY high! 😉 ) Reading Quiet helped to reinforce, for me, what I knew already intuitively.

Introverts and extroverts reside along a continuum. They appear to be “opposites” and yet there truly IS no black and white … just shades of gray. Some extroverts don’t like public speaking. Some introverts DO! Not all introverts are necessarily shy, either.

I think I’m a weird combination of deeply introverted and very daring. I can feel both those things working.

~Helen Hunt

The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases. 

~Carl Jung

Susan Cain does a beautiful job of melding personal experiences with scientific research. While our society values the power of the extrovert, she makes a powerful case for the need to respect, honour and empower BOTH!  This book is truly worth the read and the ensuing conversations it will provoke:

Like yin and yang, night and day, winter and summer – seemingly opposites … without one there isn’t the other … the world NEEDS extroverts AND introverts. The odds are you are either living with someone on the opposite side of the continuum or you WORK with a few!

Perfect for Each Other Quotes

Flickr photo by Charm 2010

I remember, clearly, receiving an email from my son’s Grade Four teacher. Although he is now 18, the experience is CLEARLY etched in my memory. He had worked for days on a presentation that he was to share that morning. His teacher emailed to say that he had “refused” to stand up and present his “poster”. I requested a phone call so that we could discuss the situation. Now I know that there is a FINE line between advocating for your child and “helicoptering” … but this was a situation my husband and I hoped to resolve by finding a compromise. You see, my oldest is a lot like I was. The teacher provided two options. He could present the next day or he could receive a zero on the presentation mark. We tried for a compromise. Could he present to his teacher alone? Could he choose two or three peers and present in a “safer” way, since he was shy? Nope. No options. Share with the large group or take the zero. A little “frustrated” with the lack of flexibility or sensitivity for personalizing the learning, we presented my son with his options. He chose the zero and we supported his choice. That day, I vowed to never put a student in my care in that situation EVER. (Maybe this is naive, since I teach Grade Three, but it works for me.)

Can you work to CHANGE certain aspects of your personality? ABSOLUTELY. Should you nurture your strengths and USE them to the best of your ability? Without  a DOUBT. As educators AND parents, it is OUR responsibility to help our children and students FIND their strengths, NURTURE their GIFTS and EXPLORE who they are … as learners … as people who have individual gifts to share with the world. After all, we USUALLY find our niche!

This above all:
To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
~Hamlet, Shakespeare

I wonder:

  • Do you see yourself as more introverted or extroverted?
  • Have you had to work hard to strengthen an area of “discomfort” such as public speaking? How have you achieved this?
  • How do you nurture your own child’s or students’  “strengths”?

Struggles LEAD to Celebrations!

 Curiosity

Flickr Photo by m-c

Yesterday was just ONE of those days where it ALL came together! Definitely NOT to be confused with the days that it DOESN’T … and … sadly … THOSE days exist TOO! For example, the day BEFORE our perfectly serendipitous day,  we experienced  a 100% FAILURE rate with our borax crystals! Don’t get me wrong. Experiencing failure is HEALTHY … it helps to develop character and, in a safe and caring environment, it supports the development of curiosity, resilience and perseverance! As one of LAST year’s young bloggers taught us: FAIL = First Attempt In Learning! What a HEALTHY way to LOOK at setbacks!

The morning after mixing our borax crystals, my Grade Threes and I BOUNCED into the classroom to check out our newly formed creations … only to be met with NOTHING! We’d done everything to specification. They looked at me, bewildered. I looked at THEM … bewildered. They asked WHY … MANY of them with quivering bottom lips. Now … I COULD have said, “Well, the borax may have been old … maybe we didn’t stir the solution well enough … maybe the ROOM wasn’t the right TEMPERATURE!” This list could have been extensive. Instead, I answered their WHYs with, “I don’t KNOW … what do YOU think? Let’s TALK about it!”

We sat, some of us quite downhearted, and what these students had to say was simply AMAZING for eight year old children. Maybe we didn’t put enough borax in. Maybe it was too LOUD in here and the vibrations  in the ROOM caused the failure. Maybe the water was too hot … or too COLD. Maybe the JARS were dirty … although several students piped up quickly and said that MIGHT be the case for a FEW of the jars … but ALL of them? We THINK not! Together, we decided that we would try ANOTHER little experiment. We mixed up ONE more jar of borax solution … adding quite a bit more borax … just in CASE it had become “stale”.  Some of us even went home to research just a LITTLE more!

Our TEST worked and we were greeted, the NEXT morning, by a GORGEOUS snowflake crystal. Maybe, since the borax was a year old, it HAD required more in order to saturate the solution! And THIS led us to our “perfect day”!

With MORE borax crystals to make, classroom blog comments to reply to and twenty MILLION other jobs to do … it didn’t LOOK like it was going to be one of those stellar days. Honestly, I didn’t know how I was going to “juggle” everything that needed to be accomplished!

globe in hands

Flickr Photo by Noticelj

That’s when it HIT me.

We’ve been working on our classroom blog for OVER a month now. This would be the PERFECT time to hand over the reigns to see what these awesome STUDENTS would do WITHOUT me guiding their responses to our readers. They’d had TONS of role modelling for crafting an awesome reply to our readers, and I decided that I would focus on helping a group of students with crystals. The rest of the class drafted a response to one of the comments left behind. It was a leap of faith … they hadn’t done it independently yet this year!

I had to bite my tongue as my little group of FIVE mixed their crystals … and I “listened in” on what was happening with the NINETEEN students in the blogging group! Yup. NINETEEN kids … working WITHOUT the teacher … compromising, collaborating, sharing, discussing.  I wanted it to be COMPLETELY their comment … none of my interjections or “leading and supporting”. I REALLY wanted to see what THEY would do!

One young man was the recorder, on the laptop and the smartboard;  he gathered student thoughts and recorded them. I could hear issues such as:

  • okay, how do we START a reply?
  • did we talk about her family’s “sentence”?
  • how do we say it to “reel the reader in” and get them to come BACK to the blog?
  • do you remember how Mrs. Renton makes that HAPPY face at the END of our comments … oh ya … it’s like THIS …
  • how should we END the reply?

You will LAUGH at THIS … the comment left by the parent mentioned “LERD”, and these children discussed, as a group, what a LERD was!!! I couldn’t STOP myself from giggling … although quietly enough that it wouldn’t distract them! 😉 This is a group that is PROUD to shout their lerdiness from the ROOFTOPS!!! (Not all … but MANY profess to be LERDS!!!)

My heart SWELLED with pride over how BEAUTIFULLY this little group of students collaborated to craft their FIRST independent reply to a reader!

My tears were WELLING!!! And, if that wasn’t ENOUGH, even MORE magic happened!!!

When I came back to the group and they read their message, (FILLED with pride), the PERSONALIZED mini-lessons … authentic, immediate, and meaningful mini-lessons began:

  • how to right click to check a misspelled word
  • capitals for Mrs.
  • leaving ONE space after a period (as opposed to none)
  • when to use families vs family’s
  • the differences between to, two, and too

Yup. This was TRULY a PROUD teacher moment! They had been internalizing EVERYTHING we had discussed as we crafted meaningful responses to our blog readers as a large group. They had worked through their struggles together. They had collaborated, supported one another, taught one another and risen to the challenge BEYOND my greatest hopes! JUST like the day before when we experienced the disappointing results of our experiment. They rose UP, pushed PAST … and … we ALL grew!

After all, you NEED the rain to appreciate the sun … without the rain there ARE no rainbows! Nope, I wouldn’t trade the struggles for perpetual smooth sailing. It is THROUGH these struggles that we learn and grow!

PS For those of you who are WONDERING … our SECOND attempt at borax crystals met with 98% success! We PERSEVERED and FINALLY achieved 100%. Phew!

Planting a Tree Both Literally AND Metaphorically

The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.

~Nelson Henderson

Acacia tree and vegetation

Flickr Creative Commons by The Field Museum Library

I planted a tree this morning. Anyone who knows me “gets” that hanging out in the yard and mucking around in the garden is “spiritual” for me. It’s where I do my thinking, find peace and unwind. So what, you may be asking yourselves?!?

Well, this tree was special. It wasn’t a garden centre purchase, grown and raised intentionally to beautify a perfectly manicured lawn. Nope. This tree chose US! It VOLUNTEERED to come to our yard! Sadly, though, it chose to grow in the WRONG spot. For the past couple of years, my husband and I watched it grow. We speculated on what KIND of plant it might be … and suddenly, this Spring when it seemed to ROCKET sky high, we decided that we HAD to take it out, after realizing that it would become an actual TREE! It had chosen to spring up RIGHT next to the gas metre … NEVER a great place for a tree.

Two months ago, we spent an ENTIRE day digging it carefully out … hoping to be able to untangle its extensive roots without disrupting the gas line … just a LITTLE scary. After HOURS of working with the intricate root system, and digging two FEET into the ground to discover that the TAP root seemed to go down for MILES, we decided to cut our losses and sever the root. It made me sad to think that we were possibly ending this little tree’s life. On a whim, we popped it into an empty pot along with the soil it had chosen to begin its life in. Don’t ASK me how it had survived in the soil to BEGIN with … the dirt was LARGELY clay based!

We watered it and watched its leaves begin to shrivel. We CONTINUED to water it. Its leaves began to crumble. Finally, pruning shears in hand, I approached it sadly, with the intention of cutting it down. Imagine my SURPRISE when I discovered brand NEW leaves beginning to sprout … all OVER each of its Charlie Brown branches! THIS tree was a SURVIVOR! Talk about perseverance even in the face of adversity! This was a tree that was DETERMINED to live with us … so … I decided to give it a PERMANENT home.

The WHOLE time I spent planting our little miracle tree, in a PERFECT spot in the garden unencumbered by gas lines, I couldn’t help thinking about a student I had the privilege of working with this past year. Strange, I KNOW … but … he REMINDED me of my little tree.

He was new to our school this year. He felt a little “out of place” … in the wrong spot … just like the tree. He was quiet, a little unsure of himself, and he kept his reading skills WELL hidden for the first few days of school by “reading” chapter books. Early one September morning, driving into the school parking lot, I saw his mother STRUGGLING to get him to go into the “before school” program so that she could leave for work.

He was crying. She was crying. He was WHITE knuckled … hanging onto the car door for dear life. She was trying to console him, to get him to let go so that she wouldn’t be late. I wasn’t sure whether she wanted me there or not … sometimes people want privacy when they are dealing with family issues. Uncertain, I walked over to the vehicle anyway, hoping that she wouldn’t mind my attempt to “help out” … after all … it was early in the school year and we hadn’t had time to build a trusting relationship yet. I tried to console them BOTH … I remember WELL mornings like this with MY boys. Truly one of the MORE heart-breaking ways to begin your day.

After about 20 minutes of gut wrenching negotiations in the parking lot, the emotional eight year old accompanied me to my classroom to “help me out” before school began for the day. We chatted about “little” things … soccer … life in the new house … friends … and then began to talk about more serious topics. THAT morning, we BOTH decided to spend two mornings a week together BEFORE school even began. We READ together … we laughed together … we developed a MEANINGFUL relationship. I watched his READING skills grow, his CONFIDENCE grow … but … MORE importantly, I watched this young man TRANSFORM. When he came to me, in September, he was curled in on himself … much like the leaves on my uprooted tree. By the time June arrived, he was BLOSSOMING … like the new leaves on our tree. He persevered, he overcame his reading challenge … and he has won a special place in my heart. This little boy, like MANY others, will forever be a part of my cherished garden of teaching memories.

Imagine my surprise then when I saw this YouTube video by Dr. Mackie, shared by Krissy Venosdale, (@ktvee), shortly after planting my special tree and thinking about my reading buddy this past year! I couldn’t help but smile as I listened to Dr. Mackie speak about his OWN struggles through school. It reinforces, for me, the deep “seeded”, (ya … I know … seated … but … seeded works SO well here … with the metaphors and all), belief that we ALL need someone in our “corner”. Someone who believes in us, inspires us, supports us AND nurtures us. You can’t HELP but watch this amazing speaker and feel that what we do, each and EVERY day for our students, IS important and noble:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI5JTcP_oD8]

You see, my tree was a DIAMOND in the rough …  just like EACH of us is a diamond in the rough … but DIAMONDS for SURE. They will FIND their niches … they WILL shine BRILLIANTLY.

We should ALL strive to plant trees.

Change … fight or flight … friend or foe?

Source: pinerly.com via Scott on Pinterest

Change.  One little word.  A word that can instill both excitement AND fear.  

I wonder why change is such an easy thing for some people to embrace … such a difficult thing for SO many others. Fear. Denial. Avoidance. These are just a few of the emotions that can be brought on by change.  Is it a genetic predisposition for those who find it less intimidating when change is occurring? This may be a part of the whole nature vs nurture debate. Maybe it’s a Master’s Thesis in the waiting! Can we TEACH people to be more accepting and positive when change is imminent? I’ve come to the conclusion, from personal experience, that it is most definitely not age related.

In the education field, one has the opportunity to work with a wide variety of people: colleagues, students, their families, etc. I’ve worked with people, both young and old, who fit on either side of the continuum, from terrified of taking risks and embracing change to welcoming it with open arms and a sense of wonder. Over the years, I’ve encountered people who are afraid to turn their computers on … just to check their e-mails. Some of these people were “born” into this technology … “digital natives” … for lack of a better term. And, on the opposite spectrum, who picked up these technology skills through sheer determination and personal investment. People who recall, VERY well, having to TYPE their university research papers and use WHITE OUT to correct their typing errors! Is it a personality type? I don’t know.

I clearly remember the day I toured a school I had been hired to work at, not long after being indoctrinated into the wonders of the SmartBoard.  I was coming from a school that had portable SmartBoards and, luckily, not that many people were terribly interested in infusing them into their classrooms. On this tour, I was incredibly excited to see that most of the classrooms in my new school had these amazing tools mounted to the walls. This would be a HUGE step forward, for me, because one of the minor frustrations of using a portable board meant constant “realigning”  … which the students LOVED to do but, needless to say, took up valuable class time! After the initial thrill … closer observation showed that these boards had been mounted … right … ontop … of … the WHITEBOARDS! I was SHOCKED! The teacher whose room I was “checking out” reassured me that, after a while, I wouldn’t even MISS the whiteboard!

In my head, I CLEARLY remember thinking, “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!?!” Change. Gulp. What was I EVER going to do without my whiteboards? I grumbled and I worried. I made SURE I had a NICE supply of chart paper to see me through the year. After all, I couldn’t POSSIBLY imagine teaching without having the visuals, the little reminders and notes we made as a class as we made our discoveries together. Funny … she was RIGHT. I DON’T miss all those whiteboards. Don’t get me wrong … I still use chart paper … I STILL use the tiny bit of whiteboard that is still visible beside my SmartBoard … but … she was right! Now … if I could ONLY get my hands on some more BULLETIN boards!

Source: pinerly.com via Scott on Pinterest

There is ONE thing for certain, although the older I get the more I realize there is a lot that I don’t know …  I DO know that the GREATEST gift we can give the students in our care is to be learners alongside them – taking risks, making mistakes, persevering, wondering, sharing our passions and our own “I wonders” … role-modelling enthusiasm for life long learning.  Creating a safe environment, which encourages taking risks and making mistakes as a part of the “messiness” of learning and the process of creating meaning, is critical. 

These are EXCITING times to be teaching and learning in. I am THRILLED to be a part of the changes that are occurring globally in education. I am GLAD I don’t have all the answers. And, I am eternally grateful to the courageous change-making educators who share their journeys, daily, through my amazing on-line PLN. They continue to inspire me, push me and support my journey through these ever changing times.

I wonder:

  • Who and what keeps you grounded through change?
  • Have you always been comfortable with change or is it a skill set that you have had to work to develop?
  • Do you have any advice to offer for people who are afraid to embrace changes?
  • What has been the most powerful change you have been a part of?

WORK – a FOUR letter word for MANY … but … NOT me!

It’s the second week of Summer holidays. My husband looks at me like I am the WEIRDEST person he knows. He may be right. As he heads out the door to work, not his FIRST choice for how to spend this beautiful Saturday in July, he peers at me oddly after I answer his query “So, what are your plans for the day?”

Atlas, it's time for your bath

Creative Commons woodleywonderworks

You see, I told him, through my HUGE grin, that I would be moderating a global classroom chat on twitter! Yup – I was choosing to spend at LEAST an hour dedicating my time to an online chat about the powerful benefits of using a classroom blog to “Enrich Global Citizenship Inquiries”. It isn’t the FIRST time he has given me the look that silently says, “Honestly, Laurie … I CAN’T believe how much you love your job. Don’t you think it would be better to hang out in the garden? Read a good BOOK? KNIT? Paint your TOE NAILS? Rejuvenate yourself before heading back in September?”

Don’t get me wrong. He supports me.  He is THRILLED that I am a learner and he “gets” that I love my job. Truly, he reinforces, for me, just how BLESSED I am. I know SO many people who look at their jobs as JUST that. A way to pay the bills. A means to an end. WORK. That word has so many negative connotations for so many people.

I am not deluded. Teaching is NOT an easy job. It is CERTAINLY not the 9 to 3 with TONS of holidays that MANY people envision it to be. It is fraught with worry. Am I fitting all the mandated curriculum in? Am I meeting everyone’s needs? Am I supporting, pushing, encouraging, INSPIRING my learners to the best of THEIR ability and to the best of MY ability? Am I communicating clearly and effectively with parents? How will they perform on their Provincial Achievement Exams … I KNOW it’s just a “snapshot in time” … but … if I’M this stressed over “our performance”, even though it isn’t a full clear well rounded shot of each of my amazing students’ skills, growth and future goals … how do my STUDENTS feel?

Yup. Just a little insight into the workings of my mind … generally around 3 in the morning … when lots is going on. Never mind the “politics” that can sneak its way into the profession. Or the seeming lack of gratitude, occasionally. Two little words #youmatter … #thank you … so simple, so easy to say … so rare. But, I am not big enough, brave enough or strong enough to have those conversations … yet! Maybe when I am 70!

Despite all this, when I am in my classroom, I am empowered. My students inspire me. Yes, we have our ups and downs … just like ANY family … but we work through them TOGETHER. I love that no two days are the same. I love that I DON’T have to know all the answers … and the POWER of learning and growing together is what fuels me.

So … why are my summers filled with continued learning? That’s who I am! Honestly, I just finished moderating this incredible chat with such inspiring educators … and I am INSPIRED. Each time I reach out, each time I actively participate and join a chat through twitter, I walk away ENRICHED  and EAGER to discover MORE!

This is the second time I’ve had the privilege of moderating a #globalclassroom chat. Our backgrounds and experiences are diverse and THAT is what makes the learning rich! It enhances our own learning and that of our students!

This year has been a year of SO much learning and growth – no time to stagnate or to get “tired” of the work that I do … and THAT is the BEAUTY of teaching. It is ever evolving. And, Twitter has provided me with the BEST PLN and PD to DATE. The learning, the support, the relationships are UNsurpassed. It is a positive space. For THAT I am blessed. For THAT I am GRATEFUL. #youmatter

I feel SO fortunate to be a part of this journey. Never before has the prospect of educating seemed to hold such limitless possibilities for me. Technology and the support of the incredible people I get to interact with and learn from each and every day, online, make being a life long learner SO rewarding.

Don’t tell my husband … I started planning for this #globalclassroom chat at 9:30 this morning. The hour long chat FLEW by. I learned a TON. I made new connections with inspiring keeners like me. I ate lunch. And … then … it hit me. I have to BLOG about this! I am not sure whether I should bless or CURSE the inspiring educator who challenged us all to the “Summer Blogging Challenge”! Just kidding. My personal blog is quickly becoming ANOTHER inspired passion! Shhh … it’s now 4:11 pm. WHERE did the day go?

I wonder:

  • Do YOU have a specific education chat hashtag that you are inspired by?

Planting seeds and watching my PLN garden grow!

Japanese Garden, Lotusland

Creative Commons Nelumbo Nucifera

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to take part in some pretty powerful professional development.  A handful of these experiences are firmly planted in my brain … much like the seeds in a garden.  I will never forget … and … yes, I am “dating” myself, the moment I learned about “Mathematics Their Way“.   I spent a glorious week during the summer months, early in my teaching career, discovering the importance of exploring mathematics from the concrete to the abstract with young children.  I am grateful for this professional development because, although my practice has grown and changed significantly in the past 25 years, I still approach mathematics through inquiry together with the use of manipulatives and problem solving.  I continue to use parts of this awesome program even now.  I’ve sculpted it and made it a part of the journey.  Perhaps one of my favourite aspects of this program is the use of the Calendar as a teaching tool.  I’ve used it to explore challenging concepts such as  place value, fractions, decimals, multiples, divisibility … even with students in grade five and six. It was because of this training that I began to fall in love with math.  I can not honestly say that this is how I felt about it while growing up!

Then, there was “Early Reading Intervention”, based on the works of Marie M. Clay.  Wow … I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t learned HOW to teach reading, understand reading development, or how to support the reading process in university!  Later Literacy helped me to work with older students who struggled with reading while working at a school that specialized in supporting students with Learning Disabilities.  Both of these amazing professional development opportunities STILL help me to bring the love of books and reading to students I work with.   The magic of Blended Structure and Style … unlocked the key to demystifying some of the secrets of successful writing.  Honestly, I don’t write using a “formula” and I certainly don’t explore writing with my students by offering them a “formula”.  Writing is such a personal expression of self.  I do, however, pull into mini lessons, many of the little insights I have discovered because of these incredible experiences.

The day I went to convention, several years ago, and discovered the magic of the SmartBoard … well … that’s ANOTHER story! This experience opened the door to the almost limitless potential of the world of technology for me.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a professional “read” on the go. Supporting the reading and writing process and the latest research on literacy development has consistently been of interest to me.  Boys and learning … is near and dear to my heart … I live with two boys and I’ve seen their successes, their struggles and their frustrations first hand as they’ve worked their way through elementary school to junior high and now, gulp,  on to high school.  Even during the summer months, I  strive to grow professionally.

This year, I’ve discovered the power of being connected with educators on-line. The funny thing is, I haven’t borrowed a “book” since first discovering my twitter “love”.  That being said, I am better read NOW than I was when I was pouring through professional resources!  Case in point … my husband and I can be watching the news … and … OFTEN … I will think to myself, “hey, someone shared this on twitter!”

Your Victory Garden Counts More Than Ever! 1941 - 1945

Creative Commons Us National Archives

Twitter has exposed me to so many passionate educators.  I am continually surprised at how this amazing PLN will rise up, share their insights and offer support at the drop of a “tweet”!  Several times I have run into “snags” with my classroom blog.  All it took, one day, was a shout out: “What is the best way to showcase stories my students have written to share on the blog?”  Within minutes, someone put me onto flipsnack and storybird.  There are so many examples of how this group of “strangers” has supported my learning and growth. It is a community that supports, pushes the learning and shares beyond anything I have ever experienced in my teaching career.

The chats … wow … the chats … they connect you with so many people – people you might not even follow.  The exposure to new and exciting ways of thinking and working is immeasurable.  Lately, there have been so many awesome posts expounding the virtues of the on-line PLN.  They have all “spoken” to me on one level or another.  When John T. Spencer wrote “What My PLN Means to Me #whynetworksmatter“, on July 6th, he addressed so many of the issues I feel and relate to personally.  Teaching can be isolating.  It can also be very competitive. Never, however, have I felt either of these issues as I have begun to sow my on-line seeds. People like @johntspencer keep me current, forward thinking AND inspired! I LOVE that twitter has provided me with such a supportive and generous community of people who help me to support and nurture my ever growing PLN garden.  I am SO grateful to be learning from such a passionate and talented group of educators!

Big hurdle? Little hurdle? The difference is perspective.

My amazing Twitter PLN recently suggested a children’s book: Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love reading some of the books intended for children, and  I’ve read some inspiring ones.

I picked Wonder up at Indigo the other night.  I couldn’t put it down.  I finished it the next morning.  It spoke to me on so many levels.  As a matter of fact, last night I went to bed feeling pretty good about the fact that I had just started my own personal blog for sharing my learning adventures and insights into my life as a teacher and a learner.  I was exhausted.  Imagine my surprise then when visions of my next post started dancing around in my head.  Sleep eluded me.  I actually had to get UP to record the title for this post … I didn’t want to risk losing the words that had “popped” into my head.  I woke up STILL thinking about this  … it is a story I have to tell.

“Wonder is a beautifully told story about heartache, love, and the value of human life.  One comes away from it wanting to be a better person.”

~ Patricia Reilly Giff, Newbery Medal-winning author

This book made me giggle.  It made me cry.  It took me RIGHT back to being a child again.  That’s some PRETTY powerful written narrative. You see, the main character, Auggie Pullman, was born with a facial deformity.  The author does an amazing job of capturing his experiences, and those of the people around him, as he enters mainstream school for the very first time.  His character is strong, funny, sensitive, persevering, inspiring … he reminds me of my brother.

184425

The world is FULL of wonder.

Whoa … I bet you thought this was going to be a BOOK review.  Nope.  The book touched my heart … re-opened memories … about another beautiful person with SO much spirit, inner beauty and strength.  My brother is the reason I teach.  He is the foundation of MANY of the precepts I hold about children, teaching, learning, life.

When Michael was 12 and I was 14, he was diagnosed with an ependymoma – a rare childhood tumor that forms in the tissues of the brain and the spinal chord.  Life expectancy once diagnosed with an ependymoma is generally quite short.  Because of his “indomitable” will, he managed to beat MANY of the odds for much longer than expected.

Wonder brought back some of the harder memories … like the time a group of Grade Seven boys pulled Michael’s hair piece off in the crowded hallway at school and played “Pig in the Middle” while he tried to get it back.  The way we ALL knew when people were “staring” and trying not to, just like Auggie and his family in Wonder.  People are curious.  Most often, they are NOT trying to be rude or hurtful … knowing that doesn’t always help to take the “sting” away.  The all encompassing fear we ALL felt as he faced another surgery and months of rehabilitation after each of these operations.

We lost Michael last January.  He was a fighter, one of the BEST people I know.  So much inner beauty and strength.  He made the hurdles he faced EVERY single day look SO little.  Don’t get me wrong.  There were MANY tears, frustrations, times of feeling “helpless” and worn down. But, his perspective on life was truly inspirational.  He was ready.  We were not.  Knowing him made me a better person.

Such inner strength, beauty and indomitable will.

Such inner strength, beauty and indomitable will.

I had the privilege of creating a PowerPoint to share during his Celebration of Life.  It had to be PERFECT … a TRIBUTE to an AMAZING man. The quotes I placed on each of the slides spoke to the kind of person he was – a person of incredible strength – a person with so much wisdom and compassion for others.  He had true love for life.  Some of those quotes absolutely defined how Michael lived his life:

“There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

~ Albert Einstein

“It is not the length of life, but the depth of life.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless when facing them.”

~ Rabindranath Tagore

“Strength does not come from physical capacity.  It comes from an indomitable will.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

“Beauty is not in the face, beauty is a light in the heart.”

~ Kahlil Gibran

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”

~ Confucius

“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”

~ Christopher Reeve

“Courage doesn’t always roar.  Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”

~ Mary Anne Radmacher

“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”

~ Ambrose Redmoon

“For every day that there is sunshine, there will be days of rain, it’s how we dance within them both that shows our love and pain.”

~ Joey Tolbert

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.”

~ Japanese Proverb

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but manifestations of strength and resolution.”

Kahlil Gibran

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

~ Newt Gingrich

“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my tenacity.”

~ Louise Pasteur

“When the world sayd, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “try it one more time.”

~ Author Unknown

“Stubbornly persist, and you will find that the limits of your stubbornness go well beyond the stubbornness of your limits.”

~ Robert Brault

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”

~ Booker T. Washington

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

~ Nelson Mandela

“Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do.  But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.”

~ Author Unknown

“People are like stained glass windows.

They Sparkle and shine when the sun is out,

but when the darkness sets in,

their true beauty is revealed only

if there is light from within.”

~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

“Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass … it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”

~ Vivian Greene

Many of these quotes speak to me because they are lessons I have learned, lessons my BEAUTIFUL brother taught me as we journeyed through life with him.  It is because of him that I am the person, the teacher I am.  My values and beliefs … my precepts … are a direct reflection of the lessons he has taught us all:

  • teaching is first and FOREMOST about relationships
  • we ALL have strengths
  • our differences are what make us unique and special
  • we ALL have something to teach and to learn
  • together we are stronger
  • I teach people NOT curriculum – the WHOLE child
  • everyone is worthy of respect, compassion and hope
  • try NOT to sweat the small stuff … and most of it IS small stuff
  • strive to be the best person you can be each and every moment of your day
  • raising happy, healthy children who believe in themselves and persevere is an important and honourable achievement
On page 299 of this amazing book, which brought back SO many memories for me, the Principal addresses the school as they graduate to the next grade. “… the best way to measure how much you’ve grown isn’t by inches or the number of laps you can now run around the track, or even your grade point average – though those things are important, to be sure.  It’s what you’ve done with your time, how you’ve chosen to spend your days, and whom you have touched this year.  That, to me, is the greatest measure of success … always … try to be a little kinder than is necessary.” (From Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, page 299) Now that, to me, is a WORTHY precept to live by!
Wonder is absolutely worth the read.  I truly believe that if each child read it by the time they got to Junior High it would  support the development of compassion, understanding and empathy.  Maybe fewer people struggling with battles that many of us will NEVER  have to endure will go through life a little less “tormented” and experience just a little more compassion.  After all … it IS truly ALL about perspective.

I wonder:

  • Do you have any life altering experiences that have helped to formulate who you are as a person, as a teacher?
  • Do you have special “precepts” that you live by?
  • Do you have a book that has really “spoken” to you?

Taking the Challenge!

When one door CLOSES … another one OPENS.

This picture is SO symbolic for me.  As I sat here thinking about my topic for the very FIRST personal blog post I would write for a global audience, I KNEW that THIS photo would have to be the FIRST.  Why, you ask yourselves?  Well … this was the beginning of my introduction to blogging.  You see, this year I had the honour of piloting the very first classroom blog for my school board.  Global Grade Three: Connecting and Learning Beyond Classroom Walls began as a way of sharing our Grade Three Global Citizenship journey, helping Mosqoy and Q’ente build a library in Q’enqo Peru.  Although this project is in its second year, the learning that both my students and I have done, through blogging and interacting with a global audience, has been so unbelievably rewarding.  So, while one door is closing … it is summer now and students are on vacation … our classroom blog is taking a “break”.  On the other hand, ANOTHER door is being opened.

I have decided that I am TAKING the CHALLENGE that @gcouros has set before us all! The Summer Blogging Challenge came to me just at the RIGHT time.  It is only 6 days into my summer vacation and I am already mourning the loss of blogging each week with my students.  I find myself revisiting our site HOPING to see more “hits” on the revolver globe … and checking for new flags like many of my students did over the 6 months we blogged together.  Ahhh … the true confessions of a learning nerd, (LERD for short … an affectionate label my husband has bestowed upon me).

Let me begin by sharing my “Twitter Love”.  This year has been filled with SO many “firsts”!  Up until November, I must confess that I thought Twitter was “fluff”.  Another SHOCKING confession, I know.  Honestly, though, between teaching and life with two very active teenage boys,  housework, yard work … and staying “sane” … I have to admit that I had NO desire to join Twitter to hear the latest celebrity gossip or discover what my friends had eaten for breakfast.  Boy was I WRONG.  Twitter has provided me with some of the most INCREDIBLE professional development that I have ever taken part in … and I’ve TAUGHT for 25 years!  Once you’ve signed up, lurked for a bit, found inspiring people to “follow”, figured out how to express yourself coherently in 140 characters, or less, and joined a few of the many incredible chats available, you QUICKLY discover that Twitter is NOT fluff.  It is TRULY personalized and available whenever YOU are.  Trust me … you will NEVER look back!

Thank you for the Summer Blogging Challenge, George!  You’ve helped to open ANOTHER door!  I look forward to sharing my learning journey with others along the way.