The Expectations are … DAUNTING.

You can’t wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time.

~Pat Schroeder

Thanks to Pixabay for the Public Domain photo!

Thanks to Pixabay for the Public Domain photo!

A few weeks ago, a good friend, (and colleague), mentioned to me that she had FOMO. To be honest with you, I was not familiar with that acronym and neither was my nineteen year old son. I actually had to google it, (not the first time, not the last, I am certain). Fear of missing out.

Now, she was relating this to the feeling of being relatively new to Twitter. I remember once, when I first began my love affair with Twitter several years ago, that someone said it was like “learning to drink from a firehose”. How true this is. What an AMAZING learning opportunity. A PLN that spans the globe. A chance to be a fly on the wall in the classrooms and learning spaces of everyone you follow. Wow. And, to be honest, it is EASY to walk away feeling like you are not doing enough, trying enough, incorporating enough, etc., into your own classroom.

I am a life long learner. My husband, many years ago, affectionately labeled me a “LERD”. Not REALLY an acronym … but … an absolutely fitting description of me. I am a learning nerd. I probably shouldn’t admit this publicly, but I begin each day over a bowl of porridge … and … TWITTER. You don’t need to know how I end my day. I am sure you can guess.

Luckily, I am pretty good at prioritizing. Age, I guess, has taught me that. That, and teaching for over thirty years. But, I get it. I completely understand FOMO. It took me a long time to learn to pick and choose my own personalized learning adventures. Don’t get me wrong. I read the most amazing links, daily, and frequently think, “wow, I’d love to try that with my students” or “gosh … I’ve got to pick that book up for some deeper professional reading on this topic”.

But, all these things don’t keep me awake at night. I am moving forward. I am not the teacher I was when I first began. That is growth in the right direction.

What keeps me up at night? My students. (Well, that … and my OWN kids … sometimes!!!) What am I thinking about? The list is long.

  • Be the kind of teacher you would want for your OWN children.
  • Meet your students where they’re at and PERSONALIZE their learning.
  • Build relationships of trust and respect.
  • Student A needs extra support with reading/writing/math/confidence … are you giving them everything they need?
  • Create a learning environment that is engaging, FUN … yes … I said fun … but at the SAME time … ugh … RIGOROUS, (yes, I said the “R” word).
  • Help them LOVE learning.

I worry that I’m not giving them enough. That I’m not giving each of them everything they need AND deserve. How can I help student A while I’m working with student B, or C or D? Am I letting anyone fall through the cracks? (One of my WORST fears.) Sometimes it feels like there are just not enough hours in the day to do everything I need and WANT to do for my young learners.

Sometimes the expectations are daunting.

Whose expectations ARE they?

Well, they’re … MINE.

Sometimes I can be my OWN worst enemy! For now and, I suspect, always, I practice. Practice mindfulness … and … acceptance that I do my personal best, each and EVERY day to be the kind of teacher my students deserve. The kind of teacher I would have wanted for my OWN children.

Thanks to Pixabay for the Public Domain photo!

Thanks to Pixabay for the Public Domain photo!

That the birds of worry and care fly over you head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.

~Chinese Proverb

I am working hard to prevent bird’s nest in my hair! Now … bedhead? I can’t promise that!

I wonder:

  • How do you manage to shut your brain off in the wee hours of the morning, when your head is filled with thoughts about how to be the best for the students in your care?
  • How do you measure up against your own worst enemy – you?

We ALL Do It … But HOW Do You EXPLAIN It to an EIGHT Year Old?

You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.

~John Mason

Thanks to Pixabay for the Public Domain photo!

Thanks to Pixabay for the Public Domain photo!

I’ve just finished my first round of Learning Conferences. Actually, it’s hard for me to believe the summer is already THAT far behind us. I always LOVE this opportunity to sit down with families …  to get to know a little more about each of their precious children through THEIR eyes.

The wonderful thing about teaching in a community school is the chance to occasionally begin the year with an already established relationship after teaching many siblings in previous years. Watching these children grow, sometimes out of diapers, and suddenly greet you, one day, with their excited “ready for grade three eyes” is a blessing. I love the new relationships with new families as well … especially when there are younger siblings because, well, the circle begins again!

Every so often, you’ll encounter a child, sitting across from you during Learning Conferences with his or her parents … and a sibling you have been blessed to teach in the past. Their skills aren’t always the same … neither are their personalities. They’re not SUPPOSED to be. Although you can see the “twinkles” BEHIND the eyes, somehow you can ALSO detect the lack of confidence … the belief that they feel “less than” their brother or sister sitting beside them. It doesn’t MATTER to THEM that these siblings are one or two or FOUR years older than they are. OR even that they are different people. At SOME point in their early journey they have deemed themselves LESS than. Maybe they don’t READ as well. Or, maybe they can’t SPELL like their older sibling. MAYBE they don’t think mathematically like the ones they look up to.

Thanks to Pixabay for the Public Domain photo!

Thanks to Pixabay for the Public Domain photo!

It breaks my heart. I get it. We ALL do it. Sometimes it takes us YEARS to figure out that we EACH bring special gifts to the world. As a society we work SO hard to raise our children to be healthy, confident adults and I’m always still SO surprised at how poorly we seem to do despite our best efforts.

How do you explain all this to an EIGHT year old? Well, you can’t, really … not in so many words. You can love them, you can support them, you can help them find their strengths and passions … you can be a cheerleader in their corner. You can invite wonder and curiosity into their lives and you can help them to BELIEVE in THEMSELVES. I want to scoop this child into my arms and say:

“You know what you’re better at than your sister, your brother, your friend, your mom, your dad … your “fill in the blank”?

YOU are better at being YOU!”

This is when the serendipity, (one of my most FAVOURITE words), comes in. Because, on THURSDAY morning … the day I BEGAN my Learning Conferences, one of my amazing twitter PLN members shared one of my most CHERISHED TedTalks:

Thank you Patrick Johner, because your tweet was MEANT to be. It was serendipitous!

For now, I will do EVERYTHING in my POWER to help EACH of my learners discover their strengths … the unique gifts they bring to the world. I will help them to BELIEVE in themselves. To celebrate their uniqueness and EMBRACE it!

When you dance to your own rhythm,
Life taps its toes to your beat.
~Terri Guillemets

Learning to Dance in the Rain

Sometimes, when one person is missing, the whole world seems depopulated. 


Heart in Bragg Creek

A heart … sitting propped up … on the riverbank in Bragg Creek.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass …it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

~Vivian Greene

It’s been a rough journey lately. Within the span of one month, we’ve lost both my husband’s mother and father. Both such amazing people. Such beautiful people. Their loss leaves such a deep emptiness. Over time we know, from too much experience, that this emptiness and sadness, the pain of letting them go, will begin to be filled with the remembrances of special times. The tears will flow less frequently and the happy memories will replace the aching sorrow. For now, it’s about learning to dance in the rain again. 

We were lucky with Joyce. We spent days reliving special memories, telling stories, sometimes sitting in silence together, holding hands, crying, laughing, celebrating our lives together. With Brian, it was not so easy. Since Christmas, his dementia had progressed rapidly. And, although we spent our moments together reliving special times, telling stories, sometimes sitting in silence, holding his hand and stroking his forehead, laughing and crying and celebrating our lives together, we honestly don’t know how much of those moments he was able to process. Dementia. I will never understand how this disease can rob some people of their kindness … their gentleness … their inner beauty.

I will never be able to remove the memory of my beautiful, gentle husband fiercely hugging his mother, days before she was to pass, sobbing in her arms. He begged her to tell dad to not be mad at him anymore. While we all understand that it was the dementia that made him so volatile and angry, somehow it just doesn’t soften the pain and confusion. I hope, with all my heart, that he left this world knowing just how incredibly loved he was. I hope that my incredible husband knows how deeply he was loved by BOTH his parents … even THROUGH the confusion and the debilitating dementia.

I am so thankful that we got the CRAZY idea to “break them out” of the hospitals they were both in this past Christmas in order to be together as a family. Somehow we just knew in our hearts that this would be our last with them:

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 10.44.59 AM

I will NEVER forget the two of them sitting together on our couch. Holding hands. Staring into one another’s eyes. It still brings tears to my eyes.

Holding hands at Christmas. So much emotion. So much love.

Holding hands at Christmas. So much emotion. So much love.

So now, as we learn to cope with their losses FAR too close together, we find peace in nature, the family that surrounds us and in the world beyond.

Even in ROCKY terrain there is life. Bragg Creek flower finding its way amid the rocky struggle.

Even in ROCKY terrain there is life. Bragg Creek flower finding its way amid the rocky struggle.

I am so thankful for so very much. I am thankful for the life I share with the amazing man they brought into this world. So thankful for the beautiful boys we have raised together who are growing into such beautiful men. They have learned the importance of giving comfort, even when they FEEL discomfort. Saying goodbye is such a painful lesson to learn. I’m SO thankful for the way these two incredible people embraced me and welcomed me into their family like a daughter. So thankful for the laughs we’ve shared and the memories we’ve made together as a family. So unbelievably thankful that we were able to spend their last moments together as they moved beyond this world. So sad but so grateful. They blessed our lives. It is for them that we learn to dance again … even in the rain.

Even in the dark there is light. Bragg Creek rock peeking out of the darkness and finding the sun.

Even in the dark there is light. Bragg Creek rock peeking out of the darkness and finding the sun.

Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life.

~Albert Einstein

Lost and SOON to be Found!

Wisdom BEGINS in Wonder


One typical morning, nearly three weeks ago, I sat at the dining room table eating my porridge prior to heading off to work … while checking my twitter feed and emptying the spam from our much loved classroom blog. A highly satisfying routine, often filled with the discovery of a new and exciting comment left on the blog for my curious third graders. It seemed like such an ordinary start to the day.


In hindsight, and after copious emails, heat tickets, queries from my passionate and curious learners, and … yes … tears, (largely mine), when I arrived at school, less than 45 minutes after deleting our spam from the classroom blog, THIS is when the foreshadowing horror movie sound track SHOULD have begun. A warning. A signal that all is NOT well … and, well, cover your eyes!

Now, this classroom blog has ALWAYS been lovingly called “The Little Blog that COULD” because it began as a pilot project after seeing the POSSIBILITIES. I joined twitter at the encouragement of someone I HIGHLY respected, knowing that Tannis would NEVER steer me in the wrong direction. Together, we discovered that classrooms around the WORLD had been blogging with their students for YEARS. After investigating SEVERAL, we were CONVINCED of the powerful learning that could occur if we were ENTRUSTED to flatten the walls of our classroom and learn with a GLOBAL audience. We WERE granted permission to pilot … and … Global Grade 3: Learning Beyond Classroom Walls was born.

It’s been FOUR years now. Each year, the blog has taken on a life of its own … changing EACH September with each new group of Grade Three students. THAT’S a GOOD thing. Although it began as a way of sharing our collaborative work with Mosqoy, helping to build a library in a tiny, very, VERY poor weaving village in the Andes Mountains of Peru … it needed to be personalized and meaningful to each new group of spirited, curious learners arriving at the door to their new classroom at the start of the school year. Fresh starts ALL the way around!


It’s been THREE weeks since our blog fell off the face of the earth. EVERY day someone asks, hopefully, if it’s back online. It’s funny … in a STRANGE sort of way … not laughable in the LEAST. I miss it. WE miss it. Yes … the learning has continued. The WORK has continued. But, SOME how, we ALL feel that something is missing from our journey each day. The contact with the OUTSIDE world. The ability to share our WONDERS and our AH HAs with our families and followers BEYOND our classroom walls.

Luckily, we have OTHERS who believe in “The Little Blog that COULD” … and … we have PERSEVERED. After all … withOUT that perseverance … Global Grade 3 would have ONLY remained a DREAM … a hope … a wish for more … but NOT a reality … right from the VERY beginning. This blog, and my learners and I, have TWO of the MOST amazing Fairy Blog Fathers. While Global Grade 3 remains OFF line, archives currently UNavailable to me because I am not the owner of the multi-user site, our two AMAZING Fairy Blog Fathers have FOUND a way to locate the archives and uncover our MISSING blog in the LOST and, now, SOON to be found!

Connected, Engaged, Inspired = GLOBAL Citizens.

I BELIEVE in the power of a FLAT class … transparent learning … wondering … discovering … connecting … LIFE LONG learning. We are SO excited that THIS part of our learning journey WILL begin again … very, VERY soon! I think EVERYONE needs at LEAST one or two Fairy Blog Fathers in their lives! THANK you, Fairy Blog Fathers! Move OVER, Fairy Godmothers … these two have the skills AND the passion to take OVER the world!

It’s TIME to cue the HAPPY ENDING sound track!

“In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

– Eric Hoffer

Talking About Autism

“I am different, not less.”
Temple Grandin

Ian's Walk: a Story About Autism  by Laurie Lears

Ian’s Walk: a Story About Autism by Laurie Lears

It was after gym. We stood in the hallway, taking a drink break. Faces hot and sweaty after an amazing workout. A sweet young man walked past the group with his assistant. I could visibly see the looks on some of my young students’ faces changing. Some curious. Some staring. And … some openly asking. “What’s wrong with him?” “Why is he making those sounds?” “What is he doing?”

Their faces took me back, into the long ago past, when, as a young teen I FELT those same stares and unspoken questions continually with my brother. You see, my brother was diagnosed with a brain tumour when he was twelve. Back then, surgery was MUCH different, and the radiation treatments MUCH more invasive. He lost ALL of his hair and his shunt was visible to anyone who looked. Most people did. Some secretly, others much more obviously. His toupee, an attempt to help him feel “normal” and “blend in”, actually served to make him stand out more. Like the radiation treatments, toupee creation was not as advanced as it is today.

Who KNEW this tiny bundle would teach my family SO many life lessons?

Who KNEW this tiny bundle would teach my family SO many life lessons?

The stares made me feel uncomfortable. As a child, myself, I didn’t understand. I can’t even BEGIN to imagine how it made my beautiful brother feel, although now, with some age, experience and understanding, I see that many people are uncomfortable with “different”. Children are curious. MOST don’t mean to be hurtful. They are learning about the world. Some, on the other hand, are maybe scared and they react with actions that ARE hurtful.

The day I watched my brother, surrounded by a bunch of “classmates” in his Junior High School hallway, trying to catch the toupee they had ripped off his head and were tossing around in a mock game of “Pig in the Middle”, will FOREVER be etched in my memory. It STILL makes me sick to my stomach. Luckily, the majority of us are JUST curious.

Michael, recovering after his THIRD surgery. We were lucky to have had him as long as we did. He taught me SO much about perseverance and spirit.

Michael, recovering after his THIRD surgery. We were lucky to have had him as long as we did. He taught me SO much about perseverance, spirit and LIVING.

My life with my brother is a HUGE part of who I am today. Maybe THAT’S why I walk through life believing that knowledge IS power. Understanding is KEY. I think that Temple Grandin said it best when she said, “I am different, not less.”

And so, rather than sweeping it under the carpet and choosing to ignore the curious looks and the openly asked questions, my students and I talked. And read. And talked. And … asked MORE questions. This time, though, the questions were even more insightful … an attempt to FURTHER deepen their own seven and eight year old understandings.

Looking After Louis by Lesley Ely

Looking After Louis by Lesley Ely

Our Wonder Wall has begun to grow. Some students talked about their OWN personal experiences with cousins. We now have seven or eight AMAZING questions that will require our further investigation. If they ASK, we WILL talk. We’ll talk even if they DON’T ask! Francis Bacon is right: “Knowledge IS Power.” Understanding takes us BEYOND tolerance and into ACCEPTANCE.

We are ALL unique. We are ALL different. Some of us are good in Math. Some are not. Some find spelling easy. Some do not. Some are shy. Some are not. Some wear glasses. Others do not. Some flap their hands when they are excited or overwhelmed. Others do not. Some have words to express themselves. Others make sounds because they do not have the words. Some like broccoli … MANY do not.

The ONE thing we DO have in common is that we ALL need to feel loved. To be understood. To feel accepted. After all … we ARE all “different”. NOT more. NOT less. Just different. And … that’s … OKAY.

“It is time for (us) to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” 

― Maya Angelou

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!


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:


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.

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.


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?