TRUE Confessions of a “Global Classroom Teacher”!

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” 
~ Albert Einstein

What follows are my TRUE confessions as a “global classroom teacher”. Oops … did I say that? I meant “reflections”! Ahh … well … maybe this will be a BIT of BOTH!

I have JUST completed my SECOND year in a “flat classroom”. What does THAT mean, you ask? Well, for the past two years, I have been FORTUNATE enough to have been BLESSED with piloting a classroom blog. It came about innocently enough … as a way of sharing the connection we made, the year prior, with an NGO working in Peru. Along with my partner Tannis Emann, who was taking her Masters, we began to delve into some of the amazing classroom learning being shared through Twitter. Suddenly, it struck us … blogging would be a PERFECT way to share our Grade Three learning journey! True confession #1 … prior to that … I had NEVER given blogging a first OR second thought. Yup, you read that right … we were SHOCKED to discover that people had been blogging with their classrooms for YEARS before we tentatively began to wade into the water. I STILL can’t believe that it took me THIS long to discover the POWER of learning with a global audience once you have flattened your classroom walls.

Connecting and learning with the world = engagement + deep powerful learning.

Connecting and learning with the world = engagement + deep powerful learning.
Photo by Global Grade 3s

True confession #2 … it’s not always easy. This is where the “frogs” that @iEARNUSA talks about come in! Often, you have to eat a  LOT of frogs, as @iEARNUSA so aptly says! There will be problems … Skype connections won’t always work, technology will fail. Sometimes your PEOPLE connections aren’t as reliable as one would hope. These are all FANTASTIC learning opportunities for our students. I like to call it “grace under fire”! That’s not to minimize the frustrations this can create, because these issues can ALL cause angst. But, as Einstein so brilliantly stated, “It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” With persistence, patience, passion, perseverance AND occasional perspiration, the ENTIRE adventure is absolutely worth it. I will NEVER go back to teaching alone within four walls EVER again. There, I said it. I am a complete and TOTAL advocate for blogging with children. I firmly believe that the YOUNGER they start, the SMARTER they will be … responsible, aware, safe GLOBAL citizens with a CLEAR insight into what it means to be a MEANINGFUL member of the GLOBAL community.

There are SO many incredible books out there to help you learn ABOUT the world ... learning WITH the world DEEPENS that learning. Photo by Global Grade 3s

There are SO many incredible books out there to help you learn ABOUT the world … learning WITH the world DEEPENS that learning.
Photo by Global Grade 3s

After all, connecting and learning with a global audience provides both you AND your students with immediate experts in the field … it’s like a global PLN, (professional learning network), for your classroom. Who WOULDN’T want that? This global connection, whether it’s from comments left on your blog, or people you are Skyping with, can push the learning within your classroom deeper than you could have ever imagined.

True confession #3 … it’s OFTEN messy. Learning IS messy. When you pursue student questions, you connect with experts in the field, you learn … and …  INEVITABLY … you walk away with MORE questions. Talk about personalized, meaningful and engaging learning! FURTHER pursing their questions and curiosities is where the passion, enthusiasm for learning, personalization for your students and deeper understanding comes in. It’s a WIN win situation. Again … who WOULDN’T want that?!?

True confession #4 … time will ALWAYS be an issue. For us, it was finding a balance between the prescribed curriculum mandated by our Province AND pursuing, in depth, our inquiries and global “focus”. From the beginning, it was ALSO important for us to model effective skills for replying to our readers … and … this commitment gained us some faithful and INSPIRING readers who OFTEN pushed our learning even DEEPER. You would be RIGHT if you recognized that THIS commitment ALSO took time. This was truly time WELL spent! Surprisingly, although there was amazing learning shared in each of the posts, even DEEPER learning frequently occurred within the comment section through our interactions with readers!

During these two years, my students and I have been TRULY blessed to interact with and learn from the BRILLIANT Ross Mannell. Although a retired teacher, this AMAZING man frequently leaves comments for children on their classroom blogs. When I say comments, this does NOT do them justice. As a matter of fact, Ross has a SPECIAL blog he writes to provide students with EXTENDED comments. IMAGINE my students’ SURPRISE at reading this extended comment … AND receiving a VERY treasured surprise in the mail … all the WAY from AUSTRALIA! Echidnas have nothing what so EVER to do with our curriculum. But, animals and life cycles sure do, and … you should have SEEN the fingers flying on our iPads, as students conducted FURTHER research on our new echidna! The excitement in discovering MORE about our new class pet, Spike, was palpable!

A SURPRISE pet ... all the way from AUSTRALIA! Photo shared by Ross Mannell

A SURPRISE pet … all the way from AUSTRALIA!
Photo shared by Ross Mannell

Although time will always be an issue … many, MANY skills can be woven in and THROUGH each and EVERY global classroom  and blog post experience. For us, having a global audience … an AUTHENTIC audience … increased our skills AND our desire to write. It was THRILLING to see students begin to develop their voices … and slowly gain command of “reeling the reader in”! Although our blog has primarily focused on issues in Social Studies … Ross has helped us to delve even DEEPER into some of our SCIENCE and MATH curriculum. I am SURE that, because of his thoughtful and detailed replies to us, SOME of these bloggers may EVEN become GEOLOGISTS!

Scree samples from New Zealand ... thanks to Ross!

Scree samples from New Zealand … thanks to Ross!

True confession #5 … it is SO worth it. If you haven’t tried blogging with your students … do! I have NEVER looked back. Instead … I look FORWARD, in GREAT anticipation of where this journey will lead us.

It is NEVER too late to connect your classroom globally. Go on ... GIVE it a try! Photo shared by Global Grade 3

It is NEVER too late to connect your classroom globally. Go on … GIVE it a try!
Photo shared by Global Grade 3

I wonder:

  • what is one of the most POWERFUL lessons you’ve learned through blogging with your students?
  • what are some of YOUR true confessions as a result of becoming a “global classroom teacher”?
  • what advice would you give to someone THINKING about flattening the walls of their classroom?

This blog post has been cross-posted on The Global Classroom Project.

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”?

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?