Curriculum Night

Every year when curriculum night rolls around, I feel challenged. Well, let me clarify. I feel challenged in my hope to ensure that the evening is meaningful for students and their families. I understand that parents are interested in finding out how their child is progressing but with 4 weeks under our belts – and sometimes less than that – I know what I’ve seen so far is often just a tiny glimpse into a child’s potential. We’re still getting to know each other, learning routines and quite frankly, expectations that we may have of each other. So whenever the conversation starts about what we are doing for curriculum night, I ask myself three questions: 

  1. What works for our school community?
  2. How do I encourage students to move freely within our classroom space with a sense of confidence, showing their families what they have been learning?
  3. How can I help parents see this evening as an invitation to open communication and collaboration for this year’s learning journey?

In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on each of these questions.

What works for our school community?

Students, families and the community should be at the forefront of what we do in education. As such, considering all members of our community in planning curriculum night is essential. Being new to my school and school community, it was really important for me to understand what usually happens in order to determine what I might consider doing. I’ve been in schools where the expectations have been formal presentations during particular timeslots and in others where less formal meet-and-greets where handouts are provided. I have found that every school is different. Not only that, but the pandemic has also opened our eyes to what might be done virtually to support a variety of families. This year we went with a less formal, in-person, meet-and-greet where parents popped in and out of classrooms and were free to move around the school at their leisure. During the hour, I found that there were times when there were lulls and then periods when the room was packed and buzzing with excitement. Families felt free to come for parts of the evening when it was ideal for them and had the freedom to not stay for the entire time and I found that worked best for our school community. 

How do I encourage students to move freely within our classroom space with a sense of confidence, showing their families what they have been learning?

This year, I teach prep and although I have a fairly large room, it’s often hard to have student work from all classes on display. As of late, we have been working on design thinking projects that are all in various stages. The kindergarten students and the grade 1/2s all have their animal habitats built and those were on display but the 2/3s and 4/5s have most of their plans and work in piles together as many are just beginning to design prototypes. That said, I tried to consider how students could show parents that they have been learning skills to help them solve real-life problems in a way that was fun and engaging. Our Lego challenges at the beginning of the school year were a great success so I gave out another challenge to students and their families and the builds were on. Families created together and students walked them through their solutions with joy and confidence. It was really great seeing families working together to solve a problem and the rich conversations that came of it. I think it was an opportunity to lighten the pressure of coming in and meeting the teacher and gave students the chance to feel right at home with something familiar that they could share with their families. It was so nice to see some students return later in the evening to sit and build with their families.

How can I help parents see this evening as an invitation to open communication and collaboration for this year’s learning journey?

Being new, this was the first time meeting many families. Because of our Lego challenge, I did enjoy that there wasn’t the pressure of a formal presentation.  I chose to create a slideshow that was on a loop and noticed that many families – while building – were taking a look and jotting down information on how we could connect. I have a classroom blog that I use to update families on what we get up to in our classroom and many noted that it was a great way to start conversations about what students are learning and doing on a weekly basis. I also let parents know that my door is always open and that I look forward to working with them in supporting their children this year. For the few who were asking for specifics, I asked if we could set up a time to speak and also mentioned that progress reports and interviews are coming up soon and that would give me more of an opportunity to get to know their child and for us to have the chance to have a more meaningful conversation.

How does curriculum night work in your school? What considerations are made when planning the evening? Please feel free to share as the more we know and are able to consider, the better we become in our practice. Based on our curriculum night this year, I’m excited to work with students and their families for a successful year of learning.  Hope you are too!

Lions, Tigers and Kinders, Oh My!

Let’s face it. We all have preferences when teaching a specific grade or division. For me, it’s the Juniors. I find that students in grades four to six have a degree of independence regarding task completion, while still being excited about school and learning. What sometimes feels out of my league are the students who are in kindergarten. Sure, I’ve walked past and seen the magic that is a kindergarten classroom and have even entered a time or two to engage in the fun but there’s always been the opportunity to retreat into the comfort of the Junior classroom. But not this year! I’m teaching STEM to 2 kindergarten classes and I’m learning so much. As learners, kinders are: capable, creative, and excited.

Capable

I’ve heard it said that you don’t know what you don’t know. I started the year off with all my classes learning about design thinking. With differing projects for K-2 and 3-5, it was an opportunity to see what students know and what they are still learning. For my K-2 students, we started off with magical envelopes that were dropped off and in them, we found different animals. Now we all know that an envelope is not a home for an animal so we quickly got to building habitats for our animals, learning along the way what each of them needs to survive.  When it came to the build, I quickly realized that some students already knew how to hold scissors and cut, while others needed support. But let me tell you, they quickly got on the scissor-learning train because there was a task to complete and they were eager to do the job. What I’m learning about kindergarten students is that when given a challenge and support with learning, they are capable. While building their habitats, I saw students that were giving each other ideas and supporting friends who needed a hand with glueing or cutting. At the end of our build, they were so proud to share their creations with each other. This was an excellent reminder for me that although they are little, they are capable of so much.

Creative

Kinders are creative. They design something and the stories they can tell based on a picture alone are wildly imaginative. We started our year reading some of the books from the If I Built Series. When asked to let their imaginations flow, students designed playscapes that would rival any playscape on the planet. Equipped with swings and slides that were inclusive of a variety of needs, they thought of their friends and family members and what they might like. While many used the ideas from the books, there were a number that made their own designs that were unique and out of this world. I enjoy so much that students at this age have not yet attached being “good at” art or drawing to their level of creativity. Everyone got a sheet of paper and everyone excitedly started drawing their creations with their crayons.  

Excited

These little people are excited about school and learning. Every challenge laid before them from building their habitats to coding our robots has been met with great excitement. They are eager to jump in and give things a try. I love the fact that they don’t yet feel as though they have to be perfect at something to be excited about doing it. I know that this happens much later in the lives of students and I often wonder how the process happens. At what point does the excitement of learning become scary and daunting or dare I say exhausting for students? It’s so refreshing to work with our youngest learners because of the excitement they bring even to tasks that I may perceive as simple. 

The start of the year has been filled with much reflection and learning for me. I’m looking forward to the other lessons I will learn from the kinders and to the experience becoming even more familiar.

Being Gentle With Myself

As mentioned in a previous post, it’s a new year and I’m at a new school. I often forget that so much goes into learning about a new place, space or community. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself for not knowing the space and I’m asking questions. In this post, I’m sharing some of my experiences this past month. 

Learning Names

Names are powerful and important. They are a part of who we are and a key identifier in schools. I have to admit that learning names doesn’t come easy to me. As a prep teacher, teaching all students in our school, there are times that I feel overwhelmed with making sure that I also know how to correctly pronounce student names. It’s the end of September and I’m almost there but there are a few that I am still learning. This month there has been a lot of asking for reminders and using my time during yard duty to familiarize myself with names. While I wish that from day 1 I remembered them all, I think it has allowed my students to see that I too am learning and they have been patient in the process.

Setting Intentions & Reflecting

I started a journal at the beginning of this school year as a tool for reflection.  Every morning, I take 5 minutes to think about the day and in the evening, I take some time to reflect. In the morning, I list 3 things that I am grateful for; 2 things that will make the day great; and one affirmation for the day. I find that in doing this, I’m able to set an intention that helps guide the day. At the end of the day, I reflect on  3 things that made the day great, 2 actions that I could have done differently, and one thing that I did for myself. For me, it’s an opportunity to think back on the day and determine whether or not I feel the day was a success. The good news is that if I haven’t been successful, I know that I can try again the next day. 

In the beginning, I noticed that the 2 things that I was writing that would make the day great were things that I expected others – students, colleagues, etc. – to do rather than focusing on what was in my control. For example, rather than hoping students would pay attention during a lesson, I could instead write that I hope that the lesson planned would be of interest to students and offer multiple entry points. When I started focusing on what was in my control, I realized that I wasn’t as attached to the actions of others. 

Another thing that I noticed was that there were many days that I wasn’t actively deciding to do something for myself. I was fishing for things to write, which was a reminder of how much we often choose to do for others, especially as teachers. I’m going to keep journaling and reflecting this year.  

“Learning the Ropes”

I can’t tell you the number of times that I have walked into a new school and realized just how different the routines are. From entry to dismissal, every school has their way of doing things. I’ve learned not to make assumptions and to be explicit in asking questions so as to understand the practices of that particular school community. It may seem silly but while “learning the ropes”, I think nothing is off the table in terms of asking questions. Having been on the other end – someone very familiar with the practices of a school – I also realize the importance of sharing information with others who are new and trying to pass knowledge on. 

I hope you’ve had a great start to the school year. If not, I hope you know that it’s ok to be gentle with yourself. I know that I have been and will continue to be. We’ve only just begun. There’s still time yet for things to turn around.

The Great Lego Challenges

Alright, the title might be a little facetious. They weren’t really THE great Lego challenges but they were a fantastic way to start a new school year with students who are new to me. 

September started with me in a new school and yet in a similar role to my last – prep teacher, teaching STEM. As with many teachers in my position, I was trying to think of what might help me to get to know students better; to see what skills they bring; to see what they might enjoy. With a whole bunch of Lego available to use, I thought we would start the year off with a couple of Lego challenges and it was definitely a great decision.

During our first session together, students were tasked with creating the first letter of their first name or creating something that starts with that letter. Students were given my basic design and I shared with them that my name was Ms. Lambert and that I absolutely love plants and that’s why I chose to add a variety of plants to my letter. It was incredible to see the variety of designs created and it was a great way for students to introduce themselves to me and potentially new classmates. Students jumped right in and exceeded my expectations with how creative they were. 

Once the individual challenge was completed, students were then tasked with building the tallest, free-standing structure in groups of 3 or 4. I admired in some cases how students were methodical in how they were going to design their structures. I watched as they discussed what they would need to start off their build. I think I admired this because I’m a huge planner and I recognized this trait in some students. This was important for me to identify as I’m trying to be more intentional about what I do and why. Just because it’s my thought process when building, doesn’t mean that it will be the same for all students and there’s no greater value because I think this way. Don’t get me wrong, I always think there should be some sort of plan in design but I might have been the person drawing out the base before picking up the materials.

That said, the pressure was on, especially for the older grades. Many jumped in and were amazingly flexible as they built and met up with challenges. I loved how each group kept going no matter what challenges they faced. And there were many. Structures got too heavy on top and fell over. Students turned in the “wrong” direction and structures came tumbling down. Pieces seemed to fit and then didn’t. The challenges were endless. 

During this process, I also appreciated that groups were willing to share their design ideas with one another. All-in-all, I would have to say that it was a great chance for me to sit back and observe students in action. I made notes as they progressed and asked questions about their designs. Although each class from K to 5 was given the same challenge, it was incredible that no two structures looked the same. Groups added their own flair and made the structures their own.

I’m not quite sure what this year will bring in terms of challenges but I have to say that I have an incredible group of students that I get to work with and I know that they will be up for whatever challenge is thrown our way. 

I hope that you’ve had a great start to the year!

Wrapping Up The Year

The end of the year is the perfect time to reflect and I’m certain that within our profession, I am not the only one who feels this way. Today being the last day of school, my mind is working overtime as I continue to unpack the year that has past and looking forward to the opportunity to rest and recharge over the summer.  For the last month, I’ve spent time in deep reflection, and starting tomorrow, I’m going to be focused on taking care of myself and making sure that I’m up for the challenge in September. In terms of reflection, I like to think back on the year and consider: what worked; what didn’t; how I’ve grown; what I’ve learned; and what I might like to change for the following year.  As I say goodbye to my current school, I’m looking forward to an incredible new opportunity at my next school. In this post, I’m sharing some of my thoughts going into the summer and looking forward.

Students, Students, Students

It’s what teaching is all about! How we support students; how we facilitate student learning; and how we learn with and from students. When students – and their families – are at the center of the work that I do, I feel a sense of purpose and reward. Over the last few years, let’s face it, it’s been challenging. This year, when the distractions came, I tried to focus on what was most important and what I could do. If there was something that I couldn’t do, I didn’t, without guilt. I worked as hard as I could for students and I’m content with what I was able to do. Also, I asked a lot of questions – why is this important? Who does this benefit? If it wasn’t of benefit to students, I kindly declined. It’s easy to get distracted by the myriad of things popping up on our plates. I’m grateful that this year forced me to focus on students and their learning and I plan on continuing come September.

Take Time to Recharge 

We all know that we can’t be good for others if we aren’t good ourselves.  As teachers, many of us are problem solvers and we jump in and are there to support and care for others.  This summer, please take time for yourself. This past year, I learned the value of saying no to “opportunities” and really taking the time to take care of myself. This summer will be the first in years that I will be completely focused on taking care of myself and recharging to make sure that I’m ready for a healthy September. What will you do? How will you take care of yourself this summer? What does recharging look like for you?

Hear or See Something? Disrupt Publically!

I’ve written extensively about my experiences as a Black student and teacher. Things that I saw, heard, and experienced are sadly, things that I see, hear, and experience in the present day, although there are decades in between. Many of us know the lingo to add to our bios or to say in interviews – diversity, inclusion, equity, disrupting, dismantling, etc. – and yet, I wonder how many of us know what they actually mean within the school setting. When you see something, how are you disrupting? This includes experiences between students but also between teachers and students and between teachers. Notice who enters or doesn’t enter certain spaces within the school building. Why is that? What does it say about school culture? How do we build better community within our schools? I can’t tell you the number of times that people have come up to me in private after something public has happened and apologized for the actions of another. It’s time to publicly disrupt or nothing will change for those most marginalized – students and teachers alike. 

The past few years have been challenging. This summer, please take time to rest and recharge. The year ahead will be another filled with challenges. Let’s do what we need in order to make sure that come September, students can be at the center of what we do. Also, once September arrives, when you hear or see something, please disrupt. Congratulations on completing another year in education. Wishing you a safe and restful summer & a great start to the new school year.

Reflecting on Identity Boxes

In my schedule this year, I had a number of periods where I was able to partner with teachers around the meaningful use of technology. During one of these Assistive Technology periods, one teacher brought up the idea of supporting students on creating Identity Boxes, loosely based on the idea of Joseph Cornell’s Box. The idea was to work with students intentionally on understanding the many facets of our identities and how they intersect, and from there, to create a digital version – similar to James Cornell’s – where students could share their learning about themselves, with one another and their families. 

This past month, I had the opportunity to work with students to start the process of bringing their boxes to life and it’s been a great experience to work with them on using technology as a form of communication. From learning to link Slides and the meaning of symbolism to inserting images and formatting text, it’s been an interesting journey with students as they take their content and try to make it visually appealing for their audience. For me, this experience has reinforced three things: understanding identity is important; use of tech should be taught; and children love sharing about who they are when they know you will listen. In this post, I share about these three things.

Understanding Identity Is Important

Everyone is navigating and figuring out who they are in an ever changing world. Children are no different. At a very young age, they are identifying and learning about the different “parts” that make up who they are. While some are obvious, there are also parts that may be hidden or are yet to be uncovered. I think it’s important to discuss aspects of identity with children from an early age. Through open conversations, experiencing supportive relationships and seeing other people with similar identities being valued, children are able to develop a positive sense of self. 

In years past, I’ve worked on different activities to help students understand the various facets to identity. Depending on the age and the group of students, this work can look very different. The way we might discuss identity with a kindergarten student would differ greatly from a grade 7 or 8 student. Not only that, it would also depend on the work that has been previously done within the classroom to build a community where these important conversations can be had, without causing further harm, particularly to students who are already marginalized.

It’s important for teachers themselves to understand identity and how their own identities impact the way in which they teach and interact with students. As such, I always suggest that teachers take the time to do some of their own learning first. judy mckeown has provided teachers with an excellent resource – Pause and Ponder Social Identity Self-Assessment – that teachers may wish to use for themselves. The questions are rich and call for much reflection on how we navigate the world inside and out of our profession. I don’t think that there is one specific way to teach or do identity work with children – there are a variety of approaches that could be effective – but at minimum, I think it’s important for us to start by understanding what it is and how it influences how we navigate the world. 

Use of Tech Should Be Taught

Children are incredible with tech! I remember when my nephew was 2 and the joy he had on his face when he was able to use his iPad to pull up “Baby Shark” on YouTube. I didn’t think it could happen with him not being able to spell the words baby and shark as of yet, but if you can sing or say, “Baby Shark”, an iPad can find it with ease. 

Armed with this knowledge, I think that many believe that if we just give children a device, they’ll figure it out. Most times they do, but I’ve noticed that in order for tech to be used meaningfully, there needs to be some support with the learning. I mentioned in a previous post that I had the opportunity to partner with another teacher this year around supporting students in developing their proficiency with Google Slides. It was a really great experience because students were able to learn some of the basics that supported their use of tech and allowed them to communicate more effectively. These are skills that not only help for a particular assignment but that can be transferred across multiple subject areas and are skills that can be used beyond the classroom. 

Over the years, I’ve seen many strange and interesting things. Centering a title or the line spaces on text are important skills that students need to be able to understand how to do easily.  I’ve seen some who are excited to hit the space bar until the cursor lands somewhere in the middle of the screen. I’ve also seen students hitting the enter button to be able to double space their text, only to realize that if they change the font, the spacing is all off. These might seem like little things, but they’re also easy to teach kids in mini lessons. 

For the project on Identity Boxes, I helped students: link slides; share their slides in preview mode; and in the creation of collages of their images. Simple things that I don’t think we should take for granted that students will somehow be able to know how to do. Going forward, I really want to be intentional about creating mini lessons for students that support them in being more proficient in effectively using the G Suite for Education Tools. 

Children Love Sharing About Who They Are When They Know You Will Listen

Sitting with some of these students, it was apparent that they were eager to share parts of themselves with me. As I sat, I heard stories of their countries of origin – what they missed and what they brought with them – and also heard students share about the languages they speak and love. Although these are students that I also teach French for one period a day, having them share their Identity Boxes was almost like getting to know them on an even deeper level and it was an opportunity to see them in a different light. I felt honoured that they would share parts of themselves with me, so freely and with such joy. This experience has me thinking about the need to further offer students the opportunity to bring their whole selves to school every day and not just on days where they present parts of who they are. 

Reflection has been an important part of my growth over the years. This post allowed me the opportunity to reflect on one assignment, however, I will be taking more time for reflection and really thinking about what I will carry into next year and what I might just leave behind.

World Oceans Day

Did you know that World Oceans Day is June 8th? Neither did I! That is until I read Rochelle Strauss’ new book, The Global Ocean. As a long-time fan of Rochelle’s other books – Tree of Life and One Well – I was overjoyed to hear that she was writing a new book and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. In this post, I write about my new learnings as I consider ways to use this book with students. 

The Global Ocean? I Thought There Were 5 Oceans!

Situated in different parts of the world, I always thought of oceans and their wildlife as being separate and unique, without thinking of the interconnectedness of the different bodies of water. Sure, I understood that one body of water flowed into the next but I compartmentalized them thinking of the Pacific Ocean in the west and the Atlantic Ocean in the east. Distinct and separate, mainly due to geography and/or climate. Page 7 of the book brought home the reality of a Global Ocean in sharing about the 1992 cargo ship that fell overboard, spilling nearly 28 000 animal bath toys into the ocean. Over the next 20 years, tracking the rubber ducks was an incredible real-time science experiment on how all of the ocean basins are connected. The results and hearing this blew my mind!

Plastics!

For years I’ve shared about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and had conversations with students about actions we can take to ensure that we aren’t contributing additional waste into our waterways. We’ve talked about plastic bags, straws and can holders and how they impact wildlife when they enter oceans. Years ago, we also had lots of conversations around products that contained microplastics that were used as exfoliants. I hadn’t realized that there are plastics found in many common human-made fabrics. What blew my mind when reading about plastics was the fact that “with every load [of laundry], as many as 17 million tiny plastic fibres get washed down the drain” (pg. 21). What?!?! I got out the calculator and further realized the impact of my actions and have made a commitment to change by being cautious about what I purchase. Tips are peppered throughout this incredible book but I have to say that pages 26 to 35 really offer some fantastic ways to bring about tangible change. 

Why Students?

Sections of this book share about the actions of young people who are making a difference. Individuals speaking out. Groups creating projects. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, children really are the most incredible people on the planet. When they learn of injustice or see something that needs to be made right, they are eager and get creative to bring about change. Much like the interconnectedness of the oceans, when students learn about how their individual actions can have a global impact, they get excited and want to do more.  Inherently, children like to know that their actions can change the world and add to the greater good. I love that this book makes learning approachable and I am seeing so many uses for it within the classroom. Students are eager to act. How might we support them in learning and in turn using this eagerness to bring about change in our world?

This is seriously an incredible book that I think every educator should read, for their own learning and also help students in understanding the importance of our actions on the environment. Students are open and ready to make changes that will result in a better world for everyone. Through incredible texts like these, there’s so much learning and inspiration that can happen, that will lead to much-needed action, and ultimately change. June 8th is World Oceans Day. What action will you take?

Virtual Museum – Visit and Reflection

Over the course of the pandemic, the importance of virtual options for greater accessibility has become more and more apparent. From meetings to field trips, the way in which we accessed the world changed for a while and I hope that as we look to the future, some of these changes become permanent options as they support a greater ability for more to participate. Although many are excited to be back to in-person field trips, many organizations are still offering virtual field trips. In this post, I’m sharing a resource that I created for students last year that you might find useful to use with students, where appropriate. 

The Why?

I love art. It’s no secret to any of the people who know me well. It’s taken me a long time to feel confident in creating and not equating how good I am – or perhaps not- at art with creativity. I think it’s the same for kids. Those who like art, often feel as though they are good at it and those who don’t like it, often feel as though they aren’t. We all have the potential to be creative and sometimes having the ability to explore different art forms, gives us the inspiration to do just that. 

Last year, I taught Art and I wanted students to have the opportunity to visit different galleries. Many were offering virtual tours of some of their exhibits which is great because it gave greater access to museums throughout the world. I tried to find different galleries that might have artifacts that may be of interest to my students and created this resource for them to have an opportunity to explore. Not only did I want them to explore, but I’m always interested in what catches their attention or pieces that they like so I thought it would be great for them to have the opportunity to reflect on their experience, an artifact, and/or museum. I also think that it’s important for them to notice and be able to communicate their thoughts or feelings about different forms of art. Hands down, many enjoyed the MET for kids because of the way in which it was presented – as a cartoon map – but there were also students who were interested in looking at sculptures. 

After hearing some of their feedback, I changed some of the reflection questions, added a few more places they could visit and also gave them a bit more room to write. I’m always grateful for students sharing their feedback with me as it helps me to be a better teacher. 

Considerations

As with all resources, please take time to review the slides and links prior to sharing this resource with students. I used this with my Grade 4/5 class and we had already built a strong classroom community where we could have conversations about the different types of art that were seen and discuss some of their cultural significance. We also had conversations prior about museums and how they “received” their collections and some of the difficulty in finding museums with online collections that weren’t sharing art that is solely eurocentric. 

Get Exploring!

Here’s the link to your own copy of the resource. Change it up. Make edits that might be better suited to the needs of your students. Google also has a wide variety of online collections from museums that you can use.  Just have fun exploring on your own or with students. Either way, I hope that you find something new that tickles your fancy. 

During the pandemic, I have fallen more and more in love with art. Consuming art. Creating art. Sharing art. I hope that as you and potentially your students explore art, you’ll have the opportunity to get creative and share what inspires you all. The last month of school is fast approaching. I do hope that you find this resource helpful and are able to use it.

Pandemic Stories in Children’s Literature

I’ve been reading books that seem to have a theme centred around the impacts of the pandemic. Children’s books and YA novels are often some of my favourite reads, whether or not I take them back to the classroom to read or study with students. In this post, I’ll share 2 books that I have recently read.

New From Here – Kelly Yang

If you have read any of my previous posts or follow me on Twitter, you know that I am a Kelly Yang fan, through and through. Her writing is real and vulnerable and I strongly believe that it’s because she writes from her own lived experiences. While I knew that I was in for a treat with New From Here, I didn’t think that I would find myself as emotional as I was while reading through the pages. 

Written from the perspective of ten-year-old Knox Wei-Evans, New From Here shares the impact of the pandemic in a real and vivid way. While not only trying to stay safe from the threat of Covid-19, we also get a real look at the anti-Asian hate experienced, not only by adults but young children. Although my heart ached for the characters in the book, seeing the bravery and advocacy of Knox, not only for himself and his family but also for his classmate, made me hopeful. I journeyed into this profession because I strongly believe that children are the very best humans on the planet. This book was a great reminder of just how great they really are. 

I’ve used other Kelly Yang books in my classroom to talk about themes of stereotypes and racism and would use this book in a similar way. Depending on the relationships we have built, it might also serve as an opportunity for students to share their experiences during the pandemic. Hate and discrimination in a variety of forms have been experienced by many people during this pandemic. Sharing and hearing each others’ stories is essential in learning just how deep the impact of this has been. From this learning, we have an opportunity for change, if as a collective, we choose. While there are many who seem eager to shed their masks and “return to normal”, for many, this isn’t a possibility nor a desire because the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t over and the pandemic of race, rages on.

Ain’t Burned All the Bright – Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin

This book came as a recommendation from a colleague – Casey MacDonald – and I’m so grateful! I listed both the name of the author and illustrator because this mixed-media work of art is just that, a work of art. 

Grounded in 2020, and beginning with the pandemic of race, Breath One reminds us of the protests that were happening in many parts of the world after the murder of George Floyd. While we saw black squares and written statements, this is a pandemic that has continued to rage on. While many were panic-stricken with the thought of something new potentially causing harm, long-term injury or death, this was an added layer to merely trying to exist for many communities. 

Breath Two delves more into the isolation of lockdown and the experience of relying on one another, within a family, to make it through. I know that during the lockdown it was challenging to compete for space to teach while others are working and still others, learning. The challenge was real and I wonder the impact this may have as we reflect back in a few years. 

Breath Three is a somewhat optimistic look at what is most important when it comes to breathing through both pandemics – Covid-19 & race. Although this text is grounded in 2020, it’s important to note that for many, not much has changed. We’ve moved on from performative statements and symbols and we’ve “opened up” and yet Black deaths are still captured on video and many still remain isolated at home because of the very real threat of Covid-19 to their lives. It’s interesting to sometimes sit and note for whom a “return to normal” is acceptable or wanted.

The imagery in this book is incredible. While the words are powerful, the combination of the two is what really makes this book a work of art. In a number of instances, I had to go back and it was as though I saw more with a second take. This might be a powerful book to support the teaching symbolism with secondary students for Visual Arts. I do love the explanation at the end of the collaboration and wonder if a similar project, perhaps about this subject or another might be an opportunity for cross-curricular learning. 

Two books, very different in style, and specific experiences of the characters and yet the themes of Covid and racism are seen throughout. As the world looks toward “reopening” what will change? What will remain the same? How might these stories help support us in searching for and creating better for and with those most marginalized? I so love how Children’s books and YA Novels can prompt us to consider how we might do better as a society.

Graduation – Perhaps Something New?

Graduation time is fast approaching! I know that it’s still early, but I’m certain that conversations are happening in schools and communities. Within the blink of an eye, we’ll be at the end of June and students will be leaving one school and heading off to new adventures. Let’s face it, the pandemic is still very much a real part of our lives. I fear that in a rush of excitement about “going back to normal”, we will miss an opportunity to do something new. While many will be looking forward to going back to “what we have always done”, I wonder what we have learned about equity of access from the last 2 years and how we might celebrate differently this year.

Equity of Access

Celebrating memorable moments with family and friends is exciting. Over the last 2 years, for many, our celebrations have looked different, whether with our friends or families and/or in school. We’ve learned that in-person celebrations are prohibitive for many, for a variety of reasons. We have made adjustments and have proven that when we consider the needs of the most marginalized, we come up with solutions that are effective for all. For this year’s graduation ceremonies, I hope that we keep this in mind. Whether due to disability or school not being a safe space, we really need to consider how we might make access more equitable. How do we ensure access to graduation celebrations for these students and their families? 

Think Outside the Box

I remember the big push a couple of years ago to “reimagine”. We were reimagining attendance and school entry and recess. All of which were great and timely, and I wonder how many of these practices have now gone to the wayside with the “reopening”? 

On a deeper scale, when it comes to issues impacting those most marginalized, I have yet to tangibly see what this reimagining actually means. Where are those conversations now?  Could we have them about graduation? Here are some questions that I have:

  • Could we start from scratch and design a ceremony that is inclusive to all and reflective of the members of our school communities? 
  • Do we have to have awards? Could they be changed in some way? Could students be involved in the selection of the awards if they must be given? Could students know ahead of time what the awards are all about so that they can have an opportunity to work towards them?
  • Speeches – Who are they for and why do they matter? 

I have to say that not much has changed during the life of my teaching career when it comes to graduations. I’ve been teaching for over a decade. Isn’t it time we think outside the box a little?

Celebration of Students

Graduation should be a time to celebrate students. Sometimes, there are other voices that seem to be louder in stating what the experience of students should be. I wonder if we asked students what they might like, what they would say? How might we gather student voice and have students share their input in a way that allows them to share authentically and freely their thoughts and ideas? We often expect students to disclose without creating the space or environment in order for that to be accomplished, without fear of how others may respond to those thoughts and ideas. How might we really center students and their needs during this year’s celebrations?

In conversations about graduation planning, please remember to include students and their families. They are the best at knowing what they have experienced over the last couple of years and may have key insights into making this celebration of the achievement of students, a success for all. Think outside the box as to what might and can be done. While I’m certain that school boards may share guidelines as to what they expect, there may be opportunities to highlight some specific considerations that should be made for your school community.