What’s On My Professional Learning Bookshelf?

A question that sometimes comes up in my ongoing teaching-learning cycles with colleagues and beginning teachers is, “What books do you recommend I read for my own learning?”  Yikes, this is a tough one!  As teachers, the truth is that if we were to pile up the professional learning books we’ve read and/or used throughout our careers we’d easily surpass the height of the CN Tower (I know you it to be true)!

I tend to prefer sharing some of my favourites and those on my shelf at this moment.  The following books are ones I’m currently going through (and enjoying!) because of insights, lessons, questions, and reflections they’ve sparked in my professional learning.  I’ve added the links to their websites which I find very helpful.

Tuned Out: Engaging the 21st Century Learner- Karen Hume

This book invites readers to both rethink what it means to teach and learn in a digital age and put those ideas into action.  The ideas are practical, closely tied to current learning theories, and important to take into consideration within the current reality of how students learn and become engaged.  Along with the book an educator can use the website which becomes a virtual classroom for teachers to both gather and share ideas.  This resource helps educators realize an energized, student-focused classroom that takes advantage of today’s digital technologies.



What Do They Really Know? Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning- Cris Tovani

This book explores the complex issue of monitoring, assessing, and grading students’ thinking and performance with fairness and consistency.  The author admits to struggling to balance her student-centered instruction wit school system mandates.  Her recommendations are realistic and practical and understands that what isn’t manageable isn’t sustainable.  Cris shows teachers how to use assessments to monitor student growth and provide targeted feedback that enables students to master content goals.

Below are a link to a blog and an interview with the author about the book.







Building Skyscrapers

This year my Grade 6 students have demonstrated a deep interest in looking at a few social justice issues that they feel have a direct impact on their lives.  The most important issue has been bullying (at school, the home, and in society as a whole).  I have described how we have focused on exploring this issue in a previous blog where I explained how we, as a class, brought to light aspects of bullying including: what it is, why people do it, who it affects, how it affects them, and ways to deal with it in our classrooms, schools, and communities.

It came as no surprise to me that a group of my students (and a few Me to We Club members) decided to create an anti-bullying club in our school.  As the club members came together to discuss their purpose, the plan, and how each student would be involved, I sat back in awe at how big their hearts were and how creative their minds became as they began to put together an anti-bullying awareness video to both educate the students at the school and reassure them that the club was there to support them.  The whole process came to demonstrate what can be possible when a topic or issue is dissected through inquiry-based learning and students are given the opportunity to dive, head first, into an ocean of experiences that allow them to question, research, share ideas and opinions, look at different perspectives, decide where they stand on an issue, and how they plan to become involved.

After an intense few weeks, the group decided that they would like to first raise awareness through a video they would create.  They then decided that students needed to know who they were in order to seek them out for support outside at recess if they needed someone to talk to or play with.  They also realized that in most cases, the students involved in bullying behaviour (whether it be the bully, the victim, or the bystander) needed to become educated and so they would spend time with those students reading, talking, role-playing, etc. to help them learn about how their actions (or lack thereof) were impacting those involved.

The project is on-going and I couldn’t be more proud of what the students have accomplished so far.  They decided to name the anti-bulling club “We Build Skyscrapers” (the title comes from the Demi Lovato song “Skyscraper”).  The reasoning was that although skyscrapers can seem fragile and many are made of glass, they always stand tall and are built to withstand extreme conditions.  The analogy is that the Skyscrapers Club is there to help build up students to stand tall and proud of who they are by not being afraid and learning to overcome negative situations.  I thought it was brilliant and the school and parent community completely agreed.

If you’d like to see the “Skyscrapers” video, which I strongly recommend you do, follow the link below.


Opening Hearts and Minds Through Social Justice

I recently blogged about an excellent new resource created by ETFO entitled “Social Justice Begins With Me.”  In my post I described how we implemented one of the lessons in the classroom and then extended our learning by taking it out into the community.  It was such a meaningful experience that I decided to share it with the entire staff as well as the  teacher candidate working with me.  As a result, staff members have now begun to try the lessons in their classrooms and the faculty supervisor overseeing my teacher candidate’s progress has also shared it with the faculty students.  The feedback has been phenomenal which is why I have decided to give you all a quick overview of the resource.

Social Justice Begins With Me targets Primary, Junior, and Intermediate grades with literacy focused lessons that are linked to picture books and short novels that target social justice issues.  The lessons guide teachers through various activities that embed both social justice issues and character education.  One of my favourite aspects of this resource are the ideas that support community involvement, thus taking the learning out of the classroom into a real-life context.  The lessons are also supplemented with graphic organizers, assessment tools and strategies, along with well organized lists of texts that include each synopsis.  The reproducibles are very helpful and applicable to a variety of activities.

My students have enjoyed the experience so much that they suggested we find a way to share our learning with the community in some way or another on a monthly basis.  We have just finished our fictional narratives by writing short stories which the class suggested we share with the folks at a nearby nursing home.  “We can take some scones or biscuits and sit with the elderly to share our stories,” they suggested a few weeks ago when we started the process.  “A lot of times old people are not treated very nicely or their families forget them.  This is one way we can tell them about what we’re learning,” one student commented.  Brilliant idea.  And it all started with a lesson on thanking those in our community with unappreciated jobs.

If you want to integrate social justice into your classroom, this is one of the best resources available.  Try it and please share your experiences with us.  I would very much enjoy to know how the lessons came alive in your classrooms!

Below I have included the direct link for those who want to take a closer look at the resource.








My Grade Six Bullying Task Force

In light of the focus on bullying that has come as a result of Amanda Todd’s heart breaking story depicting the path that led her to put an end to the pain and feeling of helplessness she endured for so many years, our class devoted much time and discussion to this urgent topic.  I, like every educator or parent reading this, find myself faced with the issue of bullying on a regular basis which can feel extremely frustrating.  However, this time around, I decided to take the topic further.

As we read picture books, learned about real life stories, analyzed the roles of the bully, victim, and bystander, and thought about what creates the mentality of a bully and the victims, we came to the realization that the knowledge and understanding we need to effectively deal with this issue lies within us.  We looked at ourselves, our care givers, the media, and our lifestyle to find the answers.

Earlier in the week, the government announced that a task force would be created to study this on-going issue on a deeper level in order to come up with strategies and recommendations to support the need for action.  I would like to save the government hundreds of thousands of dollars by sharing what my Grade Six Bullying Task Force created within the span of five days.  Keeping in mind that I am referring to a group of 30 ten and eleven year-olds, the experience was quite simply enlightening.

In a nutshell (and using “big words”), the main ideas discussed included the following:

  • we have all experienced the roles of being the bully, the victim, and the bystander.  Maybe one role has been more dominant so far, but if we take a careful look, we’ve taken on each of these roles at some point in our lives.
  • our upbringing and experiences with our care givers have a significant impact on the roles we choose to take on. No one is born a bully or victim.  Both come to be as a result of the words, emotions, and actions we are exposed to as we begin to make sense of the world.
  • we have a choice about the roles we take on in life.  The power lies within us to choose whether we will be a bully, a victim, a bystander, or none of the above.  Kids need to learn how their thoughts create their reality.
  • education through self-awereness is the most powerful way to unravel our ideas, beliefs, and feelings with respect to how we treat others and would like to be treated.  This will not work if educators and care givers continue to give a “time-out” to those who bully and pat on the back with sympathy to those who are victims.
  • we need to educate the ones who bully (including their care givers!) through self-awareness, empower the ones who are victims by working on their inner belief system, and hold accountable those who decide not to make a positive decision to change by taking legal action that has an impact on their future.
Bullying will not go away by spending millions of dollars on research and resources.  There has to be a fundamental shift in the way we educate and empower people to understand that our ideas and actions originate from a belief system which must be changed at the core if we’re to move forward into a positive way of being.  If a class of ten and eleven year-old get this, then we owe it to them to make it happen.

Social Justice Begins With Me!

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
-Margaret Mead

As we ease into another school year our class has begun to live the truth of this quote by Margaret Mead.  We started by becoming involved in learning a dance for a flashmob that we performed to fundraise for the Scarborough Hospital’s campaign to purchase a new MRI machine.  The students felt the opportunity was very meaningful and powerful.  It prompted read-alouds, class discussions, and journal entries on the topics of giving back to our community through simple acts of kindness and the power of believing that we can all make a difference in the world we live in.

This experience was a perfect segway to our Me to We Day.  The group of students who had the privilege of attending the celebration at the Air Canada Centre came back to school in awe and full of motivation to continue learning about how we can create a life where we are aware of how each decision, belief, and act impacts not only those around us but potentially people around the world.

Feeling that the students were ready to embark on a year dedicated to social justice issues, I decided to use the resource “Social Justice Begins With Me! created by ETFO.  Our first activity centred around reading the picture book “Yanni Rubbish” by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim.  The activity proved to be one of the students’ favourites so far.  We discussed how certain jobs and professions are viewed as more prestigious or important than others and why that is.  Amazingly, the students needed absolutely no guidance with respect to understanding that all professions and jobs are important and necessary in their own way.  As a cumulative task, each student created a Thank You card for someone in the community that had an important but unappreciated job.  This Thanksgiving weekend, they gave their cards and took pictures with the recipients.

I cannot begin to express how satisfying it was to see the pictures of my students bringing such positivity to their community!

This email I received from a student says it all:

Hi Mrs. Oliveira!I gave the thank you card to the librarian(s)!!!! They were so thankful and grateful. The librarian that I gave the card to said she will make sure that she shows the other librarians!! When I left, I felt so good and so helpful! I couldnt bring a camera because they were all not available. I feel so happy!
Students create their Thank You cards 
Thank You card cover
Inside a Thank You card
A student gives her card to a TTC driver



Lifeclass Begins

“The difference between school and life is that in school you learn the lessons and then get a test, but in life you get a test and then learn the lessons.”

This year I have decided to dedicate a substantial amount of time and effort to learning about and teaching life lessons that can be  integrated into my program.  Having spent the last few weeks really getting to know my students, I feel that they are a group of kids that can benefit from deep and meaningful lessons because they are both ready to explore them and in need of that support in their life.  I looked into integrating each lesson into our Literacy, Social Justice, Financial Literacy, and Healthy Living aspects of the curriculum.  So far, the students have really enjoyed their experience so I thought I’d share what we’ve done.

At the start of each week, I post a quote (linked to a life lesson I believe they need to explore) with questions to guide the students’ thinking.  They glue the prompt into their Journals and then have a week to complete the Journal entry.  The entries have written components and can also be expressed in artwork and various media (cartoons, posters, etc.).  The prompt is also posted on our website so students can share it with their families and hopefully discuss it together.

The responses I have received have been such a pleasure to read and I find that the students are working to try and incorporate the lesson into their way of thinking and acting.  They understand life so much more than we sometimes give them credit for!  At the end of the week, we share our thoughts, how we will use the lesson in our lives, and how some of us have already tried.  This week, the first thing out of their mouths as they walked in on Monday was, “Mrs. Oliveira, what’s the life lesson quote this week?”

If you’d like to take a look at some examples, you can find them in our classroom website.  Click “More” and scroll down to “Lifeclass”- it’s a simple idea that has my students learning about life in a way they’re ready to explore.



Getting Ready for the Art of Teaching and Learning

If you would thoroughly know anything, teach it to others. –Tryon Edwards

As I headed into my classroom today to set up our learning environment for this year, I stood in the middle and looked around at the space which, in a few days, will be filled with curious faces wondering what this year will be like.  A teacher candidate who was helping me mentioned that any advice I could give her would be appreciated because right now, it all seemed a bit overwhelming.  I told her that there are a few things I have come to know for sure about teaching and learning and proceeded to share them with her.  At the end of our conversation she had a big smile on her face and looked so much more at ease!  The truth is, my advice was simple.  Everyone knows it, but it’s sometimes forgotten as we go through our busy teacher lives!  Here are a few things I shared with her:

1. Connect!  Life and learning are about connections, to each other and to the world around us.  If you put in the effort to really connect with your students and create learning opportunities where they explore the connections within the world around them through cross-curricular activities, the learning environment will be charged with an energy that keeps students engaged and willing to take risks as their learning progresses.

2. Start small.  The journey to becoming a great teacher begins with mastering one aspect, topic, or subject at a time.  Choose one (or if you’re very courageous, two) areas to focus on this year to really explore, practice, and begin to master.  Become the best possible teacher in your chosen area of focus.  Celebrate your learning and success!

3. Become resourceful.  No one who has become great at what they do reached their peak without some guidance and support from mentors.  Network and reach out to teachers, administrators, support staff and anyone else who may help you on your path of professional development.  Contact the bloggers on our site!  A useful resource is the “Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning” to get you started this year.

Teaching isn’t always easy.  That’s a fact.  But the journey is well worth it when you realize the potential you have to inspire students, parents, staff, and the community around you.

Below you will find a few items that may be useful for the start of the year (some of which appear in the “Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning” resource.

BT Building effective Classrooms

curriculum night information newsletter

september wanted poster

my t-shirt and summer shorts

In a Million Words or Less…

if math were

grade 6 student intro letter

grade 6 math introductory letter

grade 6 homework newsletter

grade 6 first week newsletter

My Report Card

As I mentioned in my last post, I feel that not only is it important for our students to receive feedback on their progress but I too like to get a sense of how my year went in terms of what I feel are the essential foundations to a successful classroom: lesson delivery, classroom culture, assessment and evaluation, and communication.  My students get extremely excited to write my report card and after all the jokes about what my mom and dad will do if I end up receiving less than favourable results, they always share very meaningful feedback about what I did well and what I can improve on.  I read my report cards carefully, reflect on the ideas and suggestions, and just before the end of the year I sit with the class and go over my results as well as my plan to address the areas I need to improve on.

I honestly feel this is a powerful exercise in modelling what I expect from my students.  I like to walk the walk and this is a great way to demonstrate to them that I am a lifelong learner and continuously use feedback to reflect on my practice in order to make the necessary adjustments so I can reach the goal of becoming not only a great teacher but hopefully one of the inspirations in their lives.

For next year I need to work on providing descriptive feedback that is more specific and provides a clearer focus with respect to how the students can improve.  I also have to be more mindful of bullying behaviour that may be occurring outside my classroom but can impact students’ learning inside the class.  I plan to work on how we co-construct success criteria in order to simplify it while at the same time making it effective.  Just a few things to keep in mind…

I’m quite satisfied with my progress and look forward to continuing on my path to living the art of teaching and learning!

Below I share with you a few report card comments.  I’d like to note that I did receive a few Level 3 marks but they were difficult to read and spoke to the same topics mentioned below.

Mrs. Oliveira was able to create entertaining lessons that had
an effective impact on my learning. She was able to effectively
communicate to me in many different ways. Mrs. Oliveira has
also provided many opportunities for me to show information
(eg. poster, Prezi, essay, etc.)


Mrs. Oliveira is encouraged to continue doing whatever she's doing that teaches kids effectively. She may want to observe kids more carefully as kids tend to still get bullied. She is also encouraged to try and write more descriptive feedback on students' work.


Mrs. Oliveira, you are very supportive, you accepted everyone for who they are. You try to push us to our limits. I loved the Smartboard lessons (even though the "smart" board ain't that smart), they were very engaging. I had a lot of fun during your interactive lessons and activities. Wonderful job!


Whenever we do a writing unit (opinion piece, explanatory, etc.) we always have success criteria. I find it takes a lot of time filling in the comment boxes. We should try to use the time for publishing or conferences with you.



I think for next year we could do success criteria only sometimes. I find that it takes up time filling it in.


The email was a fantastic way to communicate. When we have trouble we just email you the question.


I like how you give everyone a chance to show their learning the way that they want to.


The learning environment was comfortable and everyone's ideas were valued by classmates.









Looking Back, Reflecting, and Celebrating Our Year!

The students in my class understand the importance of daily reflection in order to take a step back and look at the whole picture before continuing on our journey toward the goals we have set for ourselves.  They also know that celebrating each milestone and learning from our setbacks creates an attitude of gratitude,  a belief in what we can accomplish, and the excitement to take new risks as we adjust our course to take us to the places we imagine in life.

As we near the end of our time together, there are a few activities my students seem to enjoy very much.  It gives them the opportunity to look back on their year, reflect, and celebrate both themselves and their journey.

The activities include:

1. Year End Booklet: prompts are used to get students writing and creating art about themselves and their year.

Students take pride in creating their year end booklet
The reflections and art are meaningful and fun!


2. Award: the template is used for students to create an award for themselves and another classmate
On the back of each award students explain why they deserve to receive it
3. Year End Scrapbook Page: students create a scrapbook page using prompts co-created with the class
You can learn so much about Justina!
4. Bucket List: following a story from the Toronto Star on bucket lists, students wanted to create their own (a wall will be put                             up in Toronto this summer so people can write what they want to do in their lifetime)
5. Teacher Report Card: students are not the only ones receiving a report card at the end of the year- I do too! It is co-created
                                              based on what students think is most important for a successful classroom.
Believe it or not, I always get a little nervous when it comes time to receiving my report card!  It too is a way for me to get a sense of how my year went and how my journey as a teacher will look like as I continually grow in the art of teaching and learning!

Students as Teachers: the Power of Modelling

Our school organized the annual “Jump Rope for Heart” play day to raise funds and awareness of the importance of heart health.  Since our Grade 5/6 classes are quite responsible, it was decided that the Grade 6s run the events, the Grade 5s act as team leaders and teachers simply supervise to make sure things ran smoothly.  What I witnessed that afternoon was nothing short of pure pride and astonishment at watching “mini” teachers at their best!

Team leaders would arrive at the stations and immediately count to make sure they had every child (JK-Gr4) accounted for.  They would then make sure that the children were sitting and paying attention to the station supervisors.  I was thoroughly impressed as I listened to the way they spoke with the younger children.  “You’ll get to have fun right after we find out how to play this game.  Remember that listening carefully makes it easier to understand what you need to do.  We’ll be asking you to repeat the instructions so make sure you listen.”  Wow.  I took out a camera to film and photograph these meaningful moments.  The team leaders then proceeded to explain and model each step.  They divided the children into those who felt comfortable with the activity and those that needed extra help.  As each group worked on their skipping skills, a leader continued to support them and modify steps so each child was successful!  “It seems like this may be challenging for you and that’s ok because you’re just starting to learn this.  You’re doing really well.  I’ll modify it for you to make it easier, then we can try going faster.”  Did she just say “modify?”  One of my favourite moments was watching them celebrate each students’ success.  High-fives were shared, cheers were abundant, and positive encouragement such as, “You did it!  You’re amazing!  I knew you could do  it!”  was given to everyone.  I simply sat back with a huge smile across my face as other teachers noticed the same thing.

Afterward, I showed them the video and let them know how amazed I was at what I saw that afternoon.  My students were proud, of course, but they reminded me that in our classroom that’s how we talk and act (most of the time).  “We’re doing what you do Mrs. O!”

The truth is that our actions are much more powerful than our words and if we want to teach children how to behave, learn, think critically, etc. the best way to do so is to model it in our daily classroom experiences.  I cannot stress enough the power of good modelling, self-reflection, and the celebration of success as we try to teach our students to become independent, motivated, self-confident individuals.