Built on Trust

At the beginning of the school year in each class, we always spend a lot of time getting to know one another. The first term starts with engaging in conversations with the students and asking them to trust me, learn with me, and learn about themselves. We’re doing team building activities and I’m giving them time to explore who they are in this new space together.

But, there’s also something special about the second term in elementary school. It’s a time when I feel like we’ve built a classroom community, know one another, and the students are ready to dive in. Maybe because the days are starting to get brighter or maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on each students’ strengths and next steps while writing report cards, but I always feel like we’re in a different stage of our relationship. We’re building a trusting relationship with each other where we can all feel comfortable and safe.

It’s so important to build that trust. In times of challenging learning, the student-teacher relationship can be key to students feeling like they are not alone in their learning journey. Educator Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain, likens this trust to another familiar relationship. When we are with a physiotherapist, they give us exercises to help our bodies to move better physically. Sometimes those exercises stretch us to our limits, but we trust our care to these professionals. They assess and watch how we move and encourage us to continue getting stronger. Much of this ability to grow is based on trust; I know that I trust this person to do the best for me and provide care for me. Similarly, we help students to learn in class. We ask them to stretch their thinking, learn and attempt to master new skills, and take risks for their own growth. They trust us to guide them, provide them attainable next steps, build on their strengths, and be the person who helps create a safe place for them to learn.

Lately, I’ve also been thinking about the importance of building a space where students also trust each other. It’s difficult to host any space where there are so many different people together; many who come from different backgrounds and experiences and whose personality traits differ greatly from one another. How do we build trust between all of these students?

First we can define what that safe, trusting space looks like, sounds like, and feels like for each of us. We might have already done this activity together, but term two is a great opportunity to revisit those ideas. We might look at the original ideas if I’ve got a copy on chart paper or digitally and see how everyone feels as a whole or allow students to reflect individually and anonymously. I might ask if there’s anything to add, perhaps students have better language or understanding of what they are looking for in the learning space.

As the educator in the room, it’s also time for me to reflect personally on the ultimate goal of this learning community. This year, I’m radically dreaming of the possibilities for our classroom communities. I want students to feel safe and cared for by me, but I also want them to feel safe and cared for by each other. I want less division amongst social circles and more inclusion of everyone not because they are simply present in the space with us, but because we trust that we all belong here. I want all students to feel safe sharing their thoughts and to know that they don’t have to be perfect. This, too, all seems built on trust; that students trust one another to be respectful and trust that they will be kept safe.

Teaching is so challenging. There are so many things to think about; meetings, curriculum, deadlines, and more. It’s hard to trust that building belonging is essential for learning and wellness. In my year of radical dreaming, I’m remembering that at the centre of each day is a trusting, positive, and exciting experience for students in my care. I wonder what that looks like, sounds like, and feels like for all of us.

One Word

A friend of mine introduced me to a New Year’s trend a few years ago. Instead of making a New Year’s Resolution you choose one word to focus your intentions for the year. I’ve always made the obligatory eat healthier, less screen time, move more resolutions and they usually go by the wayside around March. The resolutions I made were about performing an action, however, using one word to set intention is about exploring and practising a mindset.

I think this year, I’m a bit late on choosing a single word. Last year was a tough one filled with a lot of challenges, loss, and change for me. I wanted a word with an intention that may centre myself. One that could evoke emotions that would lead me to remember that challenging times are temporary. Last night, I finally decided on the word “Embrace”.

The word embrace brings me comfort. It’s like a hug for times that are emotional and challenging, both celebratory and in consolation. Embrace reminds me that I can embrace each moment, even when difficult and find a way to be present and at peace. I embrace where I am in my journey and where I am in my understanding of work and life balance. I embrace my imperfections with love and care and embrace my growth to become better, even while remaining imperfect.

Educators have so many responsibilities and so much of our day can be spent working while still feeling like the work is never done. We are pulled in so many different directions at work – planning, assessing, caring for children and each other, report card writing, professional learning, personal growth. Then we return home and fulfill many caregiving duties for our own families and ourselves. It’s hard to remember that it’s okay to do our best, even when imperfect, and to take the time we need to rest and recharge.

I think about these periods of high stress with impending report card deadlines, assessments, and term two beginning. For me, it’s important to embrace this moment in a way that I can lean in mentally and emotionally to hold space for myself and know that this stress is temporary and I can get through it all. I wonder what it would be like for educators to embrace themselves with as much compassion as they give to others. I know that this year I will be reminding myself to do exactly this and exploring ways to treat myself with kindness and humanity.

I also think about my own personal journey to decolonize my own identity, to reclaim and rebuild what education means to me, and to create new identity affirming and sustaining spaces. It seems so daunting at times to work in social justice and anti-racism and I often wonder about my own impact on systems of oppression. Embracing each small step of the journey in 2024 this year may be the way to find joy in the struggle and to find moments of celebration with friends and allies.

Finding the one word to centre my intentions for 2024 isn’t the easy answer to healthier habits or a ‘new year, new me’ philosophy. It is a journey of self-reflection and exploration. Some people I know chronicle their journey using photos or quotes or journaling. Others I know take mindful moments of affirmation and focus. For me, I look at intention as a way to make meaning of my own goals for exploring my humanity; there are no rules, no one right way. Perhaps instead it’s many different moments and ways of honouring each one as they occur.

If you could choose your one word for 2024, I wonder what it would be.

In Search of The Thing

When I first started teaching, I was always looking for The Thing. The Thing that was going to help students to learn best. The Thing that would make the lesson stand out in students’ minds. The Thing that would be the right fit for all students. Don’t we all wish we could find that one magical Thing?

In my search for The Thing I used a number of different graphic organizers. I had my KWL charts for every science strand, Venn Diagrams at different points, and collaborative Sequence Charts, Mind Maps, Brainstorming, etc. As time went on, my collection of graphic organizers continued to grow and morph from chart paper to include digital apps. I think this is really where I started to think more about The Thing and what it’s purpose was for our community of learners. Were they something physical we needed to have? Did they need to be visual in the classroom all the time? Which ones could we display on the screen and put away to revisit for the next time?

Sometimes I wanted to do some collaborative brainstorming. Students would be able to learn with and from one another; building upon their ideas and practising collaboration skills. I thought The Thing for this particular goal would be graphic organizers such as Mind Maps where students could see the relationships between pieces of a certain idea, topic, word, etc. We could track our ideas together if I wanted to activate some prior knowledge, take the temperature of the class as a whole about a specific concept in science or social studies, or even to help develop a deeper understanding of vocabulary for word work.

Sometimes I wanted to create an anchor for us as a class. Perhaps we were engaging in shared reading and we wanted to keep track of our thoughts or the events in the text. We might use a sequence chart or a timeline so that we could remember what had happened, how we felt or thought about what was written, or even to reflect back on how our thinking and opinions had changed. These anchor charts needed to be displayed, continually revisited, and always turned out to be messy and imperfect for the first few drafts – we were adding things, changing things, there were arrows pointing from one idea to another, and it documented our thinking. In the final review of this collection of thoughts, events, and ideas we could organize a neat, final draft but I always felt it was necessary for students to see that thinking was a messy process, it didn’t need to be perfect the first time around – or even the second!

Students always seemed to like using Venn Diagrams. Maybe it was the fun circles or the visual appeal for them. Trying to extend our thinking and explore different visual models, we used three and four circles to push our thinking; we looked at a variety of funny venn diagrams to interpret the creators’ ideas and we tried to create fun ones ourselves. Venn diagrams became a way of playing with our ideas, sorting and re-sorting what we saw and understood to know that there were many different ways of knowing and that learning could change and be seen from different perspectives.

Sometimes I wanted to really focus in and see what students were thinking. We would use Concept Circles or a Frayer Model and have students demonstrate their thinking with words or without. This would give me the chance to help students communicate their ideas in a variety of ways – using manipulatives, drawings, sketches, images, etc. Seeing students express their thinking in different ways helped those who were still attaining language or vocabulary and it also helped me to be intentional as a teacher in seeing their thinking, asking them questions, and talking to them about their ideas.

These are all really Great Things to use with students, but they weren’t The Thing. They were tools for learning; a visual way to engage with student thinking and allow space for student learning to be valued in the classroom. One of the biggest lessons throughout my years of teaching has been that it’s rarely about The Thing. It wasn’t the graphic organizer that the kids loved – although they did enjoy watching me make spelling mistakes or sounding out tough words. Rather, it was engaging in real collaborative thinking and learning. The messy ideas, the moment to be learning with one another was The Thing. I used to think that just giving them a graphic organizer would be The Thing to do and sometimes it still is. But now I also think of it as an opportunity to engage in critical thinking, to allow students to speak and voice their ideas and allow space to celebrate when their ideas change and develop and mature. In the end, maybe that’s The Real Thing.

Come and Join Us!

In conversations with teachers, I often get asked “How do we be more inclusive of all the holidays celebrated by the students in the school?” The answer to this requires some thinking and planning. I recommend starting with having a conversation with students. Whenever I open a conversation like this, I am mindful of my presence and position as the adult in the room. I know that if I say my favourite holiday is Christmas or Easter, I know that will influence what students think I want to hear. Sometimes they will try to make a connection with me, often agreeing that they have the same favourite as I do or most of them say “Me, too!” and then a few of them who don’t celebrate the same way feel left out. Instead I try to begin this conversation by asking what we like best about holidays, for example, time with family and friends, foods we love, etc. We can use this conversation to build connections with one another and each child can have an entry point to the conversation and have a holiday in mind, whether it’s religious or secular or a national holiday. Then, once we have some idea about what makes a holiday meaningful, ask students what holidays they celebrate when the things we like best take place.

Using this information to plan around which holidays you will acknowledge in your classroom, helps to create a culture where we honour who students are. Be sure to celebrate all holidays to the same degree so that no one feels more important than others. You can also use this information to figure out which holidays you need to include because the children might not have any experience or knowledge about them. Whose voices are missing? Whose identities do they need to learn more about?

This year anti-bias and anti-racist leader, Liz Kleinrock, has a new book titled Come and Join Us! 18 Holidays Celebrated All Year Long. This beautiful text illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat centres on so many different identities. It truly gives the opportunity for some students to see joyful mirrors and others to look through windows that allow space to learn about cultures and celebrations they may not have had the chance to meet. My favourite part, however, is the brilliant way this text also invites readers to step through the sliding glass door and build connections and empathy with others. After learning about each celebration there is a reflective question, such as “Do you stay up late for any of your holidays?” or “How do you help and show care for others during your celebrations?” I can see how educators would use this text to learn about others and spark conversations that allow for all children to have an entry point and connection.

Educators could use this text throughout the entire year, inviting children to learn more about different holidays and practice how to be curious and respectful when learning about others. You’ll notice the intentional focus on holidays that are non-dominant in Canada, such as Nowruz (Persian New Year). Kleinrock addresses this in her author’s note at the end of the book, sharing the challenges she had growing up with the ways that others spoke about the holidays she celebrated. It’s a wonderful way to bring forward eighteen different holidays throughout the school year and to continue the conversation as holidays happen.

For more about Liz Kleinrock, visit: https://www.teachandtransform.org/
For information about Come and Join Us! 18 Holidays Celebrated All year Long, visit:

Partners, Cheerleaders, and Self-Talk

About a month ago, my son was struggling hard with fractions. Despite all of his teachers’ and my best efforts, he had missed some mathematical experiences to understand parts of a whole. We worked at our kitchen table together for days to try to build upon and solidify his fragile understanding. After many frustrating hours together, I realized that this time together wasn’t productive for either of us. He was coming away feeling defeated – as though he couldn’t make anything stick in his mind – and I was feeling frustrated that I couldn’t provide him with just the right learning moment in all those trying hours.

I decided that I would change my strategy. Somewhere I heard a reminder that kids already have SOME understanding of what we are trying to teach them. Some experience had taught them part of this ‘new’ learning already and they were not coming to a lesson as a blank slate. The curriculum is designed to build upon and extend prior knowledge, I just needed to find out what his knowledge was. So, I asked him what he knew about fractions as soon as he sat down. Not what he remembered about fractions, but what he knew for sure.

It turns out that he knew some good stuff! He knew that the denominator was all the pieces and they had to be the same size, he knew the algorithm for multiplying and for dividing fractions. Then I asked him what he thought he needed to focus on for the upcoming test. As it happens, he also knew he needed to work on adding and subtracting fractions and he could identify that his biggest hurdle was finding common denominators because he struggled with an efficient way to find common multiples. Listing multiples was his only strategy and that was tedious work for bigger numbers because it was taking too long.

I think about this moment and felt some real mom guilt about all that lost time together. I wish I would have asked him what he understood first and then asked him what he wanted to work on improving. As soon as we could focus on the specifics, he was able to build his understanding in an afternoon. Then we spent some time talking about reasoning strategies for finding common denominators and putting fractions in lowest terms, e.g., what could he identify as a ‘fact’ (even numbers can be divided by two) and what he knew was an efficient strategy (multiples of fives and tens).

Before the test I knew he was so stressed about, I told him to remind himself about all the things he already knew about fractions. We worked on that positive self-talk together to reassure him that he had the knowledge for this assessment and that he would have a starting place for every challenge.

Engaging my son with his own learning made it more meaningful for him. He knew there were some things he was already quite good at and other things that needed some more practice. He walked away feeling like he could be successful and his confidence was built up with that self-talk; knowing what he was capable of helped him to know that he had ability and strength as a mathematician.

I think about what this means for students in school. What do they know about themselves? What would it mean if our observations and conversations with students began with asking them their strengths and asking them what they want to improve upon? As a radical dreamer this year, I’m redefining my role in assessment as a facilitator for students’ understanding; to help them articulate what they know, advocate for what they need, and develop strategies to better understand themselves as learners.

Using some strategies, such as a K-W-L chart (Know, Wonder, Learned) or an opening mind map were some helpful ways I used to assess student knowledge before beginning a unit or new topic. We always did this as a class and we revisited the chart or list at the end to add to our learning. Now, I feel that’s different from building individual students’ understanding of themselves as they are learning. It’s different from empowering each student to know themselves and to letting them know that I believe they are active and capable learners.

What does this look like in my year of radical dreaming? I dream of this opportunity in small groups, in 1:1 conferences, and in the small moments that I know matter to them – like when that really anxious student is stuck just before beginning a task. I want them to know that I am their cheerleader, that they are not passive receivers of knowledge, that we are partners in helping each other become better mathematicians, readers, writers, scientists, and learners.

Thinking about annual learning plans, professional learning, and professional goals, I wonder about the opportunity to reflect on my own growth as an educator. When is the last time I reflected on what I am doing well? When is the last time I voiced what I need to improve upon? Who is my partner, my cheerleader in my journey? I wonder about the impact of a supportive space for educators to know themselves, to understand their strengths, and identify their areas of growth. It may take some time, vulnerability, and courage, but I think it would be worth it.

And just in case you were wondering, my son brought home a solid B on that fractions test.

Diverse Books

Dr Rudine Sims Bishop’s research in children’s literacy has been on my mind as of late. Many of us are familiar with the terms, mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors as they refer to texts that children read. Sometimes a text is a mirror in which students can see themselves and their lived experiences reflected back to them. This can be very validating for students to affirm their identities and connect with characters, themes, and ideas they find in text. Sometimes a book may be a window through which they can see someone else’s lived experiences and learn about others’ identities. At times, the right text can be a sliding glass door allowing students to step into a story, to build empathy, and understanding for other people as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about who gets to see that mirror reflecting back images of themselves in our classrooms. Whose identities are always affirmed and validated? Which children are always looking through a window at what is being celebrated as the ‘norm’ in the world?

We all know we need to have more diverse books. I can think of the books we read in school when I was in elementary – I rarely saw Asian families or mixed race families. I felt like I was always looking through the windows at how other families lived. This experience taught me how to ‘fit in’ in order to be accepted into the world. It showed me all the ‘right things’ to do and the ‘right things’ to talk about in class, but it also told my classmates what was normal and reinforced who should take up space in their world.

I had some great teachers back then, all trying to navigate teaching and learning with the best intentions, the recent research and the available resources at that time. We know that things have changed over the past forty years, but the need for diverse books in the hands of children who need to learn about themselves and others remains. Diverse books are necessary for racialized children or 2SLGBTQ+ children to see themselves reflected in that mirror, but they are also for children to learn about others, to open their minds about who belongs, and to have a real sense of the world outside of their own experiences.

As educators, text selection is one part of this journey. Looking critically at the books in your school library, classroom collection, read aloud books, student choice texts, and knowing the learners and families who share space with you adds another layer. Think about which voices and identities are taking up the most space and which voices and identities may be missing. Providing the opportunity to learn about others can help to break biases students are building about people and communities. It may build empathy and develop an understanding of lives outside of their own experiences.

It’s also important to think about the educator’s role in conversations. Engaging in diverse texts offers students the opportunity to see adults learning about others in a way that is respectful and models appreciation, not appropriation. Explicitly teaching how we learn about others, how we navigate our own biases, and modeling how we interact with texts is a great learning opportunity for students.

If you haven’t had the chance to learn about diverse identities, it’s a great idea to engage in that experience yourself. Try reading, listening, or watching something to learn about other experiences. Notice how you navigate texts, the emotions, or thoughts that you are having and what you might choose to say that would guide students through their own thought processes. It’s an ongoing practice to understand and work through having conversations with the students in your room.

Always remember to preview the texts you are interested in including in your literacy program. Know what some of those important conversations will be and the content that you are helping students to navigate and learn. It’s so important to be aware of whether you are offering a mirror, a window, or a sliding glass door to children and the different ways you can provide opportunities for discussions for each.

Student of the Month?

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about in my Radical Dreaming Year, is the notion of Student of the Month. In my years of teaching, we’ve always had some kind of monthly assembly or recognition where the Student of the Month is presented an award. In my last grade six class, one of the students told me that he had gotten the responsibility award every September since junior kindergarten. “Eight years running,” he joked. By the time he graduated he had a full decade of September Responsibility Award Certificates!

For a long while, the student of the month criteria had been pre-determined by someone unknown to the school community who felt children should be recognized for things like responsibility, courage, trustworthiness, etc. These character traits were displayed on a beautiful banner as the ones demonstrated by exemplary students.

I’ve also been in places where criteria has been based on academic achievement. There was a little more flexible thinking here, in that it allowed some space for discussion amongst educators about what achievement means to us. It could be the highest mark, it could be the most effort, it could be taking risks, or something else entirely.

In my last school, our staff was beginning a journey about rethinking student of the month recognition. We wanted it to be authentic and important for students to feel that the assemblies and gatherings were community building, a place to celebrate one another, and perhaps learn and share with the school. Classes would share what they were learning about and perhaps a small slide deck featuring some work or students speaking at the microphone. I think this was the most authentic and interesting of all the assembly styles!

As I think about what Radical Dreaming means to me this year, I’m wondering if I missed the opportunity to build something with students and community in the school. Imagine if I asked the students, what do you think our monthly assemblies should look like? Perhaps they would only come up with some of their past experiences (after all, that’s where my mind goes), but maybe we could dream about other possibilities, like learning opportunities, like an art show, or a guest speaker, or something else entirely! At my last school, the entire school community would sing the school song together at every assembly, led by teachers, and it was incredible!

I wonder what parents might like to let us know about assemblies. Parents, who are able, will attend gatherings and it’s a great time to be part of the school community with their children. We want them to attend and build partnerships with us. What do they think is important to recognize? What might they like to see happening at assemblies and gatherings?

I think about my own children. Some of them received awards annually – but some of them did not. How do they view themselves and their abilities in school? How does that influence what they think their teachers see and feel about them? What would they like to see happening? Could we find a way for every child to participate or be recognized? It’s not about “everybody gets a medal”; it’s about seeing something good in every child at school so they feel like they belong and are seen.

Radical dreaming takes time and community. I know that in the meanwhile the traditions may still be in place while we start to think about our beliefs, build alliances and trust with students and families, but we can work together to build something new. It may look several different ways before we find something we love – and it may feel overwhelming, so we take it slow and steady. Building community is a process and it’s in the process that we build meaningful relationships.

Radical Dreaming

The beginning of a new school year brings so much excitement. After all of these years, I still get butterflies before the first day. I look forward to seeing my fellow staff members, meeting new students, and creating a community together. During this time, I also think about setting goals. This year I’m finding it really hard to determine what my goals should be. To be honest, it usually consists of something unattainable (and boring), such as staying incredibly organized and eating healthy every day. These goals cause a lot of stress and worry…. And I think I’ve had those same two goals every year I’ve been teaching so far.

This year I’ve decided to try something different. Jamila Dugan talks about radical dreaming in her article Radical Dreaming for Education Now (https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/radical-dreaming-for-education-now). Radical dreaming isn’t a new concept; it’s been explored by many Black scholars over time. In this article, she states:

The idea of dreaming—and in many Black scholars’ views, radical dreaming—isn’t a fluffy notion. Being rooted in our dreams has served the most innovative leaders of yesterday and today. If we look at some of the people who have inspired generations and catapulted us forward, they have often been dreamers—people who had a vision for a world that did not yet exist.

So what does this mean as the educator in the classroom? I wanted to think about my dreams for school – not just my personal goals. What could school be for students? What is my radical dream for my children at home and the students in school with me?

I dream that they will have the support they need to make their dreams and goals come true. I dream that they have agency over themselves; that they feel safe and loved when they come to school. I dream of a space of respectful discourse and learning. I dream of a classroom that helps them to discover all the possibilities of who they are – and who they can be.

It’s not just my dreams that are important. The classroom is a shared space and we will need to create it together. The first step will be to ask students what they think the purpose of school should be and what they want to learn about while they spend their time here. I’ll need to listen to their voices and honour their truths if I want them to feel safe enough to advocate for themselves and for others.

Instead of having a list of goals for this year, I will choose to dream of possibilities. As Dugan reminds us, “Dreaming isn’t for the sake of dreaming. It spurs inspiration and new ideas as we help students build the skills necessary to turn hopes into realities.” There’s enough space in school for all of us to dream of the world that we want to live in.

It’s probably going to be slow. It’s probably going to be a lot of learning and growing together. It’s probably going to take a lot of trust in one another to build a place where our dreams can come true. But I think it’s going to be worth it.

Read Jamila Dugan’s article Radical Dreaming for Education Now on ASCD (https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/radical-dreaming-for-education-now)

Book Choices

In the classroom, I spend a lot of time with my students on how they could choose books for independent reading. We go to the library or I set out our classroom library books and then we unpack the “IPICK” method from The Daily Cafe resource by Gail Boushey and Allison Behne. I love their framework for my literacy program and this method helps to give me the language to encourage children to make thoughtful reading choices. The acronym “IPICK” uses friendly language to elicit reflection when selecting books.

I – I choose a book (look it over inside and out)
P – Purpose (why do I want to read this book?)
I – Interest (does this book interest me?)
C – Comprehend (do I understand what I am reading?)
K – Know the words (do I know most of the words?)

I intentionally do a lot of modelling and practice with the students on how to select a book. For example, I show how I might open the book and read the first page to see if I understand the story; we talk a lot about what interests us (genres, topics, etc), and I model how I choose the same authors for my own reading choices; ones I know that I love their style or their genres. I do all of this to try and develop students’ desire to become lifelong readers and to have the skills to choose books that they will be able to feel successful reading.

Lately, I’ve been wondering whether my teaching does create lifelong readers; surely, the logistics of teaching students how to choose a book for themselves must make it easier to make a selection when looking at all of the vast possibilities that the library holds. Then why do I hear from parents the struggle to encourage their teens and pre-teens to read independently outside of school?

Recently, I read an Edutopia article by Kasey Short (https://www.edutopia.org/article/favorite-writers-middle-school) who was wondering the same thing. In this article, she writes that most engaging texts for upper elementary students:

– have the power to show early adolescent readers that they’re not alone in their feelings and circumstances
– provide positive examples for how readers can speak up for themselves and others
– offer understanding of those who are different from them
– provide insight into real-world situations
– serve as a mental health break and escape from the real world

This made sense to me and outlined some of the missing pieces in my thinking. I needed to think about the books that I was highlighting for students in my classroom. I needed to consider modelling my own, I’ll call them ‘emotional’ choices for reading as opposed to focussing on ‘practical’ choices for reading. Not just modelling the mechanics of looking at the first page to see if I could read the words, but thinking about what I think makes a book a ‘page turner’ for me and how that might change depending on my mood or interests. These criteria for engaging texts explain a little more explicitly the Purpose (why do I want to read this book?) and Interest (what do I want to learn about?) for which I was missing the language as a junior or intermediate educator.
As I begin planning for September, I keep these criteria in mind, and consider how to create space for these types of conversations about reading with students. Getting to know them as readers and helping them to reflect on their own identities as readers will be an interesting journey!


I have this pink schlumbergera plant.  You may have heard it commonly referred to as the ‘Christmas cactus’.  The funny thing about mine is that it blooms in June.  I know they are supposed to be in full splendour in the winter – that’s how it got its common name.  But this one is on its own time schedule. How that happened, I have no idea.  

I brought it home one spring and I’ve had it so long I can’t remember from where.   We’ve had some ups and downs together.  It took me a long while to figure out what kind of sun and watering schedule it needed to thrive.  I had to do some research and tap on the expertise of  my fellow plant friends for ideas on how to get it to bloom at all!  It took a lot more effort than my pothos plants that seem to grow in spite of my steep learning curve as an indoor gardener.  

As we just completed report card writing season, I think a lot about this little schlumbergera and not just because it always tends to bloom near my kitchen table around the time I am sitting and writing reports. Rather, I think about the journey we’ve gone through together.  Much like the students we work with, some of them will ‘bloom’ at different times than others.  Some of them might require extra time and effort; they might need us to tap on our professional colleagues for advice and resources that will help us to grow in our own professional learning. They might work really hard at different stages of growth and some of that work isn’t always visible in a final product, but in small progressive steps toward their goals. 

It’s hard to convey all of this in a single document, like a report card or a final mark.  It can be challenging to find the right words that honour a child’s learning journey and leave space to communicate how proud I am when they ‘bloom’.  I spend a lot of time thinking about how to give them the message that shows I genuinely care about who they are becoming and how hard they’ve worked to get there. 

That’s one of the beautiful things about teaching.  Learning together is really a process of getting to know students and helping them to know themselves.  And in this way, we also learn about our own selves as educators; we learn and grow right alongside them.

I’ve gone through quite a few schlumbergera plants over the years.  They typically go on to live their best lives at my mom’s house where they thrive and in her front window; growing and blooming all at the right time – but this little pink one is staying right here in my own window.  We’ve worked hard together to find our own rhythm and while we aren’t doing things at all the “right” times, we’ve found a way to bloom that works for us.