P.A. day

Psst. The ‘s’ in P.A. is silent. Well that would be how many outside of education might see these days when staff are at schools while students frolic and faff about with their families. Nothing could be further from that misconception. I wonder if there are any educators left who can recall a time in their careers when these days didn’t exist. A quick search on the interwebs revealed very little information beyond some government pages. After this week’s learning, my full brain was not willing to click on for more.

It was a P.A. day in my school board and, in the spirit of “P.A.” days past, come with their share of work for educators at all phases of their careers. On the day’s menu: attention to countless operational matters, safety videos, wellness/mental health videos, and new curriculum/instructional insights. As anyone who has participated in this day in prior years this year’s “P.A..” day learning lineup seemed much more robust.

At my school, we met in the morning to discuss students at risk, sign off on safety plans, watch important video reminders related to our professional duty and safety. There we were 50+ together, synchronizing our minds on all aspects on so many important pieces to the puzzle picture we call education.

Hours of learning/refreshing our minds plus some prep time later, we were then given a chance to work through some fresh thinking on literacy and math by division. This included some instructional approaches to the new language curriculum, as well as some time to browse board curated math resources. With all the boxes ticked, there was just enough time for some planning during an afternoon prep time which included giving some feedback on an assignment.

It was a full day. As I worked through the day a couple of questions came to mind;
1a. Was this enough time to really allow the flood of content to permeate my cerebral space?
1b. If not, when do I find time to let that happen?
2. What was it like at other schools? How much time was spent in self-directed/exploratory activities around the new approaches in language and math? Was it enough? If there are others like me, when do we find that time to continue with this learning? Is there a life/work imbalance expected then?
3. With so much of the content prescribed from the system level, are there other approaches to consider in order to deliver the mandated compliance pieces while maximizing new learning opportunities?

For many of us, it is impossible to forget the stark differentiation between losing a finger or a toe and loss of limb in the Workplace Injury module, and those dearly departed ladder safety videos. I still wipe the rungs of my ladder because of them, even at home. Even as much of this familiar and important content has evolved, I felt overstimulated and overwhelmed with all of the learning that was prescribed for this “P.A.” day. Was I the only one? Was it the pace?

In the weeks and months to come, there will be more learning added, and I will have to proceed with it at my own pace as a learner. In some cases, it might already mesh with my learning style as I discovered that the suggested strategies for math learning have finally caught up with my teaching style.

I am happy to try out and learn new things, but even when I go to the grocery store and load up for a week or two, I have never cooked everything that was brought home for just one meal. That shared, it will be a couple of weeks before what I started will truly be processed and completed even though we were given a day. I guess this “elephant will be eaten one bite at time” (adapted from Desmond Tutu).

that kid

Created by DALL-E
a-class-photo-of-faceless-students-in-the-styles-of-Monet-Rembrandt-Kandinsky-and-Warhol prompt by author

I was thinking about that kid and I found myself getting emotional. 

You know the one. We all do. Whether the name(s) or face(s) you thought of are in your class this year or not. We all have one or two students who popped in there almost immediately. I am not going to sugar coat this either because it got emotional. When I think about that kid, my feelings range quite widely here. Anger, joy, sadness, peace, et al have all staked their claims in my amygdalae and other rose coloured spaces in my emotional thought centre.

My first “that kid” came when I was quite new to teaching. I probably owe them an apology for pushing too hard about their studies without considering how hard it must have been to be truly trying their best, but not meeting the expectations of which I was thoroughly* convinced were so clearly taught and put within reach. Like I mentioned above, an apology has been uttered on a couple of occasions for that learner into the universe. 

There are two other feelings that happens sometimes, relief and angst. Relief that you were able to make it through a year together and grow. Angst over what I missed or, straight up, got completely wrong. My most recent that kid reads like this: 

Is quiet – too quiet.
Sticks to the sidelines as if crazy glued there.
Struggles to start something, and struggles even more to finish.
Whether it is a transition, a sentence, or a math challenge mine has got me thinking about what I need to do differently next time because there will be a next time no matter how hard I work to learn the lessons from the past to use now and in the future.

As teachers, I’ve noticed that we tend to be pretty hard on ourselves much more often than we realize or care to admit. It’s who we are as reflective practitioners who seek to make things better for our learners. I have noticed that we fret far more about any flaws in our work even when there are few if any cracks in our foundations. We are constant works in progress alongside our students and we wear it on our sleeves when it doesn’t go well. 

Sometimes, that kid gifts you some victories too. You see, all that time spent investing in that kid can turn out to be a life enriching moment for you as an educator and even more so for that kid as a scholar. Since my first that kid nearly 15 years ago, I have marveled at hearing from students who are completing degrees at amazing schools and starting to write the next chapters of their lives. This week I ran into a student who will be doing just that.

To be honest, it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops with this particular that kid. If poor choices, bad behaviour, and work avoidance were credit courses, this learner would be top of the class. Fast forward 6 years and they are about to begin a very challenging degree program at a top university. That could have only happened with significant support, responsibility, accountability, and commitment. In other words, the exact opposite to where they were back then. So what turned this scholar around? How did the switch get flipped, and who did the flipping? I was certainly thrilled to receive such news knowing that there would be more good things to come as a result of them finding their stride as a student. Whoever helped this “that kid” turn over a new leaf has changed one young person’s life not for good, but for great. 

I am also aware that there are some who will never get to experience an about face like the that kid above, and I need to take ownership of that and work to improve going forward. Maybe my next that kid will not fall through the cracks through their education? I know that there is always room to improve what and how we do this job of ours. I know that teachers have countless conversations in order to find and fit the complex puzzle pieces we know as students together. I know that there is no single strategy or approach that will reach 100% of our students. What we need to remind ourselves is that we come pretty close to perfection, and we do it across a decade plus of siloed collaboration, between the panels, whether we realize it or not. 

When you think about it, each of our students could have as many as 50 teachers over their K to 12 careers. Of course homeroom teachers occupy the bulk of those first 10 years yet that still means there are countless points of influential interaction to be had between an entire cast of educators all working in concert to make sure each that kid gets and gives the best. 

This job asks us to accept and understand that we often will never know how the work we put in with our students will support them in the future. Closure is not a luxury many elementary teachers ever have once our students move onward and beyond our schools, but that should not bring us down because there is always that kid who takes the time, after several years have gone by, to reach out and connect again: to share how much they appreciated what was taught to them in and out of the classroom all those years ago. 

 

*On a random note: the word thoroughly breaks down into tho roughly. So now my idea of thorough will always be considerate of whether I was thorough or tho rough

snacks

Via DALL-E – create a painting of Chips, Goldfish crackers, Cheetohs, Nachos, Pretzels, Carrots and other snack foods in a Rubenesque style – prompts by author

Crunchy food. I need crunchy food! Chips, goldfish crackers, veggie straws, or even, heaven forbid, real vegetables to stave off my brain triggered hunger now arriving via its ally my stomach.

Our stomachs tell us a lot of things, they are much like having a house weather forecaster by giving off warnings of inclement times ahead. Whether it’s stress, anxiety, nerves, or need for nourishment, stomachs are in the middle of a lot of action(s).

Mine is telling me that some crunchy snacks would be good right about now. So while I type and stare at my own options (granola bars, seaweed, crackers + hummus, pretzels, et al.), the idea to write about snacking and teaching comes to mind. Before I cave into my brain’s demands I thought it would be a good idea to consider why noisy food is a strange necessity during this and other similar moments of my day. 

Furthermore, in the interest of transparency, I will neither be making excuses for my snacking habits nor endorsing them. However, I will mention that there are times during the day which correlate to my need for a snack when the emotional and cognitive demands are increased. I am sure that this is a common occurrence amidst our ranks. 

Crunch crunch crunch when feeling the crunch

Why does eating crunchy food feel so satisfying? Is there a primordial connection to our primitive brains somehow? I can state without hesitation that there is something soothing in the noise. If not soothing then how about distracting? Sometimes our brains need a break from what they are processing. Eagelman repurposed the term “strategic surrender” in his book The Runaway Species.

I love how this phrase sounds, and share it often. Moreover, I share it in my classroom as a strategy for my students. Perhaps my breaks for crunchy foods are providing me with a diversionary pause that allows my brain to continue solving a problem while being distracted by the crunching going on just below it. All things considered, I had not thought about snacks as a restful respite from the compounding moments of the teaching day, but I know if they are good for me, then they are good for others. This includes students and teachers. 

To that last point, I always have a box of granola bars (peanut free – Costco brand) to support the growing minds and bodies in the room. Whenever an OT joins our classroom for the day, I am sure to leave one for them too. I know that it cannot be easy to step into unknown spaces on a daily basis without the need for some strategic surrender from time to time. A snack and a note of gratitude may be a simple act, but can be very meaningful too. 

Crunching gone wrong

I add this thought for consideration only because it is still important to make healthy choices when it comes to what we consume. There are only so many Cheetos binge windows left in my life and I want to savour them over the holidays. So that means carrots, radishes, and other less carby things that can still shake up my brain with some decibels with each bite. Another thing to consider might be how often I am eating my feelings and stress rather than identifying and addressing their root causes. If I am eating to cope with my stresses then I need to get some help. If I am eating to keep my brain and body fueled then I will continue to crunch on. 

Thirst

There might be another factor at play here, and I have often turned to my coffee cup and water bottle to deal with it. Sometimes we forget to drink enough throughout the day. It’s kind of hard when our bladders need to be set to an entirely different schedule than our bodies deem naturally necessary. Unlike our students, we just can’t ask for permission to take the long way around the building to get some water and use the washroom. As a result, many teachers are under-hydrating. This can lead to decreased energy levels and can impair cognitive optimization and may also lead to long term health issues.

As we work to finish off our final month of the year in a good way, it is crucial to keep both body and mind in healthy states with a little crunch and a big sip.

class placements

A Renoir or Matisse inspired impression of a classroom filled with students from all over the world standing, discussing, and solving a math problem together -by Dalle 2 with prompts from author

Now that the April showers and May flowers happy times are done. It is time to get serious about September folx. Wait what?! That’s right, it’s class placement time again. 

I for one am super stoked to be sending 29 unique and empowered learners on to their next grade. If it was possible, I would keep this group together as they have grown so well together since the start of the year. Sure there were some bumps in the sidewalk along the way to this point, but they are to be expected when 29 individual personalities occupy a space for an extended period of time. I can only look back with gratitude to the team of teachers, SERTs, and admin who took the time to curate this group. 

It is in that spirit that I wish to do the same for the lucky, and I mean that sincerely, educator(s) who will be teaching  my current class this September. Firstly, I filled out the little squares with names, academic levels, IEP yes or no, MLL yes or no, unidentified behavioural issues, preferred collaborator(s), non-preferred collaborator(s), and gender. Filling out these cards each year constitutes the most continuous handwriting of my year.

Admittedly, my cards looked like I was writing with my non dominant hand because they were a mess. Scratches, misspellings, and my scrawling will not make it easy on anyone however outside of the superficial look I think we did a good job setting our students up for success. This was especially important as our school is adding new classrooms and we want to be supportive of the new teachers who will be joining us too. 

Avoiding perfect storms is always a good idea, but even the best of intentions can create them in classrooms. I have seen a new teacher arrive at a building along with a new admin or two only to discover that a mix that looked balanced on paper was going to be far different in real life. I know this happens with students coming from primary F.I schools grades 1 and 2 specifically. The sheer logistics of a multi-school class placement exercise can be onerous on all involved. As such some perfect storms are bound to occur. The interesting thing about class placements, is that in the room right next to the hurricane could be cool breezes and calm even though they were placed by the same team of educators, SERTs, and admin. 

This year, we wanted to continue the thoughtful groupings while expanding the opportunities for our students to collaborate with like minded and supportive peers. We have also had to reckon with students returning to classrooms who were once provided SSC support for Language and or Math in the path. To this point, there will have to be a wait and see approach, but class placements will need to be considerate of how much support will be available for those individual learners with modifications in the IEPs. There will need to be an added layer of time to ensure no one falls through the cracks. 

In the past, EAs, CYWs, MLL teachers, and SERTs have been stalwarts for students, but with SSCs closing and teaching assignments being re-allocated, I imagine that there will be a few storms as adapt to the changes ahead as it seems they will be joining in classrooms. I love the multiple-educator potential here, but am not sure there will be enough of the aforementioned to cover the numbers of students requiring support. This is not even factoring in the additional levels of distraction that can occur. I know with a cautious approach that allows time, check-ins, and some one on one support, things could work out for student(s) and educator(s). 

In order to help a smaller class size would be a great first step. Accompanied by a well written IEP this shift could lead to some meaningful re-integration of students into homeroom classes. There will be clouds from time to time, but with strategic thinking around class placements now, the chance for a positive start in September is achievable. Happy placement meetings.

 

labour(s)

This post has nothing to do with trade unions other than for me to publicly reiterate how important they are in the fight against oppressive, racist, exploitative, and elitist status quo economic structures. The golden rule has nothing to do with who has the gold getting to make the rules. It’s about treating others with the dignity and respect regardless of station or social status. I’m writing about labour as a positive antithesis to any entitled money addled capitalist con-drones deign to read something on a site other than Truth or Rebel media not something that is maligned for seeking acknowledgement and fairness for professionalism and hard work. 

Now back to the regularly scheduled post already in progress. 

Labour is in interesting word. It has roots in Latin (labor)* and can be a noun, adjective, and or verb. Labour is a clear description of subject and action. In many ways, labour encapsulates everything we know as educators. Teachers, like labour are nouns and verbs. We are subject and predicate. WE are purpose and passion in perfect action. It must be the sunshine or the good vibes of April that have me reflecting like this because lately there has been so much good happening all around in education, and it is outshining everything else on the horizon.

Since September until now students have been participating in competitions ranging from robotics, chess, athletics, and skills(animation, construction, media arts – to name a few). To no one’s surprise they are coming back energized from their experiences – teachers too. It was as if the void of the past 3 years are truly being left behind now as we focus our labours on the present and future. With so many positives happening in schools I think it would do us all good to share more of the good news going on as a result of our collective labour(s). 

In my last post loves I share about all the good things going on in my school right now, and how we need to hear/see more of the positives happening in our profession rather than nonstop negative narratives from non-educators intended to devalue the work we do each day. This got me weighing what gets shared and how it get shared when it comes to all of the good news going on in classrooms. Is once a week per classroom enough? Is everything worth a post? I have to believe these decisions lie ultimately with the individual educator in accordance to privacy policies. What we have to avoid in one breath is making it performative and in the other feeling like we are not doing enough when we choose not to share.

I know that many schools and teachers use Twitter/Instagram accounts to various extents myself included. Typically, I have tried to post moments of levity from the classroom or positive support for fellow educators doing and contributing great things via #onted. When it comes to sharing, student work is the focus while they themselves are blurred in any images shared. I have found that the Prisma app  installed on my smartphone is far better than sticking emojis on all the faces.

When it comes to resources I am always open to sharing freely and give mad props to other educators doing the same. I especially love sharing any TED Ed lessons that I’ve created, and am happy to respond to educators looking for ideas. As you grow your PLN on social media, you will find lots of like minded and generous educators doing the same with their work.

Whether it is on ‘socials’ or shared with the amazing staff in your building, it becomes very clear that our dedication and labour on behalf of our learners is what we all need to see more of in our feeds. Our labour(s) are worth celebrating in and out of our classrooms. 

*The Latin etymology for labor is obscure: the noun may be related to the verb lābī (which has a long ā ) “to move smoothly, slide” (commonly with implication of downward movement). Lābī in its turn may be related to labāre (with a short a in the root syllable) “to be unsteady on one’s feet, falter, totter.” via dictionary.com 
“Middle English, from Anglo-French labur, from Latin labor; perhaps akin to Latin labare to totter, labi to slip” via merriam-webster.com

love(s)

Image generated by DALL-E 2 with prompts from author
Image generated by DALL-E 2 with prompts from author

love…”what is it good for?”
love…”exciting and new.”
love…means nothing to a tennis player

L O V E is an often overused word

Keep reading if you used the word ‘love’ somewhere in a conversation today.
Here are some examples: “I love this song.” “Do you love this sweater?” “Wow, do I love this book.” “Bye mom. I love you.” I could go on because the very air around us abounds in love throughout the day at school, but so often it seems that we miss the opportunities to them all in, let alone enjoy them.

Where are you going here Gourley?

Last week the first talk from TED 2023 was shared by Angus Hervey (click link) and it serves as the inspiration for this post.* As you know I can dig into some uncomfortable spaces here and felt the need to spread a little sunshine after hearing the ideas worth spreading from this year’s TED.

It’s April, late April to be precise. Spring is somewhere in the air. I know because I felt it at the beginning of the month with a week of unseasonally warm days. I loved how some were complaining that it was too hot. I also loved not having to scrape frost off of my windshield or see remnants of blizzards past on my lawn as well. I even put away my super warm toque until next year. I loved seeing the first flowers poking through the brown matted grass. I love how nature keeps its own time. With a spring in my steps I have found it really easy to get up before the alarm clock as light and warmth pour into my room to start the day.

I love knowing that the we will keep getting closer to the sun for a couple more months. I love feeling the change of seasons and the decisions being made to remove layers of sweaters, winter boots, hats and gloves. I love the fresh and hearing the birds sharing their songs with me each morning. I love how having windows open allows for nature to visit the classroom. I love how learning spaces can be expanded exponentially when more time outdoors is included. Math, Phys Ed, Social Studies, Science, and every other subject just got a lot more fresh.

I love how students get so excited to be taking the learning outdoors. I love how much planning goes into preparing for these memorable moments and the amount of faith it takes to pull them off with so many variables at throughout the day. I love how students can still be goofy at heart – staff too for that matter.

I love how this year has flown past without a single moment of hybrid teaching. I love how OT positions have been filled more frequently. I love how well schools run when there are no outside forces undermining and gaslighting the incredible work done each day on behalf of students, their families, and the community. I love that students know we are working hard for them.

I love being an educator.

* The actual talk has not been posted however the article above captures the goodness contained therein.

fine, everything is fine

I have a habit of saying, “fine” whenever asked how things are going. Whether it is symptomatic of a half century plus of social conditioning or simply learned ambivalence is still to be determined. It could be a combo of the two as well. I am a big fan of “fine”.

It has the insouciant distance and indifference that propels me past and through the issues of the day. After all, who wants to be a burden to others when so many are already maxed out with their own lives. Isn’t it the North American expectation to steadfastly power through the day with stoic determination. In many ways that’s what happens to people who stay in the safety of their silos. 

It is not beyond a single educator to utter this answer all the while knowing that behind the scenes, in our heads, or in full view of all to see that there is a lot of meaning to “fine”. It is a societal expectation that we respond “fine” because our polite programming provides the same answer each time even when it is not true. 

It’s not a lie if you believe it. – George Costanza

I love the quote above and it rings a little too true with this topic. Although it was intended for a different context in the show Seinfeld, it definitely applies when considering the mental health and well being of all who work in education. When will we have time to unpack the emotional baggage covered by “fine”? How do we get to a place of trust to provide the support that is necessary for us to listen as well as be heard? 

Breathe in, breathe out. I’m fine. You are fine. Everything is fine.  Thank you very much for asking and not burdening either of us with a truth that we verily have little time to acknowledge or attend to if it turned out to be false. Now, let’s get about our days. Sound familiar?

As a profession, there are few others to rival the frenetic paces that educators face over the entirety of a school year. Imagine each classroom along the lines of a corporate model where each grade occupies an important floor of a tall tower. On each of these floors there are numerous cubicles filled with team leaders and workers all charged with annually accumulating, accruing, and retaining the knowledge and the skills to find, climb, and remain on the next floor above them. 

With each September ‘new year’ comes the mysteries, highs, lows, and unexpected life events of a newly gathered group. Buckle up because it could be a bumpy ride. What surprises me, over most of my 14 years in education, is that the ride is nearly 3/4s finished before I realize where the heck I am. This explains the timing of this post in March with the realization that there is much work to be done. 

As if that collaboration and hard work to move on up wasn’t enough, the teams are dismantled, mixed, and reassembled to include other workers from their former floor, but now forming under different leaders just to keep it fresh. Despite the best efforts to make everything seem fine, I can’t help but wonder how students are doing too. The past 3 years have been anything but fine. Yet, as we move them from floor to floor, like the adults who lead them, they are already accepting that the only answer to give is “fine”. 

With all of the talk surrounding mental health and community wellness in schools, I am not fine with “fine” being the answer and am working hard to redefine the work I am doing around it. 

I’ll leave you with this.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of a meeting with student leaders from our school mental health collaborative.
This session revealed some extremely important truths that can light a path to somewhere good for students and teachers.
Here are my takeaways and echoed thoughts in (  ).

  1. Students are feeling the stress
    (Teachers are feeling the stress)
  2. Students want to do something about it
    (Teachers want to do something about it)
  3. Students are looking to work with educators to create and implement solutions
    (Teachers are looking to work with students to create and implement solutions)
  4. Students need teachers who can listen without feeling that they need to have any or all of the answers
    (Teachers need others who can listen without feeling that they need to have any or all of the answers)
  5. Students need teachers who will help lead programs that are relevant to their needs rather than those that have been prescribed from outside of the building.
    (Teachers need others who will help lead programs that are relevant to their needs  rather than those that have been prescribed from outside of the building.)

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comment box to keep the conversation going.  

fractures

an image of fractions made with a blend of colourful geometric shapes in the style of Picasso and Klimt via Dalle 2
Image – fractions made with a blend of colourful geometric shapes in the style of Picasso and Klimt via Dalle 2 prompts by author

Bumps, bruises, cuts, and scars dot my skin. They serve as little reminders of the life that has been lived on the outside. Whether visible to others or not, I cannot look at them without recalling most of the moments and misadventures that caused them. I see these marks as near misses and continue to add more to my collection whether it is in the kitchen, workshop, or enjoying time with others.

Call this post ‘fractures’?

In my half century plus adventure time, I have not broken many bones along the way. Other than most of my fingers, a couple of ribs (which made baseball and golfing really tough that year), and my nose back in grade 6 playing football on the school team, I have been very fortunate not to ever be fitted with an itchy or cumbersome cast – although there is still time.

My collection of near misses and minor breaks have taught me quite a bit. I have to take my physical existence seriously when it comes to my actions and inactions. Perhaps my injuries are the products of inattention on my part? Perhaps I let my guard down with what-could-possibly-go-wrong thinking? Perhaps I needed to pay closer attention going forward? Somehow I am sounding like my parents and teachers and it’s bringing me back to the purpose of this post – fractures.

There is not a single one among us who enters the classroom each day without fractures. You see, we have all endured down times, loss, failure, and disappointment at one point in our lives or another. Whether physiologically or psychologically, fractures come along with life’s other certainties such as death, taxes, and dishes(without apologies to Ben Franklin). What we make of our fractures is often where we find our strength and determination.

If a bone breaks, the body begins the healing process immediately. Once something goes snap, the cells organize themselves to start the repair process. Interestingly enough, it is not like your brain is the boss yelling at the workers to do their jobs or go faster. At this point it is along for the ride because the body already knows what to do. The brain just takes the credit. “My what a nice job we did healing that tibia over the past 6 weeks.” Despite attending to the remediating a reconstruction project, the body can still get about other daily cognitive business, but when someone’s mind or spirit becomes fractured, the body is often likely to deteriorate in the process until healing and restoration are complete. So why is this so hard?

Fractures in our personal and thought lives are never usually front and centre though. Adding to this mystique is the elusive nature of mental health in general. Our fractured spirits are not easily seen by untrained minds and are often interpreted as rude behaviour or that maybe you need a time out to gather your thoughts. This is also common in our students. It is also compounded because, many times, they are processing emotions that seem difficult to articulate due to confusion and fear of being judged, cast out, mocked, or all of the above.

The Ontario Grade 6 Health Curriculum gives us some solid teaching and learning points that I have really been trying to build into the life skillsets of students in and out of our class time. Interestingly enough, this teaching really meshes well with the book The Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels which happens to be my current personal read, but that’s a blog for a different site.

So often we are faced with situations that are followed by a barrage of feelings and much more often than not we find ourselves reacting rather than responding. As our lessons have progressed, students have learned to assess the situation, identify their emotions, and then use strategies for resolution. Yet, even with the skills we are implementing into our daily interactions, the struggle to be honest and free of fear about our fractures and feelings is really hard to reckon with one another. This goes for teachers just as much as students.

We need to step outside of our comfort zones which double as camouflaged cages of social media level perfection and problem free happiness. We need to normalize that life is messy at times and that things can be and become broken. If we take time to pick up the pieces and put them back together there is a chance that these fractures can be mended.

In many cases the silence is even more deafening when it comes to issues of mental health in the classroom. Judging by recent news reports in response to the provincial budget causes me to believe we are in for more and more fractured students slipping through the cracks in our schools.

Yes, we can acknowledge it, but more often than not we are still too fractured as a society to truly support each other when there is so much need already. The keys has been and will continue to be in the hands of educators. As we walk through the hallways and curate our classrooms, take time to help the fractured around you by making time to acknowledge them (yourself), listen (talk with someone), and help them (yourself) heal.

antiques and collectibles

Recently, I had enough energy at the end of a work week to do something unusually out of character when it comes to my free time. What was it you ask? Nothing. I did nothing school related for an entire 48 hours. Well it was almost 48 hours, but who’s counting? What counts, is that it happened over that magical weekend of the school year when report cards are completed and next term planning, assessment, and fretting were up to date.

The ability to experience this “blue moon”occurrence was directly due to this cosmically-convergent educational allignment and allowed for some spontaneously spirited adventure. Energized, caffeinated, and curious I went to an antiques and collectibles store to browse their wares knowing there was nothing pressing in the backburners of my mind. I was free to roam. 

Full disclosure

I struggle with shopping and wandering through retail spaces without a specific purpose, most of the time, my visits are only out of necessity and not as a way to wile away the hours. On this particular day however, before I could keep on strolling past the entrance doors, I was on the top floor. With my spouse and son leading the way, it became very apparent that I was in for a treat.

Back to my story

This place had everything from china plates, old Tupperware, vintage clothing, vinyl records, VHS tapes, jewelry, and books crammed throughout its four floors. In fact, there were so many other items that another visit is definitely in the cards the next time the stars allign. It was as if collectors of odd memorabilia and retro housewares throughout time had converged in one space. (I’ll come back to this idea. Please read on.)

The 2 plus hours we spent pacing the aisles of this place came with all of the kitchy over-stimulation that accompany musty books, retro clothing, milk crates brimming with albums, and constant trips down memory lane from the relentless onslaught triggering my fond and fading memories. Given my unusually relaxed state of mind, I also found myself taking inventory of my life when it came to things that were held dear and things that have been allowed to disappear unless dug out through deep sensory recollection.

Cue the thoughts about being in the classroom 

Now I have not spent two hours in one indoor space, other than work or home, voluntarily since COVID 19 broke out. So this day was very different from most in the past 3 plus years. As I wandered the store, I started to ask myself what needed to be thrown out, gifted to someone, or recycled in my teaching space? Maybe it was seeing all of these items occupying space throughout the store that created this thought ripple?

I know that it is easy to accumulate resources in this profession and I have gathered and then lugged my share of boxes from class to class and school to school, but recently I find myself taking a different approach to my, let’s say, hoarding nature by going through each resource and deciding whether it is time to keep it, gift it, or toss it. My goal here is to reduce the clutter that might be getting in the way of new ideas and resources coming into my classroom. If I am only holding on to the same ones because they are comfortable and known, I might not be doing any favours for my students. 

Just like that antiques and collectibles shop revealed that day, there are somethings worth hanging onto because of their value. This could be a tried and true unit plan or favourite resource that is used on regular rotation throughout your career. In other cases, it might be a dust collector that never took off. As we seem to be shifting away from text books, and in response to changing curricula, it is probably best that teachers take inventory of what they have been carrying around in the hopes that someday it might be useable in the classroom.

Other than Math manipulatives, art supplies, and novels, I have learned that everything in my classroom should only be a temporary fixture that can be replaced or retired when it comes to instructional resources. If reading that makes you uncomfortable, that’s okay. I am not talking about wasteful consumption along the lines of fast fashion, but my thinking is that we can become stuck in the safe and familiar. It is in our nature to stick to our favourites at the risk of missing out on something unknown, possibly more relevant, without realizing it. 

I had a Fables unit for Gr 4 that I wrote about 12 years ago. It was beautiful, comprehensive, so descriptive, and complete. It was a show piece sitting in its binder and although I worked hard on that unit, I never used it again. As I was going through my resources, I opened it up again only to realize that this work would be counter-intuitive for me to share with my students. The fact that it was laden with worksheets to copy and lacklustre lesson activities made me realize the amount of changes that have occurred in my own pedagogy. I pulled the pages out of the binder and blue binned them back to the recycler in the hopes that something better will be printed on them next time. It was hard to accept that most of that work was no longer relevant, but it was an important reminder about how we have to shake off the love/bias we have for our own ideas in order to get better. In other words, leave the antiques and collectibles behind sometimes. 

I have held the walls of that box up even while outside forces were trying to pull them down for me to try something new. As teachers we develop a sense of what will and won’t work through our experience(s), what walking through this shop made me realize was that what worked from the past is not guaranteed to work in the future. We are using resources and methods that were used to teach us when we were students in grade school. Sure we have tech and access to every truth and lie via the internet, but that should not preclude us from taking stock of what we use on a regular basis or to boldly seek how to change it all up on a regular basis. 

Thank you for reading. Please share and leave a comment if you would like to continue the conversation.

 

the past has passed

As a K-13 student, growing up, I was fooled into believing that the sage on the stage method was the only tried and true instructional practice that would lead to my success as a student. We were taught, tested, drilled, homeworked, derogated, compared to others, overlooked, underestimated, expected to listen to hours of lectures each day, and told “it has always been done this way”. 

There were some really bright spots along the way to be fair, but as many students, unfortunately, find out things change drastically year over year. Even if my experiences were not the norm, there are still others who went through something similar. The cherry on this crud sundae that I am sharing with you is that it was all amplified tenfold in university, but that post will have to wait. Until now, I really never had the scope or tools to consider why? 

After spending the better part of this month reflecting on the past year, it seemed like a good idea to look forward at the road ahead rather than through the rearview mirror of what truly belongs in the past. 

the audacity of it all

Why would anyone so young and uneducated dare to expect anything different let alone differentiated? It seemed that education even into the 2000s was more about control and conformity than the pure pursuit of knowledge, deeper understanding, and meaningful opportunities to put learning into action. Many teachers of a similar vintage as mine learned quickly that those desks were in rows for a reason, that the ancient textbooks weren’t going to cover themselves, and that the first assignment of each year was going to be a retell of what you did on your summer vacation. UGH!!!!

This time provided many eye-opening experiences that required some working out before stepping through the classroom doors in 2009. They can be summed up in a few words: sterile, rigid, and underinspired. 

I never really liked the oppressive nature of my past educational experiences. I have worked hard to unlearn them since becoming an educator. Lately though, I have been reckoning with these truths again as I try to shake them once and for all. Admittedly, it takes effort not to let them creep back into my interactions disguised as something else. Being stuck in a rut can fool you into believing it is a well worn path. Taking time to be mindful of this is especially important as I welcome another 2 teacher candidates into the classroom for Term 2.

I guess we all have to confront our own needs, wants, and desires in the workplace and see if they align with our current realities or not. In that spirit here’s my reflection exercise for you to try if you went through a similar schooling experience or wish to avoid inadvertently providing one for your students. 

taking stock

How much of your past experience from being a student is guiding your leadership in the classroom? I had to work on this especially knowing that learning in the 70s  and 80s was so drastically draconian and undifferentiated.

How do you infuse positive talk with your students each day? More importantly, how are you including positive listening to them? Avoid repeating phrases we were told as students at all costs? Here’s a classic: “If you just work harder you will get it eventually.” For me, eventually was years afterward no thanks to those teachers. What I needed was time and a clearer breakdown of the concept along with some guided practise. Please know that students are usually trying their best why wouldn’t they? 

Here’s another blast from the past: “How come you are the only one who doesn’t get this?” This might as well have been my theme song for grade 13 Math Functions and Relations? How is that supposed to help me or the other students who are too paralyzed with fear to raise their hands? I’ve felt this sentence trying to pass over my teeth and past my lips, but have also developed strategies to make sure it doesn’t happen. 

One more car from the trauma train: “Your brother never had a problem with this.” This was what my sister had to endure. She never deserved to be treated that way. To this day she continues to inspire me despite the attempted spirit murder she went through. It is a terrible injustice to compare siblings in the classroom. Please for the love of pound cake do not let this happen and call it out when it does. 

And finally, and more positively, how are you embracing the future? Does it include space and time for student voice, creativity, equity, intersectionality, identity, inquiry, design thinking, team problem solving, and otherliness? If not, what, other than the chains of the past, is holding you back from adding one, two or all of them to your classroom?

I am asking these questions of myself as a reflective exercise too because we have all come across it through our own years of sitting at our desks while educator after educator leads us through the lesson(s). Yet, even as we were taught multiple intelligences, strengths based learning, zone of proximal development and so much more from Gardner, Maslow, Marzano, Friere, hooks et al. If you are thinking “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” right now you can still benefit from a little proactive maintenance knowing that it is crucial to constantly refine what we do and how we do it in order to ensure a way for our students engage, wonder, and grow towards the future and not the past.