seasons

seasons May 2024

This May seemed more like dismay, and there is not a thing we can do about it. It’s in the books.

As the sun sets on our 9th month of teaching for this school year, I am finding it hard not to mumble a bit more due to fatigue. It’s not just mumbling either. To be transparent here, I am speaking a bit more slowly, writing a bit more slowly, teaching a bit more slowly, assessing a bit more slowly, and on top of it all, I seem to be walking a bit more slowly too. Now before you dial 911 on my behalf, I am otherwise in passable physical condition. I have cut down on the caffeine, tried to be more active, and have increased my sleep times. Despite that little health flex, everything is just happening a little more slowly. 

My friend commented that I might be suffering from A.G.E.. Bwahahahahaha!

If this was my first year in the classroom, I might have needed to take a day to visit the doctor, but I know that the way I feel as June draws nigh, is largely a function of time; time of year, and time in environment. Definitively and definitely. 

So how could these two factors be the cause of my compounded confusion? It’s simple. So far, there have been 170+/- instructional days to plan, deliver, assess, and repeat subject over subject. Even with a fairly balanced amount of holidays, PA days, breaks, personal illness, family illness, and weekends this work takes its toll on body and mind. These past few weeks have come with a certain heaviness and have me feeling like it is a good time to hibernate rather than frolic in the fields. I find myself really craving quiet solace instead of seasonal solstice. 

Regardless of the current sources of my discombobulation, it seems like I can’t be the only one feeling this right now. Come to think of it, I have been noticing that there is a different set of seasons in this job. Here’s what it feels like as I type this post;

Sept to late October = Spring
late October to March = Winter
March to May = Spring, then Winter again
June = Spring, then Summer

This may not line up meteorologically or anywhere else except in my perception of education, but my physio-emotional barometer has read like this pretty consistently year over year. 

Maybe a better way to make sense of my seasons can come from acknowledging that we all have them and go through them in our own way. Truth be shared, my quasi-psyentific explanation above is quite falsifiable. Could this all be more a function of my current situation with another round of reports due soon? Is the internal weather that I am experiencing only a mental anomaly? Why am I struggling instead of dancing down the hallways with only one month of school left? I think there are three big reasons. 

First, the past 9 months have taken a toll on me mentally and physically. Running teams, mentoring sessions, and clubs in addition to the planning, instruction, and assessment comes with its costs. Time is finite and so are energy levels. The need to fill our tanks is undeniable. I also would not have it any other way. 

Secondly, there is a lot going on in June. Reports, EQAO, room moves for some, grads, school moves for others, and of course an extra demanding challenge of keeping the learning happening as the temperatures continue to rise. I have resorted to a resort styled wardrobe to beat the heat. Classy and cool. 

Thirdly, I am going to miss my students. Like every year, this group has really grown on me and we have come so far together.

As I try to snap myself out of this odd out of season stupor and into true June mode I am going to double up on my down time, continue to teach a little more slowly, linger longer in conversations with my learners, and take a little more time to take each of the coming moments all in knowing that another season is already on its way.

where it is

I have a hard time forgetting my first months of teacher’s college. It had its ups and downs as might be expected, but few to no negative experiences which is odd to think about. That time, moreover, made an indelible impact which continues 15 years into my career.

Having been out of school for nearly 2 decades working in the real world, teacher’s college was a daily mix of excitement, imposter syndrome, confusion, and wonder. By wonder, I mean wondering why I was there some days and in amazement at possibilities awaited at the end the others. 

Most of what was shared was so new to me. I am also prepared to admit I received the lessons differently than my younger, fresh out of university peers. It was nothing short of a life invigorating 180 degree turn to begin to learn the philosophies of education, and then combine them with inclusion, community, and curriculum. 

We started with Mazlow, Vygotsky, and Hume, and then were introduced to Freire, Piaget, and Schumacher. Reading the various passages chosen by our faculty instructors seemed more like another university course rather than a pathway to pedagogy at the time. It was the discussions however, that helped all of that theory (wisdom) become practical and purposeful.

And then there were my own experiences, mistakes, suppositions, and assumptions that needed to be reckoned with in order to make sense of this world I had all figured out already. What a misconception it can be to think that there was no more thinking to do. The revelation that I was still far from anything resembling a future educator was indeed a humbling challenge that served as a lesson and call to action.

I was now, afterall, a learner learning to become a leader of other learners. There were so many questions. Surprisingly, the answers did not come from others, but rather in those quiet times while journaling another reflective response. I shared with our dean that I was becoming more mirror than man through all of this. She laughed and quoted something I shared back, “You wouldn’t want to miss the learning.” 

She was right. I was right. We were right. I didn’t want to miss the learning whenever, whatever, however, from whoever, why ever, and wherever it was happening. This look back reminds me to continue seeking out the lessons in each of the spaces I am privileged to teach (learn). This can be difficult when it seems like there is always so much left to do, but from my own experience in doing so come many more positives such as a clearer sense of direction, resolve, validation, and purpose. 

We all need time to consolidate the what, why, how, when, and where are up to you. My advice is to take stock at different times of the year. For me, November, Feb, and May seem to find me doing this. I know that coincides with reporting times and I hope that it is only a coincidence. What I get out of taking the time to seek out “the learning” has led to some big shifts in my instructional approaches. 

The most significant shift occurred when I was in my first year as a homeroom teacher and had begun to get a little bored with the way things were going in the classroom. We were on schedule, the students were progressing well, and all seemed going according to plan, but the spark seemed to be missing. 

I decided to ask students what they would change about the class if they were in charge? At first they thought it was a trap. After all, how many students have ever had the latitude to speak their minds when asked to contribute to something as important as their own learning? Once I assured them that my intentions were good, they let me have it- respectfully.

We want;(the response)
“more independent learning” (how about Genius Hour or ISPs?)
“more art” (happy to add more art and will include this in Math too #MARTH)
“more movement”(movement breaks can be scheduled on the regular)
“more learning about real life” (consider it done throughout our different classes)
“more homework” (there’s always one kid to ask for this)

I also heard;(the response)
“less tests”(happy to shift to other less traditional types of assessment)
“less homework”(only work not finished in class except 30 minutes of reading each night)
“less note taking”(happy to provide notes and materials in digital classroom)

My add-ons
More conversations about mental health.
Time for mindfulness and quiet thought.
Snacks where food security might be an issue.
Focus on progress over perfection with a shift to praising hard work and fearlessness when it comes to making mistakes. 

Each time these convos happened served as a reminder that our students need to have opportunities to be heard in order to make their learning relevant where they are too. Whether they find their what, why, when, how and where in personal reflection, times of boredom, structured activities, sharing their voices or by accident. I have already done this a couple of times this year so far with one more big conversation to come. 

I have learned that we are on to something meaningful each time this happens as all of our attitudes as learners largely change as a result of these conversations. Now 12 years later, hearing from students, good and bad, is still where it is happening and helping me shape my work.

My class motto this year is, “Let’s fail spectacularly.” It is an odd rally cry, but seems to resonate with this year’s group of 6s. Through it we are all working to overcome our fear of getting it wrong and replacing it with a chance to take risks and make mistakes without worrying so much. 

As I consolidate all of this right now, I am putting everything where it might possibly belong in the thought boxes of my mind and hoping the voices who have shared in the past and now will continue the work that was started here, with us, where it was and is…

started from the bottom

My students and I didn’t know a lot of things when we started this year.
We didn’t know that we’d be climbing literal, emotional, and metaphysical mountains.
How could we? I am sure that each of us experiences a similar version to this expedition too. 

There we were; 26 individuals together for the first time.
We set up base camp by creating a student centred learning space that valued community, kindness, encouragement, and hard work. We focused on sharing our strengths and areas where we wanted to improve our footing in order to ascend the mountain(s) we were preparing to summit. 

“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen.” – Rene Daumal

A cartoon man looks up towards the summit of a mountain
Image from Simpsons
S9 E201 5F16 first aired March 3, 1998

oxygen and sherpas please

Each year, we start at the bottom to get to where we are now; by the looks of the mountain still towering above us that is May and June, we have a lot more to climb. There may still be some distance to cover above, but I think it is a great time to look down to appreciate how far we’ve climbed. I think that this perspective will provide us some of the necessary extra strength/motivation to finish what we started in order to reach the top. 

My grade 6s and I are eight months into our ten month journey to the summit of Mt. Grade 6*. We have grown in stature, in perspectives, in strength, and in skills. We have lost our way on purpose and along with those sideways steps, and circuitous routes, we have also left behind some of our worries about participating and presenting by better knowing ourselves. We have camped on lush warm plateaus while gaining the confidence and capacity to go higher. 

We have built bridges over dangerous crevasses of fixed mindsets and self doubt too. We have shared resources and experiences. We have picked each other when there was a slip or slide backwards. We made sure our ropes, pitons, carabiners, and the rest of our gear is safe and strong. We packed enough provisions for everyone to make it to the top and back down again. We have accepted and carried our share of the load. 

We have laughed, discussed tough topics, dug deeply into equity and inclusion, tore up tests that didn’t go well, restarted lessons, disagreed, reviewed past lessons, re-reviewed past lessons, learned new concepts, reviewed new concepts, re-reviewed new concepts, shared life tips, played outside, and so much more. 

There have been moments when the distance between those at the top of the climb were setting up new base camps while others were still climbing. We learned to wait for each other; to make sure that everyone was accounted for on the trek. 

We started from the bottom and we can almost see the top. There is still a lot of climbing ahead, but what a view!

*not a real mountain

food for, as, and of thought

food for, as, of thought April 2024

Food is something we all have in common. Most of us recharge body and mind 3 times a day plus a few snacks in between. The snack drawer is topped up on the regular behind my desk. I eat. Therefore I am. Apologies to Descartes.

Our relationships to and with food come in many different forms. There are many who follow diets based on religious affiliation, allergies, health issues, or life choices too. In a past post, I shared a personal passion for snack foods, and how it felt like I was eating my feelings at times. For this post, I want to take a different approach by asking you to think about food security and how this is affecting us all at school. 

Let’s start with some observations and info

  1. Not everyone eats breakfast before they come to school. That goes for staff as much as students. One might be a function of time, but it might be a function of funds as well. Nevertheless, kids are coming to school hungry and it is showing in many different ways from lacklustre levels of energy to higher levels of distraction. Our school breakfast program is open twice a week and serves hot nutritious meals for 30 to 50 students before the first bell chimes. At recess everyone has access to fresh fruit or whole grain snacks who may be in need of a boost before lunchtime. 
  2. Not everyone who brings a lunch to school is going to have another meal until the same time tomorrow. At our school there are always extra pizza slices or pasta for students who, known to staff, might be in need when lunch is a little light that day. 
  3. Not everyone has a parent or guardian to prepare a meal for them to start or end the day. We are all aware of the hours families and caregivers must put in at work to be able to afford it all. Sometimes there are reasons when life at home has shifted, and students are left fending a little more often for themselves when that happens. 
  4. There are students in our buildings whose families are relying on food banks to make sure that there is something in the cupboards.

Food is expensive. Healthy foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables in particular, are not always an option as costs increases are continually disproportionate to most incomes. With food bank use steadily rising, access to food is becoming an equity issue as much as access to affordable housing and living wages. Not everyone is managing in this current economy when shelter, food, fuel, and necessities costs are at all time highs.

How does this look in your school? What supports are in place for students who are hungry where you teach? How do we support learners during difficult times? What if every school was able to offer breakfast and lunch programs? 

The times have changed for all of us. Being mindful of this has led me to a deeper understanding of what students and their families are facing now. 

 food = privilege

Based on what some of my students present and past have shared, it seems they spend as much time on activities in the evenings and on weekends as they do at school. What is the right amount of activity for a balanced and enjoyable life? It seems that they spend as much time on activities in the evenings and on weekends than they do at school? 

Since some students are out later in the evenings, they are coming to school tired and hungry because of sleeping in later and being rushed at the begining of each day choosing not to eat or unable to eat.This is especially difficult for students at early start schools. A recent student survey at my school echoed this fact from many students. 

What happens then is that this cycle, on repeat, can take a toll on students very quickly at a time when their physical and cognitive development depends on enough sleep and regular meals. The brain and body need time to consolidate the days events and recover to do it all again the next morning. 

Even with breakfast clubs, snack programs, and my own personal stash of peanut free healthy snacks to share with students; we are not addressing the systemic issues related to hunger in our communities. Kids can’t learn when they are exhausted and or hungry.

It is not a far-fetched notion to equate off the chart home prices in our neighbourhoods with the fact that students are not getting enough to eat. In fact the rise in housing costs, interest rates, and job insecurity have become greater factors in this problem more than ever before.

Recent statistics from the Hunger Report show that food bank usage in Ontario is steadily increasing. The reality is that more students are coming to our schools hungry. I am worried that we are near a tipping point and have yet to realize the social, mental, and physical costs around access to food are having and will have on our students over time. 

An early April 2024 announcement, by the Federal government, to address food security in the classroom has come as a timely support for this crucial health issue. As a result, there is now funding available to provide an additional 400 000 meals per year above and beyond current amounts, but still only scratches the surface of a larger issue. 

At my school, we are holding two, very well attended, breakfast club days each week. We are also managing to provide healthy snack options including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, but the funds for programs like ours are rarely infinite. The additional funds might well serve to expand the duration and number of students served while a more permanent solution can be implemented. 

In a recent response to the Federal government’s commitment to fight hunger in our schools, the Canadian Teachers Federation shared, “We know that the lack of access to food disproportionately impacts children from lower-income families and those from racialized and Indigenous communities.” It is scary to think that access to food could ever be equitable to privilege in this era. Yet, it is now a keystone issue throughout the education system. 

A recent ETFO media release joined in calling on the current provincial government to distribute these crucial funds in support of at risk students. I ask you all to add your voices in support of students and join in the fight against food insecurity in our schools.

 

lost and found

I am not sure why the title of the thought stream to follow sprung forth to wrap this month, but I will roll with it just to see where it will flow.

We have had one heck of a March at the speed of learning. With 70% of the seeds of this instructional year plan already planted, it looks to be an exciting and busy 3 months of tending, nurturing, and harvesting ahead.

It’s Spring. It’s new years and reflection and remembrance for some. It’s resurrection time and Ramadan for others. It’s also the annual rebirth of nature and reflection that we have all been waiting since the first snows of winter blanketed our outdoor spaces.

lost and found

I have been thinking a lot about what is mine and what is not. I can pinpoint the most recent moment that precipitated the throughline of this piece too.

In our school caretaker’s work room there was a dolly full of about 8 large plastic bags and a number of boxes. Curious, I took a closer look and happened to see that the bags were full of clothes that had accumulated between the Winter to Spring breaks. 8 bags. This got me wondering about a couple of things beyond the obvious: How could a kid lose boots or a winter coat and not know they were missing?

Perhaps I have gotten used to this scene playing out over the past years in schools, and have become comfortable in knowing that the thrift shops in our community always benefit from receiving the goods. Hence why they were on the dolly ready to be delivered. However, a few thoughts still linger.

I started to wonder about how much we have to lose before we realize/recognize/know it’s gone? Is it too late once we do? Have you ever found something that had been lost and forgotten about? This seems to happen each time I organize my materials, especially for science, for a new unit and when I move classrooms/schools.

In those moments I am hit with multiple memories of past lessons and classes. These times have also come with my own version of a Marie Kondo intervention. Was this item useful? Did it bring my students knowledge and understanding? Does it bring me joy when I used it? Will it still be able to serve its purpose going forward?

Many times, the answers have been no, not really, and result in a new home in the recycling bin. This has been hard for me as I have horder tendencies when viewed through the educational lens. I am guilty of keeping things even when they no longer serve or survive their purpose. It has only been recently that I have worked through this challenge.

Happy to say that my own personal dolly loads have decreased as the years go on. To this day, I do not regret recycling or giving away any of my resources although I have retained some digital versions of a few on USB.

So what about losing someone?

Spring is also the time when many educators seek new schools, get surplused, or retire. I know this very well being on my 5th school in 15 years. The necessity/choice to make a move can be exhilarating, nervewracking or both. In each of my cases, it meant losing one community and then finding it again but in a new ecosystem.

Along the way, I have tried to maintain some connection with staff from each place, but it also comes with the need to accept that absence makes you irrelevant when you are not sharing the same spaces. The pandemic really amplified this fact as we used to be able to catch up at PD or larger conferences, but those opportunities/reunions have yet to return. Whenever it does happen though, reminds me of the positive experiences gained from those times together. Despite the distances, some strong friendships have remained regardless of the bricks we work within now. Even though there are few guarantees when making a move, the opportunity for growth will be there for you.

I guess my point here is that it is worth the effort to keep in touch even if it is only once a year. Yes it can be time consuming, but it can also be a breath of fresh air, like Spring, to hear from someone you used to work with when they reach out. I also know that it can be equally joyous not to hear from others. Thankfully that is not the majority of my experience, but I won’t speak for former colleagues.

Sometimes you have to get lost to get found and whether it is in reinventing your classroom approach, moving schools, or seeking out connections with past and present Spring offers us a perfect time to weigh what is important and not so important, what brings us joy and what can be appreciated when looking back.

I wish all of this for you whether you move, move on, or stay put for another year. May yours be the joy that fills those spaces.

on paper

On paper, there are all sorts of things to see.
On paper, the letters are arranged to convey information, strengths, and next steps. 

On paper, there are always messages to read in between the lines. Although unseen, they are still there even when they between the letters on paper. Let’s face it, when it comes to reporting, most readers are not looking for messages or next steps on paper, but rather for some numbers between 80 and 100 or for a couple of individual letters and math operators between A- to A+.

It’s important that things look good. On paper. 

Is something missing?  

We have all seen this in our classrooms whenever assessments are returned. For me, any output that requires evaluation, where a mark gets entered of learning, has already gone through several iterations accompanied by  constructive feedback along the way. Whether this was done in one on one conferences or as a whole class activity, students are receiving several chances along the way to control what is going to go on paper.

After considerable planning, consistently paced instruction, clearly mapped out expectations/learning goals/success criteria, scaffolding, mid-unit course corrections, carefully curated choices to demonstrate understanding, and an easy to follow rubric Carefully outline the expectations, co-construct success criteria, instruct, provide access to resources to revisit, check-in to ensure understanding along the way, provide effective descriptive feedback, extend due dates, and then hope to receive a clear artefact that shows evidence of understanding from learners to assess. 

Cue the rubrics and tests. It’s marking time, or is it?

As I have discovered over these past 14+ years, assessment can be exhausting on occasion. I usually try to do this earlier in the day whenever possible as the caffeine has not reached its half-life in my system. It has also been beneficial to dwell longer in the ‘assessment as learning‘ spaces than those ‘of learning’. This has allowed my students to see overall better results along with a more applicable set of skills to bring forward to other tasks and future grades.

For every educator, regardless of years of experience, assessment as learning, formerly known as, formative assessment needs to be acknowledged and implemented with the greatest frequency in every classroom. I have found it to be the biggest lever in helping learners progress during their time in class. 

It has also allowed me a means to manage my assessment workload more effectively along with helping students develop more positive attitudes towards feedback beyond what is printed on paper. 

Rubrics…meh or more please?

With a class of 25 grade 6 students this year, I have figured out it takes 2.5 hours to read a single journal assignment, 2 hours to grade a reading response or Math check-in, and 2 to 3+ hours for projects. Keep in mind that learning skills are also being factored in daily to provide our students the next steps for their next days. This is largely due to two things: Clearer expectations and a rubric to remind students about what they are working towards. I wasn’t always this efficient. 

When I was a new teacher, assessment took considerably longer. I have also come to my senses and have sought help from some reliable sources such as our ETFO Members Sharing in Assessment portal and by working with my grade team on moderated marking tasks. As a newbie, working alongside a more experienced educator to assess was a very eye opening and important experience. It helped me see how to look at student outputs through the lens of curriculum expectations and success criteria. It is now something I do with each teacher candidate. 

It is here where we can get the information we put on paper right when it comes to assessing students. Knowing how much work goes into it all and in providing the feedback with next steps has me thinking about the most recent batch of report cards.

The buildup and aftermath from Term 1 reports has come and gone, but I am left wondering, again this year, whether if, how, and when what was printed on paper will be used that will be reflected when it happens all over again in June? How can we get our students to see themselves beyond the few letters and math operators, but as works in process and progress? 

I am not sure there is an answer in the current way we do this at a systemic level. Is there a way to lessen the addiction that students develop to marks and leverage that desire into something more edifying to their long term happiness and development of their uniquely gifted abilities even if they are not seen on paper?

is it days or daze?

Somedays come with some daze by their ends.
Not sure why or how life plays or tends.

Rises, falls,    ebbs, flows,     rips and bends,
Atop and under the waves life’s ocean sends.

Somedays are like poetry and others like prose,
When thoughts, words, and actions argue as friends.

Somedays we are run ragged and torn.
Scratched, kicked, tired, and trying to mend.
We wrestle with this calling and ache to transcend…

“How it must be so nice to work with the future.”
“How hard could it be? Just open the text book and read it with them.”
“How come you got bitten? Couldn’t you get out of the way?”
“At least you have your summers off.”
“Teaching is easy. You guys got it so good.”

Somedays flow smoothly even when they seem out of hand.
Somedays descend into chaos even when everything is planned.

Somedays the coffee and tea are all gone before the first class is done.
Somedays you are finishing them cold just to stay awake on the commute home. 

Somedays your lunch is 60 minutes to power up the body and mind dream.
Somedays you choose to dine and dash in 20 making time to meet with your club or team.

Somedays you have to deal with tears, grief, and loss.
Somedays you get to share joy, triumph, and success. 

Somedays you really need shoulders to lean on.
Somedays yours are the ones that are leaned upon. 

Somedays we witness joy in the littlest things.
A step in the right direction that makes our hearts sing.

“Thanks for inspiring and motivating my kid.”
“You made a difference for my child this year.”
“We really appreciate the time you spent supporting…
after school learning programs, teams, extra-curriculars, and arts events.”
“This must have taken up a lot of your time before and after school. Thank you.”

Not sure why or how life plays or tends.
Somedays come with some praise by their ends.

You got this. Keep doing the little things that no one sees that make all the difference in the lives of others. Good job. Thank you.

daring 2024 – dragon edition

Au revoir janvier. Cue the fireworks as we look forward to the year of the Dragon along with many of our students. What a natural segue to a follow up to my earlier post daring 2023 where I unpacked what was daring in my classroom last year. For now though, let’s talk about dragons.

In the spirit of transparency, I am not a huge fan of fantasy books, neither of games with the word dungeons in them, nor into television shows where dragons are used as war machines in by gone Scandic empires. I am a fan of the book Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke and of the mythology, stories, and art about dragons in Asian culture. Most of what I have learned about the latter with regards to the cultural significance of the Chinese Zodiac has come from my students, and their families. As a result, I am always gifted with something new from those interactions. Whether it is during an in school celebration of Lunar New Year when students dress in traditional new year’s clothing from their culture, or a retelling of activities shared at home with extended family.

I may have also wondered whether the 12 year cycle animals and their respective traits correlates at all to what goes on from year to year in the classroom. Would I know well enough to differentiate with such limited experience? I was born in the year of the Horse after all. In a nutshell, I am adventurous, energetic, and independent, but lack academic intelligence. This really means I am going to need the whole village to point me in the right direction, but I’ll get there at my own pace once I know the way.

For reals this time: a bit more about the Year of the Dragon – 2024.
“Years of the Dragon include 2036, 2024, 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952…
People born in Dragon years usually possess natural courage, tenacity, and intelligence, often displaying enthusiasm and confidence. In Chinese culture, the Dragon holds a significant place as an auspicious and extraordinary creature, unparalleled in talent and excellence. It symbolizes power, nobility, honour, luck, and success.” via Year of the Dragon:

Talk about daring 

If the characteristics of a dragon are not filling your thoughts about the work we do as educators, take another look at the list of traits above. Even with my horse-like tendencies, I can relate to the exciting, daring, and dignified descriptors used to define dragons, I mean educators. As we move forward through the Year of the Dragon, let’s all be daring enough to recognize the incredible courage, determination, and energy we all bring to school each day.

The fact that only 1/12th of us are born in the Year of the Dragon is not being overlooked. If we look at the other years/animals of the Chinese Zodiac we will find numerous positive traits that educators possess as well.

Let’s dare to acknowledge and celebrate the work we do and the accomplishments of those around us. Let’s hold our heads high even when time’s get tough. Let’s dare to try new things and take chances without fear of failure. Let 2024 be the best Year of the Dragon ever- unparalleled in talent and excellence”.

YOᒐ

 

picture of a holiday JOY sign taken from behind so letters are shown in reverse
photo by author

No joy, no peace.
Know joy, know peace.
Perhaps this simplistic approach may lead some philosophers, I mean educators, to search for specific pieces of peace as part of putting their own life’s puzzle(s) together. Or maybe not. It’s good to have a choice in matters of this nature. 

As simple as the adapted axiom above reads, it becomes much more perplexing when, as, and if pondered.

Call it YOᒐ

So what happens when joy takes a holiday when doing the work that you love, and all that you are left with is its opposite? Without this becoming a full on self help post, I will attempt to work out my thoughts in the paragraphs below. 

At first blush, the answer comes with equal parts complexity, scheduled and unscheduled situations, and a litany of responses ranging from (over)reactionary to nuanced. I never said it was going to be easy, right. I also didn’t say it has to be difficult either. 

Finding our own versions of JOY while trying to avoid YOᒐ might as well be like trying to distil our own definition for the meaning of life. And you can’t use 42, Adams already gave us that one. What brings us JOY or YOᒐ is personal, elusive, and evolving. We are humans after all, and our tastes and needs are subject to change or be changed whether from inside or out? Joy will look different from one person to the next. One person’s perceived worst day ever, may only appear to someone else as an opportunity to gain knowledge and grow from the experience. 

The winter of my disco tents will lead to a rockin’ summer

Looking at JOY and YOᒐ as seasons instead of life sentences has been helpful for me. 

In fact it has become very clear that each and every day has the potential for us to take a time warped trip through the seasons complete with blizzards, droughts, refreshing rains, and warming sunlight. Whether we wither or weather the storms depends on first knowing who we are at the core and what emotional strengths we draw from to meet the demands of each day’s tempests.

Will I be ready with an umbrella for life’s downpours or will I be looking for towels because I left the windows down in my car? Will I be ready to shield myself with a supportive network of caring colleagues from the cold of self-doubt and discouragement when things are not working in the classroom or I am feeling unsure? Will I be ready with sunblock, glasses, and a hat to appreciate those warm days? How about you? With so much of our well being anchored in our mental health, it is crucial we know how to prepare and where to seek a proverbial shelter.

JOY is…

The feeling of sipping your coffee or tea when it is still hot, warm, or from the same day it was made. It is having all of your students in the classroom. It is a week of uninterrupted school life at the speed of learning. Joy is seeing the eyes of students light up when they accomplish a goal. Joy comes from having a purpose? Where it gets really good in our lives happens when we can combine what gives us joy, with what we love, with our purpose, and talents. This in essence is the Japanese concept of Ikigai.

For me, there is joy in knowing I am working in a space that I love and using the skills/gifts/scars/lessons thus far to occupy my place as an educator. Over the past 15+ years there has been far more JOY than YOᒐ too. It doesn’t mean that we are on easy street until our final days, but that each day we are presented with JOY or YOᒐ will be an opportunity to shine brightly or strengthen ourselves or one another.

As we navigate this season of low daylight and high workload, I just wanted to remind you all that you are purpose and passion in action. You are the light to so many even after the sun goes down. Thank you.

daring pt 2023

Saying goodbye to another year can stir up a lot of emotions. I found myself reflecting about a farewell post to share with you knowing it will be one more that brings me closer to the end of my time here on this platform.

This in itself is not yet a goodbye, as there are still 6 plus months of writing to come. It is, however, a great chance to look back and look forward from the precipice of one year’s end and towards a new year ahead. Maybe this is a function of age or some other memory related trope, but I will prattle on nevertheless.

As a result of this melancholic thinking I find myself asking, “what did I do in the past year that was daring as an educator, and what will I do in 2024 that will be daring as well”? I guess I need to consider what counts as daring because this can be construed as mere subjectivity if it does not mesh well with the minds of others as it is intended. Dare I go on? 

Daring can conjure up a lot of imaginary thinking from one to the next so before you conflate ‘daring’ with dangerous please read on.

Looking back on 2023

From an outsider’s point of view, 2023 couldn’t have been more normal considering the turmoil of the lockdown, online, and hybrid models we taught through in the years prior. The joy of not having to prepare and deliver lessons for two different grades of in-class and online learners while not having to worry so much about social distancing, masking, or illness was cause for much rejoicing. As 2023 started, it felt like we were really coming out of the pandemic and I was able to really focus on my students. 

This meant taking time to reimagine what learning needed to look like for students who experienced learning in a manner that had never been delivered to them before. Daring to go back to old(er) ways didn’t seem right with my students. They needed something else, and that came in the form of social emotional learning more than academics. 

So 2023 started off with more team oriented and collaborative projects that asked students to recapture their abilities to listen to one another to accomplish a goal with just as much importance as succeeding at learning the curriculum infused within it. My goal was to put the individual learner back into the spaces that were stolen from them by COVID19.

Admittedly, there was a lot of work to do when it came to assessment, but that in itself was also a chance to be a bit daring too. Before you dial 911, please remember that we were all given a new hand of cards to play with during the pandemic. What we knew beforehand was only going to serve as a starting point and not a return destination.

It was, to forgive the pun, like the beginning of new year. It was full of promise and without any mistakes in it. Assessment became a chance to have students see themselves reflected in how they wanted to show their learning. We took time to democratize rubrics and methods to demonstrate understanding. For us that meant fewer pencil and paper tests, more conversations and check-ins, more feedback, and many more chances to revisit learning. Instead of teaching, testing, and moving on we learned, lingered on what needed more time, unlearned, and relearned as often as needed.

Yes, we still managed to get the whole curriculum and it was a government mandated standardized testing year as well. 

I think that 2023 also allowed me to dare a little more boldly into my lessons when it came to social justice focused on BIPOC excellence and culturally responsive and relevant learning opportunities that went beyond the heroes and holidays. Instead of a single day or month, these conversations became part of our class logos, pathos, and ethos. Ultimately, it allowed my students to feel seen, heard, and empowered with greater understanding of one another which also led back to the social learning I set out to teach to start the year. 

Being able to work with my class to start 2023 carried over nicely from January to December even with my new, much quieter, cohort of students and I am seeing the fruits from taking those chances earlier in the year even though the delivery is definitely different for this group, the goal to teach to their social emotional needs first remained. 

On a personal level we sold our house, moved, and continue to unpack. In between all of that were 3 weeks of summer school teaching, and a quick trip to bury an uncle. Life did not skip a beat when it meted out the highs and lows of 2023. For all of them, I am thankful to be working in a wonderfully led and staffed school filled with caring and curious learners each daring to take the steps towards discovering and developing their talents.

My next post will look at how I might be daring in my classroom in 2024. I ask you all to consider that too and share your thoughts in the comments below.