Reading outdoors on a summer’s day is one of my favourite activities and this year one of my goals is to read more books from the perspective of Indigenous Peoples so I can better understand my students and our community. Today I’ll share a few books by Indigenous authors for learning and pleasure.
Both Braiding Sweetgrass and the TRC Summary are books I am rereading because they are packed full of information and stories that are valuable to teachers. These texts are very helpful if you’re like me, a settler who had very little exposure or education about Indigenous ways of knowing and/or residential schools.
Daughters of the Deer was recently recommended by a friend. I have read the author’s picture book, Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox to many classes so I’m very excited to read her first novel. When doing research for this blog I saw that Danielle Daniel has a new picture book, Sometimes I Feel Like a River, so I’ll be reading that one too!
Miichi Saagiig Nishnaabeg: This is Our Territory is a book that really speaks to me because I have lived in this territory all my life. I’m sure readers around the world will enjoy this book but also check and see if you there is a book published specifically about the territory where you live.
These books and many more are available from Goodminds which is a First Nations owned bookstore in the Six Nations of the Grand River in Brantford. Please check out their website and follow on your socials.Goodminds – First Nations Métis and Inuit Books
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (2015) by Robin Wall Kimmerer Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. Milkweed Press
Daughters of the Deer (2022) by Danielle Daniel In this haunting and groundbreaking historical novel, Danielle Daniel imagines the lives of women in the Algonquin territories of the 1600s, a story inspired by her family’s ancestral link to a young girl who was murdered by French settlers. Penguin Random House
Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Volume One Summary Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) by The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
This is the Final Report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its six-year investigation of the residential school system for Aboriginal youth and the legacy of these schools. This report, the summary volume, includes the history of residential schools, the legacy of that school system, and the full text of the Commission’s 94 recommendations for action to address that legacy.James Lorimer and Company Ltd.
Miichi Saagiig Nishnaabeg: This is Our Territory (2018) by Gidigaa Migizi (Doug Williams) In this deeply engaging oral history, Gidigaa Migizi (Doug Williams), Anishinaabe elder, teacher, and mentor to Leanne Betasamosake Simpson recounts the history of the Michi Saagiig Nisnaabeg, tracing through personal and historical events, and presenting what manifests as a crucial historical document that confronts entrenched institutional narratives of the history of the region. ARP Books
Whatever you choose to read, enjoy your summer reading, I know I will!
I love the tree outside my window. I’ll look up at it from my chair while reading a book, or cast a quick glance as I’m vacuuming. I suppose it’s an unremarkable tree. Not too tall, a thin trunk. It’s a common silver birch. But there is a way it looks, especially in July and August, that has the ability to instantly pierce through whatever worry I am feeling and replace it with a little bit of serenity.
The view through the glass only allows me to see the topmost branches of the tree, nothing else. The bright green leaves are glossed, giving their surface a bit of a shine. At the slightest breeze the little triangular leaves, like pointed teardrops, begin to wave and flutter in glittering celebration.And the backdrop to this green and silver splendour is the mid-summer sky, usually clear and bright, its deep blue electrified by sunlight.
Not bad for a little birch tree.
Finding grand beauty in small moments is something I’m trying to do this summer. In noticing what is around me, what is wonderful, and what I am grateful for. It’s not unlike teaching, where the most incredible joys can come from those “small” moments: a student’s delight when they understand something for the first time … an unexpected perspective or piece of art created in class … hearing pride in students’ voices as they share important events and people in their lives … camaraderie with other educators as we work together to create the best learning environments we can for students.
As I look back on this year’s blog entries, I see it was a long, wonderful year full of those tiny moments of joy: students recognizing and celebrating their languages, educators collaborating, conversations, translations, open houses, and pincushions …
I hope this blog entry finds you happily settled into your summer, finding those wonderfully-small, imperfectly-perfect beautiful moments throughout.
As the final days of school wound down, junior students learned about pixels – minute areas of illumination on a display screen, together composing an image. Using a template, they created their own designs and also tried to create designs of popular images of characters and other imagery from video games they played.
How It Works
The template is a Google Sheet that uses conditional formatting and has re-sized cells that appear as squares. Due to the conditional formatting, users can type a specific number into any of the square-shaped cells and depending on the value, the cell will change colour: 0 = gray; 1 = red; 2 = orange; 3 = yellow; 4 = green; 5 = blue; 6 = purple; 7 = pink; 8 = brown; and 9 = black. Alternatively, students can use the fill colour feature that allows them to pick the colour they would like for each cell.
Taking Time & Planning
While the task seemed simple enough, it was interesting to see how many students had to reset or restart their designs because they failed to plan and jumped right in, quickly changing the colour of their “pixels” without truly mapping out how their image would unfold. Many said the task was so easy and yet when it came down to actually creating their design, they realized that some planning would be needed. Those who were most successful took time to plan their canvas considering the number of squares that they would need. Some students also quickly learned that they could also add columns and rows in order to fix sizing issues along the way.
Images as a Guide
A few students started looking up images created using pixel art to get ideas of what to make and decided to copy and paste them into their Google Sheet for reference as they began. This caused quite the controversy as some students thought that others were cheating. We then had conversations about how we use information in the classroom to help in our learning and that using an image as a guide might be similar for many. We also had conversations around copywritten images and citing the sources of works of art, encouraging students to create their own works.
Proud to Showcase Our Work
The concentration and effort that went into creating designs were wonderful to watch. As students got down to work, there were moments when you could hear a pin drop in the room. They were focused. When it came time to share their work with others, it was incredible to see how proud students were to share what they had created. Some students were teaching others to create designs like theirs and walked them through the process.
All-in-all pixel art was a great activity that got the creative juices flowing as we wound down the year.
How was your celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day? We are all at different entry points as far as Indigenous education goes. I think 99% of my learning has happened in adulthood and I still have a long way to go. I read, watch and listen to Indigenous Peoples so I can move forward as a settler in a good way but it’s not always clear what I should do next and I admit, I stumble along the way. In 2021, the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools confirmed the horrific stories I had heard previously. It left me feeling guilty, hollow, and unsure how to help. When attending webinars and presentations I heard Indigenous people saying that education is a critical factor in improving relations. We are educators and we can make a difference.
Indigenous Peoples Day gives us a chance to celebrate the joy, humour, music, art, dance and storytelling of Indigenous Peoples. This year we formed a committee to create a slide deck with some suggestions for the various grades in our school. I’ve included some of the links below.
It would be better to have people present in a live, interactive format rather than relying on video. This is an improvement I would like to see made in the future at my school. Dancers, storytellers, artists, musicians, scientists, writers and other guest speakers who are First Nation, Métis or Inuit have given fantastic presentations to my students in the past. If you want a speaker for June 21st, you have to book months in advance and be prepared to offer alternate dates. For example, I noticed that our local municipality offered a celebration of Indigenous Peoples on June 25 at the local library and the event included drummers, beading and food.
Another part of our day included encouraging classes to spend time outside and reflect on their relationship with the land. What does the land look like where you live? How is it used? What can we do to protect and give back to the land? Similarly, what can you do to protect water where you live? Our relationship with the land is the key part of the land acknowledgement that our school reads every day and our students can benefit from outdoor experiences that help them become more aware of the interdependence of all living things.
I hope you were able to learn, laugh and celebrate on Indigenous Peoples Day. There are numerous events throughout the summer to celebrate with Indigenous Peoples and reconnect with the land. Hopefully we will all have plenty of opportunities to do so! Here are some links that our staff and K-8 students used this year:
Inna* walked into the library confidently. She had very recently arrived in Canada and was, like so many multilingual language learners, a hands-down amazing communicator. She greeted me in both Ukrainian and English, and sat down to get to work. As we conversed, she continued speaking in Ukrainian and then added some of the English she knew to express herself, and sometimes gestures. I did the same. The conversation progressed this way naturally, as we shared our likes, dislikes, and some of our interests and hobbies.
The classroom teacher and I had collaborated just prior to that session, a quick yet impactful dialogue about what he was teaching, and how he might make it accessible to everyone in the class. He explained his lesson, which was new learning for me, and I in turn shared some possible strategies and multilingual adaptations that might work to ensure Inna could participate as well. He chose the adaptations that worked best for his set up, and I offered to show Inna some of them in a withdrawal session.
And in this way, I found myself sitting in an empty library across from this resourceful student, using all of the tools at her disposal to communicate. I got out her teacher’s questions, prepared to show her some strategic translation tools that would help fill in anything she didn’t understand, as well as some sentence frames in English and Ukrainian for offering answers. I placed them on the table in front of her.
She regarded the questions on the paper, and then me, with calm awareness. As I reached for my iPad, my finger hovering over that familiar little icon, she gave a quick shake of her head. She swiftly took out her own device, and before I knew it had snapped a photo of the text, skillfully read the translation in Ukrainian, and concluded with an assured nod of the head, “Yes.”
I put my iPad down with a smile.
Translanguaging is a wonderful tool — not only for learning and expanding all languages the MLL speaks, but for accessing curriculum and creating inclusive learning environments. From the Latin word “trans”, meaning “across”, translanguaging is moving “across” and back and forth between languages in order to communicate, think, and learn. This intelligent student demonstrated all of this in just a few moments of interaction. She used both Ukrainian and English to express herself, to check the meaning of words, to access the classroom task, and begin to form answers.
How much of this learning, this communication, would have been possible had we been using English exclusively?How much of her personality, how many of her thoughts and contributions, would have been silenced? When you think about it that way, why would we want a school environment that demands answers and learning be conducted in a single language? A learning environment that posits, even unintentionally, a single language as the norm?
We know that for learning spaces to be equitable, all students’ identities, knowledge, skills — and languages in which they are encoded — need to be centered and affirmed. As Inna demonstrated so powerfully, translanguaging is one indispensable element of such inclusive classrooms.
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
As I write this blog, there are two school days left. It is that strange time of year when I feel like I can finally, finally start to come up for breath — just a little bit — after a frenetic month of deadlines and demands.
This June seemed particularly busy … then again, I think I always say that. At any rate, it is inevitably four weeks of non-stop final assessments, transition tours, summer camp sign-ups, parent interviews, presentations, and report cards. By the end of the month, exhaustion makes itself known.
Early this morning, as the sun was just starting to colour the sky, I sat with my coffee at the kitchen table and flipped open my laptop. Weak bluish light from my calendar illuminated the still-dark room, and as I stared at the familiar daily schedules I realized that, all of a sudden, the seemingly endless list of items to complete had dwindled to just a few. The monumental tasks that had stared me down at the beginning of the month, that kept me awake at night and charging full throttle during the day, had all but been taken care of.
In that moment, I felt that first small calm before summer. And that feeling stayed with me through the day, as I went about finishing off the final errands of the year. After school, as I walked into the sunny afternoon, I could feel the warmth slowly start to pull at the the tangle of deadlines that had matted in my thoughts, unravelling them to complete. Calm.
With school ending for another year, I am looking forward to welcoming more of that calm this summer. Whether it is spending time with my family, meeting with friends, walking in the woods, or simply taking time to listen to myself, to what I need … those are the wonderful beginnings I want to focus on now.
May you also find beautiful beginnings this summer, that the months ahead bring you what you need to rest and restore.
I try to be an educator who continually reflects on my practice and experiences within education. As June signifies the end of the school year, I often consider it the perfect time to reflect not only on the year but also on my overall career in education. In this post, I’m sharing some of my recent reflections and maybe a few next steps as we roll into summer.
Change Is Constant
Over the course of my career, I’ve somehow managed to have never been surplused. That is until this year! I wasn’t expecting it and when it came, I was really unsure of what my next move would be. Having just arrived at my current school this year, I was looking forward to starting a STEM program that could be built upon for years to come. I guess that just wasn’t in the cards for me at this particular school. One thing that I’ve learned in education is that change is constant and flexibility is a must. Sometimes what we have in mind, isn’t possible. With this in mind, I got excited about what could be next, applied for jobs and I’m excited to be starting anew in September.
Summer Is a Time to Breathe
In the summer, I find that I have more time to get out in nature and that I make the time to read. Often with more time in my schedule, I find that it gives me the opportunity to be more intentional about what I decide to do each day. This summer I have two books that I plan on reading and implementing and I’m excited. I’ve gone with two because it’s manageable and I really hope to dig deep into these reads. The first book is Black People Breathe by Zee Clarke. Years ago I found that I was heavily into mindfulness and breath work but over time, I somehow moved past this practice and got back into the hustle and bustle of life. I’m ready to get back into it. I picked this book because it is written by a Black woman. Not only does this book provide guidance on vital tools from an expert in mindfulness, meditation, and breathwork, but woven throughout are deeply personal stories highlighting the many systemic challenges that people of colour face. I’ve got a lot of experiences that have caused trauma to unpack and to work through and I am excited to begin my mindfulness journey again.
Rest Is Essential
At the beginning of my career, I somehow got the wild idea that I should be filling my summer with teaching or learning – basically work. I didn’t get that the time off during the summer was to rest and recharge. I found myself going, going, going until I was close to being burnt out. Years ago, I took a summer off completely – no work at all – and it changed the way that I thought about having the summer off. I realized the importance of taking time for myself. I learned about slowing down and being in the moment. I learned about enjoying moments rather than rushing to move on to the next thing that is on my to-do list. I find that I’m rushing again and not savouring or enjoying experiences to the fullest so it’s time to rest. This summer, I will be working on a couple of projects but in between I have carved out time for rest. As a practice, I will be using the Nap Ministry’s Rest Deck for some guidance on restful practice. I’ve also been gifted her book, Rest is Resistance and will be using that as a guide for learning to rest with more intention.
The year is over and I hope that you get a chance to congratulate yourself on what you accomplished. Wishing you a wonderful summer filled with rest, breath, and opportunities to consider what changes you might make this coming year. Enjoy!
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.