A Day at “Reading for the Love of It”: Thoughts on Returning to In Person Conferences

I love attending teacher conferences: meeting new people, learning new ideas and strategies, browsing the latest student resources, experimenting with new technology for the classroom. Pre-pandemic, finding a good conference was a ritual I’d perform every school year – Googling endlessly for an event that was just the right location, theme and cost for my professional learning funding for that year. Like many teachers, I love travel – so spending hours comparing accommodations, conference speakers, and transportation fees brings me a very high level of excitement and joy.

Last year I went to my first conference since the pandemic had started, and it fortunately was a virtual one – I was recovering from a bout of COVID-19 as I watched the speakers present through my screen. While I learned a lot about culturally responsive assessment, I found it a little too easy to tune out of the conversation and start researching random topics, or respond to work emails that popped up. All of this is to say that virtual conferences just aren’t the same – while they can be good learning experiences, there are a lot of pieces missing that make conferences a fully immersive professional learning experience.

Attending Reading for the Love of It

What is Reading for the Love of It? This conference is organized by the East York-Scarborough Reading Association, a group of Ontario educators who are passionate about literacy. The event and organization is entirely volunteer run, and the conference has run for 44 years. You can read all about their organization and past conferences at their website.

When an opportunity came up to attend this year’s annual Reading for the Love of It conference in downtown Toronto, I promptly signed up with several of my colleagues. Simply planning to attend was already a different experience from getting a virtual link. We excitedly chose which sessions to attend, organized a lunch meetup, and coordinated meeting points.

Arriving at the venue, a big smile spread across my face: the beautiful lobby of the Sheraton hotel was flooded with teachers carrying conference programs and swag bags, friendly volunteers appeared at every turn to guide us in the right direction. A large exhibitor section filled with booksellers and vendors provided endless browsing possibilities where I could finally thumb through student resources I had been eyeing online for months, like a decodable reader set for older students and a full trove of hi-lo fictional novels.

What was truly wonderful was running into colleagues and ETFO members, some of which I had never met in person. It struck me how easy it was to have interactions that other wise took days of planning: scheduling a zoom meeting, or planning a visit. I remembered how exchanging valuable tidbits of information about projects and sharing resources and insights could happen in the span of second – this is the real value of being at conferences like these.

The Value of Choosing Your Professional Learning Pathways

Experiencing an in person conference again also reminded me of the value of choosing our own professional learning pathways. Just as the students we teach benefit from determining their own inquiries, as educators we may also be more engaged in our learning when we can choose our own way to grow professionally.

Understanding how to access funding is critical to fostering our own growth. There are hundreds of conferences and learning opportunities happening all over Canada, and many new teachers may not be aware that some ETFO locals offer professional development funding to assist with costs. For example, at my local, we can access up to $300 for conferences and $400 for professional learning courses. I will be always grateful for the mentor that showed me this funding was available, since I have used it at every opportunity.

If you are unfamiliar with how to organize and fund your professional learning, contact your local to find out what options are available!

…And Still We Rise

I can remember the first time I went to …And Still We Rise. Imagine, if you will, a room filled with women who are working to empower each other, further their learning, tell their stories, and be mentors for others. I was in awe! I attended workshops and sat in amazement of the educators and the guest speakers. Listening to their experiences and views of the world, I was so inspired to think differently about women and our places as part of society as educators, co-conspirators, and disruptors. Whose voices should we uplift and whose stories should we amplify?

As every year, this one was filled with amazing women at the podium, including Funke Alexandra, who shared her research focussing on the history of Black Canadian women in education. There was Deb St Amant, the Elder-in-Residence at Queen’s University, and whom I remember being a strong advocate and leader in her time with ETFO. ETFO President Karen Brown, whose voice and presence was empowering and inspiring. We also got a chance to hear the story of the Toronto Women’s Bookstore through the eyes of Anjula Gogia. Though I was only in attendance for part of the conference, there were beautiful sentiments of solidarity and wonderful opportunities for learning. It was incredibly empowering to be part of it all.

What I love about …And Still We Rise is the space for women to come together. In life, I wear many different hats and it is hard to carve out time and space in my day to think about myself. I am busy with work, with parenting, with family and at times it feels like every spare moment is allocated to something. A women’s conference like … And Still We Rise is a place where coming together with other women who have similar experiences where we can learn from one another provides a few moments of breath.

There is time to think and connect with one another. There’s actually time to sit and eat a meal together, sharing ideas and conversation with new friends and in community with those who are already a part of our lives.

When I first started my journey with ETFO, everyone told me that going to …And Still We Rise was a must-do experience. I wholeheartedly agree! It’s the space for all women to be heard on issues that they think are important. It’s a place where women can tell women’s history and experiences that are often erased or unvoiced in history books. It’s a time to consider how women can advance social justice, build solidarity between struggles, and contribute to the broader women’s movement. If you have the opportunity to attend …And Still We Rise, I encourage you to take the time to learn, connect, and grow!

… And Still We Rise is ETFO’s signature women’s conference that runs annually in February each year.

Black Education Matters: Combat Null Curriculum

“The null curriculum refers to the things students do not have the chance and opportunity to learn. In this regard, learners learn something based on the absence of certain classroom experiences, interactions and discourses” (Kazemi, et. al, 2020).

The lack of representation of Black culture, history, and accomplishments across all subject areas from K-12 exemplifies the null curriculum. Think about the absence of information about Black Canadians and the histories of Black Canadians in your curriculum. The erasure of Blackness to students devalues and depreciates the validity of the lived experiences of Black people.

For many Black students, school is not an accepting place. It’s where they come face-to-face with the stereotypes and prejudices they face in the larger society. Students have shared their feelings of neglect, heightened surveillance, and arbitrary and often unmerited punishment for any perceived disobedience.

How can you actively address Anti-Black Racism, combating Null curriculum by integrating Black Education into your teaching practice?

It is crucial that there are educators in the classrooms who are intentional about challenging the status quo. It is crucial that there are educators who are willing to better understand cultures they are unfamiliar with to meaningfully connect with their students. Adopt a culturally relevant pedagogical lens – “Culturally relevant pedagogy rests on three criteria or propositions: (a) Students must experience academic success; (b) students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence; and (c) students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social” (Ladson-Billings, 1995. p. 160)

Ask yourself:

  • What areas in my teaching & learning styles foster anti-racist teaching?
  • What areas in my teaching & learning styles require change?
  • How can I integrate the ten principles of Anti-Racism Education in my learning environment (classroom) to foster equitable learning?




Ontario Black History Society. 2020. Blacked Out History. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKm7wQjpuac&ab_channel=OntarioBlackHistorySociety

Kazemi, S., Hamid, A., Motallebzadeh, K., & Zeraatpishe, M. | Jody S. Piro (Reviewing editor) (2020) Development and validation of a null curriculum questionnaire focusing on 21st-century skills using the Rasch model, Cogent Education, 7:1, DOI: 10.1080/2331186X.2020.1736849

Equitable Phonics

There has been much discussion of late about the importance of systematic, explicit phonics instruction in literacy. Decodable readers and phonics programs are popping up on book room shelves, nudging to the side the guided reading bins that have so long reigned supreme. These days, it seems acronyms such as UFLI are uttered more commonly than DRA or LLI.  And yes, systematic phonics instruction is an essential component of reading, especially for students struggling with learning disabilities such as dyslexia (there has been more than one beloved learner in my family who needed such explicit and multisensory literacy instruction to learn to read). But what about multilingual learners? Is reading instruction different for them? Should teachers jump right into phonics instruction for a student just learning English, as they would for any other student?

Perhaps the following scenario will highlight some critical considerations in this question.

Imagine you are a multilingual leaner, about to learn a new language. And more than that, you are going to learn to read in that new language. Here is your first phonics lesson:

Just three sounds, and you blend them together. Got it? Now read this:

Could you decode it? Read it out loud? You blended all the letter sounds together? Great! Good for you! You are reading.

Just a couple more questions:  

Did you get the joke in the first line? Were you moved by the revelation in the second sentence? Did you see the connection to your science curriculum at the end? Did you gain any ability to communicate in this new language you are trying to learn?


Ah. There is the difference. Native speakers of English already understand the vocabulary they are decoding. When we ask them to sound out c-a-t, they know what the word ‘cat’ means. They can use the word in a sentence for real communication. If they read a story about a cat, they can enjoy it, make connections to it, ask questions about the text. Not so for multilingual learners in the beginning stage of English acquisition. 

So is phonics instruction just as important for multilingual learners as for native speakers of English? Yes. But it is not equitable to make a student decode something they cannot understand. That is where we come in as teachers, to front load and embed oral language and vocabulary development in phonics lessons, so that multilingual learners learn the meaning of the words they are about to decode and encode. So that they can use those words for real communication, in multiple authentic situations. So that they have the same access to rich texts, ideas, and learning experiences as native speakers of English. In this sense, teaching phonics in meaningful context, rather than only as an isolated skill, is an issue of both instructional practice and social justice. 

There are far more considerations in teaching MLs to read than I have discussed here. For a deeper dive into the complexities and nuances of literacy instruction for multilingual learners, I have found Literacy Foundations for English Learners: A Comprehensive Guide by Cardenas-Hagan to be very helpful. And of course, for free insights and best practices in ML instruction, and mapping out the ways phonics and reading instruction need to be tweaked for multilingual learners, there is always https://www.colorincolorado.org/ which has an entire section devoted to literacy instruction for multilingual learners. 

Speaking of which, the Spanish phrase “colorin colorado” might also be a good way to conclude to this blog entry — “happily ever after”  is indeed the sentiment I wish for all readers.

Women In Action

In November, I had the opportunity to shadow some wonderful facilitators at a Women In Action workshop. I was so impressed with their ability to connect and uplift the women to see themselves as leaders. While I had already attended Women In Action Part I many years ago as a participant, being a facilitator was a completely new and inspiring experience.

When you attend Women In Action, it is the chance to be part of something special. You get the opportunity to connect with other women in a safe space. Some may be part of your local and some may not be. You will get the chance to really think about the skills and traits that you bring as a leader and recognize the strengths that you already have within you.

Women in Action is designed to inspire attendees to think more broadly about their roles as activists and unionists. Learning and setting goals for yourself is an important part of the time you spend together. As facilitators, we really worked hard to encourage the women to reflect on social justice issues and unionism as they pertained to them and consider themselves as powerful individuals capable of changing the world.

While the food, facilities, and workshop was amazing, I think what I really enjoyed most was the bonding. Hearing the voices of women laughing and chatting and building relationships with one another is a sound unlike any other. I missed that sound over the past three years! Having the space and time together without distraction to focus on professional growth and begin the journey with peers who become friends is unparalleled.

If you have already had the opportunity to attend a Women in Action Part I session, there is also a Part II and a newly developed Part III. Each part provides space to learn more about yourself and to forge relationships that will last a lifetime. In fact, I am still friends with some of the women that I met all those years ago and we are so fortunate to connect annually at Annual Meeting together in Toronto. It’s such a pivotal experience in my work at ETFO that it still influences the way I think about myself today.

If you are able to attend a Women in Action workshop, you will not be disappointed. You will learn a lot about yourself, about issues pertaining to women, and about how to overcome them. You will be reminded of your inner power and your own strength. And you will be changed for the better. This program is organized through your ETFO local and members who identify as women can connect with their local to inquire about the chance to be part of the program.

Learning Experiences

The words ‘learning gaps’ and ‘gap filling’ always give me a sense of urgency and dread. The word ‘gap’ seems so impossible – I get a visual of the Grand Canyon in my mind and think of how long it would take for me to fill it. It brings memories of rote worksheets and intensive pull out programs which seemed scary to me as a student and overwhelming as an adult. However, most recently in a conversation with a colleague, she gave me an alternative way of thinking about how to connect with student needs. The words “missed experiences” suddenly seemed like something I could do.

Think about the math learning continuum, for example. If students are working with multiplication and are relying solely on skip counting when multiplying, they have missed a few experiences along the way; perhaps they were away due to Covid, perhaps virtual learning was a challenge. Whatever the reason, they have missed a mathematical experience that they need to build their understanding. It might mean working physically with array models or the experience of sharing mental math strategies with peers. It could even be building and scaffolding questions that help to frame their thinking. Whatever the experience looks like, it should be meaningful for everyone.

A missed experience isn’t a deficit in learning. It is a circumstance that can be changed. If I got lost while driving to a new destination, I had strategies to use; I could consult Google Maps, I could stop and ask for directions. I knew how to navigate through the challenge and not just think I had to give up and go home or be stuck there until someone came to get me.

Changing my language from learning gaps to identifying missed experiences was empowering. It meant that I could provide intentional lessons and tasks that helped to meet their needs. It meant that I knew what my actions should be and that I could focus on what the students COULD do and build from there. Keeping an asset based mindset gave me a hopeful feeling and I felt that I could use the tools and knowledge I already had to provide experiences for all students to learn with and from one another.

Is there a space and time for intensive instruction? Of course there is! But that doesn’t begin and end in one session and teachers are a powerful force when it comes to helping students within the classroom, too. We have a great wealth of knowledge, strategies, and expertise. Providing meaningful experiences for students to learn and feel confident is what we all do best.

Supporting Intermediate Multilingual Language Learners in Reading

Reading a new language you are learning can be challenging, particularly for multilingual language learners (MLLs) – who are expected to read English texts in every area of the curriculum. Novels, textbooks and other curriculum resources are laden with academic language: verb tenses, words, and phrases that are rarely used in everyday conversations. Those in the early phases of English acquisition may spend a lot of time decoding, in addition to comprehending the overall meaning of the texts they are reading.

Intermediate English language learners are a unique group. As older elementary students, they may have already spent years developing literacy in another language. While their level of English language proficiency suggests that they need books with a level of text complexity different from their peers, it is unlikely that they will want to read picture books used by younger children.

Helping intermediate grade MLLs to gain confidence as readers does not require any sophisticated tools or reading kits. There are lots of strategies educators can use to support multilingual learners to become more confident readers of English. Of course, if you do observe a learner who continually experiences difficulty in reading with appropriate program adaptations in place, it is important to discuss their learning with the family and educator team to determine if further interventions are needed.

Here are some tips to help MLLs become more confident readers.

Help the MLLs you Teach Select the Right Books

When starting in a new classroom, newcomer MLL students may be eager to engage in the same texts as their peers, even if the text complexity is beyond of their zone of proximal development. How do you encourage students to choose other books without discouraging their enthusiasm?

To help newcomer students find books that are both challenging and accessible, provide opportunities for them to browse and explore several books at different levels. Hi-lo readers, non-fiction magazines, and graphic novels are great options for older elementary students. Your school librarian, MLL or ELL teacher, or Special Education team may have suggestions or books on hand to share. Always aim to share texts that are culturally responsive to the student and reflect their interests – if the text is not engaging, it will be much more difficult to read!

Encourage Students to Use a Digital Translator

Digital translators such as Google Translate, Microsoft Translate, and Say Hi are great tools intermediate students can use to get through a challenging sentence or paragraph. They are free, can be added easily to any mobile device, and are a convenient way to clarify meaning and build vocabulary. To get the best translation, encourage students to translate a sentence at a time. Consider that digital translators may not give an exact translation, or even capture the full meaning that the author may want the reader to understand.

As an educator, you may be wondering if reading with the help of a translation app problematizes the assessment and evaluation of reading. Can you assess or evaluate a student on their reading comprehension if they are relying on a translator? Keep the intention or the purpose of the reading in mind: is it to learn content or concepts? If so, then the use of a translator is an effective accommodation. Are you assessing their English comprehension skills? You will want to focus on helping the student to select texts that are within their zone of proximal development that they can read to build proficiency in reading in English independently.

Show MLLs How to Use Context

When students run into an unfamiliar word and do not have a dictionary or translator close by, they can try reading ‘around’ the word to see if they can figure out the definition. Model the process of using context to determine the meaning of words – this a great skill for all learners to practice!

When modeling the use of context, ask students to consider the sentence or sentences around the unfamiliar word. If the student is reading a graphic novel or a text with images, encourage them to use the graphic context to determine the overall meaning of the sentence or paragraph.

It may also be useful to ask students if they recognize part of the word. Identifying the root of a word can be revelatory. For example, the word origin sounds a lot like original or originate – which may be a clue that the author is writing about the start or beginning of something.

Encourage Students to Read Summaries

The internet is filled with book summaries, and MLLs may find that these summaries are easier to understand than the text itself. Book summaries share a short or brief explanation of what happened in the book, and can be found on sites like Good Reads, book blogger, and bookseller websites such as Amazon or Indigo. Students can also be encouraged to read summaries to check their understanding of a story.

Make Rereading a Regular Literacy Activity

Rereading a text is one of the best ways to support your comprehension of a book. Reading a chapter or even an entire book again will also help students to develop confidence in the language they are learning, as reading something a second time will often be easier than the first time. They may notice things they did not before, such as details about a character or an event in the story.

It’s OK if Students Don’t Understand Everything

When students are reading a challenging text in a language they are learning, it is important to accept that they may not understand everything fully. This is completely normal! It is more important to get the general idea of a text or the main events of a story. Encourage students to mark the areas you want to return to with a sticky note – they may even find the challenging parts easier to understand once you have explored the rest of the text. In other words, just keep reading.

The Picture

Photo by Fine 3d

You show me a picture and ask me how I feel.
What picture is this, I ask, uncertain.
A picture of you, of course, what do you mean?
A good picture at that, for look at all there is.

Of me? I say, but I still don’t understand.
Who took it? For what purpose? What is it meant to show?
I see faces and images that bear very little resemblance to mine.
But an image of me, my face, I do not see.

I recognize the subjects and am familiar with the names.
I hear them discussed in the hallways, the classroom, the office.
I search and search, and my silence prolongs.
You get frustrated because I haven’t answered your probe.

You tell me that this picture is the best ever taken.
A picture of human prowess and innovation.
You tell me that many others love this picture.
But I simply cannot see me in the picture you give.

My silence is not one meant to irk you, please believe.
I am not him or her or they or them.
I am me with nuanced experiences that shape my being.
So my silence prolongs because I know me.

I live me on the daily, with those who reflect me.
I know of the richness and depth of experiences in the spaces I occupy.
I know that my history is one that begins with human existence.
I know myself, my worth, my abilities, and my propensity for excellence.

So I keep quiet, I disengage, I walk away.
For I cannot give you the answer that you so crave.
For I don’t see me in the picture you give.

Yes, there are aspects I can identify with, aspects I applaud.
Overall it is a beautiful picture, one that belongs on a wall.
You chose this picture because you wanted it seen.
I appreciate your effort in sharing it with me.

But if seeing myself in a picture is what you seek, please know this.
The picture is one that should be about me.
Showcase my being, my culture, my experience.
Most importantly, center me as your subject, and learn the best framing for me.

Then I will be able to give you the answer you desire.
Because then, we will both be looking at a picture of me.

To the heart

I have never been so happy to hear the words ‘thank you’ in my life.

It was decades ago now, but I remember it as though it were yesterday. I had been teaching overseas a while at that point, and at times it felt like living in a different world. Waking up to a language that was not mine, slogging through one linguistic hurdle after another just to get through the basic errands in my day, and finally falling asleep at the end of it pretty much done-in. Please don’t misunderstand, I loved my job. It was an eye-opening and adventure-filled time like no other. But sometimes the exhaustion of continual translation and re-translation could tire me out in a singular way.

I was teaching in a city bordered by mountains to the north, and ocean to the south. Public schools there remained open for much of the summer, when temperatures reached into the high 30s. The school where I taught was perched just where the land began to rise. Below the school, the city stretched down towards the water. Behind it, the earth rose to towering green peaks.

Each weekday morning involved a train ride, followed by a trek on foot through hilly streets. In the heat of the summer, this slow ascent to the school gates was unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was the backbreaking humidity that usually did me in, the wall of watery air that refused to let anyone cool down. This particular day I had been standing at the front of the class, windows open to motionless afternoon air. I began to write something, trailing white chalk down the dark green board. But before I finished the first letter stroke, the chalk crumbled in my hand, breaking into clumps from all the moisture it had absorbed in the humidity, and fell to the floor in pieces. 

That image pretty much sums up the day I was having. 

I was hot. I was tired. I missed my family. All I could think about was getting home and hopefully waking up to more hospitable weather the next day.

After school I made my way down the sloping streets to the subway entrance. The car was nearly full when I entered, but I managed to get one of the last seats. 

As the train moved across the city, more and more people got on, the swell of commuters slowly building. At one of the final stops before mine, an older man walked through the sliding doors. He scanned the car hopefully but seeing no empty seats, he simply held onto the rail as the doors shut behind him. 

I got up to give him my spot, and once he realized what I was doing he began to say something, and then stopped. He looked off to the side, as if mentally going through his old high school English classes, and then looked up at me. “Thank you” he said, in clear, bright English.

Those words appeared so suddenly, so unexpectedly. I stood staring at him with what I now hope was a relatively calm and normal expression, but the truth is I almost wanted to cry. I never heard any English during my daily staff meetings, none during my daily commutes and chores, and yet here it was. An indescribable gift in the middle of a crowded train ride home. Like finding an old friend in a room full of strangers. The sound of those two familiar words was beyond wonderful. 

Years later and back in Ontario, I found myself at an ESL event at our school board. One of the guest speakers was a recently-graduated high school student. She spoke eloquently, telling us about her family’s journey from Somalia to Canada, and her own journey learning English from scratch as a teenager. I don’t remember how it came up, if someone asked her or if she volunteered the topic herself, but she began speaking about the things that had made a difference to her when she first arrived at her new high school, the things that made her feel welcome. She told us several teachers had made a point of learning a few words in Somali. When they first greeted her, she recalled thinking they might know even more Somali and asked them if they did. She laughed as she recounted one teacher saying “Oh that’s all I know!” From her story and her smile, it seemed to me it was a warm welcome indeed.

I am not the first to note that language, first language, is an inseparable part of identity.  I did not realize the loneliness its absence could create until I experienced it myself. And I am continually overjoyed to see the ways in which many teachers across our board have tried to meaningfully include and use the languages of their students.  From the teacher I saw having a basic conversation in Arabic with a newcomer family, to the teacher who takes language classes on his own time in the main languages of his students, to the thousands of friendly greetings and salutations in our schools, bringing a little bit of light and joy with each one … the multilingual framework continues to grow.

I was searching for a way to end this post that encapsulates the importance of first language, and what it means to all of us on a human level. In that sense, it seems only fitting to close with Nelson Mandela, who observed that when you speak to someone in a language they understand, it goes to their head; but when you speak to someone in their language, that goes to their heart. 1

To the heart, indeed.


1 paraphrased from a circa 1992 conversation excerpt in Nelson Mandela by Himself

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.