What’s Your Superpower?

 

“What’s My Superpower” is a sweet and powerful book written by Aviaq Johnston and illustrated by Tim Mack. This is the story of Nalvana, an Inuit child who lives in a northern community, and her journey to find her own “superpower”. This book was gifted to me by my educator friend, Ellie Clin. She thought I might be able to relate to Nalvana, and she was right!

As we prepare for the end of year, some of us might be hoping to include student voice in our Report Cards and/or facilitate Student-Led Conferences. This story could inspire Writing, Drama, and Visual Arts, as well as meaningful opportunities for self-reflection and celebration of all of our “superpowers.”

Here is how I am planning to use this book:

1. Listen to the story, “What’s My Superpower?” by Aviaq Johnston, read aloud on-line.

2. Reflect: What is your superpower?
For example: What makes you a good friend? What activities feel easy for you? What are your gifts or talents?

3. Write about your superpower. Give examples.

4. Draw a picture of yourself using your superpower.

5. Optional: Dress up as a superhero and share your superpower with the class.


I shared this idea with other teachers in the school, and invited them to co-create the template and “success criteria”. We have been talking about creating a shared writing task that can be implemented across the grades to help us build a skills continuum or exemplars of student work from Kindergarten-Grade 6. This writing sample could be considered both a self-reflection for Learning Skills and an introduction to next year’s teacher. It could be included in every students’ portfolio, and/or used for moderated marking.

Transforming Power:
I recently participated in professional learning as part of ETFO’s MentorCoaching program. One of the workshops was called “Transforming Power,” and it was facilitated by Indy Bathh and Louise Pitre. The first activity we did together was to share our superpowers in the Chat. This was a wonderful way to introduce ourselves to each other, and to practice naming our strengths.

It is always interesting to reflect on qualities of leadership with a group of educators who identify as women. As you might expect, the impact of patriarchy and misogyny, capitalism and racism reinforce the oppressive belief that women have less value. In a group of union leaders, it was still difficult for some of the women to identify their own superpowers. This reminded me of how important it is for all of our students to know their power, and to feel powerful, and to use their power to make change.


I want to encourage everyone who is reading this blog to pause and reflect. What are your superpowers? Make a list or draw them. Can you think of a time when you used your superpower to support and empower others? HINT: You do it every day with your students!

CommUNITY:
As I reflect on my own superpowers, I think about how I have been successful at creating community this year: in the classroom, in the school, and in professional learning communities.  During this time of isolation, building relationships and making connections has been the most meaningful work I have done.

In the classroom, I support everyone to feel like a VIP every day. We play together, and celebrate our strengths by giving and receiving Heartprints. In GLOW Club, I actively teach about love, pride and resistance. I organize whole-school events, like the WTF embodied Land Acknowledgment, Gender Splendour Week, sing and dance like a Mummer, and strut my stuff on the runway during our Kiki Ball. I listen and share picture books with staff, and acknowledge the powerful work they are doing with their students.

In the school, I facilitate brave conversations with families through Book Club and Community Core Values discussions, and I share resources with families about Settler Allyship and how to talk to children about anti-Black racism. As the Union Steward, I use our BBSAT (Building Better Schools Action Team) distribution list to share information about ETFO campaigns and actions by Ontario Education Workers United and Ontario Parent Action Network. 

As part of my own professional learning, I will continue to share ETFO’s Women’s Equality Project with locals, and collaborate with members in Ottawa to build relationships of equity and justice. I will continue to attend ETFO webinars and access resources.  I hope to finish my Masters of Education next year.  It has been an honour and a privilege to learn with educators in community.

Gratitude:
After 12 years, I will be leaving The Grove Community School. As one of the founding teachers, I am extremely proud of the learning we have done together to create the first public alternative elementary school with an explicit focus on environmental justice, equity and community activism. I am deeply grateful for all of the students, families, educators, and community members I have worked with at The Grove, ETT and ETFO.  Thank you!

Thank you to “The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning” for the opportunity to document this unusual year with my Grade 2 students. This summer, my partner and I are moving to Peterborough.  I will be teaching in Kawartha Pine Ridge as an Occasional Teacher next year, which will be a humbling experience.  I will be looking for new allies and educator friends, and re-reading posts from this blog for support and inspiration.

Dear Students,

As an Occasional Teacher, I meet a lot of awesome students.

This school year, I have had the opportunity to teach in MANY schools (both virtually and in person) across two different school boards. I don’t get to wish each of those awesome students a farewell as this school year nears its last day. Some I may see in September, some I may see in the future as our paths align once again, and some I may never see again.

Here is what I would say to them all, if I could:

Dear students,

Thank you.

Thank you for making a school year filled with masks, shields and social distancing feel like community. Thank you for being your authentic selves and finding it within you to make jokes, be silly and have fun. Thank you for inspiring me to come to work every day, to keep learning, growing and wondering.

Thank you for showing me that connection is so powerful and that strong relationships have the potential to break through computer screens. Thank you for embodying resiliency, love, trust and understanding. It is you who have showed me that not knowing the answer is sometimes the most exciting avenue to take.

From you I have learned so much, but most importantly I have discovered that my learning will never stop. I used to view my experience as an occasional teacher as a means to an end. Upon beginning this journey in 2018, I thought being an OT was just something that had to be done. For me, this experience has been vital to beginning to develop my sense of identity as an educator. You have influenced me advocate for change within education, schools, communities and the world.

I wish you all the best as you continue your adventures.

Sincerely,

Miss Turnbull

A Reflection on a Year of Minecraft: Education Edition

It’s June tomorrow! How is it already June? This year has somehow been both the longest and the shortest year of my teaching career. It’s been a bit of a slog in many ways, so I’ve been thankful for little moments of joy that I have shared with the students in my class over the year.

One of our great joys this year has been Minecraft. I’ve talked about it before, but I wanted to give a little update on our village and the overall pros and cons of using Minecraft in the classroom.

 

A Village Update

We have been working on the village off and on, primarily as a “when you’ve finished your work, you can do this if you want” option, for most of the year. If you’re not familiar with the village, we used a “Starter Town” template from the Minecraft library. It has the infrastructure already set up and you populate it with buildings. We started with students creating their own houses in numbered spaces set aside for this purpose. As you can see, we had a wide variety of styles and building heights.

Many houses have rooftop hot tubs. They are obsessed with the idea of hot tubs.

I will say that in hindsight, this template doesn’t really allow for much sidewalk space between buildings. I appreciated the smaller spaces (the building area is about 10×10) because it forced students to confront design challenges and adapt their plans, but the sidewalks themselves made it feel oppressive and crowded to walk at ground level. I think it would’ve been better to use wider sidewalks.

From there, students started adding all kinds of buildings – a hotel, a pet store, the Merry Dairy (a great ice cream shop in Ottawa), a leaf daycare (it’s a long story, don’t ask)…

There didn’t seem to be an end to their creativity. Some students created a zoo.

Others created an elaborate underground network of tunnels that would lead between buildings. Then, different houses started to appear – rogue houses! Without building permits! 

The builds got even more egregiously out of line with our Super Strict Community Planning: an entire village appeared just outside of the town, complete with blacksmith.

It was really cool to watch them create new things in the world and think outside the box.

 

Reflection on a Year of Minecraft

So… after a year of using this game in class, what do I think? Overall, I’ve been happy with what students have been able to do in the game. They’ve come up with some really cool ways to demonstrate their learning. They show far more perseverance when working through problems in Minecraft than they do at any other time. It’s also been great for collaboration in a year when opportunities to work with other students have been pretty minimal.

This isn’t to say there have been NO issues. We’ve definitely encountered some problems with outdated tech in schools where certain devices can’t be used for the game. During online learning, it’s been really difficult to troubleshoot problems with students. Some students don’t have compatible devices at home, either. 

Then there’s the in-game problems we’ve had, of which I’ll name a few here:

  • Spawning hundreds of animals in town.
  • Using commands incorrectly.
  • Harassing other students with commands.
  • Flooding the town.
  • Burning things down with lava.

I mean, most of those can be solved by students becoming more familiar with Minecraft, but it’s been an adventure.

 

Pros

  • Develops students’ critical and creative thinking skills.
  • Strong cross-curricular opportunities.
  • Can be used for short-term or long-term projects.
  • Tons of premade worlds, lesson plans, and activities in the library.
  • Strong buy-in from students.
  • Can be used in multiple languages.
  • Fosters perseverance.
  • Allows students to take on leadership roles by sharing their knowledge with peers.
  • Collaboration between classes!
  • In-game tutorials for students who are new to Minecraft.

 

Cons

  • Have to have the right devices to make it work.
  • If doing a whole-class collaborative project, one device has to host the world for everyone (and should be reasonably powerful – even my gaming PC crashes when I have 15+ students in our very large village world).
  • Some students are easily distracted by the game itself and don’t always complete objectives.
  • Updates to the game can lead to network issues at school.
  • Students accidentally break other students’ work, especially when first learning.
  • Very rarely, gamebreaking bugs happen that mean a student may have to restart their work or can no longer access a shared world.

 

Advice for Starting Minecraft in the Classroom

  • Give students time to play. They will 100% be distracted and unfocused the first few times you use it and will not get much accomplished.
  • Use the in-game tutorials to show students how to interact and play in the world.
  • Be very clear about your objectives and goals.
  • Give students the opportunity to share what they’ve made with their peers.
  • Be patient. Everything in Minecraft takes longer. Help your students plan their projects so that they don’t become overwhelmed by the scale of what they want to do.
  • A little goes a long way. Take breaks from Minecraft, too, so that students don’t get burned out on it.
  • Allocate time for potential issues. Become familiar with the game yourself so that you can help with common problems. You don’t have to be an expert, but you should know some basic commands (how to teleport, for example).

 

I’m really pleased that my board will be continuing with Minecraft: Education Edition next year. I’m looking forward to working on some new plans for next year over the summer. If you try it out, I’d love to see what you do with it!

Hindsight is…

Please don’t make me finish the title until the last second has ticked off the clock. I may have developed a defensive outlook about this trip around the sun. While I know this Gregorian Calender measurement of time will soon be in the rearview mirror of our lives, it is still a battle avoiding the queasiness and wincing that come when I think about all we have been through in 2020. Can resolutions be far behind?

Dang! I just wrote 2020

My understanding, perhaps acceptance, of this year is coming into clearer focus. It has been an extraordinary year on so many levels, and thus a great opportunity for personal growth. It has also been an educational year because, dang, I learnt a lot. 

Dang! I just wrote ‘dang’ again. 

I also taught a lot, and despite it feeling like a roller coaster ride from hell along the way, it meant that there were many lessons for me as an educator in 2020 too. Which made me happy to find this quote below after thinking I made it up myself. 

“If you are not learning, then you are not teaching.” Vernon L Smith*

A wise and gentle reminder that there was always something new to learn about ourselves, the students we teach, and the world around us during periods of unexpected loss, labour strife, professional uncertainty, and a global crisis. Smith’s words echoing loudly as I type. Here’s my version of it à la René Descartes. 

I learn, therefore I am a teacher.

So here is what I learnt from hindsight/2020:

  1. Take time to grieve and offer comfort first when students/families are hurting. The lessons can wait. It hurts to lose a student to senseless violence. Our school felt this very deeply last January
  2. Sometimes governments do not have the best interests of the population in their actions. Standing up to malfeasance and legislated tyranny is the right and a responsibility of all educators. 
  3. Mental health matters more than marks. Students/educators who struggle will not miraculously get better after a call to a helpline or a conversation with a social worker/psychologist. It is a process that takes time and patience before progress. I learned that there is much more to learn in this area to better support students, colleagues, and myself. 
    Remember that no matter how many times people tell you to take care of yourself first, there have to be reasonable boundaries and supports to make that happen. An encouraging message from admin, a Board Director’s email blast, or the Minister of Ed is not going to suffice. Set your boundaries. Do what you can do within them. Take time to be still. The work can and will wait. 
  4. Equity in schools needs to go way beyond a single day in the classroom, Orange/Pink/Purple shirt days are great starting points, but most not become performative events, but rather actionable beginnings to build on everyday in classrooms. There are so many amazing inclusion and equity resources being shared via school boards and social media for educators committed to allyship and activism in areas of Truth and Reconciliation, anti-black racism, LGBTQ2+, and culturally responsive relevant pedagogy. I learned that words in a classroom mean very little if they are not accompanied by opportunities to critically engage learners to become agents of change. 
  5. I learned not all educators are ready to confront their privilege and unearned advantage. I also learned that acknowledging my own privilege comes with the responsibility to examine my pedagogy and practice. It is a chance to unlearn, learn, and then teach. 
  6. If you are going to move into emergency distance learning within a short period of time, take it slow and make sure you have an ergonomic work space for those extended hours of screen time ahead. I learned that not all students have the same amounts of available space or bandwidth required for virtual school. I also had to accept that some students checked out the moment learning became asynchronous. 
  7. Rethink, question, iterate, bend, blend, and break everything you have done in the past to teach. Say goodbye to “we’ve always done it this way thinking”. Reimagine your reading lists, your math instruction, your use of worksheets, your classroom management, and your assessment approaches. This will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Embrace the discomfort. Learn from it, and then teach forward knowing 2020 taught us all so much. 

Thank you for a wonderful year at the speed of education. Please feel free to add what 2020 taught you in the comments below. Cheers to you all, and to a safe trip around the sun in 2021. 

*  There is comfort in the knowledge that the quote above is attributed to a Nobel Prize winning thinker because before checking, I thought the words above were mined straight out of my mind. Needless to say, I am happy to share a common thought in esteemed company. Searching out the source of the quote also allowed me to discover some of Smith’s other vast body of work in economics.

 

New Year’s Resolutions

Hello all and I hope you had a lovely Christmas with whomever you were “allowed” to surround yourself with.I spent the holidays with my close family and enjoyed some quality time at home this year rather than visiting our favourite mouse in Florida. We are thankfully booked in for next Christmas as we are hoping the world will be almost back to normal by then or at least it will be safe to travel.

As we look forward to 2021, I find myself thinking about that time of year when everyone makes some resolutions for the new year. Mine have always been teaching related. Whether it be creating a fundraiser, making a basketball event for the school, planning soccer tournaments or this time last year, we were looking toward to the strike hopefully ending. Being virtual this year and knowing that we are in another lockdown, I find it hard to plan short term. Therefore, I am thinking about making  long-term personal goals this year.

  1. To see friends and family more. I think during the regular year I am always focused on what I want to do. The pandemic has allowed for lots of “me time” so I will look forward to planning gatherings with all of the new babies that were just born in my friend circle. Sadly I have not held any of the new babies as they were all born in June, July, November and two weeks ago!
  2. I will also look forward to re-booking a trip with my sister which was cancelled March Break 2020. I was so looking forward to travelling with her and hope to re-book soon.
  3. I look forward to re-doing the backyard of my new home. When I bought this house two months ago, the only thing which needed fixing was the backyard so I look forward to doing that in spring 2021, along with building a deck.

I hope everyone else is looking at the future in a hopeful way and not feeling too sad/stressed with the second lockdown in effect. I am interested in hearing from any virtual teachers if they have any exciting first week back activities. I find it hard to plan during the two week break and always leave it towards the end. I was thinking of continuing with my Monday morning activity “Brag, drag and goal” and maybe I will make that goal a New Year’s Resolution for my students as well. I also start off every new year with an essay writing activity about the MVP of the previous year. I always find a good youtube video about famous people who had a successful year in whatever field they are in. Then, students brainstorm who they nominate and write an essay about why they deserve the award. This is a fun but educational way to wrap up the previous year.

Let me know if there is anything else you have planned 🙂

Wishing everyone a happy new year and here’s to more moments with friends and family in 2021!

 

2020 – the roller coaster no one in education asked to ride

Please secure any loose items and keep your hands inside the car at all times.
Do not exit the ride until it comes to a full and complete stop.

Most of the time the exhilaration of a fast fun paced ride, filled with brief mind boggling G-forces, would come next. At an amusement park perhaps, but it is 2020 after all, and this ain’t your average roller coaster of a year. From the get go, it was destined to be different as it was determined to distinguish itself from the decades of other “normal” years before it. To add even more gravity to the moment, we all had take this ride, and hold on for dear life regardless of height. I want to share what it felt like for me this year.

2020 AsAroLLerCoaSTerInEdUcatIon

Instead of the fun and excitement that might normally have been anticipated, this year felt more like being in a time warped slow motion sequence while being suffocated inside of a dumpster that was on fire and rolling down a steep mountain. WEEEE! quickly gave way to AAAGHH!!!

Everytime I opened the lid of my own flaming dumpster car to look out at 2020, I saw flashes of things to grieve, endure, flee, confront, fix, stretch, and learn from.

It was as if the ride was designed to keep going non-stop and at a nauseating speed while everyone was expected to remain strapped in and trying not to lose what they brought on the ride. At times, it felt like working in a vacuum. My lungs empty of air while my mind and body rush up and over the same structure over and over again.

2020 AsAroLLerCoaSTerInEDucaTIon

A year.
A strike.
A job action.
A global pandemic.
A great deal of uncertainty.
A move to emergency distance learning.
A realization that not everything is equitable.
A lack of direction, support and resources at times.
A realization that things may never be the same again.
A new virtual space to occupy, connect, and teach within.
A nagging concern that students may not be coping with this.
A continuous uncertainty around teaching in September.
A cautious return to the classroom – or virtual school.
A heightened vigilance around masks and sanitizing.
A disruptive reorganization with new schedules.
A newly updated math curriculum added in.
A cough that clears crowded classrooms.
A constant need for mask checks.
A need to maintain distances.
A muting mask and shield.
A gasp for fresh air.
A firm resolve.
A bit of hope.
A new year.
A dream.

As this ride finally runs out of track, I’m thankful to be physically in one piece, but still in need of greater peace of mind over this winter break. Recovering from this ride is going to take time. While figuratively staggering off of this year’s roller coaster, I am already heading back to the line to wait and go again.

Looking back on the past 52 weeks of this ride, I am trying to see how this year shaped my personal practice as an educator. I mean, the 2020 roller coaster possessed all the thrilling twists, stomach churning turns, dizzying highs, and sinking lows which no one could have expected. It came as no surprise then that enjoying the ride, catching my breath, or being able to re-orient myself relative to the world around me would not come easy. Despite it all, I find myself resolved to bend, blend or break what has been my instructional practice in order to do better in 2021.

It is perhaps because of this discombobulation, I have questioned everything that I have ever done as an educator. Stay tuned to see where this goes.

In the meantime expressions of gratitude, encouragement, and optimism to all educators who held on through the tumultuous ride that was education in 2020. You have indeed been the models of grace, resilience, resolve, creativity, persistance, and integrity in our profession. You have been inspirations to me whenever I lifted the lid of my flaming dumpster car to look out and take a breath. I’m looking forward to teaching in 2021 because of y0u.

 

The cold coffee song

 AKA – A parody on a familiar melody dedicated to teachers who finished as strong, after a tough year, if not stronger than the cold beverages in their cups.

Pt 1 (sung to the chorus of Escape, The Pina Colada Song by Rupert Holmes)

Yes I like drinking cold coffee!
And ignoring my chronic back pain.

I am out of the classroom,
At home by pandemic and fate

It’s really hard to be teaching,
sharing through cold blue screens.

It’s become easy to breakdown,
seeing students struggling each day.

Yup, it’s been rough one folx. We have come so far together and we all know that the journey is just beginning. When we look back to the start of the year in September 2019, no one would have believed that we would only be voting on a contract now. No one would have believed  that we would fund our sub-cost-of-living raises by standing up for our rights on the picket lines for 6 days. And no one would have believed that we would not see our students in real life this year past March Break. Judging by what has transpired already, I am pretty sure that the future will be equally unbelievable.

Without a doubt, we’ve shared many highs and lows in our profession over the past 10 months. We have stood together. We have found ways to make a terrible situation nearly tolerable. We have worked from home in makeshift offices at the peril of our own physical detriment. We are all grieving the loss of milestones (graduations, trips, community, playdays, track, and farewells) for the classes of 2020. Yet, we still came up with innovative ways to honour them.

We have parented through a pandemic, and cared for our parents too. We have watched vulnerable communities further separated from opportunities. We witnessed the inequity that exists in presumptions around access and “emergency distance learning.” In all of this we have maintained the dignity and duty of care everyday. On occasion, we even remembered to look after ourselves.

And even though direction from the elected only spilled out like water from a kinked hose, we knew what to do because we knew our students. So when the messages changed it didn’t matter that they came out at the end of the day on a Friday after hours or at all. In the end, teachers knew how to do right by their students. This even meant going on treasure hunts to find marks to fill report cards using a very vague map to cover a number of broad areas.

For my liking, I would love to have scrapped the focus on any marks for this term, and worked within a pass/not yet model.

Pt 2 (sung to the chorus of Escape, The Pina Colada Song by Rupert Holmes)

I am not into health spas.
I won’t ride on busses or Go Trains.

I am not into incomplete reporting
though the data sets must be gained.

I don’t like marking work til midnight
or going without sunlight for days.

I have been teaching from my basement,
and there’s no chance of escape.

The deeds are done and we can look back on them knowing that each teacher poured their heart and soul into their artistry as educators. Like any good gallery, the masterpieces ranged in complexity and beauty regardless of the eyes of the beholder. I’ll leave you with the last chorus to sing however you’d like.

At the heart of education,
We’ll stop at nothing to create,

To make the best of bad situations,
and challenges so hard to relate.

Can’t wait until we’re back in the classroom,
To learn, laugh, and say remember when?

It’s the year that no one planned for,
and hope will never happen again.

Thank you for all of your support over the past year. Wishing you a safe and relaxing summer. Celebrating you all with a cup of something cool and refreshing after I finish this cold cup of coffee.

 

6 Similes to describe how it felt to teach during COVID 19 Quarantine

Teaching during a quarantine was…

Like meaning with no  I, N or G. It was just mean. There were times when it felt forced, and meaningless because I was trying to make sense out of how to do this when it seemed more about keeping students busy and less about how they were feeling. 

Education during a pandemic was…

Like an infomercial. But wait, there’s more! More to do and definitely more to worry about.  Our students went AWOL – They’d gone absent without learning because they couldn’t connect. Their worlds had been turned upside down, and the one place where they could count on from Monday to Friday had been shuttered and now they were shut out. 

Learning for students during COVID 19 was…
Like making a pizza without a crust – there was nothing to hold all of the ingredients in place for students when life’s bigger problems consumed their ability to learn from home. Students needed their teachers to keep things together when things got tough and the class pizza, with all of its different toppings, got thrown into the oven.

Emergency distance learning was…
Like an ice cream cone with a hole in the bottom – the goodness melted away fast  and ended up on your shirt. Either way what was good couldn’t last long and usually there was something to clean up afterwards. I saw my students trying to make the best out of this mess yet there always seemed to be a scoop of some new flavour that no one wanted being added to the problem of learning outside of the classroom. 

Teaching from home during a shutdown felt…
Like performing a symphony where I had to write the score, conduct, play every instrument, and stack the chairs. There were so many little things that consumed the movements and moments of my day. It felt like I was simultaneously teaching a song to 25 individual performers all locked in their own rehearsal spaces.

Distance learning was…
Like running a marathon for the first time. You knew there was a finish line, but couldn’t remember how far you’d run or where you were going once you hit the wall. There came a point where fatigue set in and I began to doubt why I took this on in the first place? Some students hit the wall after the first day while others lasted until being told that the rest of their year at school was done. Even our strongest learners hit the wall at some point. Despite all of my training as a teacher, the toll that the marathon of teaching from home took on my mind and body was significant. I can only imagine how it affected our students.

I’m tired and a bit broken. The breath was stolen from my body when our students went home on March 13th. None of us imagined that we would be away for so long. I was allowed to visit my empty classroom 3 times since then and still hope that this has all been a bad dream. Walking down an empty hall in an empty school denied it’s life breath of students and their teachers was not how any of us would have wished this time in quarantine to be. 

From the onset and onslaught of learning in quarantine we had to work together, to grow together, and to continue learning together. It took time, patience, and grace. Each moment required a willingness to work meaningfully, to seek out those who had gone AWOL, bake a crust under that pizza, put a marshmallow in that cone to stop the good stuff from dripping out, play music until our fingers ached, and get up the next day ready to run the race again. 

The summer finish line has been crossed. We made it. Now where’s that pizza and ice cream?

 

Clear and Specific for 2020!

It’s the last day of 2019! I have to admit that as I blog, I’m often changing ideas and it always takes me a minute to determine whether or not I will  press “publish” on the pieces that I write. Sometimes I think that they’re too personal or that they aren’t quite finished or polished but eventually the idea forms, somehow gets written, and that button is pressed. This month, this is my fourth piece of writing and I think I’ll hit publish on this one.

Every time that there is a break in the year, I always seem to come down with something. LIke many other educators out there, the moment you get the chance to rest, it’s like your body shuts down for a bit to make sure that you do just that. Sadly, this year was no different for me. I took my vitamins and kept plowing through the beginning of the break as something was brewing. It hit just after Christmas and I’ve been taking it easy ever since. 

During this time, I’ve had the chance to reflect on the year and although there were painful moments, it’s been refreshing. 2019 was a year with challenges for me both personally and professionally.  From my health to making the decision to return to the classroom, there were a lot of emotions swirling around this year as I battled. Coming out on the other side, I have to say that I feel like I’m in that place where I’m truly content. Sure, there’s always room for growth but I’m actually in a really great place as I look towards 2020 and I’m grateful to have had the chance over the last few days to think about the highs and (definite) lows of the year.

I’ve been asked a number of times whether or not I will make New Year’s Resolutions and while I often make them, I think this year I want to be more clear and specific about what is is that I want in my life and work towards that. Here are 3 areas that I have identified that I would like to work on for 2020:

  1. Speaking My Truth. Many may know me as outspoken and even with that, this year I noticed that over the past few years I found myself drawing more and more within, afraid of being perceived as angry or disgruntled or argumentative. What that did was left me internalizing similar feelings and smiling through difficult and painful experiences; leaving me in an emotional state of unrest. In the long run, the only person that I ended up hurting was, myself. The past few months have been quite freeing as I have decided to no longer navigate spaces where my voice cannot be freely heard and accepted and am learning to speak my truth with love. Some things are difficult to say and yet need to be heard. This has been a process and I know that 2020 will bring further opportunities for me to grow in this area. Rather than being fearful of the perceptions of others, I’m going to embrace my truth and speak it when necessary, and I’m learning that it’s often necessary. 
  2. Accepting Help. Often the first person to offer to help and yet the last person to accept it or a compliment without a rebuttal.  I have an amazing colleague who has mentioned this to me a few times and I know this to be true about myself. Never wanting to be perceived – again that word – as a burden to others, I have often overworked myself to get a task accomplished rather than letting others join in or support the work that I might be doing. It’s time to let go of this one. In 2020, I’m going to say yes to help when it appears in its various forms.
  3. Defining Fun. This may seem silly but I don’t always know how to really have fun. Sure I love laughing and joking around with people but if I’m really asked what my idea of fun is, I might say things that I enjoy but I think that there is more to fun than just an enjoyable feeling. In 2020, I’m going to be working on identifying for myself what fun is really all about. What are the feelings associated with it? What are the things that I’m doing when I am experiencing those feelings. I’ve heard that I’m not the only one in this position so I’m really going to take some time to get clear and specific about what fun is for me in hopes of cultivating more of it in my life. 

Every new year brings about its opportunities for growth and challenge. For 2020, I’m working on being clear and specific about what I want out of life in hopes of manifesting a happy, healthy and successful year. No matter what type of year you’ve had, know that 2020 can be the start of something new. Wishing you all the very best in this upcoming year, happy 2020!

Building bridges


The Photographer [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Recently, I found myself staring from the platform of a steel, wood, and wire bridge at the top of Les Chutes Montmorency in Quebec. As the water spilled down the worn rock face into the St. Lawrence River, I could feel the structure moving, ever-so-slightly. Dozens of tourists were there too. I wondered if they felt it while they crossed, stopped, and admired the power and natural beauty.

To me, the vibrations were reminders that things are in constant motion and that the gentle movement of the bridge was making my senses aware of my surroundings much more than usual. What struck me in between the movements were thoughts of the incredible collaboration that went into designing and building this structure for everyone to safely enjoy the view. So much commitment, preparation, and care had to be put in long in advance of the first steps ever being taken across this spectacular wonder.

This made me think about how teachers are so very much like bridge-builders in their schools. We start laying out possible plans in late August and September. Once the first bell rings, we usually have to head back to the drawing board in order to re-coordinate, re-calculate, and reconsider it all once the classroom is filled because it is not until then that we really know the exact terrain or the distance we will need to span. Experience says that there is always a danger when we start construction too soon. Ocasionally, a demolition is required to re-start the build on a stronger and more secure footing.

Come October and November, construction of our bridges is in full swing. Shifts are organized, jobs are evolving with new work being delegated daily, and of course, focii reframed. Foundations are set and you can see signs of progress. As with any project, unknowns are constantly popping up that could not have been predicted on paper while planning. Usually these are best mitigated through preparation, experience, and flexibilty. Construction must go on.

December and January has our crews working productively in all areas. A well deserved break to rest, recharge, and regroup sees everyone returning to routines. Unlike September, the plans are not in flux. There is clear evidence of the mission, along with a sense of quasi-accomplishment, and it is encouraging to be at the half-way point. By now, some significant challenges have been overcome. Trials and tests are natural parts of overcoming impassable terrain. There is much to learn on a construction site.

It seems like we roar through February and March at school. Our bridge is really occupying the skyline now. We are able to see things from new perspectives. There are so many clubs, teams, and lessons to reckon with and distractions are not uncommon. It is important to remind everyone about the goal and the importance of the bridge they are building.

For me, these are some of the most frantic yet peaceful months of the school year. Frantic because of completing first term reports and peaceful because the rhythms of learning are clearly clicking. March Break doesn’t hurt either. Through it all brick by brick, board by board, and wire by wire it is all coming together. Through all of this time, attention is focused on safety and stability. Each day, measurements are taken to make sure everything is going as planned. In the classroom this might be a conversation, or an observation. Some times the ears and eyes of a teacher notice more and gain far more insight than is ever conveyed on a paper through a pencil.

April and May seem to happen at an accelerated pace. The end is in sight, yet somehow it can seem like the finish line is being moved further down the track. Students have become increasingly more interested in outdoor activities after being cooped up all Winter, and then kept off the grass for nearly the first 6 weeks of Spring. Movement is crucial here. Construction on our bridge is nearly complete.

Come June, our 10 month bridge building project concludes. What was once a rough and uncrossable expanse is now connected from one side to the other. As if, for the very first time, we collectively look up from our work, take a few steps back, and marvel at the work that has taken place. Our work.

By June’s end, the memories of lessons, tests, and reports are already fading, but not the positive relationships made, the acts of kindness shared, or the struggles overcome. Know that these memories will last like a well built bridge that can be crossed over years after being completed.

Thank you for being the bridge builders teachers. I look forward to building new ones with you all in September.