The “what” still matters

I am loving summer break. The chance to relax, read good books, hang out with friends, play video games, clean the classroom and get some much needed organization and planning done. I also spend a LOT of time on Twitter keeping up with conversations in the education realm. One issue that has been prevalent in a lot of conversations is teachers focusing on the “why” questioning the tasks we are doing and looking for the purpose. This has led to a lot of great discussions. Teachers sharing the why behind their work opens up a whole new world of reflective conversations. I have however noticed that all of this pursuit of the WHY in bringing about less focus on the WHAT it is we are doing. Bear with me while I explain.

Last week ILA (International Literacy Association) had a twitter chat that focused on the importance of explicit, systematic phonics instruction. The panel was led by a few educators who had very clear positions on the topic of phonics and their why to back their decisions was the same as mine our “what” however, is dramatically different. They advocate for whole class instruction, drill like practice and less time for independent practice and exploration of language. I advocate for balanced literacy, I advocate for time with choice text and time for for whole class instruction when needed. I advocate for real books not photocopied nonsense readers. Our whys in the end I think are the same, the teach students to read and comprehend texts. The difference lies in WHAT we are doing to get there.

One conversation I entered into during the chat was with a fellow High School teacher that advocated against a Workshop model. I am a huge advocate for a workshop model with some whole class instruction work to lay a foundation. This teachers argument was students should all have to use the same text because otherwise how can we teach a text. I defer to the brilliance that are the words of Kylene Beers here first

Books aren’t written to be taught. They are written to be loved.

-Kylene Beers

I think in the case of this person I was disagreeing with both her why because I want more than students that just sit and work on a text breaking down every piece until the joy is gone and her what. The last two years I have had more success getting students reading, talking and thinking about books than I have before. I also have students excited to come to class. It isn’t the only important piece but what are doing as educators when we forget that students should enjoy school? What are we doing when we literally say “I don’t care if they like my class, that isn’t my job” ? That isn’t a hypothetical it is a statement I have read. The WHAT we are doing is just as important as the WHY.

Another area that needs more work in this regard is work around increasing understanding around diversity education. I have had a great reflective journey on my practice that was kickstarted by following conversations such as #disrupttexts and #31DAYSIBPOC. I also was blessed with a teacher in University that was doing this type of work with soon to be teachers by challenging us to look deeper at historical thinking, representation and the narratives provided in our text books. The work of teaching our students to see the diversity around us and respect it is so important. So often we see teachers say we need a diverse library. I of course agree. The question raised lately is what exactly are we doing with this library? Just putting Ghost Boys on the shelf and not talking about it does little. Just having The Whispers as a recommended title but not book talking its importance does little. It is great to include the beautifully diverse texts that are out there but WHAT we do with them is so important.

This week there has been a great critical conversation on a piece of literature that is meant to “improve” student engagement. The author in their excitement to share posted an activity that at this point still appears to be extremely problematic as students virtually role play colonization. The WHY the author claims is to help students recognize the stories being told are leaving groups out. A great cause and why. The what, the means to achieve the why is the issue. Many educators pointed out this issue, much like students participating in slavery simulations or having debates around immigration or writing letters home from concentration camps (all actual assignments that have been on twitter in a celebratory way) this activity fails to observe the problematic issues it creates. The othering, the isolation, the failure to see the impact it can do to students who do not fit the colonizer identity. The other problem is this is a published book that many teachers who do not consider the WHAT are going to read, share and celebrate. Students need engaging work, students need to have fun at school. When those are the WHY it is a noble cause. When the WHAT we do to get there is problematic we need to stop and ask why. My social studies students are engaged with discussions around historical thinking and perspectives, what voices are being elevated and who is being erased? That can be done without making it a game.

Teaching is a combination of the WHAT and the WHY. If we are not critically thinking of both things we are not likely addressing the complete needs of our students and classroom.

My other side

Those of you who read the blog know that I am pretty passionate about teaching and literacy. While of course this is true, literacy work has not always been my first teaching love.

When I started teaching I always wanted to be a Social Studies teacher. As a student in High School I loved talking politics, I loved learning about ideologies and leaders of the past. I loved history. In university I was introduced to one of the most brilliant and compassionate educators I have ever met who taught me about the important of Historical Thinking and Historical Significance.

Over the past few years I have moved my focus more to literacy work but that does not diminish my love for Social Studies. I have held on to one Social Studies section since moving to the Junior High. Canadian history. As a student I was least interested in the history of my own country. European arrivals was where we always started, like there was nothing before then, and we just made our way up through British and French Conflict, Confederation and Modern Canada. As a kid it strikes me that most of education was slanted that way… a single story.

The other day I was having a conversation with someone and he asked me what I teach. Upon hearing I taught Social Studies he asked me “Why were we trying to rewrite history?” The question caught me off guard. I asked him what he meant and he began talking about Sir John A Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister. For my American readers he was pivotal in the confederation of Canada and instrumental in the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway which joined the country from East to West. Recently in large part due to the the work of the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada) more attention has been directed at other actions he was in part responsible. Much like the confederate statues debates in the United States Canada has had its own debates around celebrating individuals from our past through memorializing them in building names or with statues. With John A Macdonald, who’s name was on my town rec centre growing up, the discussion around his contributions to and support of the practice of Residential Schools was brought to light. Now for those that do not know about Residential Schools or for some uninformed reason think they have any redeeming qualities please do some research.

So back to the conversation. He was not pleased that our first Prime Minister, a father of confederation (he used the term), was being cast in a racist light (I am pretty sure it wasn’t the light that was racist) . The discussion came back to how (liberals) are trying to rewrite history.

I ponder on this and wonder about my job as a Social Studies instructor. Is my job to continue to tell one narrative? Is my job to teach from a resource that only briefly touches on our First Nations heritage? Is my job to continue to allow the same tired stereotypes to be repeated year in and year out? I struggle to accept that that is the job description of a Social Studies teacher.

This year I read the amazing posts from #31DaysIBPOC and in doing so gained access to a different perspective. The idea that students might not see themselves in our class discussions haunted me. The idea what they did see was not a complete picture haunted me. The fact that people still bristle at the idea that we should, as teachers of history, be teaching history confuses me. So we started questioning the text book this year, we question and push back on the long held beliefs that many of us have held on to.

As we look at the events of the world and how they seem to run on repeat I see the need for Social teachers that teach the whole history not just the parts that make “US” look good. We look at Residential Schools and the damage done that continues to impact our First Nations communities. We look at treaty agreements and their violations and we look to our neighbours to the south and modern day internment camps set up and look at our own troubling history.

I love literacy, I love the power of words. The power that the truth we find in them brings. That is the power of looking at our whole history. It isn’t about rewriting, it is about putting all the pieces together so we get a complete picture.

That is the other piece of me. I need to remember it more.

Is it worth it

This morning I was in a funk. I was hitting up my always inspirational twitter after a great workout out but something was off. My dear friend Susan coined a hashtag in our own little #curiositycrew and we laughed about #brentsinafunk. I pondered on what it was that was really bugging me and I think it all boils down to the fact that when I joined the Edu-Twitter world it was for ideas, inspiration and a supportive community.

Over the last little while I have noticed changes. There seems to be less learning popping up in my feed. Aside from the #G2Great chats my feed is filled with a lot of what I think people consider inspirational quotes or feel good stories but primarily my feed is becoming more and more a sales pitch. If it isn’t 7 million tweets a day about the newest book that is going to change my classroom (as long as I change myself) it is the newest conference that is 500 dollars plus travel and lodging and don’t even get me started on #teachersofinstagram and Teachers Pay Teachers. All of these things just keep popping up in my feed. Now I guess I could stop following people that seem to be amplifying this make money message but I followed them for a reason I just hope we find our way back to the why.

I am specifically bothered today by the trends, the room sponsorships, the staged photographs that don’t focus on joyful learning but do focus on company names being displayed for those fancy chairs and tables because flex seating is more important that authentic environments in this new monetized learning environment. I left twitter in a huff this morning for a lot of reasons but they boil down in the end to this new influencer culture. Is that what we got into this for? Did we get into teaching so we could be Rockstars? I didn’t. As I made my rounds through teacher social media I came across another post on a group that is dedicated to Jennifer Serravallo’s work. The post had nothing to do with her work however. The post was drawing attention to Teacher’s Pay Teachers 4th of July sale. Save money, save on planning, eliminate teaching tailored to your students needs. I know there are a lot of people that love Teachers Pay Teachers, they love a good Chevron border and cute Penguin clip art to fill there 40 binders to cover their 180 days. But again what is driving Teachers Pay Teachers? It isn’t authentic joyful learning. It is money, it is that desire to be pInstagram famous as I saw one person point out today on Twitter. Did we get into teaching to become famous?

I have talked about my next big issue before but can someone please explain to me how having your classroom sponsored by companies is not all kind of unethical? We had this discussion as a staff once when a company reached out to help support a school initiative. What conditions do you have to meet to get sponsored? What percentage of your room needs to be their product? I friend told me that she really wanted to get into flex seating and so was looking for ideas on Pintrest and Instagram and came across this great account that had the most amazing room. Tables that were 4000 dollars. A quick show of hands for who can afford 4000 dollars for one table…I will wait. This teacher was an instagram “influencer” all their cute TPT stuff and Pintrest worthy staged pictures got them a ton of followers and so companies started sending them things to showcase. How does the average teacher accomplish this?

I have been expanding my twitter net recently and reading about all this amazing work, amazing learning being done in classrooms all over schools but I have to dig for it. Those stories are not the ones being shared far and wide. They are being lost in a sea of “look at me”

I am not looking to shame anyone that has bought into this celebrity culture of education. I would say to each their own but we are not only responsible to ourselves. We have classrooms of kids depending on us to bring our A-game. To better our practice to meet their needs. All the followers in the world to “influence” will not make me a better teacher. Actually doing the work? That will. In this world of Social Media we can do so much good but what good is 50k followers when you don’t discuss inequity, injustice and the real challenges facing kids and schools today. Trust me kids get along fine without a ball chair and standing desk, they don’t get along fine with books falling apart and not enough chairs to go around. With great power and all that as Uncle Ben says.

Today Penny Kittle tweeted her dismay about how schools can’t “afford” libraries. In Alberta our government is cutting funding to nutritional programs that were getting students breakfasts and lunches when they needed them. The money issue is real, scary and something must be done. But unless all this “influencer” money is making its way back to students, building librairies, funding nutrition programs is it really worth it?

That’s a wrap

Today marks the first Monday of summer holidays. We wrapped up the year last Thursday with our grad ceremony for the grade 12 students. This year has been filled with learning. I was able to try new things, go to the best PD of my teaching life, became a co-moderator of the #g2great chat and continued my own learning journey all while reading some great books. I wanted to take some time to look at the moments that shaped my learning and the year.

Twitter Adventures

For those who follow the blog or follow me on Twitter you know I am a fan of the platform. Not only for the learning but also the connecting with individuals that I otherwise would not be able to. Prior to NCTE in Houston Texas I put in Twitter how excited I was to be attending and many educators I respect greatly where so kind to say they would love to meet or say “HI”, Twitter has brought me to different professional resources this year and introduced me to amazing projects like the books suggested by #projectlit and the transformative experience of #31DaysIBPOC which I will talk about more in a minute. I recommend Twitter to all educators. When I first started twitter I was excited about all the cheerleading for teaching going on. Gradually I started naturally moving to more pedagogy focused twitter discussions. #g2great is my favourite. I have contributed regularly to the chat and formed some amazing professional connections and dear friendships. This year I was asked to be a co-moderator and accepted excited to bring a slightly different perspective to the group. I am excited for the opportunity. My twitter evolution has continued through discussions like #disrupttexts and the aforementioned #31DaysIBPOC. I have become more critical of the trends that are light on substance. I question the motivation of posts more because of the opportunity to grow I have been given by critically analyzing the information out there. I think Twitter is like a buffet. There is something for everyone and this year I feel I moved more to the main course section. We all love the dessert table but I am not becoming a better teacher eating ice cream all day.


Ok, so I was sitting on my Twitter at the end of April and noticed a Tweet about a Project that was organized by Dr.Kim Parker (@TchKimPossible) and Tricia Ebarvia (@TriciaEbarvia) titled 31 Days IBPOC which can be found here. A daily post for the month of May by an educator who would identify as Indigenous-Black-Person of Colour. The first post by my Twitter friend Aeriale Johnson (@arcticisleteach) found here had me hooked. As a teacher from a rural area with little diversity I had the opportunity to learn about the experiences of educators from many different backgrounds. I eagerly anticipated the posts dropping each morning. It impacted my workouts because I had to stop and read and learn. These posts made me question my teaching in the best way. They helped me see that I have so much growing to do as I try to best help all my students. As a white teacher I thought I was doing a great job just bringing in books that celebrated or at the least provided diversity. One take away from my reading was that that is not nearly enough. So we started to examine representation more, I learned about the term ant-racism and I feel I left the experience a better teacher for all my students. Through the summer I plan to write a more in-depth series around my reflections and I have a larger post on my #31DaysIBPOC learning journey being published on my new MiddleWeb blog soon (will link here when it is published). I hope you will check out the amazing 31 educators that contributed to this project at #31DaysIBPOC So many amazing posts.

New Things to explore and build on

I am excited about the summer of learning I am about to embark on. I am diving in to Multi-genre work. I am excited to explore Book Clubs more next year. I am going to work on book clubs and integrating not only diverse books but discussions around why they are important and how we can grow as a classroom and community by looking at the world around us through text. I will lean on the experts in the field that help me to grow in the same ways I hope my students will start their learning by leaning on me. The work that needs to be done still is great. I love literacy. I want to continue to build as a teacher on the current practices that amplify my students voices and experiences but also lead them to experience new things, new thinking and build a desire as life long learners. Summer, for me, is about reading at the river and learning new things. So with that I am off to the river for the day, book in hand.

If you need a new book to check out Try The Benefits of Being and Octopus. If you are more looking for some quick thought provoking reads that you can take time to work through check out #31DaysIBPOC. Have a great summer.

Adventures in…

So for the last few weeks (8 give or take) we have been working on various projects in Room 157.

The Grade 7’s have been working on “My Story” a hodgepodge first attempt at a Multi-genre type assignment. They have written narratives, reflective pieces and poetry. They have reflected on the moments in their lives and what have helped to make them them. It has been an interesting journey for them and a great professional one for me. I have spent evenings and weekends reading through drafts, conferencing and doing it all over again. This may come as a shock but the work that is coming out is great. The work isn’t even the best part. The words of my students, the GOLDEN LINES in their poems about lessons learned from their grandparents or just sitting with them at watching the sunset. This project has been fun, to reflect on their books in the Autobiography of a Reader or the music that has influenced their life in the Life Playlists. To laugh with their mostly true memoirs or get those teacher chills as we watch some of the “Where I’m From” poetry pieces. There are people that think we do not have the time in Junior and Senior High to explore in the work of literacy. That we need to be working on essay form and reading classics. I think we should be doing those things as well but not at the expense of joyful literacy. Not at the expense of laughter, not at the expense of applause. We have been watching their poems this week and I thank Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher for the inspiration for these pieces. I have always chickened out when it comes to these big final products. I worry about them not turning out as good as I picture them in my mind, I worry about the kids feeling frustrated with the task. I started to chicken out this time, started to back away from them. Then my kids said, “We can do this Mr.Gilson” and the final products really have been fantastic.

My Grade 8’s wanted to try something a little different. They wanted to explore inquiry a bit. Dip our toes in and at least take the temperature of the unknown waters. We looked at Gravity Goldberg’s words in Teach Like Yourself when she speaks about getting students engaged. Is it by irritation (us pushing them) or agitation ( the desire to solve or address an issue)? My students picked a very diverse group of topics to explore from teen mental health to environmental threats like plastic pollution and world water consumption. One student wrote and recorded a podcast about the importance of proper Heifer feed, another about how teachers can be better for their students, spoiler alert it wasn’t tests and worksheets. We researched, gathered data and picked a method for presentation. The work has been incredible. Today we gathered to watch their TED talk-esque presentations or listen to podcasts while students shared their work. We also had a couple meat trays because you can’t have a meeting without meat trays they told me. The video did not do justice to the kids work and I was disappointed. The sound was bad we struggled to hear the first brave student that was willing to share. Then the best thing happened. “Can I just do my TED talk live?” So she got up and talked. Jello brain to demonstrate areas effected by mental illness and she shared. She talked about why this is important, how much it impacts students and how our education system does not do enough. She finished, the kids clapped and another volunteered. We tried different videos and podcast and some went well and others did not and we just rolled with it.

I think at times teachers are so worried about this perfect moment that they miss the beauty in the evolving ones. Today I watched student rise to meet a challenge. Over these last few weeks I work along side my students as we discovered ourselves as learners. Next year we step it up again. We build on the foundations that this years students set out. There is room for exploration in language arts. It needs to be changing, evolving and growing like the amazing Jason Reynolds says. I am so glad for all of our opportunities to learn and grow together this year. I have 6 more days with these awesome students. Finishing strong.

Here are a few pictures from today and a couple video poems to check out. First kick at it and I love them.

31 Days of Awesome

I have spent the last 31 mornings at the gym patiently waiting between sets for the new post for the #31DaysIBPOC blogging challenge organized by Dr.Kim Parker and Tricia Ebarvia, two wonderful educators who I have followed on Twitter and learned from through hashtags like #Disrupttexts. To check out all the amazing post please be sure to check out the site collecting them. Follow those who have written them and allow yourselves to sit in the discomfort as I have.

I always thought I did a great job making all my students feel welcome. I always felt that I was doing my best to provide students with lessons worthy of them. We didn’t make bead work Wampum belts like I saw on pintrest because that is a sacred tradition and not an arts and craft lesson. I didn’t reenact slave trading or play “run away slave” tag like I had seen on other posts as a “great way” to get students engaged in the Underground Railroad. I was aware those things were disrespectful and racist and before reading through these amazing posts I thought I was doing a great job being an ally to those students of colour, to my coworkers who represented a marginalized group. I tried to correct students language and condemn “jokes” that further marginalized group even when no members of those groups were present. Before reading these posts, these 31 heartfelt reflections from brave educators I thought I was doing a great job because I wasn’t a racist. Imagine that as a measure, “I am great because I am not racist” That sounded ridiculous today as I type it and I don’t know if it would have sounded as ridiculous 31 days ago. What this amazing journey for a white educator in predominately white area has taught me is that not being a racist is not enough. We must actively fight racism or as I am “learning the lingo” to really make a difference we as white folks need to be actively anti-racist. I am still earning what that means. I am still working on how to better help my students but because of #31daysIBPOC I have places to start.

  1. I need to get to know all of my students better, especially my students from marginalized communities. This can be IBPOC students but also our students who might be LGTBQ, another group of students who find themselves marginalized in schools and in need of support.
  2. I need to actively turn time over to the IBPOC educators in meetings when they are present. As a white male educator I don’t tend to need someone to give me time to speak. I take it. I need to take it less. I need to let other voices be heard.
  3. I need to not ask IBPOC individuals or groups to do the work for me. Asking people to explain how I offended them or how something I might be doing is racist or how I should fix it takes the work off me and puts it on them. I need to hear what is being said and then do the work to fix it. Our actions should serve as a judge of our character not our words. Talk is cheap.

So I go from here. Inspired to be better, inspired to act on behalf of all my students. To bridge the gaps that inequity in education creates. To listen to the powerful voices of IBPOC educators like the brilliant minds of #31DaysIBPOC and others. As I plan for next school year I am already questioning the texts that I plan to use. The assignments and the discussions I plan to explore. If you have not read the posts please start. They are all great. Find them all here and be uplifted. I am so grateful to all the posters for this event and am hoping to continue to learn from them all.

Live in the moments

It is nearing in on the end of the year. Today was the three week mark with students and then exam week. I am not counting down I am actually doing everything I can to slow time. This year has gone too fast. I chose to take on a student teacher. I had big plans that sort of materialized but then never got off the ground. I missed time with some of my kids, I have regretted that, not the student teacher but the missed time. The missed time, the late start, it has been a hill to climb to rebuild the relationships and restart that literacy love.

We have tried so many things. Independent reading, book clubs, whole class novels, authentic writing tasks with mentor texts, essay responses, one-pagers, Notice and Note, Articles of the Week… you name it. This year has been a collection of moments that still come back into my mind. The small little spark that lead to Project Speak that is slowly wrapping up as students are finishing off essays and TED Talks and all sorts of ways to represent their choice topics, the conversations around The Danger of a Single story and the adventure we have taken in 7th grade to tell our stories. Literacy work is beautiful and always changing. Jason Reynolds just said today at the end of his short documentary found here that language is always changing, evolving and growing. Our teaching should be doing that as well. We should be looking at what is working at what is not. We need to be so aware in those moments to not lose ourselves in “what we like” but to listen to what is going on around us and to grow and evolve with our students. That is what brought me to more inquiry based work, to explore multi-genre work. To provide my students with a flexible way to show their learning.

These last few weeks as I listen to my students share about why they think we need to teach better, test less, examine what we are eating, discuss gun control , maintain heifer weights (yup you read that right), treat celebrities better, end child poverty, focus on mental health and target the problems of social media I have learned how different my students are. I have learned that their interests are unique and their concerns are real. Things have not always gone smoothly and some of us are VERY behind but sitting beside them I am learning how best to help them. I can encourage them. Those moments where I see that spark of curiosity, that fire that agitation can stir up I am hopeful that we are on the right track with 3 weeks left to finish strong.

My grade 7 class is writing, writing about books, their life, music and poems. We have laughed about my embarrassing stories pf lost loves in High School and drowning my sorrows while belting out Always by Bon Jovi (yeah that happened) and they have shared stories of their own. The most powerful moments have been going through their poetry as they exam Where they are from. Golden Lines about treat nights with family and parties with friends to sitting on the porch with Grandpa to watch the Sunset. As the year ends I am choosing to live in those moments, to savour them because they won’t last long. Next year we get new ones but these ones, these laughs, these lines they will only happen once. As the year ends we need to remember that and celebrate it.

Tomorrow I am at track. I might bring a journal and when not taking pictures maybe I will write my own poem to share but for today I will watch Jason Reynolds speak again, read a little bit and probably go back and watch the little 7th grader on Americas Got Talent that sang about her story and almost brought me to tears. It is the moments that are most important, let’s not rush and miss them.

A view from the top

So this week was full of ups and downs. I had started the week off knowing that I had an interview for a position of Vice Principal at my Junior/Senior High School. I was not telling anyone that I had the interview because I was certain that I would not get the job. As the day arrived people started coming up to wish me luck and tell me I would be great at the position and all these really nice things. The question I had was how people knew that I had the interview in the first place. Turns out someone saw a list and decide to share with everyone.

So now that my future failure was on everyones radar I decided to focus on the task. We all should hopefully have goals. Mine was to use this moment to share my vision. I have spent the last six years really focused on literacy work and trying to transform my teaching. As I reflected on what I would love to see in a school as part of a leadership team I thought about 3 key things.

  1. Pedagogy- How are we as a staff teaching? What message is it sending?
  2. Instructional Leadership- What am I doing to help with part one? How am I helping my fellow teachers to stretch?
  3. The PLAN- What is the big picture? 5 years-10 years where do I see the school and my role in it?

With these in mind I felt ready. I had my answers, I knew what I wanted to talk about and set out for destiny haha (fully knowing it was a one in a million shot)

The interview came and the questions reflected, for the most part the work I am doing. The interview ended with 3 questions.

What is your biggest failure?

What is your biggest success?

Why do you want to be VP?

I was not ready for these questions and as I reflected on the first one I remembered something that really hit an emotional nerve. A student I felt I had failed, a victim of bullying I could not save, despite my efforts and I broke down as I tried to talk about it. Recovery did not come in the next two questions as I continued to reflect on success being those connections with my students and the all important why…to protect them, to help them because I love my community and the school.

I left the interview, during it I quoted a piece from Gravity Goldbergs “Teach Like Yourself” in which she discusses her fears.

I was not afraid going high, I was afraid of falling.

Paraphrased as I don’t have the book sitting beside me šŸ™‚

I realized leaving that interview that I felt the same way. I had no fear of the interview, I was ready, I love the school, community and students and I know that every day I do my best for them. I knew that I would continue to do that regardless of the position but I had been brave, I put it all out on the table and now was the time to wait.

I received a call later telling me that I was not the successful candidate. Two other teachers of whom I respect got the positions. I am happy for them, sad for me, but that is how it goes. It is tough reflecting and second guessing the why when you are not the successful candidate. Could I have answered something better, was my emotional reaction to a question that hit me “right in the feels” too much? Did I not present myself as the leader I feel I am? Did I buy into my hype too much?

These thoughts are going to be with me for a while. I don’t know if I will take this chance again. The fall is seemingly too far this week. The view from the top, all the possibilities were exciting. That vision for a plan may be on hold. But what I do know is the work continues, I have had amazing days in my classroom with my students because they are my focus.

Change happens. But constants remain true. We do the work for the kids, we climb new mountains and we learn not to be so afraid of the fall.

Total side note if you are not following the #31DaysIBPOC on Twitter do yourselves a favour and check it out. It is the lift we need right now.

Core Beliefs Revisited

Reflections bringing me back to the beginning

I was reading We Got This by Cornelius Minor today while my students were reading a little independently. I love the initial ideas presented on listening to our students to help guide our planning. It reminded me of the work of Gravity Goldberg in Teach Like Yourself and the idea of students wanting to work more for what agitates them than what irritates them. Being driven by a need to solve something versus being told what to solve.

As I reflected on these rather complimentary thoughts in two great books I wondered back to another idea from Teach Like Yourself, Core Beliefs. What drives our practice? How are we going to achieve our goals? Why are we doing the things we do? As we look at these questions the idea of authenticity starts to come through. I don’t imagine there are a lot of educators, who when ask the question, “Why do you teach?” they answer, “For summers off” Teachers are teachers because they see a higher purpose to the work. As I thought about my current Core Beliefs I landed on these three things.

  1. All Students have the right to be both heard and seen.
  2. Our teaching should reflect what we have learned from our students.
  3. Inquiry, both ours and our students should drive our instruction.

1. All Students have the right to be both seen and heard

I have come back around on this a lot lately. Of course all of our students should be seen and heard in our schools but too often many do not feel this is their reality. I have had many students express feelings of not being a part of the community because they don’t play sports or because they are not a certain religion. I have had many students share their interests and then not see them reflected in the instruction being offered. Last year as I was new to my current school I wanted to get to know all the students. I wanted to visit with them about their interests, their joys and their struggles. I learned about the anime artists, I learned about the parkour athletes who would defy gravity on their lunch breaks, I learned about the ukulele playing song writers and the fantasy novel writers. I also learned about the desire of all of my students to have a voice their own own learning and so I began a new piece in my learning journey.

2. Our teaching should reflect what we have learned from out students.

I have utilized project based learning for the last 6 years in some form or another in my classroom. I loved the idea of a driving question to promote curiosity. I loved the idea of different products and options to display learning, I loved the idea of a class approach around a unifying idea. When I was first introduced to PBL it came with the advertisement that it would engage ALL students and I feel like many still try to sell it that way. Talk to your students and you will get a different story. What really drives students is their interests, their lives and how their learning ties into it. This year I took to the time to really listen, to ask my students how I could best address them as learners with the content I had to cover based on the curriculum. Through those conversations Project Speak was born. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing and some times the waves of frustrations over this “new” way of doing things take some time to ride out but I do see students more engage, more willing to work through the choppy waters and less likely to give up when the rowing gets tough. My instruction is changing more as I listen to my students, as I tailor what I do to better meet them where they are. As we explore how the learning really impacts their life.

3. Inquiry, both ours and our students should drive instruction.

I circle back often to the power of unanswered questions. It has always pushed me to learn more. I can be described as impatient but when it comes to looking for answers we should all be impatient because impatience leads to action. Agitation, the need to solve a problem, leads to action. Students being provided with authentic real life learning tasks, that matter to them, leads to that agitation. When we allow the voices of our students, their questions, their wonderings to guide our instruction our students see we value their words, their feelings. When we allow ourselves as teachers to follow ours questions and wonderings, our practice improves. We search for the answers to better serve our students.


Teaching is not easy. There is no “one size fits all” Through listening to our students and providing them with authentic opportunities to explore what matters to them, framed with what we are responsible to teach we have the opportunity to tailor our instruction to the individual like never before. The question is are we willing to do the work?

A Post-A Quote-A Thought

So I am sitting at the gym this morning between sets and I check my twitter feed to see the daily post under the #31daysIBPOC hashtag. You can learn more about it here Each morning this week there have been amazing posts that have helped me learn and grow as an educator. I do not live in a diverse area, it is hard to know how to best serve the students of colour in our school without being that “white teacher”. I think to the story A Very Large Expanse of Sea and the scene where the lead character is upset because her teacher tries to include her by making her a the spokesperson for all Muslin people. I have worried that I have done that myself, unintentionally, but done it all the same. I wonder often what I can do to help my students, to be more aware of the privileges I have, that my students unknowingly wield and how I can prepare them for the diverse world that awaits them. This is all just background for where I found an amazing post and a quote that led to so many thoughts.

Chad Everett, an educator and blogger who posted todays #31daysIBPOC post which is here writes a letter to his first black teacher. As he reflected on this experience a quote quite literally made me gasp in the gym and has been playing on repeat all day.

How often do we try to make a student fit our unrealistic expectations and then blame them when they do not meet those expectations? How often do we set our students up for failure? All day I have looked at the work I am doing in the class, the work I want my students to be able to complete and I have wondered if I am overloading them.

I continue to build my capacity as a teacher to see all my students as the individuals they are. To provide them with as many different opportunities for success as I can. I am grateful for the educators that continue to share their stories and struggles. So that, while not my experience, I can still try to learn, to be an advocate for those who do not enjoy the same privileges I do. I am grateful for my 100 Watt bulbs in the classroom who have had patience with me as I work to find them the lamps that fit.

Learning is one of the best parts of teaching and I am grateful today for the lessons I am learning. Thank you Chad Everett and the teachers of #31daysIBPOC for sharing your stories.