Ok, so I don’t mean to take anything away from the teachers who after hearing themselves referred to as losers are trying to own it in some way. But I do feel that I need to comment myself.

Often in situations of bullying kids are told one tool to deal with it is to own it another is to make it a joke. I don’t feel like owning it is the route I want to take and it is no joke. Teachers work so hard to be seen as professionals and I am not interested in playing games with terms that continue to perpetuate the idea that our job is easy or the old line those that can’t do…teach.

I think about the amazing work my friend Cait is doing to promote equity in her classroom. The time she is taking and the books she is working with her students to better understand.

I think about my wife and the kids she serves daily as both the Vice Principal of her school and the learning support teacher and the countless hours outside of school she spends worrying about her students on top of achieving a Masters degree to serve them better.

I think of my friend Ryan who on top of being a great Social Studies teacher and academic advisor he also coaches the Varsity Basketball team. As we put in so many hours outside of our job to both build stronger relationships with our students and community we also provide a chance for our students to participate in something they love because, well, finding community members to take on the time commitment can be difficult.

I think about my friends all over the world that work tirelessly to support their students educational, social and emotional needs. That often put themselves last and their students first.

I think about my wonderful teachers. The Mary Howards, Pernille Ripps, Donalyn Millers, Colby Sharps, Johnny Downeys, Roman Nowaks, Susan Vincents, and Kylene Beers. The champions of learning and teaching that I get the honour to interact with and learn from daily.

I think about myself. I think about the hours I put in because I love my job, I think about the conversations we have, the challenging topics we look at and discuss, the books we read the laughs we share.

When I hear the word teacher that is what I think about. We are doing the most honourable work. I will not allow someone to reduce me to a hashtag.

Let’s celebrate the greatness that teaching can be. Put the focus on that and let those who say otherwise occupy their little corner of the internet that believes in conspiracies and depends on hatred and divisiveness to achieve their goals.

Words matter

Before I get into the blog post for the day I wanted to issue an apology. I received an email that brought to my attention the use of the term “lame” in many of my posts. What I never considered was the history of that term when it is applied to people with mobility challenges. As I try to teach my students the importance of language as well as equity, justice, kindness and awareness I need to be more aware of the words I use. I appreciate the reader for reaching out and asking me to consider this. I apologize for not being more sensitive and will be more aware in the future.

Leading by Reading

This last week I was trying to come up with a way to make World Read Aloud Day a fun experience. I work in a Junior/Senior High so I think the classroom read aloud outside my doors is a little less than likely. That said we also have the unique opportunity of having the elementary school attached to our building. I had the idea of taking my English classes down to the elementary to read aloud, bring in the big kids to read with the little guys. Model joyful fluent reading, model a book love that I try to help my students develop. They would have done it but then I thought about my Basketball team. I have written about the boys before and how proud I am of them and their dedication despite adversity but I gotta say, despite some early hesitation the majority of the Senior Varsity team were down at my room picking up picture books today and ran down to the elementary and were matched with classrooms. They were a bit nervous at first but then jumped right in with groups of six, seven, and eight-year-olds gathered around the boys shared some great stories. I was told after they finished they all asked if they could do it again another time, they had fun. These 16, 17 and 18-year-olds who were, for the most part, unsure with the idea had fun. Some even said “We could come during our LA class, I mean we are reading” I have had a lot of proud moments with these boys but the examples they were to the littles down the hall today is something many of these kids won’t forget. They will remember that the cool Varsity basketball team were reading picture books to them and they liked it. It wasn’t a chore or assignment it was a privilege and I couldn’t be prouder.

For my own classes, we read the first chapter of the amazing Refugee, some of our whole class novel Peak and a short story compilation in Social Studies that focused on Canadian History. My job is great every day, today was just icing on the cake.

I have written about my love for Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s Notice and Note before. I have no issues acknowledging my love for it again because I know that as a piece of my Language Arts instruction it helps my students see all forms of text in new ways. For those that do not know what Notice and Note is but follow my blog or Twitter activity, I suggest picking the books up. The fiction version can be found here and the nonfiction is available here I would suggest picking them both up as they add different signpost that help students understand the text and think deeper about the authors choices, what characters are doing and develop a better understanding of things like theme, conflict and, in the case of nonfiction, help students identify bias among other things.

Before I get into ways I use notice and note among other things in my class I did want to touch on what I think Notice and Note is not. It is not an easy one size fits all system. For me it is a journey to better understand, to figure out how my student’s thoughts and understandings work with the text. Notice and Note is an adventure without a defined map. The signposts that are discussed in the book can be clear but can also be hidden among the beautiful words of a page. There is no one answer and so Notice and Note is not an assessment tool, it is not a quiz or a scavenger hunt. Notice and Note is a tool in the tool kit and it most certainly was never intended to be a list of signposts and a teacher looking for the “right answers”. Some of my favourite Notice and Note moments are the audible gasps students let escape as they notice something and want to share. I love Notice and Note and I love combining the ideas within and other things to increase the engagement in my Language Arts classroom.

This week my school had a grand opening to celebrate the end of our renovations. I was looking at ways to celebrate the things we are doing in my room and took out different assignments we have done in my 7B class. At the time I had students from another class in the room who I have just taken back after having a student teacher for the early part of the year. One student asked me when they get to do fun stuff like that (mindmaps and one-pagers) I was surprised with their desire to do the assignment and they started talking about how cool it looked and how much better it had to be than worksheets collecting signposts.

I put the different Notice and Note related assignments up.

Notice and Note Nonfiction with an article about child labour

Students looked at the Big 3 Questions of Notice and Note nonfiction with this article. They talked about What Surprised them?, What Confused them?, and What Challenged, Changed or Confirmed their thinking?  Following the read and annotations, we got together and in small groups and “TQE’d” (Marisa, like how I made it a verb? lol) and then discussed as a whole class. The discussion was rich and their grade 7 minds were in overdrive looking into each others thinking. This was the first step in our work to look at issues in the world and a great start because of the tools Notice and Note provides. I wasn’t looking for an answer, for specific things the kids found. I was just looking for thinking and they did not disappoint.

One-Pagers that include student discovered signposts

Reading Avi’s short story “What does a fish have to do with anything?” each year is a favourite activity for me. I love the story and the message. We use it as a way for the student to practice self-identifying signposts. This year I put a spin on it and the kids added skills like visualizing, summarizing, identifying theme and conflict. All related to the purpose of Notice and note and it turned out great. The kids had fun, their levels of ability were present but they all could participate and joyfully did.

Another great way to incorporate signposts has been utilizing a mind map. I can do it with books for sure but I love using movies as students have a chance to watch the film with an eye for signposts. One parent has complained that it makes it hard watching movies with kids now because they are trying to solve the mystery before the end of the movie and they spoil it because they are so aware of these decisions the filmmaker has made. Students simply identify signposts and web them out in a way that works for them.

Last year after Wonder

Notice and Note is my favourite discovery in teaching. It empowers my students to look at and more importantly understand the text in front of them. I will be forever grateful for the first PD session I attended with Bob and Kylene and the constant support and inspiration they are. I end this little love letter to Notice and Note with a plea. Give your students the opportunity to discover the world of literacy with tools that will help them, free of assessment and lists. Let them read, let them notice, let them think and let them discuss. The difference it will make with your readers will be reward enough.

I started off the day in a woe is my kind of place. I allowed self doubt and anxiety to creep in and interfere with what I want to accomplish. I allowed it to convince me that all the big ideas I am working on are not going to happen, that despite the thinking behind them and the kids already being excited about them I convinced myself before 6:30am that there was no way I could do it, that the plan would fail.

Shift to 8:30 as I am getting ready to drive to a meeting and I put in Atomic Habits on the playlist, a book club book that I am a part of. I love to have audiobooks playing at the gym and in the car when possible, as I type I have it streaming in the classroom as well. As the author James Clear began to narrate the story I was already hooked. I am not far in to the book but the general point seems to be that small changes in how we do things in a positive direction add up to bigger changes. These atomic (small) habits that we develop work together to build a better system to deal with the hurdles in front of us. These habits also help us to develop an identity. Through these small shift and changes we not just change how we behave but who we can be.

I started to look at the little stressors that are making me feel I can’t achieve the things I want. The big road blocks that cause the most anxiety and I broke them down into manageable simple tasks. I am going to need my students to be critical thinkers, creative writers, critical readers and empathetic. Looking at all of these as one makes the goal seem so unlikely. They are not there today but if I break it down, improve things even a fraction of an amount each day they will be. If we focus on being 1% better a day we are 7% better a week. Small changes lead to big it just takes time. I have time.

In the book Mr. Clear talks about the concept that we get what we repeat. If I focus on the fear that I can’t achieve this idea, that I can’t help my students realize their potential, realize they have a voice and it is worthy of being not only heard but amplified then it won’t happen. But if I start today, make positives steps towards change we will get there.

I can’t stop the thoughts of self doubt permanently today because they have secured a pretty strong grip on my identity over the years but I can start prying those thoughts off today. I can start focusing on finding a solution and working towards it.

Each week I try to attend Aaron Hogan’s #teachermyth chat. It is uplifting and fun to meet weekly with my twitter friends. Currently the topic is around reflection and this week he has challenged us to talk about something we learned this week and write about it and share so here goes.

Basketball Observations

I am on the coaching staff of our high school basketball team. I mostly fun little errands and sit and visit with the kids while on the bench and make sure they are doing ok. I don’t know much about basketball and last week a player even said, “I won’t disagree you don’t know anything about it but at least you don’t act like you do.” LOL I seriously just laughed. Great moment of honesty and something we could laugh about. But now let’s get to the learning.

So currently I think we are 0-7 this season. Last season our team was built on a very strong group of grade 12 students who went on to win the Zone championship two years in a row. This year we are young, we have had different set backs but the boys keep playing the boys keep smiling…most of the time.

I saw a tweet the other day that said

As a coach this comment from @Saints head coach Sean Payton rings so very true, “Where you have a problem is when you feel like your expectations for a player exceed his own.” This is the dbl challenge, 1st see the potential in others 2nd help them see it.

My Dad a very seasoned coach tweeted this out and it struck me in what he added that the challenge is to see the potential and then help them see it. If I could wave a magic wand and let this young team know the potential I see in them and have them believe it I would. While I am sure they appreciate my words they also know I know very little about basketball so my assurances that they are great and that we are getting better every week might be falling on deaf ears.

But this is what I have learned.

I need to keep letting them know that I see their potential until they see it in themselves. We don’t give up on helping our students or in this case our players see their potential. I am honoured to get to sit with the Magrath Zeniths every week because they are hard workers that despite adversity are keeping their heads up. Like a forging fire we will come out stronger and if these great kids realize their potential while we are at it then the struggle is more than worth it.

Oh I also learned a couple plays…kind of. That is a pretty impressive feat.

This morning I got up and like many saw the video clip of the teenagers circling a first nations elder in the United States as he demonstrated with a drum near the Lincoln Memorial. The boys are seen mocking him, smirking while invading his space trying to intimidate. This man, a veteran of the Vietnam war, was not intimidated by these boys as they chanted build the wall (this speaks to their idiocy) he just continues to demonstrate unmoved. Do you know what else seemed unmoved? The adults in the background, perhaps teachers, perhaps chaperones, they just stood there…doing nothing.

Kylene Beers posted a response and brought up the point of the importance of books. Books with diverse characters, books that build empathy, books that challenge how we think and change us for the better. I have been challenging myself to read more books outside my genre of choice fantasy. I listened to The Poet X, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, All American Boys, Anger is a Gift over the last few weeks and just finished Harbor Me and read Ghost Boys. All stories that provide me a different view. A view of characters unlike me that deal with issues I never have had to face but they changed me. They helped me to see how much is at risk if we do not help our students develop a sense of awareness that they need to care for others. That we all are responsible to Harbor those in need, to have compassion, empathy and provide shelter from the ideas and people that send a message that the “other” is not worthy of basic human decency.

Last week I did a BHH exercise with Mama by Jaqueline Woodson. I had students share their thoughts after reading and many made connection and empathized with the character over his loss but a few made comments of maybe his mom was a drug dealer, maybe he is from the hood. It gave me the opportunity to ask where these ideas come from and they shrugged. Maybe it is the media, popular music, I don’t know. What I do know however is their experience has not been informed with anything but stereotypes, and until now it hasn’t been questioned.

I am building an inquiry project over the next few months and truthfully if it goes well I plan to create a course. We will be looking at the injustice of the world, through issues that effect all of use but my hope is that we open some windows, let in the light and increase our understanding. Form plans on how we help others see that there is more that brings us together than separates us. We start small, articles, short stories and picture books but we are going big. I am excited about the idea and after today and seeing the look on those teenagers faces I know that I need to do more to insure that no students leave my room thinking that differences are permission for disrespect, that celebrating diversity will create a better future for an ever changing world.

It is our job as teachers to help our students navigate the trials that are put before them. We can’t stand in the background hoping that things will just work out. We most certainly can’t stand by while they huddle around a Veteran and harass them.

After the comments that came from reading Mama I started slowly and put different picture books in my students hands. Some more diverse than others. They read them and in groups discussed their thinking. Monday the work continues as we look at how seeing ourselves matters and why seeing others does as well. I am uncertain if this is the best route to go but it is a start.

I am certain I can’t just stand in the background and hope for the best.

Yesterday I was asked how I keep speaking out and standing up for the practices that I feel so strongly about. How I continue to work for what I think is right while there are other voices yelling we as a profession need to step backwards. How I speak against the quick fixes and programs that I know are not going to serve my students in the long run and really how I deal with those who do not support me.

The answer is simple.

It is just too important not to.

The world is changing faster than education can keep up with it and yet we are still, in some groups, pushing the ways of worksheets and computer programs that promise big results but only deliver dissatisfied kids who start to resent school or at the very least don’t see the value or point in doing the work.

When I am asked why I keep doing what I do I think about this awesome Notice and Note connection to a piece on child labour.

The student, as we discussed a question a peer brought up about how a small, skinny child could be perfect for any type of job that required such hard work, responded with his comparison to guardians of the galaxy. This type of thinking is fantastic, fun and engaging. It is current to what the students are talking about and the conversation brought about more ideas and thoughts from the class. I am not getting this from worksheets, there is not going to be a choice d on a stupid AR test that has to do with being good for thieving. How is this not valued over the easy? How is this conversation and conversations like it not the ideal we are in search of over compliance to responding a certain way?

My second reminder of why I do what I do came as my students asked to listen to music and I joked I would turn on my podcast. I laughed when they said we should listen to it and told them no kid needs to hear episode after episode of their teacher ranting about AR. One student asked why I dislike AR so much and a very quiet student shouted out, “Because it is stupid!” I was at first surprised, then I told her to write it down.

If this is not enough… What is?

I received a wonderful thank you from a parent the other day for just helping their child see they were a person not a level. This is why the work is so important. This is why I keep working to find ways to engage my students in work that is worthy of them.

We need to keep speaking up for our students, working to improve our practice and their experience because the alternative is they are not prepared for what is to come.