We don’t talk about it

This week in Grade 9, we started to dig into #ProjectSpeak. An inquiry-based learning opportunity where students identify a topic they want to discuss and share with others based on their feeling that it is important. I have two grade 9 classes, and for the sake of exploration, I have one with an essential guiding question, “How can we make school better?” and the other is more Free Inquiry identifying their own topics entirely. As expected, many of the school-related topics include

  • No homework (they don’t get much)
  • Personalized learning based on interests
  • Starting the day later
  • No Friday School
  • Make options optional
  • Honoring neurodivergence in the classroom
  • Class assignments based on skill

There are a few more ideas, but this gives a picture of how the structured inquiry with the essential question helped to develop ideas.

For my Free Inquiry class, the topics had some of the expected issues like

  • Pollution
  • Bullying
  • Poverty

What I was not expecting was the interest in discussing teen mental health. About half of this class of high achievers asked if they could share with adults the importance of recognizing and understanding student mental health. Some of their specific topics include

  • What impacts mental health
  • Social media and its negative impact on mental health
  • Test Anxiety
  • Depression
  • The pressure on student-athletes
  • Overscheduling of kids and the anxiety that results
  • Red-Flag Friendships
  • Addiction

In a room of 33 at least two-thirds shared their concerns about their own mental health or that of their peers. One student proposed the topic of mental health in boys, and we had a great chat about how important that is to share and how toxic masculinity makes boys and men shy away from sharing their struggles. Today he decided that he was uncomfortable sharing that topic and shifted to something a little less vulnerable—I get it.

I love #ProjectSpeak. I love the opportunity it provides students to explore what they care about. We explore ways to present our message and draw attention to the topic. Research-Write-Create-Present, these are the steps to the project. As we move through researching and finding answers, more questions will guide us further. Learning is inevitable, and you can feel it in the room.

I am grateful for my students and their willingness to explore and learn with me. This year—ok, the last three—has been hard. This morning I started wondering if it would be my last year teaching. I don’t know what I would do but know that I have never felt so tired. So unsure of myself and my ability to meet my students’ needs. As the class bravely shared their concerns for mental health, they inspired me to talk to one of my admin team about my struggles. I didn’t let all my concerns out, but I did share some, and the weight is less. I could breathe a bit more today and hopefully more tomorrow. Trying to find the source of my uncertainty is not an easy journey. I am unsure where it will take me, but I am on that journey.

I have been told posts like these maybe should not be shared. That folk will judge me as weak or a complainer. I guess that might be true, but as the kids say, “Mr.Gilson, it is important we need to share it.”

Lights in the Dark

We are unsure where we are going
feeling around in the dark looking for something familiar
A marker
A sign
An indication we are on the right path.

It is so dark.

Then just off in the distance a little
The path, while not clear, becomes visible.
Hope tells us to just keep swimming
Wait that was Dory.

We walk the path the light provides.
We might not end up where we wanted but we have a path.
And that is

I need to write more. 
Move with the light.

If you want ot check out a website I amde for #ProjectSpeak for a University course here is a link. 


Where did the month go?

I realized that it was October today; I already knew it was October but the realization that it is already October hit me hard. The month of September is always such an adjustment for the kids and me. Routines need to be established, we spend time figuring everyone out, and we learn to adjust our expectations for each other.

Last year I really was worried about the upcoming group. A mix of not having taught any of them before, the reputation that their grade had, and some of my own professional hopes and dreams had me considering a big change. A month in I am really glad to have the experience of this group. They are a challenge at times but they are also a joy. I get to remind myself what starting over can look like and we are building skills and community together.

We have been writing and exploring our thinking and today we started exploring novels in whole class and book club settings. I love book clubs because of the opportunity to take steps towards independence, but with a safety net of friends to discuss thinking with. Whole class novels are a great tool for teaching when scaffolding is needed. So, we are doing a whole class novel with The Barren Grounds in one class and exploring a large variety of novels with book clubs in another class. I am really excited to shift our focus more to the world of reading for a little while.

This year has already felt like it is in fast-forward. We are learning together. Building something.

Here is to another month.

The final hours

Summer is coming to an end. It has been a restful and weird summer. Starting with Covid we set a tone for just reading, tanning, and swimming. I have loved my time in the yard and the low-stress summer that has afforded me time to recharge for the coming school year.

Now we sit 40 or so hours away from another school year beginning. I am not certain how I feel. I have ideas for what I hope to do with the students. I have things I plan to change and a few things I plan to keep. This will be the first time in many years that I have totally brand new students. That has me a bit more anxious than I expected.

Over the last few years, I moved with classes. Some kids I have taught every year for the last 3 or 4. This year as the Grade 9 students come into my classroom it will be the first time I have taught any of them. I am excited about new AND not certain I have the energy to rebuild everything. The “routines and expectations” talks have been light over the last few years. Kids knew. That will not be the case this year.

I am not certain how much longer I will be teaching when I look at the big picture. Changes in educational systems are making me lose the love for teaching I once had. The breakdown in expectations that still are being blamed on Covid and the loss of in-school learning that creates more management issues than teaching opportunities is not something that inspires me to keep working. The students have always been the reason I love my job. The joy of reading work they are proud of, the excitement as they talk about new books.

I want to say I am hopeful that we will be able to get back to the good stuff but I am not sure. Things have changed and I guess the question I keep asking myself is, Do we accept a new normal where we lower expectations? or Do we ask students to rise to the occasion? Challenge them and support them along the way? I lean toward the latter.

So with fingers crossed and a deep breath we head back to the classroom.

Hoping for a great year and for it not to be my last.

5 Years

About 5 years ago I was packing up my Elementry classroom in preparation for my move to junior high. I was told that I would be teaching a “hard” group of grade 8 students. They had a reputation which often happens. I was warned. I am not a huge fan of those warnings. I think it clouds our judgment. We brace for the impact before even knowing it is coming. When I met the 8th-grade class they told me their past teachers hated them (not true but it was their perception).

As the year began I got to know all these unique little (at the time) humans. We read together, wrote together, laughed together. I was pulled aside that year by one of the Vice Principals of the school, certain I was in trouble for something. He let me know about a survey that the kids had to do and that so many of that rowdy “trouble” grade 8 class listed me as a person that they knew cared about them. I was not shocked they thought that because I did, I do. I was more shocked they wrote it down in a survey.

I didn’t get to teach any of those kids again for a few years. I still got to talk with them in the halls and visit in passing, but the classroom that we had built together was no longer.

This year I had the honor of moving up to teach 12th grade. My little 8th-grade students are all grown up. Preparing for life outside of school. We wrote a lot. They talk about their goals, their dreams, and their ideas. I find it is an honor to read the work they willingly share with me. There is a vulnerability in student writing. Like we get this little glimpse that they share of themselves that sometimes is not given voice. The worries, concerns, and uncertainty that the big unknown offers.

When I started teaching these kids I met artists, computer programmers, musicians, actors, singers, and athletes. They jumped right in with the hippie teaching ideas I hold so dearly and their work still sits in my cupboard in the classroom or scanned on hard drives.

I will miss them. They likely won’t see this, but I decided that as the year comes to a close and they get ready to graduate and take the next big leap I wanted to write them a little letter. So here it goes.

Dear Grade 12 Students (Formerly the Grade 8s),

I want to start by saying how proud I am of all of you. Your unique genius has been a gift to watch develop over the years. From the large-scale projects to the book talks to the notebooks and the writing I am grateful for the moments we got to learn with each other.

I have no doubt that you are going to go out into the big world and make a mark. You all have already done that for me.

Remember when things get hard, because they will, that you can do hard things. That you worked through a pandemic and got through a high school experience that was unlike any other. Remember that people have doubted you before and been wrong. They will be wrong again. Remember that there is so much more life out there for you to experience and breath it all in.

It has been such an honor and joy to learn from you these past 5 years. I can’t wait to hear how the next 5 go.

Congratulations on graduating. You deserve all the great things. Enjoy the next steps. Time goes fast. Trust me. It was just yesterday that we were going through a time capsule backpack or watching reenactments of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, making our own genre films, recording songs in response to stories… At least it felt like yesterday.



Sometimes I feel like I am in the ocean,
Just floating

Slowly but surely the water moves a bit more 
A slight shift at first
Nothing to worry about

Then a splash 
Creeping over my face 
Gasp for air

Another comes and another 
The Struggle comes 
So does the storm 

searching for reprieve 

Today the storm eventually calms 
The waves retreat 
I can breathe


Back to the Poetry

The break is something always needed 
A moment to breathe 
To collect myself 
Tune Out 

There used to be an excitement in heading back to work 
I guess there still it but it is 

The difference between a yell and a whisper 
There is still a joy but it is more subtle 
It is in the lines read 
The thoughts shared
The moments

Teaching is a journey
Sometimes we lose our way 
Sometimes we find it.

Day Nine- 30 Poems 30 Days

Choosing Joy

Sometimes I sit in the morning just staring at the mirror
How will the day go
So many possibilites 
The Multiverse of any given day 
Sometimes the person looking back is not one I am happy with 

There is that moment though 
Deep Breath 
Lift the weights 
Get to work 

Muscle gets stronger by breaking down and rebuilding 
Sometimes we gotta rebuild
Choosing joy can be hard

Deep Breath

Day 8-30 Poems in 30 Days

I was supposed to write yesterday but it was busy and after getting home from the hospital I just decided to lay down haha so today is a 2 for 1.

I ask my students to dream
To ponder what would be the best case scenario 
So many dreams are so simple
Success in future endevours 

The unique paths they all want to take


They all seem so hopeful 
So driven

I wonder when the dream starts to dim?
I hope not too soon. 

There is a unique silence in a hospital room
The beeps and alarms just blend into the 

Alone in our thoughts 
The clock just stops ticking
The world is on pause 
Their breathing becomes the only thing you notice
So peaceful. 

Day Six- 30 days 30 poems


I saw a news story once
The headline read,
“Giant Goldfish found in lake”
Fish grow to fit their environment
Every year we re-pot some of our plants
They just stop thriving
Roots fighting over space and nutrients

Sometimes I think students face pots too small.

Early wake up calls
Rules they must follow
Do it the right way
No choice
Ignored voice

I think there is a better way

We reach our potential when given the space to do so.