You deserve it

Well it has been a while since I blogged. This summer has been a healing journey so far that is much needed. I have been able to get the pool set up, tan, read, kayak and spend time with family and friends and we are only in the 4th work so that is a lovely thing. I have also had some time to spend working on school and I am beginning my Masters next week. Lots on the go.

These last few years have been really hard on me professionally. While I have learned and grown individually and formed amazing relationships with educators from around the world I did not feel that these successes have translated to my school life. I think often teachers invest so much of themselves into their work and this last year I realized that I was not putting enough into myself to balance that scale. So going into this next school year the plan is to balance. Focus on my students and classroom AND myself. The extras can be picked up by someone else. I am excited to try new things, learn and build my practice AND put time into me. I think this summer is teaching me the importance of this shift.

In the classroom I am excited to move to more High School classes. I dipped my toes in this year and the kids created some amazing writing and reflections and I am hoping that as I move up to more senior students that the work, the writing and the discussions will be incredible. The coolest part is that these will be the first students I had the chance to teach when I came to my school and I am so excited to see what they can do. We will be going gradeless and that will be new to them, we will be working in Project Based Writing and Multigenre/Multimodal work. While students need to prepare for an awful government exam I am certain that we can do this through creative, purposeful writing exploration rather than robotic practice. Wish us luck.

The Workspace

On a personal level I have really enjoyed the reading and tanning and kayaking and working out. I am excited for things that I am allowing myself to imagine again. I will be presenting at a conference in a few weeks, I am starting a Masters program. I am looking into securing a trademark for a project I want to begin.

I am guilty of allowing others to determine my value and feeling like I need to have smaller dreams because people resent those who dream bigger. I am grateful for the examples of educators I have met that are chasing dreams and helping me see that I am worthy to go after mine.

A quick update and I hope to be a bit more frequent here as I step up my game.

Teacher friends the last few years have been tough just with Covid, add on our own stresses and struggles and this has been a lot. Take the time to care for yourself. There is not shame in choosing you. Your students will benefit and so will you. To those reading going back to school soon, good luck with the year. To the rest try to maximizing the time off you have remaining. Good luck.

Lessons Learned in a Pandemic

I have struggled to put words to the thoughts and feelings over the last year. Professionally it has been a collection of highs and lows, personally it has also been quite the journey. As the school year winds down I have been grateful to see a bit of light at the end of not just the Covid tunnel but also the rollercoaster that has been my thinking. Things have been difficult but I feel like I am walking out of this year with some clarity. So without further ado, a few things I have learned in a pandemic.

1. Kids are resilient, they don’t need motivational videos to tell them how to be. Adults shouldn’t either.

I have been so impressed with the work my students have completed this year. With the uncertainty that covid brought we explored different ways to respond in English class. We looked at the typical ways but also branched out into multi-modal work and explored multiple genres attached to a common theme. My students readily accepted every invitation that I extended to join me in a learning adventure. While of course some things turned out better than others the fun was in the process. Today one of my kids who was away for 6 weeks because of Covid combined with a government school shift to online said, “I was so excited about my project but it has been such a long time I am kind of over it.” I think we are all over it but they keep trying. Our students don’t need to be reminded of the struggles this year has brought. They are living it. They have shown a strength I don’t think many adults always display. Maneuvering the curveballs with a hope things will get better. I am so grateful for my kids this year. They have anchored my sanity and brought so much joy and wonder.

2. Numbers are just limits

One adventure my students joined me on this year was attempting a basically gradeless classroom. Students selected goals to work towards, I provided feedback and we met to discuss how things were going. For some kids this was more of a leap than they were comfortable with at first. For others they thrived. Knowing that grades were not looming over them students took greater risks. They explored genres and different projects that previously they would have avoided for the comfort of a “good grade”. As we wrap up the year students are writing me to discuss their grade in either a letter format or essay. The reflections are so much more meaningful than just a grade. Don’t get me wrong they are happy to have a “good grade” still but it hasn’t been the focus. Students reflected on growth, favourite work and also what they thought was their best work. They talked about the books. They also talked about their dreams for next year and goals they could work on more. So much more information than 85% on a report card. By removing the grades we removed the limits and allowed students to dream, and they did.

3. Raising the Bar and Kids will reach for it, lower it and well…

My students did cool things this year, down the hall they did cool things in that class too. Across the world teachers were providing amazing learning opportunities and kids were rising to the challenge. I have found over the years that kids will rise to a challenge if we have their back. This year was my first year working with High School. I might have tried to do too much, especially during a pandemic, however the kids tried. Not all the results were hit out of the park but students created beautiful work when given the opportunity. One student explored poetry another podcasting. One wrote and recorded original music and I gotta say a few of them were as the kids say “bops”. The best part though was that they have proved doubters wrong all year. My little group that I affectionately call the Patchwork (we are a combination of grades in one class) they trusted me enough to try and I trusted them to create and they did. I am ridiculously proud of the effort they put in.

4. I can no longer allow people to drink from my cup and only certain people can have what spills.

This is more of a personal lesson than classroom related. This year was incredibly hard for me both professionally and personally. I have gone through several bouts of depression, my anxiety has been out of control and imposter syndrome while on the ropes is not yet knocked out. I also decided it was a great idea to go for a handful of new jobs. Let me tell you something, it is not good for any of the above mentioned mental health struggles to not get jobs you feel you are right for. Moving past that has been difficult. I had rested so many of my dreams on those opportunities, so much of my value. A month or so back my friend Dr. Towanda Harris posted her podcast about self care. One comment was that beyond the empty cup analogy was that people needed to stop sharing from their cup. As Dr. Harris and their guest talked she explained that people can’t have what is in your cup, they can have what spills out onto the saucer. I looked at how much of myself I was giving away and how little I was getting back. I was giving away far more than the saucer. Heck I was giving the cup away. It was in that moment I realized I need to focus more on me. I need to worry less about others because I am not doing well. Those dreams I have are still there, taking a different path to get to them but they are there. I don’t even know what that path is. I am starting a Masters and figuring out where I fit. Filling my cup and being careful not to spill.

5. Determine your worth and hold on to it.

This is probably the hardest lesson I have had to learn this year. I started to feel very devalued over the last few years. I don’t say that to elicit sympathy, it is what it is. I allowed my value to be determined by others and in doing so lost value in myself. Tricky how that works. Realizing this was both hurtful and helpful but it has allowed me to refocus on what matters. I am diving into my own professional learning, building myself back up again. I know my worth and will do better to protect that going forward.

Conclusion

This has been a hard year. I appreciate all the “Brent are you ok?” messages. I am not but I have learned how to maneuver this challenge over the years. Mental health and especially mental health in men is not a topic many people talk about. I have always felt like my struggles have made me more empathetic. These year stretched me, it was uncomfortable but like my friend weightlifting we rebuild stronger. Men should not be afraid to share when they are struggling. I have been… or am but I know it will get better. Heck we have almost made it through a Pandemic, I have grown as a teacher and my students kicked but. My value can’t be determined by others. Dreams might only happen in the classroom or even my office but they will happen.

Eventually.

Learning Lost?

There is this myth of learning loss
That this year was unsuccessful
Too many distractions 
Too much stress 
Kids couldn't possibly be successful 

Through all of this noise
They found their way
Bravely navigating the unknown 
Exploring new Challenges 
Daring to Dream 

Learning has not been lost

This year has been something

  • Covid
  • New teaching assignments
  • Changes in assignments part way through
  • More changes
  • Making it up as we go along
  • Staff changes
  • Lost opportunities
  • Loss after loss after loss

I try to focus on work, on my students but my goodness the noise. It is all a lot.

The good thing though is I really do love to dream of possibilities and anchor it in the excellence of my students. The good thing is that I have so many amazing mentors that I can learn from. So despite the noise the work continues. Somedays are hits and others are misses. One thing that remains we are learning.

It seems some folks are obsessed with “learning loss”, a made up term so that companies can take advantage of teachers already feeling inadequate. See, the world as we know it changed with Covid but some folks are so unwilling to reimagine education that they will create false terms to sell more test prep booklets.

Teachers for the last year have been judging themselves and their students with the metrics of the past when we need to be looking at the possibilities of the future. Reimagining education is not just a game of wishful thinking. It takes work and time. Results will not be immediate. Another piece of my life is spent lifting heavy things, I have always struggled with the eating portion of living a healthy lifestyle. Candy is a comfort food, I often will go on these fad diets to try and lose weight but when I don’t reverse years of damage in days or weeks I give up. This is how I am looking at education right now. Change takes time. Changing systems that have been in place for a hundred years can’t be change in one. But we sure as heck can start to work on it. “Learning Loss” is an attempt to interrupt progress and shift our focus off students and back to systems. Resist the urge. Push forward and honour your students excellence.

We have seven weeks of school left in the year that I thought would never end. We have tried new things we have had successes and for sure some fails but learning is happening.

Next Week we are starting Project Speak, my favourite creation of the last few years. Students will be exploring topics that they are passionate about, researching, writing and sharing. Student written and performed Ted Talks will be the culmination of our work. Every year I have dreamed about a HUGE gala to share the students work. The first year my own self doubts got in the way. Year 2 and 3 (likely) Covid cancelled or opportunity to perform but not share our brilliance. I am excited for this just like I was the first year. Nervous still but so excited.

Then comes the Patchwork, my favourite little learning experience. 4 different course levels in one class. Trying to hold ourselves together with tape. We are going to have a uniquely patchwork year end assessment. A multi-genre exploration of text and writing. We are still in the planning stages right now but it will be sorted out by Monday. It will be focused around a choice text with choice response options. Piecing together the different things we have explored as we learn together in a unique environement.

This year has been heavy on the challenges. Every day some new wrench is thrown into the works. We have lost a lot, but learning is not on the list.

Student Excellence
Despite the hurdles
Always there
Just
Look
Harder

The chains that bind us

A student told me the story of training baby elephants the other day
The chain attached early
Just strong enough to hold them
Just strong enough they start to doubt their own
Potential

As the elephant grows up the chains stay the same
The elephant stops trying to break free
Stops testing the system because it learns it is 
stuck

I can't help but think about the parallels in learning 
The limits we place on students early
You can't read those books
You just don't have a math mind
That is not an exciting idea
This doesn't look like it took much time
Kids have heard it all
Heck I have heard it all

These chains attached early
limiting the movement later

The "you can't" becomes
"I can't"

I am not sure how we break the chains
The elephants are set free
but what does freedom look like in
school?

Lately I am flooded by social media memories from when Covid first disrupted our lives. It brings me back to all that talk that we needed to “change the system”. We had new voices in equity movements suddenly championing the cause ( many of the newly concerned abandoned this goal when their immediate needs were met) and we had those who had been and still are carrying on the work of change saying the system itself needed to be redesigned and/or abolished because the current system was built to promote inequity.

Those early days I poured myself into looking at how I, in my little isolated town, could chip away at a system that I know causes so much harm. Assessment practices, testing culture, pedagogy that is nestled in the traits of white supremacy it is all so present and looking wide it was so overwhelming. But just like these dang meals that I am eating right now on a training plan (WAY TOO MUCH FOOD) I can address these challenges a bite at a time.

I started with assessment. Asking how I could honour my students more by letting them focus more on growth and less on grades. It has been a process and there have been a lot of tweaks but generally the kids are happier, the results are better and that little chain link has weakened just a bit. I have tried to look more at my teaching, how I can be more impactful and effective. Talking less, working more. Covid has put some barricades in the way with trying to keep distanced but we are making it work. Students are getting more feedback and we are finding out their strengths and incorporating those more.

I think largely the greatest freedom granting move I have made is giving kids time to explore ideas. Explore who they are as readers, writers and well… people. There is a degree of growth going on that I really was not prepared for. I had dreamed about it but so often dreams don’t come true.

I have this one big idea. I have this interesting group of kids that make up multiple grades and tiers of instruction. We call our class the Patchwork. To end the year I wanted to build kind of multi-genre, multi-modal experience. When I talked about people said, “Don’t you think you are putting the bar too high? Are you sure those kids can do it?” The funny thing was that moment felt like a chain was put on the Patchworks, on all of us.

In a PD once Kylene Beers mentioned the term “soft bigotry of low expectations” I hadn’t heard it before. Thinking back to it now these are the chains that limit our movement. The freedom we can give to our kids is believing they will work to reach the bars we raise high for them. As long as we are not chaining them down that is.

Finding Inspiration

I have talked about my dreams so much that I feel lately like they will only ever be dreams. It is funny how I can go from this high of seeing plans come together, students laughing while they plan stories, complimenting each other over the powerful lines in the poetry they are crafting, to this low in the matter a few minutes. I imagine a lot of it is how the changes we have had to insist on because of Covid have changed how I teach. I am certain some of those high and lows come from the disparity between how I thought I was seen to how it seems I am. This week though, I would say the win column is marked more than the losses. Four Days in a row of good lessons, engaged students, cool moments, laughter and learning.

When I think about what fuels my dreams without question I know it is my students. Because I see them. I see them learning. I see them growing. Some I have taught every year for the last 4 years. Some I taught in 8th and now 3 years later they are these creative almost adults that are playing with words, devouring books and seeking me out in hallways because they think they have finished their poem. This is the reason I dream of better schools that serve all students. This is why I dream about helping kids find their potential because it is infinite if they believe it or not.

Lately we have been working on poetry I ask them every day to take time to write, to think, to share. We have been finding writing partners to bounce ideas off of. We are having so much fun. One day they will be on a stage, when Covid finally leaves enough for us to breathe without masks and share our voices to a full theatre. They will share their gifts because they inspire me.

Time Machine

Mr.Gilson can you help me build a time machine?
The question comes from the student still learning his words
At first I laughed
 explained that we might have to work on a smaller task
Then he said it
I want to see my Dad
If we build a time machine maybe I can see my Dad
A simple 
Powerful
Truth
What would you do with a time machine?
I would visit with my Grandpa more
He was the best story teller 
I would have worked harder in school
wasted less time
Some things we can't get back 
but what if we live today knowing there are no time machines?
What will you do?
Who will you see?
What happens when we live knowing there is no rewind?

When I think about the opportunities that I have let pass me by I certainly regret some of them but that reflection is helping me to take advantage of now. I appreciate how these little life lessons are coming from the excellence of the students I have the privilege to teach.

Happy Friday. Find a safe space and take a deep breath. Recharge.

Teaching is an Art

I spent today doing some planning, looking at the next few months, where we need to get, the work I hope to do with the kids and taking in their feedback and what they would like to do and came up with some ideas. I have loved that, in Alberta, we have had a curriculum that leaves us a lot of room to be responsive to our students needs. While it is super old and needing an update we can still do so many cool things. That is looking like it is in jeopardy as we are set to take steps back to the stone age of education. So while I can explore language and how we represent ideas I decided I wanted to explore some new things.

Spoken Word Poetry Competition

While i have students in 11th grade exploring topics that interest them I have had students writing and performing songs, podcasts and creating picture books. I have others researching and creating reports around types of truck engines, blogging about successful people and finally one student creating a poetry anthology. When that student was asked why she wanted to do this project she responded, “Teachers haven’t let me write poetry since you taught me in grade 8”. Now I am certain that is only sort of true but she continued, “It is just essay after essay so we are ready for the next test.” Yup… that checks out. So I asked a few other classes and they reported similar things. In a separate moment I was coming off the L of two separate interviews and feeling pretty worthless (that feeling has not left but that is for another blog post) when I sat down to read a students poem, see this student has a hard time with reading and writing but he has discovered poetry books and is reading them all. He asked if he could do his written responses as poetry because he he just “gets it”. As I read his draft I got to a moment where he wrote about how he could finally see himself as a writer and I cried. The power in that moment and that I got to be a part of it was just overwhelming with all the other things going on. SO in that moment I started asking who would be interested in a spoken word poetry competition a smash of some form. Hands in all classes shot up, kids in other classes heard about it and started asking if they could join or if I would read their work. It is a work in progress but it is coming.

Exploring Multimodal Projects

I am a new learner in this area but I have students wanting to explore their creative side more and more so we are jumping in. Multimodal work looks at the different “modes” in which we can employ to represent our thinking. Modes include Linguistic, Visual, Aural, Spacial and I think Gestural (still learning) not all modes are represented in every project but what I love is that it gives students a chance to explore, outside of the traditional box. I was on the instagram the other day and came across this fun idea

It looked like such a fun opportunity to explore multimodal work and gave me a fun idea. So this week we are going to explore multimodal work

Then we are going to use these tools to design our own magazine covers explaining our choices to our peers as part of the assignment. I just finished The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson and I made my own Magazine Cover as an example

With the looming shadow of regressive change on the horizon I want to make sure I take the time while I can to honour my students with work worthy of their brilliance. There is more to come. Fiction writing, making mini movies around genre, Project Speak 3 and a multigenre exploration in writing and representation to round out the year.

Teaching is an art just as much as the beautiful work our students create is. We owe them so much more than a curriculum that takes steps back. We owe them so much more than a curriculum that expects 8 year olds to discuss the silk road before they even understand their own country and communities. Our students, our kids are all excellent in their own ways and should be honoured with the work we do.

I hope I do that for my students.

Knowing Ok is enough

Write about what you know about
This is the advice we get from Sarah Kay
I use to think I knew about a lot
Now
I am not so sure

I thought I knew what I wanted
I thought I knew what I would be doing 
I thought I knew the plan

I
Was
Wrong

I do know a few things though
I know I am a Teacher
at least for now
I know that inside the walls of Room 157 Magic Happens
I know that I get to work with the most amazing writers and thinkers
I know that should be enough 

Most of the time it is

But what about those dreams?

Playing around with poems is fun. It has also been a really helpful exercise in reflection. Easter break is coming to a close and we head back to work Monday. I have had a relaxing week where I have focused on success more than failure. The other day we were with our financial planner and I was pumped because my investments made more than Julie’s this year. Our advisor said, “Brent needs this win” maybe she knew the events of the last weeks maybe she didn’t but Julie and I laughed about it later because I do need some wins. I also need to keep my eyes open for the good stuff because there is a lot.

This week I spent time relaxing and marking and playing around with a few ideas. We started looking at poetry, primarily spoken work just before the break. I had a few students really express excitement and passion for this work and so I decided that we would play with it a bit longer and culminate with a little poetry competition. Opening it up to the school and here we go. After that we are looking at multimodal work, developing culminating projects and just trying out new things.

I forget sometimes what I love so much about teaching.

The break has given me a chance to breathe. I still don’t know what is next for me. But I do know for right now I am ok.

Ok is enough.

Broken

Around two years ago I 
broke
Once confident and whole
A shattered reflection was all I saw
You are great but
You are impressive but
Your are so valued but
Never enough

The compliments come but
I don't hear them
I don't feel them
thanks but

I spent this year gluing things back together 
Celebrating Excellence 
Distractions from my doubt
We glued the mirror back together 
Piece 
by 
Piece 
They showed me maybe
 I was 
alright.
I took a risk 
Time
Thinking 
Stress
Decisions
This time I didn't break
Cracks are there
maybe
bigger
But this time I see the way out
The vase can only fall so many times from the shaky shelf before
we 
find 
a 
new 
shelf

The last few years have been really hard. I love my work and what I do but that little nagging voice, you are not enough, is always there. So I learn and try new things. I look at ways to celebrate my students so that hopefully they don’t feel this. This… never enough.

Lately I have been finding myself stumble upon reading that asks us as teachers to recognize the unique awesome that each of our students possess, their excellence. This last week I had another interview, in it I talked about how important this work is to me. The why has always been the success of my students. Now it is more than that. I don’t just want them to have success, I want them to thrive, to find their excellence and utilize it to lift where and when it is needed.

Two days ago I read a students work and for the first time tears came to my eyes. Their writing was a simple poem. Not the assigned task but one they thought they could be successful at. As I read the student reflected on why they treasure poetry, their struggles with writing, how poems just made sense, let them “be good at something”. I don’t know for a certainty why it hit me so hard. Maybe it was that connection of not ever feeling good at something, or that I recognized that for a moment I had helped, that in that moment the “you are a fraud” voice in my head crept away to the shadows as this students excellence shined bright.

I sat at my desk and wiped away a couple of tears and the student looked back at me and smiled.

The voice is not gone. The “how are you doing?” questions will continue to come and I will continue to say “Oh great” knowing I am not but maybe tomorrow I will be.

One step at a time.

We are not Superheroes

Franklin Richards Dreamed up a whole Universe
To keep his family 
safe
The Scarlet Witch Change the world with
Three
Simple
Words
Superpowers give them the power 
Power to live their dreams 
To shift reality 
To pull those strings of fate
Sometimes just a gentle tug
Others an unravelling 

Teachers have dreams
Dreams for our students
Dreams for our school 
Dreams for ourselves

But we don't have Super powers
I can't snap my fingers and
*snap*
Away goes their anxiety 
*snap*
Away goes their fears and doubts
*snap*
Away goes the bullying and the hardships

We wish we could 
or at least
I
 wish 
I could

Instead we can be there
we can talk
we can lift

But who is there for us?

Teachers are not Superheroes 
Don't let the Merchants of Nonsense Fool You
With their quick fixes and slick smiles
Teachers are people 
People who want the best for their kids
Our gifts don't lie in fantastic powers
but we do have our own four words

How
Can
I
Help?

Dreams are funny
So often they are
just 
out 
of
reach

But we keep reaching
Keep Trying 
Sitting right on the edge 
Today I wonder if I am reaching too far
If the dream is too big
If only I had powers.

We are working on spoken word poetry in the next few weeks. So giving it a little try.

Franklin and The Scarlet Witch