It only took a pandemic

My morning routine is getting up at 4:30 or so checking Twitter and other social media getting ready to head to the gym and once there get my music on and then likely chat with my friend Maire about things that drive us crazy on said Twitter. I figure it is a healthy time to do so because I can burn off my rage fire that the things we talk about fuels haha. Since COVID-19 entered our lives we have had less rage-inducing posts to talk about. Fewer platitude posts flood my feed, less “look at me” run and rants and less peddling of “Educational” books that calling them light on pedagogy would be generous. Aside from this morning and a “Just Be Positive and Your Day Will Be Positive” post I have been able to avoid most of the rage because I really have just been more concerned with my kids before COVID I was not worried about them on the day to day because I had them on the day to day. They had a teacher that worried more about them than about anything else. They had a teacher who was equity-minded, that wanted them to see race and address racism. They had a teacher that was actively learning to be an anti-racist educator and was adjusting his teaching practice to help them become anti-racists. I was not worried about them and I think part of my concern was that there were so many teachers out there that were more concerned with Kindness or Cute, they wanted to talk more about Teachers Pay Teachers pages they love and Starfish analogies than they really wanted to address equity because “I choose to focus my energy on things I can do, those small acts that can make a big difference” I totally get that this is pretty snarky right now and I am ok with it. Teachers were a few weeks ago actively, purposefully ignoring inequity and injustice in education because the conversations didn’t fit their brand. They wanted to only sit in the sunshine because they only sold pretty hats and fruity drinks.

Then COVID hit home.

Almost overnight there is this new crop of Equity Minded Educators. Asking for who they should follow to learn about the best way to make sure their kids have access to technology or the best sites that make learning more accessible, wanting access to places their students with no books can find them. Did a whole whack of kids that did not have these things move into the neighbourhood? RIght at the same time, a Pandemic moved in?

No

Here is what I think happened.

An illness that ignores their cute brands, that ignores their cute classrooms, their cute run and rant videos and platitudes moved in. It put them at risk and forced them to step out of their privilege because now the issues of access were not a district away, they were a desk away. The issues of food insecurities were real and out of their control. Technology access became an issue as schools closed. So many issues that people chose to ignore became the only things they could see. I always wondered what it would take for people to stop saying their one kind act could change the world. A world full of injustice that they chose not to acknowledge instead leaning into their safe place.

Sadly it seems it took a Pandemic.

I wish I could believe that they will continue to be a voice for change, to support our students and advocate for them instead of using them as props to push a brand but I think a large important piece is missing.

Learning

There are so many teachers of colour who have been using their voices to fight the fight for equity, justice and liberation for so long and for those who only now see this need you can learn from them. I am not here to provide a list because these educators are not here for the glory, they are not running about promoting their books or pushing some nonsense. They are doing the work. You will find them because they shine bright. 

I hope we can all come together to help our students but please let’s not try to make equity your brand or book now because of a virus. Others have been doing it way longer and better and I am grateful to learn from them.

Faith

We have 2 dogs.

Yesterday we spent the day in the yard cleaning up poop. The snow is finally melted or melting and well two big dogs and winter creates a terrible situation. Last year we paid a group of kids to come a clean for a couple of hours and it was great. This year Covid-19 put a wrench in that plan among so many others. So yesterday we found ourselves filling bad after bag after bag with poop. We got done about 1/3 of the yard and of course our lovely, loyal pets left us new gifts to clean up this morning. Now you may wonder what a post about poop in my yard and faith have to do with one another? Well nothing really but it is something else that I noticed that got me thinking.

A blade of green grass.

As we raked and shovelled I noticed pushing through all the old dead grass and piles of poop was green grass. It it funny how much it caused me to pause and also how much joy it brought me. I am not a people person in the sense of wanting to spend time with others socially. Small groups only so the idea of Social Distancing/Physical distancing in this current time was one I took in stride. What I didn’t take into account was the fact that I can’t be around other people now. It is different when the choice has been removed. It is harder.

I think about my students, who are separated from their peers, who are missing the structures of school, the opportunities to socialize. I think about the anxiety I feel about possibly getting sick and can’t imagine how they might be feeling with even less control. It just seems like there is not an end in sight. And then there was that miraculous blade of grass.

The image of it pushing through. I am not sure why it struck me so much but as we walked on our daily, “get the heck out of the house and walk the trails” walk I could not shake it. I get the symbolism of spring and the whole idea of rebirth but it is hard to imagine things getting better right now. But it isn’t impossible. The grass taught me that.

I need to have faith in my ability as a teacher and this combination of class cancellation and trying to help my students through online leaning comes to a collision with my imposter syndrome that is not going anywhere any time soon. I need to have faith that this too shall pass. I need to have faith in my students (this is not difficult, they are the best) that they will be able to tackle this new challenge with me. That we will be able to extend GRACE to each other as we learn together.

I need to have faith.

Two weeks ago this whole situation looked like my yard after the snow melted. A lot of CRAP. As we start week three I feel like the yard is looking better. Work my students started posting, ideas they are building on are exciting to see. Sure we have a lot of challenges ahead but I have faith that more grass will pop up. More blue sky days are on the way. As we learn to walk on this new journey we will overcome the challenges. Because we are excellent.

I have faith.

Now if I have any parents of students that read this blog please do me a favour. Give yourselves some GRACE. No one knows what “right” looks like in this new normal but I know without a doubt you are giving this your best. Some days will be better than others. Just like they are in the classroom, some days the kids will need a break and some days you will. Take the breaks. They are important.

Incomplete

I don’t know where to start.

Earlier this week someone said to Julie, “Teachers are just loving this aren’t they?” Julie told them we were all sad. I don’t even know if sad describes how I feel.

Yesterday or early this morning my friend Aeriale Johnson posted this blog post talking about the conflicting emotions she was having and it really spoke to me. I am excited for the opportunities this new weird world is giving me to explore new learning. I have all these goals to accomplish. I want to design interventions for struggling readers, I want to explore new ways to teach, not new ways to entertain but to teach, to create a more engaging learning environment. I want to craft opportunities for my students. I want to write. Not just my blog but a book. I want to learn. We have this time to hone our craft. I am excited for those opportunities. This remote teaching is a whole different experience I was not ready for. How could we be ready?

Today a few teachers were talking and the thought came out, “Did you ever think this was what teaching would be like?” The thing is I don’t think this is teaching. It is something but something is missing. The most important thing.

The kids.

Sure virtually we can message back and forth, I can make some videos to walk them through assignments, I can start an Instagram and record some videos and post the books I am excited about. I can maybe do a Zoom meeting and we can talk about books but it isn’t the same. I don’t feel sad, I feel incomplete.

The halls are empty, books sit on the shelf already collecting dust, I sit on the edge of my seat for an email to come in with a question, even if it is the fifth time that same question comes in ( cue another “instructional” video).

Today in a video conference a teacher who was talking to us mentioned how a part of their soul was missing. Until you can’t have it you don’t know how much you will miss it.

We are 7 days without kids today. I miss the noise, I miss the laughter, I miss the questions, I miss the late walk ins, the fights over the rolling chair, the eye rolls over being asked to get out their books, the “just one more second” as they finish their clash royale match. I miss the nicknames and “too cool for school” attitudes from kids who just want to be a part of “school”. I miss the lunch visitors.

I miss them.

I am a teacher… right now I am incomplete.

A Note

Today as we continue to adjust to the “new normal” of COVID-19 and its impact on or lives I was in my classroom waiting for students to come and pick up their left behind things. Last night I sent out a message to my students,

Ok Parents, 
So I don’t know exactly what this new journey we are all on is going to look like yet and more will get figured out in the days to come but I did want to write a quick note. One thing that I have told the kids all year and for some of your kids for 3 years now is in my class “we read and we write” it is that simple. I don’t intend on that changing. I do know however that not everyone has access to books at home and with the Library closing as well over this time I wanted to extend an opportunity for students to borrow from my classroom library if needed.
Tomorrow when you are scheduled to come to pick up student supplies from lockers I have many of their Notebooks that I would like them to grab. If they might need a book or 2 (that I will hope to get back in September or earlier fingers crossed) they will be able to borrow and I will write it down so I can get them back when we return. 
If you have any questions please let me know, if anyone in the family is unwell please don’t come. We can figure out alternative arrangments to get their notebooks to them.
Let’s all make sure we are washing our hands and keeping our social distance 🙂 
~Brent 

So today as I sat waiting I wondered how many students would actually come in before this remote teaching experiment begins. We had the day set in chunks to keep the numbers down as we are try to abide by the suggested gathering size and I have built a desk wall to establish my own Social Distancing comfort zone. What a world.

I received an email from a student that simply read, “Can I get some books?” My response was equally simple, “Yup”

She arrived, left with some great ones, The Next Great Paulie Fink, Internment, The Serpent King and Let Me Hear a Rhyme. I have read two and asked her to let me know how the other two were. As she left she gave me a note. I opened it,

Clearly I read it and my first thought was that I would be demanding to teach Grade 10 LA but my secondary thought was how much this small act of kindness meant to me. This is a stressful time for everyone. Kids and adults alike are scared, worried, nervous, questioning, unsure of what is going to come next. As teachers we have the added concern right now of trying to do what is best for our kids in this time of uncertainty. What will “instruction” look like? How does one assess work that we do not see our students complete and yet is turned in? More importantly though when do we get to laugh together? When do we get to joyously share our books or our writing? I am not sure what that is going to look like but I do plan on figuring it out. I want my students to feel assured. I want them to feel seen, to know that I get it, I am worried too but we will do everything we can to keep things as normal as we can. We will continue to read and write. But I to take a minute and write a letter to my students in the vein of the letter I recieved.

Dear Students of Room 157:

This has been a year. We started out strong and kept pushing until the day we were told we needed to take a break. I understand the fear, the worry, the uncertainty and I want you to know I see you and I am here for you, to help you with your work, to discuss great books and to share in a joy of literacy. I also want you to know that I will miss the laughter. I will miss the moments where we just talk about nonsense and try to figure out how it fits into a lesson. I will miss your excited discussions around sports, or books, or whatever other topic that has whipped you into a frenzy. I will miss the bravado that the boys brought in after big wins on the court and the grace that the girls always gave them even with a roll of the eyes. I will miss talking books in person, that excited whisper that so often takes me off task (I know you use this to your advantage, but I have also used it to mine). I will miss you all.

But here is the thing, we are all going to get through this. There will be moments when things get a lot worse and then things will get better. We are going to have to dig deep to keep the learning going in these uncharted waters but I believe more than anything that you can do it. You are a special group my students of Room 157. We have overcome things together already and we will overcome this.

My favourite book is Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book the Jungle Book like tale of self discover set in the graveyard and Nobody Owens raised by ghosts and a Vampire named Silas. I love the work of Neil Gaiman and I feel this quote sums things up perfectly.

This point in time might not be a fairytale but I do know that you are all capable of overcoming this dragon.

-MR.G

These next few weeks and months as we try and make sense of the current COVID-19 influenced world of education give yourselves some grace, parents, teachers and students. Take a breath, practice some yoga (in isolation), read plenty of great books and write. Because in the end a simple truth remains. In room 157 we read and we write.

On we go.

Thank You

Last year I was asked to join the coaching staff of the Varsity Basketball team. When the head coach mentioned my name as his assistant people laughed, a lot of people. I am not known for my basketball knowledge or skill. I was asked to be there because I am known for something else, sportsmanship, positivity and unending support of the kids. So I went to practice we laughed a lot, we took half court shots for slurpees, I learned a lot about the game but I also learned a lot about the kids. They were these unique amazing kids that all had their own stuff they were dealing with. We had a great season despite losing more games than we expected we had fun. We were a team.

This year came around and I was not asked back to help. A new coaching staff came in and I was not a part of it. To be honest I was really sad, I would miss the kids. Enter the JV coach asking me if I wouldn’t mind sitting on their bench and coming to practice because, again, the positivity. Now the bonus was also some of my favourite kids would be on the JV team this year. I took him up on his offer and joined the team. We had a lot of ups and downs throughout the year. Personality conflicts aplenty. Our first tournament we lost almost all of our games but I did get to walk through a scary alley at night and almost get attacked by a pitbull because one order at McDonalds took too long and the bus left without us. The losing of games was not the memory that I kept from that trip. It was the visiting on the bus, talking to my past students, now all grown up, about their classes and lives. Getting to know the other players who I had little interaction with before a little bit better. That was my take away from that game losing weekend, a win.

The season was tough, when we played together, when we laughed and celebrated each other we won, most of the time. When we look for each others flaws, played for ourselves and forgot that we were a team we lost. By the end of the season we were doing more of the later every game and really after an already seemingly long year I was tired. Unhappy parents, unhappy players and unhappy coaches. That is what the final weeks of the season felt like. One game we headed to another town to play a team that we beat by 70 the first time we played them. A combination of many factors caused us to lose. Coaching for sure played a roll, I even forgot to be positive. I think where I went wrong is I didn’t build them up enough, I didn’t help them see that they could build each other up and didn’t need me sitting on the bench cheering them on to know they could win a basketball game, that they could overcome being down and come back. A few weeks later we faced another team we had already beat earlier in the year and we lost again. This was a tough one but just last Monday in a “lose and you are out” playoff game. We came in with a different energy. We were loud on the bench, we lifted each other up, we played as a team and we won. The excitement was tangible.

Our season ended on Wednesday, a tough battle with a top ranked team. Down all game the boys fought hard and we almost squeaked out a win. Our season ended and as we sat in the change room with the coach giving one heck of a year end chat I thought back to how much I appreciated this amazing group of boys. All unique in what they brought to the team. The goofballs in practice that couldn’t be serious for longer than a minute but lead on the court and couldn’t hide their emotions if they tried in a game. The young ones still learning what it means to play high school ball. The kids trying to live up to a destiny and the ones trying to build one. It was such a season and I am grateful.

The coach asked me if I had anything to say, I thanked the boys for taking in the “fired varsity coach and letting me hang with them” but more than anything I told them I was just so honoured to be able to tell people I was a part of their team. This group of boys with their ups and downs taught me a lot this season. The lessons learned in Basketball volume 2. We forget how much this means to kids. It isn’t just a game. They put a lot of pressure on themselves. After Wednesday I think a few might not play High school ball again. I won’t be coaching. This was my last group for a while or forever.

I loved my time with the kids but I can support them without being on the bench. I can also support more kids that way.

I just want to end by saying Thank You. Thank you to my coaching partner, thank you to the 9 best JV players I have ever coached (and the couple of volunteers that would come out to practice so we had enough people to scrimmage). Thank you to the parents for trusting us to spend time with your kids and trying to help them develop as people. It was my honour and privilege.

Thank You.

We are Writing

This year I have been working on ways to make writing more engaging. When I talk to my students every year their biggest complaint about Language Arts classes past are having to write “too many” stories, writing stories based off stupid prompts and having to write about things they don’t care about. This year I decided to take next steps and follow the lead my students were laying out. At this point in the year we have not written any fictional pieces of writing. I don’t know if I am endorsing that as practice but it is leading to less resistance to writing. We are also still writing stories but they are our stories. We might have a general theme or idea but students are writing their stories and experiences to start.

When we do mini lessons to address writing skills we look at their stories. When we work on editing it is with their stories. By focusing on their experiences I am finding that we are worried less about “having an idea” and can work more on enhancing the work.

I am a huge fan of Kelly Gallaghers Write Like This, I love that the model Kelly provides talks about types of writing purposes but does not tell students specifically what to write about. I work through the books examples with the kids and some years that is our where the bulk of their writing comes from. A few of each type. The kids don’t get burned out on writing and we avoid the main complaints. In the book however Kelly provides a template for a planning tool that takes the next step in choice writing. Students pick a topic and then explore the different purposes of writing with this topic in mind.

I was always nervous to take this next step, partly because I was unsure my Junior High writers could /would be able to tackle the task. The first time trying to generate their own topics was a massive success. I modelled with both Volleyball (the book example) and Weight Lifting (my own). Student topics ranged from Dirt Biking to Hunting. Most wrote about their favourite sport and all the topics that could be generated from this main idea.

As we continue to work towards writing independence we explore what interests us. I am finding that I am getting better and better writing from my students and we are then applying those learned writing habits and skills to the canned writing we unfortunately must complete but the task does not seem as harrowing. We are not seeing as many walls around our writing because as we write more we knock those walls down.

What is your educational philosophy?

This was the question that my new (excellent) student teacher asked me this morning. I think when I first started teaching I had this written out on a portfolio or something. I can’t even remember what it said but I am sure at the time it was some bumpersticker-esque quote about empowering students to realize their potential or something about voice and choice or some quote about teaching a kid to fish… I really can’t remember but I am so grateful for the simple question because it got me thinking.

I don’t think I have a philosophy so much as I just have hopes and dreams of what education could be… So here is to hopes and dreams.

Partnership

This past week I was blessed to take part in a parent night and visit with some of my awesome students parents. I see often on Twitter and other places this back and forth that occurs around the role of parents in education. In some cases it feels almost adversarial, the relationships between teachers and parents. I am so grateful that is not my situation. I had the opportunity to just laugh with parents about their amazing kids. I sat across the table and visited, not just about grades, but about the hopes and dreams they have for their kids. About the infinite potential. As one conversation started to wrap up a parent asked me, “Brent, How are you though? How are you doing?” The question caught me off guard. I love my students but things seem so much harder this year, the joy of it all is harder to find in the moments I am no longer with my students. In this moment with this question I didn’t just feel like a teacher I felt like my answer actually mattered. That it was asked authentically. We had a longer visit. This is what teaching is about and my hope is that all teachers and parents can enjoy these partnerships that can only benefit the students who we all care so much about.

Coworkers

In the past I have always looked at teaching as a competition among my coworkers. I wanted to be the best. I have grown from those days. I still want to be the best and I work hard for it but I now care more about supporting my friends in this journey. I celebrate the practices of my veteran teacher friends and the wisdom they can pass down. I respect the differences and wealth of experiences that each coworker brings to the table. I would love to inspire them to try new things but I also want to respect and honour the gifts they bring. I have a dream where we are all working together for the best outcomes for our students, worrying less about being right and more about being what our students need.

Student Centred

I interviewed for a position that I was not sure I wanted until after I didn’t get it, haha. I was asked the question of what my plans for the school might be. Now at the time I could have rattled off my 5 year plan followed by my 10 and 20 year. I have plans. Those plans all centre on my students. How to activate their passion for learning and what we can do to amplify this afterwards. I want for them the education they deserve not just the one we can offer. I work in a great school, I work with great coworkers. Kids still ask every day why they have to take math, why they have to go to science, what is it we are really learning in Social Studies and about a million times a day, “why do we have to read?” You can have the best school in the world and our students are still not feeling like what we are doing is addressing their needs. I see a common statement on Twitter, “Could you sell tickets to your lesson?”… beyond the fact that I don’t think any kid is buying tickets to attend school if they can instead buy tickets to go to a movie, arcade or just get out of school I don’t think it is the message I want sending anyway. I don’t want my students to be entertained I want them to be engaged and not because it is a party but because the learning is centred around them. Their interests, their skills, their voice. My dream is a school that is fuelled by inquiry, curiosity and passion. My hope is that in the mean time I can find that magic in my classroom at the very least.

Belonging

A sense of belonging and community has become more and more important over the years. Maybe it is my old age… lol but the more I feel outside of it the more I realize how hard it is. I was thinking about this yesterday and tweeted about feeling valued. I can’t help but think many of our students do not have a sense of belonging. I had a parent tell me a student was not sure I liked them based off of their feelings in class and interpretation of my own actions and interactions with them. This notion could not be further from the truth but because this student felt a lack of belonging to our community and classroom this was their takeaway. I hope that I can help them feel they belong in our community, that I value them as a piece of that community because the alternative, feeling a bit more out in the cold than usual this year, doesn’t feel good and the idea any students may feel this way in my classroom or school is heartbreaking and against what I believe.

In conclusion

You may have notice that sound pedagogy was not listed as a key component. I value that more than almost everything but I feel that comes when the rest are present. Partnerships with parents and coworkers build a strong community. When we focus our instruction on our students needs quality pedagogy should follow. Lately I have been reading more and more on Antiracism, Poverty and Trauma and the impact these factors have on education. When we teach with an Antiracist lens we confront the inequities that come along with a system that for too long prevented students from belonging to our community, when we consider the impact of poverty and trauma we can better understand our students and work to help them again reducing their barriers to belonging.

A community does not succeed when we are not working together to lift each other up. I have so many hopes and dreams for my students. I don’t know if I have a solid philosophy but I do know what I want to see in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

A community.

As We Learn

This week I had the amazing opportunity to fly across the country and learn from some of the best in the field of literacy. I never take these amazing opportunities for granted. I recognize the privilege that is extended to me to learn how to better serve my students and build a literacy community that works for all. I was able to learn from some of my literacy heroes like Bob Probst (who is so brilliant I could just listen to him talk forever) Kylene Beers (my idol and friend and inspiration) Tanny McGregor (who helped me feel confident to represent my thinking in new ways) and Pernille Ripp (who inspired pages and pages of thoughts and notes and is one of the most profound speakers I have ever had the privilege of listening to.) I also attended a few other sessions from more local teachers that also taught me a few things. That said as I pondered this morning the work I need to do and the messages I took away I found that a common theme kept coming through. That literacy work is not equitable and that if we want, truly want, all our students to be successful we need to be not only aware of these inequities but we need to be actively addressing them, pointing them out to our students, helping them see how they benefit from these inequities while others unfairly fall further behind.

My learning this week did not start with my conference. It started when I read this beautiful post by Aeriale Johnson that can be found here . The post is beautiful, powerful and important. I don’t want to oversimplify her words so I would ask you to read it. THat being said I found this post started my thinking for the week as Aeriale discusses when she teaches her students to embody compassion versus just teaching them to hold empathy for others. This quote is powerful and really got me thinking about the language I use in my class and how I need to adjust, it also so beautifully collects my own thoughts on empathy and identifies where I have struggled in moving my students beyond feelings and toward action,

“I have begun teaching children to embody compassion instead. Compassion was derived from the Latin word compati, which means to suffer with. Empathy sees injustice and thinks, “How sad! I’d be so broken-hearted if that happened to me.” Compassion shows up in the middle of the storm, remains long after it has passed, and centers the individuals having the experience, giving them space to identify their own feelings and solve their own dilemmas, be their own heroes.”

The fantastic Aeriale Johnson on her blog kinderbender.com (follow it and be better)

As I had this post in my mind I sat at the opening Keynote of the Reading for the Love of It Conference. To begin we were greeted with a group of First Nations Drummer and Dancers. We were blessed to be able to listen to some traditional songs, view their dancing and get a small sample of their culture. After an introduction that very much highlighted the challenges facing many First Nations communities such as no accessible clean water, no working sewage, no access to high schools we were introduced to Tanya Talaga who would deliver our Keynote. Her message was powerful. She focused on the importance of educators stepping up to support our first nations students, she discussed the trauma they are often born into because of Residential School the history and adversity they do not choose but yet is an obstacle that is difficult to overcome. She spoke about the inability to attend High School for some First Nations children because of access, the closest school being 5 hours away. My privilege made this thought, in CANADA unthinkable but yet here it was. She continued to talk about our choices, “We are mostly water, we must choose where we go” At one point she started to talk about equity and began again highlighting the struggles First Nations adolescents in many communities face, parents and grandparent still struggling with the far reaching trauma of residential schools, access limitations on services that we would take for granted like CLEAN, DRINKABLE water and then Access to School, ACCESS TO SCHOOL in 2020! She continued “This is about more than EQUITY it is about survival” The keynote set the tone for my learning and the sessions that followed continued along this point.

I was so blessed to attend the breakout sessions that were put on by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, Pernille Ripp and Tanny McGregor. Each in their own way addressed ways to help our students close gaps and what we as educators can do to provide a more equitable learning experience for all of our students. Kylene and Bob talked about the power of Literacy and not about simply reading and writing but also about the concept that Literacy is about power and privilege. Their examples looked back at the enslavement of Africans in the early United States as well as current places in the world that withhold literacy learning from people as a way to slow or halt their progress to freedom. I thought back to what we just finished learning about in Social Studies class and enslavement of Black people in Canada as well as the power that was wielded by the Catholic church as the only people who likely could read in an area and what that meant for the power and privilege they held. They talked about the importance of making sure all of our students learn to think about the messages they are receiving and have the skills to maneuver the world where news is no longer seen as truth and that having the skills that make up literacy also helps bring about power, power to make decisions, power to decipher all the information they are receiving and make informed decision.

Pernille eloquently talked about her classroom, her work, her students and how she has arrived at a space that values her individual learners and honours and respects them. As we listened to her points around choice, honouring students feelings regarding simple things like taking notes in a conference or sharing their writing work I reflected on the little things I do that do not build community unintentionally. I was struck with the idea that my own assumptions often place a limit on my students and if it is not my assumptions it is the assignment itself. How we assign work, the texts we use in our classrooms, the strategies we employ to teach them. All of theses factors can impact our students and if done without proper examination of our actions can further push inequalities that we don’t always consider.

I am still decompressing from my learning this weekend but here are the beginnings of my thinking

  • Empathy is a start but most certainly is not the end. We must go further.
  • Literacy is power and every person has a right to that power.
  • Our teaching plays an integral role in providing the opportunities to spread that power. We are privileged to have it and it is our responsibility to pass it on.
  • As Pernille mentioned, “Reading is the number one factor for educational success even more so than socioeconomic status” So my goal is to figure out how to get books in homes and reading in our community culture. I can’t always address poverty but I can work to get books in kids hands.
  • Finally Literacy work, Education, is life saving work. As Tanya Talaga shared “Education brought us into this mess and EDUCATION will bring us out of this”

I love to learn. Leaving this conference feeling a renewed sense of both urgency and direction as to what work I need to research and do for my own community was my most powerful take away. Poverty is a problem but so is apathy and a lack of compassion from those who enjoy the privilege of not having to worry about how they might be getting to school, if their water is clean, if there will be food on the table or if there will be someone there to help them with their homework. This is not about some sense of saviour mentality. We all need to start lifting more to make certain equity is within reach not just for our students but for their families and their neighbours. The work is more than just recognizing the problem and feeling bad as Aeriale stated in her blog. It is about compassion, being there to help and support and provide the tools to help lift themselves up. We need to stop piling more and break down the barricades for this to happen.

I am so grateful for those who have served as teachers for me this week as I head back to the classroom.

Continuing to decompress.

School Culture and the unseen

I have wrestled with this post for a week, probably much longer if I am being really honest.

Every year students around the province are asked to complete a survey that intends to inform us about how students, parents, teachers and the community feel about the progress of the school. There are questions that address teaching, safety, class options but what always catches my eye when I see the report, and it is the similar in many schools, is the column on feeling like they are a part of the school community.

In my own attempts to figure this out I talk to my students. Some feel that our school only cares about the students that play sports, some feel that they are not seen because they are a different religion than the majority of the kids, others because they are IBPOC students is a very white school in a very white community in a very white corner of the province.

My first year teaching I was reading a short story about a boy who loves basketball. About half my class were basketball players, I thought it was a hit. Reading through reflections I stumbled in my confidence around story choice. A student wrote not about the story but about their hatred for our schools athletes. In their view they are the only ones who get any attention. The writer shared how they don’t care about athletics at all. Shared that they felt it didn’t matter what their group of friends accomplished in arts, drama, music because we only care about sports. True or not this was the impression that this student was left with. I talked to them after reading it, “I don’t think there is anything else to say, things won’t change.”

That was 2 years ago almost to the week I imagine. The impression of our students has not changed. It is not unique to my school. This I know for a certainty even if the kids that feel this way don’t feel safe or SEEN enough to share it. Yesterday we had day 2 of our big basketball tournament. A lot of planning has gone in to it and to the credit of the organizers a lot of care has gone in to avoid taking time away from the classroom. Yesterday our girls team, who has shared concerns themselves around the support they receive versus the boys team, was playing during the last 2 classes of the day. We were asked to “hype it up”, if we chose to we could bring our students, show them a cheer video that was fun and bring them to cheer on the girls.

Within a minute of finishing the preamble about the game and how it will be so fun to support them I had a handful of students roll their eyes and ask if they could just skip it. I went in to the history of or team spirit and fan support. How it had dwindled over the years and that I remembered the old days where the gym was full of students, cheering and having fun. One student asked why they have to support a team that doesn’t support them. It was like a flash back but this time there was multiple students. All sharing the same feelings, openly. The band students, the colour guard, the actors. So many asking why the school gives up time for basketball games and volleyball pep rallies but not for a band concert. Asking why we are missing class time again, why we can’t just move on without the athletes when they leave class early and they can catch up (some days they miss 3/4 of a class to travel.) In one of these conversations a Basketball player just shouted out, “Why would we go to their things it is BORING!” And in that moment the kids who felt unseen just stepped back into the shadows a bit more.

I don’t think we have, or other schools have a School Spirit problem. We have a School Culture problem and slowly but surely it is eating us alive. Students no longer want to support one another, teachers are feeling stretched and that they must support the sports teams and miss class or be viewed as the unfair teacher or even harder teaching a classroom with only a fraction of the students present because those who want to go just get excused from class.

Adding more questions to my list than I have answers for I look at school culture. How do we help all of our students see each other? Their unique gifts to be celebrated by the school as a community?

Wouldn’t that be remarkable? A school as an actual community where all our students feel seen?

This problem is much larger than any one school, there are unseen students everywhere. I don’t know the answers.

Just so many more questions.

Have we lost the plot?

Today I was working at the school helping in the concession for a tournament. At one point a went to go check out the game that was on and as I walked into the foyer a scene that was unfolding caught my eye. A coach and a player deep in conversation, the player was upset so I could only assume their team had lost. As I watched this interaction I could not help but wonder what they were talking about specifically. Was the coach building the player up or tearing them down? Was there coaching going on or condemnation. Is the fact that I lean more to the latter in both questions a sign of being cynical or accepting the reality? Have we forgotten what is important? Have we lost the plot?

The first time I heard “lost the plot” I chuckled. I thought it was a clever way to express confusion or misunderstanding. As I consider the events of the world both macro and micro I can’t help but think we may have indeed lost the plot. Here are just a few examples.

Reading Instruction

There are arguments to revert back to the instruction of times past, where students will work through drill like practice without the ability to explore the wonderful opportunities choice novels bring. We have shifts moving back to a text book driven curriculum without the freedom to pursue what interests students and drives their inquiry. What is school for? Have we lost the plot?

School Sports

This has been a big one for me lately. I was raised that coaching sports was to build kids up, to coach them up, to teach them. I also was taught to respect my coaches. My dad is a coach among all the other titles he holds. He is the best coach I have ever known. Those who played for him, their families, we are family. Still to this day I see posts about “Once a Warrior, Always a Warrior” Our team name. My Dad was always an example of what I wanted to be when I “grew up”. As a teacher he was masterful and students loved his class, as a coach he is highly respected across the Province and known elsewhere as one of the most sportsmanlike coaches who helped his team be recognized as the most sportsmanlike team in our league. I always bristled at the experience of coaches that didn’t live up to the standard that had been set for me. The ones who yelled and screamed at their players, that used humiliation as some perverse form of motivation. I find it and see it more and more. For heaven’s sake I have received two technical fouls since living here in two years of coaching without even a warning all the years of coaching I did prior. I don’t blame the community I just think we are all forgetting what is important. It seems more and more we value winning games over developing kids, we are more worried about what the community thinks than what the kids think and even more importantly feel. What is coaching for? Have we lost the plot?

What is really important?

If you were to base your opinions of education on the bulk of EduTwitter you would value Kindness over Equity. You would think the biggest concerns most teachers have is to make school more fun. You would think that cute is better than meaningful and you would think those who talk about things such as the work of Antiracism, those who advocate for equality and those who speak out against the oppressive systems that harm so many of our children are just focusing on the negatives and with small individual actions you can change the world. Of course, this is not true but it is easy. I ask again, Have we lost the plot?

The why

So how do we stick to the plot? How do we avoid going off track. A friend of mine use to teach her students in third grade to stick to their map when writing a story. She drew a path that wound through a forest and the kids discussed how wandering off the path and into the forest would keep them from their goal.

We let so much distract us, pride, ease, comfort. But these things are just the forest. They are distractions that pull us off the path and eventually we forget out why. We can forget that this work we do is for our students. I don’t remember sitting in University or doing my student teaching and ever thinking, “One day I am going to post videos to Twitter about how amazing a teacher I am” I don’t remember thinking about becoming famous on Instagram for a cute classroom or making six figures selling things on teachers pay teachers. I remember the students though. I remember the dreams I had and still have to positively impact my students lives, teaching them and hoping that the work we do together will make a difference.

Big Goals, Start Small, Stick to the Path. This is the goal.