Lessons Learned from Clifford an IREL20 Reflection

As a white male, growing up I was never aware of my privilege. I grew up in a largely white community and attended predominantly white schools. Aside from a few people all my friends were white and now I live again in a largely all white community and aside from the amazing BIPOC folx I have met through the miracle of technology I am again faced with very few opportunities to have a lot of in person friendships outside of that white community. It is not for lack of trying but very little opportunity.

In my growing up community generally most folx were white, the next largest demographic were First Nations or Metis and there were a few families that I knew of that where Chinese, Pakistani, Iranian and another family from El Salvador but in my elementary those students made up about 10 of the whole student body and that is probably generous. I remember one girl who invited me to her birthday, she was Chinese and I couldn’t go because it was a pool party on a Sunday and we do church only on Sundays.

I think in 4th grade I made my first, invite over to hang out, outside of school friend who was not white. He was First Nations. At that point (10 years old I think) my opinion of First Nations people was pretty low. All of my memorable encounters with First Nations people were negative, they were the “bad” kids in school, getting in trouble, picking fights. I heard the older kids say they stole bikes. So as a kid I took all these stories and applied it to the group rather than the individuals.

As I moved into Junior and Senior High I developed some great friendships with BIPOC classmates but because of my deeply held racist ideas I always considered my First Nations friends exceptions to the “rules” that I thought to be true (sidenote as I wrote this today and now as I type it out I just cant believe I was like this but also know there are so many kids like this).

This racist thinking did not leave me as I left High School, it was never challenged. These negative ideas and thinking continued into college as tales of “free school for natives” were shared and my resentment increased as I was taking out student loans and working full time while “they” just got “free money”.

If I was going to pinpoint a moment that I really realized how racist I was and how much my whiteness provided me with unending privilege it was conversations with a man named Clifford and his friends.

Clifford was a “famous” local homeless man. At the time of meeting him I was working for my town as a park employee and Clifford and his friends lived in the park much of the time. Everyone knew Clifford but as I got to know him and his friends I really came to enjoy the moments were visited. Clifford really was a reflection of all the stereotypes of First Nations people I grew up believing.

However one day as part of a staff awareness activity we were presented with a series of beautiful pictures of our city and parks, then candid photos of our towns homeless communities showed up, shots of their self made camps, it was explained that these beautiful photos were a part of an awareness campaign for our homeless community taken by them with disposable cameras in a “from their eyes” perspective. As I think about it today I don’t know of a better example of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s Mirrors Windows and Sliding Glass Doors. These living windows really opened my eyes. As the weeks and months went on we started to visit with Clifford and his crew, bringing donuts to share, buying the occasional lunch. We might be working in a flower bed and they would share parts of their stories with us. These lived stories served as Windows and Sliding Glass doors proving this happens in more than just books. These were stories of lives impacted by generational trauma, addiction and other systemic hurdles that just stacked the deck against them. This is the moment that I can really pinpoint that I became aware of the privileges white people hold, and the system that is in place to uphold them.

Now in my tenth year of teaching I am working to help my students build a sense of compassion and understanding. A desire to push back on a system that helps to build these racist narratives that take hold in our youth. I see the same thoughts I had as a youth creeping into my own students. The difference is they have a teacher that is willing to dig in and discuss how a system rooted in white supremacy has worked against First Nations folx and it was designed to do that. I wish I had teachers who did that for me but I guess I did.

I will be forever grateful for Clifford and his friends as they provided that window for me to see my privilege and how my racist views were not only holding me back but were harming me. As I continue this work with my students, learning and growing along side them, my hope is that they will understand that the narratives they so often are told or see in the news are not someones whole story and that through compassion and understanding and pushing back on the oppressive systems that have played a role in creating these narratives they can make a difference.

Two days into IREL20 and I am beyond grateful for the push in my thinking and reflection.

Reflections on Summer Learning

It has been a week since IREL20 week one. The material of the course was great. A lot of writing that I was able to revisit from brilliant scholars, course work and reflection that asked me to examine the systemic racism that thrives in our white centred school systems. As the week went on I often asked myself where do I go next? I wondered as I listened to white educators share their trepidation over jumping into the race conversations, seeking permission to step back on trying to push back on the system, looking for smaller things that won’t make as many waves, not be ostracized by unwilling to change colleagues, and I thought about how nice it might be to choose to step back. How nice it might be to be celebrated for the smallest of acts as if they are revolutionary, how nice it must be to just take a break. I notice that some of the white educators in the first week after George Floyd’s murder, who vowed to change and amplify voices have moved on to the next topic. They got the exposure they needed, they ran a few chats, started a book club and then slowly crept back to hawk their products with a #BLM theme. They quoted a few Black thought leaders and think the work is done. For our BIPOC teachers the work is never done, largely because white educators keep asking for a breather.

This past week I also finished this great book. Which is a collection of short stories written by FNMI authors. Fiction but very much rooted in history. There are many great stories, there is also an analogy early in the book that really has stuck with me this week. The author, in talking about colonizing groups, referred to them as Wendigo. If you are unfamiliar with Wendigo they are monsters or possessed people of Algonquian folklore characterized by evil deeds, cannibalism and insatiable greed. The analogy tying colonists to this mythical monster really was powerful to me.

Today as I did my Twitter reading I came across a Tweet from Kelly Gallagher, an educator I respect greatly. He shared that students need to read books where they can see themselves and also books where they see people or situations that are not their experience (paraphrased). This is a great point that has been made by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop with her analogy utilizing Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors. I have heard Mr. Gallagher cite Dr. Sims Bishop many times so not citing her in this statement did not come across as a slight. However in his thread there were many educators that were using her words but erasing her name from the conversation.

“Yes students need mirrors and windows”

“Oh don’t forget sliding glass doors!”

And yet all of those posting at that point had forgotten Dr. Sims Bishop’s name. Another educator, Benjamin Doxtdator, reminded everyone of the original source but this got me thinking and inevitably has lead me back to both my IREL week, concerns over white educators checking out to find and easier route and Wendigo.

So here goes, intentionally or not when we forget to cite those who inspire our ideas we are not celebrating them. We are consuming them for our benefit. When we do the bare minimum or we look for the easy way to address something like systemic racism we are saying we want the accolades for just trying but not the callused hands that come with hard work. Another example of consumption and greed. We can read all the books but if we are just using bits and pieces to further justify our actions and avoid growth we are further consuming the ideas for our benefit. How much of the work being done to further Antiracism is done to uplift BIPOC folks without looking for something in return? Even recognition or ally status? Just another example of the greed and need to consume everything and make it ours.

This lore of the Wendigo and connection to colonialism has really created a powerful visual for me when comparing it to a lot of what I read when looking at the accounts of BIPOC educators. Being pushed out of spaces, ideas being taken and repackaged by white educators, having to lock down their social media accounts in attempts to not have their work stolen. These precautions are taken because it has happened before. It seems it is almost expected to have their ideas and work consumed instead of celebrated.

So my next steps are simple to avoid the path of the Wendigo. Working to promote the work of BIPOC educators is easy. Citing them each step of the way. I will be working to continually amplify their work. I want to be purposeful in bringing their stories into class, not just books on the shelves that I hope they read, not just the current top authors but I want our work to be made richer by including theirs. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop “Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors” should be in all the work we do and her name should be uplifted in those conversations.

I don’t know why this Wendigo analogy has stuck with me, it really could just be the visual that it creates attributing this cannibalistic monster to the idea of stealing land and erasing culture and in extension to these conversations around teaching and how we conduct ourselves and where I fit in that picture.

I do know that we as white educators need to continue to work to address the inequity in a system that serves us so well. We don’t get to just take a break because we are tired, consume more of the work and energy of BIPOC educators and then decide to reenter the conversation when it is convenient or beneficial.

I have so much more learning to do. This week for IREL20 we look inward. I am certain there will be moments of discomfort. I often talk about in class with my students as we learn new things it is like lifting weights. Muscle breaks down to rebuild in the simplest of descriptions. This is how we get stronger. It is uncomfortable. When we look at our role as white educators in upholding systems of oppression for both our students and colleagues it will be uncomfortable but we must push through that discomfort if we want to build and grow.

Here is to another week of learning.

A fork in the road

A few years ago I was talking to my students and one comment from a student really hit me, our community is largely white, as we discussed our school culture the soul First Nations student in the class said that they felt invisible. I didn’t know who to address that but followed up. The student shared how tough it is to be one of the only First Nations students in the school, to not have their culture celebrated and to generally feel unseen. I decided in that moment that I wanted to learn more and be better for not only my First Nations students but all my students.

I have been looking at the work of many BIPOC educators in an effort to learn to be a better educator, this past year I have been working to learn to be Antiracist in my instruction, I have been looking deeply at my curriculum and actions. Who am I centring in my work, who’s voices are being amplified in stories? What stories am I sharing, Am I only telling one story and thus contributing the the erasure of certain groups as whole complex people? I have been grappling with this and the idea of Curriculum Violence that was shared by Dr.Kim Parker and Tricia Ebarvia on Twitter and can be found here written by Stephanie P. Jones.

This week I had the experience of attending the first of two virtual conference on Racial Equity in Literacy. IREL has been an interesting experience. Learning, reading, reflecting. The course material has been outstanding as we looked at systemic racism in our schools and the impact whiteness has on our systems. I am decidedly not a fan of the online learning environment when it comes to navigating life and scheduled meetings. That has been difficult. Another piece of difficulty that I am grappling with is a lot of “this is hard” statements in regards to doing the work of Antiracism in our schools. It has come up fairly consistently and I am really struggling having empathy from my fellow white teachers who have just now decided that fighting systemic racism is worth their time but in the same breath seem to be asking permission to work at a slower pace than BIPOC educators who are constantly having to fight. I understand that pushing against a system meant to benefit you and oppress others is hard but numerous times during the week the phrase, “What are you willing to give up, what are you willing to lose doing this work?” has come up. As I reflect on things said by fellow white educators lately, a few months removed from the outrage over the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the protests for Black Lives Matter (that are still happening despite the news) I can’t help but wonder if folks are stepping back, I can’t help but see the energy is fading and folks are looking for permission to rest. But I ask if we (white allies/co-conspirators) decide to rest who is left holding the weight? The work won’t stop, the oppression won’t end we are just shifting it back on to the shoulders of BIPOC educators.

This week has been both a powerful reflective experience and a frustrating one. I am on a journey to better myself as an educator and feel that I have been moving at a great pace down this road but I have now hit a fork. As I am trying to push my colleagues to keep join, to see that this work is essential for us to do because our BIPOC colleagues, students and families have had to do it solo for too long, I am staring at this folk in the road. One path is to keep pushing and the other is to just go alone because being honest, my energy is limited and I need to use it where it is best spent.

The question after this week, these last few months, this year. Which way do I go next.

Another week of IREL is coming. I am excited to get it going. Learning more, perhaps solo perhaps not.

When we can’t read

Pre-Covid

I was reflecting as I finished my second “for fun” book of the summer on how little I read this school year. Or at least how little I reflected on my reading identity. Before the Covid virus I was reading but largely professional books and articles. I would read random titles to share with the class but my reading rate was certainly lower than years past. Kids have known me as the reading teacher. The one who loves books, loves talking about them and sharing them. This is all true. This year I just was not as engaged in it as years past. I shared books I had read previously, I engaged in discussions around books my students were sharing, when new books came into the classroom they were snatched up before I could read them anyway and then book talked and snatched up again. I was doing other things so at first I didn’t notice how much things slowed. I started listening to audiobooks which was helpful but I am one of those people that just doesn’t love an audiobook on the same level that I love a book in my hands. Reading this year was a more “careful” practice as I have seen Pernille Ripp refer to it, I took my time. Then Covid hit.

Covid Reading Life…

I think many of us hit a wall in our reading when Covid hit. I know for myself I could barely focus on reading and responding to the piles and piles of student submitted work coming in. I spent most of my day sitting in front of the computer and reading, the last thing I wanted to do at night was read more. I did set a goal to read a professional text and that really was a perfect reset for me. My personal reading life was still not the party it once was but getting back into the swing of things. I knew summer which usually was my reading time was soon approaching and so I just decided that I would read some books that I have had on my TBR for a long time and see where we go.

How the sun, coconut oil and books save my soul

My mental health is most definitely impacted by the seasons. Sometime I feel I have a solar powered soul. I love to tan, I love to sit outside and read. So this summer that is the goal. Work a little in the morning before it gets hot outside and then off to the yard to read. We have made some home improvements because of the Covid isolation and put in a ground level deck and dog run. This has given us the ability to be outside and just enjoy it rather than the dogs have the run of the place. Today marks the start of the second week of holidays. I am now on book three. I can feel things starting to click back into place. It was like my reading muscles took so much time away that I have to build them back up and the books I have read so far are my dumbbells. The Marrow Thieves sat on my shelf at school for a long time. Untouched because I knew there was some content I was concerned about and so until I read it I did not book talk it. Now that I have read it I will be using it in class in some form, adding to book clubs and generally celebrating it’s excellence. I just finished Jason Reynolds, When I was the Greatest yesterday while sun burning in the pool. It is a spectacular story that celebrates so much about family, community, friendship, forgiveness, love. I LOVE the book. I actually don’t think I have felt this strongly about a text before. I want all of my students to read it. One of my favourite people, the amazing Dr. Kim Parker has recommended the Boy in the Black Suit which I know I had and now can’t find as a follow up. So to the books store I will go. I have a wonderful list of books to continue to work through. I feel like this is just a beginning of getting my reading groove back but here I am.

A few weeks back Matt de la Peña made a comment about getting our “reps” in in reference to reading. I love it because of my dual passions of the gym and literacy. Right now I am in the Hypertrophy stage. Building back the muscles and getting the reps in. I have a summer of reading and writing ahead of me. Reclaiming my love that Covid and anxiety tried to take from me. We have a lot of unknowns ahead of us. What school will look like in September being a big one. But what I do know is we are going to be going back to the basics and finding our identity as readers and writers and getting those reps in.

Looking back and Looking Forward

In the spring of last year I interviewed for a position I really wanted. I didn’t get it. My imposter syndrome that I have been struggling with this year started there.

I have always been very confident in my ability. I love to learn and look for those opportunities. I planned so many cool things to do with my classes this year. I have the pleasure of teaching multiple grades so many of my students I had in grade 7 I had in grade 9. This was our third year together. The imposter syndrome has continued to plague me but great things have come up as well. Before the Covid19 Crisis we were in book clubs, we were diving in to identity work trying to see both ourselves and others in texts. We were writing, about everything but my favourite things the things I was most excited about were still to come. Explorations in our stories, our passions and our lives. As we prepared to embark on these journeys everything came crashing down. We had projects planned, digital stories and magazines to publish all lined up and then Covid19 sent us home. It closed the doors to the building and I was not sure how we could continue with what we had planned. Welcome back to the imposter syndrome. I questioned if I had prepared my classes enough. If they could pull off what I was hoping we could do even without the classroom connections. In the end this challenge was too much for some. It didn’t help that it was announced they didn’t have to complete any work because it couldn’t impact their grades. I thought back to some ridiculous comment I heard once about if kids would buy tickets to your lessons or come even if they didn’t have to. The answer for many was no. Between March 16th and early May many dropped off. They had the tech support and access but there were so many more factors to consider and I completely understood those who checked out. I wanted to as well at times. It was a lot.

But something really cool also happened. Many didn’t. They wrote, they shared, they reflected. They read books, they shared them ( a lot of teen romance) but mainly they wrote. So many created amazing things be it writing about their families or adventures they had taken. Projects around Pay Equity in Sports, Testing in Schools and many different crises facing the world culminated in TED Talks recorded in Bedrooms or shared in a Zoom. Students created poetry and memoirs, we experimented with lists and finished off with Where I AM From digital poetry presentations. I was so impressed with the work they finished in their homes with only my digital support and our weekly meetings on ZOOM (and a HUGE shout out to their parents). They were prepared. And this time gave me plenty of opportunities to reflect.

Lessons Learned

  1. This is the perfect time to move away from grades for good. The work turned in since COVID could not impact students in a negative way. This made me really think about the point of grades and points and luckily I just so happened to stumble onto Sarah Zerwin’s Point-less and read it enthusiastically and fully intend to embrace her work as I move forward. I want to measure student learning and points tend to just get in the way. I will be blogging about this topic more in future posts.
  2. My instruction is going to be shifting further. In reading the work of Dr. Gholdy Muhammad I feel both affirmed and challenged to do more. Structure is going to change, I have so much more learning to do but I am excited.
  3. Community is essential. In these last few months I have learned that more and more. My local support network to my Twitter and Facebook teaching community. The connections are important. Leaning on and learning from each other has been pivotal in my own survival during this COVID time.
  4. It is important to have fun. I am starting a Web Series with my friend Carrie. It will be so great and a beautiful mess.
  5. Even if some don’t value me I have value. Not getting that job hit me a lot harder than I expected. I started to question everything I did. I noticed that people where not asking me for advice anymore when they had in the past. Of course, maybe this was all coincidence but with an already shaken sense of professional worth it was just another hit that contributed to my imposter syndrome. Shaky lessons where I was once confident, self isolating in my classroom rather than visiting the staffroom and peers. Contributed. I have battled this thinking all year. But lately I have had these moments. Where I am feeling like I am back on track. I might not be what some are looking for but that doesn’t define me or my ability. That lesson is proving harder to hold on to but I am trying.

The school year ended on many positives. I am helping to plan a conference that I am so excited about. I was selected to receive a Book Love Grant to bring even more books into Room 157 and am so excited for my students. I DREAMED of possibilities… some are big dreams and I am excited. Really I am just excited about the future. We don’t know what school is going to look like in September. But I do know this.

We are going to read, write, learn, share, debate, discuss, grow and dream. Because we can either go forward or back and I already feel behind enough.

After the books

Background

I grew up in Northern Alberta, for those who read my blog and are from communities made up of diverse cultures and people, my home town was not one of these places. I had a few first nations friends at school growing up and one black friend through junior high and high school. This was not some intentional slight. My junior high friend was the first black person I met in my town and her family was the only black family in our town. We went to Disneyland as kids and I recall my dad telling some people that we were rudely staring at that he was sorry but we (kids) had never seen anyone like them other than in movies. This was true. As I got older I moved to a larger place and made more friends but my social groups largely consisted of University friends and I was in Education so… yup mostly white people in Alberta Canada. Now I am an adult living in a rural Alberta and you, I am sure, can imagine the demographics of my community. My school is around 95% white. My students seem to get most of their ideas around race from the media much like I did as a kid and that frankly is dangerous. So I started wondering how I as an educator raised in a mostly all white community, learning in a program that never exposed me to other cultures and then being hired to be a teacher in more largely white communities how I could prepare my students for a world that does not look like where we are raised. To have not just empathy but respect for all other races and cultures. I wanted my students to understand what racism really is and I wanted to know what I could do to be a better teacher for not just the small number of students I had that were members of the Global majority but also for my white students because if the work I was doing was not helping them become Antiracist then the problems of racism would not be addressed.

Learning

I went to Twitter to learn because it was a place that I could find experts who had experiences that were completely different than mine that were completely based in whiteness and my white experience. I wanted to learn because I wanted to better myself not just as a teacher but also as a person. I was that person when I started my Twitter journey who used the “not all white people” line when I felt attacked. I came across discussions led by the group #DisruptTexts, Dr.Kim Parker, Lorena Germán, Tricia Ebarvia and Julia Torres. Those discussions around simply questioning the texts that I was using in my class gave me a starting point but I needed to learn more. So I learned to listen. I followed different discussions, read the books that were recommended and brought them to my class. But that was never going to be enough.

Putting books on the shelf was a start but it seemed to me those books on the shelf and the pat on the back I gave myself for having that diverse library was not doing anything to actually help my students understand race, not being an ally to the few students of colour in my classes was damaging in ways I had never known and they never would have told me about. I only learned those things again through looking at the work of IBPOC (Indigenous, Black, People of Colour) educators. Last year was the first round of #31DaysIBPOC an essay project organized by Dr.Kim Parker and Tricia Ebarvia. 31 essays from different members of the IBPOC communities telling their stories. Some of those stories addressed the very issue some of my students were going through but never voiced. The tokenization in Social Studies class of FNMI students when we ask them about “their” culture without understanding that there are thousands of different communities in Canadian First Nations alone with unique cultural practices. My textbook never taught me that and when you see “Plains Native” in a text book you whitely assume their cultures would be the same. And in making that assumption with other our students even more. Reading the words of educators who grew up facing that kind of othering really opened my uneducated eyes. The writers of the first #31DaysIBPOC project will likely never know the impact their words had on my teaching and in extension my students but they started me on a path to be better for my students and I am grateful for it and this years edition that wrapped up today has just emphasized the important more.

Next Steps

So last week I was watching a Webinar by Dr.Dustin Louise who spoke about the important of decolonizing our education system. I started planning how I was going to change how I approached my new courses with this decolonizing lens. How I was going to help my students see that Whiteness has shaped our history and why we need to question that and challenge it because if we do not we are accepting it as fact and erasing the stories of so many others. History has largely been built on colonization, the erasure of others cultures and stories and so if we are asked to examine world view how can we not examine that without challenging whose worldview we are starting from? So that is where I am going next.

In the End

After watching the events of this last week with protests and riots in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police office and the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet being investigated here in Canada I know that just having my students read books like All American Boys, or Dear Martin is not and will never be enough. I know that we have to not only have conversations but we must critically evaluate our practices and materials. We have to challenge our co-workers who make racists comments, we have to challenge the narratives our students bring to the classroom that cause harm to members of our classroom or community.

In the end, AFTER THE BOOKS we must ask what is next. Then we must take steps because as it has been said a lot this week, The trauma that is inflicted by whiteness and white supremacy on our students of colour that goes unchecked and uncorrected, becomes the trauma that spreads harm to our communities when our students reach adulthood.

As teachers and especially white teachers we must do the work to be Antiracist because if we are not we are doing the work of racists.

I again express my gratitude to the educators who have helped me along this journey. As I go forward I would ask my friends starting this journey towards being and Antiracist educator to read, learn and act.

We can’t wait any longer.

While we are away

Sitting down and watching a little Homeland after a day of working out, blogging, yard work and a walk I begin to blog again. I wrote about the early days of this separation from my students the interruption to all the big plans that I have had for how this year was going to end, the writing we planned to do, the exploring. I decided early on I wanted to try and accomplish these goals even with our distance in the way. Funny distance in the way…

Now we are about 8 weeks into this, I have students writing in all of my classes. Not all of my students, some have chosen to disengage from this process, I invite them back and hope they will join us again but I also understand this whole journey is a lot and some of us just can’t do more than get through the day. I hope we can figure out a working system for those students come September because this is not likely to be resolved by then.

I have noticed one thing though that I think is super important to note and reflect on. My students that are engaged, that are writing, they are crushing it. They are talking about their dreams, they are talking about their goals, their families. They are choosing topics to explore completely free of any set rules or direction beyond lets just keep writing and they are crushing it. They are telling me about their sleeping in and deciding to do some work in the afternoon, they are letting me know they are bored, that they are working on the farm or working out on a home made rig and starting to bench real weight. They are talking about their holidays past and hopefully present. They are comfortable and exploring themselves as writers.

I don’t know what it is exactly that has shifted while we are away from the traditional classroom setting. In the room we would have still been writing, conferencing and sharing, we all preferred the immediate in the room, they all say that. The only thing that has changed is flexibility. They work when they want, they write when they want about what they want. We work on feedback. They know their grades won’t be dropping as per government orders so maybe that is freeing?

I am not a silver linings type. This COVID closure sucks. I miss my students, I miss the light up when they notice how much I love their writing (in person). I miss talking about books with them, and putting them in their hands.

I miss a lot.

But a funny thing is happening for some while we are away. They are growing.

Finding themselves as writers.

I can be grateful for that.

Clarity

I don’t think I have ever started a blog post without a clear title in mind. I feel like it has always framed my thinking but today as I begin this post clarity escapes me.

This week on the #G2Great chat we talked about the “blurry why” and how it can lead to instructional blind spots. This conversation combined with my reading of Sarah Zerwin’s Point-Less and many different conversations on Twitter and with colleagues in person this week has really caused me to ponder quite a bit on what I value, how I can focus on the “why” even in this time where distractions are causing me to, at times, lose focus.

When I look at my “whys”, the things I value in education and want for my students, last week I narrowed it down to these

  • Developing a Life Long love of Reading 
  • Find our writing voice and using it
  • Think Critically with a focus on equity and justice.
  • Embrace Curiosity 
  • Be Kind
  • Have a desire to keep trying
  • Work Hard
  • Never Stop Learning 

Like the allergies that have been clouding my vision and blurring my focus the COVID closures has acted as an irritant that has, I think for many, led to this blurry why. We are not sure how we can achieve our often lofty goals. What we would normally want to see seems almost unattainable in its original form, and it might be. The learning opportunities that I have provided for my students address all of my mentioned values and all work back to the why that I want my students to be readers and writers and citizens of the world in the pursuit of equity and justice. In class I could arrange these opportunities to discuss. We could read text together and discuss. In the land of COVID teaching, not all students are able to join at the same time. Access can be an issue as things like internet might be spotty and home printer ownership is not what it once was or at least mistakenly thought it was. Book access to get those inclusive books I value so much in student hands is a hurdle. Motivation to put the time in that thoughtful writing often requires is in low supply. All of these issues have me asking if it is really worth it to keep my eye focused on the “why” even in this time. But in the end I do because I think the message if I allow these things to distract me and blur my vision is that they were only important when it was convenient.

So I do what I can in this time, I book talk inclusive texts on the instagram, I ask my students to write about what matters to them and explore why. I display the life of a learner and have started to rebuild my vision for a teaching world that will look different when September arrives. I read more so that when the time comes for new learning with my students I can reach them in whatever way that looks.

Staying focused on what is important is hard when there is so much noise trying to take us off the path but the alternative for me is saying that what I valued before the COVID is not valuable enough to fight for now that it is in jeopardy and that is not an option.

Taking some eye drops and focusing clearly on what is important.

This was going to be the year

I attended my first Edcamp down in Bozeman Montana a few years ago. It was a neat experience. Teachers gathering together to share their ideas on topics of their choice with the ideas being driven by the teachers, I know we all know what an Edcamp is. I came back to my division and for our divisional PD we did a few staff driven Edcamps that I was able to plan and the feedback was pretty good. Teachers came away with some learning but it was a very limited experience in that we were only drawing on our own School Divisions talents. I wanted to expand. I started to play with the idea of bring teachers from my area not just division together to talk about literacy. We would gather together for a day or two, maybe…fingers crossed book a great Keynote and then have sessions driven by our experience and excitement. One thing I did notice right away is that the field of potential speakers was not diverse. I do not live in an incredibly diverse area and I think when we look at statistics in teacher representation you could probably move it even a few more points away from diversity looking at our numbers. Small mostly rural farming communities don’t tend to have diverse populations. Still it made me uncomfortable looking at the idea of running some kind of teacher PD with just white teachers but that is who was responding with interest and again because I was limited to local (free and no money to pay large speakers) there was not much I could do.

This year the potential to partner with a PD consortium may have opened the door to enlisting a few more speakers from outside our community. I was excited about the prospect. I was going to be able to introduce my local colleagues to the experts I learn from now and maybe even bring some in. The dream was potentially becoming a reality and then COVID-19 ruined everything. My dreams of our school theatre packed listening to an amazing literacy leader and then breaking into small groups to learn from each other dashed by travel restrictions, group gathering limits and Social Distancing. But then I started seeing digital conferences pop up.

I attended a fantastic learning experience but on called Liberate and Chill I was able to learn from amazing educators from both the IBPOC and LGTBQ community on a variety of topics, The structure was so well organized, presenters posted video modules there were chat boards for discussion, learning materials available for down load. It really was an amazing event put on by brilliant educators. During this same time the Educator Collaborative put on its annual free event. A series of Webinars that are focused on literacy work that span the course of a day and teachers can jump in to whichever they sign up for. The discussions occur on Twitter as people view the material. Two different methods of delivering amazing content and both were inclusive of all communities unlike other online courses and events that are popping up at this time.

So this leaves me wondering. Is this a time to say ok the dream of hosting a great PD session in literacy in my area is over or is it time to dream bigger. A digital conference that provides the opportunity for educators to share their knowledge and learning with others with both local teachers and some featured speakers, teachers who just want to share their messages on literacy practice? I have never been a big dreamer but perhaps this is the time.

You test the waters and see. Can we organize something that celebrates the diverse community that literacy instruction really is? Can we introduce new voices? Can we celebrate established ones? Can we honour the voices of all those doing the work?

In my dream we can…

Lets see.

I have included a link to a google form. This information would not go beyond me but I would like to collect info on who might be interested in something like this and also who might be interested in a planning role, presenting role (w/topic) or attending role. If you have time please take a moment and fill it out.

For form click here

Are you ready to change?

When Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream first came out I have this recollection of Chunky Monkey and movies with my friends. A few weeks ago shea martin made a comment about Ben and Jerry’s and I decided that I needed to go pick up some Chunky Monkey and relive my High School days while watching a movie. Much to my dismay there was no Chunky Monkey, so instead I picked up some Tonight Dough and some other flavour. Both were good but they were no Chunky Monkey. My next trip the the store (quarantine eating) I tried another flavour the Netflix and Chill’d. I have moved on from Chunky Monkey and will never go back. I was ready for the change once I found the right thing. I find so often that we are so comfortable with what we know we avoid change. If I did that I would never have discovered this wonderful new treat.

In my teaching life I think there have been 3 really key moments that have changed me as an educator.

  1. Professional Development with Kylene Beers and Bob Probst- I can’t stress this enough I am a different educator because of them. The learning I did that day ignited a spark for professional learning that has never extinguished. I crave it. My favourite professional text of all time is Disrupting Thinking, a book Bob and Kylene co-wrote. My favourite strategies come from their work. I was looking for something to build me as an educator and am so grateful I found them.
  2. Meeting my dear friend Dr. Mary Howard- There are moments in life where you can pinpoint when everything changes. I joined a Twitter chat focused on Disrupting Thinking and met Dr. Howard in that chat. We became fast friends. Her enthusiasm for teaching, teachers and especially for the infinite potential of children fuelled me to learn more. To pursue learning and better my practice to honour my students. I started to write more and follow in the footsteps of Mary’s passion rants and found my voice, loud and opinionated as it is. Mary has been my cheerleader from day one and has given me so many opportunities to grow, meet other amazing educators help my students reach their potential.
  3. #31DaysIBPOC- A year ago tomorrow I stumbled on to a hashtag on Twitter. See I had been following this amazing group of educators Dr.Kim Parker, Tricia Ebarvia, Julia Torres and Lorena Germán and their #disrupttexts conversations. I was starting to learn from them how much I could challenge the texts used in my classroom and the importance of representation. I had always struggled with how to approach subjects like race because my community is not diverse. We are in the rural south in Alberta Canada. I felt it was important to teach my students about the world and communities and culture outside our own but I really didn’t know how to address it. May 1st 2019 didn’t really tell me how but the experience that started that there most certainly helped me see why it was so important. Every day for the month of May I was blessed to read the stories of so many brilliant IBPOC folx. I was able to listen to their experiences, be inspired by their words and understand even a small bit what it was like to be the student of colour in a sea of white classmates, an experience many students of colour have in my community. One of few in our small community. I love my community, we can’t do much about the population but reading these heartfelt and and times heartbreaking powerful post I knew that I had to do more. I began looking into equity, representation I learned terms like Antiracist and starting learning how to make sure I was doing better for all of my students. I realized that I was not just failing my IBPOC students by not having a more inclusive library than I had started, I was not just failing my IBPOC students by not looking at more events of the world. I was failing all of my students. #31DaysIBPOC made me a better teacher. It changed me and I am so excited for it to start again tomorrow.

I think as I consider what it means to change I go to the idea of learning. In each moment that I have experienced significant change as an educator it has been in powerful moments of learning. They can be uncomfortable and heaven knows I have had those moments but I learned from them. These last few weeks I have had the great opportunity to learn from an incredible mix of educators in the Liberate and Chill online course I took. In that I was able to sit and listen to so many incredible speakers reflect on education, equity, liberation and freedom. The passion was incredible. My last post I mention a comment from shea around dreaming and allowing ourselves to dream. As I sit here on the eve of #31DaysIBPOC starting again I have a dream that I will learn more and grow more but more than that I dream others will join me.

We are at a pivotal time in education. Because of COVID so many educators who chose to stay nestled in their comfort of privilege have been forced to examine the inequity that has always been here. My dream is that these educators will join me in the learning that is about to be offered to us this month. That they will see all of their students and work to better the system for them. That they won’t run back to the old normal as soon as it comes calling because it will. That they will sit with the words they are about to read and be changed by them.

It might be uncomfortable, growing is, but in the end we are stronger.