Seeking Inspiration

This summer has been an interesting one for my learning. I have alternated between reading PD books and YA/MS texts that I will be adding to my classroom. I spend a lot of time on Twitter looking at the conversations educators are having. Trying to look at ways I can improve my practice.

When I Started Twitter Edu

When I started my journey on Twitter I was just looking for ideas. I had just read Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst and was invited to check out a “chat” called #g2great. Until this moment I had received all my teaching inspiration from resource books such as The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Notice and Note by Bob Probst and Kylene Beers and Pernille Ripp’s website among other blogs. Twitter was a whole new ballgame. I joined all the chats I was having so much fun participating and becoming a part of the community. I connected with those same authors, bloggers and teachers I had so come to admire. I met some amazing people that I have created real friendships with like Mary Howard and the #G2Great team and my #curiositycrew. I have had the pleasure of meeting my idol and visiting with her. These are all great things that Twitter made possible. In the last few months I have been introduced to different conversations on Twitter. Different conversations that pushed my thinking. And caused me to question what I was doing on Twitter. Were all the conversations I was taking part in improving me as a teacher? Were all the conversations and interactions I was taking part in preparing me to best serve all my students? The answer quite frankly was no. I still had my go to sources but I cut down the rest. I participate in just as many chats but now they are focused on teaching, equity, antiracism and less on the “feel good”. I am not taking away from the feel good for those that need it or want it but it was not inspiring me to be in the classroom to improve my instruction.

Taking it Personally

Teaching is very personal. Before I learned to listen more and react emotionally less to the statements made to me on Twitter I was often offended. If someone questioned an idea I had or practice I believed in I was quick to go on the offensive. Now I want to see from the perspective of others. I listen and learn. I don’t always change everything but there is a renewed clarity and sense of purpose now as I prepare for the year. Purposeful practice comes from listening to many voices and applying those critiques to your work. This has come particularly clear as it applies to how much I was doing/not doing regarding equity work in my classroom. I was proud of myself for having a diverse library, for being a culturally sensitive teacher but as I learned more from leaders in the field of anti-racist education I realized that I was failing my students. Not just my students of colour but also my white students that hold a staggering majority in the school. By just providing resources but not talking about them, by just protecting my students from ridiculous arts are crafts based on culturally meaningful pieces but not explaining why we should not do those crafts I was not doing the best for my kids. Hearing that offended me. I care about my kids and I want to do best for them. So I seek out how to learn to be better. I learn that instead of building a diverse library I need to build one that is inclusive that doesn’t centre the library around white and “diverse” books. That we look at all the titles as pieces of a well represented library that speaks to all of my students experiences. I have learned that I can’t just provide different perspectives in a text book but I must push back against the incomplete narratives and problematic representation that we find within. Through taking this work so personally and yes sometimes feeling offended and questioning what I am doing I have been inspired to do better. I am not stepping away from the challenges but learning from them.

Building a Team

As I continue to search out inspiration I am finding the team matters so much. I am purposeful in who I follow, who I interact with and who I surround myself with as learners. I began twitter a lone wanderer in a vast forest of ideas. Breadcrumbs of shared ideas led me to like minded individuals. As my thinking, experiences and learning needs have changed the team of inspiration has expanded. I am grateful to those who helped me on my journey and can still learn from them, I am grateful for those now who challenge me to be better. Julie and I just watched Shazam. A delightful film where our hero Shazam must face off against a big bad. With all his powers he still requires his team to overcome the adversary. The epic formation of the Guardians of the Galaxy comes from the need to form a team to shoulder the burden and overcome the adversary. We can often accomplish tasks alone, but a team that inspires you to be better, to work hard and helps you find the answers will help you to reach new levels.

Next Steps

As the summer comes to a close I have my PD books ready to inspire, my novels at my side to hopefully inspire my students. I am open to the feedback of others to inspire me to improve my practice without taking offence and checking out of the conversation and I am continually building a team.

Teaching is hard, not all our days are going to be great despite what you might see. Not many people share the pictures of their burned dinners and messy houses. The same is true for teachers. Most hide their misteps thinking their perfection inspires. The mistake they make is that it isn’t the product that inspires but the practice, the knowledge of the journey and the dusting ourselves off and getting back up. Teaching is hard, finding inpiration to be better can be especially hard with all the noise out there. I am excited to get my brain back fully into teaching mode.


Learning can be uncomfortable

I have spent the month of July doing what I love. I have tanned, I have read some amazing books, I have played with my dogs, planned for next year, read more books and generally just relaxed. One of my favourite things to do is to learn new things. I am currently reading this interesting, thought provoking book.

As I prepare to teach 9th grade Language Arts and the looming annoyance that is the Provincial Achievement tests sits on the horizon I pondered a lot about how I can take my teaching to the next step as I move up with my grade 8 students. For some, next year will be our third year together. They are familiar with my style and I am respectful of how they like to learn. This year we stepped it up to allow for as much voice and choice as possible with #ProjectSpeak. So I look at this Joy Sucking Dementor that is closing in on these joyful writers I have had the pleasure of learning with and I need to know how to best arm them. To continue with my Harry Potter analogy my students need to know how to summon a Petronus.

I have plenty of experience with Provincial Tests. In Alberta, for my non-Alberta readers, we have Provincial mandated exams in grade 6-9-12. For language arts this consists of a reading comprehension exam and a written exam. The written exam in grade 6 and 9 are two parts (I have not taught 12th grade so won’t speak to that format), in 6th grade students are require to write a narrative piece and craft a newpaper article style informative piece. I became very good at teaching my students in grade 6 to take these tests. We practice writing off a prompt multiple times a year, we practice writing these article responses multiple times a year. My writing curriculum was entrenched in the test. My students had been conditioned from both prior teachers and parents to think these tests mattered. My admin would claim the results didn’t matter but they certainly loved to share that our students performed higher than most in our division and placed well provincially. I felt pretty good about myself and my amazing team as we improved on results year after year. The tests stressed us out, they stressed the kids out but they were excited to hear how they did and celebrate when we were finished.

The learning really came for me when I left my school and grade and moved up to 7-8 and this year 9 and started talking to my students. Taking a page from Pernille Ripp I asked my students what made writing great and what made writing suck. The amount of responses that trashed narrative writing, the amount of students that talked about how much they hated writing and hated writing based off a picture prompt caught me off guard. I hadn’t asked my previous students because I just knew they had to accomplish the task so we taught to it. I felt terrible because I knew in that moment that my students likely felt similar. That I hadn’t helped them become writers I had only taught them how to take a test.

So as I read “Why They Can’t Write” I am uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable learning that I have contributed to a problem. I am uncomfortable knowing that I was not preparing my students for the future despite being celebrated for doing a “great job” in teaching them. So I have two options as I approach these grade 9 tests. I can go back and teach to the test, roll out the 5 paragraph essay structure and practice, practice, practice or I can teach them to write. Write like real writers. So I am digging into this book and my practice. DO I want good results? Absolutely. Should I sacrifice my students joy of writing to achieve it? NOPE.

This whole topic has made me question my teaching in the past, the years of practices that are now questionable at the very least and in some cases just offensive. The token economies, the gamified classroom, the Ancient Athens citizen simulations complete with slave interactions. All of these practices ended far before I joined Twitter and the conversations around how some may damage students. They left my practice because I listened and learned. I loved my Athens Project that looked at all elements of Ancient Athens civilization. I loved the Agora at the end, I loved reading their journals but when they wrote about slaves I felt it was wrong but outcomes about social interactions were in the curriculum and so we included it. I remember teaching grade 4 and I am horrified that I had students design their own tipi. Again learning to be better, listening to feedback and ending practices that are harmful, insulting or just plain terrible.

I am grateful for the learning that I have been able to participate in. I don’t always love how that learning comes. It can be uncomfortable to be told you are wrong, that your practices are harmful or ill-informed. But the power comes in the conversations that follow. My teaching of writing would never improve if I decided that the best measure was performance on a stupid standardized exam. My reading instruction would never have evolved beyond levels and teacher selected texts if I had not been open to the works of amazing educators like Donalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp and Kylene Beers because my kids were crushing their tests but I was crushing their reading spirits. Knowing that now I do better.

On twitter this morning I talked about learning being all about growing and sometimes we get growing pains. This is natural, being defensive of your practice when questions is natural because it is uncomfortable. Being open to the feedback and questions of others however gives us a chance to stretch and to grow despite the discomfort.

Learning can be uncomfortable but if you want to get stronger you have to work at it.

The “what” still matters

I am loving summer break. The chance to relax, read good books, hang out with friends, play video games, clean the classroom and get some much needed organization and planning done. I also spend a LOT of time on Twitter keeping up with conversations in the education realm. One issue that has been prevalent in a lot of conversations is teachers focusing on the “why” questioning the tasks we are doing and looking for the purpose. This has led to a lot of great discussions. Teachers sharing the why behind their work opens up a whole new world of reflective conversations. I have however noticed that all of this pursuit of the WHY in bringing about less focus on the WHAT it is we are doing. Bear with me while I explain.

Last week ILA (International Literacy Association) had a twitter chat that focused on the importance of explicit, systematic phonics instruction. The panel was led by a few educators who had very clear positions on the topic of phonics and their why to back their decisions was the same as mine our “what” however, is dramatically different. They advocate for whole class instruction, drill like practice and less time for independent practice and exploration of language. I advocate for balanced literacy, I advocate for time with choice text and time for for whole class instruction when needed. I advocate for real books not photocopied nonsense readers. Our whys in the end I think are the same, the teach students to read and comprehend texts. The difference lies in WHAT we are doing to get there.

One conversation I entered into during the chat was with a fellow High School teacher that advocated against a Workshop model. I am a huge advocate for a workshop model with some whole class instruction work to lay a foundation. This teachers argument was students should all have to use the same text because otherwise how can we teach a text. I defer to the brilliance that are the words of Kylene Beers here first

Books aren’t written to be taught. They are written to be loved.

-Kylene Beers

I think in the case of this person I was disagreeing with both her why because I want more than students that just sit and work on a text breaking down every piece until the joy is gone and her what. The last two years I have had more success getting students reading, talking and thinking about books than I have before. I also have students excited to come to class. It isn’t the only important piece but what are doing as educators when we forget that students should enjoy school? What are we doing when we literally say “I don’t care if they like my class, that isn’t my job” ? That isn’t a hypothetical it is a statement I have read. The WHAT we are doing is just as important as the WHY.

Another area that needs more work in this regard is work around increasing understanding around diversity education. I have had a great reflective journey on my practice that was kickstarted by following conversations such as #disrupttexts and #31DAYSIBPOC. I also was blessed with a teacher in University that was doing this type of work with soon to be teachers by challenging us to look deeper at historical thinking, representation and the narratives provided in our text books. The work of teaching our students to see the diversity around us and respect it is so important. So often we see teachers say we need a diverse library. I of course agree. The question raised lately is what exactly are we doing with this library? Just putting Ghost Boys on the shelf and not talking about it does little. Just having The Whispers as a recommended title but not book talking its importance does little. It is great to include the beautifully diverse texts that are out there but WHAT we do with them is so important.

This week there has been a great critical conversation on a piece of literature that is meant to “improve” student engagement. The author in their excitement to share posted an activity that at this point still appears to be extremely problematic as students virtually role play colonization. The WHY the author claims is to help students recognize the stories being told are leaving groups out. A great cause and why. The what, the means to achieve the why is the issue. Many educators pointed out this issue, much like students participating in slavery simulations or having debates around immigration or writing letters home from concentration camps (all actual assignments that have been on twitter in a celebratory way) this activity fails to observe the problematic issues it creates. The othering, the isolation, the failure to see the impact it can do to students who do not fit the colonizer identity. The other problem is this is a published book that many teachers who do not consider the WHAT are going to read, share and celebrate. Students need engaging work, students need to have fun at school. When those are the WHY it is a noble cause. When the WHAT we do to get there is problematic we need to stop and ask why. My social studies students are engaged with discussions around historical thinking and perspectives, what voices are being elevated and who is being erased? That can be done without making it a game.

Teaching is a combination of the WHAT and the WHY. If we are not critically thinking of both things we are not likely addressing the complete needs of our students and classroom.

My other side

Those of you who read the blog know that I am pretty passionate about teaching and literacy. While of course this is true, literacy work has not always been my first teaching love.

When I started teaching I always wanted to be a Social Studies teacher. As a student in High School I loved talking politics, I loved learning about ideologies and leaders of the past. I loved history. In university I was introduced to one of the most brilliant and compassionate educators I have ever met who taught me about the important of Historical Thinking and Historical Significance.

Over the past few years I have moved my focus more to literacy work but that does not diminish my love for Social Studies. I have held on to one Social Studies section since moving to the Junior High. Canadian history. As a student I was least interested in the history of my own country. European arrivals was where we always started, like there was nothing before then, and we just made our way up through British and French Conflict, Confederation and Modern Canada. As a kid it strikes me that most of education was slanted that way… a single story.

The other day I was having a conversation with someone and he asked me what I teach. Upon hearing I taught Social Studies he asked me “Why were we trying to rewrite history?” The question caught me off guard. I asked him what he meant and he began talking about Sir John A Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister. For my American readers he was pivotal in the confederation of Canada and instrumental in the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway which joined the country from East to West. Recently in large part due to the the work of the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada) more attention has been directed at other actions he was in part responsible. Much like the confederate statues debates in the United States Canada has had its own debates around celebrating individuals from our past through memorializing them in building names or with statues. With John A Macdonald, who’s name was on my town rec centre growing up, the discussion around his contributions to and support of the practice of Residential Schools was brought to light. Now for those that do not know about Residential Schools or for some uninformed reason think they have any redeeming qualities please do some research.

So back to the conversation. He was not pleased that our first Prime Minister, a father of confederation (he used the term), was being cast in a racist light (I am pretty sure it wasn’t the light that was racist) . The discussion came back to how (liberals) are trying to rewrite history.

I ponder on this and wonder about my job as a Social Studies instructor. Is my job to continue to tell one narrative? Is my job to teach from a resource that only briefly touches on our First Nations heritage? Is my job to continue to allow the same tired stereotypes to be repeated year in and year out? I struggle to accept that that is the job description of a Social Studies teacher.

This year I read the amazing posts from #31DaysIBPOC and in doing so gained access to a different perspective. The idea that students might not see themselves in our class discussions haunted me. The idea what they did see was not a complete picture haunted me. The fact that people still bristle at the idea that we should, as teachers of history, be teaching history confuses me. So we started questioning the text book this year, we question and push back on the long held beliefs that many of us have held on to.

As we look at the events of the world and how they seem to run on repeat I see the need for Social teachers that teach the whole history not just the parts that make “US” look good. We look at Residential Schools and the damage done that continues to impact our First Nations communities. We look at treaty agreements and their violations and we look to our neighbours to the south and modern day internment camps set up and look at our own troubling history.

I love literacy, I love the power of words. The power that the truth we find in them brings. That is the power of looking at our whole history. It isn’t about rewriting, it is about putting all the pieces together so we get a complete picture.

That is the other piece of me. I need to remember it more.

Is it worth it

This morning I was in a funk. I was hitting up my always inspirational twitter after a great workout out but something was off. My dear friend Susan coined a hashtag in our own little #curiositycrew and we laughed about #brentsinafunk. I pondered on what it was that was really bugging me and I think it all boils down to the fact that when I joined the Edu-Twitter world it was for ideas, inspiration and a supportive community.

Over the last little while I have noticed changes. There seems to be less learning popping up in my feed. Aside from the #G2Great chats my feed is filled with a lot of what I think people consider inspirational quotes or feel good stories but primarily my feed is becoming more and more a sales pitch. If it isn’t 7 million tweets a day about the newest book that is going to change my classroom (as long as I change myself) it is the newest conference that is 500 dollars plus travel and lodging and don’t even get me started on #teachersofinstagram and Teachers Pay Teachers. All of these things just keep popping up in my feed. Now I guess I could stop following people that seem to be amplifying this make money message but I followed them for a reason I just hope we find our way back to the why.

I am specifically bothered today by the trends, the room sponsorships, the staged photographs that don’t focus on joyful learning but do focus on company names being displayed for those fancy chairs and tables because flex seating is more important that authentic environments in this new monetized learning environment. I left twitter in a huff this morning for a lot of reasons but they boil down in the end to this new influencer culture. Is that what we got into this for? Did we get into teaching so we could be Rockstars? I didn’t. As I made my rounds through teacher social media I came across another post on a group that is dedicated to Jennifer Serravallo’s work. The post had nothing to do with her work however. The post was drawing attention to Teacher’s Pay Teachers 4th of July sale. Save money, save on planning, eliminate teaching tailored to your students needs. I know there are a lot of people that love Teachers Pay Teachers, they love a good Chevron border and cute Penguin clip art to fill there 40 binders to cover their 180 days. But again what is driving Teachers Pay Teachers? It isn’t authentic joyful learning. It is money, it is that desire to be pInstagram famous as I saw one person point out today on Twitter. Did we get into teaching to become famous?

I have talked about my next big issue before but can someone please explain to me how having your classroom sponsored by companies is not all kind of unethical? We had this discussion as a staff once when a company reached out to help support a school initiative. What conditions do you have to meet to get sponsored? What percentage of your room needs to be their product? I friend told me that she really wanted to get into flex seating and so was looking for ideas on Pintrest and Instagram and came across this great account that had the most amazing room. Tables that were 4000 dollars. A quick show of hands for who can afford 4000 dollars for one table…I will wait. This teacher was an instagram “influencer” all their cute TPT stuff and Pintrest worthy staged pictures got them a ton of followers and so companies started sending them things to showcase. How does the average teacher accomplish this?

I have been expanding my twitter net recently and reading about all this amazing work, amazing learning being done in classrooms all over schools but I have to dig for it. Those stories are not the ones being shared far and wide. They are being lost in a sea of “look at me”

I am not looking to shame anyone that has bought into this celebrity culture of education. I would say to each their own but we are not only responsible to ourselves. We have classrooms of kids depending on us to bring our A-game. To better our practice to meet their needs. All the followers in the world to “influence” will not make me a better teacher. Actually doing the work? That will. In this world of Social Media we can do so much good but what good is 50k followers when you don’t discuss inequity, injustice and the real challenges facing kids and schools today. Trust me kids get along fine without a ball chair and standing desk, they don’t get along fine with books falling apart and not enough chairs to go around. With great power and all that as Uncle Ben says.

Today Penny Kittle tweeted her dismay about how schools can’t “afford” libraries. In Alberta our government is cutting funding to nutritional programs that were getting students breakfasts and lunches when they needed them. The money issue is real, scary and something must be done. But unless all this “influencer” money is making its way back to students, building librairies, funding nutrition programs is it really worth it?

That’s a wrap

Today marks the first Monday of summer holidays. We wrapped up the year last Thursday with our grad ceremony for the grade 12 students. This year has been filled with learning. I was able to try new things, go to the best PD of my teaching life, became a co-moderator of the #g2great chat and continued my own learning journey all while reading some great books. I wanted to take some time to look at the moments that shaped my learning and the year.

Twitter Adventures

For those who follow the blog or follow me on Twitter you know I am a fan of the platform. Not only for the learning but also the connecting with individuals that I otherwise would not be able to. Prior to NCTE in Houston Texas I put in Twitter how excited I was to be attending and many educators I respect greatly where so kind to say they would love to meet or say “HI”, Twitter has brought me to different professional resources this year and introduced me to amazing projects like the books suggested by #projectlit and the transformative experience of #31DaysIBPOC which I will talk about more in a minute. I recommend Twitter to all educators. When I first started twitter I was excited about all the cheerleading for teaching going on. Gradually I started naturally moving to more pedagogy focused twitter discussions. #g2great is my favourite. I have contributed regularly to the chat and formed some amazing professional connections and dear friendships. This year I was asked to be a co-moderator and accepted excited to bring a slightly different perspective to the group. I am excited for the opportunity. My twitter evolution has continued through discussions like #disrupttexts and the aforementioned #31DaysIBPOC. I have become more critical of the trends that are light on substance. I question the motivation of posts more because of the opportunity to grow I have been given by critically analyzing the information out there. I think Twitter is like a buffet. There is something for everyone and this year I feel I moved more to the main course section. We all love the dessert table but I am not becoming a better teacher eating ice cream all day.


Ok, so I was sitting on my Twitter at the end of April and noticed a Tweet about a Project that was organized by Dr.Kim Parker (@TchKimPossible) and Tricia Ebarvia (@TriciaEbarvia) titled 31 Days IBPOC which can be found here. A daily post for the month of May by an educator who would identify as Indigenous-Black-Person of Colour. The first post by my Twitter friend Aeriale Johnson (@arcticisleteach) found here had me hooked. As a teacher from a rural area with little diversity I had the opportunity to learn about the experiences of educators from many different backgrounds. I eagerly anticipated the posts dropping each morning. It impacted my workouts because I had to stop and read and learn. These posts made me question my teaching in the best way. They helped me see that I have so much growing to do as I try to best help all my students. As a white teacher I thought I was doing a great job just bringing in books that celebrated or at the least provided diversity. One take away from my reading was that that is not nearly enough. So we started to examine representation more, I learned about the term ant-racism and I feel I left the experience a better teacher for all my students. Through the summer I plan to write a more in-depth series around my reflections and I have a larger post on my #31DaysIBPOC learning journey being published on my new MiddleWeb blog soon (will link here when it is published). I hope you will check out the amazing 31 educators that contributed to this project at #31DaysIBPOC So many amazing posts.

New Things to explore and build on

I am excited about the summer of learning I am about to embark on. I am diving in to Multi-genre work. I am excited to explore Book Clubs more next year. I am going to work on book clubs and integrating not only diverse books but discussions around why they are important and how we can grow as a classroom and community by looking at the world around us through text. I will lean on the experts in the field that help me to grow in the same ways I hope my students will start their learning by leaning on me. The work that needs to be done still is great. I love literacy. I want to continue to build as a teacher on the current practices that amplify my students voices and experiences but also lead them to experience new things, new thinking and build a desire as life long learners. Summer, for me, is about reading at the river and learning new things. So with that I am off to the river for the day, book in hand.

If you need a new book to check out Try The Benefits of Being and Octopus. If you are more looking for some quick thought provoking reads that you can take time to work through check out #31DaysIBPOC. Have a great summer.

Adventures in…

So for the last few weeks (8 give or take) we have been working on various projects in Room 157.

The Grade 7’s have been working on “My Story” a hodgepodge first attempt at a Multi-genre type assignment. They have written narratives, reflective pieces and poetry. They have reflected on the moments in their lives and what have helped to make them them. It has been an interesting journey for them and a great professional one for me. I have spent evenings and weekends reading through drafts, conferencing and doing it all over again. This may come as a shock but the work that is coming out is great. The work isn’t even the best part. The words of my students, the GOLDEN LINES in their poems about lessons learned from their grandparents or just sitting with them at watching the sunset. This project has been fun, to reflect on their books in the Autobiography of a Reader or the music that has influenced their life in the Life Playlists. To laugh with their mostly true memoirs or get those teacher chills as we watch some of the “Where I’m From” poetry pieces. There are people that think we do not have the time in Junior and Senior High to explore in the work of literacy. That we need to be working on essay form and reading classics. I think we should be doing those things as well but not at the expense of joyful literacy. Not at the expense of laughter, not at the expense of applause. We have been watching their poems this week and I thank Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher for the inspiration for these pieces. I have always chickened out when it comes to these big final products. I worry about them not turning out as good as I picture them in my mind, I worry about the kids feeling frustrated with the task. I started to chicken out this time, started to back away from them. Then my kids said, “We can do this Mr.Gilson” and the final products really have been fantastic.

My Grade 8’s wanted to try something a little different. They wanted to explore inquiry a bit. Dip our toes in and at least take the temperature of the unknown waters. We looked at Gravity Goldberg’s words in Teach Like Yourself when she speaks about getting students engaged. Is it by irritation (us pushing them) or agitation ( the desire to solve or address an issue)? My students picked a very diverse group of topics to explore from teen mental health to environmental threats like plastic pollution and world water consumption. One student wrote and recorded a podcast about the importance of proper Heifer feed, another about how teachers can be better for their students, spoiler alert it wasn’t tests and worksheets. We researched, gathered data and picked a method for presentation. The work has been incredible. Today we gathered to watch their TED talk-esque presentations or listen to podcasts while students shared their work. We also had a couple meat trays because you can’t have a meeting without meat trays they told me. The video did not do justice to the kids work and I was disappointed. The sound was bad we struggled to hear the first brave student that was willing to share. Then the best thing happened. “Can I just do my TED talk live?” So she got up and talked. Jello brain to demonstrate areas effected by mental illness and she shared. She talked about why this is important, how much it impacts students and how our education system does not do enough. She finished, the kids clapped and another volunteered. We tried different videos and podcast and some went well and others did not and we just rolled with it.

I think at times teachers are so worried about this perfect moment that they miss the beauty in the evolving ones. Today I watched student rise to meet a challenge. Over these last few weeks I work along side my students as we discovered ourselves as learners. Next year we step it up again. We build on the foundations that this years students set out. There is room for exploration in language arts. It needs to be changing, evolving and growing like the amazing Jason Reynolds says. I am so glad for all of our opportunities to learn and grow together this year. I have 6 more days with these awesome students. Finishing strong.

Here are a few pictures from today and a couple video poems to check out. First kick at it and I love them.

31 Days of Awesome

I have spent the last 31 mornings at the gym patiently waiting between sets for the new post for the #31DaysIBPOC blogging challenge organized by Dr.Kim Parker and Tricia Ebarvia, two wonderful educators who I have followed on Twitter and learned from through hashtags like #Disrupttexts. To check out all the amazing post please be sure to check out the site collecting them. Follow those who have written them and allow yourselves to sit in the discomfort as I have.

I always thought I did a great job making all my students feel welcome. I always felt that I was doing my best to provide students with lessons worthy of them. We didn’t make bead work Wampum belts like I saw on pintrest because that is a sacred tradition and not an arts and craft lesson. I didn’t reenact slave trading or play “run away slave” tag like I had seen on other posts as a “great way” to get students engaged in the Underground Railroad. I was aware those things were disrespectful and racist and before reading through these amazing posts I thought I was doing a great job being an ally to those students of colour, to my coworkers who represented a marginalized group. I tried to correct students language and condemn “jokes” that further marginalized group even when no members of those groups were present. Before reading these posts, these 31 heartfelt reflections from brave educators I thought I was doing a great job because I wasn’t a racist. Imagine that as a measure, “I am great because I am not racist” That sounded ridiculous today as I type it and I don’t know if it would have sounded as ridiculous 31 days ago. What this amazing journey for a white educator in predominately white area has taught me is that not being a racist is not enough. We must actively fight racism or as I am “learning the lingo” to really make a difference we as white folks need to be actively anti-racist. I am still earning what that means. I am still working on how to better help my students but because of #31daysIBPOC I have places to start.

  1. I need to get to know all of my students better, especially my students from marginalized communities. This can be IBPOC students but also our students who might be LGTBQ, another group of students who find themselves marginalized in schools and in need of support.
  2. I need to actively turn time over to the IBPOC educators in meetings when they are present. As a white male educator I don’t tend to need someone to give me time to speak. I take it. I need to take it less. I need to let other voices be heard.
  3. I need to not ask IBPOC individuals or groups to do the work for me. Asking people to explain how I offended them or how something I might be doing is racist or how I should fix it takes the work off me and puts it on them. I need to hear what is being said and then do the work to fix it. Our actions should serve as a judge of our character not our words. Talk is cheap.

So I go from here. Inspired to be better, inspired to act on behalf of all my students. To bridge the gaps that inequity in education creates. To listen to the powerful voices of IBPOC educators like the brilliant minds of #31DaysIBPOC and others. As I plan for next school year I am already questioning the texts that I plan to use. The assignments and the discussions I plan to explore. If you have not read the posts please start. They are all great. Find them all here and be uplifted. I am so grateful to all the posters for this event and am hoping to continue to learn from them all.

Live in the moments

It is nearing in on the end of the year. Today was the three week mark with students and then exam week. I am not counting down I am actually doing everything I can to slow time. This year has gone too fast. I chose to take on a student teacher. I had big plans that sort of materialized but then never got off the ground. I missed time with some of my kids, I have regretted that, not the student teacher but the missed time. The missed time, the late start, it has been a hill to climb to rebuild the relationships and restart that literacy love.

We have tried so many things. Independent reading, book clubs, whole class novels, authentic writing tasks with mentor texts, essay responses, one-pagers, Notice and Note, Articles of the Week… you name it. This year has been a collection of moments that still come back into my mind. The small little spark that lead to Project Speak that is slowly wrapping up as students are finishing off essays and TED Talks and all sorts of ways to represent their choice topics, the conversations around The Danger of a Single story and the adventure we have taken in 7th grade to tell our stories. Literacy work is beautiful and always changing. Jason Reynolds just said today at the end of his short documentary found here that language is always changing, evolving and growing. Our teaching should be doing that as well. We should be looking at what is working at what is not. We need to be so aware in those moments to not lose ourselves in “what we like” but to listen to what is going on around us and to grow and evolve with our students. That is what brought me to more inquiry based work, to explore multi-genre work. To provide my students with a flexible way to show their learning.

These last few weeks as I listen to my students share about why they think we need to teach better, test less, examine what we are eating, discuss gun control , maintain heifer weights (yup you read that right), treat celebrities better, end child poverty, focus on mental health and target the problems of social media I have learned how different my students are. I have learned that their interests are unique and their concerns are real. Things have not always gone smoothly and some of us are VERY behind but sitting beside them I am learning how best to help them. I can encourage them. Those moments where I see that spark of curiosity, that fire that agitation can stir up I am hopeful that we are on the right track with 3 weeks left to finish strong.

My grade 7 class is writing, writing about books, their life, music and poems. We have laughed about my embarrassing stories pf lost loves in High School and drowning my sorrows while belting out Always by Bon Jovi (yeah that happened) and they have shared stories of their own. The most powerful moments have been going through their poetry as they exam Where they are from. Golden Lines about treat nights with family and parties with friends to sitting on the porch with Grandpa to watch the Sunset. As the year ends I am choosing to live in those moments, to savour them because they won’t last long. Next year we get new ones but these ones, these laughs, these lines they will only happen once. As the year ends we need to remember that and celebrate it.

Tomorrow I am at track. I might bring a journal and when not taking pictures maybe I will write my own poem to share but for today I will watch Jason Reynolds speak again, read a little bit and probably go back and watch the little 7th grader on Americas Got Talent that sang about her story and almost brought me to tears. It is the moments that are most important, let’s not rush and miss them.

A view from the top

So this week was full of ups and downs. I had started the week off knowing that I had an interview for a position of Vice Principal at my Junior/Senior High School. I was not telling anyone that I had the interview because I was certain that I would not get the job. As the day arrived people started coming up to wish me luck and tell me I would be great at the position and all these really nice things. The question I had was how people knew that I had the interview in the first place. Turns out someone saw a list and decide to share with everyone.

So now that my future failure was on everyones radar I decided to focus on the task. We all should hopefully have goals. Mine was to use this moment to share my vision. I have spent the last six years really focused on literacy work and trying to transform my teaching. As I reflected on what I would love to see in a school as part of a leadership team I thought about 3 key things.

  1. Pedagogy- How are we as a staff teaching? What message is it sending?
  2. Instructional Leadership- What am I doing to help with part one? How am I helping my fellow teachers to stretch?
  3. The PLAN- What is the big picture? 5 years-10 years where do I see the school and my role in it?

With these in mind I felt ready. I had my answers, I knew what I wanted to talk about and set out for destiny haha (fully knowing it was a one in a million shot)

The interview came and the questions reflected, for the most part the work I am doing. The interview ended with 3 questions.

What is your biggest failure?

What is your biggest success?

Why do you want to be VP?

I was not ready for these questions and as I reflected on the first one I remembered something that really hit an emotional nerve. A student I felt I had failed, a victim of bullying I could not save, despite my efforts and I broke down as I tried to talk about it. Recovery did not come in the next two questions as I continued to reflect on success being those connections with my students and the all important why…to protect them, to help them because I love my community and the school.

I left the interview, during it I quoted a piece from Gravity Goldbergs “Teach Like Yourself” in which she discusses her fears.

I was not afraid going high, I was afraid of falling.

Paraphrased as I don’t have the book sitting beside me šŸ™‚

I realized leaving that interview that I felt the same way. I had no fear of the interview, I was ready, I love the school, community and students and I know that every day I do my best for them. I knew that I would continue to do that regardless of the position but I had been brave, I put it all out on the table and now was the time to wait.

I received a call later telling me that I was not the successful candidate. Two other teachers of whom I respect got the positions. I am happy for them, sad for me, but that is how it goes. It is tough reflecting and second guessing the why when you are not the successful candidate. Could I have answered something better, was my emotional reaction to a question that hit me “right in the feels” too much? Did I not present myself as the leader I feel I am? Did I buy into my hype too much?

These thoughts are going to be with me for a while. I don’t know if I will take this chance again. The fall is seemingly too far this week. The view from the top, all the possibilities were exciting. That vision for a plan may be on hold. But what I do know is the work continues, I have had amazing days in my classroom with my students because they are my focus.

Change happens. But constants remain true. We do the work for the kids, we climb new mountains and we learn not to be so afraid of the fall.

Total side note if you are not following the #31DaysIBPOC on Twitter do yourselves a favour and check it out. It is the lift we need right now.