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.

Only in Dreams

I am not talking about the Weezer song but I do now know what I will be listening to tomorrow at work. This last week or so I have been working on some professional development. It has been the culmination of a lot of thinking that I have been doing in the wake of COVID-19 and what I always thought was so out of the realm of possibility that I never planned for it, the closure of schools and move to distance learning a remote teaching. Teachers everywhere were thrust in to an unknown situation and problems many of us chose to ignore or we at the very least grateful did not impact us personally came at us full steam ahead. My own personal reflection was that my practice needed to change. Not for just this moment but for the moments to come. I have always been an advocate for voice and choice and making things available for my students to show their understanding in ways that best suit them but there was the spectre of grads hanging overhead.

I have always thought grades were silly and generally useless. I had this dream of a classroom of writers and readers that worked within conferences and feedback and celebrated each others writing. I started my new position at the middle school a few years ago like I was going to make the dream become a reality. Almost immediately other teachers told me it was not going to fly and students who had been conditioned to see success as a number pushed back hard. I was not prepared enough to push back and caved to the grading monster. Now cut back to COVID and we are at a spot where we have been told that grading needs to look different. More feedback, less numbers.

“If nothing else, we control our ability to dream. People can put barriers up if they want to… but can’t nobody stop your ability to dream.” – @sheathescholar

When I first dreamed of this classroom where were were focused on learning and not scores there were so many barriers in the way. The dream never left but I couldn’t figure out how to overcome the pushback, the barriers. But now with some of them removed I decided to dive back into the idea.

I crave learning. I have had a transformative few years I I have followed different conversations in Social media around education. I have met amazing educators and mentors in various areas. Recently I stumbled across a podcast by Sarah Zerwin for Heinemann where she discussed her new book Point-Less which can be found here I listened and was intrigued and started reading the book and my little dream of a classroom focused on learning and joyful literacy practice seemed to become a bit more of a possibility. I set out to explore ways that I could change my practice and Sarah’s book gave me that roadmap. Another barrier removed. So I started reading, learning and working.

In the book it mentions creating learning goals for out students to strive for rather than points or grades to attain. To do this we first have to determine what we value, then look at what is required and finally craft learning goals that reflect these things. Above is this weeks thinking. It is a Work in Progress.

What I Value

  • 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 

Required

  • Students can use reading strategies for understanding.
  • Students can use language to make connections to self and world. 
  • Student can think critically about what they read.
  • Students can collect and organize data on different assignments.
  • Students can work collaboratively.
  • Students can plan and create an original text.
  • Students can enhance and improve their writing. 
  • Students can present information to others.

The required list took some work. I went through the Grade 7-9 curriculum that our Education Authority provides us. There are hundreds of Language Arts Outcomes we are expected to cover in some fashion but the Essential ones help to narrow things down a bit. I took those essentials and then organized them into the categories above. Luckily some of this essential finding had been done in working groups so I only had to go through about 30 outcomes for each grade and sort out which one fit together. The result of looking at this list and bringing them together with my values resulted in the Learning Goals that I want to present to my Language Arts students next year.

The Learning Goals

  1. The Student displays the habits of a reader. Setting and adjusting goals, reading choice books and sharing with peers.
  2. The Student has displayed understanding of Notice and Note and other reading tools to assist in critically analyzing multiple forms of text.
  3. The student has demonstrated curiosity in pursuing research topics they are interested in and presented them to peers in an appropriate way that suited their purpose. 
  4. The student utilizes their notebook for reading reflection and crafting written response.
  5. The student applies connections in their own life to multiple forms of text and provides evidence of critical thinking around these connections.
  6. The student demonstrates multiple revisions to their writing considering feedback from multiple sources.
  7. The student has demonstrated being a member of our reading community through bookclub participation and sharing book talks.
  8. The students has crafted multiple writing pieces creating a portfolio of work to share w/ a chosen audience.
  9. Student has demonstrated the attitude of a life long learning applying feed back to improve products.
  10. The student has demonstrated qualities of teamwork participating in class discussions and treating others with respect and kindness. 

These are a draft, a work in progress much like myself. I will continue to spend the time learning and dreaming about a “better” and what part I can play in helping that come to light. There is so much work to do. When we start to act on the dreams we have they can become real. Most certainly there will be barriers in the way that make us step back and look for solutions but I think the solutions are out there. Like shea martin said tonight in the last session of a brilliant series I was blessed to participate in, “can’t nobody stop your ability to dream”

Today I took a step towards one of my dreams. Tomorrow I will take another. Things are changing because I am moving forward. I invite everyone to join me.

Here are the dogs because well… they are cute.

Reflections on Whatever This Is

I don’t know what to really call this distance education, remote teaching, home school, home learning, whatever it is. What I do know is it is about a million times harder than I thought it would be with a dramatically reduced amount of perks. It is basically like You are planning and creating learning experiences, making tutorial videos and scheduling zoom lessons and there there is all the feedback. See, for those who are watching from a distance you might think this would be easier. No students in the building, less behaviours to deal with. But those folks are not teachers. If they were they would know that the kids in the building is the best part. The conversations, the laughter, the moments of total honesty, the connections. That is what we miss so much, that is what makes our jobs the best in the world. So for now we just add more. All feedback is done absent of our students beside us. We spend all of our time in front of a camera or in front of a screen. It is an odd time. Teaching is happening, learning is happening but it is different. I am not so sure what to call it.

I have felt moderate levels of success as we have maneuvered these new waters and so here are some completely unsolicited and maybe incredibly unhelpful tips because we all have different situations but here goes.

  1. Have grace for yourself, your co-workers, your students and their parents– Everyone is stressed right now. Last week I was mad as heck after seeing some less than supportive feedback. I felt attacked, then I sat with it. Realizing we are all stressed I took steps to address the feedback. I am still mad, don’t get me wrong, but I also understand that this is not about me. There are so many moving parts and we need to make room for that. Some kids need due dates, some don’t. Some parents want an email more often than others. Some coworkers need to be left alone and others need some interaction. We all need a little grace as we maneuver this reality.
  2. Less is more regarding classwork- When this classroom closure was announced and we were told we would be going to this model I was not happy but I did feel ready as my students were about to being some larger writing related projects. I thought that posting these assignments in their entirety for students to work on in a choice approach would be best. For some it was, for others… it was not. So we are adjusting, adding check in dates, reducing pieces of the assignments to the individual needs of students and relying more on feedback than grading. Which brings me to my next point.
  3. Grading might be more important to students then we think- I am seeing a lot of posts about forget the grades, connection is more important, relationships… all of these things are true. From students I am also hearing “Mr.Gilson what is my grade on this assignment?” or “I see the feedback but what is my grade?” Students are use to grades, they have attached a value to them. So while we need to move away from this practice as we know it I am not sure completely eliminating grades is an answer. Compassion in grading? Absolutely. Perhaps we focus on less with more feedback. This one is tricky for me I am not sure if my solution fits for everyone but my students in the majority have asked that I continue grading so in some form I will.
  4. Balance- I have worked out a pretty balanced schedule for myself. From 8:30-10:00 I am making tutorial videos and providing assignment feedback. I spend the next 2 hours with available zoom meeting time open to my students. This operates as a drop in but we can also go over general information. In the afternoon I record a book talk, continue with individual feedback, plan both short and long term and work on personal PD. I feel like I am busier than ever but I am learning a lot about ways I can adjust my teaching to have multiple avenues for success for my students.

As I reflect on what has gone well and what has not one thing has become very clear to me. There is no going back to “normal”. There was always inequity in the education system when we look at access to technology, meals, support at home, quality internet. All these things were true before COVID and unless there is some shift and people no longer care about holding on to the advantages they have these inequities will exist after. What I can control is looking at how my practice either pushes back on that system or supports it.

While this experience has not been ideal and I would give anything to have my students back in my classroom. Learning and researching new ways to support them has been a surprising development. As I look towards finishing off this year with a greater focus on learning and building ourselves I am also looking forward to trying new things next year. Researching and developing better ways to measure learning.

For too long we have had the luxury of ease and became comfortable in the way we do things. Some of us leaned into our comfort and ignored the issues. This pandemic has forced us to look at our practice good and bad. We have a choice now to act on what we have seen or just hold on to hope that we can return to normal.

We have a choice.

No Going Back

As I am sitting enjoying my Easter weekend watching movies and playing video games a very small piece of me misses the hustle and bustle of the holiday traditions before COVID-19. The crowded houses, the kids screaming, the card games, the laughter, the food with family. I miss it but if everyone does their part these things will be back.

As a teacher COVID really has forced a lot of change. How we deliver instruction, how we check in our kids, how we assess. It all had to be shoved to the side and we have had to look at new ways of doing things. Nothing is going perfectly for anyone. The balance of how much work should be assigned, how we check on our students learning, how we address access issues, be it technology or even time, are conversations that we are having now out of desperation that we should have been having years ago out of compassion.

For as long as I have been teaching and much longer the education system has been built on convenience. We assigned whole class novels because it was easier to prepare one lesson and read one book, we gave tests, usually multiple choice, because it was quick assessment that was easy to mark. We assigned hours of homework to show parents how hard kids are working but then just added them to a pile after the “homework” check. Over the years new things promised to “fix” education have come up, most of which have relied heavily on technology. The Flipped classroom was heralded as a game-changer by many. Teachers would prerecord lessons and kids would watch them as homework so that our class time and time in front of the teacher was less about lecture and more about working. Sure a few kids would miss out because they didn’t have access outside of school but there was always lunch hour or study hall (that last sentence was written in the snarkiest voice I can muster).

See our focus was never one of differentiation it was one of compliance. Now with COVID we are being granted an opportunity to slow everything down. It is outrageous to assume students should be spending 8 hours a day while at home with no support working on school work, so we are being more purposeful in what we are asking students to do. It is outrageous to hold on to old assessment practices like tests when the validity of such a practice would be impossible to verify in this current distance model. Now faced with the reality that all students need to be working from home we are finally looking at the inequity that comes with lack of technology access, or reliable internet when assigning work that requires those tools and looking for solutions. We (teachers generally) are finally looking at and trying to address all the practices we once held dear and searching for better.

Yet still there are voices that are calling for a return to normal. They want to just go back to how things were. Comfortable.

After three weeks of not having to put a grade on things and just provide feedback to my students as they turn in work, I have to say, I am not interested in going back to how things were when the first question from students was never anything but “what did I get?” This is a perfect time to move away from grades as something to win and move towards real authentic learning. It is a great time to really assess our practices as teachers and take steps forward refusing once this virus has cleared to step backwards. We have an opportunity to really change the system here but only if we take it.

As we continue on with this I hope for nothing more than the virus to be gone and my students back in my classroom. The classroom will be different. I plan to spend this time learning more about how I can help my students achieve without the grades of old hanging above their heads. I plan to read their work and enjoy their lines and reflections. I plan to talk about books. All the things we are doing now but without going back to the grades. I think it can be done, others are doing it already.

Why go back?

The Brightness of Hope has been here a long time.

As the world battles an “all hands on deck war” with COVID-19 many still have hopes that have not yet been fulfilled. “When we have conquered it – and we will – may we be equally committed to freeing the world from the virus of hunger and freeing neighbourhoods and nations from the virus of poverty” and hope for safer school and the gift of personal dignity for every child.

Elder Jeffrey R Holland Apostle Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

I am not a churchy person, I imagine many of my readers would not have guessed I regularly attend church. I don’t really talk about that part of my life. As I listened to the above-quoted speaker this weekend, however, I really had to pause. He was talking about hope and remaining hopeful in these difficult times. I think why his quote struck me was because it went beyond this current foe we face with COVID-19 and brought us back to the foes we have been facing in both education and the world for some time.

There has been a pattern lately on Twitter and other Social Media platforms with new voices raising the alarms of inequality. With the closing of school buildings across the world to protect everyone from the virus, teachers have begun remote teaching, distance learning, online classes, whatever you want to call it. This shift away from our physical buildings has made an already recognized problem by many as a new issue that some are being forced to address.

I am grateful that there are more educators concerned now and willing to raise a voice to bring attention to these problems, but these problems are not new just because they are new to this particular group of educators?

There have been educators that have been doing work in trying to bring about a more equitable system of education for years. They have been addressing issues around book access, internet access, food access, DRINKING WATER, safe areas to and from school. For some educators, COVID was not a wake-up call, it was just another challenge. They were trying to address these inequalities far before it became “safe” to do so. They are not advocating for learning to stop, like some I have seen. They are advocating for teaching the education system to change to close these gaps.

What can we (educators late to the conversation) do?

I don’t know the answer to the question but I know where I can get a lot of learning and hopefully help participate in finding one. These educators that were talking about this far before COVID and I don’t know the answer to the question but I know where I can get a lot of learning and hopefully help participate in finding one. The educators that were talking about this far before COVID and will continue to work long after because as Elder Holland says. “When we have conquered it – and we will” they are that hope.

When I see people shouting from the rooftops over the last few weeks about how unfair this system is and how concerned they are I wonder to myself, where were you a few months ago? Why was access to healthy drinking water, food, internet, books not an issue then? Why did you choose to ignore these issues and instead focus on the easy parts?

Elder Holland added another point,

May we press forward with love in our hearts, walking in the “brightness of hope” that lights the path

Elder Jeffrey R Holland

I am pondering today on who brings that brightness to these conversations around equity for me. Spoiler alert! It is not the vultures who are trying to promote their brands on Teachers Pay Teachers and Social Media throwing around buzz words.

For me, the brightness of hope comes in the work and wisdom shared by shea martin and the group they have assembled with friends, the liberate and chill collective, it is the teachers who have been working every day to shine a light on inequality such as Lorena Germán who has created an awesome resource in her Anti Racist reading instruction workbook that can be found for purchase at her website The Multicultural Classroom here. Hope comes in the form of like-minded educators that have been helping me learn and grow. Hope comes in movements like #Disrupttexts that are challenging the system and pushing back led by amazing educators like Dr. Kim Parker, Tricia Ebarvia, the above mentioned Lorena Germán and Julia Torres. Hope comes in the form of brilliance on the page that #31DaysIBPOC was for me that is returning in less than a months time and I am so excited again! A shout out to Dr.Parker and Tricia Ebarvia for all the amazing work they put into bringing all the amazing folx who participate and share their truth to build my learning. Hope comes in the form of my students as they stretch themselves to fit this new current reality. The papers they continue to submit and the beautiful words they write. It comes in a book talk written by a rural kid from Magrath Alberta Canada praising the work of Angie Thomas after reading On the Come Up

If you want a book that will really flip your thinking and give you a new and better understanding and perspective, this is a good book to read. It shouldn’t be taken lightly or laughed at or had anything said about it like “ya right that would never happen.” Because it does, it is happening. I believe that’s one of the reasons Angie Thomas writes books like this one. To open people’s eyes. Not only to do that but actually give those people acknowledgement. How many books have you read that follows a coloured teen as the main character that deals with gang violence and racism? They can’t go unseen. They need to be seen and seen for the right reasons, not stereotyped and harassed because of merely their ethnicity. On The Come Up is an amazing book.

Grade 9 student

The brightness of hope has been here a long time. We just need to follow it. If you are only now alarmed by the inequity in our systems, you have purposefully ignored it. Find brightness to learn from as I have. Work to support them in what they do. Amplify their message. There is room for everyone in the work of equity, but let us remember those who have been doing this work for far longer and maybe make sure we take our spot behind the curtain. If you are just now getting wise to this conversation, it’s not too late. You’re welcome to join me as a roadie on this tour. We are not the stars though, those roles have been filled.

It only took a pandemic

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

Then COVID hit home.

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

No

Here is what I think happened.

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

Sadly it seems it took a Pandemic.

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

Learning

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

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

Faith

We have 2 dogs.

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

A blade of green grass.

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

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

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

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

I need to have faith.

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

I have faith.

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

Incomplete

I don’t know where to start.

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

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

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

The kids.

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

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

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

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

I miss them.

I am a teacher… right now I am incomplete.

A Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Students of Room 157:

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

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

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

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

-MR.G

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

On we go.

Thank You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You.