[insert name] you’re a star!

I go back to my recent find Billy’s Booger (check out my summary in the book box) for todays blog post.

I am a firm believer in the idea that if given the chance everyone can be a star. Given the freedom to explore what interests them, given a chance to lead most will take the opportunity and shine. When they do not it is a great time to discuss perseverance but that post can be found elsewhere.

For now we are talking about letting people shine. As a teacher I think a part of my job is providing a safe place for kids to learn what they are good at or with effort could be good at. A chance to safely explore knowing that I will help them when they stumble and pick them up when they fall.

Some of us shine in math others reading, others everything. Today we read an article about how teachers tend to focus more instruction on boys, because they are rowdy we go to them for the answers to keep them busy, because they are active we tend to let them choose the games at recess or gym. Generally I think this is still the case, it is the reason, the article claimed, that boys tend to do better than girls in Science and Math (for the record I try very hard to spread out all the question asking and I believe girls are just as good at science and math as boys, also I have girls this year that kick butt in sports and academics, just to be clear)

Setting limitations, holding people back, not letting them shine has detrimental ongoing effects. The more we are told, “It is not your turn”, “This really isn’t your thing” ” This person does it better” and so on the more we believe it.

My favourite thing to see is kids finding something that they are good at, even more so finding something that they are good at that they never would have imagined. If we do not give kids the chance to shine they won’t. They will hide in the corner keeping the light low. As adults we need to help them, give them a chance to shine and see where they take it.


More than a mark

It is the time of year when the report card goes out. As a kid I dreaded this moment. A child of the letter grades and percentages I worked hard enough to get by but I was never an over achiever. Solid B- or C+ I was average. My parents always told me I was not an “average” student. I could have done better but my moms proudest moment was not when I brought home a report card full of A’s. My moms proudest moment of me was when my 3rd grade teacher called her at home to tell her how kind and inviting I was to a new student. I had demonstrated a quality that lasts far longer than the tally of A+’s or 100% or 5’s or whatever a report card reports on.

As a teacher we are required to report on what our students have learned and what they still need to learn. As time goes on we move further away from A+ or E for excellent and closer to, “Johnny has excelled in decimals but still is developing in factors and multiples” Descriptive feedback that means something. But as one of my kids pointed out the other day, “this is grade 6 and in the big picture it is not that important” while I disagree I was in grade 6 once and I think I said the same thing.

The marks I get in math might not matter, the percentage of questions I get right on a Science test on trees will not impact my college acceptance. But the skills I learn, the attitude I hold towards education and ultimately the kind of person I am is something that is being developed more at this age.

My goal as a teacher is to help my students see that if at first they are not successful it is ok as long as they don’t think the answer is to quit. When they struggle, that they know asking for help is ok and shows you are strong enough to realize you need it. That treating each other with respect and kindness will make you far more memorable to your peers than having the best report card. Students should strive to be more than a collection of marks.

Don’t get me wrong I think the learning is important, I am thrilled for my students when they reach or exceed their goals but I am more excited when they realize they can be successful and their confidence is bolstered. The R on their reading test is not the important part or that it correlates to a 2 on their report card, numbers and letter are numbers and letters but the smile on a student that gained confidence and the knowledge that they CAN do hard things, that they can learn, that they can grow, that is worth its weight in gold.

Please remember that of course achievement is important but it is only a snapshot. After all it isn’t like we sit around talking about how Johnny won the gold medal in his grade 6 track meet thirty years later but we do remember our friends, the classmates that were kind to everyone. That is what leaves an impression. We are all more than just a mark.

Why I will always give chances

“Giving up is the only sure way to fail.” – Gena Showalter

There has been a lot of conversation over the years in the change in education where kids seem to “not be aloud to fail”. I disagree with the idea they are not aloud to but if they end up not being successful it is not going to be because I have limited their opportunities to try and get it right.

We had a Science test last week and today kids found out how they did. I had set bench marks for when I would give an opportunity to take an addition assessment to help their mark. Some were excited about their mark others were crushed. I reminded those who would be doing a follow up that this was to help them, that we would work together and look at what they really needed to know and how I could help them get there.

I feel my job is to keep trying DIFFERENT things if at first I don’t succeed. The idea that an assessment is THE END is such an opposing idea to learning.

Can you imagine a baby trying to walk? Oh I didn’t make it guess I better just crawl forever!

Heck, failed a drivers test…No car for you ever.

I hope my students learn to study, apply our lessons to their work and all the other things teachers hope for. But more than that I hope they learn that they get to keep trying until they get it right. Learning should not be a one and done. Learning is a journey, sometimes we make a wrong turns. My hope and goal is to teach them that a few steps the wrong way doesn’t mean we are lost we just have to take a few steps back to find our way.


Community Building

In the past I have always structured a part of my class time around TRIBES. A community building and cooperative learning program. This year because of other obligations I did not start my year with it because I did not feel like I had the extra time. That was a mistake that I plan to rectify.

Over the past weeks there has been an increase in small altercations, a disconnect in how to handle conflict in a way that deescalates the problem. I don’t believe kids are naturally malicious. Mean is a learned behaviour but I think it becomes much harder to be mean when you view everyone as part of the community. TRIBES aims to help with that.

TRIBES is framed around 4 agreements that really everyone should adopt.

1.Attentive Listening– So often when having a disagreement or discussion when the other person is speaking we are already thinking of our response. We don’t listen to the person fully and many times misunderstandings come  from the small fact that we didn’t listen.

2.Mutual Respect– The GOLDEN RULE. So frequently taught and just as quickly forgotten when frustrated or feeling wronged. You can not solve your differences with others by treating them poorly by devaluing them.

3. Appreciations, No putdowns– I mention this lots but we need to focus on the positives not the negatives. Getting cut or breaking a bone takes moments but it takes a long time to heal. This is the same for mean words and put downs. We remember them much longer than the moments it took for someone to say them. Positives stay with us a lot longer as well.

4. Right to Pass– There has to be a safety built in when asking people to share and make themselves vulnerable. Permission to say, “I am not ready to share yet” ensures that when they are ready it is because they are comfortable and not because they are forced.

In a world that is becoming more and more divisive  we should all respect one another as people. Sure people we disagree with at times but not to the point that we devalue them. Once we see others as less than we make it “Us vs Them” I do not want a class room that operates that way and I do not want students leaving my room at the end of the year thinking that some people have more worth than others. Next week we start with some games and discussion.

Stay Tuned.



International Picture Book Month

How is this the first I am hearing that November is International Picture Book Month? Yesterday after buying some great picture books that I will be sharing with the class I stumbled on this little fact and it got me thinking about how as we grow older we stop reading picture books.

One of the books I picked up this weekend is A Child of Books. Wonderful little read and it touches on the fact that our reading often changes as we get older, we forget the fun of reading, the adventures that we can take in a picture book. We become busy, we read for information more for fun. This year we are focusing much more on reading for pleasure, reading by choice not just because we have to. We read a lot and it is great but we read novels and non fiction. Novels are an investment of time, a worthy one, but an investment. The pay back is not immediate. Non-fiction is interesting to so many but if all we read is facts and information we start to forget to use our imaginations.

Picture books teach us lessons in only a few short pages and at the same time can take us on an adventure. I love finding fun books that are unique. My friend Donna once helped me find the wonderful author Timothy Basil Ering and his book “The Story of Frog Belly Ratbone” with messages about bullying and the importance of protecting the environment and very unique art this book grabbed my attention and imagination almost immediately.


Picture Books like all the stories of Peter Reynolds can have powerful messages about identity, perseverance, acceptance and simply being yourself. Picture Books are a great way to address important issues like bullying and acceptance with kids in a way they can understand. The story Zero is one of my favourites for this reason.


And Picture Books can just be fun ways to tell fun stories. Robert Munsch stories, Berenstain Bears, these are the books I grew up with and still remember. My favourite was the clean up the room book, I liked the toys and wished I had them.

Picture Books are important. As a teacher they are a great way to model writing, teach lessons and build engagement in the classroom. The trick is that you have to sell it. You need to be a fan of reading and a fan of picture books to make sure the “older” kids don’t see them as childish but as fun.

This month I am going to read a picture book a day to my class. Share some of my favourites and invite them to share theirs. The fun of reading is the best part and it would be a shame if I was a part of letting that happen.


Teaching to Lead

Much of the time I think we as educators and parents focus most of our worries on the academics. Are kids reading well? Can they multiply or divide? ?How can we improve this sentence? While these are of course important I think an equally important if not more important goal is to foster in children a desire to lead and a faith that they have the qualities of a leader.

Sometimes I think we all are looking so hard for someone else to lead us through the unknown we get lost looking when we should be asking ourselves if we can do it. Leadership skills are in all of us but tapping into them I think is a whole different issue.

So what are the challenges? Personally I think we need to establish a difference between being a leader and being bossy or controlling. There is that meme that a person states “Some think my daughter is bossy, I call it developing leadership skills” I disagree with this on a fundamental level. A leader should inspire and no one is ever inspired by bossy people. Not on the playground, not in the classroom and not in the workplace. I feel a part of my job is helping my students realize that they have the ability to be a leader.

One of my favourite stories is “The North Star” by Peter Reynolds. The story tells the tale of a boy who is faced with many paths to travel, a bossy crow tells him to follow a certain direction, he does, leading to a harder and harder journey. Eventually he realizes that he must make his own decisions, he must forge his own path, he must take the lead in his journey to realize his potential.

We must work to help kids realize that they can choose the path  least travelled or even never travelled. They do not need to be pulled if they have unique ideas, thoughts or plans we should be nurturing them and helping them to take their own paths. Nothing innovative comes from idly  following the leadership of others. Working together, building off each others ideas, learning and growing. That requires leadership in all of us and hopefully we can help everyone realize they have that in them.

What a week…

A whirlwind week is drawing to a close. I turn 34 tomorrow (despite my initial thoughts I was only turning 33) and I just want to take a moment to reflect on how great my job is, my class is and life in general.

We have been reading the Graveyard Book, it is among my favourite books, and finally finished it this week. Wednesday I read for 90 minutes straight. A few times I worried that I had lost some of the class while they shuffled some cards or played with some kind of fiddle toy while I read but the protests to keep reading followed by retells to prove they were listening kept me going. Reading the opinions of the book today made me grateful I have a class who has adopted my love for reading. The very simple message of having all the potential to choose our own path is a great way to start the year.

We are working on our Social Projects on Ancient Athens at the moment and it is going really well. I am a social studies nerd and even a hint of pulling the kids over to my side of the “favourite subject” argument is great. I am really looking forward to our final presentations. I am grateful they are engaged and learning.

We have had our share of drama this week between arguments and sickness but our disinfecting party the last few days has been fun. Daily Run Ball has been a blast but the best part is there is no hint of a “class system” when these kids play their games. They include everyone, they watch out for everyone and they cheer on everyone. The best parts of my week have been the displays of pure kindness that seems to be missing so much these days. Just watch the news.

I get to be the leader of the best community. After this whirlwind week, the ups and the downs I choose to focus on the ups. I received a birthday card today, it referred to me as their favourite teacher ever (which was nice) but even better I was called a “Glorious Unicorn”, my birthday wish…That we can all be Glorious Unicorns.


Forgiveness-The Art of saying Sorry

It is bound to happen in the life of all kids and probably more so in the life of adults. We are going to either be offended or offend someone (more likely both) and really not know how to handle the situation after the damage is done.

Every year, just like parents I am sure, I get the Mr.Gilson he said…. or Mr.Gilson she just… countless times. The “go to” advice has been, “ok well stay away from them and I will talk to them”. I do and we work on how the person can fix the damage that they have done. The problem is in the moment they really are not sorry, they are sorry they got caught, they are sorry they got in trouble but they are not sorry for their actions because most of the time they feel they were justified because of some other perceived wrong. It might be tough to hear but adults are the same way.

I just received some new picture books in the mail because I LOVE picture books and one I ordered was “Desmond and the Very Mean Word”. The message of the story is that one can not move on from negative thoughts feelings and inevitably actions without forgiving those who we feel wronged us.Some times this means we might also need to apologize but by forgiving someone for their unkind behaviour we release ourselves from having to think about what they have said and done, we move on and focus on the good things and hope that our example can help the person realize their actions were not kind and they want to apologize so that they too can be free to think about something positive.

My advice going forward will not be ignore them, stay away from them, I will talk to them. It will be, forgive them, move on and lets hope they can apologize and work to make things better. I am going to practice it to.

Leave the cookie cutters at home

There are so many different ways that kids learn, so many different ways teachers teach. It is a juggling act a lot of the time. Math is always the biggest hurdle. The art of balancing modelling and guided practice with individual practice and assessment. Will teaching one concept one way reach all my kids? No, I would say that has never happened. The trick is sorting out what is the best way to reach the largest amount of kids and then work with the smaller groups. Today I had a smaller group day and there was definitely some promise in the outcome but it still was not successful for every learner. Tomorrow I try something else with the ones struggling the most and see if we find the right approach for them.

The same should be said for behavioural expectations. How can we expect each child that we already know learns differently to fall in line with the same expectations that we have for their peers? To me it is a crazy idea. A few years ago I had a couple students that when pushed to the limit would respond with cursing and a chair thrown in my general direction. I learned from that experience pretty quick that I had to allow for a totally different plan and set of expectations for those students than I did the rest.

Every year we get kids in the classroom that might need more room to walk around while the lesson is going, or maybe a stroll down the hall, doodling in their books while a read aloud is happening. We make room for kids that need to learn differently we can not treat them all the same.

I think this goes for teachers as well. We all have different strengths and we should be taking advantage of those strengths the best we possibly can. We should not all teach the same because the less creativity we put into our instruction the less engaging it is going to be.

We must allow for individuality to be embraced. A greater learning will come from those able to explore what fascinates them and how best they learn.

Embracing what is unique can only build stronger learning communities.

One month in…the party has only just begun.