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.

Take a moment

Today I finished two books. I started them both before school set in but I have been so busy. Between the gym, school day, walking the dog, night work to get ready for the next school day I find myself having less and less time for just sitting down and reading a book. Last night I decided to just turn off the TV and read, because reading is fun. I finished PAX which was spectacular and then remembered I had another started but unfinished story to complete. So tonight after the dog walking I finished that one as well.

My busy schedule and students voicing how tired they were today (Monday’s are always the worst) made me wonder why they were so tired. I asked why and the list of things kids have to do some times is staggering. Most of it they want to do, heck I want to do everything on my list too. I love the gym, they love hockey, I love my job, they love soccer, I love walking the dog, they love dance. Just because we love doing something doesn’t mean we don’t need to take a moment and realize when we need to just have some wind down time.

I needed my moments today to reset. Give my brain a break from busy and enjoy a few good books and remember that it is nice to just relax and fall into another world. Take a moment everyday and enjoy it either reading or just relaxing. We all need it. Especially the kids.

Perseverance-An Essential Skill

I think the number one phrase I hear from parents is, “What can I do to help my child at home?” My answer previous to this year has always been, “Read more, read to them, read with them, talk about your reading and practice the basic math facts.”

While I do strongly believe this is true and it certainly will help I had the thought today that the main issue that gets in the way of success is giving up. I told my students the other day that it is ok to lose. Progress is built off failures. Too often though when people fail, kids and adults, we just say well this is not for me.

The consequences of this mindset when it comes to school work is that when students are faced with a challenge in reading, and they are not prepared to do the work to solve the problem, they read less. When it comes to math they develop the “I am not good at math” attitude. Learned helplessness or the lack of perseverance I think is the biggest hurdle that is faced in the classroom and really even in adult life. We must learn that challenges make us stronger, make us better…as long as we are willing to get up after we fall, push through the hard parts and realize that we can do it!

I want my students to know that they can accomplish anything if they keep trying. I think that really is, deep down, what all teachers want their students to know at the end of the day. I can read the books that interest me, I can solve this math problem, I can do anything, if not today maybe tomorrow. That is what I want help with, getting that message to my students that they can climb a mountain if they want to, they just have to keep putting one foot in front of they other. Help them with that.

Reading to them/with them sure doesn’t hurt if you want to add that to the list as well 🙂


International Literacy Day

Today I sat down and read a picture book with the kids. It was the brilliant “What Do You Do With An Idea?” and it was fun talking about what we were taking from the text and wondering why there was an egg with a crown and chicken feet and how that could possibly represent an “idea”. We went on from that to introduce Genius Hour but that is a post for another day.

Thursday September 8th is International Literacy Day so I wanted to take a few minutes to share my general thoughts on reading and literacy.

We started our Class Read Aloud with the highest votes going to my favourite book and now 6G classic “The Graveyard Book”. Not only is this story at times a nail biter it is also rich in imagery, opportunities to ask questions, make predictions, visualize…you name it. It is scary at times which I think is what catches the kids right on the first page as the the man Jack creeps through his victims home to finish the job not knowing his final victim an 18 month old has found refuge with the ghosts of the graveyard across the street. Nobody Owens as he soon becomes known is a fantastic character that is surprisingly relatable for being raised in a graveyard with a Vampire as his guardian.

There is nothing better than walking into a classroom with  readers deep in their books or writers putting their thoughts and ideas to paper. This year will be a test for me in letting go of the reigns, giving more freedom and choice and in turn more motivation and passion to pursue the books they want, the ideas they want to put to paper. We will be doing all these thing but we still have work to do. Refine the tools we need for reading with not just a readers eye but a thinkers. Why did the character make that choice? What message does the author want us to take from this story? These questions are rarely explicitly stated so when meaning is lost in our reading what do we do? An increase in reading time is great but without the proper tools a struggling reader will not likely reach their potential. Think about if you are lost in the woods with no understanding of the map, you can read it over and over but if it makes no sense you are only guessing. You need tools to learn and some of those tools are our fix up strategies.

This year we plan to focus on 7 Fix Ups

  1. Ask Questions and Infer
  2. Make Predictions
  3. Recognize Connections: Self-Texts-World
  4. Retell and Summarize
  5. Visualize
  6. Reflect in Writing
  7. STOP and Think

We will be investigating each of these fix ups in the next few weeks and revisiting them constantly over the year.

My goal for this year in literacy is beyond levels on an assessment, I want my students to love reading as much as I do, to find their own Graveyard Books that they read over and over again and one day can share with others and inspire them to read as well.