Language is Powerful

This week it seems the opportunity to discuss language be it written, read or spoken, and the power that comes with it has popped up many times in class.

My students came in at the end of Wednesday for their last period class after a long weekend and were very excited to talk about the fact that Don Cherry was fired over comments that many perceived as racist others claimed xenophobic and at the very least ignorant regarding immigrants to Canada while on National Television. One of my students proclaimed that he shouldn’t have been fired because of Freedom of Speech so we addressed myth number one.

Freedom of Speech does not equal Freedom from Consequence.

Because my class was not so much up in arms about his racist comments, that I challenged next, as they were his “rights” being violated I want to discuss that first. I think as teachers we are doing kids a disservice by promoting this idea of Freedom of Speech over all things. The amount of times that a student makes a rude remark, a racist or homophobic remark and when corrected claim Freedom of Speech would be hard to keep track of. This week alone I have heard it multiple times. This time I decided we needed to take a step back and discuss. It was helpful that their Social Studies teacher told them to ask me my opinion on this topic. When it first came up I told them it didn’t matter what I thought about Don Cherry personally but that we need to look at the power language holds. That as a language arts teacher I love it so much because of the power words have to make us better, to fill us up, to feel. The power stories have to make us connect. But I followed with the power words have to do harm. Spoken aloud words that tear us down stick, they erase the proceeding words that may have been great because the stain of the offensive, harmful words distract us from the rest. On reflection I remembered last week as a students gave a fantastic book talk in class, he was animated, the class was into it. As he wrapped up he said to the class, “If you don’t read this book (dramatic pause) well you are gay” My immediate reaction was shocked, students gasped and I took the moment to discuss why this was not ok. That using calling people gay as a way to knock them down was not only inappropriate but it was offensive. He recognized his mistake and we discussed how his choice of language distracted from an otherwise great book talk. I still struggle with how to address the use of racially insensitive comments in class and even racist terms being used with as the kids say “permission” from their non-white friends. It is a constant discussion but I am hopeful that they will see how damaging and harmful these words and this language can be. Even yesterday I spent the last moments of the day explaining to a student why it was not appropriate to refer to another students culture as “your people” when discussing a restaurant. While these might not be big moments they are teachable ones.

We need to raise awareness to create change

Yesterday and well every day I see teachers, mostly white, refer to their friend group on Twitter as their “Tribe”. Every day I see IBPOC educators doing the work correcting this word use. Requesting that another word is used as Tribe has significant meaning in their culture and would rather it not be thrown around. Often those asking this simply request are met with aggression. I am always disappointed when I see this display of whiteness so deep that we can’t even admit that perhaps a cute instagram post about your “Tribe” with some cute clip art hold more value to you than the human being asking you to respect their culture. The idea of “when we know better, do better” made famous by Maya Angelou (not some Social media post attached as a hashtag) is one I try to live by. I use to joke about someone who has inspired me being my Spirit Animal, I think at the time I claimed it was Carol from The Walking Dead. I had multiple folx call me out in this as insensitive to first nations people and the suggestion was made to self edit and use Patronus from Harry Potter instead. It was an easy adjustment that was followed by an apology for my initial missteps. Last week while writing a student asked me to read through an initial draft. We sat down and I began reading. At one point he referred to a character in his story as disabled. I asked him where he was planning to go with the character and why “disabled” he said it was because the character was really annoying so, you know, disabled. I asked them if they understood what ableism was. How discriminating against disabled people by using disability to describe a character in a negative way was something they needed to change. Their attempts to self edit became all just more examples of the same. You can I am sure imagine the words. We talked about representation we discussed a need for compassion and how our word choice matters. I am hopeful as I prepare to look at finished drafts that this problematic wording was removed.

The power in words.

I discussed with my kids why words hold so much power. We talked about the transformative experience both fiction and non-fiction work can have if we are open to being changed by them. I always go back to Kylene Beers on this. Reading should change us. It should teach us. It should help us grow. My students are still developing an appreciation for the world around them. They are still working to understand the power of language. I am still learning it too. I am grateful for all the examples I have that help me to see the power of words. As I sit on a Saturday watching Disney + writing and planning I am preparing to start some book clubs. My students are going to jump in and explore amazing characters and beautiful words crafted by authors of all different backgrounds. The idea to reach beyond where we are and move to something more empathetic, more accepting, more inclusive.

Words have the power to do that.

The Weaponization of Kindness

This week I read an amazing post by Doug Robertson also known as @TheWeirdTeacher on Twitter and it can be found here. It is a great post that provides some commentary on the depth of messages that those in influential “EduTwitter” leadership roles are promoting while ignoring more or less some really important issues. The post really renewed some thinking I have been having lately.

Last May when I was so lucky to stumble on the #31daysIBPOC month of amazing posts I was eager to share them and hoped that they could be amplified. To my dismay many ignored the calls to share them but stuck to their brand messaging. When I and others challenged this action we were met with, “Why can’t you be kind?” At the time I questioned if my words or deeds had in fact been unkind. It caused me to pause and back off on my pushback.

This week I have read many posts about “ignoring the negative” or “Don’t listen to the critics” I am sure it is only a coincidence that in the same week Doug’s post which referred to some messages as Cotton Candy we also see an uptick in calls for people to be kind, or ignore those who are negative from many of the same voices Doug called out.

I do think there is an issue with Twitter voices ganging up on others, I do think people could be generally more gracious than they are. But I don’t think calls for kindness always apply and I worry that some have weaponized the accusation of being unkind to simply hide from the tougher conversations.

A few months ago a rather highly celebrated Twitter educator made a few posts that were questioned for their content and insensitivity. Almost instantly accusations of being unkind were fired at those who questioned him by his followers. Painting people as mean when they call out bad practices or bad takes on a situation has become common place.

A few weeks back a podcast accused those who speak out against Teachers Pay Teachers as an “echo chamber of negativity”. Painting those who disagree with “us” as mean or unkind is far easier than having a genuine discussion or conversation.

It would be fantastic if we could all just focus on being nice and everything would be better but that is not the reality for so many. When looking at issues of inequality, racism, poverty, trauma we as educators can’t just hope for kindness to clear the way. Calling attention to the fact that some issues are so much larger than a soundbite is not unkind, it is not being negative. It is realizing that we have so much more work to do.

I think being kind is important, I wish everyone would try to be kind more. Part of that could be demonstrated with a little grace when called out or in. Instead of calling for kindness when made uncomfortable reflect on why you are uncomfortable. I use to be one that would ask why people were so negative, why they had to call people out. Then I realized what was at stake.

What is the message?

Basketball season is kicking off pretty quickly. The final days of football and volleyball season are fast approaching. Tryouts for basketball are soon to begin. I love attending student sporting events. I love to support the kids and cheer them on. Last year I was honoured to work with a team as their motivational support person or bench cheerleader. I am fine with both terms. Lately I have been reminded of a few points that trouble me about sports in school and I just want to put this out into the universe prior to the next few months in the hopes that perhaps, by some miracle, we can get things right because we have not in the past.

Academic Accountability

Last year we talked about “we are students first” as a way to address the topic of academics and athletic involvement. We would ask kids how they were doing in their classes and stressed the need to show up for them but we didn’t do much past that. I think to a degree not being sure how far we push the importance. This year a coworker who coaches a different grade approach me with an idea of a grade/effort minimum. The idea being that we would set a baseline of 70% but would consider effort when that 70% was not reached for students to be eligible to play that week. I have to admit I love it. I think to have an expectation for our students to achieve is important. I also think that some students, working their hardest, can find that 70% hard to achieve, I would have struggled to do that in math. I floated it by my students and to be honest a few were very upset. They are capable but would rather visit and play on their phones. A few were worried but after assurance that their effort would get them there they were ok. One student exclaimed, “Guys we are students first” it is sinking in. It was a little disheartening to hear from different adults they thought it was a bad idea to expect this of our kids. We are going to agree to disagree.

Crowd Control

Later this month our school is hosting a Province wide tournament for Volleyball. I am missing NCTE for it (I will survive) and have been appointed as the organizer for security. I have a job breakdown but mostly it was the create and emergency escape map with locations of important spots marked and to set up barricades and signage. An additional point is to remove any unruly guests. In my time as a spectator and coach in High School sports I have only witnessed a small amount of spectators be escorted out of the event. 90% or those people have been parents. What is the message that is sending? You are not asked to leave for a questioning comment, you are not asked to leave for calmly questioning a call of an official who just happens to hear you and you are not asked to leave for cheering for your team. You are asked to leave for being abusive. Either rude to refs and other teams or to others in the stands. I can understand the emotion that is involved when cheering on kids, grandkids and neighbours, heck I received a technical last year for losing my temper in a moment of weakness. I apologized after to my players. Last night we sat at a football game and as the refs made calls against one team their fans who we sat among yelled and screamed rude remarks, when the winds changed and another team was the target of the refs calls they cheered while the other team began to attack the refs who they had just been cheering previously. I looked around at the adults who surrounded me and saw their kids watching them and learning. Learning that it was ok to be rude, to insult others all in the name of cheering on your team. What is the message we are sending? We can be better.

When things go sideways

This week as I visited with a student who wanted to show me some instagram all about sports fights, you know the bench clearing ones of baseball fame. On Youtube today I saw a moment like this play out at a High School sporting event. At first I was confused at what was going on. It seemed a team was celebrating their win over the home town team in the middle of the field as happens as a football game ends, especially one that determines who continues on and who unfortunately turns in the equipment. I was disappointed as things unfolded in the minutes after the clock ended but will live forever in video. A player from the home team rushes the winning team and began shoving their players. Emotions are high and people are disappointed. I get that so surely the adults would step in but no this video showed something different. An adult motioning for their team to rush to join their lone teammate. I looked back as I could not believe this was possible. To my surprise it looked almost as if the adults, THE ADULTS, provoked the whole incident. A few on both side of the ball broke up the little scuffle but other adults argued with each other pointing fingers. The video ended and I was disheartened. Disheartened because I know kids that would think this display was AWESOME. I know adults who would encourage this. I have sat with them in bleachers, I have heard the things they say about kids on other teams and kids on their own. As someone watching a video I only had one perspective but the perspective I had was not pretty.

In conclusion

Moving to my lovely town introduced me to the joys of watching basketball. We were the SUPERFANS. Last year I had the opportunity to coach and saw my kids in a different way. Stressed, under pressure to perform. I wrote about it last year as our season ended here Things have not changed for our kids. They still have school piled on them, the expectations of their fans, the hopes of their parents, the entertainment of a community. In our communities they play an amazing role as student athletes but the first word is students. We need to remember that and do our best to help them succeed there to remove that stress. The other areas of concern that I have are out of our student athletes hands. They are in ours. Adult spectators and coaches we need to be better. This might not be a popular opinion by many who read it but High School sports stopped being about you (adults) when you finished High School. Coaching is about lifting students up to celebrate them, not pushing them into the fray. Being a supportive fan is not about cutting down others but about lifting up those we are there to support. There are so many eyes watching. I will always be there to support my students both in the classroom and the stands. I hope if I step out of line someone reminds me of what is really important.

Spoiler alert it is the kids.

If not, what message are we sending?

With Gratitude 2019

Today I started the day by playing with a room of delightful 18-month to 3 year olds at church, had a delightful meal with family and read a good chunk of my current read The Toll. I had a goal to finish it this weekend but I won’t quite make it. As Julie and I drove out to her parents with the beautiful mountains on the horizon I could not help but think about the things I am grateful for on this still snow covered Thanksgiving eve.

First I would like to start with my job. This year has started a bit bumpier then I am use to. I would chalk it up to interruptions and familiarity. I have looped with some of my kids for 3 years and so we are looking for new ways to engage and work with beautiful text. The biggest struggle is that for one of my classes this term we only meet 3 times a week and it just so happens that on those three days we tend to have things come up that causes class to be cancelled. It has been difficult finding a flow that works. But I am grateful for their energy, I am grateful for the group that comes ready to write so many beautiful words last week that I wrote about taking the time to celebrate. I am grateful for the student that has already read more novels from start to finish this year than all of last year…one. I am grateful for the ones that make me stretch and look to other ways to engage them because it only makes me better. See, gratitude is a mindset. I can choose to focus on the cloud or the silver lining. Today I am choosing the silver lining so here goes.

Things I am grateful for

  1. A wife who supports me in my rants, learning and book buying. Not every wife will accept that their husband spends hundreds of dollars some times a week on books. That they would prefer to stay home and learn through reading articles or participating in educational discussions online. Most certainly not all wives will patiently listen while their husband rants about everything that has annoyed him that day. Julie does though and most of the time supports the rants. On occasion she doesn’t agree but that helps me to fully explore the topic as well.
  2. Friends who push my learning. Not all teachers from small rural Alberta towns have been blessed with the friends that I have been blessed with. Many of these friends are fellow educators who I have connected with over our shared experiences some double as mentors. Daily I have the opportunity to visit with Dr.Mary Howard, I have not met many who have the passion she does for kids and learning she has been a constant support since sharing my blog years ago and she is a constant gift with the learning she shares. My friend Travis Crowder and his work inspires me to be a better teacher daily. He is an artist and the work his students produce is magic. I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from him. I spent a day with Donalyn Miller this week. Julie and I had the best time visiting with her over dinner and then learning from her the following day. If I were to have a list of teachers who have influenced me the most in my practice Donalyn would be among the top and the gratitude I have that I can count her as a friend at this point in my teaching career is immeasurable. There are so many more educators that I count among my friends that push me in the best ways to continue to learn and improve. I could never list them all.
  3. The students I get to work with every day. I am grateful even on the tougher days for all my students. They bring a joy and enthusiasm to the day. I am in my third year at my current assignment. My first year I taught a group of 8th graders, 44 of them I think, they told me in the past that teachers hated their group. I could not imagine it. We bonded that year. I have not taught that group the last two years. But a day does not pass that a few of them do not come by my room during a prep to visit or even while I am teaching (we are working on that) just to chat. Sometimes they just want a snack and I am grateful they know where to go for that as well. We talk books, how their lives are going, what their classes are like. They bring me treats they have cooked in foods class, I am particularly grateful for that, and they just reinforce what I know. That when we build relationships with students they last far longer than the time we teach our kids.
  4. Things that frustrate me. This might be an odd one for the gratitude list but I am grateful for these challenging situations and people. They help me to centre around what I know is important. I need to likely focus less on them but they fuel a certain fire that I can use to keep going when I need it.

I have so many things to be grateful for. Tomorrow morning it will be my gym, some good breakfast and time to finish The Toll (fingers crossed). I will be grateful for the chance to plan my week and look at new and engaging ways to work with my students. I will be grateful for the day off from work that gives me the time to do all these things. It is crazy to think we are already half way through our second month of school.

On we go. Learning and growing.

Lifting Literacy- Training requires increase.

Sitting at PD with Donalyn Miller taking a little time to reflect on Monday and some moments.

I spent the weekend reading through some of my Grade 9 student work and was just so excited with how they are developing as writers. I wanted to take a moment to share with my kids that not only was I impressed with their writing but that at times it moved me. From fits of laughter to moments of WOW and the golden lines they bravely shared. A student wrote about the quiet moments as he sat in the shop watching his Grandpa work, another about the “meat rabbit” named Lucifer that her sister purchased at an odd and unusual sale, the friendships tested by a conflict over boys…or girls, and a beautiful piece written as a tribute to the Basketball court. My writers are unique. Our writing so far has been anchored in experience. We are looking at following the writing plans of Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle in 180 Days so we have started by exploring narratives. We started with places and moved around to others areas. As I read out student samples anonymously the most incredible thing happened. Students started to smile. They noticed their work but perhaps more importantly they noticed the work of their peers. There were gasps as I crossed over a beautiful line. Demands of who wrote each piece as I read them out and their peers wanted to celebrate with them. There was PRIDE in both our classmates and the individual writers. When we stretch ourselves we grow.

Shifting over to my reading and the reading lives of my students I reflect on the practice of book talks. I have challenged my students to read at least 1 book a month. I know it is difficult and if not for audiobooks I am not sure I could meet that goal myself some months. Currently I am spending my time in The Toll by Neal Shusterman. I love it but I don’t have time to always sit and read it. Neither do all my students so we adjust. We do book talks when we finish. A student currently reading Internment by Samira Ahmed came up to me at the end of a class yesterday. She had tears in her eyes and told me she needed to hand the book in. “I am just too busy and I know other kids are waiting for it”. I asked 2 questions, “Are you enjoying it?” and “Do you want to keep reading it?” She answered yes to both and I said keep it. I can buy a few more copies if other readers really can’t wait. My copy of The Hate You Give has been stolen and I am happy about it. I have purchased more copies of the Crossover than I care to admit and now that the Graphic Novel is out I will buy more. But I still have a problem I am trying to figure out. How do I help my students, the self professed non-readers get over that hurdle. The hurdle of “happy with a single book in the year”. The hurdle of fake reading. So after our IR time ended and the same students who are begging to book talk volunteered and the same who hide, ask to go to the bathroom or simple say I am not done yet I decided to talk to my students. Those that follow me and my blog or Twitter know that I have a few passions. Beyond teaching, reading, talking books and talking smack about AR and Teachers Pay Teachers I love to spend my mornings in the weight room. I am taking a Personal Training course currently and learning about the science of working out not just the “how to” but the why. One point stuck out that I was reviewing last week as I thought about my students reading lives, especially those who resist reading at all costs. A principle of training popped up. My students had settled into books they find easy, books that did not push them. So I shared how we become stronger. About adding more weight and that when we don’t our body gets use to what we are lifting and eventually we start to perform less. At first I didn’t think this theory was true. I discovered it was when forced to limit my workouts because of gym renovations. I was lifting for months at my repping weight. I could not add more but assumed I would stay status quo if I just kept lifting at that level. To my shock and horror things became harder to do. I actually was losing gains despite staying at my established level. I explained this principle of training to my kids, with reference to reading. If we just stay in the comfort zone, if we don’t try to stretch, we don’t add a bit more in difficulty or length or perhaps dipping our toes into different genres we limit our growth. We experience a bit of atrophy. If we allow ourselves to just live in comfort we jeopardize our growth.

To my students in both our reading and writing lives it is time to increase the weight. Even just a bit. A couple pounds on the bar counts as training. A couple more lines written a couple more pages read. This is how we lift literacy.

Digging Out

Last Friday night it started to snow. It started to snow a lot. By Saturday afternoon we had a couple inches of snow on the ground. By Sunday morning we had a few feet. We spent the day shovelling and shovelling and shovelling just to make sure the dogs had some snow free areas to hang out. In the process of all of that I hurt my back and was pretty miserable. Sunday night our school division called a snow day for Monday and the RCMP closed highways because of the dangerous conditions of the roads. The thing is that while there was weather warnings, we were getting news reports that this thing, this massive storm was coming we couldn’t do much to prepare other than have the groceries we needed to avoid highway travel and hope for the best. If you have not tried to walk in 2 -3 feet of fresh heavy snow it is a bit difficult. You sink in and pulling your leg out is a task, you fall over and get wet and cold. Your mobility becomes limited. The snow just weighs everything down.

This year has felt like a snowstorm.

Things have not gone totally as planned. I have felt like I am sinking in that snow, stepping on unstable ground. I saw the year coming, but didn’t expect how different the same kids could be. I think about how school itself can be a snowstorm for our students. All the responsibilities that they have beyond the work they do in our class. A parent told me yesterday that her kids have homework every night. More snow. Problems with friends. More snow. Struggles with other teachers. More snow. Family struggles. More snow.

Snow

Snow

Snow

Snow

Snow

Before long we can’t move. We think things can’t get better. Monday morning I got in the truck and tried to drive to the gym, through the drifts and into a parking lot that had easily 2+ feet of snow and more in the drifts. I thought the truck would get stuck so before I stopped and tried to go in I decided to attempt another visit later, perhaps the plows would come. Perhaps we could dig out.

This is the daily work in the classroom. Our jobs as teachers is to dig out. To help our students with the things that pile up and become insurmountable. Too much homework? Teachers, we need to look at our practice and time use in class. If our students are in class for 70 minutes and still having to do hours of homework there is something wrong. Problems with friends? Family? Other teachers? We need to be aware, we need to get to know our students. We need to work as a community to support each other. When the snow is falling that fast and you don’t have the tools to dig yourself out you depend on others for help.

By Monday afternoon the plows were clearing the streets, community members had out they machines to dig out those who could not help themselves. Private companies joined the town crews to help clear the roads. The snow finally slowed and the sun broke through the clouds. Things began to melt. The shovelling was still a lot of work but slowly we dig ourselves out.

This is the promise of sound practice in teaching. Things are tough at times but if we keep at it with the support of our teaching community we can dig out. Class is getting better across the board. Today I had an alright lesson that other teachers and administrators sat in on. We had moments of brilliance and powerful reflection. Later in the day I sat with a room full of students new to Notice and Note and we discussed how 3 signposts helped us to look at the conflicts both internal and external as well as the theme of the movie and I think they started to see the “WHY?”. The day ended with three students book talking. One with the enthusiasm of a motivational speaker performing for a crowd, another with a quiet reserved reflection for their peers on the beautiful Ghost Boys and a final one, a single student in an empty room whose paper shook as she read about her book, overcoming her own snow storm. These kids of mine will help to dig me out. Some days it feels the snow won’t end and other days the sun is shining and the melt has begun.

We dig out.

Just let them have a sticker

It is funny, a while back I saw a post that discussed how kids don’t care about Gold Star stickers. In the moment I had read it and really stopped in my tracks. I could understand what they were saying. The argument that we needed to stop with this extrinsic motivation tool of getting something for compliance and using the Gold Star as an example of that. I pondered a lot about the times I had used extrinsic motivators in the past. I was confusing compliance with engagement as kids were accomplishing their work to receive their reward. This model is something that programs like my nemesis Accelerated Reader depend on. The rewards based model of compliance. I say all this but I am going to defend the Gold Star sticker in the way I feel it should be rewarded.

I want to be the Oprah of Gold Star sticker giveaways.

You get a star and you get a star and you get a star.

One day last year some of my students were doing some super creative work. We were practicing our Notice and Note and Response Notebook work with bookclubs and I stumbled upon their books during walk throughs. The work was gorgeous. I off handedly said, “This needs a gold sticker” every student lit up. They asked if I actually had some, if I would seriously give them one for their work. I went into the back of a drawer and still had a few sheets and started making my way through all my groups finding something that was deserving of a gold star in each group. It was joyful literacy at its finest.

This year I have not felt the pure and total joy I have in years past. I don’t know what it is for sure. I think there are a few issues that I am working out but one really has been the the retirement of a seasoned teacher that brought joy to our school every single day. He brought the light up for every student through a simple high five or fist bump and a hello with every student that crossed his path. Our days were better because the energy was positive with such a simple act.

Yesterday I got up with this whole “gold stars are not for middle school” idea in my head and decided to test a theory. I began greeting kids with gold stars. At first they wondered what they were for. I told them it is Wednesday and it seemed like a good day to hand out some gold stars. As I did this kids asked if they could hand some out as well. More and more kids were excitedly talking about their gold star. I wondered around to adults on star and gave them theirs as well. More than one staff member seemed genuinely touched by the simple gesture. Imagine the power to bring joy that one sparkly sticker a couple centimetres wide had.

As the day went on more kids who did not get a star in the initial, before the bell rush, popped in to ask if they could have one too, so did some adults. This simple recognition, I see you, was day changing for me.

We can choose to go about our day worried about what a gold star might represent, what it might enforce or we can let kids be kids again. Time is moving too fast. We expect too much of our young people and really too much of the not so young as well. Take a moment to say Hello, pass on some kind words, give a high five, greet kids in the hall or just let them have the sticker.

Heck why not do it all?

Lessons Learned in 3 Weeks

Ok I want to start by saying that today was a great day. It was the first full teaching day that I felt was a success in each class. I started this year with ridiculously high expectations of both myself and my students. The imposter syndrome set in as I approached the beginning of the year and as kids started coming in and parents started reaching out it only amplified. You would think that hearing how excited kids are, or how happy parents are that kids are in your class, because you are the “reading teacher” that it would excite you. But it really had the opposite effect. I developed a sense of impending doom and really have been battling it a lot until tonight. It was our final day of back to school meet the teacher and the kindness extended to me by parents and the events of the day finally helped me shake this feeling that I am not enough. Today was amazing, my students wrote about events in their lives and absolutely kicked butt as we looked at theme and conflict in a short story. Our classroom discussion was rich and their words were beautiful. After a 145 minute (yes you read that right) Language Arts block with amazing 8th graders ended I had my 9th grade students waiting at the door. This year so far has been a struggle. Grade 9 is hard. Kids deal with too much and the emotions and hormones and silliness and all of those other wonderful things that impact our students seem to all be added into a pot and the results have been Thursday before lunch and mayhem. Mayhem that has until today derailed my room. But today was different. After an initial talking to about hallway etiquette, because WOW, they all sat down with their books. They all started reading. I was checking in on them and asking how books were going and then as time wrapped up and we needed to move on to writing I checked in on a student reading A Very Large Expanse of Sea I could see she was near the end and asked her how it was going and if she liked it, the response was “It is good but could you stop talking to me because I am trying to read” ummm she then realized the rest of the room was staring at her and asked if I had announced it was time to write. We all laughed and I introduced the Scars writing activity to work on narratives from 180 Days by the phenomenal Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. The activity was a hit, students were laughing at my scar stories and quickly working on reflecting on their own. We were engaged, we were writing and we were laughing. It literally felt like a cloud had parted. It was one day but it was a great day. And here are the three things I have learned in 3 weeks

  1. Kids have a lot of stuff going on. It might be at school it might be at home, it might be in their heads and it might be in their heart. But we have to meet them where they are. Show them compassion and grace before anything else because they are still little humans developing into adults. We can’t forget we were there one day.
  2. A caring teacher will never replace a caring parent but we are so important. Kids and parents remember the teachers that are all in. We need to be all in for at the very least the 7 or 8 hours we have them. It is hard and some days we are tired (as I type this it is 8:11 PM and aside from a 1.5 hour break between going home to shower after the gym this morning I have been at the school since 4:45 AM) but when we snap at a kid they remember it like a scar reminds them of an injury. It stays with them. The words we wield are powerful. Today a student wrote that meeting me when he was in Kindergarten was a Watermark moment because now 8 years later we get to talk about cool things and sometimes play Pokemon.
  3. The work we do is important but it needs time to rise. It is like baking a cake or bread or whatever analogy that you are not suppose to open the oven too early. We start with all these awesome ingredients and we mix them all together and we put it in the oven and then we wait. The baking process with my 9s has been 3 years for many. We grow together but I almost opened the oven too early. Too much too soon was day one. Day four was a seating plan threat and day 6 was a meeting with parents to figure out what to do next. More time was what we decided was needed, to figure things out and day 7 was today and it was better than ok.

It is hard to imagine that we are only 19 days into September. I need to pump the brakes a bit in a few areas and let it go in others. Teaching is all about learning and we are doing a lot of that in Room 157 this year.

Notice and Note and the First Full Week

It is no secret to anyone that reads my blog, I am a huge fan of Notice and Note. I am a fan of the conversations and realizations my students have as they are reading with purpose. I have been incredibly blessed as an educator to have many of my student for 3 years now. This week I was so excited to jump right in to Notice and Note. I was reading our read aloud Patron Saints of Nothing and students in class where jumping right in to things, writing in their journals as I asked what they were hearing as I read kids where mentioning the Contrast and Contradictions they were seeing in the family dynamic and writing about it. That is when I noticed another student, new to the class, was pretty confused. In a moment of completed error I had neglected to work through some review/introduction with those less familiar. In the excitement that I had 20+ students from last year and all the awesome we were going to showcase as we looked at texts I jumped the gun.

The next day I decided to review with all my classes. The 7s have generally been following the brilliance of the text book and examples of how to teach the signposts. I am venturing into some new territory using other texts this year with my 8s and 9s. To spice it up a bit but also to stretch my own thinking and learning. We are moving through the signposts faster in my 8th and 9th grade classes as it is more a review. For Contrast and Contradiction I used the first chapter of Nightbooks by J.A White. It is a fantastically creepy chapter that had my students engaged and before I walked back to my desk the book was in a students hand to continue reading. The Contrast and Contradictions were clear and my students were able to use them to predict what was going to happen next. A great example of the signpost and how to follow through with the anchor question.

We covered Aha moments, Tough Questions and Again and Again with different picture books. Mr. Nogginbody Gets a Hammer is hilarious I had a room of 15 year olds reading along and the Aha Moment is so easy to identify and after we paused and reflected on the theme. It was easy, fun and everyone could accomplish the task. I followed up with Each Kindness and this was one of my favourite moments of the week. I told the class I wanted them thinking about Aha moments but also Contrast and Contradiction. As I mentioned earlier the inspiration to return to the start was because of visible frustration with the unknown some had having never experienced Notice and Note (I would like to visit with their past teachers), today as we finished the beautiful story of each kindness my students all wrote. I could see the newest member of Room 157 wanted to share but they were hesitant. The idea that wrong no longer exist and that discussion around reading in Room 157 is about sharing ideas is hard to overcome. But she did and identified what she thought was a contrast and contradiction as Chloe and her classmates are mean to the newly arrived Maya, she expected as a new student herself for the kids to first be kind. We then had a great conversation about how this CC lead to an Aha moment later for the character and how these simple pieces of evidence helped us determine both the theme and conflict and provide support from the text.

In the past I have always saved the story I am Not a Number for Tough Questions but also for Orange Shirt day which honours the survivors and remembers the thousands of First Nations students lost to the abuses and harsh conditions of Residential School. This year I decided to use this haunting story for both Tough Questions and Again and Again. Students listened and wrote respectfully and our class conversation was rich as students discussed the contrast and contradiction in the fact that a church, something they have been raised to see as good, inflicted so much harm and how that CC helped them to discuss the text in a more meaningful way looking at racism and inhumane treatment of the innocent children kidnapped and forced to attend these schools.

I took a break from the picture books and had my students look at the short story Raymonds Run. We are still early in the annotative process and I need to model it more and share my thinking but below are some of our examples.

The first full week of school was filled with reading and reflecting and a little writing. Notice and Note is a tool to increase that reflection and dialogue. I love it for that purpose. I am hoping to help my students dive deep into their books as Kylene says and only coming up for air before diving back in.

This year the goal is not to just Notice and Note but to expand and write on a more purposeful level about the things we find. We are looking at texts that do not reflect our lives to better learn about the world. The signposts will come in handy to help us navigate those new ideas.

Welcome to Room 157

The Year Begins Tomorrow

Standing beside the river catching toadlets with my nieces and nephews I couldn’t help but take a moment and just appreciate the small things. It has been an amazingly relaxing summer. Julie and I have read a ton of books, enjoyed the river, took part in some learning experiences and generally recharged. Tomorrow I start my 10th year teaching and she starts her first as a Principal and I could not be more proud or excited for her. I am excited for what the new year brings and wanted to take a moment to talk to all those who will be joining me in Room 157 this year.

I am excited for great books that push us to explore ourselves and the world around us. I am excited for opportunities to write and grow together. I am excited to meet new students and SO EXCITED for my returning ones. I will miss those who I do not get to teach this year but the door is always open.

I want to create a community. It is why we are Room 157. We will celebrate our successes and lift each other up when we struggle. We will talk about what we are all doing, share our writing and our books. In the past students have shared they do not feel seen in our school. I want Room 157 to be a place about so much more than that. Let’s celebrate our stories. This year in all of our classes the stories will be our focus because in the end that is Language Arts. The reading, writing and sharing of stories. To help us grow and see the world in different ways. Like Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop says, books should be mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors. I hope that Room 157 can be the place stories become that for my kids.

I hope the kids are ready because I am.