Living the Dream


Today as I sat out at my in-laws looking out at the mountains I read “For Every One” by Jason Reynolds. A letter to all the readers who jump into its pages. I reassurance to me that dreams are to be pursued, without a timeline but with passion.

AS I read it I could not help but feel that, while my dream has yet been fully realized, I am well on my way of getting there. I love the job I do, I love teaching, I love talking books with my students, reading their words, giving them feedback and doing it all again week after week. The moments when students are quietly reading or joyfully sharing the funny parts in a text. The opinion paragraphs on cell phone use or the poetry inspired by The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The protests and “I guess” after a long debate on the end of Peak, the parent phone calls about their kids reading at home when they have not in the past. All of these moments or moments like them are what I dreamt about as I learned in University as I continue to learn now. Those moments when students realize the power they have in their learning and the moments that follow as the proudly display those learnings. That is what I dream of as I reflect on what I want a classroom to look like.

Joyful learning.

I get to live my dream most days. Sure some don’t go as planned but “Big Picture” I am living the dream.

Today I ran across a post from a teacher looking for more suggestions on computer programs to help develop readers… If you have read my blog before you can infer what I did next and you would be correct. I entered a conversation about the “why” around computerized reading programs. Like all programs we need to ask the “why” I think with reading programs that run the risk of replacing a teacher with screen and a reader with a robot, we need to be even more discerning.

When I think about kids playing “teacher” at home I can’t recall them ever saying OK class turn on your computers and log into AR. The dream of a teacher and thus the dream of the classroom has always been Reading and Writing and Discussing. I wonder if today more students dream of becoming teachers so they can have students doing computer reading programs than ones that want to read with their students and learn with them. I can’t imagine that is a fun game to play and I have a hard time imagine that kind of classroom would be a fun one to be in.

A book holds inspiration, emotion and adventure in its pages. Things dreams are built on. A computer holds clicks, programs and tests. I encourage everyone to chase after their dreams, if you have lost sight of them in the forest of pushed programs and test friendly activities it isn’t too late. Sometimes we lose sight of our dream that doesn’t mean it is gone just the fire is burning a little less bright. Teacher friends, think back to when you dreamed of being a teacher, was programs the dreams or reading with kids? Was homework the dream or joyful learning?

I am glad I had the chance to read a wonderful book today, to let it inspire me and I plan to pass it on to others.

We need to remember teachers, We are Dream Makers. It is an important job, don’t squander it.



Such a simple word for a powerful process. Advancement, improvement, rise, success, gain, prosperity, maturing, evolution, all words used to describe becoming more than you were before. In teaching, we have this wonderful tool for growth called Professional Development. Opportunities to learn and to grow by surrounding ourselves with new ideas or new ways to approach old problems.

There are plenty of ways to pursue PD

  • Classic PD– Meetings or seminars put on by other teachers or guest speakers that are “experts” in their field. I use quotation marks around experts because I find that most presenters that are authorities in their field do not like the term expert as it carries a connotation of finality in growth. I know my dear friend Dr.Mary does not prefer the term. I think lead learner might be more appropriate, or maybe Guiding Guru? Haha regardless the classic PD model is a great way to learn new things or reinforce what you are doing.
  • Conferences– I love conferences. Multiple options to attend and learn from. TOns of other teachers to discuss new learnings with. Usually a little bit expensive but if you have the means to do it, totally worth it. Just make sure you choose wisely. I went to a conference once that had a great Keynote but otherwise…I did a lot of planning.
  • Twitter PD– My new favourite. Following hashtags, with education themes, you can learn a ton and meet awesome people. My #curiositycrew is the best and there are so many great EDU chats that you can learn so much from. Check out #g2great #masterychat and #tellyourstory for some great chats during the week. All the chats modelled after the Dave Burgess Teach Like a Pirate series are winners as well.
  • Edcamps (Teacher Directed)–  I love teacher directed PD. On a school-based level or division, it is really powerful PD to allow teachers to guide their own learning.

There are more options than this but all these ways are a great starting point for PD. The other day in a meeting I made the statement that if we are not reflective teachers we are bad teachers. I include myself in this. If I am not taking the time to learn, to reflect and find ways to grow I can’t possibly be the best teacher for my students. Limiting our growth to the “right now” instead of looking at the tomorrow will leave us unprepared to address the needs of 21-century learners.

Growth is natural, stagnation is not. In nature once something stops growing it dies. When we stop utilizing PD opportunities the growing stops. Our teaching ages and we find ourselves out of touch. My dear friend Mary still learns every day and she will proudly demand to not be called an expert. She is a lifelong learner. I never want to claim I can not learn from those around me who are also trying to grow.

Like a snake shedding its skin to come out renewed or a phoenix rising from the ashes of outdated teaching, we need to embrace opportunities to grow, to transform and to learn. If we do not how can we ask our students to do the same?

Just enjoy it


As the end of the year comes crashing down on us (doesn’t it always come faster than we think?) I took some time to reflect. If you are a regular reader you know I attended P!nk last week. It was amazing. Monday my students had a field trip for another class and then Wednesday I had a meeting. I have been gone a lot. We have been working so much on writing lately that aside from their daily independent reading we have not looked at other text very much. I decided we need a break from the push so today I broke out the picture books.

A good selection with only one task attached. Identify the conflict. Something we have been working on with other texts, students partnered up, read books, shared thinking and presented to classmates.

This isn’t a long post. Just a celebration of a good time talking books in junior high. The highlight, of course, was students INDEPENDENTLY going back to the picture book piles to read INDEPENDENTLY. This happened throughout the morning as different students finished other tasks. “Mr.Gilson I need a break can I just read I picture book?” YES everytime YES. There is a power in picture books that can not be recreated anywhere else. Students grow with text that is complex in message and theme but not in difficulty. They learn to think more about the text when the struggle to read the words becomes smaller. I will always choose joyful learning and my land my new favourite book Perfectly Norman is joyful.


What are we selling?


I get countless emails from different teacher resources places. Some good, some bad but all have something related. They are selling something. PD Books, Create Your Own Worksheet Memberships, Penguin Clip Art, Online “engagement” tools. You name it in this day and age someone is selling it, all under the guise of benefiting students.

I have ranted about TPT and the system that has been created where teachers are spending more time making resources to sell to other teachers than they are investing in their own practice. After all, investing in learning costs money but selling a 5-star penguin clip art activity that you likely ripped from some free clip art site and just arranged around some fill in the blanks, can be sold for an easy $1.99. You must sell a lot of 1.99 clipart crap to make some money especially since for hosting TPT take like 40% off the top.

This creates another problem. When I started my hobby of photography way back in my younger day I was told, “charge more even if you are not good, people will think you are” It gives me chills to think about the for-profit teacher resource world and that those people and companies have followed this thinking as well.

In talking with my wife’s friend she said her child has to do Lexia each night, even though she does not need it, because the school wants to qualify for a grant that is available if all students meet some usage requirement. In talking to an actual Lexia rep they said that was not their intention for their product but it does in fact happen.

I can’t help but wonder if teachers would be so inclined to have their students doing unnecessary computer work if the promise of potential cash was removed? I also wonder if these companies know the answer and so they have these grants available to keep teachers, desperate for cash, on the hook.

I spend a TON of money out of pocket every year. I don’t mind, I have the money but not all teachers do. They have families, they have other expenses and they can’t afford to put in Amazon orders weekly for their library or drop a couple hundred on supplies each year.

I was talking to a co-worker and she made a powerful observation. When asked why she thought teachers are willing to put aside their beliefs and conscience for the promise of a grant she said, “Well it is a lot easier than a bake sale”

It is that simple we are willing to sell our conscience, our professional beliefs and our students chance for joyful learning experience because of convenience. I don’t know if this is the intention if we are not just all stretched so thin so we think that these promises, these emails, these “answers” are just the golden ticket.

When we look at learning experiences do we want it to be bought out of a box? Do we want screens and clicks and clipart? Or do we want students interacting with a text, with each other? At the start of the year, I asked my students what they wanted out of the year.  No Lexia No worksheets. I have not had to sell them on what we are doing because it is authentic, I try for it to be fun and exciting. No one ever needs to sell students on the fun.

What are we selling?

The Summer Reading Challenge


Oh, Summer Reading Programs… I loathe you.

Let me explain.

This time of year as many schools are wrapping up their final days (ending in May is crazy to me) I see all over social media, “What are your assigned summer reads?” “What program do you use to make sure students are reading over the summer?” and a simple search on Teachers Pay Teachers yields 20, 619 items under “Summer Reading” For example you can pay one easy payment of 89.99 to receive 400+ “original and fun” comprehension passages to avoid the “summer slide”.  Maybe you want a summer reading challenge with accompanying log? I bet you I know who doesn’t, your students.

It is summer, assigning teenagers reading homework because you can’t fit reading a text and discussing it in your already busy year so kids have to fit it into their summer sounds like more of a time management problem than a reading problem. I can’t help but wonder if these same teachers assigning at minimum one book but usually more would appreciate their Principal or Division assigning reading to do over the summer? I highly doubt it. I wonder if those same teachers like having what they read dictated to them? I know I don’t. I also know that as a student I would laugh out loud if a teacher assigned me homework over the summer.

The summer is meant for enjoying yourself, for recharging the batteries that are running low for students and teacher alike as we approach the end of the year. Please do not get me started on the whole “we shouldn’t be counting down, it makes the kids sad” business. My students love the countdown, it isn’t a celebration of being down with them it is a celebration of what they have done. Taking that celebration and saying,, “Oh but you must also do this…” or “You need to read these assigned things because I have not taught you well enough or trust that you will read a bit on your own during your well-earned break”, only tells them that they have not yet, in a year, done enough.

So how do we help students avoid that summer slide and not assign some challenge, program or log to be returned on day one?

  1. Model your summer reading plans. Let students know what you plan to read, show them how they can keep track of your reading with a blog or following you on Twitter. Put your money where your mouth is. I currently have 2-3 professional books and 5 and growing “for fun” books in the TBR. I am saving them for summer. I love to sit out and read in the sun with my coconut tanning oil nearby.
  2. Make sure your students have access. A library card, send them home with books, or as I am planning, let them know a day a week or every two weeks that you will be at the school. I plan to let my students know when I will be there so that they can pop in if they need some summer reading material. If they follow my blog or twitter they will be coming in to see what I am reading and if I finished it yet. An hour out of the week to book talk is nothing if it gets books in a few more students hands.
  3. Choice. You want kids to read over the summer? Let them choose what they want to read. I spent the summer reading comics books as a kid, I spend summers reading comics now. If we are telling students what to read it becomes a task if we are encouraging them to discover a new book, to discover themselves as readers we are showing them we trust them. We are telling our students that reading is important but so is the choice in how they spend their time because it is their time.

I plan to ask my students to read over the summer. When they return I will ask them what they read and if they will share with their peers but that is where my “program” will end.

An invitation to discover new books and share with their peers.

Sounds a lot better than 89.99 for 400+ “fun” comprehension entries and a reading log…


Not broken just bent.


I had the wonderful pleasure this week of going on a little holiday with my wife to see P!nk in concert. The show was spectacular and like all of her songs, the lyrics are so powerful. One song, in particular, had a line that always resonates with me, “We’re not broken just bent, and we can learn to love again”. I immediately took out my phone and jotted down the lines and well that is how a blog post is born.

I would like to take a little liberty here and shift some words around, “We’re not broken just bent, we can love to learn again.” This should be the goal of all teachers when working with our students. Helping them to learn to love learning. School should not be something students resent and count down the hours to be done with. As we are approaching the end of the year students are getting more and more antsy and tired of having to keep working.

So what do we do in this situation? Today I was reading on Facebook as Donalyn Miller recounted a terrible experience hearing a teacher say to students ” I am the adult just deal with it” Students are bent to the point of breaking and we tell them “We are the adults just deal with it”. We tell students that are strong readers that they have to use Lexia nightly because if all the students use it the school can get a grant. We still push AR, we have students do book reports, we give them millions of assessments, week after week and then we ask why they are acting out.

We need to remember that we are the adults but we need to deal with it. We need to adjust to help students in a time that anxiety is growing, where some fear the loss of stability and routine that summer brings as it replaces the school. We need to start helping our students see the joy of reading to read, the beauty of a good book, in the sun, with some lemonade. The wind slightly pushing those pages encouraging you to turn to the next one. We are not going to get those kinds of readers from the tests on a computer. We are not going to get those readers by making them bend to the I am the adult so deal with it mentality.  We are going to get them there by giving them hope, by showing them that learning can be fun.

On Tuesday before I left for my journey to see one of my idols I mixed it up a bit, we moved away from writing big pieces and working on paragraph skills and moved toward fun reflective posts. I made a playlist after getting the suggestion on Facebook. I reflected quickly on the memories tied to those songs. My students and I laughed at my stories of heartbreak with Bon Jovi’s Always playing as a soundtrack. Then they started creating their playlists. One turned to me and said, “We need to do this kind of stuff more often” You’re right we do.

Be mindful teacher friends, we are in the closing stretch and our students feel it too. We are all a little bent but it is not too late to make sure we don’t break. Learning is fun when you let it be. Sharing my tear filled teen love letters with my class followed by stories of my youth all to the music of Wild Cherry and B4-4 was a highlight of the year and it is May. We have tests coming but we are having fun too.

Enjoy the ride because before you know it this year will be over. Don’t let your students feel you have done more to break their love of learning than build it.

Straying from the path


Today I am grateful for the tough weeks. They make me more reflective. When a reflective mindset meets inspiration it is great. Saturday was great.

Dragons can be beaten

This quick quote came up today after a list of other inspirations and really got me thinking.

Going Off The Path

As a teacher, and probably anyone really, when faced with tough stuff we often look first for the easiest solution to put into action. I don’t think this is because anyone is lazy, I think it is the thinking that fast and easy addresses a need that seems immediate. I have been guilty of this and this sense of immediacy is the reason that pockets of awful (thanks Mary) exist in all fields. The easy fix.

In teaching my “pockets of awful” have a name: AR, Star, Teachers Pay Teachers (used without discretion or purpose), Pintrest (same as TPT), mass-produced worksheets and work without feedback. These are the things out there that call to us as we walk along our teaching path. As we look down the road and see different journeys to choose from. Obstacles come up that cause us to pause and wonder if we have lost our way. Like so many fairy tales we are led off the correct path, enticed by the poison apple into the forest of crappy teaching. We mistake compliance for engagement and products for passionate learning. This week I had a student tell me my class was boring because all we do is read and write, why can’t we do fun stuff” followed by “Just give me the worksheets and I will answer the questions, I don’t want to talk about the reading.” See this was hard for me to handle because I think the reading and the writing is the “fun” stuff. But the comments prompted me to step off the path, I looked up some unengaging question lists and printed them off. I dipped in to the pockets of awful. And this is what I learned. Thinking is hard and for students use to being given questions the idea of thinking and reflecting and creating is terrifying. It is a Dragon that they do not feel they can defeat.

I asked myself today while I participated in twitter chats, listen to a spectacular podcast and read a great blog post what I could do to get back on the right track, with this student and with all my students. I didn’t have an answer and then I started reading through student work, responses to the reading of Peak and Boy in the Striped Pajamas and I found the answer. Just like Hansel and Gretel following Breadcrumbs back to the path I too needed to follow those Bread Crumbs of Brilliance my students were leaving for me. Insights into the text, well-crafted sentences, creative poems. At the school, there are visual representations waiting to be finished. My students and their success is the map back to the right path. I will not give up on a single student, I will continue to work to find their breadcrumbs of brilliance and in the meantime, I will let them discover them for themselves. That might mean some time spent in the forest trying to avoid the pockets of awful but I will find my way back and hopefully bring everyone with me. The journey to changing how things have always been done is long. My mistake was thinking I knew what everyone needed. I don’t, but I am learning. Back on the path we go.

Also if you are a teacher make sure to check out the Heinemann podcasts. They are great.

Culturally Significant Craft Hour


I begin this post by saying I am by no means an expert teacher of different cultures. I teach in a community that does not offer many different perspectives racially or culturally so at times this topic coming up in class is trickier to navigate.

In university my mentor and Social Studies Guru Dr.Carla Peck once told us that to reduce items important to a groups culture to craft time is insensitive. I am sure the conversation came from the discussion around Pysanky eggs and looking at Ukraine in grade 3 Social Studies even though it seems EVERY grade in Canadian Elementary does them with little to no background for students other than “we are going to paint eggs”. I was guilty of that myself and doing some research maybe taking the “fun” easter egg decorating and discussing the fact that some believed their increased fertility would not be appropriate. Maybe the eggs are not the best example of cultural significance because it has changed so much over time and not something limited to one cultural group so let me try another.

Wampum Belts were used in First Nations culture as a way to record the history of significant events, tell stories and inform future generations. This was a sacred duty and calling to be the reader of the Wampum. Today I saw celebrated images from a grade 6 classroom in another community where all the children were hard at work making their own Wampum belts. Backed with a cut up cereal box for support students had crafted their own designs and were busy sliding beads on to strings in the pictures. I can help but feel sad as that cultural significant event was reduced to string and a cereal box. I can understand the teacher wanting students to know about Wampum Belts as it is both in their curriculum and a very important piece of North American history and First Nations culture. I cannot make sense of why we need it to become an art project or craft to fill time.

Perhaps a different option is looking at the purpose (telling their stories, saving them, record significant events) and creating an authentic exercise for students to reflect on. Write their own stories, share their important events. Sure it is not as flashy as a dollar store bead belt backed with a cereal box but a personal story surely could not offend an entire culture by taking something that is not ours and knocking it off for 2.99 a student.

I see this same thing happening in the United States as teachers try to teach slavery as a role-playing exercise (sigh) or have students arguing the merits of it (Seriously?). I do not think teachers have the tools or training to enter the waters of cultural different topics and teach them in a way that is authentic and does not step on the toes of those who celebrate those cultures. We need to look outside to our communities for this.

Adding books to classroom libraries that show diverse people is a start of course but it is not to the solution. I have diverse books and they tend to sit on the shelf as students prefer characters that look like them, that have struggles that they can relate to. I look at the idea of bringing in guest speakers. A blanket exercise to introduce units around first nations histories so my students can understand it from the point of view who lived it not just their teacher that has no connection to it beyond research and well-meaning.

Students understanding the diverse world around them is of paramount importance. The Global community is becoming a more diverse place every year as conflict and other events push people away from their homes to new homes and new communities. As teachers, it is our job to not only prepare our students but to do so respecting all cultures. Not through role play and arts and crafts, not through books just placed on a shelf but through conversations, through meeting the very people our students see and know nothing about.

Be authentic, be purposeful but most of all be respectful. Take the time to learn before you try to teach. And please don’t take culturally significant things and reduce them to arts and crafts.




Closing the Door on TPT


So today I finally did it. I closed my account on Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT).

I was on my favorite PD source (Twitter) and saw a tweet from my favorite person (My wife) who is at a conference on leadership. The gist of the post was that other professions such as nurses, doctors, mechanics, whatever do not go to Pintrest to address issues with working with their clients, they do not have a Nurses Pay Nurses to handle a tricky case and yet I have heard so often and see so many times, “I will just find something that will work or something close on TPT and my kids will get the main idea.” We are becoming less and less likely to address the real issues behind students not getting “it” and more and more likely to hit up the cute activities of Pintrest and TPT. In Canada it is funny, I have witnessed and in an earlier stage in my life participated in the editing of TPT work because it did not fit the Canadian curriculum but it was just so darn cute, I didn’t care if the measurements were in inches on a math sheet I could just get the kids to change it and, bonus, that would take even more of class time.  I know I am not even nearly the only one that has done that but I might be the only one that is fine admitting it.

We have a problem in education right now as far as I can tell. We are giving up on the innovation of instruction for ease, cute and the promise of right now. You can have this (cute) unit plan on Penguins that addresses every outcome and more, with the click of a button and your handy credit card (ease) and you can print it out and use it that afternoon (promise of right now) after a weekend of relaxing because “I need me time too”. I agree whole heartily that we need “me” time, I disagree in the how it is achieved.

While TPT and Pinterest provide millions of options of thing to do, they do not know our students. The MAGIC of teaching is planning with our students in mind, what can we do to engage them in learning? Can a “one size fits all” download truly exist? Sure if all you are doing in drill and kill instruction. I have already said I am guilty of that and the “Why reinvent the wheel” thinking but really is there anything proprietary in a multiplication sheet? Teachers are charging 25 dollars for a unit that promises to address all the common core outcomes with a 3-page preview. You can’t possibly believe that you are doing what is best for kids when you base the purchase of something for the kids on the Table of Contents, and yet so many do.

I am not against teachers getting paid for the work they are doing, I am against teachers blindly purchasing things without asking the question first, “Is this what my students need?” If you think they need a Penguin Clipart covered unit on Multiplication, I am wondering what assessment you have done to establish that Penguin clipart makes it more engaging. I mean what about the kids that dislike penguins… (that was a joke)

In a world where education seems to be getting less and less funding, where teachers are turning to canned workbooks that some retired TPT millionaire is making, while other teachers are working hard trying to engage their students and seeing the 5-star review and wondering if the work they are putting is is worth it. We start to see too many asking if selling their ideas instead of sharing them is the way to go.

Today I closed my TPT page because I see the damage it is causing far outweighs the benefits. You can disagree with me but if you download folder is full of Penguin clip art I might not be able to take you seriously.

This started with the comment there is not a Nurses Pay Nurses, there is a reason for that. Nurses are working to make their clients healthier and not profit personally from finding a new way to do something more successfully. Helping each other to learn the best ways to do something, learning from each other not profiting from the struggles. I know it is a touchy subject, I know some make a lot of money of TPT and others save a lot of time. I know there are activities out there that are fun and I have made money off selling my own things which have turned into more books for my library.

I am not calling for a boycott of TPT but I am calling for a boycott of lazy one size fits all, look at this cool penguin unit I found and can just work on for the next month teaching. It does not inspire greatness or innovation but certainly does continue to feed the narrative that teaching is easy, that students can just sit and work on a book.

The idea that “anyone can do it” because they can buy a unit on Teachers Pay Teachers has to end. Students deserve a teacher that is passionate about learning and improving. They deserve a classroom of wonder not workbooks and they deserve to have some fun that does not come out of the printer.

Hmm funny the journey that a tweet can take me on.

On this sunny morning


It is so funny what a little sun will do for me. After this LONG winter (with more snow forecast) these days where we are greeted with warmth and sunshine are ones to be cherished.

Ok so yesterday I had one of those days, the ok kind but a few moments here and there make you question what you are doing. I had a student tell me that most of the class hates LA. I pondered on that for the remaining hours of the school day and how I can address this problem because believe me I see it as a problem.

I looked at my practice and wondered how on earth these kids are not becoming the literacy loving souls that I have become as I put to practice the teaching of all these amazing educators that inspire me. I try to create passionate readers and learners in the footsteps of Pernille Ripp, I try to be the Book Whisperer of Magrath after reading the amazing book by Donalyn Miller. I write with them and look at various forms of writing in the pattern of Kelly Gallagher, I preach to the masses about the power of Notice and Note and Disrupting Thinking by the spectacular Kylene Beers and Bob Probst and I am joyous about literacy like my dear friend Mary champions so beautifully and yet…

“Most of us Hate LA.”

I took the line so personally, because I am doing everything “right” I have embedded choice in most everything we do, I give ample time to read and I check in to see how their books are going and let them “break up” with books like we are speed dating.

This morning I got up to this beautiful sun and had the thought, “How many other teachers feel this way?” See the brilliance of these master educators and struggle to emulate it in their classrooms. I have had my fair share of brilliance with my students, I look back at past work and see amazing things but resistance to work has grown as the year ticks on.

I will continue to work towards the goals of a literacy centered classroom that celebrates those joyful moments but I think we all need to cut ourselves some slack that while we might be doing everything right, some days it will go “wrong”.

I appreciate all the amazing educators that inspire me to be better. Today will be a wonderful day.

The sun is shining, the birds are singing and I will be reading some great books with kids if they realize it or not 🙂