Bali Hai

Bali

Where to begin? As I rode home on my moped yesterday I was composing a million things to write in this post but now I can’t think of where to begin.

We’ve been here for almost three weeks now and school starts on Tuesday. The highs have been very high and the lows very low.

One day I am going to stay here forever. It’s so beautiful. The school is amazing, best place on earth. The people are so interesting, and kind, and mindful and thoughtful.

 

The next day (or even second) I am going home NOW! The school is disorganized and crazy. The people are phonies (not my colleagues, the yogis/gurus everywhere). There is garbage everywhere. (the reasons for that are another post)

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The end of the week was very low because I had Bali Belly and my poor physical health had a huge impact on my mental health.  I think I will focus on what helped me through.

My friend Kristen saying this to me in our gratitude email chain:

no one says taking a huge life leap is easy and boy Jesus you did it – with twin kiddos on your hip. You’re an inspiration – even while pooping – even while sick – even while sad – even while double guessing decisions – you’re an inspiration. There’s no one NO ONE who does something like what you did and settles in – drinks tea and enjoys the view. It’s bumpy and difficult and grumpy.

But you did something amazing. You are learning something invaluable. You are giving your kids a lesson in life they’d never get in a classroom. And you need to keep perspective on that. Happy days- unhappy days. You did something incredible. I admire you.

It’s bumpy and difficult and grumpy. Yes it is. But it’s also beautiful, inspiring, challenging and rewarding.

For my new friend & colleague Rachel at GS who told me that everyone is having meltdowns.  We just don’t see it because we all crawl into a corner, a bathroom stall (composting toilet and all), or wait until we are home to cry.  It’s really not easy picking up and moving across the world. There are many challenges in developing countries, small things we take for granted. The information overload in a new job is also overwhelming.

I need to remember that it’s OK to be overwhelmed. It’s OK to be scared. It’s normal to be lonely and confused. These are all emotions that we westerners tend to repress or hide or deny. I must remember to sit with them and then let them go. I read somewhere that we only actually feel the original emotion for a few seconds, after that our minds keep them going unless we let it pass. So my mantra is going to be, “This too shall pass”.

Let go. Let go. Let go.

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This blog post about being happy no matter where you are by This American Girl also helped me, especially # 23 & 24.

Make peace with discomfort.

Take off the pressure.

I will add some of my own:

Have fun.

Look around and appreciate the beauty of this world.

We Need to Stop Pretending…#makeschooldifferent

Let’s stop pretending:

That children don’t know what they want and that they can’t be trusted.  Children are born to learn and do know what they want to learn about.  Why can’t we let them follow their passions?  Is it because we don’t trust them?  Do we think they will play video games or do something else we judge as not worthy.  I wonder if traditional school models create conditions that encourage poor behaviour because we are trying to control the behaviour of other human beings through “classroom management”.  Is it possible to be more democratic; can management of behaviour in schools be collaborative?    Democratic schools exist all over the world and they work.  Maybe we can learn from them.  For those who argue that democratic schools only work for the privileged read this.

 

That we need to group children by age into distinct classrooms with one adult.  Why?  Because it’s convenient and easier.  Why can’t we have a space where children can roam from place to place.  From the garden outside to the science lab to the maker space to the computer lab.  Why can’t we have cosy nooks for reading and day-dreaming.  There is so much possibility if we would only trust.

 

That we don’t need to have more interventions by true specialists for reading.  Are guided reading and short-term withdrawal really enough for students with learning disabilities?  Would it be possible to give them on-going, consistent, individualised interventions on a daily basis for years?  That can’t be done in a classroom or when a school with hundreds of children and only a few SERTS but can we change the ratio somehow?  See how Kenneth Gordon Maplewood school in North Vancouver works.  Why shouldn’t public school children have access to such effective interventions?

We need to stop pretending that we know what is important for students to learn.  Is content really that important?  Are problem-solving, critical-thinking, communicating and interacting positively with others are more important content knowledge?

That schools don’t play a role in creating bullying situations. Is there something about our wider culture and school cultures that set a stage for bullying situations and behaviour?  Is there something we can do about that within a school?  What is it?  Perhaps more study on these issues is warranted withing the school setting?

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Most of all, we need to stop pretending that we can’t do all of this in public education.  Public education is important.  If we change the system will people stop opting out?  In order to do that we need to communicate how things can be different with others.  All citizens need to work together to make it work because it will be messy.  Change is messy.  Learning is messy.  Life is messy.  But life also has the potential to be wondrous.

 

I want my girls to continue to love learning every day their childhood years (and lives).  Let’s work together to change things so that our children continue to love learning.

 

I’d like to challenge @peterskillen  @brendasherry @tk1ng @mrswideen @acampell99 to share the five things they think we should stop pretending.

The Joy of Learning?

Image by Deines Fred, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Image by Deines Fred, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 

The other day I was talking with my grade 8 class and the subject of motivation came up.  Someone said that they were motivated to get good marks so they wouldn’t get into trouble with their parents.  I felt a little sad hearing that.  We discussed motivation and grades and I didn’t hear anyone really say anything about being intrinsically motivated at school.

I get it.  I was rarely intrinsically motivated at school.  Nor was I extrinsically motivated by marks since I didn’t care too much most of the time.  Mostly, I was bored.    Not always.  Sometimes a good discussion would happen, or my teacher would tell a story of travel or something (like when my grade 5 teacher told us all about England and Scotland and Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge).

I find it difficult to keep my own experiences as a student separate from my role as teacher.  I try hard to find activities that deliver the curriculum and engage my students.  That is really hard with 29 students, many of whom who have little interest in math or English (the two subjects I teach).  There are always some who are disengaged.

I would love to try a democratic school system like Sudbury Valley.  I really wonder if it would work in the public system.  If students followed their passions and interests what would happen?

I read lots of other teacher’s blogs to learn from them and to become a better teacher.  I am very reflective of my practice.  I read TapintoTeenMinds by Kyle Pearce every day to help me with grade 8 math.  His ideas (and those of others like Dan Meyer, Mr. Orr and many more) are simply incredible.  I think it’s important to develop a deep understanding of the math concepts.  I wonder though, why is it important to learn math?  Does everyone have to?  I think it’s fun now, but I hated it in school.  Now that I’m intrinsically motivated I’m learning a lot and seeking out learning opportunities on my own.  I think students would be the same.  If they decide they want to learn algebra for some reason, they will.

I was reading Brian Aspinall’s post The Fixed Mindset of Student A & Student B and I was thinking how much I agree with many of his points, such as “Students who are afraid of – or driven by – marks won’t take risks because it’s not safe.”  I think this is true.  I also think that students who are afraid to look stupid in from of their peers won’t take risks.  Brian goes on to talking about employers and how they will want risk takers, communicators, and problem solvers.  I agree with that also.  But I wonder why we put so much emphasis on employers, 21st Century skills, etc.  What about the joy of learning?

I think marks and planning for careers take away the joy of learning.  We are born to learn.  We are born to love learning.  What happens to us?  Although I think schools are improving, and inquiry-driven planning helps, we are still trying to teach everyone the same thing.  We are trying to make the same material interesting to everyone.  I don’t think this is possible.  I think we can make it more interesting for sure, but we are all different.  We are driven by different passions and interests.

Could we have schools where students follow their interests?  Sudbury Valley schools manage it.  They have answers to all the arguments against them (and for teaching our students a little of everything).  If you are interested in the answers to questions about going to university or writing SATs, etc., check out their FAQ.

If I ran the school system, it would be like democratic schools.  Students would not be sorted by age.  They would be able to roam around the buildings and engage in activities they love.  Music, theater, math, reading, hiking, canoeing, drawing, painting, sculpting, coding, playing video games, biking, sports, astronomy, latin, the classics, playwriting, meditating, inventing, engineering, etc.

What do you think school should look like?

Just to prove I'm motivated about math now, here I am with my colleague, Carmen, who teaches grade 2.  We were doing Calculus (and we don't even really know what calculus is!)
Just to prove I’m motivated about math now, here I am with my colleague, Carmen, who teaches grade 2. We were doing Calculus (and we don’t even really know what calculus is!)

I’m Baaaaaack!

Phew!  It’s been awhile.  I’ve been blogging on my class blog but this one got corrupted somehow and in my busyness I just never got it fixed.  But now it’s fixed!  I’m glad to be back and plan to use this to reflect on life, education, parenting, philosophy or whatever I feel like writing about!

I’m busy finishing my application to become an Apple Distinguished Educator right now so I’ll leave you with a photo from my five-week road trip last summer.   It was taken in Arches National Park, Utah.

 

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What Matters Most in Education?

Relationships matter most in education.    And in life.

 

I’ve been back from unplug’d 2012 for just about a week.  I’ve had some time to reflect on the experience, new relationships, old relationships, work & life.   And, it always comes back to relationships matter most.

 

What I hope will stay with me after unplug’d 2012 is the willingness to be vulnerable.  Vulnerability is something I really struggle with, as do many other people.  Just read some of Brene Brown’s research on vulnerability.   Even at unplug’d I struggled to open up.  I was afraid I wouldn’t measure up to my colleagues there, so many fantastic educators who have accomplished so much in their schools.  My fears of being judged seem to be always lurking below the surface, waiting to be proven right.  But I did it, I opened up.  I shared a piece of myself and of my past with my writing group.  Soon it will be shared with the world.  And it was good.    The theme of our group:

 

You are not alone.

Photo by Ben Hazzard

None of us are.  We are all connected to one another in so many ways.   If we only take the time to listen.  If we open our hearts to what others are saying and feeling.   The photo above is of our writing group.  I am so fortunate to have met and bonded with these people.  From left to right:  Alan, Karen, Me, Rod & Kelly.

 

So my focus this year will be developing strong, trusting relationships with my students and colleagues.  Nourishing my relationship with family and friends.  Unplugging more often so that I can really connect.

 

Yes pedagogy and technology are important.  But relationships are what really matter.

 

Photo by A. Forgrave

Math Camppp 2012

Last week I spent five days at Math Camppp.   Camppp is an acronym for:

Collective

Activities for

MathGains

Professional Learning

Precision

Personalization

 

This was my first Cammp.  It is organized by MathGains which is part of EduGains,  an  organization funded by the Ontario Ministry of Education.  There were 150 people at Camppp  And there is another camppp in August.  How awesome is that?

 

There are so many themes discussed and collaborated on here.  Fractions were the content area which was woven through all the themes.   I learned more about fractions, reaching identified children through differentiation, balanced assessment, three-part lesson planning (who knew how many applications there are!), education research in Ontario and much more.

 

Of particular interest was listening to the researchers and making connections between research & Ministry directives.   Researchers like Dr. Marion Small, Dr. Cathy Bruce, and Dr. Christine Suurtaam.  I also really enjoyed learning from teachers who have moved into coach or Ministry roles.   I am revisiting the idea of a Masters again and my mind is churning with ideas:  mathematics, neurology & education, inquiry-based learning….there are so many options.

 

I was also reminded of how Professional Development is best when it is interest driven (teacher’s interest, not DSBs), collaborative and classroom imbedded.  I am fortunate to be leading a Teacher Leadership Learning Programme this year.  My topic is mathematics  PD within the school.  With teachers co-planning, co-teaching, reflecting and modifying and developing solid three part lesson plans together.

Math Camppp had the right mix of plenary and breakout sessions with hands-on activities to take back to the classroom, deep reflection, questioning time and relaxation time.

 

Here are some photos of our breakout session work.

 

 

 

 

 

Always Thinking and Learning about Reading

The thing about teaching is I never leave it behind.  I’m continually thinking about how to improve my practice.  About how to make school more relevant even though I’m struggling up stream against a current of “system”.

 

I’m only four days into summer holidays and I’m planning away in my mind.  I’m thinking a lot about language arts because I’m teaching English to grades 3-6 students who are in the French Immersion Programme.  I have to catch them up in terms of reading and spelling and support their writing.  Particularly for the grade 3s who have to write EQAO in English even though they have never had any instruction in English – I’ll leave that rant for another day.

 

My dilemma is how do I make teaching reading relevant?  Writing seems a bit easier since I’m going to introduce blogging to my classes.  I have the summer to set it up.

I plan to use the Daily Five and Daily Cafe routines set out by The 2 Sisters, Gail Moser Bouchey and Joan Moser.  I really like their routines and methods for individual conferencing and guided reading.  I will try to find interesting texts to read.  I have a great classroom library – full of books I’ve been collecting over the years.  I’m hoping to set up the routines so the students can work independently on reading, writing and word work with choice as to what they read, what they write about and when they work on specific tasks.  The thing is, I won’t have that much time with them.  The grade 3s will only have 40 minutes per day.  OY.  So – how to make a language class meaningful and relevant and include critical thinking and technology (I won’t have much access to technology actually, although I’m working on a plan).

 

So I need some help with the critical thinking, word work, real world connections, technology integration, etc.

 

Suggestions are very, very welcome.  Thanks in advance.

Image is CC  http://www.flickr.com/photos/83955435@N00/7229079 courtesy of Old Shoe Woman

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Unplugd12

I’m lucky to have some awesome summer PD opportunities.

First up is Math Camppp in Barrie.  A whole week of math in a beautiful setting.  To make it even better there are four other teachers from my region going.

Then there is Unplugd12.  I am excited beyond measure for this one.  I will be meeting some incredible educators.  People who are passionate about what they do.  People who are able to implement incredible ideas in their classrooms.

I’m starting to explore their blogs and I am amazed at what they have been doing.  I am thrilled to be learning from them and I am hopeful that I will implement some of the ideas they have used.

Neo-Liberalism and Me.

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”  Rosseau

 

I had a Twitter conversation this morning with a friend from grade 9.  A fellow passionate educator whom I reconnected with last summer while I was at the OTF Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century conference.

It started when I tweeted her to ask if she was going to the #ITSE2012 conference in San Diego.  She isn’t.  For some interesting reasons.  The conversation got to the school system and how the neo-liberal system we live in binds the hands of teachers who want to do “radical” things with their students.

I’m thinking that a lot of my discomfort with the system relates to the neo-liberal paradigm.  Considering that I studied Political Science for my undergraduate degree you would think I would have paid more attention to this idea.

I never really thought of myself as radical but I guess I am.  I do know that I never felt like I really fit in anywhere.  I never did find my niche in terms of my philosophy.  I don’t mean my educational philosophy, I mean my personal and political philosophy which I haven’t fully defined.

What does this mean?  It means that I think children should have autonomy.  That they can direct their own learning.  They can ask their own questions and follow up with research.  It means that they shouldn’t have to create a diorama, essay, blog, or anything else to prove it.  Assessment.  A waste of time.  We spend so much time and money on it but what is the point?   To prove that a student has learned some content?  To prove they know how to learn?

As I’ve written over on Urbanmoms.ca here and here, I want to unschool my children.  Some of my reasons revolve around the school system as I write about here.  My husband and I have not made that possible.  So far our choices revolve around my job.  Teaching in a neo-liberal system that I don’t think supports human learning and development.  I want my kids to have models who are mindful, empathetic, passionate about life and learning, naturalists, and free.

I believe in public education because I believe in equity.  But our system is not equitable.  Neo-liberalism does not foster equity.  I don’t think a paradigm shift is coming any time soon, so in the meantime I will learn as much as I can about inquiry learning in the classroom.

I need to think about this a lot more.  Good thing summer is coming.