Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

I just finished the first full week of school with my new students. For me, there is lots of new. New students. New school. New grade combination (Grade 4 & 5). New community. New room. I teach and learn in The Land of New.

Nothing was perfect. But everything was about learning. Sometimes, I was absolutely the biggest learner in the room. Sometimes, I felt the beginning faith in my students that they are both learners and teachers here. I want them to always know this.

Today I celebrate that some wonderful happened. This classroom that I worked on for endless days in the summer feels like so much more with students in it. Together we are building community. It’s exhausting. But it’s fantastic.

And, there is no way I could be doing this alone. My family (parents, children, sister) helped me with set up all summer. My husband has helped me multiple days this week to hang art, affix labels and shift furniture around the room. My new school community has been supportive and willing to answer my endless questions. Things I have needed have been sourced. An iPad charger. A classroom carpet (thank goodness!). Blue markers for the white board.

I am constantly inspired by the PLN I continue to grow. You will see in this celebration that I have borrowed, emulated, utilized, shifted and considered the ideas and work of many incredible educators, authors, illustrators and artists in the work we did this week. I am always bursting with gratitude to be connected with so many creative and thoughtful individuals.

Now to celebrate!

We completed two pieces of art to celebrate International Dot Day. I wanted students to approach their work playfully and to embrace the feeling of no one way to make an art piece. I discovered the wonderful blog of artist Michele Guieu and was blown away by all that she does. After resurfacing from her blog (prepare to spend hours!), I had the inspiration for our Dot Day pieces.

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

On one wall – our collective work! Can’t wait for students to walk into this on Monday morning.

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

We are learning to think like scientists by waking up our brains to be observant, organized and full of questions. Thank you to Jess Keating and her Animals for Smart People videos. These videos are all under 3 minutes so we watch them twice and then talk about what we learned and the questions the information inspired.

Our first response web was completed together. Students will begin completing their own next week. We talked about jotting down new learning and connecting this to further questions.

Celebration: Week One in The Land of NewAll last year my students and I participated in #classroombookaday (Follow the link to the presentation that Jillian Heise and Angie Huesgen gave at nErdDcampMI 2016 for more information). Near the end of the year, I started choosing a collection of books around a theme. This year with an intermediate class, I decided to continue this and then have the students respond at the end of the week. What was their favourite book? What did they feel was the theme of the week? Which book best exemplified that theme?

We will be learning more about theme in the weeks to come, including how to think about supporting ideas from the text that confirm/illustrate the theme. What I love about this is the potential for students to be thinking and talking all week about how stories connect and what messages they include.

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

In math, we began our week with representing numbers in interesting ways. While students built and created, I learned about their understanding of place value and ability to “count up” to prove to me that their structure/creature represented the number given.

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

We have started Reading Workshop in full force. This group happily reads independently for 20-25 minutes and daily asks for more time to read. We have started to learn about genre through our picture book collection. This week we talked about fantasy stories, humour and books with rhyme and repetition. I have been trying to connect with each child to talk about books that are loved and what to read next. One important moment? When the child who told me he did not like to read and had no favourite books (on his reading survey) came to me on Friday and asked for my help in choosing a novel. The power of a reading community in a classroom full of books!

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

I finally finished covering exposed black board (non magnetic and marked up with tape marks) with book jacket covers. I call this book wall paper 🙂 The covers I selected are favourite titles of mine but I hope that they also convey a few things: we are readers here, we read fiction and nonfiction, stories are important, diversity is celebrated, we will be creative here, we will share laughter, we will learn together . . .

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

I celebrate turning out the lights on Friday afternoon (okay, early evening) to chairs up, art on the wall, student words in my head. Goodnight to my new classroom community.

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


Sunday Reflections: 6 hours x 5 days x 10 months

Sunday Reflections: There's a Book for That

I have been teaching for more than two decades and I still find the whole concept of school completely fascinating. A number of children who share ages and stages but not necessarily experiences and values coming together to form quite intimate communities where they will spend hours together every day. They will take risks, navigate conflicts and learn beside, from and in spite of each other. The adults involved will teach, guide and facilitate, yes. But they will also take risks, navigate conflicts and do the same deep learning (or at least they should).

Just like we don’t choose our families, in many ways we don’t choose our teachers or our students. We find ourselves together and we muddle through, figuring lots out along the way. Really, we spend more active, awake, engaged time with each other in our classroom communities than we do with our own families at home. 5 days a week. 10 months of the year. 6 or more hours a day.

Yet, when we talk classrooms, we spend LOTS of time talking education and learning. Motivation. Engagement. Challenge. Barriers. Supports. Achievement. Enrichment. Skill building. Independence. Progress. On it goes. Current buzz words and the consistent tried and true vocabulary of education.

But when we experience classrooms – as in, occupy classrooms for those 6 hours x 5 days x 10 months, it is mostly about relationships. Because none of that other stuff happens without them. At least not as deeply, meaningfully and wonderfully as it could. And should.

Talking about relationships is complicated. There is not a curriculum guide, performance standard or professional read that is going to provide the “how to guide” for each particular group of students and teachers. Each year, in September, we begin figuring it out and when we say goodbye in June, those of us that are honest know – there is still much to learn.

If we did spend more time talking about relationships, we might spend more time on questions like:

  • What would be taught in Teacher Education about working with children? Not behaviour management but relationship dynamics and community building.
  • What professional learning opportunities would continue to be offered in districts that focused on social emotional learning and making connections?
  • What are the benefits of multi-age classes?
  • How could we set up a school where every teacher loops classes of children so that we all spend 2 years together? Is this good practice? And is it good for our students?
  • What are the most effective ways of building classroom communities – from the making of the class lists themselves to the way we begin our year together?
  • How do we extend those strong student-teacher connections to student- other adult connections throughout the school?
  • How do we encourage our learners to also be leaders and teachers?
  • How can strong classrooms be enhanced by strong school communities?
  • How can we build connections between classrooms?
  • How do we make it okay to talk about the fact that if the mandate of school is simply to provide an education, we have forgotten that we are educating people? And growing citizens? And making a culture of care the norm, not the exception?
  • What can and should a culture of care really mean?
  • Why is care not as important as standards?
  • How do we connect our communities to neighbourhood? To local and global initiatives?
  • How do we celebrate and make room for happiness?
  • What do we really value when we make decisions about children?

If we shared honestly and easily that building relationships and finding ways to work and learn together is where we really spend much of our time, would it be easier to share the challenges, the triumphs, and the worries?

Would we allow more time to connect throughout each day of the year and stop the mad dash curriculum racing so many feel pressured by?

Would we talk more openly about mental health? About stress? About trauma? About the barriers to learning that have nothing to do with learning itself and everything to do with our students’ capacity to manage in the world?

Would we more freely celebrate the things that we can’t measure on a test or a rubric? Like kindness and generosity. Compassion. Humility. Forgiveness. Trust. Happiness. Joy. And not as part of a token week, a flash mob event or a short lived theme. But anytime and any day that we see it?

Would we grant educators the time to address needs? Time to truly see children for who they are and what they are telling us with some of their unexpected and confusing behaviours? Would we put supports in place to allow us to be more responsive when we do uncover truths and hardships and struggles?

Not as stopping places. Not as excuses. But as starting places. So that we are building capacity, strengthening spirits and finding opportunities for children who need to heal to do just that as we also provide incredible situations where learning can flourish.

Classrooms. Places to be 6 hours x 5 days x 10 months. Classrooms are where we are figuring lots of life out. We’re supposed to be figuring out education. And we are. But, wow, wouldn’t it be great if we were also supported to do what we are already doing – figuring out each other? Who we are and who we want to be?

As people.

With people.

As we work amongst people for life?

Some of us stand tall in the land of relationships and shout about them and celebrate them. We talk about community. We honour it. We feel its weight and are lifted by its joy.

I love when teachers share about who their students are as they share about what their students learn. I want to hear it more often. I try to share, just this, in kind.

I am musing. And wondering. On a rainy Sunday.

Please join me and share your thoughts. Your musings. Your brilliance.

Sunday Reflections: Wolves and Wild Wishes

I just read The Wolf Wilder, the latest middle grade novel written by author Katherine Rundell. There was much I loved in this title: the adventure, the drama, the suspense. Most of all I loved the courage. This book was full of brave children. Heroism in small but mighty packages. I don’t want to give away plot points as this is a must read title, but I will say that children in this book amazed and impressed me. They embraced their fear. They rallied. They acted. They certainly weren’t perfect. There was lots of vulnerability. But the bravery reigned true.

Sunday Reflections: Wolves and Wild Wishes There's a Book for That

I loved the community of children here. The following of dreams. The simplicity of lessons from wolves. Be true. Protect the pack. Honour loyalty. Run fast. Sleep deep. Be resourceful.

This book made me think about how children often astound me. I witness daily moments of bravery. Moments that surprise me. Actions and wisdom I respect in the daily interactions I have with the students I teach.

Yes, I often worry. Sometimes a lot. I watch a lot of mistakes. I see habits and attitudes that are troubling and unhealthy. I witness trauma and all that is upsetting in its impact.

Feo, the main character in The Wolf Wilder worked to bring the wild back to domesticated wolves captured at birth and forced to lead ridiculous lives -in the homes of wealthy Russians. Wilding is really re-wilding. Bringing back what should not have been lost.

Sometimes, I feel that way about the children that I teach. Some of them need re-childing. I want to – in a sense – return childhood to children who have not had enough of it, who keep losing it to the impacts of poverty and related stress.

But everyday, I celebrate possibility. Brave children. Opportunities for everything that can be good. The joy and happiness of childhood.

It is the eve of return to school after a long winter break. I know many of our students eagerly anticipate the return to their school community. Some have mixed feelings – upset and anxiety related to a break that might not have been so pleasant. For some, the routine of bed times and early starts is challenging. But school means breakfast, lunch and important connections. I have loved my break but I am excited about a term full of rich learning and relationship building.

Sunday Reflections: Wolves and Wild Wishes There's a Book for That

And I have some wishes. Some wild ones. Wild because they won’t all happen. The big wish of course, is that these would all be in the realm of realistic. Easily possible. Our world is built for that. Yet, here I am. Wishing.

For each of my students, I wish for security.  I hope that they will each find numerous adults at school ready, willing and able to meet them where they are at. I hope that they feel loved, wanted and precious. I want them to experience 24 hours of care and nurturing. 24 hours of every day. I hope that they won’t experience some things we should be able to protect them from. Hunger, for instance. The longing for a warm bed. I wish them freedom from adult worries.

I also wish for some amazing learning. That they will learn something they never believed to be true. That they will learn something they never thought they could learn. That they will learn something not yet imagined. I hope that all of this learning will be inspirational and give them new faith in their own possibilities. And belief in the possibilities the world has for them.

I wish that each child will become more comfortable taking risks. That each child will become better at speaking up and listening closely. I hope that each child will learn something significant from a peer. I wish that each child will deliver a sincere apology and accept one. More than once. These children have much to teach each other.

I wish that each child I teach will feel brave. Know trust. Experience huge joy.

These are my 2016 wishes. Inspired by wildish wolves and brave children.

Here is to the possibility of 2016.

Celebration: Happy, happy, joy, joy

This week I am celebrating joy. The joy floating about our classroom community. We have been together not quite 3 months and this week, something clicked. We are a we, an us, an important, connected community. There have been signs. There have been traces. There have been moments. This week, we got there.

And so I celebrate all of the happy, all of the joy, all of the we.

I found it in all of these place . . .

Three boys and the latest Elephant and Piggie title.

Celebration: Happy, happy, joy, joy

Sisters off to book shop during buddy reading.

Celebration: Happy, happy, joy. joy

Sharing radishes during afternoon play time. Crunch, crunch. Munch, munch.

Celebration: Happy, happy, joy. joy

Science exploring with our Let’s Talk Science volunteers. “I am science!” one child exclaimed.

Celebration: Happy, happy, joy. joy

Sneaking up on Warning: Do not Open this Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe Preparing to reaPlease, Open this Book! These titles required some very careful sneaking because there are wild creatures in them talking all about being well, wild, and then complaining about being trapped. Reading these was a full out adventure.

Celebration: Happy, happy, joy. joy

Sharing a book review with our guest reader from the BLG law firm who gifts us with books every week.

Celebrate: Happy, happy, joy, joy

The thing I know about arriving in the land of we – there is no going back. I am beyond thrilled to be here. And I’m not going anywhere.

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


Literary Nest Building 101

When I said the final goodbyes to my students in June, it was goodbye to a group of children I have shared a classroom with for two or three years. A reading community with a culture of reading that was well established. At 2:30 p.m. on our last day of school, what were we doing? Reading! Books connected us and enriched our lives.

We had the reading groove going on. There was back and forth trust with our recommendations. We breathed in deep as we settled into read alouds. We communicated with wide eyes, arched eyebrows and raised shoulders as we listened. We craved daily independent reading time.  We were readers.

Literary Nest Building 101 How to build a culture of reading There's a Book for That

These children were discerning when it came to new books. They were as apt to gush ” I LOVE that book,” as to comment “Well, it was mostly good but . . ” We knew certain books would be loved by some and other books would be treasured by all. I chose what I shared carefully. Generally, I delivered amazing choices because what I shared was based on the recommendations of a wise, appreciated group of book lovers (yes, I am talking to you Nerdy Book Club members) who want to deliver the best on the page to the children in their charge. Best for the best.

But this fall, I will have a brand new group of students. A younger group with fresh interests and experiences. My challenge? To win them over to the land of reading.

The impatient part of me wants to do this instantaneously. Let’s fall in love at first sight and embark on our journey together as book lovers. But I have learned. The 9 and 10 year olds I sent off surrounded in words, images and book love were 7 and 8 year olds two years ago. I began then at the beginning. I remember when they first arrived, things felt slightly off kilter. I bemoaned that I couldn’t dive deep into heavy, heady picture books and richly written novels. I had to begin differently. Start where they were. I learned that when you find the right match – the right books for the readers in front of you, the reading experience becomes instantly rich. Thankfully, I learned this quickly and we began to discover new books to love together.

Now, a few years later, I need to dust off my patient self and approach this new group with more experience, deeper commitment and careful and best intentions. I want to do it right. Wrap them in book love and let them settle. Not squeeze too tight. Let the books do their thing. Build a literary nest in which to nurture these new readers. When we fly, we will soar. But first there is going to be a little bit of bumbling about. Some falls. Some reading journeys that need more lift off. The right wind. Smoother landings. We will get there. One book at a time. Shared together. Shared between us. The love of reading doesn’t need to be found. It just sometimes needs to be switched on. The stories, the connection, the communication, the sharing; reading brings all of these things to a community.

Literary Nest Building 101 How to build a culture of reading There's a Book for That

What is my plan? To keep certain things in mind. Patience. Humour. Celebration. I will read daily and often. I will reveal the huge part of me that is a book lover. A brazen book lover who shares books in big, booming, leap about ways but who is also a sharer of stories and lets there be silence, pauses and time to absorb.

I will be deliberate.

We will be book explorers. We will learn how to navigate each and every part of a book. The end pages, the pattern on the spine and the under the jacket surprises. We will read every name: the author, the illustrator and the dedications. Books have little secrets. There are mysteries tucked away in all kinds of places if you look carefully.

We will laugh and giggle. Through humorous books we will begin associating reading with fun and joy. We will become quickly addicted. The power of a funny story with little readers can never be underestimated.

We will honour visual literacy. Through wordless titles we will participate in “tell alouds.” We will learn that experiencing a story doesn’t have to involve reading a single word. For beginning readers, this is all powerful.

We will create shared experiences and chances to share. Guest readers will be invited in. We will write and post book reviews. We will connect with authors and illustrators. We will give the gift of reading to our kindergarten buddies.

Literary Nest Building 101 How to build a culture of reading There's a Book for That

We will let nonfiction books tease out questions, awe and first ever discoveries. We will put down the books and talk and wonder together. In various ways, we will try to catch all of the new knowledge that happens in the room

I will read books that will make them mad. Books that make them sad. Joyous. Safe. Confused. I will honour the feelings. We will sit with these emotions together quietly. Or we will rage and shout. All of our reactions will be accepted and allow us to make our worlds bigger.

We will find books where they can find themselves. Other books will introduce them to lives and people they have never imagined.

We will develop listening stamina through reading chapter books. We will get lost in the characters. We will feel stories deeply and fully. We will let our thinking be transformed.

In our classroom, we will have time to read, time to talk and time to read aloud.

I will watch the impact of certain titles on certain readers. When I pay attention, I will be better equipped to find the right books for the right readers and make sure that every reader has many books to love.

All of this won’t happen week one.

Maybe not even month one.

But I will know the moment it does.

My tightly woven nest won’t be empty. But it will no longer be the place where I gather children and ready them for reading journeys. It will, instead, start to expand and grow, becoming the place where readers land and take flight.


Sunday Morning Perspective

It’s a Sunday in the middle of summer. I have hung out laundry on the line. Stood with my coffee on the back deck and watched hawks swoop and swerve into our huge pine tree. Thought about when to wake my children who stayed up to the wee hours reading many chaptered novels. The day promises to be easy. Relaxed. Low stress.

I think of school days ahead this fall. The mornings are not so slow and calm. There is rushing. Wake up time is not negotiable. And while the birds may be out there doing their thing, it is the people in the house swooping and swerving as we get ready for the day. No matter how much we try, we can never replicate summer ease and insert it into the hectic pace of everyday school schedules.

But we can carry forward perspective. We can look back on what we know we know on these calm mornings, take a breath in the middle of the busy and know it then. When we need it most.

So while I know that I will be worried about curriculum and schedules and conflicts not even imagined come fall, I also know that I need to remember what I know to be most true.

Our classroom is its own community. What we build is ours. The learning environment is a safe haven and that is powerful and necessary for many children.

 Sunday Morning Perspective There's a Book for That

What we learn is absolutely important. The skills we will build are vital. The learning how to be learners is key. But the biggest thing that is all pervasive and impacts us most of all? That we are learning together. We are community.

When I think back over my year last year, what stands out? What were the moments when I felt the room quietly vibrate with power.

It was the silent sound of waiting for a child to share during gratitude circle. Twenty two children being present and quiet and ready to listen to a classmate.

It was the conversations that happened without any words. When a child would look up and I could see in their eyes that something someone else said resonated. That wonderful “learning between” children that can happen when community exists.

It was when I would be reading a story after lunch at the carpet. One child would be quietly crying shedding the upset of social dramas gone wrong during play time. Nobody was tattling or complaining or staring. But little hands were patting backs. Everybody was breathing deep.

It was when one child would gush with pride over what somebody else achieved.

It was coming across my most quiet child teaching a group of friends how to play a new board game. All eyes on her and a confident voice speaking out.

It was the moments of forgiveness.

It was the admitting of mistakes.

It was the apology whispers.

It was the fall right over contagious giggles.

I will plan and rethink and organize this summer. But I know that the most important thing I will do come September will be to welcome a new group of children and work, with them, to build our community.

Celebration: Three years

Celebration: Three years There's a Book for That

We have just begun the third term of our 2014/2015 year. Everyone is remarking that time has flown. It always does. Talk is beginning of next year. Who will teach what? What classes might we have? What changes do we want to make?

In my classroom community, a bittersweet feeling is beginning to settle. This term marks the beginning of the end. Many of us have been together for three years. More than half of my current students began as Grade 2 children in a Grade 2/3 class. They then moved into a Grade 2/3/4 as Grade 3s and now they are in Grade 4 in a Grade 3/4 class. Others are in their second year in the room. We are close. Really close.

Celebration: Three years There's a Book for That

We have experienced many things together. Memory making things that connect us. But it is more than mere moments. It is the transformations. The changes that we have all witnessed and can name. Little learners have grown into older learners and have found amazing things along the way. Some of us have realized we are writers. That words, our words, can be powerful. Others have become readers and need pages to read like others need air to breathe. Some of us have become leaders. Artists. The rational voice. Singers. Athletes. Some have learned to speak up and share ideas. Others are beautifully compassionate and caring. Some offer incredible perspective. Some are quietly wise. Some are trying to inspire change, to stir up community. Many of us are outspoken and passionate. Even quietly, most of us have realized we have opinions and that others want to hear them.

Yes, all of us are a little of all of these things but identities are being developed. It has been amazing to observe, to nurture and to celebrate this.

Celebration: Three years There's a Book for That

I should only be celebrating but I know that I will have many moments of sad too. I would love to keep these children in my room forever. Even though I know that the new students next year will bring their own love and their own amazing.

It has been a very special gift to teach so many children for so long. I may never have this opportunity again and I know it. All children teach me so much. These children have been particularly influential. This is my 20th year at this school and I don’t think I have ever been so full of change and possibility. Wanting the room to be full of learning and security for these children has pushed me to risk take and shift and reassess constantly. My learning has been perhaps the most rich.

So that I am not a crumpled mess in June when I have to say goodbye to my students, I need to begin now to find perspective. The perspective that we will carry each of us in how we move forward, knowing, that we are so very blessed to have been influenced so deeply by each other.

This is what I celebrate this week. Each child in my room and the journey we have all experienced together. I will hold these last months very close.

Celebration: Three years There's a Book for That

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community! Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.