School in the Wake of COVID-19

Spring break is almost over in Vancouver, British Columbia.  On Monday, March 30th, for the first time in my life, the doors of the school will not open to welcome students back.  The doors of the school will remain locked.  Students will not return to in-class schooling as per the direction of BC Health officials.  This is completely new terrain for educators, families and students.  Fortunately, we had the luxury of Spring Break.  No one is falling behind. We had the gift of two weeks to consider how we will approach this challenge.  Although educators have been on a regularly scheduled holiday, I know the work ethic of my colleagues.  I’m willing to guarantee that more than one educator is already dreaming about kids, thinking about the days ahead, and creating a things to do list.  Teachers are dedicated individuals who go into the profession because they want to enrich the lives of children.  At this point in the school year, teachers know their students personally and have a good understanding of their individual learning needs.  Teachers will be participating in conversations and online meetings on Monday and Tuesday and contacting parents in the coming week.  Administrators have been participating in online meetings with district staff and dealing with a barrage of email to prepare to meet the most immediate needs.  Our superintendent is communicating online with staff, being interviewed and creating YouTube videos to reassure people that we’ve got this.  At home, there are some basic things that families may find helpful to support their child(ren) in learning at home.

The new curriculum in British Columbia has garnered worldwide attention because it has effectively incorporated current research about learning.  This involves looking at learning through a different lens than what most adults grew up with.  Learning has never been something that happens between the hours of 9 – 3 pm.  The redesigned British Columbia curriculum tries to capitalize on the curiosity of a typical 5-year-old entering kindergarten and put the supports and structures in place for that same curiosity to continue to exist in the typical 17-year-old student in secondary school.  It capitalizes on the role of student interest, self-regulation, and benchmarks to signal a need to loop back for more repetition and practice, or to move on to the next phase of learning.  Learning may be happening for all of the waking hours but “school time” allows for the time for deep thinking and the front-end loading for skill development.  It is not intended to be painful, but it is intended to be deliberate.  Although not all parents are educators, all parents educate their children in one way or another through-out their lives.  Here are some things you can do with your children to facilitate learning at home.

Set up a workspace for school times.

Support kids in setting up a workspace for 9 am to 3 pm.  Currently at home I am taking  up the entire dining room.  Pencils, paper, journal, iPad, plug in.  Have your child make a list of things required.  They are best at “doing school”.  I would encourage one notebook designated for questions.  Questions might be for teachers or for future inquiry projects.  Let the teacher know if there are things you require when you are contacted.

Set up a daily routine for “school”.

Sit down and create a daily schedule with your child.  In my classroom, it was always called The Shape of the Day.  Kids will recognize this process as it is done in one form or another in most classrooms.  Showering, getting dressed, eating breakfast and brushing teeth happen before the start of the school day.  Be sure to build in “recess” and “lunch” breaks.  Be on time.  You could be teaching your child the structure so they can have a successful home-based business in the future.

9:00 am – Review daily schedule.

Make any necessary changes to incorporate Skype calls to interview Grandma, chats with friends about books they are reading, or interesting programming that fit in with student learning.

9:15 am – Online yoga or physical activity to stretch and exercise.

9:30 am – Literacy Time

Children get better at reading by reading.  This may involve taking turns reading with a parent.  It could involve listening to a parent read and stopping to discuss issues and interpretations.  It could be listening to an audiobook and following up with discussion with peers via messenger or illustrating while listening or writing a journal entry afterwards.  It could be writing a personal blog or a story.

10:30 -11:00 am – recess break / Snack preparation by the child and free choice play

Snack preparation is another opportunity for developing literacy and numeracy skills as well as teaching about nutrition and independence.   Let your child participate.  Opportunity for more physical activity.

11:00 am – Numeracy Activities

The type of activities done during numeracy time may involve some skill and drill practice of basic facts, playing store that involves pricing items, paying for them with real money and making change, budgeting for future trip planning.  There are also a number of online options to develop numeracy skills.

12:00 pm – lunch break / lunch preparation by the child and free choice play

Again, children should be involved in the preparation and clean-up of lunch. Go outside for a break while practicing physical distancing of at least 2 metres.

1:00 pm – Project Based Learning

Supporting students in asking questions and developing a plan to find answers is at the heart of Project Based Learning.  Hard questions make for interesting projects.  My children learned early on that they would not be as likely to get in trouble for making a mess if it was done in the name of “Doing Science”.  The question can be as easy as “What kind of bird is that?”  Spring in Vancouver guarantees that kids can look out any window or go for a walk and see several species to make close observations with field notes that include dates, times, drawings, notations, comparisons, and questions to pursue.

Generally big questions cross many different disciplines of subjects which should be encouraged.  Successful learners in adult life are divergent thinkers.  This is to be encouraged.  At this point in history, it is not possible to master all of the relevant content because new content is generated at such a high rate.  We are teaching kids to think about the application of content to answer new questions.

This time can also include outdoor physical activity, as long as there is attention to physical distancing recommendations of two meters from others.  There are also a number of online opportunities to sign up for or follow along on television.

2:45 pm – Make a schedule for the following day and clean up.

In many families, a student workspace may also be a family living space.  Clean it up.  The learning may continue but school is over.

3:00 pm – Home Time

I encourage you to draw lines around “school time’.  My caution is that if ALL time is designated school time, I anticipate you will get considerable pushback from your child(ren).  Take the time to play games together and let your children make personal choices. Limiting screen time will undoubtedly be necessary but brainstorming a list of possibilities is helpful.

Teachers will be in contact with families in the coming week to provide more information.  Teacher communication with families has taken many forms this year.  Some teachers communicate using the online platform My Blueprint or Fresh Grade, while others communicate via a class newsletter and email.

I encourage you to begin with the structure of learning at home on Monday.  The content of work times will change over time with teacher input, but the routine of school will create a predictable structure that will be reassuring to students.  The goal is to minimize the struggles that often emerge during assigned homework times.  If daily school at home is not successful, we have more work to do with our students to enlist their engagement and support.

I can guarantee as educators, we will not have all the answers this week.  I can also tell you that I was emailing a question to a colleague on Friday night at 9:05 pm and getting an instant reply.  Educators are on high alert and doing their best.  They may have pressing issues to deal with immediately and they will have a myriad of concerns that you will not know or understand.  Currently I am waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the welfare of the little salmon that are part of the Salmon Enhancement Program at school.  For some this is a relatively small concern in a myriad of more pressing matters.  For me it matters because my response to my students demonstrates my investment in their questions and concerns.  At the end of the day, we are all directly accountable to our kids.  Our collective task is for “school at home” to be another way to go about learning in the midst of a significant pivot.  It will be an exercise in teaching our kids to be resilient.  I hope we will be working together with our kids to meet their needs as learners and as young people experiencing a historical first. We are all writing our own story. Let’s make it one of creative thinking, collaboration, and victories – big and small.

“Fenced In” during COVID-19 Lockdown

Lockdown in the city.  Although social distancing could have been the answer to the dramatic effort to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, stronger government measures have been required to enforce common sense measures like social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.  As a result, most of us are in our homes for most of the day in Vancouver and many other places throughout the world.  Only Taiwan used the SARS experience to prepare adequately to manage this recent global pandemic.  For people in Taiwan, life includes travel restrictions, regular temperature checks, masks, and strictly enforced isolation for people who have travelled or feel sick.  It also includes going to work, restaurants, and the gym.  For the rest of us, we’re inside.  No socializing.  No yoga.  No gym. No eating out at restaurants.  No visits to the local coffee shop to sit, work or socialize.  Even the logs at the popular Vancouver beaches have been gathered and fenced in to prevent people from gathering and socializing in groups.  The quest to cope is daunting for many who feel like they have exchanged control of their lives for abject boredom.  However we continue to have control of how we perceive our situation and how we spend our time.

I am grateful that we our two week Spring break that pushed the card on self isolating and government enforcement of Health and Safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while my family, friends and my school community are still healthy.  Prior to the break, our school did a good job of reminding kids to wash hands properly, cough into their elbows, and maintain clean spaces and surfaces.  We are now in a better position to teach and reinforce the importance of social distancing.

My Grandma Derksen kept four young kids together and alive through-out World War II in Germany.  She lived to be 100 years old,  Her stories of rats nibbling on toes in emergency shelters and other horrific conditions framed her later life.  She demonstrated a fastidious attention to cleanliness.  For her joy came with a clean and organized household.  When I was newly married, I’d take a toothbrush to crevices when she came to visit and shove piles of stuff into closets.  The family joke has always been that the clean gene skipped my genetic make-up.  I prefer to go out and do something.  If I’m at home, I’d prefer to read or write rather than clean the house.

I was gifted with the collector gene of my Grandma Keenan.  Books, rocks, shells, tea cups, photos, letters and other treasures carry stories and possibilities.  My recent obsession with clean surfaces have brought the realization that the clutter also brings dust and presents a cleaning challenge.  I will require more than a two week lock-down to meet the Grandma Derksen standard, but I am well on my way.

My recent painting, organizing, and cleaning obsession has been made enjoyable with audio-books and the Netflix binge watch.  I have discovered that weekly featured audiobooks are available for under $10.00 and some great classics are even cheaper.  Nothing like a hard boiled detective with Tourettes to entertain you while you paint a bedroom.  Multiple seasons of a series on Netflix with well developed characters has kept me shuffling papers and sorting “stuff” well into the night.

Social media has the merits of checking in on people and statistics, but like binge watching television or the news can become a black hole.  It has the same capacity as empty grocery store shelves to fill me with anxiety and apprehension.  My mother was the ultimate worry wart.  The worst things that happened in her life were the things she never saw coming.  The worry just made her more nervous and less able to experience joy.  I have found the need to just turn it off.   Daily technology and television breaks are mandatory.

Reading is how I cope with life.  It allows me to shift gears.  It provides the front-end loading that feeds my curiosity and helps me process life.  It allows me to do big picture thinking and make sense of things in the past and yet to come.  It’s not an “add on” to a busy schedule but part of my life.  The additional time at home has diversified my reading.  I am even listening to a grisly book called Still Lives that would make my older sister proud – the ultimate consumer of scary books and movies.  I just finished a book called Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang that has reframed my thinking around work/ life balance.

Daily outdoor exercise is part of the mix.  It provides a welcome addition to the day.  There is something to be said for the positive addition of having time with nature to calm our nervous system and experience joy in its beauty.  There is time for long walks and bike rides.  My preference is for long bike rides because it gives me a better way to work out.  Spring is a great time of year.  As new growth emerges, so do the possibilities for learning, considering things in a new light and creativity.  With this new learning and inspiration comes the desire to write and to cook.  Olive’s bran muffins from when my cousin and I worked on 4th Avenue at The Computer Tax Service, Nanny Keenan’s oatcakes, along with homemade croutons have become staples.

By the end of the day, I still find I have more to do.   Today I will venture out into the rain.  Then the promise of a pot of tea and a good book.  Tonight I have decided that it will be date night.  I will put on nice clothes and perhaps even make-up and make a fancy dinner.   Something to change things up.  I may even let my husband teach me a new card game.  My husband will be delighted not to be co-opted into another organizational venture!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVID-19 Distancing

Social Distancing at Spanish Banks
“We can chat from cars!”

We are social animals.  A range of cultural and social institutions, as well as businesses have been organized around this premise.  COVID 19 strikes.  The World Health Organization responds with 5 basic rules for us to follow.

Do the Five by WHO
5 things to prevent the spread of Covid19 #DoThe5 #Covid19

The first two imperatives are under our direct control on a regular basis and have been implemented to varying degrees over the course of the last several years.  Kids in public school are familiar with repetitive reminders to wash their hands and the mantra – “Cough into your elbow, away from people”.  The success in NOT touching the face depends  largely on how successful people have been in conquering the habit of nose picking.  Unfortunately the adult nose picker driving a car demonstrates this is an ingrained habit in as many adults as children.  To obliterate this habit could be the one upside of the global pandemic.

People have clearly taken the recommendation to stay home if they are sick.  I have heard a few sneezes but none of the coughing that is usually quite apparent at this time of year.  The last time I heard someone coughing in a public place was at a yoga class before Prime Minister Trudeau appeared on television and the level of concern and vigilance increased exponentially.  The obviously sick person had a big box of kleenex on her mat and evoked a fair amount of angst in the group.  I’m not certain if she returned to class while sick but it was enough to have me to take an extended break from yoga class and for the studio to close their doors within days.  I have heard the occasional sneeze escape in a grocery store or outdoors, followed by a plethora of apologies or explanations of allergies.  Sick people are self isolating due to the directive or reaction of the general public.

Maintaining a distance of at least one metre between people is the most challenging of the directives to implement.  Even though many people are trying, habit is again the culprit.  The hand goes out to shake.  The hug to say thanks.  The high five to recognize.  Fortunately Star Trek has given us the “Vulcan handshake” along with the very appropriate “live long and prosper tagline.  For long time trekkies, it also is guaranteed to evoke a smile.  Better to avoid  the physical proximity of the elbow or toe tap.

The direction to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has met with good timing with the two week Spring break in British Columbia.  Yet, the wild card has been the Vancouver sunshine.  As every Vancouverite understands, sunshine screams, “Get outdoors now”.  Life in a temperate rainforest has taught us that rain is often just around the corner.  A pause in quickly getting outside to relish the sun is perceived as a lost opportunity.  Certainly by me.  What better place to socially distance than to be in the great outdoors?  This is the case in many places.  NOT in city parks of Italy or Lower Mainland of Vancouver where scenic parks are magnets for people to convene.

Living in Kitsilano, the most beautiful and accessible places to head are the beaches, parks, bike/ walking routes west from Kits Beach to Spanish Banks and east around Granville Island and the Stanley Park seawall.  As the week of stay at home lockdown has been self inflicted to prevent the spread of COVID-19, all these scenic places and routes have become much busier and hundreds of people are congregating to have a coffee, chat and watch the children play at the beach and in the parks.   Apparently this is also the case at Rocky Point Park in Port Moody and the White Rock boardwalk.

Social Distancing is possible.

There are some valiant efforts to establish the  recommended 1 -2 metre distance between people.   Many people have jumped on their bikes to do this.  In too many cases they are too difficult for some to sustain or not taken seriously.  Certainly that has been the case on the playgrounds.  Yesterday there were some new signs reminding people to maintain a 1-2 metre distance at Kits Beach but the sheer quantity of people made that difficult in high traffic areas.  My husband wanted to go for a walk, rather than a bike ride and we were unable to consistently maintain the recommended barrier when passing people at Kits Beach or along the Granville Island walking route.   What healthy people do not understand in their risk as carriers.  Clearly on the beach and in the parks, there are also some people who believe their own physical health will protect them.   They don’t understand their role in exponential numbers of other people getting sick and the implications of the stress on the elderly, the vulnerable, medical system and the economy until we emerge out of flu season.

It does seem that we need to exercise our own judgement about how to monitor the physical proximity of ourselves to others.  I feel grateful to have my husband in stay at home lockdown.  Yes, partially for the chores around the house I’ve wanted to get done for some time, but mostly because we have fun being together.  We still want to get daily exercise outdoors, however we will be more discerning about how, when and where to do that. We will choose less busy places to walk and ride.  My pivot has been to bike the Arbutus Greenway, continuing along through the quiet Kerrisdale neighbourhood bike route to UBC, and staying on the road in the busiest sections of Spanish Banks.

If we are not making good decisions to avoid contact during a pandemic, then we are inviting government to make those decisions for us in order to protect the population.  Then again, the inevitable Vancouver rain seems poised to grace us and it will assume the responsibility for enforcing social distancing as more people are more inclined to stay inside.  Then those of us who love the smell of rain will be free to venture to the beach routes for our daily exercise without risk of close contact with others.  In the meantime, #DoThe5 and stay healthy.  Books, Netflix and binge watching all beckon.

Afternoon Update March 22, 2020 – Metro Vancouver cities have closed outdoor sports areas.  Parking lots for popular beaches and parks have been closed.  Prime Minister Trudeau adopts language indicative of further measures to ensure people people are practicing required social distancing.

Continue reading “COVID-19 Distancing”

Winning at Life

 

IMG_6471 2
High School Graduation from Magee Secondary – One Win

Simon Sinek could define school as a finite game that you choose to play.  It has an agreed set of rules that must be followed to win.  Do the work.  Pass the test.  Win with good grades.  Graduate.  Gordon, Renee and I were taking the win as we traipsed across the stag.  However, Life is an infinite game.  There is not an agreed upon set of rules.  How do you know if you’re winning?

Teachers have a special role in helping students to meet with success at school.  Teachers hone a skill set that takes their own personal interests and desire to teach children while focusing on ways to develop the skills for students to win at life.  This includes engaging in learning, developing healthy relationships, demonstrating resilience in the face of loss, and the flexibility and thinking skills to cope with change.   If the teacher is from British Columbia, they are challenged to consider how content can be used to develop core competencies (thinking, communicating, personal/ social)  to succeed in the requirements of daily personal and social life, currently defined jobs and those jobs that will emerge as possibilities in the future.

The most basic premise of self-regulation is the ability to manage your own emotions.  Accomplishing this task is the very basis of success in every aspect of life.  The flight or fight response is a basic instinct in animals in response to perceived danger.  This response is helpful to human beings when faced by a predator.  However, this response is not at all helpful in resolving conflicts with peers or persevering to solve a difficult math equation.  Teaching children to regulate their emotions, allows them to take control of the response of the reptilian brain to fight or run, and use strategies to calm down.  Only when students are calm, are they able to problem solve and learn effectively.  Dr Stuart Shanker isolates five domains of self-regulation:

  • biological
  • emotion
  • cognitive
  • social
  • pro-social

Considering the strengths and areas for development in all of these five domains requires a different approach to writing curriculum, teaching and reporting student learning to parents.  The old rules of playing the game included defining a specific body of information to memorize, testing to demonstrate mastery and grades to rank performance.  The playing field has broadened and so have the rules and the complexity of the game.  The intention of reporting student learning is to provide a teacher perspective about learning at a specific point in time that incorporates student voice.

Areas of strength are presented and often reflect student enthusiasm and focused attention.   Areas for further growth may reflect a need for repetition and practice, persistence, or use of strategies to focus attention.  Including the ways to support the student in developing the weaker areas or nurture burgeoning talents, keeps us responsible to attending to the specific needs of each child.  The ultimate goal is for the teacher, child and families to engage in celebration and goal setting in response to this information.

The British Columbia Ministry of Education mandates a minimum or five reports to parents.  The intention is to take into consideration the diverse ways that teachers engage parents in participating in the learning of their child.  It capitalizes on the research by John Hattie et al. that emphasizes improved student learning when parents are involved.  Conferences, formal report cards, celebrations of learning, phone calls, interim reports, notes home, and student agendas are all possible ways that teachers structure communication to involve parents in the learning of their child.  If you still have questions, call the teacher.  They undoubtedly will have more to say.

School Drills

cars city fire truck firefighter
Photo by Kính on Pexels.com

School drills are the way we ensure that staff and students know and understand the processes required in the event of an unanticipated emergency.  I remember the day that the fire bell went off at recess and many of the students entered the school to line up at their classroom doors.  Since that day, I have always done at least one fire drill at recess or lunch to ensure children know where to line up.  The biggest take away for teachers, parents and students is that drills are opportunities to pause and consider how we could keep ourselves safe in an emergency.  The most reassuring information I can pass on is that I have been doing fire drills at school since I was five years and I have never had a big school fire.  Those of my students who consider me ancient, are VERY reassured.  All schools have regular schedules for mandatory safety drills.

Fire drills in VSB schools happen a minimum of five times at each school.  All parent and students in the school have grown accustomed to this practice.  The necessity is rarely questioned and parents are comfortable with having the conversation about the necessity of this drill with their child.

Earthquake drills have been scheduled once a year at most schools  during The Great British Columbia Shake Out drill in October.  Another Evacuation drill, happens in May in the Vancouver School District .  A school evacuation could involve a situation which could include but is not limited to fires, earthquakes and hazardous spills, or as required following a Lockdown or Drop-Cover-Hold (ie. during an earthquake or an explosion)*.   The reunification of families in the event of an evacuation is given extra care and attention.  This drill usually involves lots of “what if” conversations and problem solving.  It is supported by information on websites, radio, and social media, the Police, the Fire Department, the Ambulance service, the school district, and from the provincial government.   It is still an uncomfortable conversation, but lots of people are participating in it together.

The drill that often doesn’t evoke a lot of parent conversation is the Lockdown drill.  Lockdown is used to protect school occupants from a dangerous person within the school, for example a person armed with a knife, firearm or other weapon and who is threatening or in the process of harming people*.   At my PAC meeting, the recent lockdown drill precipitated a lot of conversation by the parents, PAC executive and the DPAC rep at the meeting.  I was surprised because lockdown drills have been mandatory for many years, but have never been discussed by my parent group to this degree or with so many opinions about how it should unfold.  Initially I just wasn’t sure what to make of it.

The obvious finally occurred to me.  Many parents don’t want to consider the possibility of needing a lockdown, let alone having the conversation with their own children about why we practice  this drill.  As the person in charge of ensuring school community safety, I understand the feeling.  However I am also of the mind that if we know what to do in any given situation, we are in the best position to staff safe.

That being said, here are a few suggestions to talk to your child about a lockdown drill:

  • Be calm and matter of fact. Nothing bad has happened or is expected to happen.
  • We practice drills at school to keep children safe if anything unexpected
  • In any situation, a plan helps us to stay safe. It makes sure we know what to do.
  • If you have questions or concerns about the drill, talk to the teacher, your parents, or another adult.
  • Television shows, movies, and video games are intended to sell things not reflect reality at most schools.

If your child is particularly anxious about any of the drills at school, it is always a good idea to talk to the teacher.  This will help the teacher prepare for her conversations with his/her/their students and any alternate arrangement that may need to be made in the event of a child’s special need or extreme anxiety.

*Sentence from the Vancouver Board of Education:  Staff Emergency Procedures flipbook available in every classroom.

Perspective is Everything

 

Rock Dove or Winged Rat?

Friday morning, I saw a fleeting reference to pigeons as “winged rats” as I was scrolling through Twitter.  On the drive home, I finally paused to consider why I found this so irritating.  The common pigeon, which apparently, we don’t all know and love, is also known as a rock pigeon or rock dove.  The reference to being a dove evokes a completely different persona than that of a rat.  How could this respect worthy bird be reduced to the stature of a rat, spreader of the bubonic plague?

Pigeons have a special place in my childhood.  I liked the cooing sound they made.  I liked that they made their nests in places you might not expect.  I liked that they had better manners than seagulls or Canadian geese.  I always assumed when I heard the song, “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins, it was the appropriate was to treat pigeons.  My Grandpa Derksen (my father’s stepfather) adored pigeons and kept them in the backyard along with the chickens, a rooster, and a peacock, long after they sold the farm and moved to an Abbotsford house.  He loved the pigeons and he loved me.  I loved him and it was my duty to love his pigeons.

I also grew up with stories from my paternal Grandmother, who kept her four kids together in the midst of WWII in Germany before making her way to Canada in 1948.  One of the stories that stood out in my mind was that of the rats.  In the large warehouses where they sometimes found shelter, she would stay awake at night to shoo away the rats that would move closer in the dark night to nibble on the exposed body parts of her huddled family.  My cousin, Kevin, who was never thrilled with his much younger cousin tagging along to the “forbidden without adult supervision” beach across the road on Sundays, added to my horror of rats.

His words have always stuck with me. “You better be careful.  If you fall between those rocks, the rats will bite your foot off.  They we’ll all be in trouble!”  I was very careful.

I went home and searched for the Twitter post.  It turns out, @BirdNoteRadio was just employing a good attention-grabbing introduction to their post.  Phew!  We could agree on the merits of the common rock pigeon.  I followed them on Twitter.  Common agreement makes relationships so easy.

When I was living in the suburbs, one of my fellow Amnesty International group members, first introduced me to the fact that some people love rats.  She had many at home and would bring her favourite rat to Amnesty meetings and let it run around a sling on her neck.  It shouldn’t have been such a leap for me to embrace this practice.  I had loved other rodents – my cousin’s white mouse, my childhood gerbils, rabbits at my grand-parents, and my classroom guinea pigs.  Yet, old biases die hard.  I didn’t embrace rats along with my other rodent friends.

One night someone set fire to one of the portables of the school I was teaching at in Clearbrook.  I arrived to find a sopping wet, rat sitting in a puddle of water in his cage.  Ethical dilemma.  This was not a spreader of the bubonic plague but a well-loved classroom pet.  Contrary to every instinct in my body to walk away, I didn’t.  I changed the bedding.  Dried the rat.  Put him in a warm spot.  I cringed the entire time.

It is hard to change a perspective.  Dismissing other ideas is the path of least resistance.  Most often the “eureka” moment does not wipe away our entrenched understandings to be replaced by inspiration after the instantaneous flash of understanding.  Our background experiences  are often hard-wire and impact our responses long after the dawning of emerging understanding.  To formulate a new perspective, we may need to challenge an emotional response or challenge ideas that we have accepted unconditionally many times over.  The change requires an effort to want to be open to other possibilities.  An unwillingness to consider options frequently results in justifications and entrenchment.   There is still a bristling or cringing, but it comes from being incensed by the  audacity of having our ideas and motives questioned.  The greater the emotional investment in our own perspective, the greater the angst at hearing another perspective presented.  The corollary is an absence of critical thought and the absence of personal growth.

At the end of the day, the conversations that are the most memorable come from diverse perspectives.  Not just disagreement for  the entertainment of playing the role of the devil’s advocate.  Not just to be entertained by the novel response of someone intent on changing your mind with any tools of derision or insult at hand.  But the disagreement that comes from a well thought-out and a well-intentioned perspective of trying to create understanding.  This is the type of conversation that precipitates thought and is considered long after the initial conversation.  It is also the willingness to emerge beyond the “Yeah, but” that proliferates many of our conversations.  The possibility is a greater capacity for empathy and understanding.

Twitching 101 & Miracles

A gorgeous day, a set of Outdoor Learning backpacks, some new resources purchased at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary, and a couple of primary classes ready to embrace learning outdoors, all conspired to create the conditions for miracles in the Livingstone Garden this week.  We grouped in the library for Twitching 101:

  • Everything in the backpack goes back in the backpack (binoculars, compass, magnifying glass, waterproof notebook, pencil, ruler)
  • If you can’t see through the binoculars, ask a friend for help
  • Take good care of the binoculars and put them back in their special case
  • In Vancouver, the mountains are north – Use this information to check your compass skills
  • The new resources from the Reifel Bird Sanctuary are kept in Backpack #1. Feel free to use them and then return them to the bench in the garden.
  • The birds are most likely to come closer if you are very quiet.
  • There are several sources of food for birds in the garden. See how many you can find.

We converged on the garden.  Nothing close to quiet was even remotely part of our Twitching endeavours.  Yet, our recent Green Thumb Theatre production had brought a new level of cool to “twitching” – the British term for people out in search of rare birds.  In our case, we’re happy with any birds.  Frustrations over binoculars that didn’t work were overcome.  Sea gulls were spotted in front of the mountain view.  All the budding twitchers looked north, some checking the direction with their compasses.  None of the usual “murder of crows” appeared.  The chickadees were scared away from the bird feeders with the commotion.  Then it happened.

“Eagle!”

“Look!”

“The white head one!  It’s an eagle.  It’s an eagle!  Look!”

“A bald eagle.  I’ve seen one before.”

“I’ve never see one but I know they are alive”.

“Look the seagulls are chasing him.”

“He’s circling.  It means something!”

And then the second bald eagle appeared.  More euphoria from the group.  One little girl with saucer eyes, runs up to me with  the laminated Pocket Naturalist Guide shrieking, “But where?  Where?  Where is it?”

I paused to help her find the birds of prey section.  My scanning finger hit the Bald Eagle.  She looked down.  Looked up.  Looked down and looked up again.  And what did those eagles do? They defied logic and flew closer to the noisy kids in the garden.  Perhaps they knew, they were the superstars of our bird watching venture.

“It’s a miracle,” gasped my wide eyed twitcher, still clutching the British Columbia Birds – A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species (2017 Waterford Press Inc.).

These are the pinnacle moments every educator strives to experience with their students.  At these times, the joy of the learner is paralleled by that of the educator.  It is miraculous and defines why teachers love to teach.

The Joy of Reading Report Cards

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No, the title is not a joke.  MANY years ago, my principal walked into my office, with coffee in hand, and deposited a relatively small pile of report cards on the desk of his beleaguered VP during report card time.  Stressed parents.  Stressed teachers.  Stressed Admin staff.  Stress kids.  Hundreds of report cards to read, give feedback, and sign.  Yet with a smile on his face, a coffee in hand and the lion’s share of the report cards, off he went to his office.  Being that beleaguered VP, I set to work to return the report cards with suggestions on post it notes, or signature and appreciative comments on a thank you notes back to teachers ASAP so we could all “get on with it”.  I feverishly finished and went to announce victory to my principal and thank him for the taking the biggest pile to review and sign.  There he was sitting with the student photo book from the school photographer in hand, the class lists in front of him, reading report cards – still with a smile on his face.  “Hey, listen to this…”

It was at that point, I learned about how to read report cards.  It was not an addition to my already heavy workload but the real work – getting to know the kids better so I could support their learning.  It has now become for me, what it is for parents – additional insight into what they already know about the child and his/her/their learning.  Sitting down with the photo book allows me to match the name with the child, if I haven’t already done so.  It makes me smile.  It gives me a new piece of the puzzle or confirms my suspicions.  Classroom visits and meetings with parents and teachers, give me some insight into the individual children.  Interaction on the playground gives me another perspective.  Teachers provide another.  Student voice in the report card provides yet another.

With the roll out of new curriculum in British Columbia, there has been a new spotlight on student understanding of his/her/their learning.  Student voice in report cards has been included in many well written report cards over the years.  However, with the new curriculum in British Columbia, student voice has become a focus.  Our very own, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, of Spirals of Inquiry fame, have given us the structure to facilitate this within our own learning and classroom instruction:

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going?
  • What next?

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As students experience answering these questions, and posing them on their own, student voice finds its way into assessment and reporting practices.  This is where the true joy emerges for me as a reader of report cards.  There is incredible promise when students are empowered to take control of their own learning.  The ability to identify learning strengths, areas that require more repetition and practice, and strategies for further learning,  the ceiling is removed from what our children are able to achieve.   It develops the metacognitive skills required for children to think about their own thinking and learning, then develop a plan to move forward.

I’m hoping the practice of paying students for being good at something at report card time is replaced with good conversations about celebration of successes, as well as plans for future efforts.  As a little girl, my daughter swam with the Coquitlam Sharks and was repeatedly disqualified  (DQ’d) at swim meets during the dreaded butterfly stroke.  So much that we regularly went to the DQ to eat ice cream and shake it off after swim meets.  The first meet that Larkyn wasn’t DQ’d, our family went crazy.  We hooted.  We hollered.  We hugged. We cheered with enthusiasm and apparently volume!  The dad beside me leaned in and said, “You know your kid didn’t win, right?”  However, Larkyn conquering the “butterfly stroke” was the biggest win of our swim club experience and is entrenched in family lore.  My hope is that is what report card time can be just like that for all families.  Reading strength-based report cards that are honest about achievement, clear about areas requiring more focused attention and delineate a plan to move forward, give me hope.  It is possible for report cards to bring joy.  These are the opportunities to create enduring family stories.

 

 

Weathering the Storm

This week Vancouver, British Columbia was smacked with a rarity – a snowstorm.  Not just the light dusting followed with the creation of muddy snowmen and snowballs filled with gravel.  A real snowstorm that went on for days.  A snowstorm that wreaked havoc with the roads and put heating systems into overdrive.  A snowstorm that even closed down  Vancouver schools to all but the principal and the janitor / custodian for a day.  A snowstorm that coloured clouds pink, dusted local ski hills and delighted both children and the young at heart.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

The response to the snowstorm is determined not only by levels of job responsibility but also basic personality.  As a school principal, you have ultimate responsibility to ensure safety of your school, staff and students.  Even when the schools are closed, you make your way to the school to ensure no one is left outdoors with nowhere to go.  The snowstorm triggered an immediate response for me to analyse the data and devise a plan to conquer adversity.  For others, it was an opportunity to get out and play.  For still others, it was an opportunity to plug in the kettle, and settle into the warmth of cozy spaces and wait it out.

The valiant fight with the storm would begin just before 6 am for me.  The snow on the hills and side streets was compacted to slick ice by the snowboarders and people with sliding apparatus of many shapes and sizes the night before.  My wonderful RAV4 SUV was designed to battle this kind of beast.  But no, I did not want to subject the deep red paint to the ravages of Vancouver drivers in the snow.  And yes, the chances of being sideswiped or rear ended had just increased exponentially.

No longer living in the suburbs, I had a variety of transportation options – partial drive on the warmer road by the seashore, foot, SkyTrain, bus, and by car on the final day, mostly because treats for staff and visitors took priority. However, the upside of doing battle is the realization that you can.  I had already discovered that riding my bike to school was a great option on sunny days when I don’t have important meetings and have factored in some extra time.  However, in battling the “big snowstorm”, I discovered, yes, I can walk to school.  The SkyTrain from Cambie is only two stops and drops me off right beside a Tim Horton’s.  Bonus!  I love walking down Main Street from 23rd Avenue after school and checking out the restaurants and shops.  My favourite restaurant, The Sandbar, has a great Happy Hour.  Snow covered branches on side streets are gorgeous.  People love to be thanked for shovelling the streets in front of their houses.  Yes, challenges bring new learning, surprise encounters, and joy.

Yes, on those long walks this past week, I have had time to ponder life and celebrate the resilient  heroine in the audiobook of my February book club selection (Where the Crawdads Sing).  Being “right” or “being just” or “bullied” in my life has led me into impossible battles and lots of learning.  Defeats are not always decimating.  Victories are not always empowering or celebrations.  The trick seems to be deciding which battles are worth fighting.  I now have an emerging set of rules to guide the decision.

Rule #1

Perhaps my most significant learning was not to engage in battles with those people who live for the fight.  The saying “Never fight with a pig.  You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.”  True.  True.  True.  Those are the times to walk away without a response.  If people choose to listen to the pig, it is because they have their own motivation to do so.  This is what my pretty, wide eyed mother never understood.  Document your truth in a journal, with a therapist, or in your own notes, but never waste the effort on the pig.

Rule #2

Growing up, my Mom always had a copy of Desiderata, on the wall:  “Speak your truth quietly and clearly”.  Appearances mattered to my mother and as a young, divorced woman with limited resources, her goal was for her and her girls to be treated with respect.  Her truth was buried behind the iron walls of a vault that she kept closed, until she could no longer contain it.  It took me a long time to understand that the lies she kept, burdened her heart, robbed her of joy and empowered those who lied.   Yes, truth matters.  It is worth the battle.

Rule #3

Sometimes acquiescing to daunting power results in a sense of unhappiness, powerlessness and futility in the face of unfairness.  Sometimes you need to stand up for yourself or others even though it may come at a cost.  You may not always experience victory, but you will experience the satisfaction of a  battle well fought on your own terms.  Sometimes you need to do battle to maintain your belief in your own self- worth.

My perception of myself is that I am far more mellow since I turned 50.  Perhaps only those who knew me in my youth will agree.  Even in the midst of the more mellow me, I will choose if I will battle the beast.  I will continue to fight for a world in which respect is a common denominator.  I will be an Amnesty International member for the rest of my life and fight for human rights.  I will speak my truth and weather the storm.  Or if on this snowy Saturday morning, I decide to just make another cup of coffee and delight in the snow and my cozy condo in Kits, I will.

Creativity Through Cookbooks

 

Creativity finds a multitude of outlets.  With the burgeoning of foodies in our midst, one of these outlets is not just in the places we go to eat out and the tantalizing of taste buds, but the communication of ingredients, recipes, places, spaces and recipes.

I was sitting in St. Paul’s Hospital waiting for my son’s broken leg to be assessed.  My compatriot with the bannock recipe on her bag, was waiting for her Mom. We both needed a diversion from our worry.  Our conversation was not so much about how to make bannock, but our experiences of eating bannock. Her stories were those of childhood, laughter and community while cooking with aunties and friends.  My stories were those of learning and participation in Indigenous culture. The conversation and camaraderie stimulated by the sharing of a recipe.  

At our meeting of the British Columbia Literacy Council just prior to the winter break, our treasurer, Garth Brooks (the literacy guy, not the country singer), presented each council member with their particularly perfect card and the winter edition of Lindt; The Season Celebrating with Chocolate.  What followed was a particularly animated discussion of cookbooks.  Memories stimulated by smells and tastes. The experience of watching family members cook or the shared experiences of cooking with others.  Grand successes like the Yorkshire pudding rising. Abysmal failures like the cheesecake with the brown rubber skin that I made for my friend Dee Kroeker’s birthday.  Party planning with endless discussions of recipes and favorites that emerged year after year, like the toxic blue jello to create the water for the jello boats my kids adored.

The conversation took a turn to the discussion of cookbooks.  Not just finding recipes but the process of the recording of oral and cultural traditions with both adults and children.  The integration of photographs of ingredients, finished creations, places, and people in the process of preparing and enjoying food.  And hence a literacy event for educators emerged.

The conversation will continue on Wednesday, January 22nd at 4:15pm in the Point Grey Secondary School Library.  Kelly Patrick, the school librarian is a grand fan of cookbooks and will be sharing not only her cookbook collection but sharing her process of writing cookbooks.  Other literacy educators will be sharing the process of writing cookbooks with children, connections between travel and cooking, supporting students with accessible text, and inviting your participation in the discussion. 

Please follow the link if you live in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver, British Columbia and would like to join us.

Poster: https://docs.google.com/CreativityThroughCookbooks

Free Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/creativity-through-cookbooks-tickets-86211445755