What Kind of Monster Have I Become?

 

The black poster with the gothic lettering did not come under my range of awareness until the third morning that I woke up and crept on to the deck waiting for the rest of the world to join me.   A garden space has been created on the deck at the top of the 72 stairs and emerges to claim its place in the world of rooftops.

Beyond the protected space emerges the old and new of Taiwan.  Two shiny, stainless steel  water tanks stand like promising beckons over the aged air conditioning systems and rusting out sheet metal, cracking tile and dirty brick.  Tiny green leaves emerge and begin their climb towards the heavens.   Two pigeons take their place above a small area of red, clay roof tiles beyond and look down on me.  The bird choice of my not quite related, paternal grandfather brings the security of having been loved unconditionally.  They wait patiently for what will happen next.

Traffic in the background is a steady, predictable hum.  No blaring horns.  No sirens. No persistent car alarms.  Warbling birds and tiny chirps are different from the plaintive seagull calls and crow scoldings of my usual life, but somehow familiar and calming.  A persistent sweeping of the broom establishes a rhythm.  Exercise for a higher purpose.  Cleanliness.  Godliness.

There is no fengshui in my morning alcove.  A creation of the mind where the green astro-turf under the table, the collection of textured, patterned and coloured blankets over comfy couches, butterflied and dragonflied pillows, real and fake plants come together with curios to feed the imagination.  The regular inhabitant of this space is not without dark, twisty discoveries and fabrications.

The aforementioned black poster is positioned beside a photo on the beach of a pre-pubescent girl on a beach with a cigarette handing out of her mouth.  The image is not one of innocence but of Paradise Lost.  On my flight to Taiwan, my viewing pleasure included the movie creation of Mary Shelley’s life.  Many were disbelieving that an eighteen year-old girl could have authored such a book as Frankenstein.  The bigger discovery is that the girl had already experienced such despair, disenfranchisement and had personal knowledge of the monster within by the time she was 18 years old.  The Frankenstein book was made possible by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet she loved, her own loving father, a disapproving step-mother and the havoc they wrought with her heart and mind.  Her strength was her ability to name it, chew on it and use it for her own purposes.

The paint bucket with clean white paint drips emerges from a hiding place behind a couch.  Someone who is able to reach out to put a fresh face on the less than clean and beautiful has sat in the same spot.  Imagined the possibility.  Re-created a sense of self.  Yet, is aware of the monster that lurks beneath the surface and owns it.

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Barbie Celebrates International Women’s Day

Barbie, the iconic doll of my childhood, celebrated her 60th birthday this year on March 9th.  This celebration, a day after International Women’s Day, is cause to pause.  This is particularly the case for me.  I was well versed in the world of Barbie long before passionately embracing the quest for gender equity.  International Women’s Year was not declared and the March 8th day celebrated, until 1975.

The 1908 garment strike for better working conditions for women in the United States precipitated the first National Women’s Day in the United States in 1909.  The 1910 Socialist International Meeting in Copenhagen brought the quest for rights for women and suffrage to the international stage.  By 1911, the first International Women’s Day marked the right of women to vote, hold public office, work and participate in vocational training in Austria, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany.  It would take Nellie McClung and her Manitoba suffragists until 1918 to secure the vote for women in Canada and make it clearly understood that “nice women” did want the vote.  Susan B. Anthony would be hard at it, for another two years to secure the right for women to vote in the United States.

My sister had one of the first Barbies.  No bendy legs or moving wrists but a doll that brought the promise of the empowerment of being a grown-up who could make all her own decisions.  She was pretty and had flipped up hair like our mother.  Barbie liked nice outfits, shoes and accessorized, just like our mother, our aunts and our step mother.  Her store-bought clothes were expensive, so my grandmother would design and make clothes with the scraps of material from other sewing projects.  My grandpa made clothes chests for Barbie and Ken from wooden Japanese orange boxes.  My Barbie also had a car, so she was not limited in her travel.  My mother did not learn to drive and get her white, Maverick until the year Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  I knew a car meant freedom.  Barbie also had a carrying case so I could bring her with me to the park, the beach, houses of cousins, my friends and my father.  Her wide range of clothing allowed her to be dressed appropriately for any activity.

It was not until I went off to university and cut my feminist teeth that Barbie fell out of favour with me.  I baulked at the notion that society had limited expectations that women should look, act, and present in a deferential way or conform to the expectations of others.  By then the slam was no longer that of Manitoba Premier, R.P. Roblin, that “nice women don’t want the vote.”  It was the notion that a woman voicing her opinion was less than desirable.  A man could assert strong opinions and be celebrated as “assertive”.  A woman doing the same thing was labelled with “aggressive”.

As a teacher and a mother, I worried about helping young girls to find their voice and embrace the many opportunities open to them.  I bemoaned when my students wrote Barbie adventure stories, especially when I was framed as the Barbie or her friend.  I refused to buy my daughter a Barbie.  When all she wanted for Christmas was a Barbie, my friends rallied and bought her several “Go, Girl” dolls.  I loved them.  They came with a themed sports outfits and gear, had flat feet and looked athletic.  My daughter politely said thanks for the hiker, the soccer player, and the skier snowboarder dolls.  She was clearly not impressed with these dolls, although she loved participating in all of the activities.  She was thrilled with the one “real” Barbie from the Fashionista line, with long blonde hair and accessories.  She was delighted that my “retro” Barbie collection of clothes and shoes fit her so Barbie could have some variety in her outfits.

As generations of Barbies have emerged, so have the varieties of skin colours, abilities, and interests reflected.  There is the notion that little girls need to see themselves reflected in the doll.  I don’t refute this.  However, my experience is that of my daughter’s selection of “the doll” makes me wonder.  I mean the special doll that takes a significance beyond all others.  This is the doll elevated to a position of human status.  The doll that is cared about, nurtured and even her feelings worried about.  For my daughter, this was Ruby.  I even feel somewhat guilty referring to her in the past tense.  She was an ever-present member of the family who biked the Kettle Valley Railway with us, travelled to through Italy with us, saved our son from a concussion when he fell from the top bunk, and attended weddings with us.   Ruby is a Cabbage Patch doll with black skin, short curly hair and brown eyes.  The minute my daughter saw her in my friend’s garage, it was clear she was the one.  My friend, Jan, saw it immediately and gave her the doll.  At that time, Cabbage Patch dolls had seen their day. My fair skin daughter with long blonde hair and blue eyes did not see herself in the doll.  Yet, Ruby was the one who allowed learning that my daughter was ready to embraced.  She is the one doll that continues to reside in my cedar chest because she is too treasured to part with.

For me, I didn’t want a Barbie that looked like me.  I wanted a Barbie who could go out dancing, drive a car, wear nice clothes, walk-in grown-up shoes, and make her own decisions.  My frustration with the pace of my physical development wasn’t an issue with looking like Barbie.  It was an issue with my cousin, my sister, and my neighbours who looked older than me and could do things that I was not allowed to do.  It was people treating me like I wasn’t very smart because I was a pretty little girl with blonde ringlets, a shy demeanor and a goal to please.  Barbie was the one with the power in my world.  A power that I wanted.

My older sister and I both grew up to be fiercely independent.  Our mother, Barbara, chose a different path that most as that time, by choosing to leave a marriage that did not encompass the kind of respect and trust she wanted in a relationship.  She taught us that we deserved respect.  The financial challenges we lived with taught us the importance of getting a good education and being able to take care of ourselves.  Yet my Mom did look like Barbie and did defer to men in a way that women in the secretarial pool did in the 60’s and 70’s.  However, she was that person and a “steel magnolia” at the same time.  As little girls, we were able to identify where we were going and what we wanted to take with us.

Sixty million barbies are sold in 150 countries each year.  The “Go, Girls” dolls went out of business.  Clearly the Barbie appeal meets some desire of our girls.  Perhaps what Barbie provided for me was the opportunity to explore through play what I wanted to incorporate into my adult life.  For me that still includes reading and playing at the beach, working at my own job, me deciding, travel, as well as appropriate clothing, foot ware and accessories for any occasion.   I will be curious to see how Barbie contributes to opening up the possibilities our girls.  Clearly, she is not going away.  Happy International Women’s Day, Barbie.

Universal Design in Learning

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I was privileged to attend Jennifer Katz’s session on Curriculum Implementation Day in Vancouver recently.  She did what only a skilled professional development speaker is able to do.  She breathed life and passion and renewed energy for the work we do.  I love professional development days and curriculum implementation days for just this reason.  It is not teacher preparation time where the focus is on the myriad of daily tasks to be accomplished before going to bed.  It is reflecting on the big picture of what really matters in what we do during the days we spend with our students.  What are the things that our students will remember well into their adult lives?

One aspect of my professional growth plan this year includes working with staff to further implement universal design for learning into the school community.  As Jennifer Katz explains, Universal Design is a term borrowed from architectural design.  It came into vogue in the early 80’s when government was mandating wheelchair accessibility for public buildings.  This was a very expensive process after the fact but it was welcomed by not only people in wheelchairs but also by people pushing strollers or wheeling bags or carts or bikes into buildings.  Buildings and spaces started to be designed to meet mandatory building codes but also provide choices and elements for a wide range of users.

The “L” was added to create the term “UDL” for Universal Design for Learning and emerged as a lens or worldview to physically, emotionally, academically and socially accommodate all of our learners.   The shift allows educators to design the learning environment and programming with diversity in mind.   The original model for UDL was created by CAST at Harvard with a distinctly American context.  Katz has been working with them collaboratively in a Canadian context.  Shelley Moore has provided us with the meaningful graphic of the bowling pins and the reminder that if you want all of the pins to go down, you aim for the edges.  In our lesson design, our planning for those students on the “edges” will allow us to also target those students in the middle.  John Hattie’s well cited research on effect size, bodes well for UDL.  An unusually high effect size of 2.8 is assigned for using the UDL 3 Block Model with struggling readers due to the synthesis of multiple measures.

Ensouling Our Schools – A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-being, and Reconciliation by Jennifer Katz is a great read, a wonderful way to invite conversations and an implementation handbook.   It has provided a blueprint for possibilities and her pro-d sessions throughout the district have scaffolded the various options for implementation.  Flexible learning spaces are in place.  Supports and spaces have been designed to assist students to self regulate.  Two types of activity paths are in the halls.  Standing desks and wobbly chairs are physically present.  Many classes provide daily supports such as “Spirit Buddies” to create a welcoming context.  Many lessons are structured to accommodate the wide diversity of learning strengths and needs.  However social and academic inclusion represents an ambitious goal.  Doug Matear, Principal of Student Support Services in the Vancouver School Board, provides a solid goalpost of what we’re aiming for:  “Universal Design for Learning allows all learners to be successful and included in all our lessons.  It provides learning adaptations for all that choose to use them and applies Assessments for Learning principles to foster meaningful and relevant meaning making.”  Cleary this is a process rather than an event.  Fortunately, it is a goal that is supported by the implementation of the new curriculum and assessment in British Columbia, with the emphasis on collaboration and the development of core competencies.

After my very inspiring professional development session with Jennifer Katz, I attended a more utilitarian session and refreshed my learning of the computer system required for ordering and managing inventory.  I got to know a colleague far better in this session as we supported each other.  The instructors of the session anticipated that each person would walk in the door with a different level of comfort with computers and proficiency with the program.  It was designed for everyone in the session to be successful.  Additional staff was available to scaffold participants not on track with the main presentation.   Visuals and hands on opportunities to practice were planned with varying degrees of support.  As a result, everyone walked out the door having learned something at the session.  Nice UDL lesson design!

Next my new buddy from this session and I headed to the annual after-hours mixer with retired colleagues.  To my delight, I was able to visit with my Grade 1 teacher from Queen Mary Elementary School.  When our paths crossed 10 years ago at a function for current and retired administrators, I recognized her eyes instantly.  More amazingly, she recognized my eyes as well, and went on to ask about my mother, Barbara.  In those days, Queen Mary had students who attended from the duplexes for rent by beach, the army barracks and the real estate had not yet sky rocked in the immediate vicinity.  What I remember from Grade 1 is that my teacher had kind and smiling eyes.  Single mothers were few and far between at that time but she also had the same kind and smiling eyes for my mother.  Universal design was not yet in vogue, but she created a learning community where everyone was welcome.  That’s what I remember.

A Learning Tour at University Hill Elementary

Welcome.  As a member of the VSB, I would like to acknowledge that we live, work and play on the unceded and traditional territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Coast Salish peoples.  We are fortunate to be nestled in the Pacific Spirit Park and in walking distance of the beach.  Teachers and students are able to explore how learning indoors can be consolidated through outdoor learning experiences, and also how learning experiences outdoors can be consolidated indoors.    Questions generated are authentic and the learning is vibrant.

Our school currently welcomes 330 students from Kindergarten (5 years old prior to Dec. 31, 2018) to Grade 5 (10 and 11 year olds) in 15 classrooms.  Our student tour leaders are delighted to be able to show you around our school and encourage you to ask lots of questions.  The following challenges are to help you engage with our students and staff to understand some of the priorities at our University Hill Elementary School.  The staff and students touring you around the school will be able to give you some understanding of the history, our peer helpers program, Indigenous teaching and breaking down the barrier between learning outdoors and learning indoors.

Parents of students in British Columbia sign a media release if they consent to their child’s picture being taken for the school website or blogs.  We understand that photos allow you to remember many good ideas that you will be seeing today.  Please be respectful and do not include student faces in your photos.

The following challenges have been designed to help you better understand the British Columbia Curriculum and it’s implementation at our school.  Information to meet these challenges can be derived during your school tour and visits to the classroom.  Some organizational information:

  1.  Please divide yourselves into five groups for your school tour.  Students leaders have prepared tours for small groups.
  2. Most classrooms are open for visitors.  If it is not a good day, please respect the sign that says “No Visitors today, please.”
  3. A maximum of 3-5 visitors are welcome into classroom at one time.
  4. Several teachers will be joining you at lunch to tell you about their programs, the learning community and answer any questions you may have about our school.

Challenge 1 – Look for evidence of the 7 principles during your observation.  It may be helpful to use the 7 Principles of Learning Chart.

The OECD has pointed out that the rapid advances in ICT have resulted in a global shift to economies based on knowledge, and an emphasis on the skills required to thrive in them.  At the same time empirical research on how people learn, how the mind and brain develop, how interests form, and how people differ has expanded the sciences of learning.  The result is that the educational community is now “rethinking what is taught, how it is taught and how learning is assessed”.

The OECD’s work on innovative learning environments was led by Hanna Dumont, David Istance and Francisco Benavides. Their 2010 report “The Nature of Learning”  identified seven principles of learning:

  1. Learners at the centre
  2. The social nature of learning
  3. Emotions are central to learning
  4. Recognizing individual differences
  5. Stretching all students
  6. Assessment for learning
  7. Building horizontal connections

Challenge 2 – Engage in a conversation surrounding the Spirals questions. 

Dale Chihuly Glass Art – Palm Springs Art Museum

The Spirals of Inquiry by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser lists three questions that will find helpful in engaging with students and staff.  Students are encouraged to look closely, notice details and ask questions to encourage learning in all aspects of their lives.  Many staff are involved in inquiry projects to explore their professional questions.  Vice principals and principals in the VSB are using these questions to guide their professional growth plans.

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

Challenge 3:  Note the development of core competencies in the classroom.  The New Curriculum:  You will note that competencies and concept-based curriculum are intertwined with learning standards in B.C.’s New Curriculum. Core Competencies have become the focus of learning and they use content to develop the three main areas:

  1. Communication
  2. Creative and Critical Thinking Skills
  3. Personal and Social skills

Challenge 4:  Find examples of Student Voice and Competency Based Assessment The new curriculum has shifted the focus from summative assessment to formative assessment.  Students are encouraged to identify their starting point and formulate a plan for growth.  The focus has shifted from a deficit model to “I Can” statements.  Students are invited to be active participants in determining how they learn and planning for growth in skills, strategies, and collaborative practices.

Challenge 5:  The Canadian Experience – Note examples in the school of how students are being introduced to the role of Indigenous populations played in the development of Canada and our perceptions of Canadian identity.

Wab Kinew, hip hop artist, author, broadcaster, politician, Ojibwe activist, and leader of the NDP Party in Manitoba, has said “Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand what they share unites them and what is different about them needs to be respected.”  Authentic reconciliation happens when people develop relationships with one another.

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Challenge 5:  Identify several different types of learning spaces and the types of competencies being developed in those spaces. 

We have several options for student learning at UHill Elementary School.  Supervision is required in all spaces.  Classroom teachers work with SSA’s (Education Assistants), Resource teachers, the principal and students to explore possibilities to maximize student learning in a variety of spaces and places.

  • The Classroom – indoor and outdoor spaces
  • Outside Learning Spaces
    • The Readers Writing Garden (outside)
    • The We Are One Rock Circle (outside)
    • The Soccer Fields or basketball court (outside)
    • The Buddy Bench (outside)
    • Sidewalk games
  • Resource Rooms
  • The Gym
  • Collaboration Spaces outside classrooms
    • Foyer in the main entrance
    • The Starry Night Room / Room painted yellow
    • The Garden Room – currently the in residence program, Project Chef, is in this room
    • The Main Foyer
    • Library
    • The Learning Lab / Maker Space Room
    • Gym
  • Active Learning Room (ALR) / room painted white
    • Ready Bodies Learning Minds
    • Peer helpers Program, a Grade 5 Leadership Program, at 11:45 am facilitated by The Community School Team
  • Places to Self Calm, work quietly independently, with a partner or small group
    • Peace Pod / room painted blue and decorated with saris
    • The Think Space – in the Office area

Challenge 6:  Breaking Down the Barriers:  Identify examples where learning outdoors is brought into the classroom and where indoor learning is brought outdoors.

The places where we live and grow impact our experiences and our perceptions.  Living in a temperate rainforest, attending school in the Pacific Spirit Park, and walking down to Acadia Beach impacts the knowledge our students are developing but also how they self regulate.

I am a big fan of Twitter to keep parents informed about what is happening at the school by posting updates and pertinent information @UHillElementary and to further my own professional learning @CarrieFroese

We hope you enjoyed your visit!

Ms. Carrie Froese

Principal University Hill Elementary School

Vancouver School Board, British Columbia, Canada

Inquire2Empower Blog carriefroese.wordpress.com

#NYR2019 – Do Less

One of my favorite reads of 2018 was Andrew Sean Greer’s hilarious book called LESS.  It is a laugh out loud book that has left me thinking about it for a long time.  What matters in life?  A work-life balance is elusive if work comprises a good chunk of what is in fact LIFE.  This year I have one all encompassing New Year’s Resolution.  A resolution that that I’m not even certain is achievable by me.

  1. Do Less.

I have finally come to the conclusion that more is not better.   More is exhausting and never allows for completion, no matter how hard I am running.   It also has a capacity to suck the joy out of life.  I am a writer and consumer of lists.  Things to do to get in shape.  People to call.  Books to read.  Places to go before I die.  Errands to complete.   Things to do before I finish the school year.  The month. The week. The day. Before I get up from my desk.  Goals, tasks and projects.

It all sounds very exhausting.  It is.  I have loved early mornings and delighted in late nights for most of my life.  As a child, my biggest challenge on long summer visits to see my father and step-mother, was staying in bed long enough to not get in trouble in the morning.  As I got older, I loved to read and dance and socialize late into the night.  However, as my Nanny Keenan reported, time moves faster as you get older.  And the lists move beyond fun to include many things that need to be done but do not fill my heart with joy.  I arrive home exhausted and can barely get up from the couch after dinner and an episode of Modern Family.

Ultimately the things I end up doing are not even on my list.  They are the things that jump up in front of me and require my immediate attention.  The time left over does not allow me to derive a sense of accomplishment from list completion.  I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the multitude of things not yet done.  Before I know it, I become a slave to my “Things To Do” list, and people are commenting on why I’m sending emails at 2:30 am.  Weekends are easily consumed trying to catch up.

This year, I aspire to change all of that.  The goal is not just DO LESS but to be JOYFUL DOING LESS.  To prioritize the things that matter most.  What are the things that require my undivided attention?  How is my attention to the task at hand going to make the biggest difference?  To my health?  To my well-being?  To my relationships?  To my integrity?  To the functioning of my school?  To my learning?  To my experience of joy in daily life?

The quest is to NOT to get lost in the minutia.  To engage in the things that matter over the long haul.  Yes, I still have a goal to read 100 books this year.  I didn’t make the target last year. Not because I couldn’t, but because I limited my reading to way too many books that I figured I SHOULD read.  This year, I’m blowing that open.  I still have a plan to get in better shape and relieve stress through exercise.  I will take the time to do the ENTIRE circuit around Stanley Park on my bike.  I’ll take the weekend to go skiing.  When I check off those items on the list, I will feel PURE JOY and NO GUILT.  I still aspire to actively participate in the BC Principal Vice Principal Association Committees, Book Clubs, the Wild About Vancouver Steering Committee, write more and embrace other sources of new learning as well.  Learners and learning energize me.  I also aspire to spend more time with students, teachers, parents and colleagues and acknowledge it as time well spent.  Emails, paperwork, and other tasks will not garner my immediate attention.  Everyday, the number one thing on my list will be to do some things that bring me joy.  I will invest in the people and things that I enjoy.  I will accept that I can’t do everything today.  I will do less.

Welcome to Our School

We are proud of our school and happy to welcome visitors into the conversation about learning.

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As a member of the VSB, I would like to acknowledge that we live, work and play on the unceded and traditional territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil Waututh) andsḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Coast Salish peoples.

We are delighted to be able to show you around and encourage you to ask lots of questions.  The following challenges are to help you engage with our students and staff and understand some of the priorities at our school.  The staff and students touring you around the school will be able to give you some understanding of the history, our peer helpers program, Indigenous ways of knowing and breaking down the barrier between learning outdoors and learning indoors.

Challenge 1 – Look for evidence of the 7 principles during your observation.  It may be helpful to use the 7 Principles of Learning Chart.

The OECD has pointed out that the rapid advances in ICT have resulted in a global shift to economies based on knowledge, and an emphasis on the skills required to thrive in them.  At the same time empirical research on how people learn, how the mind and brain develop, how interests form, and how people differ has expanded the sciences of learning.  The result is that the educational community is now “rethinking what is taught, how it is taught and how learning is assessed”.

The OECD’s work on innovative learning environments was led by Hanna Dumont, David Istance and Francisco Benavides. Their 2010 report “The Nature of Learning”  identified seven principles of learning:

  1. Learners at the centre
  2. The social nature of learning
  3. Emotions are central to learning
  4. Recognizing individual differences
  5. Stretching all students
  6. Assessment for learning
  7. Building horizontal connections

Challenge 2 – Engage in a conversation surrounding the Spirals questions. 

The Spirals of Inquiry by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser lists three questions that will find helpful in engaging with students and staff.  Students are encouraged to look closely, notice details and ask questions to encourage learning in all aspects of their lives.  Many staff are involved in inquiry projects to explore their professional questions.  Vice principals and principals in the VSB are using these questions to guide their professional growth plans.

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

Challenge 3:  Note the development of core competencies in the classroom.The New Curriculum:  You will note that competencies and concept-based curriculum are intertwined with learning standards in B.C.’s New Curriculum. Core Competencies have become the focus of learning and they use content to develop the three main areas:

  1. Communication
  2. Creative and Critical Thinking Skills
  3. Personal and Social skills

Challenge 4:  Find examples of Student Voice and Competency Based Assessment The new curriculum has shifted the focus from summative assessment to formative assessment.  Students are encouraged to identify their starting point and formulate a plan for growth.  The focus has shifted from a deficit model to “I Can” statements.  Students are invited to be active participants in determining how they learn and planning for growth in skills, strategies, and collaborative practices.

Challenge 5:  The Canadian Experience – Note examples in the school of how students are being introduced to the role of Indigenous populations played in the development of Canada and our perceptions of Canadian identity.

Wab Kinew, hip hop artist, author, broadcaster, politician, Ojibwe activist, and leader of the NDP Party in Manitoba, has said “Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand what they share unites them and what is different about them needs to be respected.”  Authentic reconciliation happens when people develop relationships with one another.

img_4850

Challenge 5:  Identify several different types of learning spaces and the types of competencies being developed in those spaces. 

We have several options for student learning at UHill Elementary School.  Supervision is required in all spaces.  Classroom teachers work with SSA’s (Education Assistants), Resource teachers, the principal and students to explore possibilities to maximize student learning in a variety of spaces and places.

  • The Classroom – indoor and outdoor spaces
  • Outside Learning Spaces
    • The Readers Writing Garden (outside)
    • The We Are One Rock Circle (outside)
    • The Soccer Fields or basketball court (outside)
    • The Buddy Bench (outside)
    • Sidewalk games
  • Resource Rooms
  • The Gym
  • Collaboration Spaces outside classrooms
    • Foyer in the main entrance
    • The Starry Night Room / Room painted yellow
    • The Garden Room – currently the in residence program, Project Chef, is in this room
    • The Main Foyer
    • Library
    • The Learning Lab / Maker Space Room
    • Gym
  • Active Learning Room (ALR) / room painted white
    • Ready Bodies Learning Minds
    • Peer helpers Program, a Grade 5 Leadership Program, at 11:45 am facilitated by The Community School Team
  • Places to Self Calm, work quietly independently, with a partner or small group
    • Peace Pod / room painted blue and decorated with saris
    • The Think Space – in the Office area

Challenge 6:  Breaking Down the Barriers:  Identify examples where learning outdoors is brought into the classroom and where indoor learning is brought outdoors.

The places where we live and grow impact our experiences and our perceptions.  Living in a temperate rainforest, attending school in the Pacific Spirit Park, and walking down to Acadia Beach impacts the knowledge our students are developing but also how they self regulate.

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I am a big fan of Twitter to keep parents informed about what is happening at the school by posting updates and pertinent information @UHillElementary and to further my own professional learning @CarrieFroese

We hope you enjoyed your visit!

Ms. Carrie Froese @CFroese

Principal University Hill Elementary School

Vancouver School Board, British Columbia, Canada

Inquire2Empower Blog carriefroese.wordpress.com

Reflections on Peace Education

The Germans capitulated and the Armistice was declared at 11 am on November 11, 1918.  The First World War, the war to end all wars, was over.  The parting words of Matthias Erzberger, the Catholic politician and chief German delegate negotiating the surrender to the French General Foch, were “A nation of 70 million can suffer, but it cannot die.”  There were no handshakes.  The conditions for the next world war had already begun.

Nov. 11, 2018 Vancouver, British Columbia, Victory Square Cenotaph (Photo by C.Froese)

A hundred years later, we still pause to remember, lest we forget and make the same mistakes all over again.  Wars have extended from military encounters to vague looming threats of nuclear war or terrorists targeting innocents or mass shooting targeting anyone defined as “an enemy”.  Leaders are able to be elected with angry rhetoric, a disregard for divergent opinion, and without a vision for a peaceful, global context or respect for human rights.   The most populous democracy in the world has nearly one mass shooting per day (2018 Gun Violence Archive) and a president advocating the use of torture and turning away refugees at the border.   The quest for a peaceful world seems increasingly uphill.

The League of Nations, an international body devoted to peace keeping, was the brainchild of Goldworthy Lowes Dickinson, a British political scientist in 1914 and precursor to the United Nations.  Drafted by British politician Lord Robert Cecil and the South African statesman, Jan Smuts, and supported by US president Woodrow Wilson, the draft was proposed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.   The covenant was established in the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919 by 44 states.  This included 31 states that fought or joined the Germans in the Triple Entente during WWI.  Peace was on the table and there was global recognition that the cost of war was too high.

The signing of the covenant of the League of Nations 1919 (Wikepedia file:No-nb bldsa 5c006.jpg)

The focus on global peacekeeping of The League of Nations evolved into what we know today as The United Nations.  The United Nations Declaration of Peace and Freedoms was signed on December 10, 1948 and 48 countries signed the document that articulated basic human rights and a vision of a peaceful world where people were entitled to celebrate their religion and culture with their family and live free from war.  It has been translated into over 500 languages to date.  It continues to be the go to reference in discussion of peace and freedom.  It has become a measure of the moral integrity of our leaders and ourselves.  I believe it becomes the best way in which we can find our way towards leading a life in a peaceful context.

The United Nations Declaration of Peace and Freedoms has been simplified for use with children.  The conversations about peace and freedoms with children are perhaps the most hopeful.  It is when minds are open to new learning, imagination is ripe, possibility is endless, and ideas are being defined into passions.  My passion for human rights was ignited at an Amnesty International booth at Granville Island when I was a student at The University of British Columbia.  Learning about human rights and incorporating the fundamental beliefs into our lives, has the power to change the way people perceive the world and interact with each other.  It is content that facilitates the development of all of the core competencies in the New British Columbia Curriculum.  It requires communication, problem solving, and actively engages reflections of personal and social development.   It provides hope for the pathways being navigated by our students.

Learning from Wab Kinew

I’m getting ready for Wab Kinew’s visit organized by Vancouver Kidsbooks this Wednesday.  I finally read his book The Reason You Walk (2017 edition) from the stack beside my bed.  This book brings to life the negative impact of residential schools on the parenting of the children who attended. It is a very personal story of Wab’s relationship with a father suffering from his years in residential school.  I will never understand what overtakes people that allow themselves to treat human beings with such cruelty, let alone the most vulnerable. Repeatedly.  This is one of the dark stains on Canada’s reputation as a country that champions human rights.

Many of us have witnessed the apology for residential schools to Indigenous People in Canada by Stephen Harper when he was Prime Minister in 2008. The question that lingered was “What now?”  Certainly the first step was acknowledging what had happened and why it happened.  The attempt to “Kill the Indian in the Child” can only be understood in the context of cultural genocide.  As a country, we have a long way to come back from decisions that were made in our infancy as a country but sustained for way too many years after.

Wab Kinew has written a book that is truly a book about acknowledging what has happened but also moving beyond the atrocity of residential schools.   Wab Kinew (pg 211) tells us: “Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand that what they share unites them and that what is different about them needs to be respected.” That is an achievable goal to strive towards. And I am inspired.

The title of the book, The reason you walk or “Ningosha anishaa wenjii-bimoseyan” comes from the lyrics of an Anishinaabe travelling song. Wab Kinew’s dad, Ndedeiban, passed on the teaching to him: The words are interpreted as a direct message from the Creator aka God (The Reason You Walk, pg. 252):

  • “I am the reason you walk. I created you so that you might walk on this earth.
  • I am the reason you walk. I gave you motivation so you would continue to walk even when the path became difficult, even seemingly impossible.
  • I am the reason you walk. I animate you with that driving force called love, which compelled you to help others who had forgotten they were brothers and sisters to take steps back toward one another.
  • And, now my son, as that journey comes to an end, I am the reason you walk, for I am calling you home. Walk to me on that everlasting road.”

This book is as much about a father-son relationship as it is about larger political issues. It helped me to better understand my own mother’s long lingering journey towards death. And the all too soon deaths of my aunt and brother.  This book is testament to the fact that different faith traditions can speak universal truths that cross religion denominations.  As human beings, we are all on the same journey of joys, defeats, celebrations and sorrows.  The end goal is to allow people to define their own journey and support each other along the way.

Nature as a Catalyst for Learning

False Creek Community Garden beside Vancouver Seawall August 2018

There is no teacher like direct experience to engage the head and heart in the process of learning.  Data about students becoming less curious as they move through the school system, is heart-breaking.   It begs the question – Why?  When my children were preschoolers, the day revolved around playing in the backyard, discovering new backyards of playmates and going to the park.  On sunny days they were dressed in  clothing to protect sensitive skin and exposed bits were slathered with sunscreen.  Other days included sweaters or “muddy buddies” or rubber boots or snowsuits.  Bottom line, those preschoolers were going outside for an adventure filled with fresh air and exercise and access to the wonders of the natural world around them.  Awe, curiosity, delight and question upon question were the standard of the day.

Richard Louv (2006) raised the alarm about our students who are increasingly demonstrating a “nature deficit disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods.  The nature deficit is something being experienced on a much bigger scale.   Baby boomers are perhaps the last generation to be pushed out the door to “Go play outside and be home by dinner”.  Accessible hand-held technology, less green space and a heightened sense of fear fed by the media, keeps  adults as well as children inside with repercussions for engagement with nature, physical fitness and mental health.  Some doctors are writing park prescriptions to assist patients in dealing with depression, high blood pressure and stress.  Groups like Wild About Vancouver, have initiatives to encourage people of all ages to get outside and get active.  The Japanese started a movement called “Shrin-yoko” or “forest bathing” in the 1980’s to improve physical and mental health.   It has taken the world by storm.  Regular “forest bathing” opportunities were scheduled in Vancouver’s 400 hectare rainforest, Stanley Park,  this summer and many other forested parks with around the world because going outdoors, looking, listening and breathing needs to be taught.

Engaging with nature is a catalyst for curiosity and the learning that comes with it.  The first time I saw a “Bear in the Area” sign in our local park when we moved to Coquitlam a suburb of Vancouver, I did the research to find out what I needed to know.   I went online, got books to share with my family, and talked to neighbours and friends and even the police officer sitting doing his notes in the parking lot.  Sailing, biking, skiing, snowboarding and  hiking, all come with required background knowledge and a skill set to keep yourself safe.  Every time we try something new, we learn.

The Child and Nature Alliance is astute in pointing out that the best way to get children outside, is to go with them.   My husband and I now have adult children.  However since their pre-school years, some of our best memories and best laughs are beach, park, biking and ski/snowboard adventures or the times just after, like reading Harry Potter aloud with hot chocolate by a fire.  Of course, developing relationship during outdoor activities necessitates putting the phone away and giving your family and friends your undivided attention.

Scott D. Sampson in his book, How To Raise A Wild Child:  The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature (2015) identifies three pathways (EMU) as being most critical to promoting nature connection based on published studies in anthropology, psychology, education, neuroscience, and biology.

  1. Experiencefirst hand knowledge – experiential learning, multi-sensory opportunities, unstructured times, emotional connection
Black Bear searching for blueberries in Minnekhada Park, Port Coquitlam, B.C. Sept. 2018

“American kids devote more than seven hours daily to staring at screens, replacing reality with virtual alternatives” (Sampson, 2015, p.5).  As with the advent of any technology, humans benefit from the advanced development of their prefrontal cortex, and the thinking skills to decide how best to utilize the technology.  I am a huge fan of using phones, iPads and computers as tools to access information and communicate learning to a wider audience.  When I’m outdoors, I use the camera on my cell phone and my iPad to focus my attention and capture things I find interesting or beautiful or memorable or that I want to explore more later.  However just as I was instructed to turn off the television and go play outside as a little girl, parents and educators need to assume responsibility for the amount of screen time they allow for the children in their care to growth and lead healthy lives.

Germany is well-known developing a love of the outdoors.  I remember hiking with my family in Schliersee.  We were so proud of our stellar progress upwards on our hike, when we rounded the corner and not only had someone been there, but they had installed a bench.  Britain is also well known for a population that engages outdoors.  The British outdoor kindergarten movement is growing.  Italy is known for the Reggio Emilio discovery based school movement.  There is widespread recognition that children benefit from learning outdoors in the places they know well.  It is outdoors that they can access the materials, solve problems and feed the curiosity that form the basis for important learning.  This is the reality of place based learning.

The outdoor classroom does not close because it’s raining.  I have recently adopted the slogan I learned from Scott D. Sampson’s book, How To Raise a Wild Child (2015): “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”  The rain in Vancouver  does present different opportunities for learning. while extending our understanding and appreciation what is is to live in a temperate rainforest.  When my daughter was 6 years old, we were travelling in Venice.  The rain started to fall and everyone ran for shelter.  Our family was quite delighted with the break from the heat and we splashed puddles down the centre of the street.  My little Vancouverite looked up at me, smiled and said “Oh, Mommy.  It smells like home.”  This is what the poet W.D. Auden (1947) must have been referring to when he coined the word “topophilia” which translates to a “love of place” to describe the bonds people form with the places where they live.  When you care about the place you live, both your heart and mind are open to the lessons they provide.  This necessitates outside experiences.

  1. Mentoringside by side exploration, mentors listen more than they talk, observe closely, inspire curiosity, “pull” stories from their mentees by asking questions that push the limits of awareness and knowledge
Ms. Phoenix discovering the mysterious appearance of tomatoes in the Butterfly Garden     University Hill Elementary School, Vancouver, B.C. – September 2018

I have been fortunate to be a teacher in British Columbia.  Teaching in Abbotsford meant the farm was in close proximity to learn about mammals, and the smell of manure in the air impacted learning about food systems.  In Coquitlam, spawning salmon at the end of a playground provided input for learning about life cycles and perseverance.  My current school is located in the Pacific Spirit Park.  Teachers are able to take students into the forest to discover more about the “wood wide web” and The Hidden Life of Trees, to the beaver dam to learn about our history and science, and down the beach to investigate yet another habitat.  My previous school was not surrounded by untouched wilderness, but it was there that we were able to follow the newly released butterflies to discover one of the best butterfly gardens I have ever seen cultivated by a local resident with a green thumb.  The best weather forecasters were the students who had learned to go outside and use all of their senses to make observations.  Those students had well-developed background knowledge about clouds and could tell you about the best weather APPS.   In all of these school contexts, what makes the biggest difference to student learning is the skillful mentoring of educators.  The questions they ask, and the student questions they reflect back to the group, helps students to hone their observation skills and risk asking questions about the things that matter to them personally.  The innovators who have mirrored nature in their products have spent time outside studying, observing, hypothesizing and experimenting.

           3. Understandingponder and learn about big understandings before mastery of  discrete pieces of factual knowledge

When I was in elementary school, I had a teacher who closed the curtains when anything particularly interesting was happening outside.  It could have been a first snowfall, a heavy downpour or the clouds dropping down to make the mountains nearly invisible.  Her intention was to eliminate distraction.  She was a conscientious teacher who was committed to our learning.  It was not an effective strategy for me.  All of my attention was directed to what was happening outside and why.  My imagination took me far away from the lessons of the day.   I would have a story worked out by the time recess and anxiously focused on the grand opening of the curtains.

Scott Sampson talks about using the power of learning from Indigenous culture that is grounded in nature and creation stories told from the perspective of animals, plants and landforms.  He uses the term “Going Coyote”  to reference using “the trickster coyote of Indigenous lore (creator with magical powers as a transformer, shape shifter, hiding in plain sight) to inspire caring and empathy for nature.  “The Coyote Club” at our school is grounded in active outdoor learning experiences that provide a model for respecting self, others and the environment.  It is embraced indoors and outdoors on a continuous basis.

By pre-school age, students have developed inquisitive minds and a skill set to find answers.  Children don’t need to be taught to ask questions.  They need to know that their questions matter.   They need to know that engaging in the world around them is what good learners do.  We want our children to continue to be inquisitive and identify the possibilities, to make observations, connection and ask new questions when they are outdoors as well as indoors at school.    Our challenge as educators is to redefine ways to feed the inquisitiveness of children coming into school while we broaden their opportunities to access information, to work collaboratively and to hone skills to find answers.  The outdoors provides not only an opportunity for physical activity but an opportunity for incredible cross curricular learning and mental health.  This is a place to observe and ask questions and learn through play.  To make connections with book learning.  To use technology to document and access new knowledge.  It is a place to be in awe and celebrate curiosity.

For ideas to engage children in nature activities, online information and lesson plans, please see:

How To Raise A Wild Child:  The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature. by Scott D. Sampson (2015).

i love dirt – 52 activities to help you and your kids discover the wonders of nature by Jennifer Ward (2008)

Sharing Nature:  Nature Awareness Activities for All Ages by Joseph Bharat Cornell (2015)

The Nature Conservancy

The David Suzuki Foundation

Why Collaborate?

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School provide amazing opportunities to redefine the prevalent understandings of learning.  With the advent of formalized schools, came the assumption that students were “empty vessels” to be filled with the requisite knowledge required for their success in the world.  Teachers were understood to be the gas station attendants responsible for filling the tank.  Fortunately our understanding of teaching and learning have both evolved.

Educators spend their lives honing their skills so they can make content accessible to their students and prepare students with the resilience and strategies to access learning in all aspects of their lives.  This includes teaching students to work independently and collaboratively to problem solve and express themselves in a variety of ways.

A successful learner is a person who is confident in their ability to find answers to their questions in a variety of contexts.  An undergraduate degree today demonstrates that the person has demonstrated the perseverance and resilience to bring a difficult task to completion.  There is an understanding that young people today will be working in several different jobs therefore it is imperative that students learn to generalize their knowledge.

Lessons from Kindergarten to Grade 12 are all structured to connect the background knowledge of the student to the learning being presented.   When students respond with “Oh, yeah.  That reminds me of …”, the teacher has the indicator that students are ready to proceed with the lesson.  The challenge is when that background knowledge is absent.  This is when we see the power of collaborative learning.

When students are able to share background knowledge and teach each other specific skills and strategies, the classroom becomes a community of learners.  At the recent TEDxVancouver2018, Dr. Kevin Heyries talked about working collaboratively with other doctors to cure disease with antibody based drugs.  The expectation in a scenario like this is that everyone is coming to the task with ideas, skills and a good work ethic to solve a problem they care about.  The challenge for teachers is how to structure collaborative learning experiences that are meaningful and develop the target skills.  In some cases, this will be demonstrating a concept or skill or ability to complete a more detailed project.

My daughter bemoaned the “group project” in high school.  My son would tirade about the “bottom feeders” who refused do their part in group projects at university.  These were the projects where a group was assigned to complete a research report.  The students that required scaffolding to get started opted out to avoid embarrassment in the group.  The students with the skills and motivation to demonstrate all of the criteria and get a good grade, took over the lion’s share of task completion.  A project was completed but collaborative skills were not developed.  Relationships suffered.

Project Based Learning has similarities but it is not the same as the old style of “group project” that many of us are familiar with.  Students are working in a group to accomplish a task.  However the role of engagement in learning is now better understood.  Old style “group projects” were designed for students to research and demonstrate understanding of a body of content.  The starting point for Project Based Learning is for the learners to define a question they care about and then plan how they will go about finding the answer.  Sharing the learning to an audience and answering questions makes it necessary to have a thorough understanding of the topic.   Self assessment by the student about his/her functioning in the group and goals for next time, ensure the student is invested in future development of their core competencies.

The curriculum in British Columbia is regarded as a model for quality education globally.  It has been designed by B.C. educators who are reputed for their own collaborative practice and presents many ideas and supports for teachers to engage students in their learning.  The focus on student learning rather than mastery of a specific body of content is undoubtedly why so many students were so excited to be back school.