Holiday Reading Extravaganza

The holiday season invites a celebration.  Just before holidays, Grade 3 – 7 students at Tecumseh headed to the gym for the 3rd Reading Extravaganza of the year.  Kids were excited and clutching books in their hands.  Some of the books were from classroom collections.  Some were from the library.  Some books were from home and being brought to trade for some new books to add to personal libraries at home.  The common element was that all of the kids were VERY excited about going to the gym to read for an hour.  It begs the question, what are the things that have allowed the act of reading to generate such excitement?  There is no real magic in creating readers.

  1.  Create opportunities for positive memories of reading.
  2. Teach the skills for children to decode and understand text.
  3. Provide access to engaging fiction and non-fiction text to pique interest.

Students come to school with a variety of experiences with text.  Fortunately sharing stories with children has become a regular part of primary classrooms and many intermediate classrooms.  It has become a way to get to know students  and stimulate curiosity, as well as to teach reading comprehension skills.  In many schools such as ours, we have programs such as One To One Readers, which allow children to develop emergent skills and relationships with volunteers who are there because they love books and the kids they are working with.  Reading becomes an enjoyable venture where you can learn about things or characters that you care about and share a laugh or two.

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Children are also encouraged to read throughout the school for a variety of purposes and in a variety of spaces.  The lawn chairs by the Christmas tree were much sought after this season as a place to read.  At the Reading Extravaganza, gymnastics and yoga mats were pulled out and all children carefully removed their shoes before getting cozy on the mats. Benches pulled into shapes, lawn chairs and blankets were equally captivating spaces to read.

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With 350 students reading in a gym, it may surprise you that students actually engaged in reading.  We did have some conversation about what reading behaviours look like.  There was some good discussion around the differences of what people want when they read.  The desire to share a good part or laugh out loud, means that the environment is not going to be silent.  However we also discussed how we could be respectful to those readers not wanting to be interrupted.

The trade a book opportunity happened first with students surrendering the books they wanted to trade for popsicle sticks and then trading in their popsicle books for new books. Some children brought books to give away too.  I was also giving away many of the bookmarks and freebies from conferences and much of my classroom collection due to my impending move to another school.  Students demonstrating the reading behaviours we discussed were given popsicle sticks by the adults in the room to go pick a book or other reading item.   Most of our students have learned to self select books that interest them, but the students shopping for selections helped each other with favorite picks.  In some cases, students were choosing books they wanted to give to siblings or cousins or friends for Christmas.img_0319

As a reader and an educator, my heart warms to see kids engaged and enjoying reading. Give them books and opportunities to read and they will come and have fun!

 

 

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TedxVancouver Starts the Conversation

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One question brought 3500 Vancouverites from all walks of life together on a rainy day.   The tone in Roger’s Arena morphed from captive to zen to electric depending on the speaker and the message. Technology provided an interactive component to solicit opinions of the group, artist renditions accompanying performances, illustrations of speaker’s points and the opportunity to tweet(#TEDxVan) and show that history can be interesting with Sam Sullivan’s videos. Continue reading “TedxVancouver Starts the Conversation”

One Word One Ethos

Gabriel and Rose Pillay pull off another stellar event for educators At Moderne Burger on Broadway.  One Word. An Ignite Night with a bit of a twist. Created by twitter or popularized by it? Not too sure. Participants are the presenters. An Educational Paradigm. A personal philosophy. All good as long as you can nail it down to one word and explain it in 120 seconds or less.  I didn’t quite get mine out in the 2 minute time frame so here it is.

Initially choosing one word seemed to be impossible. Then it was abundantly clear to me that there really was only one word. Some of my most amazing learning has come out of doing things that terrified me:

  • Travelling by myself
  • Doing a French Immersion Program at Laval when my French was SO bad
  • Going to my first interview for a teaching position in a peach suit when everyone else in the waiting room was wearing black
  • My first speech in a professional capacity at a retirement function
  • Changing grades
  • Changing schools
  • Giving birth
  • Defending my thesis
  • Doing a mini triathlon
  • Changing school districts
  • Interviews
  • Ziplining upside down
  • Going to teach in China for the summer
  • Doing my first online meeting with Distributed Learning Administrators

The list could go. Both personally and professionally, it’s the stretch that pushes me to the thrill of new learning. I suppose we all fall into comfortable spaces where we feel safe and successful.  Venturing out of that comfort zone risks failure.   I have discovered that the definition of failure is largely a set up dependent on my own expectations of myself.  The sting of failure may be personally humiliating. The embarrassment daunting. The injustice palpable. However the advantage of experiencing failure is you realize that it won’t kill you.

The advantage of the risk is that you push yourself to do something that you never quite imagined.  I loved the first school I worked at in Abbotsford. A little primary school with a tight knit staff that worked closely on literacy initiatives and song experience games, hands on Science and supported each other personally. When I left that school for the first 6 months, my friend’s husband would say “Dormick Park”, and I’d cry on cue. However I also learned that with every change to a bigger fish pond, I learned new things personally and professionally. Teaching in China taught me to pay more attention to cultural differences and a healthy respect for my students struggling to learn English.  Entering the world of technology taught me very quickly that I needed to move beyond texting “y” for “yes”. “N” for “No” and “P” for “Phone me right now.” I don’t get bored. I just try something new. Today – One Word Burger.  I wish the same kind of risk taking and the same thrill of new learning for my colleagues and my students.  My word – RISK.

Teams were pulled up the the mic to present together. Clarity was for those of us with names starting with “C”.  Sense of team was foraged quickly!  Fun event.  The only thing I’d do differently would be to hold people to the 2 minute time limit.  Perhaps a big horn or my hand bell 🙂  Great group of people.  Great collection of ideas.  Great burgers and milkshakes – Thanks Moderne Burger!

ProD Inspiration

Professional reading on the topic of professional development largely espouses the view that much of professional development for educators is not worth the time or money. Large-scale conferences or filling the room with a speaker does not serve the attendees in the room. This has not been my experience. I am a whole-hearted enthusiast of professional development in a variety of forms largely because I’ve experienced the direct benefit.

I have actively engaged in “teacher research” or “reflective practice” or “inquiry based practice”, since it was introduced to me under the label of “qualitative research” at Simon Fraser University in pursuit of my MA. I was in my Kindergarten class, creating a body of research with my questions and my students. Maureen Dockendorf popularized this process for wide-spread participation of teachers in Coquitlam.  Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser’s work and subsequent book, Spirals of Inquiry (2013), has continued to provide a philosophical frame and structure for educators to find answers to their questions while maintaining a focus on student learning. There is no limit to the power of asking questions, focusing on our classrooms and engaging in a conversation with colleagues about our practice and the implications for student learning.

Implicit in the asking of big questions, is the quest to find the answers. That doesn’t just happen in the microcosm of our classrooms. Some of my recent questions have come out of the work with the Grade 3/4 class I enroll on Monday and Tuesdays and my computer classes with intermediate students.   I’m working with a small group of colleagues trying to integrate digital technology into our practice to develop language proficiency and extend thinking skills. Our inquiry group has been supported by Audrey Van Alstyn and the VSB PILOT initiative – Professionals Investigating Learning Opportunities using Technology.  We have had access to planning time, regular practical instruction, discussion of pedagogy and the SAMR model with Dr. Reuben Puentedura, the support of literacy mentors in our classrooms and the opportunity to learn from others involved in PILOT via Speed Geeking and The Digital Fair.   The learning curve has been steep, and at times daunting, but always exciting. However the learning does not happen in a vacuum. We are constantly drawing on the background knowledge and ideas of specialists in the field.

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Much of my thinking has percolated on the ideas from professional reading, professional development and the subsequent conversations in person and via social media. I am energized by professional development and I have been involved in many different forms. I would like to discuss the impact of three professional development opportunities that would meet the criteria for a stand and delivery professional development.   Even though interaction is built into the presentations, according to popular research, it would render this style of professional development as obsolete.

LEARNING AND THE BRAIN CONFERENCE (May 2014):

The research on the plasticity of the brain opened up interesting conversation with my father, a retired neurosurgeon and fueled a fascination with the implications for education. When faced with the opportunity to attend a Brain Research Conference in New York, I jumped.  The power of neuroscientists and educators coming together to define best practice is probably one of the most powerful opportunities at our disposal today. Yes, I was one who lined up to have my purchases signed by the “rock stars” of educational research. And yes, then I proceeded to read the books and look for connections with my practice and applications in my educational context.  I have even participated in the follow-up monthly online chats.

INTERNATIONAL READING (NOW LITERACY) ASSOCIATION (July 2014):

I first became involved in The International Reading Association as a beginning teacher in Abbotsford. Level of involvement fluctuated throughout the years, but my role, as a literacy teacher and learner remained constant and the International Reading Association has always been the “go to” place for practical application of educational research. The International Reading (now Literacy) Association Leadership Convention in Tampa, Florida brought together literacy leaders from North America and beyond to share our work with our provincial /state and local literacy councils. I attended in my capacity as the Provincial Coordinator interested in supporting research based literacy teaching.  The connections made with colleagues of like mind has provided a bank or ideas and support to continue with my work in literacy learning and leadership.

PHI DELTA KAPPA – UBC CHAPTER

My involvement in PDK has come out of a love of the cross-pollination that comes from engaging in conversation about educational leadership with people engaged in a variety of education contexts, from a range of school boards and educational institutions. PDK is a professional organization that is founded on the premise of research, generally organizing 3-4 dinner meetings and featuring a speaker or panel to discuss an area of interest to our members. In April (2015), George Couros and Jordan Tinney presented a session: Report Cards and Communicating Student Learning: Leadership & Learning in a Changing World. The room was filled to capacity within the week and the waiting list started to grow. Tinney and Couros engaged participants in a discussion of the possibilities for innovation that exist in the educational context in B.C. to engage and empower students as well as teachers, utilize social media and create digital portfolios to document student learning.   They created electricity in the room. Ideas were also processed via twitter (#PDKedchat )during the presentation and allowed people outside the room to participate as well.

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In each of these contexts, people of like mind and a growth mindset flocked to sessions to discuss the ideas and make sense of the presentation in light of their own educational context. The conversations would continue long after the actual presentations within professional networks, in blogs and via twitter. The connections with other professional development was be processed, questioned, discussed, embraced, dismissed or implemented in hybrid form.

James Paul Gee presented a talk called: The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Literacy at The Learning and the Brain Conference in New York in May 2014. I was inspired and had a template to build my understanding of what digital literacy needed to look like in my context. At a breakfast meeting in Tampa with Marcie Craig Post, the Executive Director of International Literacy Association, the discussion continued about the need to provide students not only with the scaffolding so they can learn to talk, read and develop thinking skills but the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively for literacy development. Tinney and Couros pushed the card with the possibilities for implementation of meaningful assessment and evaluation practices.

When presentations resonate with educators, the conversation continues. Listening to a presentation brings a depth of understanding that doesn’t always come from reading the book, a blog or a twitter post. When people I respect recommend titles of books, I read them or at least aspire to read them! When they ask a question that captures my attention, I think about it. Perhaps I use it to frame my next inquiry project.  I have been lucky to have many opportunities to learn new ideas, consolidate old ones and ask questions. I’ve had the good fortune to listen to amazing professionals with breadth of background knowledge and experiences. They stood, they delivered, they engaged the audience and made me think.   I left the room with new tools, more questions, a sense of efficacy and the inspiration to act. I strongly believe the appetite for this mode of professional development is not going away anytime soon. It represents one necessary part of my professional development appetite.

On the Road with Terry Fox

Nine year old Kerry Anne Holloway spent the summer of 1980 driving across Central Canada.   Her dad, Bill Vigars, worked for the Canadian Cancer Society as a publicist and he decided to take his kids on a road trip for work.  The gig was acting as the public relations organizer for Terry Fox on his now historic run from the Atlantic Ocean to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Kerry Anne is now a registered clinical counsellor living in Burnaby.   She learned early of the importance of devoting herself to caring about other people.  April 2015 marks the 35th anniversary of Terry Fox’s cross-country fundraising effort to raise $1.00 for every Canadian for cancer research.  Friday, Debby, our grade 2 teacher, organized for Kerry Anne to come and talk to our students before the annual “Toonies for Terry” Run for Cancer Research.   The reaction to Terry Fox presentations by the people in the room is always fascinating.  Many of us who followed Terry on the t.v. and radio and cheered him during his Marathon of Hope, have the emotional response triggered by the memory of a special friend or relative who is remembered with affection and the very personal sadness of loss.  For our students, he is a historical figure.  A Canadian hero.  A guy you want to be like.  Terry Anne’s task is big, to inject the humanity into the legend. 

 Kerry Anne is one of those people who remember what it’s like to be a kid.  She is able to reach back in her memory and pull out the things that matter to kids.  She shared how he ate TONS of food and that when they went into a restaurant, it seemed like he was ordering a whole page from the menu.  That they had food fights.  That her and her brother brought him oranges and water.  That he was nice to her.  That he LOVED basketball and would play it when he was taking a break from running.  That he was never the best player as a kid but loved to play.  That when he got older, he wanted to be a P.E. teacher.

Our students knew Terry dipped his toe in the Atlantic Ocean in St. John’s Newfoundland and then ran for 143 days for the  5,373 kilometers to Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Kerry Anne put it in understandable terms.  He ran 4 Vancouver Sun Runs everyday.  20 kilometers before breakfast.  10 kilometers before lunch.  10 kilometers after he had a nap.  Rain or shine, he was out there.  He went through 9 running shoes.  That he had a sock on his prosthetic leg that he grew VERY attached to and that you can see in Ottawa.  She shared he would be really tired at night so the rule was that they were not allowed to bug him after 8 pm.  Once her brother went in to chat with Terry and one of the adults came and knocked on the door.  Terry quickly hid her brother under the bed so that neither of them would get into trouble.  He was a guy who had your back.

Kerry Anne talked about the things that inspired Terry.  On August 27th in Terrance Bay, Ontario, Gray Scott of Welland, showed up to ride his bike beside Terry.  Greg rode behind Terry for 6 kilometers.  Greg had also lost his leg to bone cancer.  For Terry, this was one of the most inspirational moments and one that brought him to tears when he talked about it.

The kids in both the primary and intermediate audience ate up everything Kerry Anne had to share.  When a question came up that she didn’t know the answer, one of the kids in the audience did.  One on the emergent readers in the audience excitedly threw up his hand to report that the words Terry Fox were on the picture of his van.  Another little girl nicely summarized her learning for all of us:  “Terry Fox never give up.”

Kerry Anne shared a lot of the things she learned on her recent trip the Canadian Museum of History (previously the Canadian Museum of Civilization) in Ottawa.   The Fox family lent more than 200,000 items to the museum, including the jug he filled with water from the Atlantic at the beginning of his run, his own Marathon of Hope t-shirt, his Team Canada hockey jersey from Bobby Orr, his runners and his prosthetic leg with the modifications he made for comfort.  She also shared one of the letters that she wrote to Terry detailing how her brother was always wanting to watch Mash on t.v. and that there were better things they could be watching.  She told us she did a search and found her letter in the Canadian Museum of History Archives.  The museum has scanned and made accessible many of the letters that school children wrote to Terry Fox and other key documents.  Clearly this will be something we will be interested in pursuing.

My favorite story was about Kerry Anne and her brother fighting in the car one day.  Kerry Anne remembers the adult response, “Be quiet and watch Terry run.  You are never going to see anything like this again.”  And she hasn’t.

Terry Fox died on September 1, 1980 and left us with a challenge:  “Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue.  It’s got to keep going without me.”  On Feb. 5, 1981, Canada’s population reached 24.1 million people and the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope raised $24.17 million.  Every year people in almost 25 countries participate in runs and fundraisers to raise money for cancer research.  So far over $600 million has been raised in Terry’s name.  You can add another $807.00 to that.  Way to go Tecumseh Elementary students for keeping the dream alive.

 

Fostering Self Regulation and Emotional Control

“Fostering self-regulation and emotional control” have become as much a part of instruction as reading and writing.  Kids that are not able to understand and manage their emotions are not able to learn and frequently make it difficult for others to learn.  Before this book was published, I used the graphic of a stop light to teach kids about how to define and consider their feelings and discuss strategies to keep from getting overwhelmed and making choices that created a whole new layer of problems for the classroom community.  The Zones of Regulation:  A Curriculum Designed To Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control (2011) by Leah M. Kuypers develops a solid approach to exploring these topics in a far more comprehensive way.  Adding a blue zone to talk about when you are sad or sick or tired or bored or moving slowly helps kids to understand their feelings with far more depth.  I was introduced to this book by a behaviour intervention support worker and have it reintroduced by ever other STIBS worker who I have crossed paths with in Vancouver.  It is generally proposed for use with a student struggling to manage their behaviour in the classroom and readily embraced by classroom teachers for use with the whole class.  The support poster is pricey at $12.00 but worth it because you can use dry erase markers and help students create personalized toolkits to manage the emotions listed in the four zones.  The reproducibles included in the book are well thought out and included on a CD.  I have just bought another copy of this book for my current staff because it has been wholeheartedly embraced by two of my teachers.  It isn’t a book to borrow, it’s a book to have on hand for your own reference.

Student Led conferences via iMovie

Student led conferences with a twist this year.  Joanne Carlton, our VSB iMentor was fortunately available to come to the classroom to guide our learning in Division 11.  She has a considerable amount of background knowledge in literacy instruction and technology.  As luck would have it,  Zhi Su, the VSB iMovie expert was also available to come as well.  We had planned in advance of their arrival so we could make the best use of their time.   The previous week, I has attended a session for teachers and administrators participating the iPad Cart inquiry with my inquiry colleagues.  Although I’ve had some experience with iMovie, the facilitators broke down the process so that we were able to take photos and a short videoclip, then add voice and a music track.  Very impressive for an after school professional development session.  I posted the assignment for students (the list of photos and videoclips for students to collect) on the Showbie APP and explained the purpose with a voice note.  Most of the kids are now able to log onto their Showbie account independently. With student led conferences on the horizon, my Grade 3/4 class were excited about sharing the Winter theme books they had created with their photos from the playground, their winter sense poetry, downloaded images and audioclips.  However I decided to tap student interest in the iPad technology and allow my Grade 3 and 4 students to use the iPads to demonstrate and talk about their learning this term with their parents.   Many parents at the first conferences of the year had expressed they wanted their children to spend less time using technology.  I very much wanted them to understand the importance of being deliberate with time spent on screens.   Students had each collected:

  • a photo of himself or herself
  • a photo with the friends he/she particularly works well with in class
  • a videoclip of himself/herself doing gymnastics
  • a videoclip of himself/herself reading a favorite passage from the book he/she was currently reading
  • a photo of a piece of writing from his/her Thinking Book or Writing Book
  • a photo of the the province/territory or Aboriginal group he/she is researching

Zhi took the leadership of stepping the students through the process.  The first thing he did was show them how to pull up the picture of himself or herself and write their name on it.  Students learned to share group photos via airdrop, add music and shorten video-clips.  Many of our students attend Chinese School and decided that their Chinese calligraphy had to be part of their iMovie.  The more proficient students in the class have been teaching the others Chinese writing to create Lunar New Year cards to deliver to the mostly Asian business owners down Victoria Drive on February 19th.  Many students were proud to share their skill with their parents. We had lots of adults in the room helping the students and inquiring about their learning.  However the sharing between students was readily apparent.  If one student in a working group had music, then it was likely all of them did.  Myles LOVED the ability to airdrop and single handedly taught most of the class.  Jason, a big ‘”Frozen” fan downloaded an image from the movie as the final frame of his movie with the caption “Bye”.  One group of students downloaded applause for their iMovies.  The process was not without it’s glitches.  However everyone had a movie and one more way to open up the conversation about their learning with his/her parents.  Fortunately Henry emerged as our Grade 3 techno-wizard in the process of getting everyone ready for conferences once the mentors were gone.  He became the expert on downloading from iMovie to Showbie so we could share the iPads with our other inquiry classes on conference days.   Parents were simply amazed at how smart their children are and how much they have learned.  As the teacher, the iMovies helped me to learn about my students and determine some of the focus areas for learning.  The possibilities are endless and exciting! IMG_0246

Talking Technology Tools

I am currently working with a team of teachers in my school, Tecumseh Elementary, on a Technology pilot project: PROFESSIONALS INVESTIGATING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES WITH TECHNOLOGY. Our tools include 20 iPads for classroom use, 3 iPads for Resource teacher use, 5 desktop computers in the library and apple TV. Have we gotten over talking tools yet? No so much.

We are immersed in the grand quest to learn about logistics of the technology use- all of the possible Apps and a myriad of questions.   Although we are all familiar with iPhones, iPads, and/or Apple computers, the technology is not intuitive. We have all committed to attend the after school technology sessions where we are introduced to the educational possibilities and provided with tech support. The sessions are a challenge due to the significant range in background knowledge in technology of all of the groups and individuals attending.

All four of us involved in PILOT at Tecumseh agreed that we would start with teaching responsible use of the iPads to our students, who range in age from 5-12 years old. One of the teachers created an agreement to be signed by students and parents and posted on the iPad cart. What are really interesting are our various approaches after that point.

I assigned each student a number and an iPad and gave students the opportunity to explore. When one student had discovered something interesting, I stopped the group and showed them what a specific student had done and asked how many other kids knew how to do it. (Note to self – Figure out how to use the Apple TV so I can do a better job of this sharing with a group.) Students became the teachers/mentors for other students wanting to try. Lots of dialogue. Lots of engagement.

My first assignment started with a goal of focusing my Grade 3/4 students on observing the change of seasons and creating a book using Book Creator that included:

  • The ideas from the sense poetry we had just created by webbing in our “Thinking Books” (I see, I hear, I smell, I taste, I fell… Stems are used to collect ideas, create an image, remove stems for finished poem)
  • 6 of the 12 photographs taken with the iPad when we did our “Sensing Fall” walk around the school (art work) and playground (signs of fall)
  • Book cover with a title, author / poet and 6 pages minimum.

As I was handing out the iPads, several students went to Drawing Pad to record the Book title, their name and start to decorate the cover of their books. We decided as a group that this was a great idea and the criteria would also include the use of Drawing Page to create the book cover.

My Grade 4 students who came from Tecumseh Annex and Moberly Elementary used Book Creator last year, so as students needed help adding pages, pictures or audio-clips, they came to me or one of the “teachers”.  This way we avoided the wait time of line-ups or everyone stopping to step through the process at the same time.

One problem some students encountered was the fact that their initial writing had ideas that were not matched with the pictures they took on our sense walk. It became an option to download photos from Internet to match the text. The storage room in the classroom became the “sound room” to add the audio-clips.  Lots of time was spent reading and re-doing the clips to ensure the sound clips sounded “good” (  Good was defined as reading with expression).

Finished products emerged over the course of several sessions (3-6) with the iPad.   What was surprising was the huge difference in the books including:

  • Poetry books with one line of poetry per page and one picture
  • An entire poem per page with a picture
  • Several pictures on a page, text on another page
  • A sentence with an observation (using the original stems) on a page with a picture
  • A fact about the picture on the page
  • One book that had nothing to do with the change of seasons, our sense poetry or the pictures we took. (The student let me know that he erased that book because he wanted to write about something else and all of the illustrations were done in drawing pad.)

Assignment #1 and reflections on a whole bunch of new questions including but not limited to:

  • Naturally stimulating oral language in English Language Learners
  • Apps to develop fluency in writing
  • Vocabulary development
  • How to set up Showbie for saving work for viewing at home and on different tools
  • Commenting on work electronically with “electronic post it notes”
  • Creating book trailers
  • Using Keynote
  • note taking for research – pen and paper vs. online

This is what I love about education – Always so much to learn. Always someone who wants to have the conversation about the learning.

Dr. Gregory Cahete Speaks at UBC Longhouse

As alumni of UBC, I was pleased to receive the invite to attend Dr. Gregory Cahete’s talk:  Indigenous Community in a 21st Century World: The Re-Emergence of Indigenous Community Education.  I have been a fan of Dr. Cahete (professor of Education at the University of New Mexico for the past 18 years), since I read Look To The Mountain (1994) while I was a Faculty Associate at Simon Fraser University.  Cajete grew up surrounded by four sacred mountains.  In Cahete’s own words, “the Elders of the community would often admonish youngsters to “Look to the Mountain” and this metaphor has come to reflect his contemporary philosophy for indigenous education.  Elders prompted younger people to “take their thinking to a higher level-as if on top of a mountain.”  Cajete’s book  has been a call to consider what is important in teaching and learning to make schools relevant to our Aboriginal learners.  It described the American Indian perspective that the reflection of the past is necessary in order for Aboriginal people to build their futures.

Cajete and his Taos Pueblo people represent 1000 years of community in New Mexico.  The claim of all Aboriginal people is that they belong to enduring communities.   The community has been a human process constructed to provide a perception of belonging that supports a sense of identity in context.   In turn, it supports individual acceptance, agreement on core values, respect, accountability, reciprocity, efficacy and a move towards or away from function.  Dr. Cahete uses the metaphor of  “all kernels of the same corn cob” to describe the essence of unity and diversity within the building of community.  The tragedy of colonization was the breakdown of community, the dehumanization, isolation and the subsequent political and spiritual fragmentation.  His advice in the recreation of the cultural economies around an Indigenous paradigm necessitates:

  •             Learning history
  •             Research into principles of Indigenous ways of sustainability
  •             Collaboration and cooperation
  •             Ecological integrity
  •             Sustainable orientation
  •             Revitalization of a vision and purpose
  •             Cultural integration
  •             Respect for all
  •             Engaging participation in community

Cahete emphasizes that building community requires work and facilitates the perpetuation of Aboriginal people.  There is a exciting indigeneous revitalization in visual art and dance relationships and a beginning of science relationships.  Cahete’s background as a biologist has stimulated an interest in reclaiming traditional forms of science and building processes of revitalization to recreate sustainable, indigenous communities.  He advocates adhering to the Iroquois maxim by thinking seven generations ahead and implementing the traditional environmental and cultural knowledge unique to a group of people which has served to sustain through generations of living within a distinct bioregion.  Evolving indigenous methodologies include deep dialogue, deep listening and deep reflective conversation built on the tradition of the talking stick.  Indigenous people explored questions, problems and issues that were important in this way and they were witnesses by community to ensure  accountability.  The biggest challenges is the current paradigm with an overemphasis on individualism rather than the good of the community.

As we rethink ways in which to support Aboriginal students, Cahete provides much to consider.  What are the indigenous teachings and ways of being from the past that can help us recreate respectful and vibrant learning communities for our Aboriginal students?  What is the learning and teaching required to create the pathway toward environmental sustainability and integrated, supportive communities?  How can the process of acknowledging past injustices be refocused on future revitalization?  All questions worth talking, listening and reflecting on.  Good talk!

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The Art of Mentorship

I have been very fortunate to have four mentors who have been instrumental in helping my to define my values as an educator. They gave me opportunities, asked questions, and provided me the positive reinforcement to engage in change at key junctures of my career. They did not set out to fit me into a mold of how they wanted me to be.   Each of these people continue to demonstrate genuine interest in other people, a thirst to learn, and know how to laugh.

Jack Corbett was my very first principal when I was hired as a teacher in Abbotsford.   As an unemployed teacher after graduation, I worked at Spare Time Fun Centre in David Lloyd Elementary School (where I attended gr.3-7), completed a diploma program in English Education at UBC and longed for my own classroom. I was delighted to finally be hired to teach Grade 2 in Abbotsford (SD 34), where I had done my practicum. I was embraced the staff at Dormick Park Primary School. Jack had infinite respect for the staff and the momentum we created with our enthusiasm. When we came to him with an idea, Jack responded with all the support he had in his power to provide. When we did the egg drop to teach scientific method, he enlisted his friend with the helicopter to drop the eggs. He supported our efforts with the Writing Process and brought in the primary consultant, Jacquie Taylor, to support us when we showed interest in reading strategies. He covered our classes so we could observe in each other’s classes and create our binder of reading strategies with adaptations that was worthy of publication.

Jack also loved to engage in the discussion. He would attend professional development with staff and we would have great staff room discussions. He invited me to my first staff trek to a LOMCIRA (Lower Mainland Council of the International Reading Association) Meeting at Schou Centre in Burnaby, which would become a foundational part of my personal professional development. We regularly engaged in practical and philosophical discussions. Classes had been divided into homogeneous groups. Basal readers were used by the teacher before me. Standardized tests were used to measure student achievement in reading. We would discuss these issues, leave articles in each other’s boxes, and continued the debate. Jack also demonstrated that changing your mind reflected learning not being wrong. I was given the opportunity to fine tune my ideas through discussion and research and the support to try new practices in my classroom to test my ideas.

I started teaching in Coquitlam (SD 43) after giving birth to my son so I’d be closer to home. I chaired the Primary Association and had many opportunities for rich professional development through BCTF and the district and to teach at a variety of grades in a number professional capacities.  Maureen Dockendorf put out a call for teachers interested in doing action / teacher research. I had completed my MA in reading doing qualitative research with my kindergarten students to explore repeated readings.   However Maureen was able to use her extensive background with inquiry learning to model how to refine our own questions within our current classroom context and develop an action plan to guide our professional development We met in school after hours and learned collaboratively through the inquiry process. Her passion for the process, willingness to engage in the dialogue and ask questions was invaluable. The process of reporting out was not only a sharing of our learning but an opportunity to ask questions of our colleagues and consider possible applications of their learning. Her mentorship empowered me to take risks in my learning and to make changes in my classroom based on personal research, classroom data and the things I knew to be true.

Bruce Carabine hired me as team leader of Student Services when SD 43 was given a Ministry grant to renovate Hillcrest Elementary School and reopen as Hillcrest Middle School.   When you walked through the door of the school or met him in the community, you could always expect the same warmth and respect from this principal, whether you were a student, parent, colleague, trades person or superintendent.   He does a wicked session on developing memory using a variety of skills which he regularly demonstrates by remembering EVERYONE’S name. Bruce lived the concept of distributed leadership. The leadership of students, custodial staff, teachers, special education assistants, team leaders and trades people was recognized and responded to with equal appreciation. To use his analogy, he “conducted the orchestra of capable leaders”.   He invited input into decisions and would defer to the will of the group and the vice principal, Mrs. McTavish (who was actually a mannequin designated with this responsibility by staff ). We laughed a lot and learned a lot.

Gary Little was on the committee that hired me as a vice principal in Vancouver (SD39). In the interview, he wanted to see the professional portfolio I had assembled as a faculty associate, and expressed genuine interest in my prior teaching and learning experiences in other districts, and through my participation in The International Reading Association and Amnesty International.  Cecil Scott, a building engineer at one of my schools, told me the story of Gary joining him at lunch several times just to chat, before he finally discovered he was actually the new principal of the secondary school. I was fortunate to have Gary as an Area supervisor in my first assignment as a vice principal in the VSB. Gary is an avid reader and we had good conversations about books, school goals, and personal goals. He was instrumental during these conversations and VP meetings in pushing my thinking. What were are my non-negotiables? Was this an issue I want to die on the mountain for? He helped me to define professional goals from the stance of an administrator and define measurement tools to make the process personally meaningful, as well as demonstrate professional accountability.

Recently on Facebook, there has been a “feeling the gratitude” movement that has been embraced by several of my friends. Perhaps I’m riding the wave J I feel very grateful for having crossed paths with these people. However it also speaks more generally as to how people grow and learn. I really appreciate that these mentors have helped to crystalize some of the things that are near and dear to my heart. When we treat people like they have come to the table with things of value to share and the encouragement to take risks in their learning, ask questions and pursue answers, we create a climate for learning and unbridled possibility. I aspire to approach all of my students, parents, colleagues, family and friends like this.  Thank you Jack, Maureen, Bruce and Gary.