#WelcomeSyrianRefugees

imageOn December 10th, 2015, Tecumseh Elementary School paused to celebrate Human Rights Day and to consider the plight of Syrian refugees.  If you had a chance to read the Welcoming Syrian Refugees blog (Dec. 2015), you will remember that Marion Collins was reading Hannah’s Suitcase with her students and we had the idea to create peace art with the old wooden suitcase that my paternal Grandmother brought to Canada in 1947 to start a new chapter of life with her four young children.   With the help of the grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase has become an inspiration for representing ideas through art, reading, writing, listening, speaking and caring.

One side of the suitcase is decorated with messages of welcome to the Syrian refugees. The other sides are decorated with Jackson Pollock inspired art by Grade 3 students. Each colour represents each individual in Canada with all of our similarities and differences.  The finished masterpiece is the representation of all of us coming together to create something beautiful.  Tanya Conley’s students also made flags of the countries of origin of Tecumseh students and of the suitcase.  A local artist, Larkyn Froese, came into help the Grade 3’s with applying the flags on the project.  Grade 6 students wrote messages of welcome on fabric squares and sewed them on items of clothing to be displayed coming out of the suitcase.

The artwork became a catalyst for more questions and an inspiration for the reading and writing of Tecumseh students.  With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (The British Columbia chapter of the International Literacy Association –ILA), Ms. Collins continued to expand the project to include a literacy component with the entire school.   The experience of leaving home and family behind is a difficult experience as an immigrant and as a refugee. Many of the parents in our school community have given up good jobs in their home country and work hard, often with more than one job, to provide better opportunities for their children in Canada.  Ms. Collins spearheaded a writing project with intermediate students to interview their parents and discover family stories of hardship and triumph.  Several albums have been filled with the interviews and photographs for display with the suitcase.

This same family history vein was pursued by Ms. Conley’s HumanEYES art based initiative that celebrates the diverse life experiences of young people throughout the Vancouver, Coast Salish ancestral lands.  This project documented inter-generational and inter-cultural storytelling and celebrates the importance of family and maintaining cultural roots.  The project culminated with an intergenerational cookbook filled with recipes, art and family photographs of her 4th graders that has been included in the suitcase as well.

Ms. Collins, her enthusiasm and the desire of staff to get involved resulted in almost all of the classrooms in the school taking part in the project.  Several classes stopped to consider the notion of taking flight in war-torn areas with very few belongings.  They learned many refugees leave home with a house key in the hope their home will survive the war or as a memory of what was.  Several intermediate classes of students designed hamsa handsan old and still popular amulet for magical protection from the envious or evil eye in many Middle East and North African cultures.  They created keychains with the hasma hand, a key and a fimo sculpture of what they pack if they needed to leave home in a hurry.  Primary students wrote and drew about what they would bring and have created albums of their ideas for inclusion in the suitcase as well.

The #WelcomeSyrianRefugees project was first featured at the United Way luncheon for Syrian Refugees that was hosted at Tecumseh Elementary school this Spring.  The most common reaction from the adults viewing the project has been tears.  In the barrage of negatives on mainstream media and social media, there is comfort that Canadian children are welcoming their Syrian children with open arms.  There is also the hope that there are many Canadian adults who are doing exactly the same thing.

Note:  The title #WelcomeSyrianRefugees came from the Twitter handle of the same name that expresses messages of welcome not just to Syrian refugees.  This project will be on display at the Vancouver School Board during July and August 2016.  Our goal is for it to be displayed at a variety of venues as a way to warmly welcome refugees as they begin a new chapter of their lives in Canada.

 

   Welcoming Syrian Refugees

 

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I love December 10th. On that day in 1948, many nations came together to sign The United Nations Declaration of Rights and Freedoms. It is an annual reminder of the acknowledgement that human rights exist, despite what we read in the newspaper, see in the media, and witness all too often in daily interactions. It is also another reminder to have the conversation with our schools about human rights.

The quality of the conversation ranges from surface to particularly moving depending on the year, the person negotiating it and the students.  This year has been magic.  One of the teachers was reading Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, about the Holocaust with her 6th Grade students.  I was reading Playing War by Kathy Beckwith , to explore why war isn’t a  fun game for students coming from war torn countries with 3rd grade students.  With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children, the conversation morphed into a project to welcome Syrian refugees.

I went down to the storage locker to pull out my Christmas decorations and an old suitcase that Ms. Collins and her 6th graders could use to decorate with images and hold all our messages to welcome the Syrian refugees coming to Canada.  The suitcase holding some of my most precious and breakable Christmas decorations caused me to pause.  My paternal grandmother had gotten the suitcase on a trip to Russia.  She used it to take flight several times with her four young children away from the front line of war in Germany during WWII. Her brother sponsored her and her two sisters and all of their children to come to Canada in 1947. Margriet’s suitcase took her on to the Voldendam to travel to Canada and start a new life.

I am an administrator in a school where many families have made sacrifices to come to Canada with the promise of starting a better life.  At the Winter Potluck dinner, messages of support and advice were written to the Syrian refugees coming to Canada.  Ms. Collin’s Grade 6 students have been at a booth to tell people about the Syrian refugees and encourage them to write messages to add to the others in the suitcase.  Mable Elmore, our MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, has come to talk to students about her job and work with refugees.  Yesterday Ms. Collins, on the busiest shopping day of the year, with her daughter in tow, arrived at a community forum to discuss how to support the Syrian refugees that may be arriving in our area.  The conversation deepens, the project expands and the possibility for learning and caring expands exponentially.

Learning Outdoors

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Embracing the outdoors as an avenue for learning in not always easy sell when you live in a temperate rainforest.  The sun, the sand and the sea are celebrated in Vancouver and our claim to being “the very best” place to live is assumed.  Last week I was heading outside with a group of students for DPA- the 30 minutes minimum of daily physical activity at schools in British Columbia.  An indignant 8 year Amy, popped her hand in the air and responded with “Ms. Froese, don’t you know it’s cold out there?”

The challenge in some schools is ensuring that students are dressed appropriately for the weather.  Perhaps the bigger challenge is the notion that we need to somehow escape the weather.  How do we help our students to embrace the notion of the outdoor classroom at all times of the year?

Dr. Hart Banack, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at UBC, has been heading up  Wild About Vancouver in an effort to encourage teachers and students to take advantage of the opportunities to participate in outdoor learning.  This year Wild About Vancouver is scheduled for April 16-22, 2016 and will provide dozens of free, outdoor-focused activities.  Last week educators from seven schools came together in Vancouver.  In exchange for agreeing to host a Wild About Vancouver event (big or small), Hart Banack worked with his students at the University of British Columbia to develop plans tailored to each school to support outdoor learning in the school community.  The area was surveyed for parks and other opportunities and activities to incorporate outdoor learning into curriculum using a thematic approach to integrating outdoor education into the “big ideas” of the new curriculum and provincial learning outcomes.  Administrators and teachers from public and private elementary sites were excited to see the plans and share about the things happening at their schools.  We heard about “outdoor Kindergarten” and whole day expeditions to  Jericho Beach Park, rain or shine, where students adopted a square meter to observe changes or made footprints using overhead film to consider the impact of a “step”.

I walked away anxious to share some of the ideas with my staff and Community School Team members.  Tara Perkins, CST Programmer, and John Mullan, CST Coordinator, from the David Thompson Community School Team  have been working with me on ways to include outdoor learning into after school programs at our school.  The student volunteers from David Thompson Secondary worked with Tara to include the “Outdoor Einsteins” in our programming this fall.  I came back excited to discuss ways we could continue the program throughout the winter programming.  The current program is culminating this Friday with students going outside to actually try out the fire starter kits they have made.  This is a learning opportunity often reserved for students participating in the Scouting and Girl Guiding organizations.  And yes, that brings up another aspect of outdoor learning:  What are the risks worth taking?

Throughout my career, I have coached sports, sponsored the ski/snowboard club, taken kids to camp with swimming and canoeing, on biking fieldtrips to Steveston and to the beach.  The reality is that these activities do not provide the same protected environment as the classroom.  However many students do not have these experiences unless they do them at school.  These activities are frequently game changers for our students.  You can see it in kids eyes when there world has just expanded to include a whole new range of options for learning and living.  It brings me right back to that Christmas in Grade 3 when I got the lime green bike with the daisy banana seat and the monkey bar handles.  The world expanded.  I was empowered.  To be a child of the 70’s with a new freedom to explore possibilities 🙂

For Amy, the game changer was going outside and realizing that on that cold, crisp day, the sun was in the eastern part of the sky and the moon was in the western part of the sky and that it wasn’t such a bad idea to go out after all.

 

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”

“We are story…”

Richard Wagamese calls it. It’s up to us to create “the best story we can create while we are here”. The celebration of relationships with the earth, family, community and spirits as well as the embedding of history and survival techniques in story is what sustained our First Nations people for thousands of years pre- contact. The importance of embedding story in curriculum has been explored extensively by Kieran Egan at Simon Fraser University and has become a mainstream truth. What is new, is the rediscovery of the fact that embedding memory and history in story to make it meaningful is part of the legacy handed down to our current society by First People’s cultures. Learning about and acknowledging and integrating these foundational truths from First Peoples cultures is how we can truly reconcile our relationship with Indigenous people that has been seriously compromised in the process of colonization and the subsequent quest for economic advantage.

The First Peoples Principles of Learning were written by fnesc (First Nations Education Steering Committee) and the British Columbia Ministry of Education .  Laura Tait did an amazing talkat The Changing Results for Young Readers Conference in 2013.  It’s well worth listening to her 15 minute presentation, complete with pictures and stories from her family and Tsimshian community to bring life to the words. image

For me, the concept that bounced out was the acknowledgement of more than one way of looking at the world. Imagine the wars based on religious intolerance that could have been averted if we had been able to grasp this concept. I think of all of the time it took me to grasp the concept of “sister- cousin” from my Indo-Canadian students.  And for me it should have been easy.  I grew up with a cousin who was more like a sister and even lived in the same house for a chunk of time.  When I finally “got it”, I had to tell Babita, the student who persevered and patiently explaining the relationship of “sister-cousin”.    She had persisted with the idea despite my insistent references to the definition of the word cousin. Her eyes were filled with the delight, or was it relief, of a teacher when a student finally understands the seemingly easy concept that has eluded them.  It didn’t just take my willingness to try to understand but her patience and perseverance in hanging in there with me on the journey of discovery.  We hold on to these little successes along the way.  To end where we began, with the words of Richard Wagamese:  “We change the world one story at a time.”  Babita changed mine.

Continue reading ““We are story…””

Building a Community of Literacy Educators

The BC Literacy Council of the International Reading Association (BCLCIRA), commonly known as ReadingBC, has long been committed to improving student engagement in books and proficiency in literacy.  Members read journals such as The Reading Teacher, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, attend conferences and get together to discuss things they have tried in their classrooms and communities and the things they’d like to try.  Coming together with people with like minds is an energizing experience and lends itself to reflecting on practices that are tried and true and substantiated with research in the field.  Members have readily embraced  The International Literacy Association’s quest to start a worldwide Literacy Movement.

image For the 2015-2016 year, Reading BC (BCLCIRA) is trying to broaden participation and the diversity of ways that literacy leaders in British Columbia can engage with other literacy educators both in person and online.

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While it is increasingly difficult to organize and facilitate larger scale meetings due to high costs and increasing demands on our time, the ReadingBC executive committee has come up with some exciting opportunities to develop a variety of possibilities to engage in professional development and engage in community focused projects to advocate for literacy.

  • Join a ReadingBC Book Club.  Choose one of the books selected by members.  Form a book club with peers.
  • Participate in the discussion about a Book Club selection with colleagues via a TWITTERCHAT.
  • Read Spirals of Inquiry (Judy Halbert & Linda Kaser) and decide on an inquiry question to pursue with a group of colleagues.
  • Form a ReadingBC Community action focus to encourage children to engage in literacy activities or educate parents.
  • Form a Literacy Committee if you have a well established group wanting to commit to regular professional development and advocacy in your area.

Check out the link below for ideas BCLCILA Projects.final (3) copy and opportunities to join the International Literacy Association .  If you are a member of the International Literacy Association and live in British Columbia, you currently have a free membership to the provincial chapter, BCLCIRA / ReadingBC.  We have designated funding to help members get started from a grant from the Lower Mainland Council of The International Association (LOMCIRA), a local chapter before it went into dormancy.  Please check out the opportunities and send applications for funding or questions to the provincial coordinator at carriefroese@gmail.com or any of the other contacts on the website.

Hopefully this will forge some of the connections to continue building a community of literacy learners in British Columbia, and perhaps beyond.

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!

ABC Research Reports

My Grade 3 students in the GR 3/4 class I teach on Monday and Tuesday are doing research reports using BookCreator for The Celebration of Learning at our school.

The teacher librarian in the school has created a strong collection of books on Canada at a variety of reading levels to support the high number of ELL learners in our school. She has also developed a unit of study on Canada to teach research skills to late primary/ early intermediate students. Students used a collection of books on each province and territory to answer questions, develop mapping skills and complete tasks in the library. In the classroom, they used databases to find information.

Once the students demonstrated their ability to find and record information accurately, the Grade 3 students each chose a province or territory to research and share their learning at The Celebration of Learning.

I shared several ABC books that had a specific theme and shared content area knowledge, including:

Campbell, Janis and Collison, Cathy(2005). G is for Galaxy. An Out of this World Alphabet. Sleeping Bear Press, Chelsea, MI.

Napier, Matt (2002). Z is for Zamboni. A Hockey Alphabet. Sleeping Bear Press. Chelsea, MI.

Thornhill, Jan (2012). The Wildlife ABC. A Nature alphabet Book, Owlkids Books, Toronto.

Students Were already familiar with BookCreator and airdrop through our work with Joanne Carlton and Zhi Su, our Technology mentors. Students were given the task to create an ABC Picture Book about the province or territory that they had chosen. The title of the book title was to include the province or territory and the first letter.

ie. Y is for Yukon
B is for Beautiful British Columbia

The challenge has been helping students to choose facts that are backed up with research and specific to the province or territory. “B is for brown houses in the Yukon” does not help us to learn about the Yukon, even though it may be a fact from picture cues in a book. The huge advantage of using BookCreator is the ability download maps, flags, pictures, illustrations from drawing pad and add audio clips. Students find images and share them with each other via airdrop. The challenge is to keep them focussed on the task of using the images to support research.

I’m looking forward to see how this project plays out. I’ll keep you posted.

To New Year Resolution or Not to…

Everywhere you go these days, the shift has happened from Merry Christmas to the focus on New Year plans and best wishes. 2015 is nearly upon us and I will not be going to bed early. I am a grand believer in celebrating each new year. I’m also a grand believer in the New Year’s Resolution. Current wisdom dismisses this exercise as a futile waste of time. I disagree.

In my quest to get organized for the new year, I have been emptying inboxes and wading through my accumulation of paper. I came across New Years resolutions written by my Mom. I recently saw WILD (a must see movie with Reese Witherspoon) and have been reflecting on the nature of the mother-daughter relationship. What my Mom gave me was a “cup half full” view of life. Yes, every year, she wrote the same resolutions. Yes, she believed in the promise of new beginnings and the hope that things could in fact change for the better. So she signed up for yoga and french classes and did her leg lifts and joined the quest to be more and do more. Perhaps this is why she could whether the storms tossed in her direction and they were many. She wasn’t able to be optimistic because life was easy. She stayed optimistic because she was interested in life going on around her. She delighted in the birds at her window, driving with the top down, a good cup of tea, the chat, and being with her family.

When I reflect back on the year, I could bemoan the shingles, the strike stress, the hot water leak, the not being all things to all people and the dishwasher out of commission for Christmas dinner. However, in the big scheme of things, the good far outweighed the bad and I’m excited to get to my partying and resolutions. I have been told I’m naive. I prefer the label of “a diehard optimist”.

The book study group with colleagues: Guiding Readers. making the Most of the 18- minute Guided Reading Lesson (Lori Rog Jamison 2012) holds promise for my Gr. 3/4 ELL to get more time on text at their level. The iPad pilot is opening up new possibilities with use of Book Creator and Showbie and who knows what next. Professional involvement in Phi Delta Kappa and the International Reading Association holds promise of good conversation. And yes, I will exercise more, get better at skiing and boarding, try Vinyassa Power Flow, eat better, cook delectable meals and stop drinking diet coke. The possibilities are endless…

Happy New Year! Don’t forget the resolutions 🙂

Transforming Lives Through Literacy

The International Reading Association, like many organizations, is experiencing challenges due to retirement of baby boomers, the downturn in many economies, and competing interests for the time of literacy educators.  Although the name is changing to The International Literacy Association, reading remains at the core of the mission and purpose.  The broader term “literacy” has the advantage of being less reductive and reflects the reality that literacy professionals deal with a cluster of skills that also include speaking, listening, writing, and presenting.

The Mission

The mission of the International Reading Association is to promote reading by continuously advancing the quality of literacy instruction and research worldwide.

The Goals

Professional Development

  • Enhance the professional development of reading educators worldwide
  • Organize and support IRA Councils and Affiliates as networks of reading educators
  • Promote a broad view of literacy
  • Help educators to improve the quality of literacy instruction through publications and conferences
  • Prepare educators to assume different roles as reading professionals
  • Provide leadership in the continuously changing nature of reading in a digital age

Advocacy

Advocate for research, policy, and practices that support the best interests of all learners and reading professionals

  • Foster life-long literacy habits
  • Promote high quality teacher and student learning to improve reading instruction
  • Keep policy makers informed about IRA’s positions
  • Develop policy and position statements
  • Provide members with background information and resources
  • Collaborate with national and international policy makers

Partnership

  • Establish and strengthen national and international alliances with a wide range of organizations
  • Work with governmental, nongovernmental, and community agencies; businesses, industries, and donors
  • Develop and support IRA councils and affiliates around the world
  • Collaborate with a range of partners on long-term efforts to improve literacy

The British Columbia Literacy Council of IRA (BCLCIRA, more commonly known as Readingbc) has just passed a slate of dedicated International Reading Association members to carry on the work in British Columbia from the ranks of public schools, private schools and retired teachers.  We’re particularly pleased to welcome Mike Bowden, to bring the voice of teachers in Central BC to our provincial council.  The latest coup of this IRA council has been to secure the commitment of Kristen Ziemke, co-author of Connecting Comprehension & Technology:  Adapt and Extend Toolkit Practices to present at our fall conference on Oct. 24th, 2014 – provincial professional development day in British Columbia.  Her presentation & book, co-authored by Stephanie Harvey, Anne Goudvis and Katie Muhtaris, was very well received at the IRA AGM this past May.

In my capacity as provincial coordinator, I will be attending an intensive multi-day program in Tampa from July 10-13, which is designed to provide Council Leaders with training in the areas of governance, finance, advocacy and strategic planning.