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.

Anne with an “e”

imageAs a little girl, I do not have lots of memories of bedtime stories and being surrounded by books.  I had Beatrix Potter books from our dear friend, Mrs. Patrick and a collection of Little Golden Books.  I had a set of Children’s Encyclopedias with actual colour pictures of Pinky and The Blue Boy.  School provided Janet and John, Lucky the dog, Buttons the cat and a father that went to work and a mother who stayed home.  Basically the bulk of my reading had no connection to life as I knew it.

Fortunately the librarians in my life helped me to become a reader.   I was introduced to series of chapter books.  I fell in love with Trixie Belden and stayed up late into the night with my flashlight terrifying myself with the possibilities.  Nancy Drew, Donna Parker, Henry Huggins, Beezus, Ramona and the Hardy Boys also held my attention.  However when the librarian in the Marpole Public library introduced me to Anne of Green Gables, I learned what it was to have a kindred spirit and that living with imagination was a good thing.  My mother was delighted when I brought the first book home and waited for me to finish reading the book so she could reaquaint herself with Anne with an “e”.  In fact I read the series so quickly because my Mom was always in line to read the next book.  My mother did not have a lot of spare cash as a single mother, but she always belonged to the Book of the Month Club and frequented the public library.  The fact that she wanted to read my books filled with me with a huge sense of pride.  She’d make a pot of tea and we’d chat about the book, the characters, the importance of pretty clothes and that people actually die in books and in life.

When my husband was planning our bike trip to Prince Edward Island this summer, my one request was that we do ” The Anne thing”.  I bought the book to reread it during the journey.  And yes, I did take it for the photo op in the garden amidst all of the flowers that she so adored.  YES, I do realize that Anne is a fictional character.  Yet, what L.M. Montgomery was able to so aptly do was write about what she knew from losing her mother as a toddler and growing up in P.E.I. with stern grandparents and a doting but far away father.  Clearly she was able to take her experience and recreate it in the mind’s eye of a kid growing up in Vancouver and little girls growing up in Japan.  The walk down Lover’s Lane and through the Haunted Wood is just what I expected.  She was also able to create such a vivid character that could have been real and would be loved and remembered into adulthood.  When I woke up to the poplar’s rustling wildly in Mount Stewart at the Water’s Edge B&B, I knew that Matthew would be warning Anne of imminent rain and packed my Arteryx jacket for the day’s journey💧.   I can’t wait for the long running musical in Charlottetown!

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.

Another Look at Gratitude

The return to school after job action has been fraught with complexity and things to do. This week we hit a moment of pause and celebration. It is one of those moments that become one of “the moments” that make all the difference in a life. Canadians, whether by nature or training, are good at manners. The workweek is filled with please and thank you. However what made this week a little different was the decision of a staff to say a collective thank you, not at the end of something but in the midst of it.   On a Thursday after school, our staff took the opportunity to breathe and express gratitude for the things they have appreciated most from their school administrators. The demands don’t dissolve but they continue with a lightness of heart and a smile.

The Facebook phenomenon of public expressions of gratitude can be dismissed as the latest fad. However when you look at the research pointing to the higher degree of happiness in developing countries, compared to developed, consumer-based cultures, the concept becomes worthy of another look.  This year as part of my teaching assignment, I am teaching a Grade 3/4 class on Mondays and Tuesdays. Students have started their “Thinking Books” to draw, web, observe and scrapbook ideas to write about. Everyday at the back of the book, students record one thing they are grateful for. I set out thinking it would provide students with a positive frame to contribute to good mental health and perhaps serve as another source of ideas to develop in their writing.   What I am discovering is that they want to share what they are grateful for and it is taking on a life of its own.  I’m curious as to the impact that it will have in the culture of the classroom, student writing and other possibilities.

It’s a rainy Saturday morning in Vancouver and our little two-bedroom condo is filled to the brim with relatives poised to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. I have stolen to the local Starbucks to let everyone sleep and ponder the week. And yes…I am feeling so very grateful.