Monday, October 19, 2020

Authentic Math

 Math Congress is a mathematics instructional strategy developed by Fosnot and Dolk (2002). Preparation for and participation in a Math Congress occurs over two lesson periods. The purpose of the congress is to support the development of mathematicians in the classroom learning community, rather than fixing mistakes in the children’s work or getting agreement on answers. A congress enables the teacher to focus the students on reasoning about a few big mathematical ideas derived from the mathematical thinking present in the students’ solutions.

Ontario educators were gifted with a new math curriculum this fall. There wasn't any time to prepare for it and for other teachers (like me) who are completely new to teaching this grade, this can be somewhat problematic as the textbooks and traditional resources no longer match the expectations. I am using the long range plans provided by the Ontario Ministry of Education but I find that there is very little time to accomplish what I need to in the time allotted. For instance, I have 10 days (2 weeks) to address the following expectations (and these are just for Grade 5).

Attributes and Numbers

B2.2 = recall and demonstrate multiplication facts from 0x0 to 12x12 and related division facts

B2.3 = use mental math strategies to multiply whole numbers by 0.1 and 0.01 and estimate sums and differences of decimal numbers up to hundredths and explain the strategy used

B1.1 = read, represent, compose and decompose whole numbers up to and including 100 000, using appropriate tools and strategies, and describe various ways they are used in every day life

B1.5 = read, represent, compare and order decimal numbers up to hundredths, in various contexts

C1.4 = create and describe patterns to illustrate relationships among whole numbers and decimal tenths and hundredths

C1.1 = identify and describe repeating, growing, and shrinking patterns, including patterns found in real life contexts

E1.1 = identify geometric properties of triangles, and construct different types of triangles when given side or angle measurements

I'm on Day 6 of 10 and have only started B1.1. Colleagues have told me it's more important to go deep rather than wide and to ensure understanding before rushing on, but it makes me nervous that I'm not "getting to everything". The one reprise is that there are no longer 5 math marks to provide (one for each strand) but instead there is a single math mark to include all math work.

An opportunity arose that I shoehorned into our examination of "big numbers" (as well as our new letter-writing language unit) and I feel like it was worth the detour.

Since we no longer hang our coats on hooks outside the classroom for COVID safety reasons, we bring all our items in the class. We wondered how we'd handle the indoor-shoe / outdoor-shoe routine. I didn't care much about changing shoes but the students felt it was important. 

The school library is currently undergoing renovations - new carpet squares and a few tiled sections replace the old carpet. I put a note on the library door to see if we might be allowed to have some of the old carpet to use as shoe mats in the class.

The workers said yes, and they wanted to know how many pieces and what size. This was a chance to involve the class in some authentic math. I called it a Math Congress, but it technically wasn't a Math Congress because it doesn't match all the parameters.

The students, in mixed-grade pairs, really took the task seriously. I hadn't yet taught area so I provided them with the formula. We spent half of the day on Thursday measuring, calculating, and debating. We collected everyone's basic recommendations and then narrowed it down. We chose squares over rectangles because we thought it'd be easier for the workers to measure and cut, and would save some material. (We didn't know how much leftover carpet existed, although we were told "4 feet" and that led to a discussion about translating inches and feet to centimeters.) Choosing the dimensions was tricky. In the end, we decided to go with a length that was big enough to fit the largest shoe size with a smidge extra to include the difference between boots and shoes, but not too large so that the mats would become unwieldy and take up too much space. We wrote our recommendations on a note that I pinned to the library door and by the next morning, our 30 mats (upped because the HSP class wanted some too) were ready for us!

We took a "field trip" to the library to chat with the carpenters who were in charge of the library makeover and see the changes. We gathered their names so that we could write a thank you letter to them for cutting all those squares for us. I also spent a large part of Saturday afternoon taping the edges with duct tape so they wouldn't fray. Too bad I didn't estimate / calculate how much duct tape I'd need, because I had to go to four different Dollaramas before I found one more roll of blue duct tape to finish the job.

I'm pretty pleased with how engaged the students were as they determined the best shape and size for our shoe mats. Our next debate will involve where they go in the class. I look forward to hearing their opinions.

Monday, October 12, 2020

7 Reasons Why I'll Miss My 7s

 Teaser trailers can be misleading. On Friday, October 9, 2020, I wrote the following tweet:

The reasons for both sets of outbursts were related but not identical.

On Monday October 5, 2020 our group of in-person teachers were told that our school was indeed going to have to reorganize, but not in the way we expected. A teacher was removed from the roster and placed for duty in virtual school, but our school board indicated that the cut had to be applied to the junior-intermediate division. This meant that I would probably teach a much-larger Grade 4-5-6 class. My colleague, Farah Wadia, (who was slated to teach a Grade 6-7-8 class) and I were devastated. I wept because I was terrified - how on earth would I be expected to teach 3 separate grades simultaneously? I know it's been done before - my friend Denise Colby is proof of that - but with very little experience as a classroom teacher, I had no idea how I would manage.

Thankfully, we were allowed to reorganize in a much more manageable way and now our six classes (JK-SK, 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6-7 and 7-8) have become five (JK-SK, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8). This meant that I would still have to make a shift. I would pass my five Grade 7s to the Grade 7-8 class and accept ten Grade 5 students into my class. I informed my Grade 7s about the change earlier than I was supposed to, but I wanted them to be notified with enough time to adjust to the idea. They had mixed feelings about the news. They were happy that they'd be reunited with their fellow Grade 7 students - originally we were in separate cohorts and they weren't even able to congregate at recess - but they were disappointed that they couldn't remain in Room 206.

The Grade 7s of Room 206 (and me!)

On Friday, the Grade 7s asked if they could stay in at recess because they had something to show me. I agreed because I knew I had a prep afterwards and I could use the time to continue transforming the class space, creating IEPs, and other necessary jobs. I had no clue what to expect, which is why I think I had the extreme emotional reaction I had.

The Grade 7s had prepared a slide deck for me. I will only share their "rationale" screen here.

I am not ashamed to admit that I broke down and had to leave the room three times as they tried to show me their tribute. Eventually, I had to call the office to arrange to have someone supervise the Grade 7s so that I could try and regain some composure. I think I may have frightened them. Heck, when I saw myself in the mirror in the bathroom, I scared myself! Seriously, I was so taken aback at my red-eyed, distraught appearance that I took a photo.

I knew that I worked with extremely appreciative students - I wrote about this only a couple of weeks ago - but this was completely unexpected. This is what makes all the late nights planning and marking worthwhile. 

In some ways, this new assignment will be easier - Grade 5 & 6 are both in the same division; the math will be easier for me to understand and teach; the students that I'm inheriting are wonderful individuals that are looking forward to spending time with me. This information doesn't make the change easier, especially for me and the Grade 7s. 

The sad part is that I had nothing but my profuse tears to give them as a thank you for their efforts. Therefore, the rest of this blog will enumerate seven (of the many) reasons why I will miss having this group of Grade 7 learners with me.

1) These Grade 7s were hard workers that were keen to improve.

I never had enough homework for these students! My husband once commented "What kind of kids beg for homework?". These students really relished any tasks that they were given. They asked for feedback and applied the feedback to their assignments. They were willing to revise and revamp their work and not just because it would result in higher marks.

2) These Grade 7s were mature but still playful.

When I revealed to the students about the reorganization plans, I told them that it wasn't a secret but that I'd prefer if they didn't share the news to the rest of the school quite yet. They said they wouldn't, and they were true to their word. I loved that we could have serious talks about harassment and racism but we could also be silly. Many of them mentioned the buzzers that they were provided so that, if I was preoccupied with my larger and needier Grade 6 group, they could get my attention. These Grade 7s never abused the privilege but there were unexpected honks that made us giggle. Their science challenge in Minecraft (to collect examples of biotic and abiotic elements in a Minecraft world) led to some amusing moments.

3) These Grade 7s were independent.

Outnumbered 14 to 5, the Grade 7s often had to do their own thing while I assisted others. This was not a problem. Mrs. Whitmore, our supply teacher (in for French recently) called them "angels". No teacher has to hover over them to ensure they are on-task. If they finished early, they found ways to occupy themselves without disrupting the rest of the group.

4) These Grade 7s were team players.

Their favourite type of activity involved them collaborating as a team of five to complete projects. They investigated the best way to refill water bottles safely in school and designed a poster to teach the younger students what to do. (While doing this, they even recorded their plans, so writing their learning skills portion of their report cards will be a breeze, because they provided plenty of evidence of their initiative, collaboration, responsibility, organization and independent work.) Everyone played a part and was involved. As part of their data unit, they surveyed the in-school staff about their beverage preferences and created charts and graphs.

5) These Grade 7s were leaders engaged with their learning.

I had some wonderful role models to use for lessons. In gym, they demonstrated to the Grade 6s how it would be possible to roll a marble through a series of tubes. (I borrowed this idea from my time at Albion Hills with the Grade 8s.) In whole class discussions, I could always count on one of the Grade 7 students to offer an idea or suggestion or answer. They participated with pleasure. When I had no clue why they were unable to join a joint Minecraft world in Minecraft Education Edition, they took it upon themselves to read forums and FAQs to try and determine why it refused to function.

6) These Grade 7s were hilarious.

Some of the comments and conversations we shared made me laugh. I wish I recorded some of the utterances they made while working on their Minecraft projects - things like "I killed the pig - does that make it abiotic now?" 

7) These Grade 7s were kind to everyone.

Despite being a close-knit group, the Grade 7s included the Grade 6s when they were involved in small group tasks. They made a point of going on our Google Classroom (and sending the Grade 6s emails) to thank them for their time together as a group.

Monday's tears were tears of frustration and fear. Friday's tears were due to shock and surprise of a sort that was positive. I hope (in vain, unfortunately) that there were be no more major changes to our class structures. We bonded, even in this brief time. Bean-counters don't understand how broken-hearted everyone can me when classes are dismantled and reassembled. On this Thanksgiving weekend, I am grateful to have had these wonderful students, if only for a month. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Heart for Lung

 There are so many things I could write about. My mood (which can fluctuate from triumph to despair these days) suggests different topics at different times, but I thought I'd write about something timeless - another teacher tribute.

I've written on my blog about several teachers that I've had the pleasure of working with before - Dean Roberts, Kerri CommissoLisa Daley, Sonia Singh, Ashley Clarke and Rose Tse, Diana Hong, Saadia Isahac and so on. It is proof that I work with so many talented educators that it's easy to decide on someone to highlight.

Our school went topsy-turvy in September and we realized that, not only we were we losing many staff members to the Virtual School, some of us were going to see a significant shift in our teaching assignments. Two of us received positions that extended beyond our comfort zones because we had no prior experience in those areas. One of those teachers was me. The second was another Diana - Diana Lung.

There are so many things I can say about Diana Lung. One of her traits that I admire about her is her willingness to try new situations, strategies, methodologies, and other pedagogical proposals. She was like this even before the pandemic. When inquiry based learning started to make a bigger impact in kindergarten, I remember Diana commenting on how this would be a very different approach than the one she was familiar with at the time. She could have complained and ignored the recommendations, but she didn't. Diana took some workshops, read some resources, and found a way to incorporate aspects of inquiry without compromising some of her previous practices that she saw as successful. 

Speaking of success - Diana helps her students grow so much as learners when she has them in her class. Even this year, with all the added restrictions and no time to adequately prepare, Diana has been so pleased with the progress her Grade 2 and 3 students have already demonstrated so far. Their gains are her gains.

This work doesn't go unnoticed. Our parents and school community love Ms Lung. They request her as a teacher for their children. She has high expectations for her students but she also has high expectations for herself, and pours hours of time into communicating with families and creating interesting learning experiences. When I was in the library, her classroom was across the hall. I'd see her working, long after school had ended, writing individualized, personalized reports to each and every parent in her students' Communication Booklets. 

Did I mention she is multilingual? Diana speaks English, Cantonese and Mandarin. This is so incredibly important in our school community. Representation matters. Here is a teacher that speaks the same language as the families do at home, plus she understands the hopes, fears, traditions, and dynamics at play in the lives of so many students. Diana Lung is our treasured on-site translator, able at a moment's notice to assist in the office with a query, or during Parent-Teacher Interview night (in addition to her own scheduled sessions) to provide translation when we didn't get enough bodies to keep up with demand, or even for drafting letters about school events. Diana Lung even ran a few Lunch and Learn sessions for the staff so that the monolinguals would be able to say a few key phrases properly.

I wanted to post more pictures and write more things, but this weekend was filled with writing IEPs, marking math tests, contacting sources for distance-appropriate gym equipment, planning the upcoming week's lessons, creating study sheets on Google Classroom, and other things related to my new role. Diana Lung, thank you from the bottom of my heart (or my lung, since it's bigger) for everything that you do for our students and our school. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

5 Minutes Uninterrupted

The image above is used under a Creative Commons attribution license - credit goes to the creator, Live Life Happy, (c) June 25, 2012 and can be found at No changes were made to the original and this is for non-commercial use. The image contains the words "The most precious gift you can give someone is the gift of your TIME and ATTENTION". 

I have 19 students so far in my Grade 6-7 class. I was fortunate enough to consult their teachers from last year to gather some insights on how I can best serve them. I really appreciated how Lisa Daley and Brenda Kim took time to share their knowledge about the students that they led last year. A common refrain was that many students did not like to ask for help, even when it was needed and even when they realized they were floundering. I had dozens and dozens of questions as I rapidly prepared for my new teaching assignment, and a huge one was how I was to offer and provide assistance to students who were embarrassed or afraid to ask for it. 

I figured out a process that would destigmatize and normalize individualized teacher-student conversations. I haven't given it an official name yet, but I alternate between calling it "Exclusive Time" or "Uninterrupted Individual Time" or just "The 5 Minutes". I introduced it to my students like this: I told them that I wanted to conduct an experiment. I realized after the first few days of school together that it was possible for me to not actually have a meaningful interchange with a student beyond just a question and short answer unless I monitored myself. I declared that I wanted to ensure that I spent 5 minutes (meaningful moments) with each student. I asked them how long it would take for me to do this with everyone in the class and some replied that it would be nearly 100 minutes (5 minutes x almost 20 students). I pointed out that this would be nearly impossible to accomplish in a single day, so my goal was to spread out these "appointments" over the course of a week. Every student would receive 5 minutes of exclusive, uninterrupted, personal time to talk with the teacher.

Some students did not like this idea at all.

"What do we talk about?"

"Do we HAVE to do it?"

I reassured them that they could decide what the topic or focus of our conversation would be, and I insisted that everyone had to have a turn. I made myself a chart on paper, half-hidden behind the interactive white board, and I wrote a 5 beside a student's name after I'd have a chat. I used my cell phone as a timer and I would declare to the class that I was "off-limits" when I was about to have one of these talks.

I met my goal. I had private, uninterrupted conversations with every single student in my class. At the end, even the skeptical, reluctant students were comfortable. Some began their allotted time by stating "I don't know what to say". They were uneasy because they had never done something like this with a teacher before, but casual questions that weren't meant to be interrogations often jump-started the conversations.

What did we talk about? Once again, I want to respect the privacy of my students, so I can't go into detail. Some asked me questions about what this school year will be like. Some used the time to express their concerns. Some shared their passions and pastimes - for example, I discovered I have several gamers in the class. Some talked about their friends. Some asked for help with current assignments. A few asked when they could have their second 5-minute exclusive time. Many expressed astonishment that the five minutes went by so quickly.

I plan to keep doing this every week. It's said that we make time for the things that are important and if I claim that building positive relationships with my students are key, then I need to prove it by devoting time to it.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Appreciations and Accessories

 Alternate title: Affirmations and Expenses

Today's blog post can't be too long. I have too many things to do in my new role as the Grade 6-7 teacher to what-started-as-24-but-changed-to-21-and-possibly-19 students. I will also need to be very selective in what and how I write this blog in the near future. I must respect the privacy of my students. 

There are just too many people to thank for all the kind words, supportive texts, DMs and emails that have been sent my way over the past two weeks. People are so encouraging and understanding. I've had so many offers of pre-designed units and lesson ideas and files curated and collected by some talented teachers that, as my friend Wendy Burch Jones has commented to me, it is almost overwhelming. I know something about myself as an educator, which I actually said in a conversation (that turned out to be an interview) - I'm like a dog; I need to pee all over a lesson plan to mark it and make it mine. That's a good and a bad trait - it would be a lot simpler if I'd be willing to follow a script, with less preparation and more guaranteed results ... but if teaching was like movie-making, I'm more of a screenwriter/method actor than just a thespian that simply shows up and delivers lines. Having said that, I really liked the activity guidelines in This Book Is Anti-Racist (it's our non-fiction read-aloud) as well as the teaching suggestions from the TDSB's Grade 6-8 Integrated Unit with an Inquiry Focus. Who wrote that resource? They need some serious thanking themselves!

The appreciations that matter most right now are ones I didn't expect to receive - from the students and parents/guardians/caregivers of Room 206. I sent a welcome letter/email to the families, based on the one sent by my teaching "partner" (we can't be partners in the truest sense because we have to stay apart, but she helps me so much with answering my questions). I got a lovely quick note from a student who thanked me for providing embedded translations in my note so her mother could understand. I also received a lengthy letter from another student, filled with questions but also with such warmth and unexpected encouragement. (I've obtained permission from her to include the first little bit of her letter here on the blog.) We had staggered entry this week and I sent some photos of my Grade 7s on their first day of school; 40% of the parents wrote back with thanks for the visuals. The Homework survey was also well-received by parents - the students were less-than-thrilled that their parents were consulted because, in their opinions, their parents are going to request that there be a lot of homework!

The students have also boosted my spirits in unexpected ways. To reduce contact, I've given students all of their individual set of supplies, including some whiteboard marker bags/erasers that I sewed myself - thanks Kiersten McBurney, aka @mrsmcb_edu on Twitter for the excellent idea!

As you might expect, the students doodle on the whiteboards. What I didn't expect was that they'd doodle *about* me. (There was another board that was more specific about the student's feelings about me, but I felt like it intruded on their privacy too much to share here. This sample doesn't reveal too much about the student except that he/she/they like to do shadow lettering.)

This leads me to the second portion of my blog title - there are so many accessories to assemble, and it can get somewhat expensive! I've spent a lot already on supplies and items that will make my teaching assignment easier. I know we are told not to spend our own money but I cannot wait for the distribution centre to ship items that I required ASAP. 

Some of these items weren't technically a requirement but were helpful for making people feel valued and not forgotten.

At this point, I want to make a shout-out to all (and trust me, there are MANY of them) teachers who, whether unwillingly or by choice, are teaching virtually this year. In my school board, they are only now discovering what grades they are teaching and how many students they will have. (This information only comes from them checking their Brightspace "class shells" and finding them pre-populated with student names.) These teachers are the "forgotten ones" - cast aside and asked to wait in limbo while those fortunate enough to obtain an in-person position quickly established entry protocols, recess routines, cohort groupings, supervision schedules, and other re-opening details. As I wrote last week, I found out my teaching assignment on Thursday, September 10. That gave me 7 days to assemble my classroom, contact families, and prepare lessons. Virtual teachers find out Saturday, September 19 (if they are lucky) and begin teaching on Tuesday, September 22 - with only 4 days notice or less. They have no access to OSRs (Ontario Student Records - they indicate if a student needs accommodations or modifications, as well as their academic history) or even home phone numbers to call the parents to introduce themselves. These virtual teachers weren't even provided with much guidelines for what to do prior to this point in time. The first day of in-person school was a difficult day for many of these teachers, who ached to return to the jobs they love. Everyone, from the virtual teachers sadly following Brightspace tutorials in their empty classrooms, to the in-person teachers cautiously explaining all the new requirements to their students, to the caretakers, administrators and office assistants, received a little treat.

What else have I bought? I've purchased fabric to make the whiteboard bags/erasers, the storage bins with lids for the students to contain their supplies, rulers that won't snap like the regular school ones do, books that I can use for my language program, and satchels that can hold my hand sanitizer when I meet my students outside. I was very lucky that Dean Roberts gifted me with his voice amplification system - that's been the best investment yet, and it was free for me due to the generosity of a colleague and friend, who I am going to miss very much. Instructing while wearing a mask and a face shield makes my voice quiet and muffled, so the microphone helps a lot.

This is another selfie I took with my new paraphernalia added to my outfit. (Since this photo, I added the phone holder lanyard I got as ECOO swag a number of years ago, because my phone can't fit in the satchel.) It makes me neck/shoulders/temples tired to have so many things attached or hanging, but I really need my hands free to take attendance (with gloved hands) or complete other tasks. You can also see in the background the storage container and a few of the whiteboard bags. (I bought whiteboards before but Dean again provided me with a class set I chose to use.) 

This post is not a "humble brag". This post lists the appreciations I've received but also extends those appreciations back to the givers - you have no idea how important those comments have been to me as a person and as a teacher. This post is not intended to itemize all the personal funds I've spent to elicit sympathy; it's an indication that there's so much more "stuff" needed to do this job safely and "effectively" (more on that word hopefully next week). Best wishes to all educators on this weird and uncharted journey!

Monday, September 14, 2020


 "Write what you feel. You can edit afterwards."

This was my husband's advice to me, after I vocalized my angst at approaching this week's blog post. Since 2009, I collect my thoughts and reflections that relate to education here. This past week has been a week unlike any other in my career. 

Last week's blog was a very deliberate "just the facts, ma'am" sort of analysis. It needed to be, and that post was the cornerstone to what evolved into a small but growing reaction to the news about school libraries in Toronto. Wendy Burch Jones appeared on CBC Metro Morning on September 9 to discuss the issue. Quill and Quire ran an article about the issue on September 10, written by Shanda Deziel. Tanya Mok, from BlogTO, covered the topic on September 12 - the lead image for that article comes from my library.

That's not the complete story. That ignores much of the inner turmoil I've felt as we've careened through these last days before we finally see students and start the 2020-21 school year. I'm one of the lucky ones. I was told about my new teaching assignment on Thursday, September 10. There are still educators out there that have no idea what they are teaching. I'm also fortunate because I will get to teach in-person, at the site where I've been on staff since 2004. I know the students that I will be with this year. Last Friday afternoon, I phoned the families to let them know that I will be their child's classroom teacher. Most of the responses were pretty positive, albeit surprised. It's quite a change, because for what seems like forever, I've been their teacher-librarian.

This is so hard. I really worried about making my feelings so transparent. I don't want my students to think that I don't want to be with them. I do, but I'm also heartbroken, and nervous, and uncertain.

I have been a teacher-librarian for my entire career. Back when I started in 1997, my first full-time contract position was split - I was a 0.5 Grade 4-5 classroom teacher in the morning and a 0.5 teacher-librarian in the afternoon. I have always been a teacher-librarian. It is a part of my identity. I feel as if something has been ripped away from me. I've already gone over how detrimental (or, I'll say it here, devastating) the removal of school libraries will be to students and to teachers. It's earth-shaking to the teacher-librarians and other school library professionals that staff them.

I've been told I'm a good teacher. My students are in capable hands. I have a wonderful support network. I am beyond blessed that I will have the Grade 7-8 teacher, and the HSP/SERT/MART teacher to be my guides.

That still doesn't alleviate the pockets of panic that punctuate random moments of my days, as realization hits me like a punch in the gut. The last (and only) time I taught intermediate math on my own to a group of students that I was entirely responsible for was in 2004. The math curriculum has completely been revamped.  I am totally unfamiliar with what is to be covered in math. My colleagues have provided me with a tower of text books but I start to sweat whenever I glance at it. There's so much to know and so little time. 

Math is one of my three big concerns. Marking is my second worry. This is a cross-division assignment, which complicates matters (i.e. social studies in Grade 6 vs history and geography in Grade 7). The intermediate grades are notoriously heavy on assessment. I've seen the intermediate division teachers at my school lug home armloads of assignments to assess. I'm a slow marker on regular days and I fear that my evenings and weekends will be consumed with evaluations.

My third preoccupation is managing the flow of the day with the same group of students. For 24 years, I'm used to planning in 40 minute chunks and seeing students for a brief time and then sending them back to their home room. I've contributed to writing IEPs as a teacher-librarian, but never written one as the primary author. I don't know how to administer traditional formative assessments like the CASI test. (Thanks to Tracy Halliday for giving me a revolutionary perspective on this - I'm trying not to cause too much disruption but I hope I might be able to take your advice!) I've never attended an IPRC (unless it was as a parent for my own child). There are so many responsibilities that a classroom teacher has that I have not had to think about before, but now I must juggle.

Self-doubt is real, and compounded by the fact that I can't rely on some of my tried-and-true activities because of stupid COVID. One of my favourite community-building activities is to play 3-Ball Pass. Can we still play it, as long as we wear gloves? We are being so cautious at my school. We've spread out the desks as best as we can in our rooms. We have marked traffic patterns in the halls and spray-painted dots on the pavement outside to show where students stand in line to enter the building. xxx It is also super-challenging to see, hear and speak properly while wearing the face shield and the face masks.

As if there isn't enough to fret about, I'm also grieving what I feel is the usurpation of our fantastic Grade 6-7 teacher. I'm taking his room and in my heart it is still his room, not mine. He would know how to deliver this curriculum, because he's done it before. Due to seniority, I'm in and he's out. I feel awful about this.

While all of this is going on, I'm also trying my best to support my fellow teacher-librarians who are floundering. Confidence in times of uncertainty draws people to individuals like moths to a flame. I realize that I can keep a pretty level head in times of crisis and exude calm even though inside I may be not as composed. (Ask me about my first day of class when I took my Mentoring AQ.) I may not know about what it means to be a Grade 6-7 teacher, but I do know how to be a teacher-librarian and have been keeping abreast of the latest developments regarding school library decisions, so people turn to me because it looks like I have answers. That's not 100% true, but I can often provide advice when I cannot offer answers.

In 2016, I wrote about stress on my blog. I've become better at noticing the signs. Lately, stress responses manifest in certain new ways. In addition to running my fingers through my hair, I massage my hands a lot. Unlike others who are suffering from insomnia, I take long naps - partly because I'm exhausted, and partly because being unconscious means I don't have to deal with the thoughts zinging through my head. I giggle nervously when I speak, and sigh a lot. I ask my son, daughter, and husband for more hugs than usual. I have more headaches, and there's tension in my neck. 

I hear on Twitter from teachers in school boards that have already resumed classes that it will get better. We will rejoice in reconnecting and somehow forge new ways of learning and being together despite all these health and safety protocols. I hope it's true. In the meantime, I thank Queen's University for giving me a project that has kept me busy but stable, Animal Crossing New Horizons for allowing me to have fun and maintain a sense of order and predictability, and my family, friends and colleagues for reaching out, even when some of them are hurting or involved with their own personal problems. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

No School Libraries

 Let's get straight to the point - in elementary schools in the largest school board in Canada, the library allocation has been removed.

I'm trying to use terms that are factual and are neither hyperbolic nor emotionally manipulative.

I'm also working very hard to describe the impact this decision will have on others, not just me (a teacher-librarian).

This is difficult to do on many levels. My OAC English teacher once told our class that it is much more understandable for an audience to grasp the awful aspects of a situation if the story is told from one individual's perspective, instead of attempting to describe the magnitude of the situation for hundreds of thousands of people. It'd be easy for me to talk about how this will impact me - but it's not about me. It's not about teacher-librarians; it's about school libraries.

Another challenge is to find the right analogy to help those who are not in education understand the ramifications. This is where I wish I could borrow the brain of Jenn Apgar, who is so skilled at coining the perfect allegory. I don't want to attempt to say it's like a Kia dealership employee having to sell Jeeps and being expected to learn the ins and outs of these new vehicles in a week. I don't want to compare it to a heart surgeon who must transition to being a cancer specialist - because I don't know how those professions work, and I don't want to be presumptuous and claim that the comparisons are legitimate. Too many individuals do this, including our own premier who has complained that grocery store employees "stepped up" and teachers need to do the same.

I got a nail in my tire on Friday (the day I learned about this turn of events). Could that work as a metaphor? Or is it just "bad things happen in sets"?

So, despite these obstacles, let me try to explain why eliminating the allocation is extremely detrimental.

As I write this post, the day before Labour Day, school personnel will have less than a week to create classes, assign teachers to classes, design timetables and schedules, and devise the particulars to their COVID protocols (e.g. fire drills, entry procedures, recess routines, lunch duties, bathroom visits, hallway flow, etc.). Many educators will be moving to teaching virtually or teaching a class that was not their original assignment. Who might help them find resources to support their students? Usually educators turn to teacher-librarians and other school library professionals. No school library staffing means no support for classroom instructors. It's a shame because teacher-librarians and other school library professionals were ideal people to help with these transitions and changes, because of their training in digital tools, copyright compliance, literacy, and collaboration skills. The changes were supposed to reduce sizes. In many cases, class sizes have not become smaller. Instead we have a lot of stressed educators uncertain about who or what they are teaching, and no one officially to help them out with their mental health and well-being or any curriculum planning.

My board shared a fantastic document called "Library Learning Commons: Considerations for September 2020 - Teacher-Librarians, Library Collections, Library Spaces" and I thank the individuals who created it. It is extremely thorough in considering all the logistics related to accessing books and resources for learning, the physical library space, and how the teacher-librarian can work within the new realities of programming/support/leadership in a school that must take COVID into consideration. The great thing about this document is that it provided several options for operations, understanding that there is no one set formula that will work for every school community. The key, however, is to have designated school library professionals to ensure Health and Safety Protocols are followed. Spaces will become unsafe if they are not adequately staffed.

What about the students? Book exchange and instruction was going to be possible, albeit altered, both for in-school learning and online or remote learning. The document called "Strategies for Schools: Student Borrowing and Return of Books from School Libraries" outlined several possibilities - but none of this is possible without a school library professional. We can't have volunteers or students run the school libraries - it's unfair and unwise.

Losing school library staffing in elementary schools will have a huge impact on the Canadian publishing industry, vendors, authors, and other literary agents. I will not be able to run the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading programs if I am required to teach a class of students. I will not be able to research, examine, and purchase new resources. I will not be able to book author visits, even remote ones, when my priority is the group of learners I must care for and educate, especially with a curriculum new to me.

Let me make a few things clear. I am not angry at administrators. (On the contrary, I feel terrible for principals who are faced with horrible decisions to make.) I am disappointed but not furious with my school board (or other boards that have made this decision). Other school boards have been able to arrange to retain their school library professionals (such as Peel DSB) and I am not clear why this wasn't possible to mimic elsewhere. I am also not dismissing the other incredible programs that exist - e.g. music education. (My school's music teacher is devastated. So much joy comes from making music, from singing, from putting on performances - and all of these elements have been eliminated. I wrote about the positive mental health benefits to music in my blog a few weeks ago.) The difference, I contend, is that the position of a school library profession was not only possible to uphold in this environment, but more necessary than ever because of our current COVID environment.

I'll share some of the reactions I've seen on social media to this news ...

So, now what? As tempting as it is to try and make everyone happy by keeping the school library collection open and available, this just isn't possible. 

I'm relieved to hear that people are not taking this news lightly. Different groups are organizing and attempting to make it loud and clear that they have serious objections to this plan. I do not want to reveal anything that I do not have permission to share. I will update the blog if/when I am allowed to share more information about these efforts.

And I want to thank my friends and colleagues who have reached out to me, via text, DM, tweets, and more, to check to see that I am okay. This includes (but is not limited to) Fiona H, Andrea P, Beth L, Andrea S, Diana H, Kelly I, Larissa I, Munazzah S, Jenn B, Carrie C, Denise C, Dawn T, Jess L, Michelle S, Chelsea A, Tracey T, Wendy B, and more. Like many other educators in the same boat, I do not know what I am teaching. I am grateful that I still have a job physically in a building (unlike others I know), that I am not in a financially unstable position (unlike others I know), that I currently have my health (unlike others I know), and that my spouse and children are safe. As I said at our equity training last Thursday, it is possible to recognize two viewpoints that may appear to be at odds (back then, it was that it is unfair that BIPOC educators are often expected to do the heavy lifting and lead equity training, and/but/yet, it is problematic to have white educators take the lead during equity training; right now I can state that I am unhappy with the way that school libraries have been "shelved", while simultaneously expressing how difficult it is to adequately staff schools in a safe manner.) We will survive, but at what cost?

In the meantime, enjoy virtual photos of my Webkinz school music room and school library, since you won't see some of those spaces in action for a while.