Monday, September 17, 2018

Starting Slow in September by "just playing and talking"

Today (Monday, September 17, 2018) will be the 10th day for the 2018-19 school year. I have certain first day/week school plans that I like to re-use with modifications, but this year I tweaked them a lot more - by doing less.

I have a lot of toys in my school library, thanks to the fact that my own son and daughter are the only grandchildren on both sides of the family. Now that my own children are teens (18 and 16), the toys that aren't kept perfectly preserved in my newly-cleaned garage migrate to my workplace so my students can enjoy them. I don't put all the toy bins out at the same time - that's too overwhelming and makes their appearance less special. Usually I allotted only a few minutes at the end of a period for our kindergartens and early primary students to play. This year, partly because our kindergarten groups are very Year 1 / JK heavy, I've replaced some of the whole-group instruction time with longer time to play with the couple of options I've offered (in this case, Koosh balls and Fisher-Price toys).

What has the impact been on giving more play time in September, especially to the kindergarteners?
  • less resistance / defiance from students
  • moments for self-regulation in a "lower-stress" environment
  • more time to observe students
  • more opportunities to build relationships with students
  • ideas for future lesson topics and teaching structures
  • practice with social skills 


This first photo is from the very first day of school, during third period. Look moms and dads - no crying kids! The formal lesson portion took about three minutes, and then there was the few minutes of asking students to sit and wait while we spread out the toys. That was a great chance to see who could wait and who had trouble resisting the urge to run for the toy bin. Play time was long enough to enjoy the toys and provide advance warning for clean-up. The DECE and I could notice who needed just a verbal cue to begin tidying, who needed a song, and who needed modelling and targeted individualized reminders. I didn't have to face many stubborn "NO" responses when I asked them to do things, because I didn't ask them to do much that they wouldn't want to do. Passing around the Koosh ball was easier when students realized they could have a longer time playing with it a few minutes after the task.


It was great to see who played with whom, and how they played, and what they played with. I didn't take any observational notes because half the time I was taking photos (itself a form of pedagogical documentation) and half the time I was playing with them! I had fun playing with the students. Toy people took bumpy helicopter rides and chased toy chickens. We took cars through car washes and filled farms with animal families. When we brought out the Koosh balls, a student and I counted how many baskets we could successfully shoot and challenged ourselves to walk a path in the library while balancing a Koosh on the back of our necks!


 In this third photo, you can see the DECE on the floor right alongside the students, chatting with them and having fun. The students are busy doing their own thing, but practicing concepts like sharing, taking turns, and using their imaginations.


Having the toys really helped last Thursday. One of the kindergarten teacher had an appointment after school and asked if I could switch the schedule so that I could see her students during the final period of the day and she could make it to the appointment on time. One little boy was overtired and responded to my look of disapproval, (I promise, I didn't yell at him for his transgression) when he erased something I needed from the board, with loud wails and tears. He needed some serious consolation, so we brought out the toys earlier than planned and the other students played while he fell asleep in my arms on my shoulder. The others comforted him in between bouts of playing with pats on the back and phrases like "Don't cry X - it was your birthday yesterday!"



Giving time to play also allowed students to explore, ask questions, and talk. This past week, I brought Ernie the skinny pig back to school. His brother Bert died on the first day of summer vacation. For the Grade 1-8s, that meant a lot of questions because they remembered having two skinny pigs in June. From "Won't Ernie be lonely?" to "Why did Bert die?" to "What did you do with Bert's body?", there was a lot of discussion. I suspect Ernie won't be lonely, since everyone from the youngest learners up were keen to feed him hay and vegetables. We're going to track his weight and I may show them how to make sleep sacks for him (something I just learned how to do recently).


Speaking of making, I also made a cool name tag at the first 2018-19 Tinkering Thursday event, but like the students, I spent a lot of time at that event just reconnecting with others by talking (and talking, and talking).




Talking is not a bad thing, necessarily. For the older grades, we spent the first couple of classes together just talking. We talked about what they want to do during their library periods. (Consensus were items like book exchange, current events community circle, and free time to either catch up on work or socialize a bit.) We talked about books a bit. We talked about possible clubs and teams. And although we didn't use the Fisher-Price toys, we did use the Koosh balls. (For those who are unfamiliar with Koosh balls, [like Stephen Hurley, my VoicEd interviewer I spoke to last Friday] I found a "labelled for non-commercial reuse" image below.)


The beginning of the school year can be a stressful time, especially for those new to a particular school or school in general. (Aviva Dunsiger wrote a great post that dovetails a bit with this one, about power struggles with youngsters - see https://adunsiger.com/2018/09/15/how-do-you-avoid-the-power-struggle/) Play is supposed to be an important part of the kindergarten curriculum and I need to remind myself to allow more time for it - not just for the youngest students, but the older ones as well. Of course, having written this, this coming week is Book Fair time - upended/limited space, disrupted routines, and new items around but not for general play. Wish me luck!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Addressing A Group

My first week of school for the 2018-19 school year went smoothly. I only encountered four criers on the first day (all in the same class, but thankfully all calmed down by the end of the first period). Returning staff and students seemed happy to be back. New staff and students adjusted well to our school so far. The idea or issue (other than how I'll try and maintain this new level of tidiness I've started in the library and in my garage) that's been rattling around in my head is tangentially related to school. It began with my family and erupted with a tweet.
I asked this question online and didn't expect the avalanche of replies and interest. (I know that compared to the thousands of likes and replies others get on Twitter, it seems like small potatoes, but for me, this topic generated a lot of responses.

*We deviate from the original topic of this blog post for an important tangent.*

A bit of an unexpected technical challenge here while composing this blog post - I wanted to include every single person that took the time to answer. Usually with my blog, it's just a simple case of "embed tweet" but as of September 8, 2018 at 9:34 pm, there were 29 replies, and that didn't count the ones that stemmed from the follow-up emails. Spooler looked possible but I didn't know which tweet would count as the last tweet in the thread (it works by "unspooling" the twitter thread from the last to the first). I read up on Spooler and it said that it would only connect tweets by the original writer, so that won't work. I tried ThreadReaderApp but it wasn't that successful because all the replies didn't connect to each other, just to the original tweet. Storify is dead now and I read that Wakelet was a good alternative, but I tried it and it wasn't doing what I wanted it to, plus it was a little grabby in terms of taking permissions. I will have to settle with an old-fashioned copy and pasting of just a few of the tweets.

*Now we return to your regularly scheduled blog post topic*

Big thanks to EVERYONE who took the time to reply. I got responses to the original tweet from
@_MisterGee
@Gale_TDSB
@ksarahwheatley
@thevrplumber
@TiffanyBalducci
@ZeliaMCT
@bonnieubarnes
@RJLang_Room217
@anneshillolo
@stuckinthetundr
@leelan_oleander
@schooledbypayne
@debok1
@scout101
@SachaNeesham
@plunn8
@kzinkiewich
@VickieGrantYA
@MadameB206
@urbaninfogirl
@nichollsbelinda
@mlheenan
@jsm2272
@Stephmack10
@karen_sp_fitz
@JoanVinallCox
@erosales2015
@IrenequStewart
@thefooshshow
@sondratucker
@thehoffmobile

and I received subsequent responses from
@helainebecker
@JCasaTodd
@nobleknits2
@tina_zita
@HelenLambertDen
@mediasee
@JennMacBrown

Apologies to anyone who responded to this topic after I composed and revised this blog post who did not receive a mention. Mea culpa.

To complicate things, I neglected to mention in my initial tweet that I wasn't searching for ways to address a class of students, but the members of my own immediate family! I wrote down all the suggestions that people had offered (at that point in time) and then, a day after I published the original tweet, I shared some of the reactions my family had to the various ideas.


I've realized that there is no one perfect or mutually agreed upon answer to this question. Below are just a few of the tweets that explained why a particular term does or doesn't work for some. The fascinating thing is that there are very valid arguments for and against the same words. For instance, some of the most popular recommendations were "friends" and "y'all", but there were still some eloquent objections. (If I had time, I would have tallied all the votes for all the words mentioned by people.)






(The last tweet was in response to someone who has their Twitter account locked on private, and who mentioned that "the occasional 'guys' still slips out".)

 My family said they'd prefer I use the term "peeps" (So, some of my commonly uttered phrases directed at the group of them will now sound more like, "What are you peeps planning to do for the rest of the evening?" or "I love you peeps so much!") I wonder, if I brought this up with my students, what term they would recommend or choose. Now that I've been hyper-aware of my choice of words, I've noticed that the most popular way to address a group at school by other educators is "you guys", followed by "boys and girls" if the students are in a primary grade. There is no perfect alternative, but some thought-provoking reasons for using one term over another. Food for thought.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Podcasts and Broadcasts

When I was little, my second career aspiration after teaching was a future as a radio announcer. For the past two weeks, I've been able to live that path-not-taken by participating in several podcasts. Each one was a different experience. I'll write about them in the reverse order that I recorded them.



1) This Week In Ontario Edublogs

Recorded = Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Published = Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Link = https://soundcloud.com/voiced-radio/this-week-in-ontario-edublogs-with-doug-peterson-diana-maliszewski?in=voiced-radio/sets/this-week-in-ontario-edublogs-with-doug-peterson 

Format = Three panelists (usually two, Doug and Stephen, but for the summer an additional weekly guest) summarize and comment upon a few blog posts written by Ontario educators.

This podcast was probably the most nerve-wracking for me and the one with the most preparation necessary. It was broadcast live and recorded "as is" for the archives and future listening. Doug is responsible for the content and Stephen for the technology for this show. He provided links for 5-6 blog posts that he read and considered "meaty" enough to discuss on-air. My task was to also read those blogs and have ready a few words about each of them. We used ZenCaster to capture the conversation. My inner voice would throw cautionary admonitions at me as I was talking, like "Don't swear!" or "Use complete sentences so you don't sound like an idiot!" or "Don't talk too long!" or "Don't interrupt anyone and try and include everyone!" I was also worried that during our discussion of my friend, Jennifer Casa-Todd's blog post about her personal history as a reader, that we would sound too critical. Both Doug and I noticed her use of the word "frivolous" and I thought she was being too hard on herself and not giving herself the same non-judgmental stance that she grants to her younger daughter and high school students she encounters. Thankfully, Jennifer was her usual gracious and thoughtful self and did not take our observations as a personal insult.
Thanks to Doug for his organization (he created a Google Doc with the blog links, space for notes so I'd have a heads-up on what he might ask me) and to Stephen for keeping an eye on the time and monitoring all the moving parts. Both gentlemen made me feel comfortable and welcomed.

ETA: I changed the title of this blog post after listening to Doug and Stephen talk on the September 5, 2018 edition of "This Week in Ontario Edublogs". They described the difference and noted that their show is more of a broadcast because it is live and unedited.


2) Library Land Loves

Recorded = Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Published = not yet (plans for early September and early January or mid-May) ETA live Sept. 5/18
Link = https://player.fm/series/library-land-loves ETA specific link now is http://librarylandloves.libsyn.com/0201-top-5-tips-for-your-school-library

Format =  A staff member of the Ontario Library Association interviews someone working in or related to the field of library, who mentions a top 5 list of some sort.

I had promised Michael Rogowski to be one of his Library Land Love volunteers and record a podcast with him ages ago, but time is a precious commodity that slips past faster than we can anticipate. Our original plan was to pick a geeky kind of topic, like my five favourite RPG moments, but after listening to Richard Reid's inaugural podcast detailing his top 5 OLA SuperConference moments, I was more inclined to talk about my top 5 OLA Festival of Trees moments. This was a go and we selected a date to finally get it done. Two little hiccups came into play - Michael has a new job away from OLA, and I was asked if I'd be willing to do a second podcast that could be published to coincide with the first few weeks of school. Why not? I scribbled some ideas on a scrap piece of paper and drove down to OLA headquarters. The talented and perfectly coiffed Michelle Arbuckle was on the other end of the microphone for both interviews, and she helped me shape the theme for the back-to-school podcast ("5 things that teachers / teacher-librarians do in September that we should probably do all year 'round" or some title like that). We used Audacity and a gorgeous powerful standing microphone that picked up conversation (and table bumps, which meant I was conscientiously keeping my elbows off the table) quite clearly. I actually cried during part of my broadcast, which was a little odd considering that I knew exactly what was going to be discussed. As Michelle ad-libbed, "I've been told I'm like the Barbara Walters of library interviews". My voice was sore by the end of two back-to-back podcasts; I actually don't talk that much during the school day. (I'm of the "the one that's doing the talking is doing much of the thinking" school of thought, so I try not to blather on too much during my lessons.) It was great to reminisce about the Festival of Trees anecdotes and I hope no one will take the back-to-school podcast as a "thou shalt" requirement.


3) I Wish I Knew Edu: Looking Back and Learning Forward

Recorded = Monday, August 20, 2018
Published = not yet; late September ETA shared Sept. 17/18
Link = https://voiced.ca/i-wish-i-knew-edu-with-ramona-meharg/  ETA specific link https://soundcloud.com/voiced-radio/diana-maliszewski

Format = Ramona Meharg interviews educators and asks them to consider what it was like for them when they first started, what they "wish they knew then that they do now" and share their professional journeys.

Ramona contacted me via Twitter after I shared my radio attempts (and failures) during a Twitter chat. She invited me to discuss it (and her usual framing questions) on her podcast show, which lives on VoicEd Radio.

Ramona did a great job of preparing me for the recording. She shared a Google document outlining the types of questions she'd ask, and also prepared me for the possibility of going on tangents. As she described it, the process is just like two teachers talking with each other, but with the conversation being recorded. Ramona used ZenCaster and I recorded from the comfort of my home. Instead of my basement desktop with headphone and mic, I used my laptop and the built-in microphone on the main floor. I had to move our pet budgie upstairs because he wanted to give his $0.02 worth. I really enjoyed chatting with Ramona. I expressed concern about my frequent references to drinking (I promise that I'm not a lush!) but Ramona reassured me that it's important to "keep it real". We definitely went off on tangents and it was challenging to articulate my philosophy of education in a succinct fashion. There were several moments a few days after we recorded that I had many "I Wish I Said ..." (which is ironic considering that the show is called "I Wish I Knew Edu"). I wish I wrote down my philosophy of education in advance so that I could have that statement flow and I didn't miss any key concepts. I wish I directly mentioned my wonderful posse from Gaming Edus (Liam O'Donnell, Denise Colby, Andrew Forgrave, Jen Apgar) because I referred to the relation between comics and video games in education and that idea came from conversations and blog posts with Liam and Denise. Sorry Liam and Denise - please take this as an "addendum" to the show.

What I discovered from all of these podcasts is that I can actually talk for a LOOOOONG time! I asked Ramona what the typical length of one of her shows was - the answer was that it varies but it stays closer to 30 minutes. The show that I was on lasted over an hour! The TWiOE podcast lasted a long time as well and we even skipped one of the podcasts we were supposed to cover! I'm also grateful that I was allowed to name-drop and mention so many different names and organizations. Many educators are unsung heroes, doing great things but unknown in the greater educational sphere in Ontario. I tell people I've talked about them in blogs or on podcasts, so that they know I'm talking (positively) about them, they can hear what I've said about them, and that other people can discover them and the amazing things that they do. (Heads up: I mentioned Dean Roberts, Kerri Commisso, Alanna King, and many others that I've forgotten - I may have to listen to those recordings again and add to the list of the mentions.)

P.S. Podcasting (and live broadcasting) is like teaching. It's nerve-wracking but exhilarating. You hope you don't screw up and sometimes wish for do-overs. It's about speaking and listening and relationships. It takes thinking before, during, and after. You hope that what you said, do and share makes a difference. Best wishes to everyone on Labour Day 2018, the day before the first day of school (for most schools in Ontario) and may your teaching be like a great podcast!

Monday, August 27, 2018

TDSB BT + PB4T3 = Lots of Letters and a Loaf of Bread

Confession to make: I like being busy. I like the hustle-bustle of workshops to deliver and places to be. I may have over-scheduled myself this past week, however; because I had four presentations/workshops in three days (as well as a podcast recording the day before). What do all those acronyms stand for, and what was going on?

TDSB BT = Toronto District School Board Beginning Teacher
(Summer Institute [August 21] and Teacher-Librarian Support Session [August 22])


What did I do? I spent a large portion of my non-presenting time reconnecting in the vendor hall with some wonderful people that I rarely get to see. If I try to name them all, I know I'll forget some. It's such a wonderful feeling to turn one direction and see someone hurrying to greet you, and then turn another way and see a different familiar face smiling at you.

I gave a presentation called "Making Media Literacy Fun and Relevant". Thank you so much to all the participants. The educators in the room really got their creative juices flowing with the activity where they tinkered with making school-related memes.






On the 21st, after my talk, I spent some quality time with Andrea Sykes, the new TDSB Program Coordinator for Library and Learning Resources (and Interdisciplinary Studies) discussing the plans for the next day's New Teacher Librarian professional learning. Andrea really helped me understand the vision, mission and flow for the day. Conceptualizing it as a collaborative inquiry gave it concrete purpose. Chatting together with Andrea (before picking up my son from video game development camp) was time well spent.

The new teacher-librarian session, in my opinion, was very successful. What made it great was how the focus was centered on the new TLs and their needs. Andrea assembled several experienced teacher-librarians in the room and offered them as human books to browse in the quest for answering the novices' most burning questions. It felt very rewarding to be a part of those conversations, which ranged from maker spaces to reigniting the passion for reading in middle school students. I really hope that I can stay in touch with several of those TLs throughout the year. Sadly, I had to leave earlier than I would have liked, so that I could make it to my other commitment.

PB4T3 = Pedagogy Before Technology
(3rd Annual Conference [August 22] and Minds on Media Session [August 23])

 What did I do? During the afternoon of August 22, I facilitated a session with Michelle Solomon on "Media Literacy and Social Media". This was my first time presenting with Michelle and my first official function as an executive member of the Association of Media Literacy. Presenting with Michelle was delightful; we found a comfortable rhythm and supported each other as we reviewed the eight key concepts of media education with our large group of attendees, sometimes in unorthodox ways.
The next day was "Minds on Media", a cornucopia of options for educators to explore at their own pace. The list of options can be seen at bit.ly/mompb4t3 and I worked with Michelle Solomon and Neil Andersen discussing all sorts of media topics. What I absolutely loved about this format was similar to the new teacher-librarian session the day before; it was an opportunity to go deeper with fewer, as opposed to a traditional workshop in which we often go shallow (in terms of ideas and implementation) with many (audience members rather than one on one).


I appreciated how we didn't feel rushed to cover specific outcomes. For instance, I spent a lot of time chatting with "N" from York Region (despite being in different boards, we are actually pretty geographically close to each other) and together we brainstormed and plotted both integrated and stand-alone media lessons for her Grade 6s that I also want to use next year.

Similar to the TDSB event, PB4T also afforded me the chance to talk with people. I was so happy to see how many great supply teachers and LTOs I know now have permanent contracts. After Minds on Media (and spending 4 hours in the car driving all over the city to collect my son from that aforementioned camp, getting him home, and returning to the conference site!), I was blessed to spend time with several of the presenters at dinner and afterwards with some of my favourite people (Michelle Solomon and Alanna King) sharing stories.
So what's with the bread, you might be wondering? This incident blew me away. I was in the vendor hall of the TDSB Beginning Teacher Summer Institute when my friend, Marianne Bartkiw, approached me. After our initial greetings and pleasantries, she said, "I have something for you" and out of her bag, she pulled out a loaf of bread. She told me (and I'm paraphrasing here because halfway through her explanation my heart impeded my brain from a proper recording) that her very first presentation to educators was with me. I remembered our session well - it was in 2016 on inquiry and the two of us did a great job on it, if I do say so myself. She said that it was her very first workshop of that sort and she appreciated the planning and presenting support she received from me during that time. Now, as an Early Reading Coach in the board, she gives workshops all the time. She explained that she couldn't recall if she adequately thanked me back then and so she wanted to show her appreciation. She did it by baking a loaf of homemade sour dough bread for me.


You have no idea how much her gesture touched and impressed me. I nearly cried. Do people realize the positive impact they have on others? Her action inspired me to copy her example and I baked red velvet cookies for my Cross Fit coach (whom I wrote about here) because he made our first week back to training (after that three week hiatus) an easy transition. Marianne, thank you for being a wonderful human being. (My family has enjoyed the fruits of Marianne's labour.) Thank someone who's not expecting it, if you can. It'll make their day.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Work Environments

I was out of the country from July 29 - August 19, visiting my husband's family in the US. We decided to do something a bit different and so we took a short mini-trip to Pittsburgh, PA. While in Pittsburgh, my family and I went to the National Aviary and toured a Pennsylvanian coal mine. Both excursions were really enjoyable and educational, but for the purposes of today's blog post (and its connection to education), I wanted to focus on the coal mine.


Our tour guide told us that he has worked in coal mines for 49 years. He spoke positively about being a miner and said that nowadays, it's a decent paying job with a lot of camaraderie, despite some of the drawbacks. This wasn't true in the past. During our trek into the mine, he shared a lot of stories, with awe in his voice, about the early miners and the many challenges that they faced. For instance, in the photo above and below, he demonstrated how the miner, who had to purchase all his equipment from the mining company, would lie on his side and use his pick ax to chisel out a trough of coal. Then, he would use that manual drill to bore holes to put explosives in and release more of the coal.


Our guide described how many of the workers were immigrants, speaking little or no English. They were paid in "scrip", company money that was exchanged for food, clothing, tools, and their lodgings. The mining corporation charged exorbitant prices for necessities and the workers were often in debt to the company. The miners were sometimes cheated of their just payment, meager though it was - for example, if a foreman or supervisor examining the container of coal claimed that the half-ton load included rock that was not coal, they could refuse to pay for the entire load. (They still kept the load, which meant they took the coal and "inferior" rocks for free.)

Advances in technology and machinery made the work somewhat easier, but not always better. The middle of the three photos below, the shaker conveyor belt, helped to transport the coal down the mine, but it was very noisy and back then, safety wasn't a priority. Many miners lost their hearing because they were exposed to these loud machines for long periods of time every day.




In the past, illumination usually only came from the lights on their helmets. Our guide briefly shut off all the lights while we were in the mine, and it was so dark that I could not see my hand in front of my face. The mine wasn't great for taking photos or videos, but these were two short videos I took of some of the demonstrations.



The ironic thing about our tour is that our guide said that mining was a tough job, but he'd never trade places with, say, a teacher. I was thinking the opposite! Teaching is a tough job, but I can't picture myself ever possessing the fortitude, strength, resilience, and determination to be a coal miner. In fact, I made this t-chart with some comparisons.



Comparing Coal Miners and Teachers
SIMILARITIES
DIFFERENCES
  • “Tough jobs”
  • Unions crucial to proper treatment
  • Decent pay (at least for 2018 Ontario teachers and 2018 Pennsylviania miners)
  • Poor treatment in the past
  • Not always respected, though work is important
  • Close-knit friendships develop between workers
  • Long hours (if you count teacher planning and marking time)
  • Don’t always get to see the fruits of their labour
  • Location (deep underground vs inside a classroom)
  • Access to resources (some of today’s teachers still buy their own supplies to use for work)
  • Gender (miners mostly men, although “girls” were allowed in mines in 1975; teachers mostly women)
  • Danger (likelihood of injury or death high for miners in past)
  • Physically vs psychologically demanding
  • Training
  • Education

Touring the coal mine also gave me a solid dose of reality. My Twitter feed is full right now of people agonizing or rejoicing about setting up their classrooms before the students arrive. I will not complain about my work environment, when I remember that others labour kilometers deep in the ground, in dark and claustrophobic spaces similar to the caves that reminded me of where the Thai soccer team was trapped for weeks. I will appreciate my school library space even when the air conditioning is on too high or the books are in disarray, because standing in the dark in a mine had me recall the virtual sensation of being trapped in a Minecraft mine, and I know which experience I'd prefer. Mining is a tough, dirty job, but someone has to do it (especially if we want our carbonated drinks and other amenities for 21st century living, even though there are other ways to get energy) - and I'm grateful it's not me.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Preferred Pronouns

I have a friend who is probably the most organized person I have ever met. They can organize even the most unruly and expansive teams. They can run huge events and keep all the moving parts operational. They have incredible reservoirs of energy and can somehow function on very little sleep, which sometimes leads me to believe that they are part-robot. They also prefer using the pronouns "they" and "their" to refer to themselves.

Switching my terminology has not always been easy. I first met my friend when they went by their "dead" name and it took concentrated effort to use the pronouns they prefer. English grammar lends itself to certain regular sentence constructions. A lifetime of using either "he" or "she" has ingrained those two choices in my brain and mouth, but I can change.

For example, there are several meetings leading up to the big event where my friend and I volunteer. At one of these meetings, we were going around the table introducing ourselves, because we had some new members. I started the introductions and said, "My name is Diana and my preferred pronouns are she and her." This gave my friend the opportunity to mention their preferred pronouns without having to initiate the conversation. I was pretty pleased with myself and my actions, until two realizations stopped the self-congratulations.

First, the only reason I included that statement about preferred pronouns was because my friend was in the room and I knew my friend is trans. Would I have considered mentioning pronouns if they were not present? Shouldn't I be mentioning my preferred pronouns, regardless of who is in the room? After all, I shouldn't rely on a visual scan of the room to decide whether or not someone in the room has a preferred pronoun that might not match the ones society considers appropriate for us.

Secondly, when I shared this anecdote with another friend, she asked if by addressing the pronoun issue, might I inadvertently be putting those who are struggling with their gender identity with making a stand or decision? I think it's better to bring it up but I can understand the conundrum it may put people, even for those who have never considered the possibility that someone's gender may not match their perceptions.

This is why representation in books matter. Maybe not everyone has a trans friend. Exposure to these concepts should not be dependent on whether or not someone knows someone else. I've seen it written that homogeneous schools are the ones that need even more diverse perspectives in literature, so that everyone, not just those who relate to certain characters, can interact on the page with different people. Fellow teacher Rabia Khokar reminded us recently in the Library AQ course during her presentation of the importance of books as "windows, mirrors, and doors".


It's important to have all sorts of books in a school library that reflect various lived experiences, regardless of personal opinions. After all, one of the "rights as a reader" is for readers to abandon books if they do not want to read it; no one is obligated. For some students, books like these may be the only chance to see someone like themselves. A few years ago, a parent asked me through my administrator about what "percentage of gay books" I had on the school library shelves. My original answer to my principal was "not enough". Needless to say, he didn't quite phrase my response to the query in the same way I delivered it. In 2017, one of the Red Maple Non-Fiction nominated titles was Trans phobia: deal with it and be a gender transcender by j wallace skelton and Nick Johnson. I know that this book addressed the topic of pronouns; I just never took the initiative to try the suggestions for pronoun use that the book offered. Hopefully it will not take the presence of a racialized friend to make me pay attention to colour and culture, or a friend with a disability to notice accessibility issues, or someone with financial issues to care about class/economic concerns. Sometimes, it does, because when issues are personalized, and you actually know someone who experiences discrimination due to their identity, you pay attention more. At least, I do. But I can change; I can improve.





Monday, August 6, 2018

I got an N on my report card

During the last week of school, I was away for three of those four days. I had a good reason; I was supervising the Grade 8 students on their grad trip to Albion Hills. It can be challenging to plan a decent lesson for students to undertake with a supply teacher for these "dying days" of school, but I had a risky but useful task. The job of the students was to team up and write a report card - on me. With me away, I felt like they would be more honest about their opinions. I had a wonderful supply teacher, who went over the learning skills and what they meant, explained how teachers cannot decide on grades without having evidence to back up their claims, and helped the students take this task seriously. After all, on the Annual Learning Plan, there is a section where educators can include student and parent feedback on their teaching. This would be an authentic way to gather some thoughts directly from the students.

When I returned from the trip to the Etobicoke Outdoor Education Centre, I found a huge pile of report cards for me to read. Guess what? I didn't need to worry about the students being frank. Two of the seven classes that were given this activity to do did not have as much time as the other groups did, so the occasional teacher did it as a group activity and recorded the whole-class answers.



In case you can't read it clearly, those are "S"s for Organization. If you aren't familiar with the Ontario elementary report card, Learning Skills are given an E for Excellent, G for Good, S for Satisfactory, and N for Needs Improvement.

With some of the other classes, in which they wrote the report cards in small groups, some of the results were even ... harsher. Some groups tried to lessen the blow by giving me Term 1 and Term 2 results and showing some improvement (e.g. I got an N in Term 1 and a S in Term 2). This example I've scanned and replicated here had quite a bit of detail and evidence. I blocked out the "teachers' names" (I loved how many took a creative writing approach to the upper section of the report card), but read this report.


I came home to my family and cried, "I got a N on my report card for organization!"

"This somehow surprises you?" was my sarcastic son's reply

 Now, I have to give the students credit. These marks did not appear out of nowhere. They gave rationales. They provided examples. What I found interesting about this exercise was how they conceptualized "organization" and made it synonymous with "tidy". Have we inadvertently created this idea - equating a clean desk with a good grade? It doesn't say that on the report card description of organization. It seems to be more about time management and completing work. Many student "evaluators" also felt that it was my responsibility (as opposed to a shared responsibility) to maintain order in the school library. Having said that, I realize that keeping things orderly is not one of my strengths and is something to which I should devote more time and effort. We didn't get a chance to go over the report card results with my "teachers". I wonder what next steps, if any, I should take ... both to improve my organizational skills, and to expand student ideas of organization. If you are reading this and have any ideas, please share them in the blog comments or via Facebook or Twitter.