Monday, January 30, 2017

We cannot be silent

Living in Canada, next to the United States, is like sleeping next to an elephant, someone once said. (I looked it up. The person who uttered that quote was former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.) Even if it looks like we are not directly involved with their state of affairs, it impacts us. This past weekend, the new president of the United States signed an executive order, which he called "Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States", to strictly restrict immigration from seven specific countries, and to completely prevent any refugees arriving in the US from Syria. This threw airports into chaos as people with green cards were denied entry and other visitors were sent back. That this was done on Holocaust Memorial Day was especially ironic.

My friend, Jennifer Brown, was upset. She wrote about it on her blog. (I wish I was as passionately articulate as she is.)
My virtual friend, Rusul Alrubail, whom I infer did not travel to #educon because of the current political situation, posted this practical advice for people:

As educators, what should we do?  Should we keep politically neutral? Should we avoid controversy? I made my plans public and clear on Twitter -

My goal is not to indoctrinate, but to think critically. My aim is to examine current events and understand what's happening and why.

This is not easy for everyone. Look at Doug Robertson's dilemma (read the top tweet second; read the bottom tweet first).

  1. Prefer to bring it up directly, but convos w parents after discussing Women's March have shown me I need to be sure to couch in standards.
  2. Trying to think of a way to bring up the in class. We recently discussed the Statue of Lib. Could talk her engraving.

This is why organizations like Teaching Kids News @TeachKidsNews on Twitter, are vital. I hope that within the next couple of days, they will have a student-friendly news article for teachers to read with their class on the topic. For instance, here is a kid-friendly news article about the inauguration and the Women's March the following day. It strives to provide facts and promote discussion.

To those of you in schools where you might be labeled an "agitator" for mentioning this issue, I have something for you. I'm working with my Grade 1-5 students on an inquiry unit on clothing. One aspect that I will need to address, because it is part of the media literacy expectations, concerns overt and implied messages. This tweet, posted by a new virtual friend of mine, is perfect for teaching overt and implied messages to my students.

The overt message is what is stated in the flyer. The implied message can be understood by the words she attaches to the photo, as well as the knowledge of recent current events. This is how I can "justify" bringing up the topic, even to younger students. We shouldn't have to justify equity education, but in case you need a reason, take mine.

Not teaching media literacy? What about math? Take a look at these statistics. Find the source. Discuss the rationale.

If you have older students, why not try what @JessLif is doing with her students. She is using the same prompts, but a new text.

Whatever way you choose to address this topic, do it. Thank you to my Twitter pal @t8ish1 for bringing this article and video to my attention. We can't be silent. Silence implies consent. We cannot consent to people being tried and judged not by their actions but by their countries of origin.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Creating Clothes Yourself

Last week was a busy one in the library and at home. I launched our new inquiry question and unit for the primary division: "how might our clothes reflect our identity" and have begun to teach students methods of clothing design and creation. I began with finger knitting. It takes a while to become accustomed to the pattern and not everyone finds it easy or relaxing. It was interesting to see which students gave up and which students kept trying. Some of the end results didn't look exactly like finger knitted strands, but for those who persevered, there was a sense of pride as they wore their creation. Others really delighted in this new skill and begged for more wool so they could continue to make new and different things at home over the weekend.

At home, I was preoccupied with working on various presentations - polishing ones that have already been booked and designing a few that are still at the proposal stage. A workshop that may do double-duty at multiple events is a session I'm constructing with my friend and fellow OSLA member Alanna King. The workshop is called "Teacher Librarians: Oiling The Gears of the MakerSpace Movement". To give it some added pizzazz, we decided to incorporate a steampunk theme to it. I am not a steampunk connoisseur, so I was a little stumped about what to wear. I did some research and initially I thought I'd borrow or rent an outfit.
I did some investigating and sent a few email and Twitter inquiries. I felt like I wouldn't have time or knowledge to create a proper steampunk outfit for myself. Alanna and I shared photos of fabulous ensembles back and forth. Then I read an inspiring blog post by Adrienne Kress. It brought me back to another presentation I'm giving called "Cosplay MakerSpaces". Now was not the time to give up and just pay someone - now was the perfect time to rise to a new challenge, and test my cosplay mojo! I used my daughter's process for creating her costumes and I visited two different Value Village stores. My daughter accompanied me and I have to say that it was fun to hunt for the right clothes and to combine them for the effect I was attempting.

My staff members even got into the act. One of our kindergarten teachers lent me his son's ski goggles, which will look great with a bowler hat I bought a while back from the dollar store, just because. (I'm not wearing it in the photo because I haven't decided if I want to do the fascinator yet instead.)

I didn't make these clothes in the same way that my students made their finger-knitted headbands / bracelets / belts / scarves / etc., but going on this hunt to compile and create the outfit for myself was a lot of fun. I need to give myself (and my students) time to be creative mor eoften!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Foot Care

It's January - time to put your best foot forward - figuratively and literally!

During the first week back to school, I vowed to continue my fitness regime from 2016 of walking around the community for a portion of the lunch hour. When I walked on Monday, I wore boots because of the snow. My boots aren't meant for long walks; after I was through, the bottoms of my feet had blisters from the wear. New plan: wear running shoes instead of boots, even if it's snowy out. This worked on Tuesday but on Wednesday, my feet felt funny after the extra-long trek on the icy sidewalks; I examined my feet and I had bled right through my sock on my left heel. The shoes I wore weren't the proper size (lesson learned - don't rush when buying footwear, even when you have family members impatient to leave the store - I ended up with a size 7 on the left and a size 9 on the right, and I usually wear a 7.5 - the shoes work fine as long as I'm not walking far).

We don't realize how important our feet are as teachers until they pain us. At the ETFO Presenter's Palette session, one of the guest speakers was Gwen Merrick, a Speech Language Pathologist. She spoke to us about keeping our voices healthy. I think the same is true for our feet. That's why I decided as part of my daughter's birthday present that I'd treat both of us to manicures and pedicures. I don't do pedicures often, especially in the winter. My usual justification is that no one will see my bare toes, so why bother painting them? However, I felt that proper foot care is meant for me, not others, so it was irrelevant who saw my pretty painted nails but important to get my feet taken care of. It's also important to choose the salon you use carefully; in the past, my feet were injured after a pedicure that was a bit too vigorous with the cutting and scrubbing, and made me limp for weeks. I really like the place I go to now (QS Nails, between Scarborough and Pickering).

Daughter's pedicure (happy 17th birthday!)

My pedicure, thanks to QS Nails.

This time of year can be very busy for teachers as they hurry to prepare and mark exams or finalize grades and write report cards. This post is just a gentle reminder to take time to take care of yourselves - your feet, your voice, and the other important parts of you.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Twins: Treasure and Trouble

On the last day of winter vacation, I spent a few hours of my time doing what I often do on Sunday afternoons - I drive across the city to give my friend Tracey a hand.

Tracey has twins.

Thanks for letting me use your photos Tracey! (L-R: Owen, "Mommy", Emmett)

Her boys are about 5 1/2 months old now and I try to make a point of popping by a couple of times a month to help out where I can. Don't turn me into any kind of hero or saint for these visits - as I told Tracey today, I get to go home after my stint and get a full nine hours of sleep. She's on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She's the one that gets the medal.

Sometimes when I'm over, Tracey can sneak off for a short nap or a quick shower while Morgan (her husband) and I take the helm. Today, Morgan took their eldest son swimming so it was just Tracey, me, and the babies for a while. If one or both are sleeping, our conversations are muted but still engaging and insightful, which is surprising considering that lately Tracey has been working on about two hours of sleep a night. If that were me, cohesive words strung together as sentences would be near impossible. I asked if it was okay to write about the twins on my blog and Tracey agreed.  See, a lot of what Tracey has said about the twins can apply to caring for a room full of students (minus the diaper changing).

1) You have to forgive yourself.

Fits perfectly with my #oneword2017, and I didn't even plan it that way! Tracey's doctor also has twins and he said to her that if you are giving 100%, that means that each baby's getting 50%. In other words, don't beat yourself up if one has to cry while you are dealing with the other one. Ideally, you want to give your full attention to each and every student in your room, but some may need you more than others - the one having a meltdown, or having an epic struggle understanding a concept, or the one with language processing issues, or other reasons. Don't eat yourself up with guilt for not making every single day a Hallmark card moment.

2) Do what you can, but accept help.

Morgan is a high school teacher, so for most of the day, Tracey is flying solo. She also doesn't drive, so when she has to run errands during the day, she packs up the double stroller and walks. She's become quite adept at handling two babies at once but she does not turn down aid when it's offered. When Morgan is around, he is pulled into service when required. (For instance, during the night, Tracey won't wake Morgan for help unless both babies are up and fussing. Even if that means she puts one to bed and the other wakes up right after, she will handle it because she doesn't want Morgan to be sleep-deprived at work.) When I first broached the idea of coming over to assist, Tracey accepted right away. She doesn't have me change diapers or do laundry - I'm not sure if I'm relieved or disappointed about that - but I will sweep, fix lunch, brush the dog, feed bottles or amuse a baby with toys or songs. I think this was awkward for Morgan at first (if I'm allowed to say that) because he and Tracey were impeccable hosts pre-baby and not accustomed to relying on others. Tracey says "you get over that pretty quick". This should be true for teachers too. We're lucky - help may just be a door away. If you need assistance, there is no shame in asking.

3) Count small accomplishments, day by day.

When one of the boys stayed down for four hours during the night, it was a cause of celebration. Sometimes those celebrations may be inconsistent. Emmett used to be the great napper. Now it's Owen. Instead of despairing over what isn't happening, find joy in what is. For me, getting one of the babies to smile feels huge. On the teacher side of this sage piece of wisdom, it's challenging to promote the positive, especially when it is irregular. (I'm writing report cards right now, so there's a lot of calculating the different sign posts of progress and various assessments and evaluations to try and summarize success, even though the actual results may vary depending on the day, time or mood.)

4) Allow yourself to vent. Humour helps.

Tracey is hilarious, although she says most of her good lines get wasted because the twins don't exactly understand what she's saying. When things are bumpy, she's joked about taking a walk to the orphanage. On a few rough days before Christmas, she said "I hope Santa brings them coal." I remember when my eldest was a baby during her "witching hour", we'd quip about throwing her in the toilet. It sounds cruel, but as long as we don't actually go through with it, that dark humour is a survival strategy. In a way, it's the flip side of #3. Rejoice in the sunny skies and curse the rain clouds. As long as it's done in a respectful manner and in a proper place (i.e. not in front of the students themselves, because students understand your words more than babies) teachers need a safe place to gripe too.

5) It's a hard, hard job ... but you wouldn't trade it for the world.

Taking care of one baby isn't easy. Taking care of two at the same time is extra challenging. Banning TV until they're 2? Ha! If a bit of Thomas the Tank Engine can buy time to finish a task, so be it. When babies outnumber the adults, it's difficult. However, Tracey adores her boys. She admits to getting teary eyed looking at them and realizing that they are alive, safe, healthy, and happy. Hopefully, that's the same feeling for teachers. It's tough. You put in a ton of hours and wonder if you're making a difference. You despair. You cry. Yet, teaching can be the best job ever.

Double smiles - how can you resist?

Monday, January 2, 2017

My #OneWord2017

Happy New Year!

I've decided to try that #oneword challenge again this year. Searching on Twitter showed me that many folks have chosen to beautify their word with images and photo mashups, and their words consist of things like culture, opportunity, embrace, shine, climb, joy, relentless, courage, present, balance, positivity, focus, energy, pause, innovation, grow, believe, shift, limitless, etc. In fact, look at all the words that an Ohio principal's staff members have created and documented:
A fabulous rationale (from an Ontario educator, Jaclyn Balen), can be found in this blog post.
Last year, my rebellious word was "continue". My #OneWord2017 is weird. I don't mean that the word I've chosen is the word "weird". I mean that it's a bit offbeat and unusual.

My word is forgive.

Let me explain.

Forgive connected to Faith: A few weeks ago, (December 10, to be specific) my parish priest gave a good homily. It made enough of an impact that I tweeted parts of it.

I'm a Roman Catholic, and I like to joke that I'm a practicing Catholic because I'm not really good at it - I need to practice. The hardest part about being a Catholic, for me, is the forgiveness aspect. It's not easy to forgive others (or myself) or accept forgiveness. Usually, I go to confession twice a year (before Easter and before Christmas). After that homily and based on my One Word goal, I'm going to try to go to confession once a month.

Forgive connected to Health: I've done quite well on my goal to continue healthy living. Finding my personal trainer in the fall, who advises me along the journey, was a big help. Despite the support and the obvious positive physical changes (i.e. I fit into my old clothes and I'm no longer addicted to sugary drinks like I used to be), my weight and other numbers haven't changed much at all. I have to forgive myself - not forget what I'm doing or abandon it, but let go of the need for any numbers on the scale to change. Good thing I don't own a scale! I've joined an online support community led by my personal trainer so that I can work on nutrition and exercise. (I suspect the nutrition parts are a bigger challenge for me than I thought.)

Forgive connected to Relationships: There are some pretty "challenging" people that I deal with at times. The workshop I attended in Vancouver on having Difficult Discussions reminded me that I should always assume positive intent. These students or adults do not behave the way they do because they are intentionally trying to be difficult. They are coping in the ways they know how and may not even realize that they are frustrating me or acting in inappropriate or in less-than-helpful ways. In 2017, I'm going to try and be more forgiving of others when I feel slighted. Forgiveness doesn't mean that I'll ignore everything for the sake of peace. I will try and put myself in their place and not let resentment impact my response.

Forgive connected to School Projects and Goals: I have some big tasks planned (e.g. the new media assignment for my primary division students, getting further ahead on my research, running the Secret Path Book Club on Teach Ontario, offering some new presentations at different venues, etc.) and if they don't go quite as planned, I need to forgive myself. Mistakes are part of learning. It's okay to stumble sometimes.

Forgive connected to FNMI issues: There's a reason why the group formed to address the wrongs against our indigenous people in Canada was called The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We need to acknowledge what happened, get to the facts, and then move forward. We need to take actions that show we want to be forgiven. As educators, we may have, through our common history or through micro aggressions we may not even realize we perpetuate, contributed to the sad situation that created and supported the residential school system. I will not treat equity issues as a fad. I will try to improve my track record.

I also want to embrace the "give" portion of the word separately. I'll give myself a chance. I'll give others a chance. I'll give my time and talents and treasure. If I can give and forgive in 2017, it'll be a pretty awesome year.

P.S. In the spirit of "giving", I thought I'd share the forms that I created as part of my media movie unit with the primary division students. Because I personalize these sheets, they may not be as useful to just print and use immediately, but they are shared as examples that you can modify. The illustrations of the various film production roles come from my daughter. She drew them for me several years ago and she says that she can do a much better job now, but I like them and since they were what my students and I used when we were first learning about these jobs, they worked for us.

Media Production Roles - What did you do when we made the movie?

Topic, purpose, audience, and skills needed when making media

Responding to and Evaluating Media - being a film critic!