Monday, April 17, 2017

A Little Lost Dog

The four-day Easter long weekend was welcomed with open arms in my household. Our self-imposed Lenten restrictions were lifted; we spent quality time with family members; we celebrated an important holiday and we enjoyed some much needed rest and relaxation. Circumstances still sneaked in a surprise for us to deal with - an unexpected visitor.
It was around 6:00 p.m. or so on Saturday, after we had returned from a delicious dinner, that we spotted this little ShizTsu outside our door. She was barking, not in a vicious way, but in a plaintive, "let me in" tone. Let me mention at this point that I've never owned a dog - my parents had dogs before I was born and after I moved out, so I have no experience dealing with dogs. I checked the Toronto Animal Services home page and it recommended taking the dog to a nearby shelter, but at this time, the shelters were closed.

I didn't know what to do. I brought her a bowl of water and some leftover pulled pork and rested it on the edge of the porch. Then, my husband and I walked around our neighbourhood to see if anyone was looking for a lost dog. They weren't. Thankfully, at around 8:00 p.m., the situation was resolved.
I did not get a chance to speak much with the teen boy and older man that picked her up. By the time I opened the door, they had the dog in their arms and were walking away. I only had enough time to say that I was glad they had located her and that she had been here for about two hours. There was neither time nor opportunity for me to confirm that they were the true owners but the anxious-yet-relieved look on the youngster's face made me believe that it was their dog. It's a good thing I didn't take the dog away to a shelter, or they would not have been reunited.

Usually on this blog, I make an effort to connect what I write about here to education. A couple of tweets I read this past weekend stopped me from making any simplistic comparison.

 My students aren't little lost dogs needing to be rescued. I am no savior. The lesson is for me and about me - that I can choose to ignore things that happen, practically right on my doorstep, or I can do something about it. Kindness must be more than words. Action or inaction is a choice.

I also need to realize that my doorstep is a lot bigger than I envision. I've noticed lately that two books in my school library collection have been panned by others in the FNMI community (see recent tweets by Angie Manfredi, aka @misskubelik and Colinda Clyne aka @clclyne) . This has happened right at my Twitter doorstep. It'd be easier to ignore it or dismiss it as just one opinion. I shouldn't and I can't. I need to speak to the Aboriginal Center or an elder or someone like Jeff Burnham from Goodminds (www.goodminds.com) to make an informed decision about these books. The answer isn't always clear-cut but that doesn't mean that I should sit back and wait for things to resolve magically on their own. I feel bad about sick people but it's only now that I've finally decided to give blood (on Easter Monday at 5:00 pm) - my first time,and about time! I have to put my money where my mouth is and make my actions match my words.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Redo? Start New? Assessing Clothing Plans

This weekend and last weekend, I was up to my ears in marking. Despite the fact that evaluating student work is a key component of a teacher's job, and assessment informs pedagogical "next steps", marking is not something I look forward to doing. It can be enjoyable - I admitted it here and here in past blog posts - but at this time, with 8 classes and approximately 170 projects to examine and evaluate, it didn't feel like a joyful task. There are several other things I'd rather do, as I confessed on Twitter.
My family must think it's the worst thing in the world from the way I gripe and complain about it. I listed some of the reasons for my ambivalent feelings about assessment in this blog post from 2013 - I'd add to those points the pressure placing a grade on a project produces in parents and students, and how this sometimes diminishes the pleasure of creation. However, marks can be motivational.

Communicating progress (and that includes sharing marks) is an important part of being transparent in our practices. It shouldn't be a mystery how to do well in class. Last week, I had every Grade 1-5 student that I saw complete a little paper form to place in their agendas. It was a Progress Update note about our projects. It provided the mark earned at that time for the sketches and plan sheets that were due March 31, listed a new due date for any interested students (regardless of the mark they received) to resubmit work, and a checklist to indicate whether they planned to construct the clothing mostly at school, at home, or an equal combination of both. This note caused a flurry in many households. Several parents came to see me to ask about how this mark was calculated (using points gleaned from the success criteria the students co-constructed with me), why they hadn't seen their children sketching at home (because I provided instructional time during class for it to be completed - I'm not a huge fan of homework), and how their children could improve (by following the feedback provided to the students with their work that was handed back to them). I admired how several parents assisted their children at home and/or stayed after school on Friday with their sons/daughters to help them make some final additions to their work.

I tried hard to leave it up to the students to decide if they wanted to re-submit their work. Most showed reasonable judgement but there were a few that I had to "strongly encourage" to take a second look at what they had turned in and try a little harder to include the required elements or provide a bit more detail.

Then there are students on the other end of the continuum, who created fantastic plans but still wanted to return them for re-assessment. Some students were concerned, as they are now on the building stage, that they'd have to resubmit their plans because they had made changes to their clothes. I explained that sometimes plans had to alter because of a lack of materials, or a better method, and that as long as they weren't completely scrapping everything they had considered before, "going back to the drawing board" wasn't necessary.

I should have taken my own advice about assessment from summer school - making the sketches from all the classes due the same day was easier for me to remember (and technically, it was the students that chose all their due dates for this project, which we listed in a letter explaining the project home to parents) BUT if I only had one or two classes to mark at a time, I would not have felt so overwhelmed by the mountain of marking. In fact, even as I bemoaned the big pile, I took a couple of photos of some of the sketches. These three below, for example, were created by Grade 1 students.






I don't regret undertaking this project, despite the mess, the extra expenses (I keep running to Michael's to purchase gems and fabric spray paint), and the marking. Our superintendent came to visit last week and she was pleased by the many facets this investigation involves: ecological literacy (e.g. reusing clothes, purchasing from Value Village), equity (e.g. how clothing can express our identity and how our identity is multi-faceted), social justice (e.g.children working in sweat shops), math (e.g. measurement, area), visual arts (e.g. colour and design), media (e.g. text production, intended audience), etc. I think marking the final products will be a pleasure (partly because it's done at school - maybe I dislike homework even more than the students!) and our fashion show will be an exciting endeavor. Stay tuned!

Photo of our Term 1 "Identity Inquiry"display on what makes us who we are


Photo of our Term 2 display on Value Village & making our outfits



Monday, April 3, 2017

Facing Challenges in Montreal

This week, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to la belle province to present at the QSLiN annual library symposium. The event was made extra special because my daughter accompanied me to co-present one of my sessions. This was her first visit to Quebec (excluding our short foray into Hull during March Break to tour the Canadian Museum of History) so we were excited to explore Montreal's attractions together, albeit briefly.

Why would I title today's blog post using the word "challenges"? Well, there were intentional and unintentional obstacles to overcome during the voyage.

Challenge #1: Navigating a New City

We drove to Montreal from Toronto, which isn't a terrible journey. We left at lunch (because my daughter did not want to miss any more school than was absolutely necessary) and arrived at our hotel in Point Claire at 5:30 p.m., so we had the whole evening to do with what we wanted. We still had energy after our successful drive but weren't keen to spend more time in the car tackling Montreal's notorious traffic, so we decided to use public transportation to go downtown and examine old Montreal. The hotel gave us a map and directions on the route to take. It took us longer than ten minutes to walk to the mall to find the bus terminal but that was the least of our troubles. We found the bus and hopped on happily a little after 6:00 p.m.. We drove, and drove, and when the bus stopped at "the end of the line", we were nowhere near the subway station. Turns out, we got on the right bus going in the opposite direction. The driver instructed us to get off and wait for the next bus, which would take us back to where we should have been. The trip downtown should have taken us an hour, but instead it took us two hours.

A photo of our bus stop, where we spent lots of time.

When we arrived in Old Montreal, exiting at La Place D'Armes, it was dark, cold, and wet. Reading the map given to us at the hotel was an exercise in futility because there was not enough light to see. We viewed the Basilica of Notre Dame and took some lovely photos. After a while, our stomachs reminded us that we hadn't eaten since our quickly scarfed-down lunch at an enRoute station off the highway in Ontario. Finding somewhere to eat in downtown Montreal should be a breeze. I was in contact with a former elementary school student who now goes to McGill, and he texted us several recommendations. (He also asked if we needed him to come downtown to help guide us, but he was ill and we said distance assistance would work just fine - good ol' Andrew!) It proved difficult to try and find some of these restaurants. Many places were closed. My French is passable but as I told my audience the next day, "je ne suis pas billingue, malheureusement" and all signs were in French. When we asked fellow pedestrians for directions, often the suggestions made us lost. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I report that we got lost at least six times that night. The convenience store clerk reassured us that the Montreal Poutinerie would be open by the time we arrived and we would have plenty of time to eat. Not at all. We found that restaurant at 9:00 p.m. and it had already been closed for thirty minutes prior. Just as I decided to turn on my cellular data to look at a map myself instead of relying on others, my phone died. My daughter, who had patiently tolerated all these setbacks, turned to me and said, "Mom, we should just go back to the hotel". I empathized with her dismay. By this point, I was tired and hungry too, but I didn't want to end our adventure on such a sour note. Thankfully, I looked up and right across the street was a little pub. We dashed in and checked to see that it would be allowable for a 17-year-old to enter. They agreed that we could stay until 10:00 p.m. and you've never seen two more grateful diners ever. We listened to live music and ate a satisfying meal. Our return trip back to the hotel was uneventful and smooth and we straggled back to the hotel by 10:30 p.m., exhausted but pleased that we had still met our goal of touring downtown.

The Basilica of Notre Dame at night

Love the architecture of Montreal (not the snow)
The view of old Montreal from our seats in the St. Paul pub

Challenge #2: BreakoutEDU

The QSLiN symposium was enjoyable. It was held in the same hotel where we were staying, so carrying our props and costumes from our room to our presentation site was simple. We set up during the morning keynote but were able to hear Pam Harland's afternoon keynote address.

Pam Harland describes library leadership in her keynote
The closing event of the conference was a BreakoutEDU experience, run by the incredible Sandra Bebbington, who didn't let an injured foot and a lack of sleep deter her at all. I've played collaborative problem solving games before, like "Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes" with my family at Christmas, but I had never participated in a real BreakoutEDU event with strangers before. Why would people buy in? Who would care? People did commit and we did become invested in the task. I had only met a couple of the individuals recently during my last workshop. (Ute will be my convenor for ABQLA in May and we were introduced to each other that afternoon.) I didn't know these people well, yet we all came together as a group to try and solve the problems we were dealt. It wasn't easy! We had to divide up the tasks to get things accomplished with enough time to spare, and we had to rely on another group, that was in possession of a deciphering tool, so that we could crack a code we were given. I think my face as captured in the tweet below accurately represents the level of difficulty of this task.

Sandra explains the Breakout setup

Locks, waiting to be solved and opened

What does this say? 

Using another group's device to help us read our clue


Sandra was kind enough to provide a few hints when she saw that some groups were struggling and in the end, the group opened the box with less than a minute left on the clock. We were very happy and I felt some sort of kinship with my tablemates, even though I didn't even have time to learn their names. It was only because her Twitter avatar resembled her in real life that I realized I was working with the wonderful Ellen Goldfinch next to me!



Was it a relaxing way to end the conference? No, but that was a good thing! Participants were energized, neurons were firing, and people were thinking and talking with others. It was worth staying until the end, and a lucky attendee walked away with a great door prize - a BreakoutEDU kit of locks and containers.

Bonus Challenge: Maintaining School Libraries and QSLiN

I was so thankful for the chance to be a part of this symposium. Sandra Bebbington and especially Julian Taylor were generous with their time, friendly, considerate, attentive, and helpful. The status of school libraries in the province of Quebec is rather different than here in Ontario. Julian explained it a bit to me both in a Skype call in preparation for the conference and a post-conference chat. In the past, the Quebec education system was organized along religious divisions, but after 2000, this switched to linguistic divides. Neither the English nor the French school boards in Quebec have teacher-librarians quite like we have in my school board. (I was going to say "in Ontario" but several school boards have eliminated the position of teacher-librarian.)  Historically, Quebec has not been as "pro-library" as other parts of Canada. Staffing in the English sector of Quebec is healthier than in the French quarters. For the fortunate schools, at the secondary level, they will have a library technician five days a week; at the elementary level, they may have a library technician one or two days a week. Most of the people in school libraries have tech degrees and love libraries enough that they don't want to see them disappear. Outside of Montreal, to the south, north and east, the elementary school library is likely supported by a parent volunteer or a staff member who has taken an interest in this role.


With the challenge of no teacher-librarians in the province, how is it even possible to have a school library organization exist? Well, it's a bit complicated. I appreciate this explanation from Julian:


The Quebec Ministry of Education's DRD (Direction des ressources didactiques or “Dept of Didactic Resources") came up with a plan to encourage the hiring of librarians at the board level in both the English (9 boards) and French (60 boards) sectors. That program started in the 2008-2009 school year (for 10 years). This was a great initiative by the ministry and many librarians were hired at various boards throughout Quebec. I [Julian] was charged with creating the first library personnel training day for all library personnel in the English sector (public, private, and native schools) in that first year, spring 2009. This was the first "Library Symposium".


Then in late fall 2009, a representative from the DSCA (Direction des services à la communauté anglophone; basically Dept of English Community Services) invited all of us who worked as library personnel at the board level (us new hires and a small number of people who were already in place) and asked us what we saw as needs within the community that perhaps the DSCA could help us to realize with a project using funds from the Federal government to help minority language rights in Quebec. This was basically the birth of QSLiN, but it would take another year or two for the name to be set.


The DSCA helped the English sector school board library personnel to meet, realize their community’s common needs, then gave them the structure to have QSLiN created and the funds to run it. The Quebec School Librarian’s Network is an committee of English Educational Community Librarians, that supports the community  by facilitating information literacy, supporting school library personnel, encouraging professional development, sharing resources, collaborating with the educational community, advocating for school libraries and hosting a symposium that brings the community together.


School libraries have faced a number of challenges in Quebec but more and more people see their value and will continue to invest in their future. The future of QSLiN is never certain, but challenges like this (and the others I've described above) can be tackled with:
  • passionate people
  • a positive, growth mentality
  • finding funds and other support systems
I look forward to returning to Montreal in May for the ABQLA conference, and seeing some of my new contacts again. A bientot!