Monday, June 25, 2018

Farewell Rituals - Required or Not?

I double checked my previous blog posts in June to see if I had covered this theme before. I touched on a similar topic in 2015 but I hope this is new enough of a take to make it worth a read.

The end of the school year is fast approaching. Some of our staff members will not be at our school in the fall. There's been quite a lot of debate about how, what, and when to tell the students about these departures. This is a highly personal decision and not always an easy one to make. It is also challenging if some information is revealed in one class but not another - we learn how quickly news and rumors can spread in a building, even among our youngest learners! Students might need closure and opportunities to acknowledge people who are leaving. On the other hand students might also become emotionally distraught or even more dis-regulated at a typically chaotic time of the year if they know that some adults are leaving. 

Just this past week, we've had two "appreciation events" and two "farewell events". How does the idea of "endings" impact the occasions? 

Volunteer Tea (Tuesday, June 19) and Library Helper Celebration (Friday, June 22)

Our annual volunteer tea celebrates the work of our unpaid helpers - the parents, grandparents, older siblings, retired community members and friends who offer their time, talents and treasure to make our school a success. I place new books for the school library on display with the names of the volunteers inside as book plates and the adults always enjoy searching for their names and even reading the book. (The first year we did this at my current school, parents thought the books were presents and tried to take them home!)

The Library Helper Celebration is a chance for me to honour the students who try to keep the library shelves tidy and show up for their scheduled shifts, week after week, to toil. This year, Kerri Commisso saved my hide by helping me cook a massive pot of spaghetti for the students' lunch - I would have burnt it otherwise. We also continued the tradition of a spirited game of Sticker Tag in the kindergarten playground.

Eating pasta in the library

This is what we look like after tag

Thank you 2017-18 Library Helpers!
Grade 8 Graduation (Wednesday June 20) and SK Graduation (Thursday June 21)

The ceremony for our Grade 8s thankfully went quite smoothly, considering that a very important person was unable to attend. Despite this "hole", our students conducted themselves with grace and dignity at the ceremony (and with preteen glee and [within-limits] gross humour at the dinner afterwards).

Me reading the names of the graduates for their diplomas
Equity note: I'm grateful to be asked to have a speaking role in both ceremonies, because it forces me to do something I should actually do at the beginning of every year - check to see how to properly pronounce the last names of our students.

The Senior Kindergarten Graduation was also a joyful event. There was a tiny technical delay but the families were happy to be there and remember a milestone in their child's academic career - the move to Grade 1.

So what's the difference? The farewells are a bit more bittersweet, because it indicates that an era is ending. This happens less with the SK grad, where most of the students will return to the school, and more with the Grade 8 grad, because all involved students will be in secondary schools in the fall. Some volunteers and library helpers may not be returning next year (some are going to Extended French programs at other schools, or moving), but because this is the exception rather than the norm and impacts a smaller number of people, these events are not somber.

Let me play the Devil's Advocate for a moment - why should we avoid tears or sadness? Wasn't this the theme of Inside Out, the movie I cosplayed last week - that life can't be all sunshine and happiness? What better way is there to process these complex emotions than with caring adults and others in similar circumstances (i.e. fellow students who will no longer have Teacher X around)?

If that's the case, then I need to devote this last part of my blog to someone who's leaving our school. She's told some of the students so I'm hoping it's okay if I share it here. Blogging about people who mean a lot to me and telling them (and the world) exactly how special and impactful they are is part of my own sort of farewell ritual.

I searched my school photos for a decent picture of her, but failed to find one. I suspect it's because a) she doesn't like being the center of attention, and b) she's so busy at school that she doesn't have time to pose for photos! I "borrowed" this photo from her Facebook feed. Who am I talking about? It's our SNA, Stephanie Paterson.

Stephanie's been at our school for just one year, but in that year, she has made such a huge difference, not just to the students that she's assigned to help but to everyone. Students always come first for Stephanie, even when it means that her own physical and social needs are put aside. Here's just one example - last Friday, we were short two supply teachers. The specialist teachers stepped in for coverage but Stephanie was worried that our HSP students, who were promised a celebration that day, would lose out. She volunteered to co-supervise the class so that the HSP class would not be cancelled. This same day, one of our challenging students had a couple of meltdowns and Stephanie came to the rescue again by tending to his needs. (I'm not sure how she was able to do both but somehow she did - if she's created a cloning machine or something revolutionary, I hope she shares the secret with me!) Our supply principal had to send her to the bathroom because she had no break at all for the entire day.

I'm always relieved and delighted when Stephanie is with a class that I have in the library. I know that she can find a way to soothe stressed children when I'm at my wit's end for trying to find the right strategy. She is willing to play almost any role in a lesson if it can help the students - even acting as a scribe for our radio group producers. She is constantly thinking ahead to what she can put in place to deal with student mental health and well-being. We had grand plans to transform our guided reading book room into an oasis - I never got around to weeding those old novel sets but she used her own money and time to carve out a small space where students might calm down without interference. She's given me key rings with laminated strategy options for students to try, and I knew that her actions made a difference when I saw one of our students ("R") independently using a pacing strategy in class when he felt he was losing focus.

Stephanie has so much to offer, but she also is an eager learner. She wanted to do a presentation for a class about how bystanders can deal with another student's meltdowns, so with a bit of help, she learned how to build a presentation with our IWB (interactive white board). She was keen to lead school initiatives on autism and kindness, and took the time to consider different points of view. She went from having an inactive Twitter account it to posting helpful links, RTing, and sharing regularly. (She's @Stephmack10 on Twitter.) She models kind, caring, communication. She tweeted this last Friday, but to be honest, it applies to her just as much as it does to those she was referring to.

She shares her discoveries and learning freely and without judgement. She has her own challenges, which she makes no secrets of, but instead of crutches or excuses, uses these health or family challenges to become a better person.
Stephanie, thank you so much for being part of our school. I've learned so much from you and our school will not be the same without you. I say this, not to trigger tears, but to make sure that you realize that you matter and you truly make a difference in student and teacher lives. Thanks (and farewell).

Monday, June 18, 2018

Being Joy

I've noticed a trend in the last three of my blog posts - they all deal with these mixed positive and negative feelings related to the hectic schedule I've been keeping and the various events that I'm participating in or involved with this June.

As I mentioned last week, I was busy trying to create my So You Think You Can Dance costume. It's tradition to have "celebrity judges" and Tina Voltsinis, Jennifer Balido-Cadavez and I chose to be three of the characters from the movie "Inside Out". Finding the right clothes and accessories was challenging. I wanted to look as similar to the character as I could, and my thrift store dress purchase was the right shape but wrong colour. I decided, in a last-ditch effort, to go to the fabric store to search for some material that I could use to somehow place on top of the existing dress to make it more realistic.

Let me interrupt this narrative for a reality check. I don't always write about equity issues in my posts, but I should. For instance, as I describe this process, I need to recognize that I am coming from a huge place of economic privilege here. I am able to devote time and money to making something that isn't essential to daily living. Some educators do not have this luxury. Back to the story.

I got a great deal on the fabric - $3.00 a meter. The big question was, would I be able to actually sew a dress, from scratch, in an evening? Other impending deadlines got pushed aside (sorry, pile of Grade 5 science assessments!) and I worked quickly. Here's a photo essay of the steps.

1) I used the dress I bought as a pattern. I measured 1.5 " around and used fabric chalk to mark the distance. Then I cut it out.

Photo by son

I always get nervous cutting cloth - no going back after a snip!

2) I matched up the front and back and pinned the shoulders and sides together. The front and back didn't always match evenly, so I had to get it as close as possible.

Shoulders pinned

Overhead view of the pinned dress (uneven bottom)

Pinned sides
3) I then grabbed my sewing machine. I switched the thread colour and spent an inordinate amount of time threading and re-threading my bobbin. Then I stitched together the shoulders and sides.
Putting pieces together

 4) I borrowed fabric pens from last year's fashion show supplies and my daughter helped me find a close-up of Joy's dress, to examine the detailing. I used both fabric markers and Sharpie markers to create the blue starburst design.

Visual references help!

The toonie acted as a "blank center" for the lines

5) I hemmed the bottom, reinforced the arm holes, and left the neckline alone.

My colleagues were also frantically assembling their outfits. Facebook appeals were sent, party stores were searched and plans had to be modified.

Is it okay if I sneak in another equity observation? Are hair spray paints only made for Caucasian hair? My friend's hair really resisted the blue but my hair changed noticeably. Are others limited to only using wigs? Thankfully my creative colleague added blue glitter to her hair to make it more blue.

It worked! As we dressed in the nurse's office / OSR room, we moaned about how our outfits weren't quite right, until we added some element that changed things around completely. For Tina, it was the long green eyelashes that transformed her into Disgust. For Jen, it was the oversized round glasses that completed the metamorphosis. I was tickled pink with my dress, and knowing that I made it all myself made it that much sweeter.

Emotional selfie

Disgust, Sadness and Joy!

Tina Voltsinis, aka Disgust

Jennifer Cadavez, aka Sadness

Diana Maliszewski, aka Joy
Jen also added this fantastic detail - we carried "memories". These were glass containers filled with glowing LED lights and tinged with tissue paper to match the emotion.

The staff and students seemed to really enjoy the performances, both the dance ones by the students on stage as well as the drama improvisational ones by the staff. 

Thanks Stephanie Paterson for this image of us speaking
(Please alert me if you can see any student faces in this video and I'll take it off the blog.)

What does it meant to be the physical embodiment of joy? At first I felt it's being positive, happy and delighted with almost everything you see and hear and experience. After studying the movie (by re-watching it), I realized that the character of Joy isn't always joyful. She's driven, bossy, and focused on her own goals (to keep Riley happy, even when Riley needs a wider emotional landscape and realistic reactions to her current situation). We can't always be joyful all the time. We can't always be happy. In fact, I was pretty worried at the end of the week when we learned about a local shooting near our school that sent two young girls to hospital. We used the TDSB guidelines for discussing traumatic events with students and had some sensitive and helpful conversations. It wasn't joyful but it was a way to restore joy and reduce fear - and sometimes that matters more than getting work done or meeting deadlines.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Feeling Stressed, Feeling Loved

I am writing this blog post 90 minutes before Monday, June 11, 2018 ends. This is not like me at all. I usually write my posts on the weekend and it goes public early Monday. However, I can barely catch my breath, despite having the previous Friday off work as a report card writing day. (Boy, was I grateful for that time!)

Here's some of the things that have kept me busy this past week, in no particular order. I finalized my report card grades and comments for all the classes that I'm responsible for. On June 5, my OSLA partner in crime Alanna King and I went to Ontario Library Association headquarters to select which conference workshop applications would be accepted, which was a day full of intense decision making and negotiations. Alanna and I then attended the OSLA Council meeting to give our Super Conference summary and update. This weekend, there were also a lot of tasks to complete related to Maker Festival Toronto - I distributed the promotional material to every secondary school in TDSB and TCDSB and spent four hours on Sunday with Aedan and Nathan rewriting the volunteer role descriptions and calculating the number of bodies we'd need per shift during the festival. Hubby and I spent two hours on the weekend editing the research paper that my research assistant, Terry Soleas, and I hope to have accepted by a peer-reviewed academic journal. I tinkered with Moodle in preparation for my Library Additional Qualification courses that I'll be teaching for York University this July. I can't forget the Volunteer Tea invitations that went out today. My daughter and I spent 3.5 hours on Saturday searching for the costume I need for tomorrow's So You Think You Can Dance celebrity judging, and 2.5 hours tonight sewing parts that will make the outfit look more authentic. (I'll post pictures tomorrow via Twitter and Facebook.)

I don't list these things to make myself look super-human or to brag. It's more of an explanation why it's taking a lot longer for me to process instructions or comments, as my brain madly sorts through the various "tabs open" to determine what's being discussed. It's an apology for the "deer in the headlights" look or the tired gait. When people ask "How does she do it?", I answer "Not particularly well" and that it's possible for me to do many of these things because my teen children don't need me as much as they used to, and my husband runs the household single-handed.

Despite all these jobs and all the stress, I'm feeling very loved. My family made a point of going out to breakfast together on Sunday at our favourite local morning eatery. On June 9, while at the OSLA Council meeting, I was shocked and surprised when Kelly Maggiarias, OSLA President, presented me with a cake with my face on it and a wonderful framed poster created by the talented Lauren Hummel, my OLA staff liaison for The Teaching Librarian magazine. I didn't expect it at all.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in the surprised presentation, to those who took the pictures that I put on today's blog, and also to all those kind people who said such nice things on Twitter in response to those tweets. Your caring fuels me and makes it possible to push along despite the frantic, hectic schedule and demands.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Huge Triumphs and Tiny Regrets

Another whirlwind week has passed and there are so many things to consider! I realized that despite all the excellent things that happened, each event had a micro-moment where I had a "I wish that had gone differently" thought. I know I need to focus on the positive, but as I describe what I learned and experienced, I'll articulate the doubts (in a smaller font).

Radio Trip to Visit 98.1 CHFI, KISS 92.5 and 680 NEWS

On May 30, 2018, 31 students selected from Grades 1-5 had a chance to visit the headquarters of several, Rogers-owned radio stations. In February, a separate group visited the Bell-owned radio stations CHUM and Virgin Radio, and that helped shape our understanding of how radio stations operate. Our May visit really consolidated our learning and I am so grateful to Angela Morra for accommodating us. Radio stations are not meant to host school tours, especially for elementary school students. We were extremely fortunate that they made an exception for us.

The broadcast facilities at Rogers are incredible. We were treated so well, especially by Jax, the DJ at KISS 92.5. The students were thrilled to actually get to be on the radio. The news station was very informative and it was a technological wonder to see how seamlessly the reporters shared despite being in separate spaces. We took many photos! Big thanks to Ms. Bicos and Ms. Landra for helping to supervise the students with me. Watching students try to enter a revolving door was quite entertaining!

The tiny regret: One of my students has a visual impairment. I had hoped that on this trip, she would be able to touch some of the equipment that she had only heard us describe in the school setting. I mentioned the importance of having a tactile experience to the adult leading the tour but for whatever reason, the student didn't get the opportunity. In addition, there was a promo photo moment that I had to make a quick decision about and I could have included another student whose parent would have allowed it.

Media Additional Qualification Course Reunion

On May 31, 2018, students from the fall and winter sessions of the TDSB-sponsored Media AQ courses gathered at Northern Secondary School for a reunion of sorts. This was a deliberate effort to continue the learning and build capacity. We had very intellectually stimulating conversations about gaming, heard about a great resource from Michelle Solomon - Michelle, what's it called again? Some of us taped short comments for Charles C Chan to compile into a promotional video for the course. Thanks so much to Neil, Carol, Michelle, Tracey, Charles, Doris, Hong Rong, and others for adding so much to the discussions.

The tiny regret: The agenda was co-created by all the participants and one of the topics we decided to cover somewhat last-minute was the Maker movement. I name-dropped Melanie Mulcaster and attempted to channel her expertise in my answers but I felt like I forgot to mention some key people (like Laura Fleming, Diana Rendina, and Andy Plemmons). I will need to follow up with Melanie on some of the questions that I fielded that I'm unsure I did justice to - sadly, this will only show up in the meeting notes and not be part of the original talk, which is more memorable for people.

ETFO ICT Conference for Women

I love this conference! This year it was held June 1-2, 2018 in downtown Toronto. If you follow me on Twitter, you'll notice I posted a lot of my thoughts there. At the risk of repeating myself, here's my traditional "conference breakdown" reflection.

Friday, June 1, 2018 (10:30 am) - Opening Keynote by Dr. Camille Rutherford [Tech Trends Sweeping the Globe: Will They Be Coming To Your Classrooms?]

Summary and 3 Key Points

  1. Don't use technology as a one-trick pony or a hook; use tech that helps students grow from consumers to creators.
  2. Information is power only if you know what to do with it.
  3. Educators should be aware of some of the upcoming technology trends (i.e. VR,  AR, mixed reality, 360 video, block chain, bit coins, AI, predictive analytics, etc.)

So What? Now What?

I love listening to Camille. The questions she posted after providing a few examples were questions that we should ask ourselves frequently. I won't tune out just because I might not understand the concepts at first. Camille did a great job of scaffolding the information for the crowd and keeping us engaged. I even received a Lego female mini-figure as a gift.

Friday, June 1, 2018 (1:00 pm) - Amplifying Student Voice through TED-Ed Talks by Elke Baumgartner and Meghan Lowe

Summary and 3 Key Points

  1. TED-Ed Clubs are more about the process than the product and are meant to channel students' passions.
  2. Resources are available if you register and the 13 sessions are geared towards students in Grades 3-12 (and it usually takes about 6 weeks to go through)
  3. Skills like presentation literacy, primary source data collection, developing copyright friendly images, etc. are all developed through the TED-Ed framework

So What? Now What?

My teen has complained about the overuse of TED talks shown in her high school class, but Elke and Meghan really showed how being creators instead of consumers might change her opinion. I'd like to take their advice and invest in a good lapel microphone so audio projects can be better and not reliant on a standard microphone that might inhibit gestures. We can even use it for storytelling!

Friday, June 1, 2018 (2:15 pm) - Games-Based Learning: Playing to Learn by Denise Colby and Diana Maliszewski

Summary and 3 Key Points

  1. Games-based learning and gamification are two separate things.
  2. Some games aren't appropriate for the classroom but by being aware of the games your students play, you can leverage that in other ways in the classroom.
  3. Be aware of who has created a game, what their purpose might be, and the intended audience. (Not all games are created equal.)

So What? Now What?

I love presenting with Denise! She and I work well together. She kept us from going over time and the participants were interested and interesting! I just need to keep finding opportunities for Denise and I to work together.

Friday, June 1, 2018 (3:30 pm) - Closing Keynote by Leigh Cassell [What if?]

Summary and 3 Key Points

  1. When we depersonalize the learning experience, there is no experience of learning.
  2. Behind every image is a person with a story.
  3. In the absence of an authentic audience, and without a meaningful purpose, literacy instruction is just read, write, repeat.
So What? Now What?

Well, Leigh made us laugh and cry. Her words challenged and moved the audience. Rethink how relationships impact learning - and act on those thoughts!

Saturday, June 2, 2018 (8:45 am) - Game-Based Learning: Time to Play by Denise Colby and Diana Maliszewski 

Summary and 3 Key Points

  1. The smartest thing in a room full of teachers is the room - thanks Laura for sharing a new online game with the group!
  2. Don't play Cards Against Humanity with students unless you want to be in the blue pages! - The more serious point is that you can use old tech (like the Nintendo Wii vs the Nintendo Switch) in your classes.
  3. There are many curriculum tie-ins to different games and online versions of board games that help students learn the rules without cheating.

So What? Now What?

We had so much fun in this session! Despite the fact that it was the first session of the day, teachers that attended were active and engaged. I loved it when a teacher saw a creeper and asked if it was friendly; her follow-up question was "How can you tell who are the good guys and the bad guys?" and I love that for a general inquiry question! We used a "choose your own adventure" centers model and at one point we had some playing Ticket to Ride on an iPad, some playing Outdoor Challenge on the Wii, and some playing Minecraft. My next step is to play Little Alchemy with my Grade 5s as part of their science unit on Properties of and Changes in Matter!

Saturday, June 2, 2018 (10:45 am) - The Best Online Tools for Creativity, Communication, and Collaboration by Trish Morgan

Summary and 3 Key Points

  1. Peek back at your list of great online tools to keep them current (some change, some update, some stay the same, some alter their policies).
  2. Using some of these online tools in the classroom provide a safe place to teach digital citizenship, chat rooms, and redirecting off-topic discussions (like with Today's Meet)
  3. Consider different ways about using some of these tools and put new spins on old ideas (e.g. instead of saying "What would you do with a million dollars?", ask "What would you and your family do with a million dollars?" so you can get different perspectives and family involvement.

So What? Now What?

I got a lot out of this session. Some of the tools I've heard about a long time ago, like with Voki. Some of the tools I just learned about recently at ECOO Camp Owen Sound, like Geo Guesser. Some were new to me, like Jigsaw Palace. I will definitely use these tools in June so that there's still purpose to our time together with students, even if we've "covered it all". Trish is an excellent presenter and some of the things I learned don't get filed under "good tech"; they get filed under "good teaching".

Saturday, June 2, 2018 (1:30 pm) - Bring Creations to Life with the Makey Makey by Susan Lee and Louise Vaillancourt

Summary and 3 Key Points

  1. For an object to act as a conductor, it needs to have salt and water. Note, a Veggie Straw will not work unless it is completely soaked in spit.
  2. There are certain ways to handle your Makey Makey so that it doesn't break or fall apart.
  3. There are many curriculum connections you can use with Makey Makey, especially when combined with Scratch.

So What? Now What?

Connecting circuits takes brain power! I always had to remind myself to complete the chain and I like how Louise and Susan demonstrated this by having the group hold hands. It takes perseverance and I think I may want to get a single Makey Makey for myself to use next year.

I completed the feedback form for ETFO that asked us to describe the top 3 things we learned at this conference. I copied and pasted my answer because I thought it was worthwhile to share.

1) I have a wonderful network of old (and now new) contacts that I can turn to for help and support - e.g. thanks Julie for offering to help me with Moodle! Thanks Laura for showing me Little Alchemy!

2) Teaching about copyright and ownership shouldn't be boring or a one-off - embed it in different things you do, like Leigh's suggestion to Creative Commons license your slide decks, or Trish's example of using a Word Cloud you make for an online jigsaw, to value what you made.

3) Gender and tech do impact each other, like Camille mentioned about design that ignores female realities (like no pockets).

The tiny regret: The sessions went smoothly, but during our Friday workshop, I ran out of time to share the two anecdotes about gender expression in gaming environments. These examples were quite pertinent to a tech conference solely for women. I probably should have made the time to share it, as they were powerful stories to share and as Leigh said in her keynote, "behind every image is a person with a story".

Thank you to everyone who contributed in some way to those learning triumphs I got to experience (especially those who organized the events: Angie at Rogers, Neil and Carol for the Media AQ reunion, and Ruth, Kelly, Erika and others for the ETFO ICT conference). My tiny regrets are just that - tiny, and in the grand scheme of things, quite insignificant. I just don't want anyone to feel like things go "Instagram perfect" every time.

P.S. I nearly forgot to mention the site where I bought my dress that I wore on Friday!
As I tweeted Because isn't just about tech, but about women supporting each other in different ways (including flattering, comfy clothes with pockets!), I share the site-