Census and Capturing Colours

Day 21download

Ah….the Long weekend!  It’s amazing how with one extra weekend day, one feels like there is time to slow down. So instead of my regular Saturday routine of creating my list of errands and figuring out the most efficient way of ensuring that all purchases were made in record time, I decided to enjoy the spring weather and walk to the library and then to the mailbox to deposit our completed Census.

The Census was a focus of a conversation last weekend in the Bruyns household.  When it arrived (it was actually left hanging on the front door for a number of days) I had purposefully placed it on the piano, where all of the other “important” pieces of mail get placed.  My husband dug it out from the pile and put in a place of honour on the island with a large post-it note.  My daughter, when she read about the potential fine, decided last Sunday night that we would collaboratively complete it.  My only responsibility in the whole process was to place it in the mailbox ~ thus the reason for today’s walk.   I know that from an education lens we use the information in the census when collecting and analyzing the demographical information about our school community. That piece of data is but one component that we use when developing school improvement plans. The challenge in ever-changing neighbourhoods is that the information is shared in 5 year increments and therefore not always reflective of the current families that we are supporting.

I am assuming that the information collected in the Census is also used to inform other decisions in terms of community supports etc.  And yet, in knowing the challenges that the Bruyns’ household had in terms of ensuring that ours was completed and submitted,  I started to wonder what is in place for so many other families?  For families who may not have a stable home?  For our newcomer families who may not understand how to read or complete it.  There was an English and a French version ~ but nothing in Arabic, Spanish or Korean.  Just a morning thought.

Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) male in breeding plumage, perched in flowering Eastern Redbud, NY, USA


As I started home, I noticed a brightly coloured yellow oriole as he swooped down and nestled into the branches of a dark purple lilac and my first reaction was to grab my phone and capture it.  But, as this was a “rare” quiet walk (no phone, no music, no audiobook) I couldn’t take a picture.  Within minutes, as I turned the corner, a brown squirrel was scurrying up the trunk of a tree.  And at no point, did I even once think about capturing it.  I wonder why that is?  Do we automatically assume that only the bright and colourful are worth capturing?

I started to reflect on the work that we’ve been doing this year in terms of pedagogical documentation and the rich discussions we’ve been involved with. The core of each of those discussions has always been to ensure that what we are capturing is indeed reflective of growth in learning and not just bright, shining, photogenic pictures.

Who knows….maybe today was the first day that my brown squirrel who had been attempting to climb that brown trunk was finally successful? And my yellow oriole was repeating a landing gesture that was mastered months ago.

squirrelWe need to keep our eyes open at all times, know the stages of our learning journeys and not be blinded by the colours.

Come write with me…..

Oh What a Night

Day 19

downloadAbout seven years ago we traveled to Toronto with my parents to enjoy the musical, Jersey Boys. A year ago, the same musical came to our local venue and I, once again, enjoyed every note, every dance move and the twists and turns woven into the story line of the lives of the famous four from Jersey.  And then tonight, I held in my hand a ticket to see the original Jersey Boy, Frankie Valli in concert.  I hadn’t really done the math on his age, until our waitress made some comment about him being 82.  One quick Google search and indeed, the famous singer recently celebrated his 82nd birthday on May 3rd.  I’ll admit that as we found our seats and waited for the lights to dim, I started to wonder what the next two hours were going to be like with the octogenarian serenading the crowd with hit songs from the last 50 years.

As the opening sequence played on the big screen and images of the band from their early days transitioned through the decades and into the solo career of Valli, the crowd became more animated as they anticipated the first visual of the singer.  Then, in the darkness of the stage, you could see a small-framed figure with an eloquent, soft-shoe shuffle, that we tend to associate with people of a certain age, make his way to center stage.  The lights came up and within the first bars of Grease, any concerns about the quality of the performance (as connected to the singer’s date of birth) disappeared.  Valli hit those incredible high notes, sounding just like I remember them on my parents’ LP from decades ago.  He didn’t miss a beat, a word, an opportunity to educate the crowd or the occasional self-deprecating “dig” about his age.  At one point,  he did a short skit wherein he tried his hand at rapping.   The audience loved it.

We sang along to the oldies, danced when the tempo lead itself to getting up and celebrating and quietly let the smooth sounds of the love songs take us back in time or conjure up the image of someone we love.

The added layer to seeing and hearing Valli in person was the storyline of the Broadway show.  And although I have no doubt that the actual events couldn’t help but be somewhat contrived in order to fit in the musical numbers and begin and end within a couple of hours, there must have been truth to some of it.  So tonight, when the stool was placed front and center and the first few notes of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” were played, I couldn’t help but wonder does Valli still get that same thrill when the horn section begins to play?

Or when Valli and his talented, very good-looking “4 Seasons” sang “Oh What a Night” and the audience cheered and sang along, did most of us automatically connect with the scene in the play that inspired that song?

In my mind, there is nothing like a live show and tonight’s show didn’t disappoint. I learned (once again) that age is nothing more than the number of candles on your birthday cake.

Missing Muse

Day 18

I think my muse took the day off. It is quickly approaching midnight and my page is filled with 5 potential blog ideas, but none of them will be adorned with visuals, given creative titles or experience the satisfaction of the “publish” button ~ at least not in their current state.   I’m not sure why the ‘ol creative juices aren’t flowing, as today was a great day, filled with completing a monumental task of Instructional Coach deployment with a creative, collaborative colleague. Followed by a rich discussion about a new and unique way to ensure even distribution of secondary ELLs.

The gift of a “must read” book by Kate DiCamillo bk_raymieand ending with a conversation about how to assist a school team with selecting measurable and meaningful goals.  I love days like this ~ embroiled in learning, thinking dialogues with several members of our team. Each opportunity for discussion pushes my thinking.  But for some reason, the common thread, the moral of the story or the cute connecting themes are not rising to the surface.

But in following the advice that I’ve been retweeting in articles about daily blogging ~ write, write every day and hit the “publish” button.

May my muse return tomorrow…..

It Takes a Reader to Finish What a Writer Starts


Day 17

Today, as I breezed into my office between staff meetings, I was thrilled to see a copy of a new book waiting for me on my desk chair.  The fact that the only unoccupied space in my whole office was on my chair, is an indication of what “breezing” in between meetings translates to in terms of any sense of organization  ~ but my organizational prowess will have to wait for further exploration in another post!

The latest book, which has now be added to the ever-growing list of must reads, “The Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros is a book that has been quoted and referred to on various social media platforms since its release in October of 2015.  We’ve been asked to read Couros’ book in preparation for an upcoming Principal’s Symposium. Interestingly enough, the publishing company responsible for “The Innovator’s Mindset” is Dave Burgess Consulting.  We are thrilled that Dave Burgess is coming to Thames Valley on June 1 to share his “Teach Like a Pirate Message” with our system staff team and invited guests.images (1)

I was very pleased with myself in that I resisted the urge to stop what I was doing and start reading. Instead I reorganized some space on my desk thus leaving room on top of “yet another” pile.  But as I was shifting the book,  a book mark with the following quote slipped out of the front cover ~ “A writer only begins a book – A reader finishes it”.  A Google search identified the author of the quote as Samuel Johnson ~ an English journalist turned poet, editor, novelist, critic and biographer.

In rereading the quote, I  couldn’t help but reflect on some of  the last few posts that I’ve written as a part of this “One a Day in the Month of May” blog series and the subsequent conversations that have ensued either in person or via the comments that readers have posted on the actual site.    Let me begin by clarifying that I certainly do not envision myself as a writer and my posts are nowhere near the complexity of a book. But I’ve enjoyed chatting with others who have taken a simple core idea within something that I’ve written and not only related it to their own experiences, but expanded on the central idea and shared their own well -crafted, thought provoking responses and in many cases their words and connections have caused me to stop and rethink my original idea.  I continue to be impressed and in awe of my colleagues whose writing is so exceptional.  In terms of blog-related conversations, we were embroiled in one day about a post that had been written on the weekend and a colleague from next door popped his head in and wondered why he hadn’t been invited to the party.  The conversation was incredibly lively and I’m hoping that it may have spark others to take their incredible reflections and hit the publish button on their own posts.

In returning to the quote …. I may have sparked something in my words ~ but it takes the reader’s background knowledge, own personal experiences and reactions to my words to truly complete the circle.

Reading should never be a passive activity. We need to ensure that our students understand, appreciate and get multiple opportunities to play their role and to “finish” the work that writers have started for them.

download (1)

Come write with me….

Three Simple Words

d6cfff9f-78ff-47ca-9380-7f97051efa32Recently I saw this painted on a tree and immediately started to wonder about the story behind the message.  Who wrote it and when?   What were the circumstances behind sharing something, that not that long ago would have been shared in the delivery room, so publically?  I could go off on a tangent about the loss of that wondrous moment when the gender of a baby was only announced at the moment of birth and not a few weeks after conception ~ but I’ll save that for another post entitled “What technology has stolen from us”.  Back to my wonderings about the message on the tree….Was there a significance to this location?  In my mind, I had envisioned a young woman coming to the park one night and writing the message on the tree and then the next day, bringing her husband to the spot, with his eyes covered, and then uncovering his eyes and revealing the exciting news about the gender of their unborn child. Or maybe this was the location where the husband proposed to his now pregnant wife.  Fast forward to the future when the current unborn girl is now a 25 year old woman and her parents select this very location for her wedding picture. Oh how I hope that the location remains untouched by “progress”. Hmmmm… another topic for another post on another day!!

Within time, I found myself generating several other scenarios.  Maybe this was a unique way of sharing the gender of a grandchild to the first time grandparents.  I recall our niece and her husband shared the gender of their unborn child with the whole family by having each of us select either a piece of paper with boy or girl on it  and then they opened up a large box and out floated several blue helium-filled balloons.   Several months later, Zaine Zavitz made his debut.

Three simple words scrawled in pink on the trunk of a tree and a potential story, complete with characters and plot is created.  I’ll never know if my conjectures were correct or not, but in the end, that doesn’t really matter. I was intrigued enough by what I saw to create a story.images

The power of creating their own stories is a skill that our students to practice, just as much as they need to practice reading stories that established authors have created for them.

What might you share as a provocation that would fascinate your students to the point that they would want to generate their own story?

Come write with me….

More than Just Pupusas on the Patio

Day 15

2016-05-15_2200We’ve all been there I’m sure… You receive an invitation to an event, gladly accept and really have no idea what to expect and by the end of the night, you’re thanking your lucky stars that you attended.  Friday night was one of the those nights as I attended the  JARAGUA ARTISAN BENEFIT ~ Pupusas on the Patio.

In knowing about the hostess’ passion for this El Salvador based organization, as a result of her daughter’s connection to CIS ~ The Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad, I was excited and had anticipated learning about the country and more specifically how to support the Artisan project.

Last summer, our hostess, Annette Gilbert eloquently shared her reflections on her visit to El Salvador through various posts on her “Take a risk, Make a Move” blog.  Friday night it became evident that her talent for passionately weaving a story and captivating an audience have been passed on to her daughter, Hannah, who shared her respect, admiration and obvious love for Evelyn, the Center’s one woman dynamo (soccer coach, musical conductor and resident artist are but a few of her talents).

As informative as the presentation and delicious as the El Salvadorian themed dinner were, it was the conversations with the other guests that inspired this post.

Except for Annette’s husband, her incredibly musically talented nephew and one other gentleman, the patio and later the interior of the house were filled with intelligent, interesting and determined women.

My discussions shifted from the latest “must reads”, to a walk down TV’s memory lane to a discussion about a shared passion for the Dominican Republic (and work with teachers and students) to career changes to an intriguing conversation which started with a shared lament for living with young adult sons who could give “Pig Pen” a run for his money and transitioned into a deep discussion about how we, as women, treat each other.  I had never had the pleasure of chatting with this person before, but I was amazed at our similar take on the world of how our gender differs from our male counterparts in terms of supporting and encouraging greatness in each other. As we recounted similar experiences and our shared vision of what it could look like if we truly and whole-heartedly supported each other, I was reminded, once again, how truly blessed I am to work with brilliant, passionate, dedicated and incredibly hard-working women who understand the power in supporting each other.

Desiree’s goal of purposefully and passionately promoting the women in her life is one that I hope that more of us strive to meet.

Hannah provided us with an incredible example of one woman who is making a difference.  What would it look like it we made a difference in the lives of the women that we know by celebrating their successes ~ big and small?

download (1)

How do you celebrate the women in your life?

Come write with me…..

Every Snapshot Needs a Story

e692ab4a-512c-41e8-8541-7c760467f4e0As I make my way downstairs to my office (which is really just my laptop on the coffee table in front of the comfy couch) each night,  I stop and smile at the family tree that my daughter created as a surprise last Mother’s Day.  I can recall what was happening before and after photo was taken, the circumstances of the special celebrations or the “we just happened to have our camera close by” moments.  Each photo is a story!

This past week I had the opportunity to visit two very different learning scenes and yet my take-away from both was similar.  On Tuesday, I was thrilled to join one of our ESL teachers as she lead a small group session with 5 bright and happy English Language Learners.  The lesson was well constructed and transitioned effectively from a minds on activity which activated the students’ prior knowledge about the topic of emotions to a modeled activity which included labeling emotions and finally to an independent task where students were able to identify triggers for their own self-selected emotions and create a booklet.

I loved being a part of the discussion and interacting with the students, but it began very evident that as a visitor, my one quick “snapshot” of the group dynamics, the selection of the task and the level of the English language acquisition support needed was not enough to truly understand the learning that had just occurred within that class.

Fast forward to the end of the week when I was invited by one of our instructional coaches to observe a conversation with a classroom teacher, as a part of a debriefing session. Observe is a pivotal word, in that try as I might, I couldn’t help but insert a few suggestions throughout the conversation.   Having the opportunity to discuss a potential Language lesson wherein the teacher was going to engage her students using articles from an Issues 21 resource, embed some technology and co-construct the success criteria was too good to sit passively and just listen.

Throughout the session, I had made some notes to guide my follow-up discussion with the coach.  But, once again, it became apparent that without knowing the story of what interactions had been occurring between the teacher and coach throughout the year, my notes were surface observations and not truly representative of any learning.

Kindergarten Students Learning to Tell Time 2003

My reflections from my visits this week were a good reminder about the protocols and best practices  when we talk about documenting student learning.   Unless you know how your selected picture is capturing growth in learning (what the student could do before the picture was taken as compared to the current photo) it’s simply a snapshot with a story.

Twisted Sister

I grew up in a household filled with music.  LPs, 45s, 8-tracks, cassettes and CDs were purchased and played over and over again. And although my parents preferred Country and Western music (we all knew the words to every Charley Pride, Glen Campbell, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ song)  there was always a wide range of genres playing.   Like most households in the ‘70s, we went through the Disco era “hustling” to the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and Abba.

The ‘80s echoed with Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Prince. images  The ‘90s ushered in the sounds of New Country and Shania, Garth and Tim McGraw became household names.   And although there may have been a few “favourites”, as identified by mom and dad which were released this century, I’m not sure that they sang along with too many Lady Gaga, Pink or Britney Spears hits.

So needless to say, they have a vast playlist with which to draw upon during conversations and Trivia Pursuit games. But invariably, when my dad is looking to make a musical reference, the long standing comical entry line revolves around “Twisted Sister” in a similar fashion to my entry point to any football conversation usually beginning with a Jim Plunkett reference.

So this morning as I was enjoying the final few minutes of warmth and silence under the covers, the alarm sounded and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” cut the silence and my day started.  I automatically smiled as this song always reminds me of my dad. But then I listened more intently to the lyrics.

“We’ve got the right to choose and
There ain’t no way we’ll lose it
This is our life, this is our song
We’ll fight the powers that be just
Don’t pick our destiny ’cause
You don’t know us, you don’t belong”

And although the story line supporting the song is about a father/son relationship, there is certainly an “anthem” for student voice throughout the song and I couldn’t help but wonder if we need to continue to provide our students with reminders that they do have the right to choose and to remind our teachers that at the end of the day, the most powerful tool they have in their toolkit is the one that ensures that they truly know their students.

There’s nothing like a challenge from Dee Snider and his band to start one’s day thinking about how we can ensure that we are always doing what is in the best interests of our students.








Songs are powerful.  Do you have a favourite “anthem”?

Come write with me….