Debate Debacle

Like many Ontarians I tuned into tonight’s Provincial Leaders’ debate to gain a deeper understanding of the various Party’s platforms to make an informed decision as I venture to the polls on June 2nd.   I will begin by sharing my admiration and respect for the moderators, Steve Paikin and Althia Raj, who worked tirelessly to maintain a level of decorum and respect as the candidates did their best to push the boundaries of the specified time limits, dodge and weave their way around the questions and verbally attack each other with colourful accusations.  As the candidates took to the microphone, their responses fluctuated from boastful recounts of past accomplishments to unrealistic promises of future plans. They accused each other of a multitude of indiscretions, including but not limited to broken election promises, increased taxes, cuts to education and extensive wait lists for mental health supports.   Each time one of the candidates took to the microphone, I wanted to hear a clear, well-developed plan for the future of this province as we make our way out of a pandemic certainly as a citizen, but even more predominantly as an educator.  As education is a provincial responsibility, it is one of these four individuals who will be leading the decisions that will impact our most vulnerable precious resources ~ our students. Education was significantly impacted during the pandemic, as was every other facet of our day to day lives. The current government needed to make decisions based on information that was in constant flux.  Did they make unpopular decisions? They sure did! But in their defence, none of the other parties have had to lead a Province through a pandemic.   The Liberal’s promise of reducing all class sizes to 20 and bringing back grade 13 may sound good to a voter who is at arm’s length from today’s education challenges, but the reality is with so many schools already over capacity, I am not sure it could ever become a reality.  If I take our school as an example ~ with 1000 students that would mean 50 classes in a school with 23 classrooms.  We already have 17 portables on our playground.  So, if the Liberal promise came into effect that would bring us to 10 more portables on site.  There is not even a remote possibility that this could ever be entertained.   As far as bring back Grade 13, with our current mode of operation, any student can return for a “victory” lap and take credits within a fifth year.  I am not sure of the rationale for mandating Grade 13.

After 90 minutes of listening, I can honestly say that I am nowhere closer to making an informed decision which will impact my vote on June 2.  I did however appreciate learning about Bill 86, Our London Family Act which will aim to combat Islamophobia and Hatred.  With the upcoming June 6th anniversary of the attack on the Afzaal, this bill is timely and important.

We teach our students about the importance of debates, how to craft meaningful arguments to support a position within a debate, how to deliver an effective debate and how to react appropriately during the rebuttal component of a debate.   I recall when I was in grade 8 and we were asked to debate the impact of watching television.  I was given the “pros” of watching television.  We used the argument of the importance of educational TV shows such as Sesame Street and David Suzuki’s, The Nature of Things.  At no point were we allowed to accuse, to demean or to disgrace our opponents.  The learning objective was to inform our audience with facts and then let them make an informed decision.

I cannot help but wonder if tonight’s candidates could have learned a thing or two from an elementary school debate.

Thoughts on tonight’s debate?

Come write with me….

The Great Equalizer

I have recently discovered Channel 77 on Sirius XM ~ On Broadway! Depending on the timing of my scanning/searching I have landed on hits from the classics of Camelot to the recent additions of Hamilton and everything in between. In amongst the songs there are rich conversations between the hosts and their guests. Yesterday I happened upon one such conversation. The host was recounting a childhood memory of arriving in New York City to see a live performance. Her family had been traveling during the summer in a motor home and on this occasion, they landed tickets to a Broadway show and decided to go. Her initial concern (even though she was just six) was that all she had in her travel wardrobe was a pair of cut-off jeans and a T-shirt. Even at a young age she had made the connection between going to the theatre and formal attire. But it was her reflection that, “As soon as the house lights went down and the show started, it didn’t matter what I was wearing as the Arts are the great equalizer” which resonated so deeply with me. The phrase reminded me about a recent episode of, This is Us, where Rebecca reminisces about visiting the Metropolitan Art Gallery as a child and watching in awe as this woman spent hours looking at this one painting.  The emotions evoked by the painting are reflective of the experiences and emotions of the viewer.
That is what is so magical about the Arts ~ whether it is a song, a painting, a dance routine, or a live performance ~ each person who interacts with it is going to experience something personal, something unique and something poignant. No two reactions will ever be the same. The artist never discriminates against their audience. You do not need a tuxedo, a sequined gown, or a degree to be moved to tears, to be provoked or even disturbed by a composition, a collage or a choregraphed routine. There is no magical bank account balance, shade of skin colour or cultural background that prevents spectators from losing themselves or alternatively finding themselves within the Arts.

So, in knowing that, as we reflect on the important work of Equity in our schools, it is more important than ever that we ensure that our students are provided with as many opportunities as possible to not only experience all forms of the Arts, but to be encouraged to explore their connections and reactions.

There are so many ways to include the Arts into all of the curriculum areas.  When you reflect on your programming and the experiences that you are offering your students, how often do you infuse the Arts?

Come write with me….

Dandelions as a Learning Tool

Each spring, as the world is reborn, lawns that have lay snow covered and dormant for the past six months begin to morph into lush meadows; deepening in shades of green as the days lengthen and the sun strengthens.  Yet to the chagrin of most green thumbed gardeners, those flourishing fields more often than not become infused with the most commonly identified plant, the bright sunshine yellow petalled dandelion.  As the spring season shifts into summer, the yellow petals transform into wispy puff balls which attract the daydreamers who softly close their eyes, inhale, make a wish and with a concerted effort send the delicate seeds into the air in search of new lands where the cycle begins once again.

Like many of our current gardening practices, our desire to eradicate our lawns of dandelions is a relatively new practice.  Our ancestors understood and appreciated both their medicinal nutritional value.  Ironically, they are actually quite good for our lawn’s health and yet we pluck, pull and chemically treat them.  For more information about dandelions, check out this website.

https://www.mofga.org/resources/weeds/ten-things-you-might-not-know-about-dandelions/

This past week, a number of classes took to our field and decided to use dandelions as a learning tool.   Our kindergarten students practiced patience and fine motor control by creating 3D lion heads and a variety of crowns and bracelets.   Our grade 8s deepened the crown creation activity by determining the circumference of their dandelion designs. And of course, as I enjoyed the sunshine and connections during our nutrition breaks, I was gifted a number of dandelion bouquets.

Upon reflection of this activities, I was reminded that sometimes the best learning tool is right there in our own backyard ~ in this case literally!  Blossoming, changing and tempting us to pick it. In our quest to ensure that we are doing what is in our students’ best interest, we forget that our students don’t always need the pre-packaged set of numbered fraction tiles, needle and thread activites or multi-coloured linking cubes in order to meet the curriculum expectations.  We know the value and power of student voice and choice and yet sometimes we look past the simple tools, those that students naturally gravitate towards when selecting materials to create authentic learning experiences.

 

Have you had similar experiences with simple tools?

Come write with me….

Desk Set

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are my favourite screen couple of all time. To this day, I’ve yet to find a cinematic couple with such chemistry and relatability.  Most of their movies I have watched over and over again.  Even though I’ve seen “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?” over a dozen times, I still tear up as Tracy delivers his final monologue.  Now, Mr. Prentice, clearly a most reasonable man, says he has no wish to offend me, but wants to know if I’m some kind of a nut. And Mrs. Prentice says that like her husband, I’m a burnt-out old shell of a man who cannot even remember what it’s like to love a woman the way her son loves my daughter. And strange as it seems, that’s the first statement made to me all day with which I am prepared to take issue. Because I think you’re wrong. You’re as wrong as you can be.

I admit that I hadn’t considered it, hadn’t even thought about it, but I know exactly how he feels about her. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that your son feels for my daughter that I didn’t feel for Christina. Old? Yes. Burnt out? Certainly. But I can tell you the memories are still there – clear, intact, indestructible. And they’ll be there if I live to be 110.” 

Knowing that Tracy and Hepburn were together for 26 years and Tracy died shortly after filming this movie makes his description of mature love not only relevant but truly authentic.  I can’t help but imagine that the tears in Hepburn’s eyes were very real and not artificially produced.

So, imagine my delight when tonight, as I was clicking through the channels, I landed upon TCM (Turner Classic Movies) and a new to me Tracy/Hepburn collaboration ~ Desk Set was about to start.    It was the movie they made in 1957 just prior to their final production, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?  In amongst the zany Rom-Com components (mismatched lovers, and quick witted dialogue), these two lead actors seamlessly play off of each other line by line.  Hepburn continues to be a woman for all decades ~ strong, stylish and sophisticated.  Tracy beautifully plays the bristly, yet loveable mature leading man. Beyond the Rom-Com components, the plot dabbles in the concept of man vs. machine and machine taking the place of man ~ or in this case women.   Hepburn leads a group of women who are responsible for the reference department for a broadcasting network. They confidently answer queries from historical events, to specific stanzas in poems to a player’s batting average. Tracy’s character is responsible for introducing an early iteration of the computer to the network. As one can predict, it turns out that the women are far more efficient and effective than the computer, which becomes overwhelmed with complex questions. The plot concludes with the realization that the best course of action is for the computer to complement the knowledge base of the women, not replace it.

Fast forward 65 years and unfortunately the playful plot in Desk Set with the happy ending, actually foreshadows what has come true in so many industries.

According to my Google rabbit hole search, “The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that the increased use of technology and automation is expected to displace 85 million jobs by 2025. Technology is currently performing 30% of overall tasks, while humans are doing the remaining 70%, a ratio that is expected to shift to 50:50 in the next few years.”

I continue to wonder what this means for education.  We know that as a result of the pandemic, technology has certainly played an increased role in the last two years as we shifted to online learning as a way to support students while schools were closed.   But I’m firm believer that there is absolutely no form of technology that can ever replace a masterful educator.

Thoughts???

Come write with me…

 

Makeshift Hummingbird Hospital

So, how was your day?” As I unpacked my lunch bag and kicked off my heels, I anticipated a typical response about hitting the driving range, making some deliveries, and tackling some gardening. What I did not expect was, “I’m nursing a hummingbird back to health.”  But then again, this day had already been infused with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, so by 6:30 pm, nothing was going to phase me. Sure enough, on the back deck there was this colourful, little hummingbird, perched on the corner of the table along with a small box filled with grass clippings and a mug of sugar water with a makeshift syringe/straw contraption balancing on the rim. My husband was quick to demonstrate the method with which he had been feeding this bird for the past hour. The story goes that the bird had flown into the warehouse at some point in the day and was unable to find its way out. Through sheer exhaustion and dehydration, the bird had landed, and my son was able to bring it to the house which led to veterinarian Bruyns to the rescue.

The tiny creature seemed calm, eager to drink and amenable to me trying to capture a picture with my phone. I have been fascinated by hummingbirds for the longest time. We have a feeder at the cottage and there have been days that I have waited patiently just trying to capture one in flight ~ never anticipating that I would be able to capture one in a complete resting pose. This one had a brilliant red breast that resembled a sequined necklace and a combination of green/turquoise feathers that changed shades depending on the angle of the sun. Its pointed beak was long and slightly curved ~ perfect for draining flowers of their sweet nectar. With a quick Google search, I learned that it is called a Ruby Throated Hummingbird and can beat it’s wings 53 times per second.

As I finished capturing some photos, I noticed the wings begin to flutter; slowly at first and then revving up to full speed. Within minutes the bird took to flight and soared out of sight.

For any of us in education, we often refer to the final three months of the school year as “AprilMayJune” as they fly by so quickly. We have one foot in this year as we plan graduation, craft final reports, and implement year end excursions and one foot in next year as we navigate staffing, create timetables and plan Kindergarten Open Houses (just to mention a few activities). There is little, if any, opportunity to stop the clock, to come to a complete resting point and to be nurtured by a caring (albeit mysterious) individual. Today was a beautiful reminder about, not only the sheer beauty of nature, but the importance of stopping and refueling in order to recharge and then soar.

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ’til It’s Gone

Covid (and the accompanying health and safety protocols) created the conditions for components of our school day to be compromised ~ but none so significantly as The Arts. The last time our students came together to see a live performance was Friday, March 13, 2020, as a part of the 100 Schools Grand Theatre initiative and it is only recently that we have started to hear the sound of wind instruments drift from the music portable. Today must have been a grade 4 day, as it was the sound of recorders filling the air with that familiar sound.

To give credit where it is due, our team of educators found unique ways to incorporate the Arts through the increased use of percussion instruments, string options (ukuleles) and teaching our students sign language as an alternative to singing. But there is nothing that compares to the sound of children harmonizing or bringing students together to perform for a live audience.

This week, as we were meeting potential new team members for both an instrumental music and grade 7 position, there were a number of candidates who focused on the Arts for their artefact. Our most recent applicant for a grade 7 position, shared a “Minecraft” inspired online Art Gallery, where she presented and gave life to passion projects that her students created. There were beautiful works of art, cooking websites and even a crocketed cactus, which became their classroom pet. We have had such rich conversations with candidates about the performances they have supported in their current schools over the years and their vision of what the music program could look like if they were selected.

As we look towards the upcoming 2022-2023 school year there is this incredible excitement about the possibility of not only celebrating but bringing the Arts to the forefront of all that we do. The research continues to support the important role that the Arts play in building community, supporting regulation, and maintaining social and emotional well-being for both staff and students.  Staff are already looking towards booking live theatre for their classes. Just today, I had a passionate conversation with an educator about the role that dance plays in not only supporting curriculum expectations but in providing an authentic platform for applying those expectations. Teaching students the necessary French vocabulary to support a dance routine is magical to watch and listen to. Talk about acknowledging and celebrating all learning styles!!

We have reached out the company that installed our complicated and yet high-quality sound and light system, as a number of staff are excited about receiving training. I just know that a school show is somewhere in our near future, and I am bubbling with anticipation. There is something magical about watching and listening to a group of educators who are thirsty for the opportunity to collaborate on such a project. I know that our caregiver community will be the first to step up and say, “How can we help?”

We have learned so much in the past 2 years as we have navigated life in a school (or online) during a global pandemic. Some of the those lessons we will take forward and incorporate into this new post- pandemic world. Others we will gladly toss aside and refer to only in our old age, when we reminisce about the 2020/2021/2022 pandemic years.
When I think about how the Arts were compromised in schools, my mind will drift to the lyric, “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t what you got ‘til it’s gone.”

If I have learned anything along this journey, it is that schools are meant to be filled with music, dancing, singing, performing, and embracing all forms of the Arts.

What are you most looking forward to as we ease into a post-pandemic world?

Come write with me….

Monday, Monday

“Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day
Monday, Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way.”   The Mamas and The Papa’s song Monday, Monday is playing in my mind as I write this post.

Like most mornings these days, the “Who’s on First” strategy of filling unfilled teaching, E.A. and ECE vacancies started at about 6:30 am. This Monday morning, however, knowing that we were set to start Day 1 of the highly anticipated online EQAO for our grade threes, seeing vacancies for staff who were scheduled to support students with special needs heightened my anticipation about the day. I am forever thankful that my colleague with whom we share an Itinerant Long Term Occasional Teacher, sent a quick, “She’s all yours” text when I shared our list of vacancies today.

By 8:30 am we were navigating the list of names on the large white board by filling in assignments, checking for student absences and creating a supervision schedule for the day. By 8:45 am, we were on to the next task of shuffling the EQAO support schedule, when another staff member (who was scheduled to support a student with scribing) found us and shared that needed to head home as she was feeling unwell. I could feel my anticipation about the day take a turn ~ and not for the best.

With my mind swirling with a possible Plan C, as we had already scrapped Plan B, another staff member compassionately comforted her colleague and shared, “We’ve got this”.   With relief, the ill staff member went home to rest.

By 9:00 am, with the EQAO schedule solidified the rest of the day started to unfold. Emails, interviews, connections with students and staff, a quick walk through the subdivision to see if a neighbour would be kind enough to return a soccer ball that had been kicked over the fence, were just a few of the items on the docket.

That early morning, “We’ve got this” turned out to be true. Students were supported, the assessment was completed (with only a couple of SOS calls directly to EQAO) and the team came together at the end of the day for a debrief, a review of day 2 and some smiles.

Upon reflection, I am so thankful for the colleague who knew that in the moment, “We’ve got this” was the perfect response.

Before composing this post, I reached out to that staff member and thanked her for her calm, compassionate leadership. May we all continue to be open to receiving those reminders when we get lost in the logistics and forget (if only for a moment) what is important.

Guardian Angel

Within a school community, there are a number of unsung heroes. Those individuals who go about their day-to-day tasks, which on the surface seem somehow at arm’s length from student achievement/well-being. One of those groups of unsung heroes are our custodial team. Over the past couple of years, their commitment to heightened health and safety protocols has given staff, students, and our parent community a sense of security. Throughout the day, whenever needed they pleasantly and professionally answer the call on the walkie-talkie and make their way to the crisis of the moment. Whether it is a milk spill, a required toilet paper refill, a clean up after a student has been ill or the ever unpleasant clean up in a washroom.

Late last week, following one of those washroom calls, our evening charge custodian, Brian, escorted one of our students to the main office. He shared with one of our secretaries that the student was unable to return to class and needed to make a call home. It quickly became evident the reason for the call home was associated with an accident in the washroom. Once the student was safely on his way home with a parent, Brian shared the rest of the story.

As he entered the washroom for the clean-up, he found  this student trying desperately to clean the mess from his pants. Brian could tell that he was devastated and embarrassed. Within minutes, it was Brian to the rescue ~ knowing that the student could not return to class with his reputation intact and that he was going to be too embarrassed to share with the office staff what had happened. So, Brian went into the class, retrieved the student’s backpack, and accompanied him to the office ~ thus saving him, not one, but two embarrassing conversations.

Later that evening, as the office became quiet, we had a beautiful conversation about how Brian was this student’s guardian angel. The one person who was there, when this student most needed a kind, caring adult. Brian recalled when he was in my grade five class (yes, our evening charge custodian is a former student of mine, and I could not be more thrilled that our paths have crossed again) a student had an accident in class. We talked about the long-lasting impact of such embarrassment and how his actions today hopefully sheltered this student from the same long-term impact.

Here’s to those unsung heroes who make a difference in the lives of students, when they least think they may need a guardian angel.

Have you ever needed or been a guardian angel for a student?  Would love to hear about it.

Come write with me….

 

Waiting for the Ice Cream Truck

This morning I woke up ready and eager to tackle this post, as the impetus for it had me tossing and turning last night. I was struggling with how to choose the right words, how to maintain professionalism and composure in the face of hurtful mistruths about my staff and how to ensure that I was not going to compromise the essence of my blog. Throughout my 300+ posts, I have been determined to stay true to my initial intention for writing, which was to use this platform for personal reflection, to spark professional conversations and to highlight and celebrate all things related to leadership, learning and life.

So here goes….

A good friend once told me that if you want to keep everyone happy, sell ice cream cones. I have learned over the years that although there are moments of sheer joy, similar to the experience of seeing the ice cream truck come down the road, keeping everyone happy is impossible.  So instead, I have learned that when those tough decisions must be made (and some days there are a number of them) ensure that you have communicated clearly and with as much transparency as possible. That is a lesson that I continue to share with staff when they are faced with challenging parent situations. We know and appreciate that parents are doing their best to advocate for their children ~ sometimes with only their own child’s perspective on a situation. We also know that there are a variety of reasons why parents are reluctant to connect with educators and then, if necessary, an administrator. I never underestimate the long-term impact of childhood trauma associated with schools and educators and appreciate that at times, parents bring that trauma forth and hence are reluctant to reach out for help.

Our school community is one that embraces and appreciates the importance of an education. They work alongside of the educators to ensure that their child’s needs (academic, behavioural, social-emotional) are addressed. For some students, that work goes on for years before a strategy starts to have an impact. We know that we are not perfect. We know that at times issues occur on the school yard, beyond the sightline of a supervisor on the yard. But when they are brought to our attention, they are thoroughly investigated. We know, that at times, our solution is one that parents may not agree with. If a child continues to harm other children on the yard, sometimes the alternative is to walk with an adult, so that those problem-solving conversations can happen. Sometimes it is time in an alternate location, while others are on the yard, to reflect on their actions, followed by an alternative time outside with an adult to ensure fresh air and a body break. To those parents who have partnered with us, a sincere thank you. We know that, at times, you may see similar behaviour beyond the school day and are working on home-based solutions.

All this to say, that yesterday, a Facebook post was brought to my attention where a parent in our community took to social media and shared her perspective of a situation involving her child. My heart breaks that this child no longer wants to come to school and although it was not reflected in this parent’s post, the teacher has been reaching out for months to try and connect with this parent. We want to offer the support of our school social worker. We want to have conversations with this student about the fact that he feels that he is being discriminated because he is white. But my heart also breaks for the allegations that my staff “doesn’t give a sh$%^&*.”   The interesting point in this post is that at no time did that parent reach out to me so that I could offer support or suggestions. I would be the first to apologize if we had been working together and we were still at the point that their child did not feel comfortable coming to school. But to not even be given the chance to work it out, has only harmed the child.
My love/hate relationship with social media continues to ruminate in my mind. I know that there are more positives, more informative sharing and more celebrations occurring on social media connected to our school than these few nasty, ill-informed negative ones and I guess we just need to rise above it.

There is a piece of me that wants to chime in on that post, but I know that is not going to accomplish anything ~ it may only inflame the situation and for the sake of the student that is the last thing that I want to happen.

In the time it has taken to craft this post, I have received an email from a grandparent in our community. Here is an excerpt, “If this is the quality of teaching that XXX can expect as she moves class to class, you can certainly stand proud of your team.

My thanks to the team and to the school for providing a safe and excellent forum for learning”

Maybe today’s lesson on leadership, learning and life is to be patient, like waiting for the ice cream truck’s bell to ring to let us know that it’s on its’ way.  Just when you become mired in the negative, a positive is around the corner.

Would love to hear about your love/relationship with social media.

Come write with me…

Mentorship to Fellowship

It has been 3 years since we have come together for a face-to-face planning meeting for our summer Teacher Mentors Abroad conference. Although we’ve stayed connected via Zoom throughout the pandemic and continued to explore ways to support our Dominican mentors and expand our work, there is absolutely nothing in this world that could have compared to the long awaited hugs that we shared today, the laughter as we reconnected, the tears of joy and the personal narratives about our kids, grandkids, partners and careers paths. We reminisced about past trips ~ plungers, seized Tribes books, close quarters, roosters, treacherous roads and so much more. This group of remarkable women, most of whom I have known for 7 years continue to inspire and push me to do better, to learn more about mentorship, to appreciate the importance of identity, to be not only a more informed educator, but to be a better global citizen. I truly believe that I am a better person when surrounded with their wisdom, their unconditional acceptance, and a shared vision of the impact that professional learning can have within society.

As per most post-Covid initiatives, our work this summer is going to shift, owing to the fact that life in the DR has changed ~ their school year has been extended and there has been a change in the Government/Ministry. As an organization we are going to return to the heart of our work which is collaborating directly with our Dominican mentors. Over the past few years (pre-Covid) our work was focused on providing a week-long conference, which grew to 300+ DR educators. Our group of DR mentors played a supportive role in the conferences, but we had yet to reach our ultimate goal of having them take the lead.

This summer, all of that changes! We are taking a much smaller team and we will work with our DR mentors in both sites (Santiago and Santo Domingo) for 3 days. The focus will be primarily listening and learning about how they navigated Covid and where they feel the necessary work needs to be. Secondly, we will work together to support them as they develop a day long conference for peers in an outreach location. Our Santiago team will be traveling to La Vega. We know that in order for there to be expansion and true implementation, it is our DR mentors who need to ultimately take the lead with their peers. We are hopeful that facilitating a conference in another district will assist them in gaining the confidence to take the lead within their own district.

As we were working through this plan, I could not help but recall years ago, when our staff at WS Fox started on a similar journey. We were extremely fortunate to have Smartboards in each classroom. In order to create the conditions for our staff to gain confidence in the great work that they were doing, we offered to host a day of professional learning for teacher candidates. Many of our staff who may have been reluctant to share with their peers, were more than willing to share with teacher candidates. It was so amazing to see their confidence blossom. That summer, many of them then stepped up and presented at the Summer Learning Conference. Years later, a considerable number of those original staff members went on to Coordinator and then Leadership positions.

Over the past 2 years, as we have connected with our DR mentors through zoom, we have been intentional in having their voice and experiences reflected in our work ~ as we evolved our strategic plan and as we developed an updated handbook for our Canadian mentors. Today we watched one of the videos from a cherished DR mentor, Leonisia. It was so heartwarming as she shared that “we (TMA) give life and colour” to the strategies that we share. If I were to share what this organization means to me, I could not craft a better description. TMA gives me life and colour!