Get up and move!

I’m in the middle of revisions with my editor: book two is on its way!

Over the last few weeks, working a little more intensely than normal, I am reminded of the importance of breaks. I find myself sitting for hours without realizing how much time has passed. Yet the time away from my work – a stretch, a walk with the dog, a card game, a visit with family – is invigorating. These breaks are essential for both body and mind. Instead of getting less done, I’m better able to concentrate and therefore much more productive.

The same is true for our students: get them up and moving!

Teenage Wisdom

On Friday I had the opportunity to speak at the ESL Conference in Edmonton. Just before I spoke, I had the privilege of hearing two teenagers, originally from Syria, address those gathered in the large ballroom.

These young ladies spoke of their experiences in Syria: the fear and lockdowns, the bombings and destruction. They spoke of their arduous journeys and their many adjustments to Canada: culture, weather and language topping their lists. They spoke of the challenges they face in Canadian schools not always understanding their friends or teachers because of the speed of typical speech and the need to continually learn new vocabulary. They spoke of their sorrow leaving behind their homes and their fear for friends and family members left behind.

Through smiles and nervous giggles, they voiced appreciation for the acceptance, patience and persistence of their teachers. They also voiced appreciation for the safety and security they have found within Canada.

I cannot imagine the adversity and horrors these teenagers have faced in their young lives. I felt honoured to be in their presence. Our community is richer for their perspective, insight and wisdom.

A Message of Love

After watching the news this week, I feel disheartened. There seem to be people in our world intent on hate, terror and violence. Sometimes I even question if what we do matters. 

Thankfully, my doubts don’t last long. My hope overrides my despair when I see how people come together in reaction to tragedy. Our students may face tragedy in their own lives one day. Their reactions to events may be shaped in part by the series of conversations and interactions we have with them during the brief time we spend in their lives.

Our work does matter. Our daily interactions with students – those seemingly small moments – they matter. The time we spend teaching communication and critical thinking, empathy and compassion, helping students understand themselves and their place in the world, that time matters, too.

Sadly, there will always be people who spread hate in the world; thankfully, there will be many more who spread love.



There are times that I have several weeks worth of ideas waiting for my blog post on Sunday. This week, I have nothing started and no immediate ideas. Even so, I begin writing. Will my nothingness lead to an idea? Will writing about having no ideas eventually spark one?

In actuality, our students often face this dilemma: I don’t know what to write. So instead of sitting and staring at the blank page, we use freewriting to get our pens or pencils moving.

Last week I introduced freewriting to three new classes. As I always do after a first freewrite experience, I asked the students how it felt to freewrite. “Great!” and “Fun!” are the most common responses I receive. But this time there were two answers that I hadn’t heard before. In a grade 4/5 class one student responded, “Challenging.” “Why challenging?” I asked. “Because my mind started going to a difficult topic and I wasn’t sure if I should write about it.” “And? Did you? Did you go there?” He smiled and said, “I did. It was hard but I did it.” 

Another student in the same class answered, “Refreshing.” “Why refreshing?” I asked. “I just felt free. I wasn’t worried about getting my words on paper. I just wrote and wrote and wrote more than I ever do.”

So today, when I thought I had nothing to say, I wrote this post. And last week, three new classes of students broke through their hesitation and enjoyed their time writing. How refreshing!

Good News…

The benefits of reading aloud to children are many! Pure enjoyment tops my list. Some books pull at the heartstrings, some give us something to ponder and some are pure fun. Kids giggle at the poems of Shel Silverstein, the stories of Robert Munsch and The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak.

And the adults? They too can find enjoyment in reading out loud to children. Need proof? Watch this viral video of a Scottish grandma reading The Wonky Donkey to her grandson.

Oh! And the good news? The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith is now back in print!

Unexpected Teachers

A reflection on our gifts and graces is natural during the Thanksgiving weekend. Today, I am especially thankful for the presence of children in my life. When things are particularly hectic or stressful, it is my time with children – both family members and students – that grounds me, gives me purpose and lifts my mood.

How can you help but smile when listening to the innocent questions and endless stories of children? How can you possibly be grumpy when you receive smiles and hugs in excess? How can you ignore the beauty and splendour in our world when children continually point our attention towards it?

When it comes to living life, perhaps our children are the best teachers of all.

Hugs and Hope, Integrity and Inspiration

Today I received the book Hugs from Obama: A Photographic Look Back at the Warmth and Wisdom of President Barack Obama. As you might expect, it is full of tender (and sometimes amusing) photos of Obama with everyone from babies to seniors: all ages and all ethnicities. The pictures are complemented by his own words.

One of my favourites quotes in the book is this: “For, it turns out, we do not persevere alone. Our character is not found in isolation. Hope does not arise by putting our fellow man down, it is found by lifting others up.” On the opposing page Barack Obama lies on his back on the floor of the White House, smartly dressed in a suit, lifting a baby dressed in an elephant sleeper in the air above his head – eye contact and smiles shared.

On another page, the words he spoke at a memorial service in Arizona in January of 2011: “It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” In the accompanying picture he embraces a women whose head rests on his shoulder, smile on her face, eyes closed.

I can tell this is a book I will flip through from time to time… perhaps when I want to be reminded of the grace and integrity in our world… perhaps when I need some inspiration or a smile.

It’s only fitting that I leave the last words to him: “We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.”






Mercy, Compassion, Hope and Purpose

I am deeply affected by the news: images of violence, injustice and suffering stay with me. I could turn away or avoid watching. Instead, each time I see poverty and injustice in our world, each time I see news of a mass shooting or an act of violence, I try to remind myself of the human element within these stories. I remind myself that the perpetrators of crime, those who demonstrate hate, those who seem ignorant, they too have stories. They too were once children on a playground. And sadly, many of these perpetrators have been victims of violence, hate and ignorance themselves.

Does this cycle of abuse, or of ignorance, excuse their behaviour? Certainly, no. But it does give us some perspective.

This summer I read the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. He is a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice that defends the poor, the disabled, the wrongly condemned. One afternoon as I was nearing the end of the book, I found myself in tears. I was moved by the determination of this lawyer who continues to act with compassion and mercy despite the ongoing obstacles he faces and the unthinkable inhumanities he witnesses. It would be easy to say, “Someone else can do it. Someone else can make the difference.”

But despite everything, he forges on. “The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent – strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering” (Stevenson, 2014, p 294).

I’m not a lawyer. I can’t do what he is doing. But I can do my part in my circle of influence. I can give value and voice to those I teach. I can educate with love and compassion. I can provide insight into alternative ways of being through literature and by example. Perhaps the connections I make with my students will provide hope and purpose in an otherwise desolate situation.

Jack Canfield says: “Every day we have the opportunity to make a positive impact. No matter how great or how small, you can make a difference.” I am uplifted by the potential of our collective actions! 

“If you build it…”

I’ve watched Field of Dreams many times over the years. I was even fortunate to meet W.P. Kinsella, the author of the book Shoeless Joe, on which the movie is based.

I connect to the movie for a number of reasons. First, it’s about the father/child relationship. Second, it’s about baseball. Not only have I played for more than half of my life, I have countless treasured memories of playing catch with my own dad. And finally, the movie also features a writer. So yes, I connect to the movie. But isn’t that the point? Connections.

Perhaps Field of Dreams doesn’t do anything for you. Perhaps you have another favourite movie or book that means little to me. We don’t always know what our students will connect with. This is precisely why we must provide literature on a variety of topics and themes. When students connect to the literature they read, they will forge a relationship with books and reading, and perhaps, understand themselves a little better.

“If you build it, he will come.”