Class Journals

Looking for an authentic writing activity for your class from now until the end of the year?

Try introducing a few class journals. The format doesn’t really matter: coiled notebooks, extra scribblers, dollar store journals. These shared class journals can have various titles: Favourite Moments of the Year, The Day I Will Never Forget, What I’ve Learned This Year, or The Best Thing About 5B. You get the idea.

What a wonderful way to encourage our students to read and write, to hear the voices of their peers and to help them reflect on the school year.

P.S. My students always liked to draw for them at the end of June…

Starting Over

I grew up in the same city, on the same street, in the same house for the first twenty years of my life. I always felt safe: thoughts of brutality, violence or war never crossed my mind. My parents never considered packing us all up and travelling to a new country to begin a better life.

And yet, this is the reality that millions have faced in years past and still today. It is a reality I simply cannot imagine. To leave your job, your home, your country – to leave all you’ve ever known – and start over.

We saw a performance at the Citadel Theatre on Saturday night entitled Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story. Consider this lyric: “Where are we welcome? Where will we thrive? Where are we going? Will we survive?” 

The journey itself can be treacherous and many do not survive. And those who do face the shock of a new country and all that goes along with it: the people, the culture, the climate. 

The refugee story is replayed time and time again. Stories from our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. Stories from the family next door. Stories from the children in our classrooms. From different countries, cultures and specific circumstances, sure. A similar story all the same. Stories of fear, heartbreak and loss. Yet also stories of hope.


Lost and Found in Books

I had the pleasure of a few days in Banff surrounded by two of my favourite things: the beauty of the mountains and people who love words as much as I do. I came away feeling rejuvenated and energized: my purpose reinforced and renewed.

Many of those speaking at the conference referred to the power of literacy (not surprising considering it was a language arts conference). Penny Kittle spoke of how books enable us to make a place in the classroom for everyone. We can choose books that reflect the cultural identities of our students. We can choose books that help our students realize that their experiences are not entirely unique and there are others in the world like them. We can choose books that help our students explore themselves and find themselves. Books can teach our students: “You matter.”

In The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller explains, “The uninitiated might say that I am lost in my books, but I know I am more found than lost.”

Get lost in a good book and you just might find your true self…

Excited by Ants

The other day I saw a couple of ants. You know its been a long winter when the sight of a few ants excites me. Life! I’ve been waiting for some green: a glimpse of my perennials poking through, buds on trees, the grass beginning to turn. Haven’t seen much of that yet so I’ll take the ants.

Perhaps Spring is actually on its way…

P.S. This post is proof that anything and everything can become topics for writing!

Read what your students are reading!

On Saturday I presented at a Literacy Conference. Each time I do, despite my specific topic, I speak about the empowering nature of literacy.

Yes, reading and writing are part of the curriculum. However, they are so much more than that! If we, as teachers, view reading and writing as a form of empowerment, our students will too. They will begin to realize the relevance beyond the four walls of our classrooms. As Kate DiCamillo says, “Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty.  It should be offered to them as a precious gift.” The gift of literacy will enable them to function in our world, find meaning and purpose, and experience life more fully.

Besides reading aloud, one of the most effective ways to encourage our students to read is to read what they are reading! When I see a student deliberating at the book bins, I go over and say, “I’ve read this one. I think you’ll like it!” Checking in periodically helps too: “What part are you at?”

These casual conversations and moments shared through the pages of a book are enough to motivate many young readers. Habits and attitudes develop early. Take time today to nurture those readers and writers in your classroom!

National poetry month + the unrelenting winter = my pantoum poem

The cold air lingers,

The snow still flies,

Winter will not release its grasp.

Where are you Spring?


The snow still flies,

A whisper of hope from my vase of tulips,

Where are you Spring?

I’m ready now.


A whisper of hope from my vase of tulips,

I long to see the grass turn green, the buds on trees,

I’m ready now,

Spring, oh Spring!


I long to see the grass turn green, the buds on trees,

But the cold air lingers.

Spring, oh Spring,

Winter will not release its grasp.


Heavy Hearts

A collective gasp, shared tears and heavy hearts. The news of Friday’s horrific crash has rocked the nation. It’s been one of those weekends when you hold your loved ones a little closer.

Today, I offer my prayers for the Humboldt Broncos.

For first responders: that they know their work is necessary, courageous and appreciated. For the families of all involved: may they find comfort in memories and strength through the support of the community. For those who survived the crash: may they find healing, solace and purpose in the years ahead. For those whose precious lives were lost: may they rest in peace and forever live in the hearts of their loved ones. 

“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) And so do we.


Language is Hope

During the month of March, several seemingly unconnected events occurred: Stephen Hawking died, I read a book called Ghost Boy (the true story of Martin Pistorius who became a mute quadriplegic at age 12), I heard Michelle Obama speak, and I was offered a new job for next year as English Language Arts Consultant for grades 4-6.

Together, these events have me thinking. It’s interesting: each event on its own might not yield the same thoughts. But the simultaneity of these things have reminded me of the power and connectedness of language and hope.

During the last six years of my father’s life he was quadriplegic. Speaking was difficult: it took every ounce of his energy to get his words out. Sometimes we knew what he was saying and sometimes not. Physically, his body had failed him. Whenever I see footage of Stephen Hawking, and as I read Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius, I am reminded of my father: they shared similarities in their inabilities to walk, hold up their own heads or move their hands except in uncontrollable spasms. But, also like Stephen Hawking and Martin Pistorius, my father was completely lucid and aware.

Since regaining his voice through the use of a communication device, Martin Pistorius has said, “Not having a voice to say I’d had enough food or the bath water was too hot or to tell someone I loved them was the thing that made me feel most inhuman. Words and speech separate us from the animal kingdom, after all.”

These three men had physical bodies that failed them. And yet, they connected to the world and to other people through words, though perhaps in unconventional ways.

Now, how does Michelle Obama fit in? Well, one of the lines she spoke was this: “Life is a series of dips. Sometimes the dips last for years but there is always a crest.” Her words remind me of these three men: they survived the dips and found the crest. They surpassed the expectations of the doctors and those around them, and despite what they were facing, they all found hope and purpose in life.

And my new job? How does it connect to all of this? I see my role as Language Arts Consultant as one to empower and inspire teachers and students through language. Students need the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening to function in our world. Giving them these skills, though they may look or sound a little different for some, can assist them in realizing their dreams. Language is hope.

Still need convincing? Check out these short videos: words from Stephen Hawking & Anderson Cooper’s interview with Martin Pistorius.

Children of God

Last night we saw Children of God at the Citadel Theatre. This compelling musical captures the experiences of children who were forced to attend residential schools and the parents who were left behind. This part of Canadian history has been ignored in the history books, hidden even. 

After the performance we stayed for a talk back with some of the actors. The moderator opened the time by saying we were in a safe space to share. I felt privileged to be present during the sharing of perspectives from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds. This sharing brought to light some of the pain, grief and guilt that continue to resonate and affect lives. 

Clearly, the audience was moved by the performances, the music and the story itself. As was I.

One of the things that struck me is that kids are kids. As teachers, we know this. It doesn’t matter the colour of our skin, or our country of origin, kids are kids. Yet, why is it that adults continually divide themselves into groups? Us against them. Sometimes the groups are based on race, sometimes religion, sometimes socio-economic levels. Regardless, there seems to be an urge to divide and dominate.

And truly, I don’t understand this compulsion. I don’t understand how the colour of one’s skin makes us better or worse than someone else. One of the actors mentioned that he often tried ‘washing out the brown.’ He spoke of living an identity of shame. And given the history of how indigenous people have been treated, it becomes evident where his feelings about his own identity stem from. 

No matter who we are, or where our families were originally from, we’re all human. We all occupy the same planet. Kids seem to understand this better than adults. We can take a lesson from them, watching their interactions in schools or on the playground. We can also take a lesson from our own recent past. We cannot – or should not – hide history, no matter how shameful it might be.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Last night, I was educated through a beautiful work of art and the discussion that followed.

Maintaining Dignity

The other night after leaving a concert at the Winspear, I bought a paper from a homeless man: Alberta Street News. This paper, published in Edmonton, provides vendors with the opportunity for employment. They pay $0.75 per copy and then sell the paper for a small profit. Many of the vendors face barriers that prevent them from other employment.

Homelessness is a complicated issue. It is difficult to understand the circumstances that lead to individuals living on the street. To be sure though, it is not a circumstance that they envisioned for themselves when they were children. 

Rather than begging for money, this man sold me a newspaper. Our exchange, short as it was, maintained his dignity and provided him with a purpose. Here is yet another example of how words change worlds.