“Bollocks”

Our week was not as expected.

My dear uncle, perhaps the smartest man I knew, suffered a stroke. When I saw him last he wasn’t the witty Uncle Pat I knew. He wasn’t leaning in to share a dry remark. He wasn’t curling or sitting watching sports or supervising the rest of us playing cards or Scrabble. There was no Guinness in hand.

Although not his usual self, one thing remained the same: he was surrounded by those who love him. This husband. Father. Grandfather. Uncle. Brother. Brother-in-law. Teacher. Friend. Sports fanatic. Trivia master. Food connoisseur. Wordsmith.

He took his last breath on Saturday. One of his last audible words earlier in the week after he was told he had suffered a stroke: “bollocks.” Fitting if you knew my Irish uncle.

Rest in peace Patrick. You will be missed.

A Season to Read and Write

This weekend December arrived and along with it some snow. A lot of snow, actually! We also put up our Christmas tree and decorated the house.

At this time of year in the classroom, I love to capitalize on the excitement of the season.

  • It’s time to introduce transformation stories using How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss and The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado. After exploring these books, students can write their own transformation stories.
  • It’s time to share Christmas poetry such as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore.
  • It’s also time to have students write recipes. Find a picture of a non-bake Christmas treat; students have to list the ingredients and write the steps to create the treat!

Happy reading… happy writing!

A pig, a spider, a rat, some geese and some sheep…

  • “People believe almost anything they see in print.” p.89
  • “You have been my friend … That in itself is a tremendous thing.” p.164

Recognize these lines? They were spoken by Charlotte. Yes, Charlotte, the spider.

I reread Charlotte’s Web this weekend. I have been referring to it a lot with students because of Melissa Sweet’s wonderful biography of E.B. White. Since it’s been a few years, I thought I’d reread the novel. How is it that we learn about friendship and loyalty, promises and devotion, an appreciation for life and an acceptance of death, from a barn full of animals?

  • “By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” p. 164
  • “It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.” p. 183
  • “… he realized that friendship is one of the most satisfying things in the world.” p. 115

How very true.

Be Your Best Self

Michelle Obama has written a book. Because of its recent publication, I’ve seen her interviewed a lot this week. I laughed along with her and Ellen, and again with Jimmy Fallon. I was nearly moved to tears a few times during the 20/20 interview with Robin Roberts.

What I’ve come to realize is that the people I admire most are those who inspire me to be my best self. When I listen to Michelle Obama speak, I feel both motivated and hopeful. My dad made me feel this way, too. My mom still does.

I had teachers, too, who inspired me to be the best version of me. Mr. Jason, Mr. Wowk and Mr. Forest immediately come to mind, but I was fortunate, there were many others, too.

We spend considerable time with our students over the course of a year. Do we inspire them to be their best selves?

“Success isn’t just about what you accomplish in your life; it’s about what you inspire others to do.” Author Unknown

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.

 

“Refreshing!”

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.