Writing as Thinking

I recently gave an inservice with a focus on writing as a form of thinking. Now this is nothing new. I often think through my words on a page and encourage my students to do the same. Sometimes I know what I’m going to write about when I begin but often my writing takes me to unexpected places. The same is true for students. On many occasions I have watched students read over their freewriting and then exclaim, “I didn’t know I thought that!”

The other day while writing in my journal, I found myself thinking about – writing about – my grandma. I didn’t realize she was on my mind and then there she was in my writing. I smiled as I wrote about her passion and strength, her stubbornness and sense of humour, her fierce love for family and her playful antics. Even since her death in June of 2016, her presence in my life continues to be strong. She grounds me.

I hadn’t expected to find her within the pages of my journal that day, but her appearance was a wonderful surprise.

A Desire to Learn

One of my goals when teaching is to generate both creative energy and intellectual rigour. And really, most of our students have a desire to learn: they want to be challenged and engaged.

Last week I watched as students from difficult circumstances, students dealing with the sometimes harsh realities of life, became excited at the challenges set before them. At the end of a lesson in another school, a student asked, “I want to start this on the bus on my way home!”

Mission accomplished: students excited to learn. 


Devotion to Students

Spring break is a reprieve from the routine of work. Whether it means an opportunity to check items off the to-do list, a get-away, or simply some down time, Spring Break should be just as the name implies: a break.

As we venture back into our classrooms tomorrow – hopefully a little more rested than ten days ago – let us remember the reason we are in this profession: our students! They deserve respect, enthusiasm, and devotion from us, their teachers.

On a broader scale, we want our government to have the same devotion to students. In Alberta, we are approaching a provincial election; the ideas about education shared by some candidates concern me as they do not seem to have our students at the centre of policy. The other day, when I spoke to someone in another province, she shared her frustration with their current government and the impact they’ve had on education; she heeded a warning to those of us in Alberta.

It was a good reminder: our voices matter. Be sure to vote!

More than simply entertainment…

As circumstance would have it, I have seen a wide variety of performances over the last ten days – both children and adults, amateur and professional – in combinations of dance, song, and various genres of music.

Regardless of the age, the type of performance, or even the venue, the common threads were the dedication and discipline that went into each of the performances: the hours of preparation and practice, all to entertain an audience.

But can dance, song, and music be more than pure entertainment?

Last Sunday I was fortunate to see Come From Away: the broadway musical about 9-11 and the days that followed in Gander, Newfoundland. It was here that 38 planes were grounded and nearly 7000 people were stranded when the airspace was shut down. You wouldn’t think you could make a musical on a topic so solemn, so tragic. You wouldn’t think you would find yourself smiling, and even laughing, during a performance such as this. And yet…

Come From Away showcases the good of humankind. During the days following 9-11, the people of Gander welcomed and embraced those affected by this event that rocked the world. The residents of this community put their own grief on hold in order to meet the immediate needs of those on this unexpected detour. In doing so, profound goodness was uncovered and unlikely friendships were forged in the face of catastrophe. 

So… can dance, song, and music be more than pure entertainment? Most definitely. This performance inspired and informed, moved and motivated. Ultimately, this performance celebrates the goodness and hope in our world.

Within Our Control

Many years ago, I was filmed while I taught a variety of lessons. These videos were for no one other than me: a tool enabling me to watch, observe, and reflect on my own practice.

Although nerve-racking, it was fascinating to observe myself in this way; I became much more aware of my tendencies. I remember noticing that there were words I repeated unnecessarily. I also noticed that I often chose the same few students to respond to my questions and that my wait time generally wasn’t long enough. This experience created an opportunity to improve my craft.

As a positive reflection, I remember being surprised by my enthusiasm and energy. I was quite animated with my students and I watched how their enthusiasm and energy mirrored my own.

Since then, I have noticed this tendency in other classrooms as well. Teachers enthusiastic about teaching tend to create students enthusiastic about learning. Teachers who dwell on the negative unintentionally invite more negative behaviour. Teachers who remain calm encourage the same in their students.

We cannot control which students are in our classrooms. And of course, there will always be students whose behaviour is more challenging than the norm. We can choose to be negative, frustrated, and apathetic. Or, we can choose to be positive, enthusiastic, and calm. Our energy and demeanour in the classroom most certainly affects the way our students feel.  

The choice is yours. As Carl Buechner once said, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”


As I walked my dog this weekend, for the first time in a long while, we weren’t hurried to get back home because of temperature. We walked considerably further, enjoyed the warmer temperatures, and welcomed both the drip-drip-dripping and the puddles indicating the beginning of a large melt.

Imagine that you arrived in Canada in November or December for the first time. What then would you know of our weather? Only cold and snow. And this year, extremely cold and a lot of snow! Imagine. You wouldn’t know what our city or country looks like without it. You may not believe that there is grass underneath that snow, that flowers bloom, and our trees really do grow leaves.

Yes, we have a ways to go between the mounds of snow and the green grass. But it’s coming… it always does.

Kids… gotta love ’em…

I always enjoy teachers’ convention. I appreciate it more now that I know that we as Alberta teachers are fortunate to have dedicated days for this professional development. Most teachers in Canada do not.

In addition to the learning that occurs, it is also a time to reconnect with our colleagues, to reignite the spark, and reaffirm our purpose. (Not to mention actual bathroom breaks and a sit-down lunch!)

I often try to take in at least one of the keynote speakers. This year it was Rick Mercer. As you might expect, I found myself laughing at his wit and humour, and feeling proud to be Canadian. What I didn’t expect was an affirmation of my choice in career. Near the end of his session, he talked about the Spread the Net challenge that he put out to students in 2007: the school raising the most money winning a visit. The fundraising challenge continued each year with the goal of purchasing hundreds of thousands of bed nets to reduce malaria in African nations.

As I watched the videoclips of the students involved in their fundraising efforts, I couldn’t help but feel proud and humbled by kids. Students, young and old, were passionate about the campaign: raising money through bottle drives, bake sales, and the selling of candy-grams. Some teenagers even donated their entire monthly paycheques to the cause.

As teachers, we are so fortunate to be surrounded by the enthusiasm, hope, and innocence of children. Kids speak their minds. Kids react in the moment. They add humour and fun into each day. As demanding as our profession can be, kids make it worth all the effort.

Give and Take, Storms and Sunshine

When I think of the students who I connect with most, it is often those who struggle for some reason or another. Some face medical challenges, some have experienced significant loss, some come from difficult home situations, and some have even faced trauma in their young lives.

These kids often need an adult in their corner: someone reminding them they are valued. They  need to be taught specific strategies to help them face obstacles and cope with overwhelming emotion. They need an outlet to release their rage, fear, confusion and sadness. These kids need our time.

But what they give back is inspiration. These are the students that teach me about perseverance, determination and hope. They remind me that “There are some things you can only learn in a storm.” (Joel Osteen) And, it is after the storm that the sun seems to shine the brightest.

Take a hike!

I have the pleasure of meeting many teachers both within our district and in other areas of the country. My conversations with teachers remind me of the similar demands we face no matter where we happen to teach.

With a never-ending to-do list, it is easy to fall into the pattern of working six – or even seven – days a week. And yet, when we take a break from our work, we return refreshed and rejuvenated. We know this to be true but it can be difficult to practice.

Whether it be baking, playing cards with family, watching a game of hockey, a hike in the slowly-warming-weather, or even a weekend get-away, a break is vital to maintain a work-life balance.

In Teaching Well: How healthy, empowered teachers lead to thriving, successful classrooms, Lisa  Bush says this: “Teachers working around the clock is neither good for our education system nor our students.” “If we are going to energize and inspire our students over the course of decades, we must make our mental and physical health a top priority.”

For me, this is still a work in progress, but I know it is worth the effort.

To learn, or not to learn – that is the question

A few weeks ago, an assistant principal shared this quotation with me: “If we create a culture where every teacher believes they need to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve.” Dylan William

I work with many teachers in my role. I am energized and motivated by those with a desire to learn and improve. This desire does not imply a weak teacher; in fact, it is usually quite the opposite. Teachers who are in a constant state of learning and reflection are the teachers who are going to have the most impact with the students before them.

The very thing that makes our jobs exciting, also makes it challenging: no two students, two classes, two days, or two school years are ever the same. We must always be responsive to the students and the situations before us. Our learning can never end.

The good news? When teachers are excited about learning, kids are too!